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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month april 23, edition 000814, csollected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
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- DISHONOURABLE CONDUCT
- COPTS ARE NOT WANTED
- JAITAPUR SAYS NO TO N-PLANT - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
- POST-JAPAN, THE HUNT FOR THE SAFEST OPTION - RAJESWARI PILLAI RAJAGOPALAN
- NUCLEAR ENERGY'S INDIAN SUMMER - SWARN KUMAR ANAND
- INDIA'S NUCLEAR OPTION LARGELY UNAFFECTED - LYDIA POWELL
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- THE SPLICE OF LIFE
- YOU WANT TO GET OUT OF THIS PLACE? - GAUTAM ADHIKARI
- THE ART OF GIVING
- MILIND DEORA AND NIKHIL DHANRAJGIR
- CONTRACTS SHOULD BE HONOURED
- NATIONAL TEAM TRUMPS ALL - VIKRAM SINHA
- DIGRESSIONS, DIGRESSIONS
- FORGETTING HISTORY CAN BE DANGEROUS - PRATIK KANJILAL
- OUR POLE STARS - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
- DEMOCRACY, GROUND UP - ANURAG SRIVASTAVA
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- THE PM'S SPEECH
- ADAPTING ADOPTING
- MINES AND THE MAN
- WE, THE THIEVING PEOPLE - SHEKHAR GUPTA
- JUDGE, JURY, AND AUDIENCE - MIHIR S SHARMA
- THE BRIBING GAME - JEAN DRÈZE
- WHY THIS 'FREEDOM' IS FALSE - MRIDULA MUKHERJEE
- THE NEW HINDU CONSTANT - SURJIT S BHALLA
- STORMING THE HOUSE - P. D. T. ACHARY
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- WHAT THE EARLY BIRDS SAY
- PLAN FOR GROWTH
- THE NEW HINDU CONSTANT - SURJIT S BHALLA
- GIVE A DOWNGRADE TO GEITHNER - JONATHAN WEIL
- THE SUPERBUG EFFECT
- SYRIA STARTS REFORMING
- END OF FIRST-PAST-THE-POST VOTING? - HASAN SUROOR
- ONE APRIL, A NICE ONE FROM THE U.S. EMBASSY IN INCREDIBLE INDIA - A. SRIVATHSAN
- U.S. INTEREST IN UNIQUE IDENTIFICATION PROJECT - A. SRIVATHSAN
- AMAR SINGH ASKED MANMOHAN AND SONIA TO REMOVE CHIDAMBARAM, DEORA: 2008 CABLE - A. SRIVATHSAN
- HOW THE 'STARS ALIGNED' FOR CLOSER TRILATERAL RELATIONS - SARAH HIDDLESTON
THE ASIAN AGE
- TO FIGHT CORRUPTION, GET THE BASICS RIGHT
- BENGAL: CHANGE, YES; BUT DOUBTS TOO - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- SPEAKING OF BURQAS... - FARRUKH DHONDY
- PAANI PURI POLITICS - SHOBHAA DE
- PANCHAYAT MORE THAN VOTING
- ADULTERATION: CORRUPTION GALORE
- THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING BHUTTO - BY ML KOTRU
- NEED FOR SYSTEM CHANGE - BY BRIJ BHARDWAJ
- FOOD SECURITY BILL IMPLEMENTATION DELAYED - BY ARABINDA GHOSE
- TRAILING BLACK MONEY
- GLUT OF GRAINS
- MUKHTAR MAI'S TRAVAILS
- BRICS' SANYA DECLARATION - BY JAGANNATH P. PANDA
- OH BROTHER… - BY NONIKA SINGH
- AMERICA IS SHRINKING BEFORE OUR EYES. IT IS BAMBOOZLED AND PETRIFIED - MATTHEW NORMAN
- BRIBE-GIVING MAAF, TAKING NOT
- THE BIG STORY - T N NINAN
- CORRUPTION - LET'S BE PROFESSIONAL ABOUT IT - SHUBHASHIS GANGOPADHYAY
- MAMATA'S TRAIN OF TIME-SERVERS - DEVANGSHU DATTA
- HAL MARKET - A TASTE OF INDIA - SUBIR ROY
- BENGALI LITERARY JEWELS - RENDERING AND BEYOND - V V
- THE EMIGRANT SONG - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- DIRECT TRANSFERS, HIDDEN COSTS - V KUMARASWAMY
- HUNGER STRIKE OR BLACKMAIL? - T THOMAS
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- NOT SO COARSE
- EGREGIOUS, EPFO
- BUG, BURROW & STEEL
- SMOKE & LIGHT IN CORRUPTION BATTLE
- 'INDIA'S ART MART IS MATURE ENOUGH TO BUY ONLINE' - MANOJ NAIR
- NEW TIMELINE FOR UNION BUDGET - N V KRISHNAKUMAR BUSINESS LINE
- FARMS VOTE FOR MACHINES
- DECCAN CHRONICAL
- HEALTHCARE IS NOT ALL ABOUT MONEY - SPEAKING OF BURQAS...
- TO FIGHT CORRUPTION, GET THE BASICS RIGHT
- FIRST SEMESTER
- MR PUTIN'S PLANS
- CHOPPER DOWN
- SPARKLING SILVER - BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
- 'STATES SHOULD ENFORCE MARKET LAW PROVISIONS'
- ON RECORD
- 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
- SOUTH ASIAN LONG VIEW
- A THOUSAND BINAYAK SENS - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
- FUDGING FIGURES
- GOOD AUGURY
- DIRTY TRICKS - BY RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA
- MORE THAN A COINCIDENCE - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- WALKATHON BOYS - BY H N ANANDA
THE NEWYORK TIMES
- HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- ANKARA'S SECRET: STUPIDITY OR CONSPIRACY? - MUSTAFA AKYOL
- A SAD ANNIVERSARY - YUSUF KANLI
- HAS THE GOP FOUND ITS TRUMP CARD? - STEWART J. LAWRENCE
- WHAT SHOULD WOMEN DO? - ÖZDEMİR İNCE
- SHIFTING FACTORS FOR APRIL 24 IN WASHINGTON - İLHAN TANIR
- OUR TECHNOLOGY REPORT CARD - GİLA BENMAYOR
- THE GUARANTEE OF FUTURE DEMOCRACY LIES IN THE RESOLUTION OF THE KURDISH CONFLICT - THE CORRIDOR - HOW MANY FEMALE CANDIDATES MIGHT BE ELECTED TO PARLIAMENT? - GÖKSEL BOZKURT
- INTERCULTURAL ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR - ZAFER PARLAR
- A BIRD'S EYE VIEW - JAILED IN THE EU WITHOUT CHARGE - ADVENA AVIS
- END OF THE ROAD
- THE DIR ATTACK
- CLUB BLAST
- PROPAGANDISTS OF WAR - AKBAR S BABAR
- DENIAL OF DEMOCRACY - S M TAHA
- THE LIBERAL 'PROBLEM' - MOEZ MOBEEN
- THE SECOND SEX - BABAR SATTAR
- NO CAN DO! - ANJUM NIAZ
- SHAHBAZ' LEAP FORWARD IN POWER SECTOR
- SBP'S DISMAL QUARTERLY REPORT
- TILL HUGE BARREN LANDS
- GLIMMER AMID THE GLOOM - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- WHY PAK WANTS STABILITY IN AFGHANISTAN? - SAJJAD SHAUKAT
- IS THE PPP SPOILING IN ITS OWN BOWL? - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
- PROGRAMME OF POOR MASSES - AYESHA SHAFQAT
- BETWEEN JAPAN AND CHINA - GREGORY CLARK
- INDIGENOUS DISADVANTAGE AWAITS SOME TWEET SORROW
- HOPE AND REDEMPTION AT EASTER
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- JULIA GILLARD IN THE GIANTS' PLAYGROUND
- THE GAME'S AT RISK, IT'S A SURE BET
- SCOTLAND AND WALES: DIFFERENT DRUMS
- SUPERINJUNCTIONS: THE RICH MAN'S GAG
- UNTHINKABLE? VOTES FOR CHILDREN
THE JAPAN TIMES
- BOLSTER DISASTER ASSISTANCE FUND
- MR. KEENE'S NOBLE DECISION
- EASTER; THE FOUNDATION OF CHRISTIANITY
- THE "SEE-SAW"BATTLE BETWEEN THE UN SG AND THE SL GOVT
- UN-CHOREOGRAPHED LIBYA
- PLAYING POLITICS WITH THE UN PANEL REPORT
GULF DAILY NEWS
- CHILD LABOUR CLAMP VITAL - BY JENNIFER GNANA
FAILURE TO CURB KHAP CRIMES IS SHAMEFUL
The Supreme Court's decision to hold top district civilian and police officials personally responsible and criminally liable for failing to prevent honour killings or refusing to arrest the culprits deserves to be lauded. The order has come days after the killing of two widows at Ranila village in Bhiwani district of Haryana. It indicates that the Supreme Court has little faith in the administrative system of State Governments. Not only is it a matter of shame that the Supreme Court has had to order State Governments to pull up officials for dereliction of duty, it gives credence to the fact that the administration has failed in cracking down on khap panchayats which encourage lynching of individuals in the name of honour. In a barbaric incident last Sunday, the relatives of 34-year-old Suman dragged her and her aunt Shakuntala out of their house and assaulted them with wooden sticks in front of villagers. The beating continued for nearly an hour till the widows breathed their last: They were 'punished' for allegedly having an affair. This is not a case in isolation. Scores of men and women become victims of the deeply entrenched caste system prevalent in our society every year. Khaps violently oppose inter-caste and same-gotra marriages. Even men and women belonging to the same village are not allowed to marry. The indifference of Chief Minister of Haryana BS Hooda has understandably left many people shocked. Instead of promising strong action, he chose to describe the crime as a "stray incident." Mr Hooda is aware of the fact that 'honour killings' are rampant in Haryana as well as the neighbouring States. A study by a group of jurists on crimes against women suggests that there are at least 900 incidents of 'honour killings' in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh every year. Little is being done to curb this crime.
The Supreme Court has justifiably lashed out at the fact that this particularly gruesome crime is carried out under the orders of khap panchayats that owe no accountability. It will not be wrong to conclude that this insensitivity of political leaders towards human life and the lack in resolve to curb barbarism embolden the self-appointed custodians of tradition that few are willing to follow if given the choice. Hence, it becomes imperative that State Governments ensure the law is followed in practice and not in the breach. And if they fail to do so, they should be held responsible for failing to fulfil their constitutional obligation. By fixing responsibility on district officials, the Supreme Court has made it amply clear that authority can no longer remain indifferent to the plight of those who defy the unacceptable diktats of khap panchayats that lack legitimacy in the eye of the law and should be banned.
COPTS ARE NOT WANTED
BELLIGERENT ISLAMISTS FLEX MUSCLES IN EGYPT.
In yet another indication that the 'new' Egypt born in the Arab Spring of 2011 will be a lot less secular and a lot more intolerant than it was under the iron grip of former President Hosni Mubarak, Muslims in the southern Governorate of Qena, led by hardline Salafis, are demanding the removal of the recently-appointed Coptic Christian Governor. Despite popular perception propagated largely by the Left-liberal media that Egypt of the post-Mubarak era would shun both mullahs and the military, and opt for a secular and democratic republic, there is now mounting evidence that the Army is not going anywhere and the mullahs are fast moving in to capture influential positions in the emerging power structure. Since April 14 when Emad Shehata Mikhael was appointed the new Governor of Qena, which is home to a large number of Coptic Christians, Muslims have been on the warpath, no doubt egged on by the Muslim Brotherhood. Protesters are camping near the Governor's office in a replay of what was witnessed at Tahrir Square and have also blocked railway tracks and roadways, including major highways, effectively bringing trade and communications to a standstill. Interestingly though when the protests first erupted even members of the Coptic Christian community had come out to demand Mr Mikhael's removal since he is a former police officer who allegedly had strong ties to the Mubarak regime. He has been accused of cracking down on protesters during the Lotus Revolution earlier this year — the charges, expectedly, have been levelled by those who were involved in bringing down the old regime. The allegations have been used to justify the demand for his removal, but that has not helped hide the fact that the agitation is being directed by the Ikhwan. The initial slogans directed against Mr Mikhael have now turned into anti-Copt slogans; the Brotherhood's gameplan stands exposed even as there is stunning silence from those who till recently were promising that Egypt would remain free of religious dogma and Ikhwani fanaticism. Those promises have long been abandoned.
At the same time, the interim regime governing Egypt till elections are held later this year has shown praiseworthy firmness while dealing with the protest. Deputy Prime Minister Yehia El-Gamal has said that while the people are entitled to freedom of speech and expression, Mr Mikhael would not be removed from his post simply on account of his faith. This is an encouraging sign. Meanwhile, undeterred by such assertions of secular idealism, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now preparing for a dominant role in the country's affairs, has not made any effort to hide the fact that it wants to see the Coptic Christian Governor sacked. The latest developments in Egypt are cause for concern, not the least because they indicate troubled times ahead. If Islamist belligerence succeeds in forcing the removal of a Coptic Christian official from office, it will lead to further untenable similar demands rooted in a discriminatory attitude towards the country's religious minority which for long has been harassed and hounded by fanatics of the Ikhwan. In a sense, this is a litmus test for the Army and the intelligentsia: If they refuse to capitulate, it would mark a victory over resurgent Islamism; it they crumble, the Islamists will run amok.
JAITAPUR SAYS NO TO N-PLANT
Instead of reaching out to the people the Maharashtra Government has let loose a reign of terror. This is not how a democracy should function.
The manner in which the Government of Maharashtra has unleashed its repressive might on people demonstrating against the construction of a nuclear power plant at Jaitapur is sickening. One has been told that the Shiv Sena is deliberately stoking trouble over the plant, to be located in Ratnagiri district, in order to expand its influence in the region, and the State Government had to act firmly in the national interest given the soaring demand for power in Maharashtra and the rest of the country.
Any such argument, particularly any reference to the State Government's burning desire to uphold the national interest, would have been credible had it not shown a lamentable lack of resolve in dealing with the Shiv Sena's cadre attacking non-Marathi-speaking people in Mumbai and elsewhere in the State, tearing down their shanties and preventing external candidates from appearing in selection tests held in Mumbai for appointment even to the Railways or other Union Government establishments.
Besides, the very fact there has been a massive response to its agitation in an area where it is not supposed to be strong, indicates large-scale disquiet over safety and other aspects of the plant. This is hardly surprising. The argument that much has happened after the Chernobyl disaster and nuclear power generation technology has scaled new heights in terms of safety, might have commanded greater credibility had the Fukushima disaster and Japan's nuclear emergency not happened. Given both one can hardly brush aside the apprehensions of people whose lives will be totally blighted if a Fukushima happens in Jaitapur.
There are other reasons for severe unease. The review of Indian nuclear plants has not been fully completed and the manner in which it is being done has raised questions of transparency. The argument that the question of national security is closely involved in the operation of nuclear power plants and any such review cannot be a fully public affair, is not devoid of merit. The involvement of independent nuclear scientists and technologists — and the country does not lack them — and a more accommodating approach to the public's concerns might well have avoided the death of one person and injuries to several, in police firing and the imposition of curfew and restrictions under Section 144 CrPc, in the affected parts of Ratnagiri district.
Instead of reaching out to the public to allay its apprehensions, the Union and State Governments have arrogantly dismissed these as baseless and proceeded to forcibly go ahead with the project. This is not how a democracy should function. Unfortunately, this is precisely the way in which the UPA Government at the Centre and some of the State Governments have been working. Recall how the West Bengal Government landed in a mess trying to forcibly acquire land for Tata's Nano project, giving rise to a situation in which the project was shifted to Gujarat. Another example is the ham-handed manner, backed by violence unleashed by strong-arm cadre of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the State police, in which the West Bengal Government tried to acquire land from farmers to develop a Special Economic Zone by the Indonesia-based Salem Group.
Controversy continues to dog the efforts of the South Korean steel giant, Posco, to set up an integrated steel plant and a captive port in Odisha. The Union Government had initially cleared both in 2007 with conditions. Strong opposition continued, and it finally cleared both earlier this year with 28 and 32 new conditions imposed on the steel plant and the port respectively. While opposition to the projects continues to be strong, what has stunned many is the utterly savage manner in which the Government of Odisha has unleashed its state engines of repression on the protesters and spared no effort to push the projects.
Three vital issues are no doubt involved in all such cases. The first is the purported one of the national versus local interests. The second is the question of environment, and, the third, that of the Government's attitude toward the people. As for the first, what is genuinely in the national interest will also be in the interest of the local people where a project is sought to be located because people of a particular area are not outside the country. True, elements with vested interests or as seeking to advance their political or other agendas by fishing in troubled waters can mislead people into opposing a project beneficial in the long run but requiring people to give up their land and disruptive of life in the area in the immediate present.
In most such cases, the almost automatic reaction of the authorities is to use force after a perfunctory attempt at securing consent through negotiations. Here one sees the third issue — the Government's attitude towards people — impinging on the first. At the core of the Government's response lies the arrogance of power which has its historical roots in the legacy of the British Raj with its orientation toward governance from above — paternalism at best and tyranny and exploitation at the worst — and contemporary seedbed in the accrual of power by the state through its emergence as the principal instrument of social and economic change, which, in turn, has made it the fountainhead of patronage at a price. Progressive criminalisation of the bureaucracy and politics and the emergence of corruption as an all-pervasive phenomenon of life, has led to the rise of an exploitative, predatory state given to extortionate bribery and diversion of development allocations to private pockets.
The result is a severe erosion of the credibility of the state and profound cynicism about its assurances, whether about the safety of a nuclear power plant or the resolve to arrest inflation or the payment of compensation for land acquired for a project. Thanks to the tsunami and the media revolution leading to the information explosion, there is also a growing awareness about the environmental consequences of a development project. The Government of Maharashtra and the Ministry of Environment and Forests need to keep the Jaitapur project on hold and appoint a credible committee which will not only pronounce on its safety aspects but also monitor the payment of compensation to ensure that money goes to the affected people and not the pockets of babus.
POST-JAPAN, THE HUNT FOR THE SAFEST OPTION
RAJESWARI PILLAI RAJAGOPALAN
The nuclear meltdown in northern Japan has confirmed our worst fears about nuclear energy. Tragically, India continues to blindly follow the discarded notions of yesterday, ignoring viable possibilities like solar power
With the nuclear crisis still unfolding in Japan, there is fresh thinking around the world about the safety of the nuclear energy option. While India has examined several alternative energy options, no single option is likely to be a magic bullet. It will probably be wise to look at other options including ones that have not yet been seriously considered as yet.
Under such a scenario, it may be a good time for India to explore the option of space-based solar power (SBSP) — a possibility that has not caught the popular or government attention very much, for a variety of reasons. Unlike the ground-based solar power option, SBSP does not have problems like cloud cover or availability of sunlight and so on.
The SBSP option is likely to be costly. While cost may have been the most serious impediment in making the SBSP option a reality so far, there has been lack of direction and commitment from the political leadership that has also contributed to this. Exploiting space for solar power is not a new idea although it has remained a theoretical exercise for a number of reasons, including because of the lobbying by other alternate energy groups.
SBSP involves using extremely large satellites made up of a large number of solar cells to collect the sun's energy, convert it to radio waves to be beamed to antenna farms on the ground where it is reconverted to energy.
The scale of such a project will be large but the SBSP is comparable to several mega projects undertaken in the past by both India and the US — the US National Highway project or the Indian rural electrification programme are two cases in point. On cost, experts opine that developing a prototype or putting a 10 MW demonstrator in GEO (geosynchronous Earth orbit), using exiting launch vehicles, will be to the tune of around $10 billion over 10 years. Collaboration with other space-faring nations will bring down the cost to make it a cheaper, safer and cleaner option. More important is the need to calculate the cost on the basis of both direct and indirect cost of climate change and environmental issues. Also, this will be a huge effort in strengthening international hi-tech cooperation, creating several spin-off benefits, including job creation and gaining access to advanced technology.
In the recent past, former President APJ Abdul Kalam promoted the idea of SBSP at the Aeronautical Society of India (AeSI) and later at a NSS (US-based National Space Society) press conference in Washington DC last year. This initiative as of now remains an India-US initiative although it needs to be broadened, may be at a later stage, to set up a larger consortium to make SBSP into a viable proposition.
Why SBSP? Speaking in November last year, Dr Kalam highlighted the huge energy shortage that India and the world would be facing in the next few decades. Kalam estimated that by 2050, even if one were to use all possible sources of energy, there will be a global shortage to the tune of 66 per cent. On the other hand, if one were to use the SBSP option, the world would move from an energy deficit to an energy surplus situation. Additionally, the clean and safe energy option will go a long way in solving the world's climate change woes.
At the India-US level, this initiative is associated with some key technocrats such as Dr Kalam, Mark Hopkins, CEO of the NSS, John Mankins from the Space Power Association and a veteran of NASA and also Dr TK Alex from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Satellite Centre, Bangalore who is also heading the Chandrayaan Project. Participation of TK Alex in a sense gives an official colour to the project.
On the Indian side, some preliminary studies were done in 1987 on advanced space transportation system at a conceptual level to make SBSP a cheaper option, but there has been no follow up. In the recent past, the ISRO has been engaged in getting some additional technical studies on the feasibility of this option, looking at three specific configurations. While continuing with the technical feasibility studies, ISRO has also made it clear that it can proceed only if they get suitable proposals/funding from foreign governments. While the technical studies are one aspect of it, more important is the need for a clear directive from the government. A clear political mandate calling upon the technocrats and scientific community to develop the necessary technologies is one way to take this option forward. The government can thereafter be a facilitator if it seeks foreign collaboration, for instance. But the initiative has to come from the political leadership.
What are India's options to make SBSP a real viable option given the cost factor and technology? Can the governments and the private sectors of both India and the US make serious commitments to take the first step towards R&D investment on SBSP? It might be worth the effort to place the SBSP initiative within the US-India S&T Endowment and Board. The Indo-US S&T Fund finances projects on an entire range of issues from biotechnology, advanced materials and nanotechnology science to clean energy technologies, basic space and atmospheric and earth science. Other countries making significant investment in this area include Japan that has made an investment of $21 bn for the next few years. India and the US can take the lead to establish an international consortium based on cost sharing and more importantly on international technology cooperation.
Countries like India and the US need to take up initiatives to do major technological demonstrations and milestone projects, which will have far reaching consequences across political, strategic and technological spheres. Cooperation on SBSP will convey a major strategic message.
Dr Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.
NUCLEAR ENERGY'S INDIAN SUMMER
SWARN KUMAR ANAND
A citizens' struggle far more potent than the one stirred by Anna Hazare is growing in Jaitapur, Maharashtra. It has pitted the powerful nuclear energy lobby against the formidable force of mass protest
The Fukushima radiation link in Japan has led to serious rethink in all world capitals on the social viability of nuclear energy. The discourse in India, however, is completely different. Here, the government seems to be responding with two diabolically disingenuous statements — One: Nuclear power plants may be unsafe elsewhere but not in India; Two: Indians have no choice but embrace nuclear energy for the sake of economic growth.
Both these standpoints are analysed in this week's Saturday Special. Noted energy experts Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (Main Article) and Lydia Powell (The Other Voice) highlight the two angles of the nuclear quadrilateral. The former recalls former President APJ Abdul Kalam's suggestion that solar power harvesting from space using satellites launched from earth be examined. The latter is more realist and discusses India's options in the context of available data on both domestic consumption trends and global fossil fuel data.
It is not that these things can be discussed till the cows come home — there is indeed immediacy. The Jaitapur nuclear power project, coming up in Maharashtra, has emerged as the global battleground for supporters and opponents of nuclear energy. Though the Shiv Sena has sought to appropriate the movement with the hope of doing a Singur in Maharashtra, the concerns go beyond the political realm.
Dr P Balaram, a leading Indian scientist who heads the Indian Institute of Science, backed by more than 50 prominent figures, have this week called for a moratorium on all future nuclear projects following the nuclear crisis in tsunami-hit Japan. Dr P Balaram's call marks the first direct appeal from within government circles for suspension of national nuclear power plans and production and came a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared the need for greater transparency and accountability from the Indian nuclear establishment.
Dr Balaram's demand for a moratorium is likely to act as a pressure point owing to the importance of the position he holds.
Though most countries have announced safety reviews of their nuclear plants following the Fukushima radiation leak, Germany is the only one to opt for a temporary moratorium. In mid-March, German chancellor Angela Merkel announced shut downs at the country's seven oldest nuclear stations for at least three months against a backdrop of continued political pressure. Pending the safety review, some of the country's 17 nuclear plants may be decommissioned earlier than previously planned. Merkel has also called for her country to speed up its move towards renewable energy to help fill any gap in electricity supply. Merkel faces a tough battle ahead because members of the Green party accuse her of not going far enough and conservatives in her own party accuse her of having gone too far.
But in the case of India there are serious commercial deals at stake which militate against the possibility of the government adopting a safety-first policy. The US, France, Russia and Japan have been locked in fierce competition to sell new nuclear reactors to India. India is one of the world's biggest markets for nuclear technology, with plans to reach an atomic power capacity of 63,000 megawatts by 2032, from the current level of 4,560 megawatts. Fuel-hungry India has pushed ahead with its nuclear energy plans since 2008 when the then US President, George W Bush, signed into law a nuclear deal that ended a three-decade ban on US nuclear trade with India.
At the heart of the Jaitapur controversy is location. Global observers are concerned that one of the most seismically-sensitive zones of India will be home to what is surely to become one of the largest nuclear power plants ever built. It is slated to have six reactors providing 9,600 megawatts of combined power. The French company, Areva, has signed a $9.3 billion framework deal to supply the first two of Jaitapur's third-generation pressurised water reactors, with the nuclear plant scheduled to begin producing power in 2018. Once completed, the six-reactor project would more than double the country's current nuclear power capacity of 4,700 megawatts.
Clearly, the Indian political establishment has not learnt the lessons of Fukushima. The implications of the disaster for energy and climate change policy cannot be overstated. In the coming months it is likely that anti-nuclear sentiments will surge and utilities, which now depend on nuclear power, will be forced to rely more on fossil fuels. Though entrenched anti-nuclear sentiments arising out of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have gradually subsided, such concerns are likely to re-solidify.
How will Japan itself cope? This should be instructive for India. Post Fukushima, one of the immediate fallouts would be a compromise of Japan's DPJ administration's high-minded efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent in 10 years. With nuclear energy regarded as an ace card in renewable energy, Japan's options for diversifying from unstable West Asian oil to green energy are limited. Japan would need to come up with a two-pronged national energy strategy — making the nuclear energy industry viable and strengthening the nuclear safety regime in the short and medium term, while transforming its fossil — and nuclear-based economy into a sun-based economy in the long term.
In the age of the Internet, it is difficult for governments to suppress the flow of accurate information and this explains the groundswell of anger building up over Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's volte face on Jaitapur. He had earlier been in favour of a thorough review of the project, but this week he went back on his word. Instead he went on the offensive to call it a "political movement". That hardly washed with India's
educated classes. A former nuclear safety official, Dr Adinaryan Gopalakrishnan, said: "In view of the vast nuclear devastation we are observing in Japan, I would strongly urge the government not to proceed with the Jaitapur project with purchase of EPRs from France or any other import of nuclear reactors."
Meanwhile, India's nuclear plant operator, Nuclear Power Corporation, announced on Wednesday that the country's nuclear plants may soon get additional safety measures that address preparedness for an extended power-loss scenario such as was witnessed at Fukushima. The action would be based on the recommendations of four separate task forces, which included introducing new technologies to ensure initiation of automatic reactor shutdown on sensing seismic activity and setting up of an advance tsunami alert mechanism at India's Tarapur Atomic Power Station, which houses two boiling water reactors similar to Fukushima's.
Is this enough to suppress the Indian summer? The coming weeks would tell.
The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer
INDIA'S NUCLEAR OPTION LARGELY UNAFFECTED
India's coal reserves, given the current rate of exploitation, seem sure to be exhausted in about 45 years. Under the circumstances, we cannot afford the luxury of keeping our nuclear energy option in limbo
The most convincing case for nuclear energy in India is neither its clean and green credentials nor the popular view that nuclear energy will eliminate energy poverty in India but that it is the only option that can replace coal as a source of steady base load power if coal resources do not materialise to the extent required in the next three to four decades. India's current energy system is essentially a coal based system accounting for over 76 per cent of power generated, and is likely to remain so for at least the next two decades.
Coal is widely thought to be virtually inexhaustible and the Government of India routinely overestimates domestic reserves by a factor of four or more on the assumption that hard-to-reach coal seams would one day be extracted thanks to new technology. This assumption is increasingly looking like a belief rather than an achievable goal. Out of our proved coal reserves of over 200 billion tonne only a third is estimated to be recoverable on account of an overemphasis of open cast mining which has rendered much of India's deeper coal resources unrecoverable.
If domestic coal production continues to increase at the rate of 5 per cent per annum, proven reserves accessible through existing technologies would be consumed in the next 45 years. Though a number of possibilities exist for technological improvements that could increase coal extraction, current trends seem to indicate that coal reserves in India are well on their way to exhaustion. Coal imports are possible from countries like Australia, Indonesia and South Africa but whether or not these countries will invest in extraction and export infrastructure is uncertain, given the looming threat of a penalty on the use of fossil fuels.
Other renewable sources such as solar and wind energy could meet incremental demand for power as they do in some industrial economies but they cannot substitute for base load power which India needs. Most authoritative studies on energy are in agreement that in a low carbon electricity system, the base load would have to come either from nuclear or from fossil fuel plants with carbon capture and storage systems (CCS).
CCS is yet to be proved viable on a commercial scale and deploying enough CCS systems to replace nuclear plants is close to impossible. In this light nuclear power is increasingly looking like a necessity rather than an option in India's energy basket in the longer term and therefore India does not have the luxury of altering its energy options substantially in the light of the accident at Fukushima.
India's dominant discourse on nuclear energy is framed from a 'foreign policy' or 'national security interest' perspective rather than an energy, economics, environment or safety perspective as it should be. Nuclear energy is seen as a means to 'great power' status apart from key component of its military arsenal and not really a means to improve quality of life in India. The strategic significance of the nuclear sector is presumed to be so important it is excused from even minimal checks and balances that are vital parts of any other government department. For many decades the atomic energy establishment did not even see the need to have an independent regulatory body. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board was set up only after the serious nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979. But the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board which was established with the mission of ensuring the safety of atomic energy, reports directly to the Atomic Energy Commission which is chaired by the head of the Department of Atomic Energy.
Under this incestuous set up, it is no surprise that India's Nuclear Liability Bill passed recently essentially socialises risk, by passing it to the tax payer and privatises profits, by offering undue protection to the suppliers of technology and operators of nuclear facilities. This is a built-in mechanism for mismanagement of risk in the system as Fukushima clearly demonstrates. The assumption of low probability for a nuclear disaster of biblical proportions is probably one factor behind the skewed framing of the Nuclear Liability Bill but the lesson that India must take away from Fukushima is that there is no such thing as a low probability risk any more.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) which has taken environmental activism to new heights also considers the nuclear industry special enough to make exceptions. On the one hand the MoEF abruptly enforces the 'no-go' rule on 203 coal blocks with a potential output of 660 million tonne of coal per annum, thus jeopardising power generation in the country, while on the other it talks about developmental needs taking precedence over environmental and safety concerns when it comes to nuclear power plants. The inconsistency is partly because of the special status that the nuclear industry enjoys and partly because environmental activism in India is often only a moral front for industrial, political and inter-ministerial battles. Such a corrupt and perverted pretence over environmental integrity and safety that disregards people and their lives will ensure that we will face a Fukushima situation in the future even without assistance from an earthquake or tsunami.
The writer is Senior Fellow, ORF
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE SPLICE OF LIFE
CD CD bang bang. A scamcorder takes aim, and anyone not sporting a pellet-proof vest gets shot. As public entertainers, Bollywood's film shooters have a rival. All sorts of audios and videos have been starring VIPs, and purportedly featuring real-life 'plots', political stunts, spliced dialogue, ingenious sound mixing and other cut-and-paste special effects. CDs, like history, can be rewritable. Little wonder recording devices meant to gather evidence are instead said to be blurring the lines between fact and fabrication.
Courtesy contradictory forensic analyses of the latest phonetic sample at hand, the Bhushans, civil society's lawyerly duo in the Anna Hazare camp, accuse politicians of tape-tampering and fake-mongering. Whatever the truth of the claims and counterclaims, events captured by human intervention - such as electronic interception and digital interpolation - mean excitement, in techno-colour. Call it the splice of life.
Anti-corruption crusaders have ensured Lokpal Bill joint panel meetings are audiotaped for pious posterity. In cases of excess, lies and audio or video tape, the star casts aren't confined to social activists and political hacktivists. They may include fixable judges, babus-on-the-take and corporate-wallahs deploying their favourite lobby horse. Some docu-dramas have legal eagles in key cameos, an allegation that got the Bhushans thinking of suing but Amar Singh far from ruing. Others, such as the "Amar Singh tapes" some years ago, were rumoured to include Bollywood item numbers. Hence the popular demand for their free circulation.
Recordings are many-splendoured things. Watergate to Radiagate, eavesdropping authorities prefer bugs. Without the tap worm, could rulers become a fly on the wall and know what makes enemies tick? America's Nixon was felled by charges of snooping to conquer. In India several governments - from Rajiv Gandhi's and VP Singh's to UPA's - faced off such accusations. Not so lucky, Karnataka CM Ramakrishna Hegde quit in 1988 among much phone-fare. With hidden lenses and microphones, some scribes on their part once breached a cash-counting Bangaru's laxman rekha. More recently, others claimed to film a bid to buy MPs' votes helped by these very politicos. Yes, netas do occasional undercover business with the sultans of sting.
Then there are CDs without clear parentage. Who knows whose handy work they are. Arriving amidst erupting scandals, their timing is impeccable. Just as their targets - tormentors of scamsters - are well-chosen. But are those targeted really smear victims or have their cupboards got skeletons as well? That's a mystery. Equally, tapes and forensic reports getting leaked suggests a whodunit. But info on the leakers' identities is closely guarded. Haven't you heard of the Unofficial Secrets Act?
Now, anyone turning up in seedy CDs always shouts: It's what the doctored ordered! Authentic or not, why fret? Going by the past, most CD-borne 'exposes' erupt only to get copy-protected before being fast-forwarded and then erased from public memory. Trust the message at the end of the recording: This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
YOU WANT TO GET OUT OF THIS PLACE?
WASHINGTON: Ever wondered when flying out of Delhi's Indira Gandhi International airport why you should have to fill in a detailed form and wait in a long line at the immigration counter for an official to let you go out of the country? I have no idea.
At most airports across the world getting in is often the arduous bit. Getting out is relatively easy. Your passport and visa are checked at the airline counter and then there's security. After that hurdle, you are free as a bird to fly out. In some airports they glance at your passport once more, at others they don't bother. "You want out? OK, go!" seems to be the official attitude.
IGI airport these days is an impressive structure. In looks and facilities for travellers it can compare favourably with international airports anywhere. Looking at the shiny new lights and dazzling shops, you would feel someone had finally woken up to take care of India's infrastructure. As indeed they have. Most major Indian airports are no longer the shabby way stations they once were. But here's the problem: Sure, you have to refurbish the nation's infrastructure urgently, but what are you going to do about our organisation and management system? It too needs serious thought.
At IGI's outward immigration counters the officials these days are neatly dressed and polite. But why are they there in the first place? Why should so much paper, ink, stamping equipment, manpower and time be wasted when the computer system surely has all necessary data from your passport, which has already been checked, along with the visa to wherever you are going, at the airline counter? Without that check the airline can't give you a boarding pass. And, if you have come from abroad, you have filled a disembarkation form when landing. That form already has the information you are filling in once again when queuing up to leave the country.
Maybe it is naive to ask such questions because we simpletons know so little of the intricacies of immigration and emigration. But my suspicion is that the officials are there because that's how it has always been and no one has asked whether it's time to rationalise systems in line with international practice. Or, maybe they are there to remind us that the nanny state is watching our every move, even when we are going out on parole for a while. Or, perhaps they are there because we don't know where else to park all those folk who man the counters.
Redundant immigration counters merely represent a malaise affecting so many areas of public management. The trouble is that our public management system is based on a model that has changed little from the days of the Raj. Our police force, for instance, operates on the basis of a 19th century Police Act, which the British had modelled on the Royal Irish Constabulary, which was a force to suppress another bunch of subjects yearning for freedom. Although a few innovative persons - Nandan Nilekani and identity cards come to mind - are trying out ways to overhaul parts of the system to bring it up to speed in this age of electronic communication and easy to access information, someone should re-engineer the whole system.
In a low-trust society such as ours, people in positions of responsibility perhaps don't feel confident enough to rock the boat of bureaucratic complacency. That's how it has been always, why bother to change in my watch? Inefficiencies might burrow like termites into a management structure securely bound in red tape, but bureaucratic control must endure at any cost. After all, the bureaucracy provides a much-needed steel frame for the rulers in this paternalistic style of governance, much as it did under the British. We citizens must accept that 'Father knows best'.
However, in a fast-growing economy with a rapidly expanding middle class, bumbling bureaucratic management can lead either to gridlock or to a demand-led explosion. To avoid any such outcome, someone has to look beyond renovating the infrastructure, which of course is a dire necessity, towards implementing a nuts and bolts reorganisation of our public management system. Time is running out.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE ART OF GIVING
When John Lennon asked us to imagine no possessions in his dreamy ode to peace all those years ago, the thinking man's Beatle would have been bemused by the droves of billionaire philanthropists today loosening their purse strings and forking out fortunes for charitable causes around the world.
The Giving Pledge started by Bill Gates has so far managed to persuade over 30 American billionaires to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime and after their death and to publicly state their intention in an open letter. So far, the campaign has donated more than $22 billion towards health and education improvements in the US as well as in poor countries.
Admirable as this is, the biggest problem with leaving philanthropy to the uber-rich is that it lets the rest of us off the hook.
The real paradigm shift will come when millions of ordinary citizens become everyday philanthropists and drive social change in their communities and beyond. While champagne philanthropy and jaw-dropping donations always make front-page news, citizen philanthropy in some form happens every day, with the not-so-rich contributing smaller amounts and volunteering their time for causes they believe in.
The tipping point for private philanthropy to alleviate social and economic injustice on its own may not be that far away, and here's why.
The twin forces of global interdependence and disruptive new technologies have inadvertently made philanthropy accessible, transnational and democratic. Injustice anywhere quickly finds its way into living rooms everywhere, compelling people to act and pressure their governments to do more. Empowered by social media, individuals can now reach out, support and fund efforts with the click of a mouse or a text message. Citizen philanthropists today do not like to outsource charity to large third-party organisations. They would much rather make a direct impact themselves and viscerally connect with the cause and their beneficiaries. Non-profits like the American Red Cross successfully capitalised on this trend of online giving and raised over $5 million for Haiti relief through an innovative online campaign where individuals could instantly text $10 to a dedicated number.
The Urban Dictionary, a web-based lexicon of slang and subculture usage, defines this new breed of philanthropist as a 'slactivist' - someone who wants to be politically active, but doesn't quite know how, and so jumps on the nearest bandwagon cause to express solidarity. Slactivists around the world and in an increasingly younger India could raise social consciousness and philanthropy to new levels if they are educated about social causes and nudged into a deeper engagement.
If every Indian slactivist with a disposable income were able to donate as little as 10 rupees to a cause just as easily and feel good about it, we would be talking about a movement and not just a fund-raising campaign. This is where public policy needs to innovate and keep pace with current trends. Government cannot legislate virtue of course but it can evolve tax incentive policies and new regulations to encourage and reward private philanthropy. It could also do away with antediluvian controls and processes that stymie giving and citizen involvement.
There is no inheritance tax, for instance, which could spur the wealthy to give to charity while getting tax breaks. Moreover, the year-long wait for organisations to get documents to accept foreign contributions discourages donations. There is no tax benefit for donations of material goods and the cumbersome bureaucratic process to obtain tax exemptions for credible charitable events is in need of an overhaul.
Granted, a radical tax-cutting strategy may not always work. Having more money in our pockets, whether through tax cuts or greater wealth is not necessarily a trigger for increased giving. For that to happen, public attitudes need to change.
Research shows Indians are generous with their time and money but do not trust government and institutions with their grant funds. According to a Barclays Wealth 2010 report entitled 'Global Giving: The Culture of Philanthropy', there are 52 billionaires and 1,25,000 millionaires in India, many of whom made their wealth in the past decade. The number of high net worth individuals is growing at 11% annually. This should result in greater giving, but here's the rub: the newly rich haven't been rich long enough to feel comfortable about giving away their wealth. Individuals and corporations comprise less than 10% of charitable giving in India.
The story of American philanthropy, on the other hand, is an edifying one. Giving USA, an annual survey compiled by the Centre on Philanthropy at Indiana University, reveals that individuals provide a whopping 75% of all giving in the US every year. Over $220 billion in 2009 came from American individuals and about half of that from non-wealthy households.
The generosity of ordinary Indians could be just as impactful if transparent support structures are in place.
A strategic collaborative effort to mobilise a new generation of Indians can spark a philanthropic surge we all want and hope for in a country where many are still desperately poor. Graft and greed may be on the rise but we cannot allow that to dampen spirits and individual generosity - especially in the land of Raja Harishchandra and Gandhi. Giving is a far happier option than giving in. It's easy if you try.
Deora is a member of Parliament and Dhanrajgir is with the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CONTRACTS SHOULD BE HONOURED
BCCI cannot be expected to release Sri Lankan players from their contractual obligations to play in IPL 4, just because the Sri Lankan cricket board (SLC) asked its cricketers to drop their IPL commitments and return home for a preparatory camp before an upcoming England tour.
Although the SLC has gone back on its initial decision and allowed its players to continue playing in IPL 4 till May 18, the episode leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Eleven Sri Lankan players are playing in the IPL.
Seven of them have been selected to the Sri Lankan squad for the upcoming tour of England, which begins on May 14. The bilateral tournament has been on the ICC's Future Tours Programme for the last three years.
Yet the Sri Lankan board did not see a problem in issuing no-objection certificates to its cricketers to play in the IPL till May 20. Asking them later to break their contractual obligations with their respective IPL franchisees is to expect them to act unprofessionally.
Cricket today is a professional sport. The massive amount of cricket that is played makes scheduling tournaments a very serious business. Tours are scheduled years in advance. The IPL is no exception to the rule. Run like professional corporations, IPL franchises bid for foreign players depending on their availability. Millions of dollars are spent on putting together a team. For the Sri Lankan board to disregard this and play hardball is uncalled for.
Every cricketer is bound by contractual obligations, be it towards his club or national board. Not honouring them could seriously affect his brand. It doesn't matter whether one is talking about a foreign player who plays for an Indian league or an Indian player who plays for a foreign league; the principle remains the same.
In the new era of professional cricket, "nation above all" cannot subsume every other argument.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
NATIONAL TEAM TRUMPS ALL
Let's try a little thought experiment here. A subcontinental cricket team is about to undertake an arduous tour to England.
The seamer-friendly conditions are alien, the English team is currently as tough an opponent as any in world cricket, and, putting aside political correctness for a moment, let's face it - there's something deeply satisfying about putting one across the old colonial masters in their backyard.
The country's cricket board asks the captain and other key players playing in a foreign domestic league to return in time for the preparation camp.
Except that the foreign club owners wave their contracts and demand their pound of flesh, national team be damned. The team undertaking the tour is India, the players, Dhoni and his men, the foreign league, say, Australian. Picture the howls of outrage from every television studio and street corner.
But flip the situation around, and suddenly Indian contracts become more important than Sri Lankan players' national obligations. It is rank hypocrisy. And it attempts to undermine the very foundations of international sport. There is not a single sport - not even football with its club payouts for top stars that make IPL moolah look like chump change - where club obligations are held to trump national duty.
The contract one has with one's nation supersedes every other contract. Or does honouring contracts become an imperative only when we're talking about the IPL variety? What we're seeing here is a prime display of the IPL mantra; we have the cash, so like it or lump it. But it doesn't quite work that way. There are intangibles involved in representing the national team that the IPL can never provide.
As new Sri Lankan captain Tillakaratne Dilshan said, playing for his country is more important than playing for the IPL. And that is how it should be.
The drafting of the Jan Lokpal Bill by civil society members has come to resemble Agatha Christie's novel Ten Little Niggers. In the iconic book, the dramatis personae, who are trapped on an island for a seemingly perfect break, find that each is dropping dead, until the final denouement reveals the killer. Now this may be an exaggeration in the case of the Lokpal Bill, but the original plot in which corruption was to be highlighted has swiftly been forgotten given the plots and sub-plots that have emerged. The properties of lawyer father and son Bhushan has engaged us many a day as also the antics of the former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh who always has a surprise or two up his sleeve. The main issue has now shifted to a CD that apparently casts doubts on the role of the two members of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee.
Just when you thought that the culprit may be the doughty Amar Singh, in jumps a leading worthy of the Congress, Digvijaya Singh, who has expressed doubts on the Bhushans' objections to the tape being fake. He then links
their trashing of the CD to be in the same nature as the handing over of the 2G investigation to the accused himself, disgraced former telecom minister A Raja. And the plot gets murkier. Another panel member, the renowned jurist Santosh Hegde has voiced his anguish against the remarks made by
Mr Singh. We don't blame you for being at sea with all these allegations flying back and forth. Of course, nothing excites public opinion as much as land being allotted out of turn to public personalities, and here the Bhushans have added a bit of spice to this plot — or plots as the case may be.
Any hope that help will come via a Hercule Poirot-like figure at the last minute to solve the whole puzzle has been firmly put to rest with the Congress president and National Advisory Council chief Sonia Gandhi distancing herself from any 'smear campaign'. One thing is clear: like in the Agatha Christie novel, everyone has now begun to doubt the other's motives. The activists feel that the government may be working to derail the draft Bill; the political establishment seems to suggest that the activists are not quite above board as initially thought. And worse, Anna Hazare, the central character in this whole drama, has been reduced to being part of the backdrop. In the novel referred to above, the only saving grace was that at least there was a definitive conclusion to the whole tragic farce. In the Lokpal Bill case, it would seem that no such resolution seems possible at the moment. Otherwise, it would be a case of 'then there were none' as everyone in the novel seems to fade away from the scene, though there is the shocker ending. Can we hope for that in this case?
FORGETTING HISTORY CAN BE DANGEROUS
Remember when that old flame poked you on Facebook and, with one hand strumming the keyboard and the other curled around a refreshing beverage, you shot back something colourfully indiscreet? You don't remember? Damn! Am I the only idiot? Okay, remember that stupid flame war in college in which you pushed the envelope of the English language, and now a string of expletives pops up every time someone Googles your name? No? You must be criminally fortunate. Almost everyone I know has said something silly on the Net and it's etched forever in electronic stone.
But concern over data mining, a completely different issue, could change that. Wonder how almost everything on the internet is free? Well, they aren't. We pay for them with our personal and behavioural information, which is silently mined by websites and distilled into marketing strategies to part us from our cash with surgical precision. A whole lot of people don't like this idea, which amounts to profiling, and the US and the European Union (EU) are moving to restrict invasion of privacy.
The EU proposes an opt-in policy, by which sites should tell people precisely what data they are giving away and offer the option to decline. This would blow away the Web's basic business model and end the era of freebies. But more significantly, the policy proposes to allow people to erase parts of their internet footprint.
Last year, the EU began drafting new laws to address privacy issues, which would also give citizens the 'Right to be Forgotten'. But on Thursday, the Spaniards jumped the gun. Even before the draft is tabled, almost 90 people successfully petitioned the country's data protection watchdog to force Google to remove embarrassing or misleading links about them.
Information warehouses like Google and Facebook discourage demands for content removal by making the appeal process forbiddingly difficult. If Google is forced to pull content now, it will serve as a valuable precedent not only for people who have embarrassed themselves online, but also for those who have been misrepresented. It will help all the people whose fans have lovingly created Wikipedia pages for them, with inaccurate information. And all the prominent citizens whose enemies have created Facebook profiles to impersonate them. Last year, Amartya Sen was unpleasantly surprised to find a fake Amartya Sen on Facebook, affably chatting with the world and advocating right-wing viewpoints which the left-leaning economist deprecates. New laws on privacy and identity would put paid to that sort of thing.
But the Right to be Forgotten could be a dangerous beast to let loose, because bundled with it comes the right to forget, and to force forgetfulness upon others by removing information from the record. It would erase embarrassing but harmless transgressions from your past, of the sort that employers trawl for when you apply to them. But it could also open the door to wholesale erasure of seriously unpleasant history — not just personal but also political. It would amount to doctoring the world's collective memory.
Personally, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of erasing the past. It's better to add content rather than subtract it, to let people annotate their record with apologies, corrections, clarifications, even rants and humour, and thus set it straight.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine. The views expressed by the author are personal.
OUR POLE STARS
Indians walk, trek, climb, swim, navigate, pilot — all as to the manner born. But skiing is not a movement that comes naturally to our joints, nor sledge-driving to our aided propulsions.
And yet, when seven young men from the Indian Army, led by 44-year-old Colonel Anand Swaroop of our Corps of Engineers, accomplished a skiing feat of global interest on January 15, 2011, it did not get the notice it deserved. We were understandably agonised at the time by the Sabarimala stampede and worried over a spike in vegetable prices. But surely events such as the one-day Test then on in South Africa should have yielded spotlight to the news that was of the order of the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. But no, our obsession with the willow obscured this signal event. Reading Rudraneil Sengupta's re-enactment of the extraordinary feat (Mint, March 19) was, therefore, a huge perspective changer, beside being a descriptive enchantment. The army team completed a remarkable trek from Antarctica's coast to its centre, the South Pole — a distance of 1,170 kilometres — on skis. No one else had done anything quite like this before. Not since the plucky Norwegian Roald Amundsen and four others became the first human beings to stand on the South Pole on December 15, 1911.
Swaroop and the seven men, all in their 20s, inched their way forward for 50 days against winds so strong that their flapping clothes sounded like helicopters. Each hour on the 'frozen choppy sea' was broken by a 10-minute break for nutriment and rehydration. And advance was not a matter of progress with the help of compass needles but of extreme caution, for subterranean crevasses and snow-ridges could, in one moment, lead to tragedy. The men knew, though they may not have dwelt on the fact that a few days after Amundsen's success, the British team led by naval officer Robert Scott had perished on its return journey, trapped in a blizzard. When the team reached its destination, Swaroop said: "The first feeling was… relief." And rifleman Showkat Mir said: "It was like rebirth!".
Their reactions reminded me about the narratives of the 1911 endeavour I had read some years ago, in Norway. Amundsen was no push-over. 'Junior' in every sense to his fellow Norwegian the explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel laureate Fridtjof Nansen, who had reached the North Pole himself, Amundsen had taken Nansen's Fram for the sea-journey from Norway. Telling Nansen and Scott (obviously to mislead the latter) that he was headed to the North Pole, which would have been a feat, but not a first, Amundsen instead turned southwards, to the Polar opposite. Using his knowledge of sled-dogs he took 52 of them to do the heavy duty of pulling the sledges and — to the post-facto horror of many — to serve as food for the men and dogs.
Amundsen and his men were models of physical fitness. So much so that (it is said) when Amundsen went to a doctor for a check-up before setting off, the doctor was so amazed by the perfection that called in his medical interns to see the specimen in human physiognomy that lay before them.
Standing at last on the Pole, the 39-year-old and ever-taciturn Amundsen was prayerful and brief. He simply said: "God be thanked." But one of Amundsen's colleagues Helmer Hanssen said something almost identically practical and honest, like our own Swaroop. Hanssen said he was "… relieved… that I should no longer have to stare down at the compass in the biting wind…"
Like our team now, the Norwegians raised their national flag on the polar ice. Olav Bjaaland wrote in his diary: "So now we have attained the goal of our desires, and the great thing is that we are here, the first men, no English flag waves but the three-coloured Norwegian…"
On returning home, they were feted. And they went to Britain as well, a journey of some delicacy since not just England but the world mourned Scott and his men. Lord Curzon, fresh from his Indian viceroyalty, was by then President of the Royal Geographic Society. The body invited Amundsen and his party to a felicitatory event in London. But the tug of human emotions can be irresistible. At the end of a handsome tribute to the visitors, with Scott's memory goading his thoughts, Curzon could not help propose a toast that must rank among the most ungracious ever to be proposed: "And yes, three cheers to the Norwegian dogs." There is no record of how Amundsen responded. Amundsen's frenzied will-power was matched only by a shrewd sense of preparedness. He described good luck as "the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it" and said of "bad luck": "Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time… this is called bad luck."
A national hero next only to Nansen, Amundsen wanted to become the only man to have stood on both poles and with Umberto Nobile tried an air landing on the North Pole. The attempt did not succeed. Later, when Nobile's plane, the new airship Italia, vanished mysteriously in that region, Amundsen took off on a rescue mission with some others. He disappeared on June 18, 1928, while flying on that rescue mission. Amundsen's body was never found.
The high drama surrounding the 1911 South Pole expedition of Amundsen and his later tragic career have lent themselves to legend and to lore. Failure, trauma, tragedy make it to news, to comment. Success is neither equally acclaimed, nor found half as interesting. But it needs to be, when the odds that attend victory are as tough as when they mark defeat. Our January 2011 South Pole expedition ought not to be forgotten merely because it won a quiet victory. And that, without canine help.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor. The views expressed by the author are personal.
DEMOCRACY, GROUND UP
A large section of India's intelligentsia has censured Anna Hazare on two principal counts: one, his method of coercion by fasting is antithetical in a democratic set-up with access to other avenues of dissent; two, Hazare proposes a Jan Lokpal Bill that will, most probably, turn into an autocratic office by virtue of being sanctioned with a largesse of liberty.
These contentions rest on democratic norms and processes being violated. So Hazare stands culpable in comparison to an ideal larger than himself and his 'antics': democracy.
To say that democracy is not the best form of political systems could violate the spirit of the times. However, democracy is a form — a body whose substance is trust. Public institutions can be considered democratic only on evidenced execution of vested power in line with vested trust. It sounds cliched to state that public trust has been found misplaced, perhaps fatally injured. In general the excesses of the governments manage to get bigger than the sum of all votes.
Democracy, in practice, is more than Tocqueville's ideal. The present hurly-burly isn't over the scams the UPA government has found itself in; it's an indictment of the nature of the State itself. It is also not a penchant for radicalism that has drawn a tweeting middle-class to support Hazare.
So the UPA can't overlook what Hazare's supporters want. Theoretical finesse against the Jan Lokpal Bill doesn't support the process of democratisation even though it ironically defends the textbook principle. Agreed, the mass support for the Jan Lokpal Bill can't be seen as a plebiscite. But if democratisation is about the majority — and it is — then the present manoeuvres remain within the defined boundary of the idea.
Let's not forget that the Bill will become law only with a parliamentary nod. The drafting committee has representatives from both the sides of the politician-non-politician fence. The natural proclivity of political representatives to defend their vested power should be as acceptable as that of civil society representatives to establish their rights. The question of the establishment of a dictatorial institution then does not arise.
People want a reasonable institution that can address corruption at the very basic level where it affects their lives. That's all. There is no idea in the Bill to give teeth to regulatory bodies, to curb the parallel economy, to deal with toxic financial imports, to rein inflation or what have you.
As a next step, dialogue on the Bill should be held with the civil society which presently stands vilified in a government versus people diatribe. What's more, recent debates over personal integrity of members of the drafting committee should not serve to distract attention from the need for the establishment of an institution — constitutionally enshrined by the legislative council for ensuring probity at the ground levels.
T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".
Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."
No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.
Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE PM'S SPEECH
The prime minister has now acknowledged the "growing feeling among the people that our laws, systems and procedures are not effective in dealing with corruption." On Civil Services Day, he squarely took on the question of popular discontent, saying "people expect swift and exemplary action and rightly so." The PM announced the government's plans to strengthen the legislative framework, improve administrative practices and the system's ability to quickly respond to a breach — and he exhorted public officials to play a more proactive role in this effort.
The question of corruption, for all its emotive appeal, is not easy to spot and solve in a system that is geared towards enlarging patronage. It can range from the ways laws are preferentially framed and interpreted and contracts secured, to petty bureaucratic "speed money", to nepotism, to political funding and much that operates in the cracks between systems. Those who hold public office in India are, in practice, largely insulated from prosecution unless it suits another set of interests to push it. For example, Article 311 impedes action against civil servants ostensibly to shield them from capricious politicians. Moving a criminal investigation against an officer requires the minister's permission, which can be delayed for as long as it suits them, because the political class and the bureaucracy are tightly linked in the subversion of office.
Trying to reform one part of the system shows up the ways it is connected to other parts — the bureaucracy to politics, politics to the judiciary, and so on. However, we haven't progressed even on the small fixes that everyone agrees on. The CBI and state-level anti-corruption bureaus are easily manipulated by power. Far from fully enacting it, there was even a move to water down the Prevention of Corruption Act, which takes on corrupt public officials, in 2008 when the government tried to hurry through 17 bills with minimal discussion. In a low-corruption country, it would be easier to self-correct, to apprehend and punish deviations from the norm. Whistle-blowing would be a practical option. Tackling political corruption requires countervailing forces like the judiciary, the media and investigative agencies to be robust. The government would do well to respect prevailing sentiment, and install better alarms and stronger penalties.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Governments across the world took steps in recent decades to make adoption a simpler process. Unfortunately, parents wanting to adopt and children in orphanages continue to languish in the absence of each other, owing largely to the bureaucracy of adoption. It is time to take a hard look at the intricacies of and complaints about adoption in India.
The establishment of the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) was to make adoption easier. The Laxmi Kant Pandey case, 26 years ago, was the instant the Supreme Court framed the rules protecting the rights of adoptable children. Now, a PIL filed by an adoption agency has taken both CARA and the women and child development ministry to task for their alleged "apathy and corruption" that has made the adoption process a "farce", whereby "opaque state-run children's homes" and criminals exploit children and parents. Adoption, the PIL alleges, has been reduced to a "commercial transaction".
Steering clear of the particular petition, it can nevertheless be said that adopting parents are not a happy lot — not until they finally bring the child home. What they undergo to secure that is usually not a happy story. The SC has demanded an explanation from the ministry and CARA. Something as delicate and personal as adopting a child is never helped by an overly bureaucratic system. Recently, the government launched the Central Adoption Resource and Guidance System to facilitate adoption with an online database. Such right-headed technological efforts aimed at providing technical ease to a very complex process can always be compromised by old-style corruption and red-tapism. Therefore, a review of the adoption process is needed, with the ever-consistent aim of making it as easy as possible for prospective parents to adopt children.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
MINES AND THE MAN
The Congress party's general secretary, Digvijaya Singh, has been leading a foolish charge against Justice Santosh Hegde's record as Lokayukta in Karnataka. On Thursday, he again said that despite having the institution of Lokayukta, Karnataka had "not been able to control corruption", which in the current political environment can only be seen as an attack on Hedge, who has been one of the strongest proponents of a Central-level Lokpal bill, and is one of the nominated members of the bill's drafting committee. "There is rampant corruption in Karnataka, and he is not able to control it," Singh said. This is an unacceptable slur on the very hard work that
Justice Hedge put in in Karnataka, work that revealed to those outside the troubled state the extent to which the mining mafia had bent and broken regulations.
His report was 1,600 pages long, and was the result of exhaustive — and, no doubt, exhausting — spadework. Hegde reportedly checked each mine; the report is a goldmine of cross-references and cross-checking. For example, the Lokayukta compared the number of transport permits used to the amount of iron ore actually exported, to figure out exactly how much each permit was being overused. The report's fallout was damning for the Reddy brothers of Bellary in particular; they were the subject of a careful investigation in this newspaper, that laid bare the degree to which they had subverted processes. The Supreme Court was forced to get involved, pushing the state administration towards cleaning up Karnataka's mining industry; the SC's own investigative team submitted a report that followed up on Hegde's findings. The seven-volume SC report endorsed Hegde's findings, and put the blame squarely on the state administration: "After filing of the report of the Lokayukta, practically for two-and-a-half years no effective action has been taken by the state of Karnataka to verify the above issues."
Justice Hegde's work in Karnataka is admirable. That the state's politics has warped the response to his efforts is not just the ruling
BJP's fault, but also the Congress's; the original mining permits were handed out by a Congress government. The Congress would be wise to remember that, and stay high-minded about its objections to a new Lokpal bill. Trying to attack Hegde's tenure as Lokayukta is illogical and self-serving.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WE, THE THIEVING PEOPLE
Some questions can have only one answer. For example, is corruption a bloody awful thing? Are you sick and tired and outraged by recent scandals? Shouldn't the perpetrators of all these be thrown into jail? Is the process of catching such thieves in high positions too slow, too compromised and, actually, a joke? Does India need to set up a new, effective mechanism to not only catch and convict the corrupt but also to strike terror in the hearts of all those who may have felt tempted to steal? If the Jan Lokpal bill, drafted by well-meaning, sincere members of the civil society, provides that legal framework, should it be passed forthwith? The answer to all these will be a resounding, unanimous "YES". No question. No argument.
Now, let's pose some more questions: have you read the text of the proposed bill? The honest answer is most of you have not. Nor had I, until late last week. So here are some follow-up questions: in that fight against corruption are you willing to reshuffle the great constitutional arrangement of checks and balances, separation of powers and responsibilities within our institutions, Parliament, executive and the judiciary? Will you create an institution that's a cop-cum-prosecutor-cum-inquisitor-cum-judge at the same time, in a "na appeal, na vakil, na daleel" (the expression made famous during the Emergency) kind of arrangement? Do you want an institution that will override the judiciary and Parliament, have the magisterial powers of search and seizure and, as time passes, will pretty much appoint its own successors and be answerable to none, particularly as even the judges of the Supreme Court will quake in their robes before they hear complaints against the Lokpal as it would also have the powers to investigate complaints against them (there is a concession however: such investigations will not be carried out on behalf of the Lokpal by a police officer below the rank of a superintendent of police)? Finally, are you willing to appoint a General Musharraf in mufti to sort out all that bedevils India today? I can presume the answer to all these will be generally no, though there will be some quibbles over the interpretation of this and that. But please do read the text of the bill (available at www.indiaagainstcorruption.org) as we go on.
The Musharraf reference is brought in with great care. He tried to create a perfect system with a "democracy" that was "guided" by him, and his corps commanders, obviously men with "unimpeachable integrity" (a term you will read often in the Lokpal bill draft) and certainly unquestionable patriotism. It worked well for nine years, until he willy nilly got caught in putting his control over his judiciary to the test of public opinion and a Pakistan, even under military rule, revolted. It is tough to see how India, old or new, would ever accept so dictatorial an arrangement. The Musharraf reference is also tempting because the standard answer from this group of civil society leaders to the question if their bill violates the basic spirit of the Constitution is, so what, the Constitution can be amended as it has been so many times. But the kind, and number of Constitutional amendments this draft will require, will need a Musharraf. Remember how he unveiled his new constitution at a press conference, and carried out 36 amendments on the spot, on the suggestions of journalists who, I presume, fitted his definition of members of civil society.
Read along this draft with me. First of all, the composition of the 10-member Lokpal and its chief. Four will have to be former senior lawyers or judges, and no more than two former civil servants. Where will the rest come from? Your guess is as good as mine. All of these will have to be people of "unimpeachable integrity" and also "should have demonstrated their resolve to fight corruption in the past." From where will you find these people, particularly as you are working on the presumption that a large number of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts do not pass that test of unimpeachable integrity. And who will choose them? A committee headed by the prime minister who, in turn, will be under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal he chooses. But, wait, it is more complicated than that. This committee shall include the two youngest judges of our high courts and Supreme Court respectively, the presumption being that the young are cleaner (Clause 6, 5 c and d). But, if a Lokpal has to be fired for misdemeanour, the case will be heard by a bench consisting of the five seniormost judges of the Supreme Court? Confused? Why are the youngest virtuous while hiring, and the seniormost equally so while firing?
The first time, this selection committee will set up a search committee of 10, of which five shall be former CAGs and CECs but only if there has never been a "substantive" allegation of corruption against them, nor do they have any "strong" political affiliations. Who is to sit in judgment over such subjective criteria? But wait. This committee of five will then choose five members from the civil society. How civil society is defined we do not know, but in fairness, you should presume we journalists will not be among them. If this is not sounding impossible already, this search committee has to recommend at least "three times the names as there are vacancies" (Clause 6, 10 f). So if you thought it is hard enough to find so many perfect men and women, you now know that you have to find thrice as many. And, of course, when the selection committee's choice is finally forwarded to the president, she "shall" sign it within a month. This would make the Congress party blush, in particular, as the last time the president of the Republic was treated so peremptorily was during the Emergency. Remember Abu Abraham's immortal cartoon in this paper, showing Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed in his bathtub, handing out a signed ordinance through an ajar door, and saying, if there are more ordinances, can they wait till I finish?
If the bill tells the president what she "shall" do, it similarly directs the Supreme Court, five seniormost of whose judges will hear any complaints against the Lokpal and "shall not dismiss such petitions in liminae." And, of course, should they decide that the Lokpal is guilty, they will write to the president who "shall" fire him within a month.
If the idea of this bill is to take away all discretion, and strike terror in the hearts of the bad guys, it does that very effectively.
Except, so many of the rest, generally innocent Indians, may live in that terror as well. The bill, for example, entitles the Lokpal to collect 10 per cent of all the fines collected, stolen wealth recovered, or even national wealth saved from being stolen, in its own corpus for its own use, thereby creating extortionist incentive: the more you value, the more you collect. Read on further. If you report on another citizen and he is caught and convicted, you would similarly earn 10 per cent of the money recovered, and/ or the money saved from being swindled as your reward. We will, therefore, be incentivised by law to become a nation of cops and spies, sneaking on neighbours and family for pecuniary gain. Such things happen in North Korea and if it is your argument that its people are happier than us Indians, we will need some convincing. Of course, this may see so many Indians in jail that real estate companies, maybe even DB Realty and Unitech, may find it profitable to diversify into building new prisons all over the country. Further, almost all Lokpal proceedings, from selection committee meetings to trials, will be videorecorded and copies will be available for a fee. This will be a great stimulus for the video industry and if you had any spare cash you had better buy some Moserbaer stock.
The bill plays nicely on the current sab chor hain mood. So if a company is found to benefit from a corrupt practice, five times the loss it is supposed to have caused the public (it could have been 5 x 1.76 lakh crore in case of the telecom scam) will be recovered by auctioning not just its assets, but also the personal assets of its directors. You can go on, the Lokpal members will be deemed police officers, have the powers of seizure and search without going to a magistrate — precisely the question with Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act) — have protection of contempt of court law, will function as civil courts, be investigators and prosecutors, throwing out the very principle of separation of powers, checks and balances (Clauses 8-19, 21, 24, 25, 27, 32).
As we saw in the first five questions raised, and answered in the affirmative in this article, there is no doubt that all Indians are now desperately angry with corruption. But is the way to fight it to totally subvert our constitutional arrangement and create an institution with absolute, unchallenged and draconian powers? Or install a Kim Il Sung with his politburo? This bill, in this form, is designed to match the dictum of "absolute power corrupts absolutely." It also presumes all Indians are thieves, unless proven otherwise, and can only be governed in a police state. Further, that a society of a billion-plus thieves can be cleansed by barely a dozen individuals armed with the most undemocratic law drafted in a democracy outside its Parliament. That is why this needs greater, cooler discussion. Medha Patkar is right in saying that the antecedents of the civil society committee members are not the most important thing and that there should, instead, be a vigorous debate on all aspects of this bill. That is what we are trying to initiate in this paper.
A word about the response of the political class so far. The Congress has been panicking because of its own well-earned and deserved guilty conscience as so many scams have happened under its watch. The BJP touchingly believes this is its second Ganesh-drinking-milk moment that will help bring it back to power. But it does not see the contradiction of backing Santosh Hegde against the Congress in Delhi and Yeddyurappa against him in Bangalore. A strong, effective institutional framework to prevent and punish corruption is an idea whose time has come. This draft bill, unfortunately, is like losing your way before starting that journey.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
JUDGE, JURY, AND AUDIENCE
MIHIR S SHARMA
It isn't surprising, perhaps, that TV news thinks a Jan Lokpal bill that hands someone unaccountable powers as a super-judge and super-prosecutor is absolutely OK. Because, after all, that's what they like to play at five nights a week.
Yes, they're in denial about it. On Times Now's News Hour on Monday, Arnab Goswami announced that "I am not coming here as an arbiter" before adding that "the entire country knew" that something or the other was true.
And yes, people are usually allowed to speak in their defence. This can lead to trouble, if the defendant is, for example, Amar Singh. Singh reacts to any accusation with overwhelming, Bush-doctrine force; and so, when he appeared on NDTV 24x7's The Buck Stops Here, he chose the opening minutes of that show to attack instead, launching a broadside from over NDTV's shaking shoulders at his current foes, Shanti and Prashant Bhushan. At one point he described Shanti Bhushan as "perpetually in the habit of insulting Chief Justices of the Supreme Court... he calls every CJI corrupt," also the point at which Barkha Dutt, looking a little panicky, intervened. He managed, however, to use the "Caesar's wife should be above suspicion" metaphor before he eventually ground to a halt.
We hardly got to see the Caesar's wives in question, "Bhushans". News TV universally drops the definite article, asking things like "Have Bhushans Lost Moral
Authority", reinforcing the get-one-free nature of some recent stories. (Not one Bhushan per panel, but two! Not one farmhouse, but two!)
One Bhushan, Prashant, talked to a relatively polite Arnab Goswami on Times Now, where he conducted his own defence. Besides that, others did the speaking.
Though that is a little unfair, as on News TV, the act of defence is its own punishment. In the real world, if you're accused of something, it is investigated, you are tried, and punished if convicted. Here, you are accused of something, and then you must either prostrate yourself to TV Power by removing yourself or resigning, or else meekly submit to the high-minded questioning of their lordships, the anchors. A hoarse Kiran Bedi growled on CNN-IBN: "How often do you want us — do you want Bhushans always to be before televisions, always defending themselves? They've got nothing else to do? None of us have anything else to do?" (Not at the moment, it appears.)
The most amusing variation came on The Buck Stops Here, as Barkha Dutt cross-questioned Agnivesh, who presumably had nothing to do that evening: "From
Tharoor to Chavan to Pawar, there are so many examples where, legally the accusations have not proved, but even before a trial beginning, politicians have stepped aside... now some people are making the argument that those drafting this bill should do the same. Do you believe the same standards should be applied as they are applied to politicians?"
There was a silence. Then Agnivesh, with straight-faced solemnity, turned the trial on its head. "Barkhaji, let me put it to you this way. Supposing there is an accusation of corruption against a some mediaperson who is an anchor of a very famous TV channel and if that person is initiating debate after debate on corruption and if such person is asked: first, get yourself cleared of all these allegations and only then will you have the moral right to start or initiate a debate on corruption, should that person step down? What would be your answer?" Justice Hegde — he was, of course, on, having nothing on his plate but Part II of his thousand-page report on illegal mining — was in the grip of some strong emotion, either sniggering or wincing. It was difficult to tell which, as his hand was strategically hiding his face.
Dutt, momentarily blindsided by this demand for judicial accountability, nevertheless gave us the clearest description of the News TV Judicial Process I've yet heard: "My answer would be very simple: we must all answer to the same levels of scrutiny that we subject other people to, and that is exactly what we are debating. Should that take the shape of answering questions? Of stepping down? It will vary from case to case."
And week to week. But every week, someone will be judged —and their punishment? Going on TV.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE BRIBING GAME
In a clever paper posted on the finance ministry's website, Kaushik Basu, chief economic adviser, has argued that the act of bribing should be made legal. Strictly speaking, the argument applies only to what Basu calls "harassment bribes", that is bribes that people give in order to get something they are entitled to, like a passport or a ration card. How the legal system is supposed to distinguish between harassment bribes and other bribes is not discussed. But let us leave that aside and focus on harassment bribes.
The argument is simple enough: if bribe-giving (though not bribe-taking) is made legal, bribe-givers will have an incentive to "blow the whistle" after paying a bribe. Knowing this, bribe-takers will hesitate to take bribes. Note that the paper is boldly prescriptive: "The central message of this paper is that we should declare the act of giving a bribe in all such cases [of harassment bribes] as legitimate activity... this will cause a sharp decline in the incidence of bribery" (emphasis added).
The moral acceptability of this proposal has already been questioned by other commentators. Not only does it condone bribe-giving, it also relies on bribe-givers being doubly corrupt: by giving a bribe, and by stabbing bribe-takers in the back as they blow the whistle after the event. Be that as it may, there is another problem with Basu's paper: the central argument — that legalisation of bribe-giving will cause a sharp decline in the incidence of bribery — is incorrect.
To see this, note that a bribe-giver has three options (not two, such as "bribe" and "don't bribe"): don't pay a bribe; pay a bribe and blow the whistle; and pay a bribe but don't blow the whistle. As Basu correctly points out, the "legalisation" proposal enhances the attractiveness of the second option vis-à-vis the first. However, it also makes the third option more attractive, in two ways: the bribe-giver is not penalised if caught, and her conscience is also clearer since bribe-giving is not illegal. It is easy to construct examples where the effect of the proposal would be a switch from the first to the third option, leading to an increase — not decrease — in the incidence of bribery.
To illustrate, consider someone who is tempted to pay a bribe to get a telephone line. Suppose that the consequences of blowing the whistle are huge litigation costs, possible harassment and little chance of getting justice — not a far-fetched assumption. In this situation, "paying a bribe and blowing the whistle" is not much of an option, even if bribe-giving is legal. The real choice is between not paying a bribe, and paying a bribe without blowing the whistle. It is perfectly possible that many people would choose the former if bribing is illegal and punishable, but the latter (paying a bribe) if bribe-giving is legalised. The argument applies even after factoring in the bribe-taker's behaviour, as one must naturally do in the game-theoretic approach adopted by Kaushik Basu.
None of this detracts from the possibility that legalising bribe-giving might lead, in some circumstances, to a decline in the incidence of bribing. But Basu's general claim that the proposal guarantees "a sharp decline in the incidence of bribery" does not stand scrutiny.
Basu's argument is all the more puzzling as the paper ends with a plea for acknowledging the role of values and ethics in eradicating corruption: "if we want to really get at corruption, what we need to build up are values of honesty and integrity in society". Well said. But how is the legalisation of bribe-giving supposed to help in building up such values?
In fact, once moral considerations are introduced, the initial argument breaks down once again. Is the legalisation of bribe-giving supposed to make it less immoral? If so, that would tend to encourage, not discourage, bribing. If not, why would anyone blow the whistle after paying a bribe? That would be like drawing attention to one's own immorality. Possibly to deal with this, Basu suggests that bribes might be "reimbursed" to bribe-givers if they blow the whistle. That would indeed give them an incentive to blow the whistle — but this suggestion takes us further and further away from anything like the real world.
It may be argued that paying a harassment bribe is not morally reprehensible in the first place, because the bribe-giver is a victim and the bribe is an act of self-defence. I am not persuaded. When you pay a harassment bribe, you abdicate your duty to use other means to resist the harassment, not only for yourself but also on behalf of others who might face the same situation. You also secure an advantage for yourself, vis-à-vis others who may not be able or willing to bribe. This does not sound particularly ethical.
If you find all this heavy-going, just think about it from a common-sense point of view: does it make sense to fight corruption by making it easier for people to blow the whistle on their own acts of bribe-giving, so that bribe-takers are deterred from asking for a bribe in the first place? Ethical issues aside, this is quite a fanciful idea, even if it is certainly possible to think of situations where it might work.
Creative and thought-provoking as it may be, Kaushik Basu's paper is symptomatic of a common disease in the economics profession: the tendency to make sweeping policy recommendations based on analytical models that have a very limited domain of validity. In this case, the problem is compounded by analytical flaws as well as tensions between economic arguments and ethical concerns. Basu's proposal is excellent fodder for intellectual debate, but rather dangerous as far as real-world policy-making is concerned.
The writer is honorary professor at the Delhi School of Economics and member of the National Advisory Council
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WHY THIS 'FREEDOM' IS FALSE
Slogans of the "Second Freedom Struggle", references to the political class as "kale angrez", Anna Hazare as Gandhian and even Gandhi, the wearing of the Gandhi topi, the projection of the fast-unto-death as a Gandhian method, have all evoked linkages with the struggle for Indian Independence. Many enthusiastic TV reporters, swayed by the sight of swelling crowds, added their bit by calling it the biggest movement since Independence. Was this just hyperbole or did people really believe they were heralding the second freedom struggle? If they did, it is a serious matter indeed, and we need to examine whether a comparison is valid. Are there similarities, in worldview, ideology, organisation, methods, nature of leadership, mass support? My understanding is, there is little in common between that epic struggle and the agitation led by "India against Corruption".
The first difference is the role of ideology or worldview. The national movement was built around a very sophisticated ideological discourse, most of which was developed by the first generation of nationalists, erroneously called Moderates, who were towering intellectuals. Dadabhai Naoroji, R. C. Dutt, Ranade, Gokhale, G. Subramania Iyer, were among those who grounded Indian nationalism firmly on the foundation of anti-imperialism by fashioning the world's first economic critique of colonialism, before Hobson and Lenin. The critique of imperialism based on political economy prevented Indian nationalism from straying into the dangerous alleys of "cultural nationalism", the cloak under which Hindu communalism masqueraded as Indian nationalism. Since neither Hindu nor Muslim communalists were anti-imperialist in worldview, they couldn't gain legitimacy as nationalists.
Gandhiji further ensured Indians were trained to struggle against the system, and not against individuals (however obnoxious they may be) who ran the system, by continuously making the distinction between the two. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre was not to be avenged by demanding that the perpetrator General Dyer should be hung from the nearest lamppost but by launching the Non-Cooperation Movement and declaring Swaraj as the goal. Thus, anger was directed against the symbols of enslavement, such as foreign cloth, the salt law, or the land revenue system (as in Bardoli), and not against colonial officials. Any movement claiming affinity to the freedom struggle has to imbibe at least this basic idea: great movements are about bringing systemic or structural change and not about punishing the guilty. In the present case, the root causes of corruption have to be identified by analysing the economic, political and social system and a complex and sophisticated understanding evolved. The critique of corruption, as it is happening now, in an ideological vacuum, is at risk of being appropriated by forces representing ideologies which are anything but progressive. Fascists, communalists, fundamentalists, populists, and other unidentified objects, can all climb on to the idealist, ideology-free bandwagon for a free ride to power, because there is no ideological filter which sifts the grain from the chaff.
Another area of difference is that while the current agitation lacks an organisational framework of its own, Gandhiji's first task in 1920 when he took over the leadership, was to fashion the INC into a country-wide organisation based on annual elections from the village and mohalla level upwards till the AICC. It is the organisation that provides the ideological ballast and the mobilisation and discipline required for a successful struggle. In its absence, forces with strong organisational networks are likely to appropriate the gains, and yoke them to other ideological agendas, perhaps never imagined by the initiators of the struggle. The presence of the RSS version of Bharat Mata on the stage backdrop, the dialogue with Narendra Modi, the visit of Ram Madhav of the RSS to Jantar Mantar raise serious apprehensions about this appropriation. Movements without clear-cut ideologies, and lacking their own organisational structures, are prone to this danger, as indeed happened in the JP movement as well. If a leader like JP, with far greater intellectual and political stature, could fall prey to the ideologically and organisationally powerful forces of the RSS, are we not justified in worrying about the present leadership?
Another vital difference is in the attitude to politics, the political process and politicians. The national movement sought to bring the whole of civil society into politics. Gandhiji's great contribution was to make political beings out of India's apathetic "dumb millions", not to tell them to shun politics. While critiquing its weaknesses, Gandhiji made it clear that the Congress stood for a parliamentary form of government, with full civil liberties. The disdain for the political class and the political processes of representative democracy witnessed recently is most dangerous because it delegitimises the democratic system, thus giving strength to authoritarian, fascist and militaristic alternatives.
Also striking is the vast difference in the nature of the leadership. Anna Hazare would surely be the first to dismiss being likened to Gandhiji, given that he was quick to retort that you need the methods of Shivaji along with those of Gandhi when challenged as to how his call for capital punishment to the corrupt could be termed Gandhian. The Gandhian method of boycott and picketing of liquor shops and of their customers is far removed from the reported flogging of alcohol consumers in Anna's village! The weapon of the fast, in Gandhiji's hand, was a subtle instrument, used only when all other methods were shown to have been tried and failed, and was wielded with a surgeon's precision to arouse the moral conscience of the people and appeal to the heart of the opponent. Gandhiji himself had expressed reservations about its use in a democratic framework in independent India. Who can deny that its indiscriminate use has robbed it of the moral power it had acquired in the days of the freedom struggle?
It is true that people in general are angry and have suffered a blow to their self-esteem with the spate of scams and leaks in recent months. It is easy to use this anger to build an atmosphere of populism by promising instant solutions such as the Jan Lokpal Bill. But leadership is about exercising restraint as much as it is about arousing outrage.
However, the political class and the Indian state can only ignore the warning signals sent by the popular response to the call for rooting out corruption at their own peril. People's concerns have to be understood, respected and addressed, but in a manner that strengthens our constitutional democracy, the enduring legacy of our freedom struggle.
The writer is professor of modern Indian history, JNU, and director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE NEW HINDU CONSTANT
SURJIT S BHALLA
It is now official. It has the imprimatur of both the Planning Commission chairman, Montek Ahluwalia, and the lead poverty member in the Commission, Abhijit Sen: India has a new Hindu constant.
For the last almost 30 years (January 1983 to July 2010), it hasn't mattered which political party was in power, or which economic reforms or growth had taken place, or whether there was a drought or a bountiful year, or whether there were economists or ideologues in the Planning Commission. It also did not matter that you raised or lowered the poverty line, or how much grain rotted in the godowns. It also has not mattered whether Indians were killing less or more girls before they were born.
It also has not mattered how much money was being spent to alleviate poverty, or whether anti-poverty programs existed, or how many new ones remained to be invented. It has not mattered whether the economy grew at 4 per cent per annum, or 6 per cent, or 9 per cent. What is this constant even more remarkable than gravity? It is the rate at which the head count ratio of poverty declines in India — 1, yes only 1, percentage point decline in poverty per year. (Corresponding to this is a related constant — average real per capita expenditure grows at 1.4 per cent per annum.)
Somebody should take credit for the discovery of this most constant of constants. I will call it the Hindu constant, Mark II. As some of you might recall, Raj Krishna discovered that for the three decades post independence, the Indian economy grew at an average rate of 3.5 per cent per annum — the Hindu constant Mark I. But this average varied with the weather, exports, and other economic variables. What is remarkable about the poverty constant is that it does not vary with anything.
Stated differently, I want to assert that my constant is much more of a constant than Raj Krishna's. It is "as constant as the Northern star/ Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality/ There is no fellow in the firmament". The constancy of the Northern star is given to us by God and Shakespeare. The poverty constant is given to us by woman — the world wide constituency of those interested in keeping "poverty" high for the country while profiting from its apparent lack of demise. The poverty constant is mandated to stay constant; how this mandate is carried out is conjectured upon below.
Pick a time-period over the last 30 years, pick a poverty line, the result stays the same. In 1983, there were 59 per cent and 43 per cent poor (new — Tendulkar — and old poverty line, respectively). The Abhijit Sen computations just out for 2009/10 — 32 per cent poor according to the new line, and 16 per cent poor, old line. The latter number has not been released, presumably because the Indian government does not want to achieve the Millennium Development Goals some six years before the official date of 2015. In 2004-05, the poverty numbers were 37 and 22 per cent, respectively. So 30 years or 5 years, the mandarins say the same — only 1 percentage point poor decline per year. Period.
How is the execution of the poverty constant carried out? It is seemingly complicated, but ever so simple. In order to understand the enormity of the constant (or the statistical jugglery?) one needs to recap the method of computation of the head count ratio of poverty.
Every five years, the prestigious National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) of India conducts a survey of some 125,000 households. Expenditures on each item are recorded separately. Few survey organisations still obtain an estimate of household expenditure on salt. But the NSSO feels it owes to the salt history of India to keep recording it till eternity or till it is 1/100,000th of consumption expenditure for the poorest, whichever comes later.
The varied households live in varied states, in urban and rural areas, undergo radically different rates of growth of jobs and income, and face different prices of goods. The Planning Commission computes a poverty line for each state and subdivision, adjusting for the differential rates of inflation.
Detailed expenditures are gathered from each household; detailed price indices are computed; detailed weights are assigned. Yet, the end result is always, always, the same. Real expenditures grow by 1.4 per cent a year, and poverty declines by 1 percentage point a year. Why do the surveys?
Okay, okay, how is it done? By making sure that average consumption grows by only 1.4 per cent a year and adjustments around this number are made to keep the rate of poverty decline constant! Never mind the consequences — in particular, as the table shows, Indian surveys are capturing less and less of average consumption as revealed by the national accounts. In the world history of gathering consumption data, the new Indian low record of 43 per cent has only been exceeded twice — Philippines in 1990 (38.1 per cent) and Indonesia (36.8 per cent) in the hyper inflation year of 1999.
These records have effects on estimates of the pace of poverty decline. Note that nominal expenditures grew by only 13 per cent between 2007-08 and 2009-10. Given inflation of about 20 per cent between the two years, this means that according to the NSSO (and the Planning Commission) real average expenditures (not just the 30 per cent poor but the 70 per cent non-poor as well) declined by 7 per cent.
Let me repeat: real average consumption which accounts for 65 per cent of the economy, declined by 7 per cent in just two years, 2008-09 and 2009-10. This is a larger decline than ever recorded in peacetime in any country post-World War II, and higher than the average rate of decline in the Great Depression! But don't tell the NSSO, or the Planning Commission, or Dr Abhijit Sen that.
The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
STORMING THE HOUSE
P. D. T. ACHARY
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
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WHAT THE EARLY BIRDS SAY
After a bit of a shocker from Infosys, TCS has turned in a good set of numbers for the three months to March 2011 with its earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) margins of 28.3% coming in above expectations. More importantly, the accompanying commentary is bullish; the management has talked of a good demand environment and pointed out that if enterprise revenues of vendors are picking up, discretionary spends by clients must be going up. Having already hired more than it intended to last year, TCS is about to raise salaries—a sign of how upbeat it is about the future. In fact, the 18-20% growth guidance given by Infosys for 2011-12 was already an indication that demand was strong and that there were no industry-wide concerns. However, while the management reorganisation at Infosys, together with a possible shift in strategy aimed at gaining market share, could weigh on the company; others in the space should gain from the recovery in the US in particular and the revival on Wall Street. As the TCS results show, there are opportunities across geographies and across verticals, and Cognizant has said revenues would grow at a minimum of 26% in 2011. The only cloud on the horizon is the appreciation of the rupee.
Meanwhile, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) disappointed the Street with lower-than-expected profits for the three months to March 2011. Part of the reason for the drop in the bottom line is a 50-day shutdown at one of its plants. However, the outlook for the refining industry is bright, especially since some capacity has been shut down after the earthquake in Japan. Indeed, refinery margins are expected to widen and, like other refiners, RIL will stand to gain. The petrochemicals business, which is a strength area for India's largest company by value, has done remarkably well to post record profits last year. Again, the prospects continue to be bright, especially for polyester, because some amount of paraxylene capacity has been shut down in the region and, moreover, cotton prices are likely to remain high. That leaves the exploration and production (E&P) piece, concerns about which have left the RIL stock languishing for more than a year now. Analysts would like more clarity on how soon the production of gas will be ramped up at the KG-D6 basin; they estimate production in the March 2011 quarter at around 51 mmscmd, which is some way below the potential peak of 80 mmscmd. Also, with the company spewing cash—cash flows from operations should average $7 billion annually in the next couple of years—there are questions on how RIL will use the money. The silver lining is in the alliance that RIL has struck with British Petroleum and the Street's hoping for some good news on the oil exploration and drilling front. Once that's out, the stock should get going. While it's early days yet with results trickling in, corporate India seems to have done reasonably well and it's possible there will be far fewer earnings downgrades than there were at the end of the December quarter earnings season.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
PLAN FOR GROWTH
The decision of the Planning Commission to work for a growth target of 9-9.5% for the 12th Five Year Plan is both pragmatic and doable. Although the 11th Plan aimed to step up the GDP growth rate to 9%, up from 7.7% in the 10th Plan, the actual achievement is likely to be only around 8.2%. Achieving a higher double-digit growth is unlikely, given the resource constraints. According to the preliminary estimates made by the Planning Commission, the total government funding for the 12th Plan is likely to decline to 13.3% of the GDP, down from 15% estimated for the 11th Plan. This is mainly because of the fiscal consolidation efforts and the slower growth of non-tax revenues. Although the net tax revenue of the Centre is expected to go up from 7.7% of the GDP in the 11th Plan to 8% in the 12th Plan, the non-tax revenues, including those from disinvestment, are expected to shrink from 2.4% to 1.9%. The reduction of the fiscal deficit will reduce the flow of such funds from 4.9% of the GDP in the 11th Plan to 3.3% in the12th Plan. Resource constraints have been a continuing bugbear and, in fact, the central plan numbers show that the resource allocation in the 11th Plan will only be R9,56,440 crore as against the earlier estimates of R10,96,860 crore, which is just about 87% of the Plan projections. The worst hit sectors have been agriculture and social sectors. While the resource allocation for the agriculture sector in the central plan will be only four-fifths of the target, the allocation for other important sectors like health and education is estimated to be much lower at 61% and 60%, respectively.
However, the flow of funds to other important sectors like infrastructure has been uneven. While central plan allocations to railways have exceeded projections by a substantial 43%, those to the power sector have exceeded by 5%. But allocations to road transport have fallen short by 14%. Surprisingly, belying public perceptions, it is the urban sector that has been a bigger gainer, with the allocated funds exceeding projections by as much as 63%, even while allocations to rural development overshot Plan estimates by only 22%. The 12th Plan must make up for the shortfalls in the social sector and agriculture, even while focusing more on the efficiency of resource use and mobilising more private investments, as advised by the PM.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
THE NEW HINDU CONSTANT
SURJIT S BHALLA
It is now official. It has the imprimatur of both the Planning Commission chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and the lead poverty member in the Commission, Abhijit Sen: India has a new Hindu constant.
For the last almost 30 years (January 1983 to July 2010), it hasn't mattered which political party was in power, or which economic reforms or growth had taken place, or whether there was a drought or a bountiful year, or whether there were economists or ideologues in the Planning Commission. It also did not matter that you raised or lowered the poverty line, or how much grain rotted in the godowns. It also has not mattered whether Indians were killing less or more girls before they were born.
It also has not mattered how much money was being spent to alleviate poverty, or whether anti-poverty programmes existed, or how many new ones remained to be invented. It has not mattered whether the economy grew at 4% per annum, or 6%, or 9%. What is this constant even more remarkable than gravity? It is the rate at which the head count ratio of poverty declines in India—1, yes only 1, percentage point decline in poverty per year. (Corresponding to this is a related constant—average real per capita expenditure grows at 1.4% per annum.)
Somebody should take credit for the discovery of this most constant of constants. I will call it the Hindu constant, Mach II. As some of you might recall, Raj Krishna discovered that for the three decades post Independence, the Indian economy grew at an average rate of 3.5% per annum—the Hindu constant Mach I. But this average varied with the weather, exports, and other economic variables. What is remarkable about the poverty constant is that it does not vary with anything.
Stated differently, I want to assert that my constant is much more of a constant than Raj Krishna's. It is "as constant as the Northern star/Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality/There is no fellow in the firmament". The constancy of the Northern star is given to us by God and Shakespeare. The poverty constant is given to us by woman—the world wide constituency of those interested in keeping "poverty" high for the country while profiting from its apparent lack of demise. The poverty constant is mandated to stay constant; how this mandate is carried out is conjectured upon below.
Pick a time-period over the last 30 years, pick a poverty line, the result stays the same. In 1983, there were 59% and 43% poor (new—Tendulkar—and old poverty line, respectively). The Abhijit Sen computations just out for 2009-10—32% poor according to the new line, and 16% poor, old line. The latter number has not been released, presumably because the Indian government does not want to achieve the Millennium Development Goals some six years before the official date of 2015. In 2004-05, the poverty numbers were 37% and 22%, respectively. So 30 years or 5 years, the mandarins say the same—only 1 percentage point poor decline per year. Period.
How is the execution of the poverty constant carried out? It is seemingly complicated, but ever so simple. In order to understand the enormity of the constant (or the statistical jugglery?), one needs to recap the method of computation of the head count ratio of poverty.
Every five years, the prestigious National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) of India conducts a survey of some 1,25,000 households. Expenditures on each item are recorded separately. Few survey organisations still obtain an estimate of household expenditure on salt. But the NSSO feels it owes to the salt history of India to keep recording it till eternity or till it is 1/1,00,000th of consumption expenditure for the poorest, whichever comes later.
The varied households live in varied states, in urban and rural areas, undergo radically different rates of growth of jobs and income, and face different prices of goods. The Planning Commission computes a poverty line for each state and subdivision, adjusting for the differential rates of inflation.
Detailed expenditures are gathered from each household; detailed price indices are computed; detailed weights are assigned. Yet the end result is always, always, the same. Real expenditures grow by 1.4% a year, and poverty declines by 1 percentage point a year. Why do the surveys?
Okay, okay, how is it done? By making sure that average consumption grows by only 1.4% a year and adjustments around this number are made to keep the rate of poverty decline constant! Never mind the consequences—in particular, as the table shows, Indian surveys are capturing less and less of average consumption as revealed by the national accounts. In the world history of gathering consumption data, the new Indian low record of 43% has only been exceeded twice—the Philippines in 1990 (38.1%) and Indonesia (36.8%) in the hyper inflation year of 1999.
These records have effects on estimates of the pace of poverty decline. Note that nominal expenditures grew by only 13% between 2007-08 and 2009-10. Given inflation of about 20% between the two years, this means that according to the NSSO (and the Planning Commission) real average expenditures (not just the 30% poor but the 70% non-poor as well) declined by 7%.
Let me repeat: real average consumption which accounts for 65% of the economy, declined by 7% in just two years, 2008-09 and 2009-10. This is a larger decline than ever recorded in peacetime in any country post-World War II, and higher than the average rate of decline in the Great Depression! But don't tell the NSSO, or the Planning Commission, or Dr Abhijit Sen that. However, such a decline makes the Hindu constant, Mach II, such a beautiful statistic.
—The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm www.oxusinvestments.com
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
GIVE A DOWNGRADE TO GEITHNER
Fox Business reporter Peter Barnes began his televised interview with Treasury secretary Tim Geithner two days ago with this question: "Is there a risk that the US could lose its AAA credit rating? Yes or no?" Geithner's response: "No risk of that." "No risk?" Barnes asked. "No risk," Geithner said. It's enough to make you wonder: How could Geithner know this to be true? The short answer is he couldn't.
All you have to do is read the research report Standard & Poor's published on April 18 about its sovereign-credit rating for the US, and you will see it estimated the risk of a downgrade quite succinctly. "We believe there is at least a one-in-three likelihood that we could lower our long-term rating on the US within two years," said S&P, which reduced its outlook on the government's debt to negative from stable.
There you have it. Geithner says the chance of a downgrade is zero. S&P says the odds it will cut its rating might be greater than one out of three. So who are you going to believe? Geithner? Or the people at S&P who actually will be deciding what S&P will do about S&P's own rating of US sovereign debt?
It would be one thing to express the view that a downgrade would be unwarranted, or that the chance of it happening is remote. Either of these positions would be defensible. Geithner went beyond that and staked out an absolutist stance that reeks of raw arrogance: There is no risk a rating cut will occur. He left no room for a trace of a possibility, ever.
The mystery is why Geithner would say such a thing. What's he going to do if S&P or some other rating company winds up disagreeing with him? Send Barney Frank to beat them up? The problem for leaders who make indefensible claims like this one is that, after a while, nobody knows whether to believe anything they say. Just remember all those government officials in Greece, Ireland and Portugal who kept saying their countries didn't need bailouts, long after it became clear they did.
This was the same answer Geithner gave during an ABC News interview in February 2010, when asked if the US might lose its AAA rating. "Absolutely not," he said. "That will never happen to this country." So, an asteroid could destroy the entire Eastern seaboard 100 years from now. And, in the world according to Geithner, we're supposed to believe America's top rating would be safe.
Perhaps Geithner would be well-positioned to make such assessments if he were the only person on the planet with the authority to grade sovereign debt—and if there were zero risk that he would ever die. Not only is Geithner mortal, he doesn't even work for a nationally recognised statistical rating organisation.
In one of the great errors of financial history, the US long ago bestowed that vaunted designation on the likes of S&P and Moody's Investors Service. The raters showed they could be corrupted when they put their AAA marks on countless subprime mortgage bonds that quickly turned sour. Unlike the companies that bought those labels, though, the US government didn't solicit S&P's ranking of its debt. Trying to predict with certainty what the raters may do next is a fool's game.
Sure, it's conceivable the government might threaten to strip the raters of their officially recognised franchise as retaliation if they dared to downgrade the US. We can only hope this isn't what Geithner had in mind when he made his bold prediction. A move like that would risk a major scandal, and it might not even work. Nothing the raters say should matter, of course. The markets are well aware the US debt is on its way to surpassing the country's annual GDP, and that few leaders in Washington are willing to get federal spending under control again.
The least Geithner could have done was take a page from Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, and throw in a wiggle word or two. Testifying last year at a hearing led by Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, Blankfein said, "We didn't have a massive short against the housing market," notwithstanding that Goldman made about $500 million shorting the housing market in 2007.
Levin says he wants to refer the matter to the Justice Department for a perjury investigation. Blankfein, of course, included the word "massive" in his statement, whatever that's supposed to mean. Geithner could have done something similar. Yet for some inexplicable reason he didn't, which, if nothing else, should tell us he probably wouldn't have much of a future as a top executive at Goldman Sachs.
No risk at all? If Geithner is really as smart as his friends say he is, he doesn't believe it either.
THE SUPERBUG EFFECT
The discovery of the New Delhi mettallo-beta-lactamase-1 (NDM-1) in 51 of 151 sewage samples and two of 50 drinking water samples taken from India's capital indicates that the superbug is present in the environment and is no longer a hospital-born infection. The study published online in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal ("Dissemination of NDM-1 positive bacteria in the New Delhi environment and its implications for human health: an environment point prevalence study," by Timothy R. Walsh et al.) found that the NDM-1 gene has spread to families of gram-negative bacteria like E. coli that populate the human gut. The drug-resistant gene has been found even in pathogenic bacteria that cause cholera and dysentery. Transfer of the NDM-1 gene to bacteria belonging to a different species is possible as it is carried in the plasmids, which are capable of moving from one bacterium to another. Transfer of the plasmids carrying the NDM-1 gene was highest at 30°C, the average peak temperature, and within the daily temperature range of New Delhi from April to October. Most importantly, the transfer has been facilitated by poor sanitation, as reflected by the oral-faecal route of transmission.
It is clear that the two papers (August 2010 and April 2011) have at last shaken the government, which has initially been in denial, out of its slumber and inaction. The Indian Council of Medical Research has invited research proposals from scientists to generate scientific evidence on antimicrobial resistance. This move indicates that the apex medical research body has finally realised there is no place for jingoism in matters of science, and that the latest findings must be taken seriously and verified scientifically. The exercise will prove useful only if researchers are truly free to report the presence of the superbug and the extent of its spread. The second important development has been the drafting of the much-needed national policy for containment of antimicrobial resistance. The policy admits that the use of antibiotics is inappropriate in 20 per cent to 50 per cent of cases. It targets the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in food animals and intends to curb the practice since it ultimately causes drug resistance in humans. Most importantly, access to third generation antibiotics like carbapenems is to be restricted to tertiary hospitals. But even in these hospitals, efforts must be directed toward restricting its use to patients with severe infections. The government should waste no time in creating a national surveillance system for measuring antibiotic resistance if it is serious about getting on top of the problem.
SYRIA STARTS REFORMING
Against a background of nationwide public protests in which scores of people were killed in the past few weeks, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has, in two major speeches, outlined potentially far-reaching reforms. To start with, he would lift the 48-year-long state of emergency. He also signalled substantial changes of perspective. For example, he has stated that a "gap" had appeared between the public and the state as a result of corruption and unemployment, and that the government, state institutions, and the people must "move in parallel" on the basis of wider communication or a "broad dialogue" involving different sections of society, including trade unions. Explicitly recognising that transparency and public trust are essential to this process, Mr. Assad indicated that the draft law on multi-party political system would receive fresh attention, though he cautioned that reform must not turn into chaos and repeatedly referred to outside forces and conspiracies. The Syrian cabinet moved swiftly after the second speech, approving an end to the emergency and permitting peaceful protest.
Nevertheless, it could take some considerable time for institutions of state, and the security forces in particular, to fall in line with the government's new thinking. During the night following the President's second speech, the cities of Homs and Baniyas were virtually shut down after shootings by security forces, which reportedly claimed 25 lives. The Interior Ministry, for its part, has said "terrorist activities" would not be tolerated; it has blamed Salafist bodies for the continuing confrontation. In response to the killings, protesters now demand that Mr. Assad should step down. This has much wider ramifications in view of Syria's modern history. In 1916, Syrians paid with their lives because their country was the only one to resist the Anglo-French Sykes-Picot agreement, which arbitrarily divided West Asia. In recent decades, Damascus has resolutely favoured a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, while withstanding attacks and provocations. It has also granted citizenship to Kurdish communities within its borders. The Syrian political establishment's references to outside influences are likely to anger protesters — and the wider public — who see themselves as acting patriotically. It would be disingenuous to see faceless enemies pulling the strings behind the current protests. Mr. Assad's stated intentions of reform are unexceptionable, but it is to be hoped that he can put through genuine democratic change without recourse to conspiracy theories. Syria is too important regionally, and internationally, to allow itself to be in a state of denial.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
END OF FIRST-PAST-THE-POST VOTING?
There are two big dates coming up in Britain over the next few days. One, of course, is April 29, when Prince William will marry Kate Middleton — an event that has got even the country's republican press into a frenzy of synthetic enthusiasm. But this article is about that other big event which, despite its huge political significance, has barely registered with many Britons beyond the Westminster bubble.
On May 5, Britain will hold a national referendum on whether to ditch the time-tested first-past-the-post (FPTP) system in favour of Alternative Vote (AV), a light variety of proportional representation (PR), in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. The same day, elections will be held to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and hundreds of local government bodies in England.
A veritable mini general election, its outcome will be seen as a verdict on the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government. According to opinion polls, both parties look set to be routed. Lib Dems are predicted to be wiped out in many areas, including their traditional strongholds, as voters prepare to punish them for getting into bed with the Tories and reneging on their key election promises. The Opposition Labour Party is expected to gain hundreds of extra seats at the expense of the Tories and the Lib Dems.
But it is the referendum on AV that is of real crucial importance to the coalition. It has pitted the coalition partners against each other with the Tories in favour of retaining the existing system and the Lib Dems campaigning for a change. The referendum is an idea of the Lib Dems — a concession they forced out of the Tories as a condition for joining the coalition. Their original demand was for a referendum on PR but, in the end, the party settled for AV, which its leader Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg famously described as a "miserable little compromise" at the time.
"Miserable little compromise" or not, this was the only real concession the Lib Dems were able to extract and, in recent weeks, Mr. Clegg has gone to town trumpeting it as a historic victory and first important step in achieving the party's long-standing demand for wider electoral reforms culminating, eventually, in PR. Indeed, it has been sold to party grassroots as enough justification for his decision to sign up to a Tory-led government.
Having put his personal prestige on the line, the stakes are very high for Mr. Clegg; and he recognises that if he loses the referendum (the "Yes" campaign is trailing in opinion polls), his position could be threatened. His rivals in the party are already said to be positioning themselves in gleeful anticipation of a leadership challenge.
Likewise, for the Tory leader and Prime Minister David Cameron a lot rides on the outcome of the May 5 vote. Few Tories, if any, support the idea of abandoning the existing system, which has served the party well over the years. They fear that, given their vote base and its distribution, they would struggle under AV.
Yet, Mr. Cameron was so desperate to get into power that he steamrolled the party into agreeing to the Lib Dems' demand. It is no secret the he is detested by "old" Tories who distrust his "modernising" policies (they also opposed the deal with the Lib Dems) and would like to see the back of him at the first opportunity. A defeat in the referendum would hand them the ammunition they are looking for and it could all start to unravel for Mr. Cameron.
As The Guardian writer Jackey Ashley has pointed out, if the "Yes" camp wins, "Tory right-wingers who already see Cameron as a closet sandal-wearer and secret muesli-chomper [that's how the Lib Dems are mockingly referred to by their critics], will rip into him."
With the stakes so high, both Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg are personally leading their camps and leaving nothing to chance. Already, the campaign has turned dirty with both sides accusing each other of indulging in "smear" tactics and making personal attacks. A "No" campaign poster warns that AV would lead to "President Clegg," a reference to the view that the proposed system would disproportionately benefit smaller parties like the Lib Dems. There have been sharp public exchanges between senior coalition partners.
Lib Dem Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne accused Tory chairperson Baroness Sayeeda Warsi of indulging in "Goebbels-speak," "playing the politics of the gutter" and "poisoning" British politics after she claimed that AV would allow fringe fascist parties like the British National Party to get in through the backdoor. Tory Chancellor George Osborne caused a furore when he claimed that an organisation with close links to the Lib Dems and which had given £1.5 million to the "Yes" campaign would benefit financially from the alternative voting system. The Lib Dems hit back with a vitriolic attack by their former leader, Paddy Ashdown, who normally tries to stay above the fray. For someone of the stature of the Chancellor to make such allegations, he said, was "bizarre" and showed how low the Tories were willing to stoop. They were trying to shut down an honest debate by resorting to "deliberate misrepresentations and downright lies."
"The strategy is clear. Throw as much mud as you can, don't let the issue be discussed openly and frighten the public over the next three weeks into voting to preserve the power the present first-past-the-post system gives you. This strategy stinks of the same odour which has surrounded our politics recently," he wrote in The Observer in what the newspaper described as an "aggressive intervention."
Labour is split with its leader Ed Miliband backing the "Yes" campaign and many of his colleagues opposed to it. Making a virtue of necessity, he has allowed his members to campaign and vote according to their conscience, spawning strange political alliances with senior Labour figures appearing alongside the Tories to make the case for retaining FPTP.
So, what's AV all about? The main criticism is that it is too complicated and time-consuming as count can go into several rounds if no candidate gets 50 per cent of the votes in the first round. The last-placed candidate in each round is eliminated and his/her votes are transferred to the "second preference" candidate. This goes on until one candidate has majority support. The system is practised in only Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and the feedback, according to critics, is that there is little public enthusiasm for it in any of these countries. Fiji is actually inclined to drop it.
The argument in favour of FPTP, claimed to be the second most widely used system in the world, is that it is simple, easy to understand, cheap to administer, doesn't take long to count votes and produces a clear winner. On the other hand, AV is complex, confusing for ordinary people, expensive, and, more often than not, produces a fragmented verdict resulting in horse-trading with smaller groups and independents able to make secret deals in exchange for their support.
"AV is an unfair, complex and expensive system that could potentially damage democracy," says Matthew Elliott, Director of the "No" campaign. The "Yes" campaign counters saying AV is fairer, makes candidates work harder to "earn" their seats, and gives voters a bigger say in choosing their MP. "AV keeps what works with our current system, and eliminates many of its weaknesses. It's a long overdue upgrade to make a 19th century system fit for the politics of the 21st century. Our Parliament will better represent our communities. MPs will have to have a better view of what your community thinks — and that's because they will have to listen harder to your views," claims the "Yes" camp.
Whatever the outcome, it would have an impact on the already fragile intra-coalition relations. The two parties are deeply divided on a raft of key issues including immigration, health reforms, university tuition fees and welfare benefits. Recently, tensions over immigration bubbled over into the public when Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable accused Mr. Cameron of "inflaming extremism" and described as "very unwise" the Prime Minister's remarks that mass migration was creating social tensions. Such exchanges are becoming increasingly frequent over a range of issues. The AV referendum, it is feared, has further inflamed the tensions and the question on everybody's lips is: has Britain's most vaunted political honeymoon run out of steam, and is the alliance headed for the rocks?
ONE APRIL, A NICE ONE FROM THE U.S. EMBASSY IN INCREDIBLE INDIA
CHARGÈ D'AFFAIRES ADVOCATES VAASTU-COMPLIANT EMBASSY BUILDING TO SEW UP NUCLEAR DEAL WITH INDIA; SAYS AMBASSADOR THREATENING TO GO ON A HUNGER STRIKE UNTIL INDIA SUBMITTED TO IAEA AGREEMENT
CHENNAI: Diplomacy could have its lighter side as well. A cable ( 147981: unclassified) sent in 2008, from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, under the name of Steven White, Chargè d'Affaires, offered an amusing insight into diplomatic sense of humour and the rather strange ways in which diplomats keep their cool during tough times.
The cable described two extraordinary meetings that had discussed the delays in reaching an Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement. These meetings were not about sensitive details or secret terms.
Rather, they fervently discussed planetary positions and Vaastu Shastra (traditional Indian architectural principles that combined astrology) remedies that could help improve India-U.S. relations.
The cable was accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.
According to the cable, concerned by the delays, a worried David Mulford, U.S. Ambassador to New Delhi, had first met Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and cautioned him that he would go on a hunger strike until the Indian government submitted the IAEA safeguards agreement. He also threatened to go on a march to the Department of Atomic Energy headquarters in Mumbai "in the days immediately before the next committee meeting." Mr. Mulford "asserted that he would wear a dhoti (white robe) and chappals (sandals) and carry a staff" during the march. However, the wise Foreign Secretary counselled the Ambassador against the march as it would expose him to "potholes" on the roads and "wild monkeys" on the way.
Still unconvinced, the Ambassador took up the issue with National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, the cable recounted. At that meeting, Mr. Mulford recalled the predictions of an astrologer who had told him that April would be a better time to submit the safeguards agreement since the planets "Jupiter and Saturn share an alignment." If the agreement was delayed and was reached only in May, the planetary positions would turn unfavourable and make "the Board [the IAEA Board] decision more difficult to achieve," he deadpanned.
According to the cable, Mr. Narayanan, appearing to have a better understanding of planetary events, corrected Mr. Mulford and pointed out that only the "Communists [the Left parties were opposing the nuclear deal with the U.S.]" and not the government would face the obstacles predicted by the astrologer. Mr. Narayanan was confident that the planets Venus and Mercury would make the Communists "level-headed and rational."
Mr. Narayanan also revealed the reasons for the difficulties facing the Indo-U.S. relationship, the cable added. He told Mr. Mulford that the U.S. Embassy was not located "in proper alignment with the planets and earth" and prescribed Vaastu Shastra remedies. "You should shift the Chancery 90 degrees so that it faces east," Mr. Narayanan directed. "An eastern facing Chancery would receive the sun for longer hours, making the U.S. officers' outlook towards India brighter," he explained.
Agreeing with the advice, the Ambassador promptly wrote to the State Department to sanction $250 million to make the Chancery vaastu-compliant. This, as Mr. Narayanan promised, would "help facilitate the completion of the civil nuclear cooperation initiative," Mr. Mulford explained. According to the cable, he also suggested ways to mobilise this money. "Considering the stakes of U.S. firms in the completion of the initiative, post suggests that the Department approach General Electric and Westinghouse to contribute." In addition, he requested funding for yoga classes for Embassy officials which he thought would, make "the mission more flexible and relaxed" and "help channel our positive energy to contribute to the U.S.-India strategic partnership."
If anyone was wondering after reading this cable whether the U.S. diplomats and the Indian officials had lost their bearings, and whether tough negotiations had taken their toll and frayed their nerves, Mr. White at the end of the cable assured everyone that nothing of that kind had happened.
The Chargè d'Affaires, it turned out, was amusing himself and having a good laugh. The mail was cabled on April 1 to various U.S. Missions, with Mr. White signing off wishing everyone "Happy April Fool's Day from Incredible India!"
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')
U.S. INTEREST IN UNIQUE IDENTIFICATION PROJECT
CHENNAI: The U.S. State Department showed immense interest in the Unique Identification (UID) project being implemented by the Government of India and wanted to know details including "the name, model, and version of the biometric collection devices used for the ID." The office of the Secretary of State, on December 17, 2009, sent a cable ( 240481: secret/noforn) under the name of Hillary Clinton asking the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to find out the motivation behind the project and to collect as much information on it as possible.
The Government of India constituted the UID Authority of India (UIDAI) in January 2009 to provide all residents of India with a unique identification number and create a database containing biometric details, photographs and other information. A Cabinet Committee on UIDAI was formed on October 22, 2009.
'Target' for extremists
The ostensible reason behind the interest in the U.S. was that the project "could present a vulnerable target for regional extremist groups — such as Lashkar e-Tayyiba — who could obtain fraudulent Indian ID cards during the large-scale enrolment for use in travel or as breeder documents to apply for passports."
Hence, the State Department wanted to know what security features would be incorporated in the card, and anti-fraud measures adopted, and if any encryption method would be used. It wanted to know whether the standards would meet International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) norms.
The ICAO is a specialised agency of the United Nations with 190 contracting states, mandated to promote safe and efficient international air travel. It periodically recommends standards for aspects of air travel. Its recommendations have included machine readable travel documents with biometric enhance ments.
Use in other sectors
It was clear from the cable that the U.S. interest in the UID project was not limited to anti-fraud measures. It was keen to know "what is India's strategic plan for utilizing biometric ID card technology in the military, law enforcement, and private sectors." There was particular interest to know how the biometric card would be used at the borders, ports and airports, and whether it would be used to issue passports. The Embassy in Delhi was asked to find out the following: "Which foreign countries and/or corporations are assisting in the development of the ID card? Which biometric systems (i.e. fingerprints, facial recognition, iris scan, etc.) will be incorporated into the card? What systems, databases, or portals will the named biometric ID card collection devices in India communicate with?"
Specific instructions were given to Embassy officials to report on any efforts to '"spoof' or defeat biometric enrolment, such as fingerprint alteration." The State Department impressed on them that their valuable inputs would be "incorporated into a strategic assessment for senior US policymakers on the regional implications in South Asia of the biometric ID program."
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')
AMAR SINGH ASKED MANMOHAN AND SONIA TO REMOVE CHIDAMBARAM, DEORA: 2008 CABLE
IT WAS PART OF A 'DEAL' FOR THE NUCLEAR DEAL ARRANGEMENT WITH POLITICAL PARTIES
CHENNAI: In the first week of July 2008, contrary to the public posturing and the assurances that were given to political allies, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the Congress was "quietly" working on the draft nuclear safeguards agreement that was to be submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board. Simultaneously, it was involved with a "deal for the deal" arrangement with political parties to garner support for the government and its nuclear initiative.
A cable ( 160825: confidential) sent on July 4, 2008 from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi under the name of Ambassador David Mulford noted that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was determined to announce "to President Bush during their meeting at the July 7-9 G-8 Summit the United Progressive Alliance government's plan to submit the safeguards agreement to the IAEA Board of Governors." This, the cable said, "prompted the Congress Party to seek the support of the regional Samajwadi Party (SP) to retain a parliamentary majority in the event the Left withdraws support." In return, the cable revealed, the SP leaders wanted Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Petroleum Minister Murli Deora to be dismissed.
The cable documented a flurry of meetings that were convened in Delhi on July 4, 2008. "Samajwadi leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh met sequentially with Prime Minister Singh and Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi to discuss the broad outlines of a political alliance." After the meeting, the Samajwadi leaders announced their "support for the nuclear initiative." They explained that "Narayanan's [National Security Adviser] briefing and Kalam's [the former President] position helped 'clear their doubts'."
The cable mentioned that "the savvy political power-brokers of the Samajwadi Party are unlikely to have expressed such public support for the nuclear initiative without prior guarantees from Congress Party leadership."
It came to this conclusion based on what Amar Singh told the U.S. Political Counselor, and "Prime Minister Singh's confidence as expressed to Representative Ackerman [member of the pro-India Caucus of American legislators who led a Congressional delegation to meet the Prime Minister]."
On July 4, after meeting Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, Amar Singh met the U.S. Political Counselor. He explained to him that "he did not require positions for his party members," but had "told the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi that Chidambaram and Deora should be sacked." He also had "grievances against [Indian] Ambassador Ronen Sen, but dismissed Sen as 'too small a fish' to warrant his attention."
On the same day, in another meeting, a confident Prime Minister assured Mr. Ackerman, that '"things are moving in the right direction' politically, and that he expected to 'clear the issues' within a few days so that India could move forward with the nuclear initiative."
The cable noted that through its contacts the U.S. Embassy had come to know that, apart from the Samajwadi Party, "the UPA has secured eight more votes: one each from the National Loktantrik Party (NLP), the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), an Independent UPA supporter from Kerala, an Independent UPA supporter from Assam, and four votes from other previously undeclared Independents." The contacts also reported that "the UPA has approached the Shiromani Akali Dal with eight seats, to abstain in the event of a confidence vote." The other "small parties" in discussion with the Congress party, as the cable mentioned, were the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam with four seats, and the Asom Gana Parishad with two seats.
For its part, the U.S. government, through its Ambassador, conveyed to the Prime Minister on June 4 that if the government of India announced that it would proceed with the nuclear agreement initiative before the Prime Minister left for the G8 summit meeting in Japan, where he was scheduled to meet President George W. Bush, it was willing "to seek language in the G-8 chairman's statement."
Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told the Ambassador at the July 4 celebration of the U.S. Independence Day at the U.S. Embassy that the government "understood the advantages of an earlier announcement and was working to arrive at some conclusion prior to the Prime Minister's departure." Mr. Menon also assured the Ambassador that he would keep him informed "over the weekend of any develop ments."
On Monday, July 7, 2008, the Prime Minister announced that the government would go to the IAEA board soon. The next day, the Left parties withdrew support to the UPA government. The same day, the government submitted the draft nuclear safeguard agreement to the IAEA for circulation. At the lakeside resort of Hokkaido Toyako in Japan on July 9, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President Bush on the sidelines of G8 summit and discussed the nuclear deal.
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')
HOW THE 'STARS ALIGNED' FOR CLOSER TRILATERAL RELATIONS
THE U.S. EMBASSY IN NEW DELHI URGED WASHINGTON TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IMPROVED INDO-JAPANESE TIES TO FULFIL ITS OWN AGENDA IN ASIA
CHENNAI: An uncharacteristically effusive diplomatic cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi urged policymakers in Washington to use "blossoming" Indo-Japanese ties in 2006 to fulfil American goals for the Asian region, including in terms of offering emerging nations "an alternative model to China."
"Leaders from every country which seeks global influence are beating a path to New Delhi, and if we want the bilateral relationship to have value, it will be in leveraging India's emergence as part of our global strategy. As India and Japan grow closer, the U.S. needs to pounce on this moment of opportunity to shape the direction diplomacy in this region takes in the coming decades," a cable classified by Deputy Chief of Mission Geoffrey Pyatt, sent under Ambassador David C. Mulford's name, advised Washington.
The May 5, 2006 cable ( 88132: confidential) went on to discuss the potential opportunities and refute the perceived drawbacks of engineering a trilateral dialogue. It also revealed much about why the Americans valued the India relationship in the year the U.S. Senate passed legislation to allow nuclear material and technology exports to India.
"The opportunity for the U.S. to secure closer trilateral relations with the world's largest democracy and one of our greatest allies is dazzling. The stars have aligned in innumerable and historic ways," said the cable, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.
Among the "initiatives" envisaged by the Embassy were joint peacekeeping, disaster relief response capacity building, educational exchange, green technology and global disease initiatives.
But it was in the area of military cooperation, it appeared, that the U.S. was most interested: maritime infrastructure and port-building projects, maritime security exercises in the region, trilateral missile defence research and other military cooperation, and bilateral aviator training for pilots. As well as having "strategic security implications these would provide opportunities for American business," the cable said.
"The larger goal would be to demonstrate to India the benefits for Japan of the complex mil-mil [military-military] and military industrial relationship with Japan, with an eye toward getting India to 'buy American'," the cable added.
Bilateral training exercises for Japanese and Indian airmen were held out as examples. "If done quickly, and if partnered with industry representatives seeking co-production offset arrange ments… [these] could serve as an excellent conduit for demonstrating the superiority of F-16 and F-18 fighters as they compete for the multi-billion dollar Indian contract expected within the next couple years."
Would all this cooperation make China feel "boxed in" and encourage it to counter the U.S. activities by engaging with North Korea, using its veto at the UN or building its military capacity, the cable asked. Well, China does what it wants anyway: this was the Embassy's comment. "China pursues its own interests relentlessly in international fora, and Chinese military spending has increased, by some estimates, by over 1000 per cent in the last 15 years."
"The fact is," the cable continued, "while China is actively seeking to spread its influence through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, its 'string of pearls' in the Indian Ocean or other diplomatic initiatives (none of which suggest China defers to American anxieties as it proceeds), a more visible U.S.-Japan-India friendship would signal that free and democratic nations, too, pursue their interests, along with partners who share our values. We will be offering other hopeful emerging nations on the continent a distinctly alternative model to China's."
The cable argued that aside from acting as a bulwark against China, allowing India into strategically sensitive discussions of the region would have a value of its own. Indeed, in answering the self-posed question, "what if we can develop India into a close ally in the coming decades?" the cable revealed what the U.S. might expect from such a relationship.
"India brings to the table not only the world's largest democracy and a potential market of a billion people, it is also the secular home to the world's second largest Muslim population, a regional naval power whose interests in maritime security closely match the United States', a growing economic giant, a nuclear power, an educational dynamo, a strategically located land and sea link for all Asia, an oasis of stability in a dysfunctional neighborhood, and a nation that is on its own actively seeking closer ties with Japan and Australia," the cable said.
The potential to develop the U.S. into a close ally was evident through some cooperative activities such as those of the Tsunami Core Group, the cable said. It noted once again India's potential as a weapons buyer: "India plans to upgrade every major defense system it has over the next 15 years, and for the first time in nearly half a century is looking at the U.S. as a defense supplier."
The cable mooted the idea of a quadrilateral dialogue between the U.S., India, Japan and Australia, starting with a "focus on the global war on terror, global warming/clean energy, maritime security, anti-piracy and intellectual property rights, trade liberalization, health and science."
In short, the cable said, "What the U.S. stands to gain by adding India to the U.S.-Japan-Australia mix is essentially squaring the circle in the Asia-Pacific region, bringing a geometric and geopolitical connection for demo cracy that spans nearly half the globe."
The cable concluded with an appeal to strengthen this relationship, that invoked no less than the security of future American citizens: "By pushing our sphere of close friends past the Pacific Rim and through East Asia — through a region where the U.S. has been involved in three wars in our parents' lifetime, not to mention a hotbed in the Global War on Terror — in terms of U.S. interests in Asia, 'so what?' could very well mean a great deal for the next generation."
THE ASIAN AGE
TO FIGHT CORRUPTION, GET THE BASICS RIGHT
It is reassuring to hear the Prime Minister say that his government hoped to introduce the Lokpal Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. In this season, much street-level drama has attended the setting up of a joint committee — of government ministers and civil society members — to draft the bill. This was followed by acrimony involving politicians and civil society elements, giving the impression that the joint panel might disintegrate when it had barely started its labours. It would be a pity if the larger objective enacting the law we seek is lost sight of. In this context, we hope Dr Manmohan Singh's words, which came after Congress president Sonia Gandhi's letter to social activist Anna Hazare underlining her commitment to the cause of corruption-free governance, will restore the needed balance and help focus energies toward realising the Lokpal law.
Speaking at a Civil Services Day function on Thursday, the Prime Minister acknowledged that people would not tolerate the current state of affairs, and pledged swift and exemplary action to deal with corruption. "There is a growing feeling among our people", said Dr Singh, "that our laws, systems and procedures are not effective in dealing with corruption." He said the government's aim was to strengthen the legislative framework, revamp administrative practices and fast-track systemic response. Cynics would naturally say that such sentiments have been heard before. From the time Dr Singh took office, he has urged the need for sweeping transformation in this direction. And yet, not the first steps have been taken. At a Congress conclave in December, Mrs Gandhi outlined a programme to deal with corruption's spreading tentacles. But the system has not budged from its lethargy. It might, therefore, be in the fitness of things that the government makes up its mind not only to introduce the Lokpal Bill in the Monsoon Session, but is also seen to be on track to push the legislative process along toward its culmination.
Laudable as the Prime Minister's speech to civil servants is, we have to be mindful that much of the corruption that we are so concerned with originates in the electoral sphere and at the political level. Setting the right laws, systems and procedures that the Prime Minister alluded to is, of course, vital if we are to work toward curbing the dynamics of corruption. But there is an unquantifiable aspect as well. Politicians, particularly at the senior levels, and not only those in governing parties, must once again learn to lead by example. In short, the time has come to return to the basics. To take a small example, politicians must not throw their weight about; they must even begin to enter queues that ordinary citizens have to; they must not make arrangements to jump traffic lights (and begin to pay fines if they do). The imperative of security considerations cannot be a licence to break rules. Granted, the Gandhian example of travelling by third class in trains (itself an obsolescence) is not quite feasible now, and security is indeed a factor. But it is important to maintain the broad direction of doing the right thing, on pain of having to pay a penalty.
If that's our objective, it was unworthy of a senior Congress leader to take potshots at Justice N. Santosh Hegde, the Karnataka lokayukta, who is a member of the joint panel to frame the Lokpal Bill. It is well known how hard he has worked to deal with governmental corruption in his state. If his efforts have not yet been crowned with success, the fault is systemic. Therefore, when deliberations proceed on the Lokpal Bill, the experience of Karnataka — which on paper has the most effective Lokayukta among our states — should definitely be factored in.
THE ASIAN AGE
BENGAL: CHANGE, YES; BUT DOUBTS TOO
Like the tide, there is an ebb and flood in popular perception. Except that in West Bengal, the quotidian has been transformed into a dilemma.
From the certainty of paribartan under the Trinamul Congress, chanted as a mantra over the past five years, the question that has replaced it is: Will there be an eighth Left Front government? The question has suddenly gained traction and is now the opening statement before the politically aroused Bengali launches into speculation on the outcome of the ongoing West Bengal Assembly elections.
Different people have different reasons for raising the question, and providing the answers too. It all boils down to making a choice — between loyalty and novelty. Loyalty not in the sense of blind faith in the virtues of the Communist Party of India (Marxist): everyone in West Bengal has some reason to feel angry about the style and methods of the party. The loyalty is to the idea that the CPI(M) is, despite the lapses and flaws, a good sort; its leaders represent the culture that every Bengali values.
For a lot of voters, especially the educated and bhadralok types, the novelty of the Trinamul Congress is beginning to wear off. Having forcefully argued that paribartan is a "must" because the CPI(M) needs to be taught a lesson, the moment of decision is proving to be difficult. Hence the question: will there be an eighth Left Front government?
The Trinamul Congress has by no means lost its appeal. The relationship of the masses to Mamata Banerjee is undeniable and strong. As a charismatic leader, as the embodiment of anti-CPI(M) establishment feelings, thoughts and actions, she is a permanent icon. Her capacity to awaken the dormant rebellious, self-righteously moral "conscience" of the Bengali is unmatched. And yet, even when the wave produced by a mood of strong revulsion was at its most menacing against the very existence of the CPI(M), the question that was inevitably tagged on to every discussion was: what will happen once the Trinamul Congress comes to power? The corollary being: what sort of chief minister will Ms Banerjee be?
The paradox is that voters want change, but they lack confidence in the change-maker. At the root of the doubts voiced in endless discussions on the prospects and merits of the Trinamul Congress as a party in power, with Ms Banerjee as chief minister, vis à vis the CPI(M) for the eighth term in succession with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as chief minister, is a rather pitiless judgment about the quality of the current political leadership, including the performance of the state's political parties. A population that is so polarised and consequently dependent on political identification is one that is doomed to go through extreme mood swings — from hysterical support of the Trinamul Congress and earlier of the CPI(M), to an equally emphatic lack of confidence in the leadership and organisation.
The puzzle, therefore, remains: what makes the CPI(M) so durably dependable? For some, it is the restrained and moderate manner of its leaders, for others its ability to be self-critical and rectify mistakes, for others it is the sheer unacceptability of a leader who is essentially an angry agitator. One concern that did emerge during the years of intense discussion about paribartan was the question of peace, harmony and progress. It seems voters remain anxious despite the athletic efforts of the Trinamul Congress to remake its image as constructive, rather than destructive and obstructionist. In comparison, however odious, the CPI(M) is less likely to produce turbulence. Piquant as this characterisation is, given the long history of the CPI(M)'s capacity to create political turbulence, it is a reflection of the trend and tenor in the past 34 years.
There was serious political violence in the past five years, with the CPI(M) producing a list of people killed and injured in Maoist attacks as well as in clashes with the Trinamul Congress. In January, the toll was around 120 deaths in political conflict; another 170 died in Maoist killings and 1,435 were injured. The Trinamul Congress carried out a relentless campaign against the so-called "harmads", a vulgar phrase coined by Ms Banerjee to describe armed CPI(M) cadre or hired mercenaries after the violence in Nandigram, Lalgarh and, more recently, Netai. It did damage the CPI(M)'s reputation and that of its government as these were essentially perceived as criminal elements controlled by a political organisation.
After the initial outburst of anguish and rage, public opinion appears to have reconsidered the situation and concluded that the clashes were a consequence of political instigation on both sides. Just as public opinion has revised its views on Ms Banerjee's capacity to run a clean, inclusive, peaceful and constructive government. The railways is no longer seen as a model of good governance, and oddly enough this revised opinion is after Ms Banerjee's heroic efforts to connect every possible part of West Bengal with new trains and link the state to different parts of the country as well.
The final outcome of all these visions and revisions will depend on how much return on investment the population expects by voting for change versus the calculation of benefits in voting for the CPI(M). Having never before invested so heavily in the Opposition, a very large body of voters will choose the Trinamul Congress. These are not the diehard anti-Left voters who have in every election held on to their faith, as it were. These are the new converts to paribartan. Their numbers will decide which way the tide will flow strongly, undercutting the embankments that protected the CPI(M)'s strongholds of support or depositing silt on the side of the Opposition — as happens routinely in the Sunderbans delta where estuarine rivers constantly change. Living with change is serious business and the Bengali might be a little tired of this clamour over change, because getting on with it is what is beginning to matter rather than talking about it. The question — will there be an eighth Left Front government — is about weighing who will get on with doing things rather than simply talking about paribartan.
Shikha Mukerjee is a senior journalist in Kolkata
THE ASIAN AGE
SPEAKING OF BURQAS...
The Tale of the Tub
Col. Muammar Gaddafi, appealing to his population to fight the Western coalition's decision to stop his troops from killing the rebels in his land, played the Islamic card. His speeches called their action a modern Christian Crusade against Islam.
Col. Gaddafi is not known as the most pious of Muslims. Neither was Saddam Hussein, or for that matter, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. But then that's politics!
I don't know what Col. Gaddafi does in his tent. He may piously pray five times a day, refrain from drinks and stick to halal food, but I do read in the press that his sons have — how shall one put this? — tastes and pastimes which can't be characterised as strictly Islamic. These pastimes are well publicised — shooting, yachting and clubbing with financiers and supporters of Israel. I couldn't care less, but what would Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad say?
Col. Gaddafi's daughter Aisha recently appeared on TV. She had covered her head, but wasn't in full burqa. I have never seen or heard a public speech by a person in full burqa and would, I admit, be interested to. I have, so far, found that the expression and facial rhetoric of orators and speakers convey to me very much of the intent and meaning of their words.
Look, for instance, at footage of Hitler and the sly, ducking expression between tirades. The burkhaed rhetorician would be to me like Big Sister making pronouncements. I don't suppose looking for a website of the Iranian Parliament will satisfy my curiosity by offering me a speaker in such full array. I suppose they have women in their Parliament but I don't know how they are dressed — though one does hear of what happens at secret Tehran parties.
This is the week in which the French police have been called upon to act on the new French anti-burqa law. It's not a law that common sense should support.
Obviously a gang of men entering a bank wearing balaclavas and robes which could conceal machine-guns should be immediately challenged by the local constabulary. For the same reasons the anti-burqa law should only be applied in parallel or identical circumstances: three burqa-nasheens urgently entering a bank with a getaway car driven by another hidden one waiting a few feet away at the curb? I don't think so. Send for Inspector Poirot!
But in general, burqas, hijabs and niqabs should not be the business of the state. Personally, I operate the Groucho Marx principle which states that he wouldn't want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member. Similarly, I don't wish to see the face of anyone who, for some religious belief, doesn't want to show it to me. I really can do without.
I am, though, fascinated to know what fundamentalist Islamic girls' schools do for group photographs. Does the photo of the Class of 2010 and 2009 all row after sitting and standing row in their black burqas look exactly like the class of 2011? Are they all smiling when the photographer says "say 'cheese'?" Perhaps we shall never know.
Very many Muslim societies and millions of Muslims, including some very learned and respected ones, don't accept that Islam enjoins women to be covered from head to foot. Nevertheless what people wear in the land of liberty, equality and fraternity is, with notable exceptions such as the balaclava in the bank or the birthday suit in the High Street, none of France President Nicolas Sarkozy's business.
Neither is what Col. Gaddafi chooses to wear any of mine. I am free to wonder why he wants to look like a circus clown parodying a Ruritanian general with medals which look like they were bought wholesale from Mumbai's or Marrakech's chor bazaar? It certainly isn't a form of dress sanctioned by Islam, so perhaps he is following Idi Amin's tasteful example?
Apart from the bad taste, he also behaves badly in public.
In the late 1980s, working in British TV, I sent a crew down to Zimbabwe to cover the Commonwealth conference and get an interview with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Robert Mugabe, who was not then known as a murdering swine or usurper, had invited as a special guest to the conference his friend Col. Gaddafi.
Darcus Howe (Trinidadian British and a writer and broadcaster by profession), the producer and interviewer of my TV crew, told me the story. The delegates were assembled in a public hall. The traffic in Harare had been strictly restricted with police and Army roadblocks in control. The rule was that no armaments should be allowed past the roadblocks and into the hall.
Col. Gaddafi arrived, dressed in his clown's outfit, with a large contingent of female soldiers carrying machine guns and other weapons. The Zimbabwean police stopped them and there was an argument and a consequent delay to the proceedings. Col. Gaddafi wasn't personally stopped and he entered the hall to applause, got onto the stage, was welcomed and looked a bit disconcerted.
One of his male generals came hurrying down the aisle and climbed onto the stage and was immediately berated in Arabic by the good Colonel. Where the hell were his female bodyguards? He had arranged and expected to make an entrance into this congregation flanked by them! The general muttered his excuse. They had been detained by the Zimbabweans.
In front of that international delegation, Col. Gaddafi slapped with an open palm and shouted at him. The flunkey general slunk off holding his smarting cheek.
In a few minutes the female Libyan bodyguards walked into the hall carrying their sub-machine guns and rallying in pantomime array to flank their leader. Mr Mugabe's police had been induced somehow to change their minds and make an exception for the Libyan delegation.
Darcus subsequently interviewed Rajiv. The interview ranged over very many topics and when they were off camera Rajiv chatted with Darcus who asked him what he thought of Col. Gaddafi and the previous day's performance.
"He's mad isn't he?" was Rajiv's response.
THE ASIAN AGE
PAANI PURI POLITICS
Hey Bhagwan! Now street snacks are being targeted in Mumbai. Suddenly paani puri (gol guppas to you) — one of Mumbai's all-time favourite munchies — has been declared a health hazard, and paani puri vendors are being chased out by the newly-minted, over zealous health police of this totally unhealthy metropolis. Mumbai is a city so embarrassingly filthy even self-respecting rats have moved out of the garbage heaps. Mumbai stinks! To high heaven. Especially at this time of the year, when mercury levels soar and humidity goes up.
Mumbaikars have lived with the stench for years. The first thing that hits the unwary visitor to the city at the airport itself is the peculiar stench that says perversely, "Welcome to Mumbai!" It is all pervasive… clingy, fetid… a combination of rotting fish, uncleared garbage, clogged drains, and piles of human excreta that lines railway tracks, streets, pretty much any available free space. As of now, Mumbaikars are battling pre-monsoon malaria. The bugs in Mumbai have developed their own mutant strains — nothing can eliminate them. Our cockroaches are a breed apart — literally! They are the size of the endangered sparrows and can fly faster than any of them! Once the rains arrive, the garbage heaps grow into mini- mountains and block pedestrians from using those absurdly narrow footpaths. In any case, footpaths are used as open air lavatories by the slum kids and are impossible to walk on without stepping into some bachcha's poo.
Given these overall conditions, what's all this rubbish about paani puri being a serious health hazard? Since when? Of course, paani puri is dirty. But, boss, our stomachs are zinc-lined. Of course, the paani used by vendors isn't mineral water. More likely, it is gutter water — contaminated and gross — but no worse than the brown water that runs through our taps. Paani puri enthusiasts know that… but they still want their regular fix of this foul indulgence. Let them have it! As they say in colloquial terms, "What goes of anybody's father?" Why pick on poor paani puri alone? What about those luridly coloured ice golas that are peddled on carts during the long hot summer? Typhoid is just a gulp away when you suck on those disgusting concoctions made out of synthetic syrups, crushed ice and enough artificial colour to paint a bill board... What about the improvised juice stalls selling "maara maari" ( I am not making the name up. This is what an orange and mosambi juice combo is called in Mumbai).
What about bhel puri — that is symbolic of Mumbai, not just in the culinary sense, but on many other levels? What an incredibly satisfying snack it is. I can do bhel puri, any time, any day. And I do know it is a potential killer. That's the attraction… and thrill. Standing at a crazily busy traffic intersection, with underage millionaire brats driving pappaji's Porsche just beyond ones toes, and instructing the bhaiyaji to hold the imli, but pump up the kothmir, is an experience that is quintessentially Mumbai. I wouldn't want to give it up for anything in the world — not even at the risk of missing a couple of toes as a consequence. I can't profess the same level of commitment to the other Mumbai favourite — vada pav. I know it is cheap, filling and wonderful. It is our answer to the Big Mac and so on. But frankly, it is a calorie bomb that I prefer to avoid. I like to pick my calorie treats and O.D. with care. If I am going to pig out, I'd rather do it on bhel puri (not that bhel puri is diet food, but come on… compare puffed rice to vada which is a deep fried patty of potatoes). To make it worse , the lethal potato patty is squeezed into plump squares of bread with a layer of bright red garlic chutney? No chance! Ditto for that other killer — pav bhaji — which, in addition to the potatoes — squashed and mushy — has half a packet of butter going into it. How else can one get that irresistibly gooey texture?
But these far-from- healthy concoctions are spared the wrath of local political parties. Why? Because they are seen as being "Maharashtrian" snacks. Made by Maharashtrians for other Maharashtrians. Which is a hog wash. The only authentic, freshly cooked Maharashtrian snack is kanda poha — and it doesn't have too many takers. All other food in Mumbai's countless informal eateries, has been introduced by "outsiders". From Udipi restaurateurs serving idli, dosa, uttapam and upma, to the ubiquitous "Punjabi-Chinese" and Jain Pizza joints catering to their loyal clientele. Nearly all these dodgy joints are dirty and do not deserve a licence or health certificate. So?
We desis take our khaana-peena very seriously. Whether we gulp down gallons of ganney ka juice (100 per cent impure!), or choose to eat roadside fruit chaat with dozens of flies sitting on the sliced papaya — it's our call, our stomach, our health. If authorities are serious about protecting citizens from various health hazards, why not start by cleaning up the roads? Making sure public hospitals maintain some level of sanitisation? Providing public loos? Why go after those paani puriwallas who have been such an intrinsic part of Mumbai's vibrant street food culture for decades? Take your battle somewhere else, you guys. Leave us to slurp, gag and choke while gulping that perfectly crisp puri filled to the brim with sweet and sour, over spiced water, that travels like liquid fire down the gullet, bringing instant tears to the eyes… and a gigantic smile to the face as soon as the tin plate containing those six, paper thin puries has been licked clean. Oh… how could I forget the post-paani puri burp? Aaaah — paani puri! Stay where you are. Stay the way you are. We'll love you regardless.
Thinggu to you, politicos!
— Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com
The third phase of Panchayat polling in the State is over. Barring three minor incidents, polling has been smooth. Percentage figures of votes polled in various blocks in Jammu region are as expected. But the figures about the valley polls are startling when juxtaposed to the boycott call given by the Hurriyatis. Percentage in 10 blocks stood as this: Sogam (86.5), Baramulla (86), Ganderbal (75), Chadoora (82), Kulgam (69.6), Ramnagar (72.6), Dudu-Basantgarh (78.2), Purmandal (82), Ghagwal (80) and Satwari (80). Reports say that moderate to heavy polling was recorded during the third phase of Panchayat elections for the five blocks of Kashmir valley. People jostled with each other in order to cast their votes and the scene was festive on most of the polling booths. Women, too, did not hold back, and in some of the polling booths they out-polled their male counterparts. Since early morning people had assembled outside the polling booths to exercise their franchise in Ganderbal, Chadoora, Kulgam, Boniyar and Sogam blocks. Such a heavy turnover in militancy infested Kashmir valley has to be viewed objectively. More significantly, opinions of ordinary voters that have come to us through the electronic and print media are revealing. "Panchayats hold very important place in the development of villages and it is important to elect honest people as Panches and Sarpanches. It is due to this reason that I have come out to vote. We want that development works get a fillip in our area and the same is possible when the Panchayats are strong," said Khati, an old aged woman while casting her vote at the Haran polling station in Ganderbal block where people had assembled since 7 a.m. "It is after many days that sun has come out with full intensity and we don't want to miss the opportunity of working in the fields. But at the same time we want our area to develop and that is why we had come early in the morning to cast our votes. There is an opportunity to play our part in progress of our village and how could I miss it," said Ghulam Rasool, a resident of Darend village in Ganderbal block. The electors could be seen showing victory signs as they came out of the polling booths and there were others who pointed towards the ink on their fingers. All of them were jubilant saying that these elections would pave way for development and progress in their respective areas.
This is indeed a very satisfying indication that people want return of peace and normalcy. Heavy turnout is a message to separatists that the days of their writ are gone and that ordinary people have begun to realize that they were misled. A realization has dawned upon them that they are the architects of their future. Sections of political leadership has held the entire Kashmiri community a hostage to its selfish motives and played up many false sentiments, often projecting India as the evil force. Nearly 80 per cent average turnout in Panchayat polls is virtually a verdict of the people about the destiny of Kashmir and in no way is it less than referendum notwithstanding what the ruling party may think. It is self empowerment and self rule demonstrated through free will and exercise of freewill. After the final phase of polling is over, the ball will be in the courtyard of the government. How it empowers elected agents of local and self government, what mechanism will be in force and to what extent will it assuage the hurt feelings of the people are the parameters that will determine the will and maneuverability of the government to pave the path for good governance. Kashmir must shed inertia and charter the path to freedom and prosperity. Panchayat for them has to be more than voting. It is empowerment at grassroots level.
Adulteration has become a petering sore; the worst is that it is allowed to peter. Control and prevention of adulteration is one of the primary duties of municipal authority in any city or town. If it is allowed to stay in place despite resentment by the citizenry, the common inference is that those who are responsible for eradicating the menace are hand in glove with the criminals. Playing with the health of people is a crime and should be punished with all severity. The unfortunate thing is that when a civil society does not protest against what threatens its health and environs, it is not a vibrant and healthy society; it betrays symptoms of sickness. When the enforcement team boasts that it made surprise checks, confiscated adulterated stuff and imposed fine running into lakhs, this is a strong proof of its inefficiency and dereliction of duty. It is a shame for the authorities concerned to make such raids and penalty impositions instead of creating a will among the shopkeepers and suppliers of food stuff to cling to a fair deal in regard to promoting health. Jammu was known in entire Northern India for pure and healthy milk and milk products, vegetables and eatables, which it no more can boast of. The Municipal Corporation should stop thinking of surprise checks and imposition of punitive reprisals. It has to develop a strong moral basis for impressing upon the suppliers to respect the consumer segment that sustains them in their livelihood. Nowhere does one find unadulterated stuff in the market. It is also known to the authorities that even fresh fruit is chemically treated to make it quickly saleable. Day in and day out, walkway eateries, dhabas, candy vending kiosks, golgappe sellers and Momos vendors come up suddenly, and in shortest possible time pollute the environment by not adhering to elementary sanitary norms. Authorities choose to be silent with design. In particular, large scale adulteration in milk and milk products is ruining the health of Jammu citizenry. Big milk suppliers are in collusion with corrupt officials, police and supervisory staff and in this way they are making a fast buck. Municipality has to enforce strict sanitary code for the eateries, sweetmeat shops, wayside dhabas and vegetable sellers. Apart from adulteration they encroach upon footpaths and walks creating traffic hazards and impeding smooth flow of life. JMC must immediately swing into action and establish regular and close coordination with citizenry so that a strong moral element is inducted into the matter of adulteration. This however does not mean to make the accountability factor ineffective. There should be exemplary punishment to stem the rot like canceling of licenses and denying the space or imprisoning the defaulters. Laws governing the menace should be implemented with vigour and determination.
MEN, MATTERS & MEMORIES
BY ML KOTRU
Ever since Benazir Bhutto was mercilessly butchered, not very far from the Rawalpindi GHQ, opening the door, as it were, for her playboy husband Asif Zardari to become Pakistan's President, I often wondered what exactly would Asif have been sans the charistmatic Bhutto name appended to his. That he is himself aware of the significance of the connexion was clear at the site of Benazir Bhutto's burial itself, when, even as the religious rites were being performed, he made sure that the Bhutto surname was added to son Bilal Zardari's name so that Pakistan had a male "Bhutto" politician in waiting.
Zulfiqar Ali's two sons were already dead, one poisoned in mysterious circumstances in Paris, the other murdered in cold blood within reach of the Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto House in Karachi's plush Clifton area.
I don't have to din it into your head: the importance of the Bhutto legend continuing to be the apart of the Zardari clan, even as suffix. Which makes me wonder what would Zardari himself would have been minus his marriage to Benazir: a playboy, horse-breeder, a polo player, a swindler or the notorious Mr. Ten Per Cent which he became after his marriage to Benazir.
Into his third year of Pak Presidency Asif Zardari it seems is keen to revive the "friendly" ghost of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to revive his sinking fortunes.
The party which he inherited from his father-in-law and wife, the People's Party of Pakistan, continues to be the single largest party in the National Assembly but that is because the Punjabi leader Mian Shah Nawaz prefers it that way for the present. Zardari is trying to build on the Benazir footprint in Punjab by fomenting factionalism in the province by encouraging Punjabi sub-sects like the Saraiki etc. Even his Prime Minister and the former Foreign Minister (a liability now after his ouster) are from the Punjabi belt but would prefer a different identity. But all this is neither here nor there.
The fact is that Asif Ali Zardari, by no means the most popular PPP leader, must find a cause that keeps the Bhutto legend and his link with it alive. So, the first shot he fired was to find the killers of his wife demanding an international inquiry. The verdict so far is that Gen. Pervez Musharraf's was the hand behind the killing. To Musharraf's credit one must say that he had insisted that Benazir delays her return home from exile for some more time even after the president had issued the reconciliation ordinance which pardoned all hers and Zardari's crimes.
Zardari discovered that it did not work out the way he would have preferred. So we see him now making a reference as the President to the Supreme Court seeking under Article 186 of the Constitution the reopening of the verdict that led to the handing of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. A three-member bench of the court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary instantly admitted the reference.
Chaudhary whose taste for the limelight remains unfazed jumped at the opportunity to observe that the April 4, 1979 hanging was a cause of historic significance; he proposed the constitution of a larger bench. Typically, Chaudahry observed that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was an internationally known figure and, if need be, the Court would hear the case day and night. Court assistants would be hired from the provinces to expedite the case.
Mr. Babar Awan, the Law Minister's offer in the court to appear in the reference was just the kind of opportunity Chief Justice Chaudhary had been waiting for. No, you cannot said the Chief Justice. I don't want to perpetuate illegalities in the name of judicialism. The Bhutto trial had been marred by the then Law Minister Sharifuddin Peerzada's appearance as the prosecutor. "A minister had appeared in the case during the dictatorship (Gen. Ziaul Haq, Chaudhary noted)."
Illegal traditions will not be allowed to continue in a democracy. If you don't know, Shareefuddin has been the evil genius behind every Pakistani dictator. You name any Pak dictator Peerzada's name will appear in his book including the authorship of the "doc-trine of necessity" which has been used times out of number to perpetuate dictatorial illegalities.
Awan was asked to resign from the Ministry, give up any other office he had held, renew his license and then appear as a counsel. In a manner as dramatic as the Chief Justice's Awan declared that he had already resigned, sought the Bar Council's permission to practice and "I would give up any office to appear as counsel in this case."
Ziaul Haq's military coup overthrew the Bhutto government on July 5, 1977 on the ground that Bhutto had massively rigged the election that year. I happened to be in Lahore around that time and I remember the two hours I spent with Mr. Mazhar Ali Khan, then editing the highly regarded weekly viewpoint. He did agree that Bhutto had acted most unfairly in the poll and indeed he trashed Bhutto's role in much of his writing then.
Predictably, Zia jailed Bhutto only to foolishly release him after a few months.
And Mazhar Ali, a sharp critic of both Zia and Bhutto told me how he was amazed to see crowds rarely seen before on the streets of Pakistan after Bhutto's release and countrywide tour. Lahore, he said, was converted into a city under military siege yet looked bursting at the seams with a million people and their tractors, bullock-carts at al etc., rallied behind Bhutto.
Mazhar Sahab, a member of the landed aristocracy and father of Tariq Ali, the leftist writer how he that day came to respect Bhutto, his erratic past notwithstanding. I had until then always thought of him, as an opportunist, spoilt brat, Mazhar told me. I met Mazhar again when Bhutto was facing the murder trial as the main accused in the murder of a political rival, Nawab Mohammad Khan, the father of an erstwhile PPP M.P.
In the Lahore High Court it was obvious from the biased views of Justice Maulvi Mushtaq that the verdict was a mere formality: guilty as charged. The original bench of nine which heard the appeal in the Supreme Court was struck by the retirement of one and the illness of another reducing the bench strength to seven which delivered the death penalty 4-3.
Whether Bhutto was guilty or not the murder trial was simply a judicial expedient to kill the man who had dared to touch the private properties of the capitalists and feudal classes. This brought the feudal together putting them in the waiting lap of Gen. Ziaul Haq, the President and the Chief Martial Law Administrator.
Post-Bhutto I had occasion once to meet Gen. Zia on bord did not. It had by now become a sore point among the masses, the bouncy General preferred confining himself to generalities. That the Gen. himself was killed shortly after that in a mysterious air crash which remains yet to be explained.
Back to Asif Ali Zardari. It is quite on the cards that Justice Chaudhari to restore his own somewhat dented image - never mind the revolution by Pak lawyers and civil society that led to his restoration after Gen. Musharraf dismissed him - will reverse the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto judgment or at the very least bring into question the quantum of punishment given to him. At the same time Justice Chaudhary, an accident hero, has nullified the pardon granted to Zardari by Gen. Musharraf. Musharraf's sins could well visit Zardari after his current term as President expires. Or, who knows Bilal Zardari Bhutto might by then have adorned his handsome head with the twin crowns at his mother and her father.
BY BRIJ BHARDWAJ
Fighting corruption may be a laudable objective, but road to it is full of pitfalls as is being witnessed after the Government agreed to set up a joint committee of civil activists headed by Anna Hazare and representatives of the Government. The first meeting of the committee had no fireworks, but controversy surrounding the members on the committee is becoming murkier and murkier everyday. At heart of controversy is the nomination of the father and son duo on the committee. Mr. Shanti Bhushan and Mr. Prashant Bhushan, both eminent lawyers but with political baggage and controversial past.
Mr. Shanti Bhushan was a Law Minister in the short lived Janata Dal Government headed by Mr. Morarji Desai which had launched a series of criminal cases against senior Congress leaders while his son has been connected with number of cases against politicians and in filing many petitions in Supreme Court as public interest petition including one on two G scam. Even in the civil society voices were raised against the appointment of father and son duo on the committee by important members like Swami Ram Dev, Yoga Guru but were silenced by Anna Hazare.
The appearance of CD in which the Bhushans are alleged to be discussing with Samajwadi leaders the issue of fixing a senior High Court Judge at a price and allotment of farm land to them by Mayawati Government have provided more fuel for the controversy to continue . In the midst of the mudslinging, true objective of framing a effective Lok pal bill to check corruption is getting lost and there is little debate about the merits of such a legislation.
In the meantime other civilian bodies with strong credentials like having former Chief Justice of India as member have also made a pitch for being made part of the exercise for framing a bill for Lokpal. After all the inputs of the committee appointed by the Government and other such bodies is taken into account and the bill given shape by the Government is expected to go to the Parliament for its consideration and approval. Even though main political parties have given indications that they will support the bill, there is very little chance of it becoming the law of land before August 15.
In Parliament also it may be referred to a Select Committee for a detailed examination being important legislation which may involve an amendment of the Constitution. This may not be a bad thing as a law which has been on hold for over forty years will not create any major upsets by delay of few months. What is important is that it should be effective and plug loop holes in laws in operation at present. There is also a view that the need of the hour is for more effective implementation instead of more laws.
Even if the Lok Pal recommends effective action against politicians and bureaucrats caught for accepting bribes very little purpose will be served if the cases continue to languish in different Courts for years if not decades. In the new legislation piece there may be many proposals for simplifying process, but jurisdiction of High Court and Supreme Court will remain. Under the circumstances many feel that unless the judicial process is simplified no amount of legislative action will make a change to the ground situation.
One can easily ask, if the judicial system in present form is one of the major factors responsible for delays in punishing people held guilty for different acts of corruption by resorting to appeals in different forums from time to time. The Supreme Court may be able to take action in few cases by actively pursuing some cases by putting them on fast track and also making sure that investigation is carried out effectively, but has not been able to do anything about lakhs of cases pending before different courts where justice is not delivered for decades.
It is no secret that thousands of people remain confined to jails as under trials as they lack the means to hire legal help to get their cases heard and decided. On the other hand well-healed people or industrial Czars with millions at their disposals even after having stolen crores are able to stay in cool comfort of their homes having obtained bails from Courts or spend time in hospitals for treatment of some ailment which is diagnosed after they get caught on charge of fraud or bribe taking.
Under the circumstances what we need is a quick fix of the system if corruption is to be checked. The appointment of Lok Pal is an important step in that direction, but it alone will not make a difference unless we go for overhaul of investigation agencies as well as judicial system. (NPA)
BY ARABINDA GHOSE
After the differences arose between the Sonia Gandhi- led National Advisory Council's proposal to frame laws providing for free distribution of food grains among the poor got into trouble with the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council's somewhat contrary view, it appears the much higher production of wheat this year has come into the way.
It is very difficult to appreciate what sort of the second green revolution – if one were permitted to use this term- has wrought havoc among the people grown wheat.
There are already reports appearing in the media of the farmers growing wheat being unable to sell in the market their produce at prices much below the cost of cultivation.
Even the Minister of Agriculture has been stumped by the high growth of wheat and he gleefully announced on April 20 that agricultural production this year would touch 5.6 per cent compared to the earlier estimate of just four per cent.
This means that what will be available to the people – even those who does not earn much-at much lower prices than in other years. The need for such assistance from the Government will be low this year because even rice – which had suffered drought last year-will reach the figure of 100 million tonnes compared to the target of 102 million tonnes this year (2010-11).
One consequence of such high production will be unprecedented fall in prices which will avert the need for State assistance to millions of otherwise impoverished people.
The question of legislation will come of course because the situation next year may not be too good although the Department of Meteorology has announced that the south-west monsoon would be more or less normal this year. However it would or should be possible for below poverty groups of people to register them with the appropriate authority in the NAC. In any case, the NAC is set to 1ook after only the limited number of poverty-stricken people in some States only.
The NAC appears to have decided to discus the efficacy of the system in which people would be paid money in cash to buy food. This follows the Bihar pattern with respect to supply of bicycles to girls for going to school. But then, the Chief Minister's office did not did buy the bicycles himself or members of his staff. The cost was paid in cash to the beneficiaries, leaving them free to buy the bicycles of their own choices.
This may the pattern with respect to the feeding the poor – pay them cash to buy food from the market at lower than normal prices to which these people are entitled. The advantage of which system is that the government was not blamed for the quality of the vehicles. Here too, the Below Poverty line people would be provided cash for buying the grains.
However, a danger in this system is inherent among certain section of the people is to buy liquor rather than food out of this assistance from the Government. This is a real danger because one is aware that many of the male earning members of even poverty-stricken families are addicted to liquor and destroy their families because of this addiction. It is normal for women of such families to get food grains rather than cash as assistance for the Government.
In this connection one is constrained to refer to the very successful public distribution system (PDS) prevalent in Chhattisgarh where rice is "sold" to the beneficiaries at Re. 1 a kilogram. In that State thanks to the computerization of the system, requisite volumes of food grains reach the villages for distribution precisely on the due dates and timings .No dealer is allowed to declare that stocks have ended because the State government send the dealers the quantum necessary for the requisite card holders.
Some people particularly journalists, are extremely skeptical about the entire system envisaged in the National Advisory Council .They had deep-seated opposition to people calling themselves non-government organization representatives. (NGO)
This attitude creates hurdles before genuine sympathizers for the poor living in penury and semi-starvation system. Even in West Bengal, the highest producers of rice in the country, people suffer from poverty and starvation or semi-starvation. They badly require help in kind not merely in cash. (NPA)
TRAILING BLACK MONEY
SPECIAL TEAM CAN PURSUE THE ISSUE
Tracking black money holders within and outside the country has been as futile and frustrating an exercise as passing the Lokpal Bill. Years of efforts have produced no results. While the civil society is pursuing the Lokpal Bill with renewed vigour under activist Anna Hazare, the Supreme Court has turned proactive on tracing black money stashed abroad and nailing the offenders. "Was the government sleeping all these years on the issue of black money," asked a Bench, consisting of Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S Nijjar, almost in exasperation in response to the Solicitor General's remark that the matter needed to be probed on different fronts.
The government inquiry has so far been confined to Hasan Ali, the Pune-based stud farm owner, accused of large-scale tax evasion. The government also has information about some people holding accounts in LGT Bank but the Finance Minister has refused to divulge their names in the absence of a legal framework. The Enforcement Directorate is looking into the issuance of a passport to Hasan Ali and in that context Puducherry Lt-Governor Iqbal Singh has been questioned. In the process the wider issue of unearthing the sources of black money, including terror, drug pedalling and arms trade, is getting lost.
The Supreme Court has tried to shift the focus back to the main point. In this context it has suggested the constitution of a special investigation team under a retired judge of the Supreme Court and drawing experts from the CBI, the IB, RAW, the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department. This seems to be the best possible way to deal with the vexatious issue expeditiously. The government, which has got three days to respond, should remember that public patience over inaction on corruption is running out. The Prime Minister realised this when he said on Thursday that "we must recognise that there is little public tolerance now for the prevailing state of affairs. People expect swift and exemplary action and rightly so". Hopefully, the message will elicit the desired systemic response.
GLUT OF GRAINS
EXPORT IS A POSSIBILITY
Even when Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar says something sensible, motives are likely to be seen, thanks to his tainted image. Backing traders, he has suggested wheat exports since the country has enough stocks. Food exports were banned after prices had skyrocketed. Though food inflation is still high, it is not due to shortages. Food supplies get disrupted sometimes due to road blockades — as it happened recently in Rajasthan and Haryana — but are often manipulated by middlemen. Because of the politician-official-middleman nexus consumers end up paying more and farmers getting below-market rates for their produce.
The forecast of a normal monsoon this year is another reason for farm exports. The FCI has failed to move surplus grains from Punjab and Haryana to make room for the fresh bumper produce. This is delaying wheat procurement. The same may hold true for the coming paddy crop. Lack of storage space is well known. Despite all talk of roping in the private sector to build efficient supply chains, little has been done. The Railways do not have expertise or sufficient capacity to transport grains in bulk. Transportation is a slow, leaky process.
Since mountains of food stocks are exposed to rain every year due to poor storage and processing facilities, there is no harm in exporting them. The cost of handling grains is huge. Right now the Centre has record grain stocks, valued at Rs 40,000 crore. Some 10-15 per cent of the foodgrains get damaged annually. Last year the Supreme Court angrily reacted to the situation in which food stocks rotted in rain while the poor faced starvation due to lack of access. But free grain distribution among the poor is easier said than done. It does not make economic sense, given the Centre's bulging food subsidy bill. Besides, instead of the needy, the system users may lap up the state's generosity. Foodgrains can be exported and imported when global prices warrant so while keeping a good buffer.
MUKHTAR MAI'S TRAVAILS
PAK APEX COURT'S QUESTIONABLE VERDICT
Strange things continue to happen in Pakistan. The latest is that Mukhtar Mai, a well-known victim of gang rape, waited for five long years to get no justice at all. Her story of pain, agony and humiliation has been documented and discussed in detail. Her case did not need any more evidence than what was available to punish her tormentors. But the Supreme Court of Pakistan thought differently. It has upheld the Lahore High Court's motivated verdict, declaring that five of the six accused persons were not involved in the crime and hence deserved to be set free. The one person who had been given death sentence by a lower court along with the other five will undergo life imprisonment. His punishment was reduced by the high court, and the apex court has agreed with its ruling.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had taken suo motu notice of the high court's verdict. There seems to be some kind of a design behind the so-called judgement that has been handed to Mai. One can easily understand that the highest court intervened only to deny justice to Mukhtar Mai as the belief in the judiciary is that her case is more of a media creation than being a reality. This is, however, a fitting comment on the pliable judicial system in Pakistan.
Mukhtar Mai, then in her early thirties, was raped by a number of persons in her village in Punjab province because her brother was found to have illicit relations with a girl belonging to an influential family there. She, however, gathered courage after some time and launched a large-scale drive against the rotten jirga system in Pakistan's tribal areas. By now she has become a high-profile campaigner for women's rights. She deserved all kinds of support from the judiciary and other institutions in Pakistan. Instead, a move is on to prove that she did not suffer as much as has been made to appear by the media. However, there is no dearth of civil society members who have expressed their support for her. Mukhtar Mai is right: the Pakistan apex court's verdict cannot be accepted as justice.
BRICS' SANYA DECLARATION
WHAT IT MEANS TO EMERGING GLOBAL STRATEGIC CALCULUS
BY JAGANNATH P. PANDA
The emergence of the Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRIC) group has been impressive. With the induction of South Africa as its latest member, BRIC becomes BRICS. With the latest summit at Sanya in Hainan province of China, BRICS completed three rounds of an annual leadership summit and is heading for the fourth round in India in 2012. This pace of events is prompting many to wonder if BRICS is slowly getting institutionalised in global politics.
While many still question its relevance as the group consists of diverse powers in diverse continents with various strategic interests, the very fact that BRICS has emerged as a group and has been meeting regularly has confirmed to some extent that global politics is changing its hue with the lead given by the developing economies of BRICS. Moreover, BRICS has never been static; it has matured into some sort of an alliance that looks at key global political, economic and trade issues from the perspective of the developing world and offers an emerging model for global economic cooperation and competition.
The Sanya summit was strategically important for a few reasons: South Africa's debut as a new member, making the club grow from BRIC to BRICS (or BRICSA); gathering support for Russia's entry into the WTO; and the idea of trading directly among BRICS nations and cutting out unstable globally convertible currencies.
The Sanya summit also underlines the growing Chinese seriousness to push the club of BRICS as a credible alternative to the Western-dominated global financial system.
South Africa's entry into BRICS has been a matter of mystery for many. It is still unclear whether this was done through a consensus or by the pressure of the Chinese. Unlike the other members of the BRIC combination, South Africa's economy remains far from impressive. South Africa's current GDP, $268 billion, is almost a quarter that of Russia. Nevertheless, South Africa is the largest economy of the African continent and is geographically the gateway for the BRIC members' entry into the continent of Africa. For South Africa, association with BRICS provides an opportunity to take part in global trade.
The Sanya summit also witnessed Russia's growing clout in its global posture. The BRICS collectively expressed support for Russia's accession to the WTO in the current year and was of the consensus that Russia's entry into the WTO would enhance the global multilateral trading system. Russia has so far been denied accession to the WTO because of the political reasons of the developed world.
With Russia's entry into the WTO, the clout of BRICS vis-à-vis developing economies is likely to increase in the global financial bodies. This is also an opportunity for Russia to make its presence felt at a time when its economy is still struggling to be on a par with those of China and India.
A breathtaking development at Sanya was the idea of having a common currency among BRICS members. The proposal bears direct implications for the US dollar particularly. The proposal is a formulation to place better the developing world's market voice for a greater say in the global financial order and on which the developing market's currencies will have substantial drawing rights in the International Monetary Fund.
It is generally seen that the Western-dominated economic world is undermining developing economies like South Africa by inflating its own currencies as investors always look for superior exchange rates. But while the idea of a common currency among BRICS members sounds great, it remains to be seen how the conversion rate would be computed. The geographic distances between BRICS members also poses difficulties in formulating something similar to the euro as a common currency among the European Union (EU) countries. Nevertheless, a beginning has been made at Sanya for a world order that provides an alternative to US hegemony.
The bottom line of the Sanya declaration is also on similar lines: it clearly reiterates the need for a greater "global financial decision-making" structure and reform of the IMF. The BRICS countries are currently on a massive growth trajectory and plan to use the IMF as a starting point of their strategy to influence the global financial structure. The Chinese role and dialogue in this strategy remain an interesting phenomenon. While the markets in EU and the US are still struggling to overcome their current financial crisis, the Chinese have emerged from the global economic slowdown stronger than ever, buying up 10 billions of pound sterling of debt to help some of the EU economies like Spain, Greece and Portugal to recover.
China has also emerged as the number two economy in the world and it could lead a multipolar world order
structure in combination with developing economies and powers. BRICS was seen as a symbolic concept in the Chinese strategic community till recently; but now they find much more strategic value in it. BRICS is seen as a new focus in China's "multilateral dialogue" programme where it aims to carve out a wider global role for itself in an ever expanding multipolar world order.
The rise of BRICS may help China achieve numerous global objectives, overcoming the pressures from Western and European powers. On issues like climate change, Doha talks and bringing transparency to the global financial structure, the Chinese need the support of India and Brazil. China, India and other BRICS nations were among those that abstained from voting during the recent UN Security Council meeting called to take a stand on supporting military intervention in Libya.
The Sanya declaration on a common currency will help China to successfully sideline the supremacy of the US dollar in the global financial order. The idea of promoting trade settlements in "alternative currencies" is also a strategy to test the India-US and US-Brazil relationship as both India and Brazil share close trade relations with the US. Chinese President Hu Jintao categorically highlighted in his speech at Sanya the Chinese effort to restructure the global economic system and the governance process.
Currently, BRICS lingers on the hope that it will work with mainstream global bodies like the UN, G20 and other such multilateral institutions for a democratic and transparent global governance system. The current progress of BRICS narrates that its growth is southward. Mexico is being considered seriously to be in the club of BRICS. Future expansion proposals suggest new representation from West Asia with Egypt coming to the grouping; this will have greater continental representation.
There is optimism that BRICS shares a vision for inclusive growth and prosperity in global politics through South-South dialogue. What it requires is a non-confrontational approach among its members. The Sanya summit confirms that the emerging economies seek a more balanced global and financial system more than anything else. The summit has highlighted a shift in power order away from the Western world.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.
BY NONIKA SINGH
Being a mother of an only girl child in India is never easy. Ever since my husband and I decided to restrict our family to our one and only darling daughter, we have also learnt to brace ourselves and take the remarks of our dear and not-so-dear friends and foes alike in our stride.
While the wellwishers have often sympathised with our plight, reactions to our not so "unenviable" predicament have varied from the tongue-in-cheek, "Oh you are following the China model of family planning" to the good old justification for obsessive son fixation, "Who will look after you in your old age?"
Over the years we have developed a thick skin, even mastered the knack of turning a blind eye and deaf ear to unsavoury remarks like —"Goodness! You are so foolish, why are you saving money and for whom, for your son-in-law?" That this particular refrain of theirs is extremely biased and symptomatic of a societal mindset according to which only sons and sons-in-law and not daughters and daughters-in-law inherit property, they are deliriously oblivious to. And we too have become unmindful of insensitive comments.
Thus when the 14 year-old-daughter of my domestic help in all her innocence announced, "Oh Bhabhi you don't have a son. Whom will your daughter visit after she gets married", I found no reason to take offence. For if among the well-heeled educated, our family's gender composition can be a cause of both consternation and commiseration, her lament is only justified. A sister of five brothers, she believes she is uniquely privileged and blessed. Never mind that the same brothers do precious little to ensure that she doesn't work or goes to school. For her life sans dear brothers is unimaginable and listless and worthy of sympathy.
Till one fine day she realised what being a girl in a man's world means. Having come of age, like all adolescent girls she was attracted to a boy of her community. Her mild harmless flirtation was discovered by her brothers and all hell breaks loose.
Not only was the budding romance brought to an ignominious end, her pleas that she would never meet the boy ever again were paid no heed. After a sound thrashing, much against her wishes, her marriage was fixed in a jiffy, far away in a village to a boy much older than her. While her mother excitedly shared the details of the groom-to-be's material possessions, teary eyed and wistfully she confided in my daughter, "I wish in my next life at least I am born like you, an only girl child with no brothers."
Overnight she seems to have lost her bubbly enthusiasm. And suddenly, the luxury of being an only girl child amidst the unfair and unjust world that she has inherited dawns on her. Her brothers, of course, continue to remain stone deaf to the agony and the yearning of her heart.
AMERICA IS SHRINKING BEFORE OUR EYES. IT IS BAMBOOZLED AND PETRIFIED
AN EMPIRE'S SHOCKING DECLINE & FALL
Somewhere in a cave, in Pakistan or Afghanistan or wherever, a tall, skeletal man with a long stick and dodgy kidneys must have been laughing on all. We hear little from or about him these days, apart for the odd report of a sighting or claim of his death. But assuming he is alive, we might imagine this conversation two days ago with a minion. I translate very loosely from the original.
"Father to us all, I have news to cheer you up."
"Cheer me up, Abdullah? Whatever can you mean?"
"Come off it, Ossie, you've been miserable ever since Liverpool equalised against your beloved Arsenal yesterday, thereby handing the title to the Great Satan of Old Trafford." "Ah, well, Eboué was certainly foolish to barge into Lucas. Yet, as Allah is my judge, it was never a penalty."
"Be that as it may, sire, our fortunes prosper elsewhere. The credit agency Standard & Poor's threatens to downgrade America's AAA credit rating unless more drastic steps are taken to cut the deficit."
"This is indeed wondrous news, my son. Bring me a mint tea and the dialysis machine, and we'll have a right old knees-up with the lads." Who could blame him for celebrating? A few months before the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that set America's corkscrew spin in motion, the S&P's report heightens the sense that this empire is disintegrating faster than any before it.
The warning's economic import may be negligible, because there is no chance of the US, cosseted by what remains the world's reserve currency, and with its economy reviving, defaulting on its loans. No creditor would call in such a loan knowing that a default would cripple the global economy in about 17 seconds.
Yet the psychological impact is immense. Imagine the blow to any residual faith America had in its exceptionalism and supremacy. Imagine the shock, not to mention the awe, to find itself, within 10 years of being vaunted as the planet's hyperpower, at being styled a potential debt-welsher on Graeco-Portuguese lines.
The three interconnected forces that destroy empires — military over-reach, lack of money, and the catastrophic loss of self-confidence that stems from the other two — have coalesced with astonishing speed since the Twin Towers fell. When George W Bush was elected President by five of the nine Supreme Court justices, he took on a country swimming in cash and basking in its post-Cold War hegemony. Eight years later, despite the healthy surplus Bill Clinton left him and a barely broken economic boom, he had doubled the deficit by wasting trillions on imbecile wars and trillions more on tax breaks for the wealthy. He inherited a swaggering empire at the zenith of its financial, military and cultural might, and bequeathed to Barack Obama a traumatised country in precipitous decline.
Obama's wise refusal to dominate a wretchedly confused Nato campaign confirms something unimaginable a few years ago. The President of the United States is no longer the leader of the free world, but a fellow-traveller in a free world without a leader at all.
Proper historians eschew the Boy's Own-style of history that sources dramatic power shifts to individuals, analysing them in terms of sweeping economic patterns. Yet in this case, they might allow themselves one of those "What if?" questions they generally disdain.
What if the hanging chads hadn't hung, or if the Supremes had heeded Diana Ross's dictum that "You Can't Hurry Votes (No, You Just Have To Wait)" by allowing a full Florida recount? With Al Gore in the White House, there would have been an Afghan campaign after 9/11, but no wicked oil grab in Iraq and no obscenely unChristian tax cuts for the rich. Far from doubling, the deficit would have remained stable or shrunk. America would have been nicely placed to withstand the sub-prime and banking crises that led The Idiot, in the dog days of his distempered administration, to say of the economy with wonted gravitas: "This sucker could go down".
Under Gore, the US would not have sacrificed what she saw as her moral authority to impose the Pax Americana, however misguidedly and self-servingly, on the satanic altar of Dick Cheney's neo-con experiment.
The US the 44th President inherited from a two-term Gore would have been a startlingly different entity-rich, confident, unsullied by Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and still dominating the world by the projection of soft power.
The America at which we glance across the ocean today is shrinking before our eyes. The Chinese, to whom the US is in ever growing multi-trillion hock, own the very pants Obama walks in. Extending far beyond the Birther nonsense, the far right's malevolence has prevented him from reversing the Bush tax cuts — worth $500bn per annum, or half the annual increase in the deficit — for fear of spreading the Fox-propagated belief that he is a Communist sleeper. He regretted this last week on finally cobbling together a deficit-reduction fudge with the Republicans, but regrets butter no Thanksgiving turkeys.
Impotent domestically and internationally, he may be judged kindly by history for preventing the sucker from going down, and for finding that presidential holy grail of universal(ish) health care. But the figurehead of a collapsing empire will never be loved in the homeland, let alone when trying to lead a people divided by much and united only by fear for the future. His approval ratings are sliding again, and he looks vulnerable in the unlikely event of the Republicans nominating a sane and serious challenger next year.
There is only one of those on the horizon. A feeling in my bones whispers that Mitch Daniels, the engagingly unpompous, Harley Davidson-riding, deficit-slashing Governor of Indiana, is an obscure name that won't be obscure for much longer.
In the last year, the number of Americans citing the deficit as the country's major problem has gone from virtually nothing to almost 20 per cent (and that before the S&P warning). If this issue proves decisive in 2012, Daniels could — for all his lack of hair, charisma and willingness to pander to the far right on social policy — do an Obama, and come from nowhere to win. But that's one for another column.
The real biggest issue that faces America today is that America, despite a recovering economy, is broke, dispirited, bamboozled and petrified. It is terrified by the suddenly bleak middle-class future faced even by graduates, by the prospect of losing its supplies of cheap oil from rebellious client kingdoms in the Middle East, and by the staggering speed with which China threatens to supplant it.
Although the links between the Bush and Bin Laden families made a fine film in Michael Moore's hands, they seemed merely a diverting conspiracy theory.
Yet it appears that Ossie and Dubya are destined to be conjoined in history after all, as the double act that destroyed the American empire in record time. Only one of them will be laughing about that, of course, and it should be one hell of a tenth anniversary bash, come September, in the cave. — The Independent
BRIBE-GIVING MAAF, TAKING NOT
A NOVEL PROPOSAL TO REDUCE CORRUPTION IS TO LET THE BRIBE-GIVER GO SCOT-FREE, BUT ITS IMPACT ON CORRUPTION IS DOUBTFUL
Will a new law proposal to give the bribe-giver immunity, and only punish the bribe-taker reduce corruption drastically? Probably not. A research paper on the website of the Finance Ministry has a novel proposal to cut down corruption. It suggests that the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1988, be modified, so that the bribe-giver goes scot-free.
Under the current law, both the bribe-giver and bribe-taker are punished equally if found guilty. This punishment can be up to five years in jail. Even abetting a bribery, i.e. enticing a government servant with a bribe, is a crime. That government official may not accept the bribe, but offering him a bribe, if proven can send the abettor to jail. This section of the law, criminalising abetment, has however got an exception. Under this exception, if giver of a bribe can prove that he is being forced to give a bribe, then he is excused.
This is difficult to prove. But this exception clause is used by many sting operations, or those attempting to trap government bureaucrats with secret cameras
But apart from this small exception, the bribe-giver is guilty. Hence, this new idea of decriminalising the giver is quite radical. Authored by the ministry's Chief Economic Advisor, Kaushik Basu, the idea basically tries to break the nexus between the giver and taker. Basu says that if we grant immunity to the bribe-giver, and if he can prove that he gave a bribe (by secretly recording the event on his cellphone, or verifying the serial numbers on the currency notes given as bribe), then the bribe-taker will be severely punished, and also asked to repay the bribe to the giver. In fact, the bribe-giver can be encouraged and rewarded to squeal! Hence, once this new law is in place, all bribe-takers will be wary, since they wouldn't know whether by accepting bribes they become vulnerable to prosecution. This creates a distrust between giver and taker, and thus reduces the incidence of bribery.
Basu is careful to admit that not all cases of bribery are "harassment" cases. His idea works only in cases where the giver, usually an aam aadmi, is harassed, and has to pay speed money to get his or her diver's licence, a delayed passport or birth certificate, or collect a tax refund cheque. Unless you pay some chai paani, you can't get the service from government that you are legitimately entitled to. For all other cases of bribery, where there is no prima facie harassment (as in trying to get 2G spectrum, or get a plush flat allotment in Adarsh Society), then it does not make sense to immunise the bribe-giver.
This indeed is a novel idea, and might work in a limited context of harassment bribes. (Some time back, in the context of prostitution, there was an idea to only punish persons visiting sex workers, i.e. only arrest the "buyers" of sex, not the "sellers" in a raid. That idea was also similar and aimed to break the nexus. It was also introduced to reduce harassment of the women by the police themselves. But we don't know if it has worked).
Bribery underlies most cases of corruption. In fact, bribery is like the underlying cell multiplication that leads to the spreading cancer of corruption. When Tamil Nadu voters accept money or liquor or other freebies from political parties in exchange for votes, they are not really "harassed". When a contractor pays money in a Swiss bank in exchange for a lucrative government contract, is he being harassed?
Rooting out corruption needs systemic change, not just legal amendments. Ultimately, ethical behaviour cannot be enforced merely by innovative laws. A healthy allergy to bribe-giving and taking has to be developed right from childhood.
AJIT RANADE ON THE WHEELS THAT MAKE MUMBAI RUN – MONEY AND ECONOMY
THE BIG STORY
T N NINAN
Amidst the anguish about corruption – and, one might add, the dirty tricks unleashed against those campaigning on the issue – people have tended to forget that the big story in India, the truly exciting story, remains rapid economic growth. That was underlined by the Planning Commission formally adopting on Thursday a 9-9.5 per cent annual growth target for the five years beginning next April — building on the average of 7.8 per cent in the preceding 10 years. The size of the middle class has exploded, and the poverty numbers have declined (you can argue by how much, but there is no credible statistical pattern of growth that says incomes double in a decade, and literacy climbs from 65 per cent to 74 per cent, but the absolute poor remain where they were.)
Get beyond the big macro numbers, and one sees what rapid growth means at the level of businesses. Did you know that India is now the second largest market in the world for elevators (after China, and ahead of the US)? So there are more high-rise buildings coming up in India than in any other country, barring China. India also has more certified green buildings, ready or being built, than any other country barring the US. For that matter, did you know that Wal-Mart is growing its India business 60 per cent annually, that its stores often turn profitable in their first year, and that it may already be bigger than both Shoppers Stop and Trent? That Tata Consultancy Services is bigger today than the entire software sector was in 2002, and will hire almost as many people in one year as the total employed by Tata Steel across four continents? And that the Indian motorcycle market is now the second largest in the world, while the car market is the sixth or seventh largest? Also, that India is among the top five markets for air-conditioners?
While Indian markets have become more open and competitive, and acquired scale (we may be talking of a $2 trillion economy this year), companies have become demonstrably more efficient. One indication: prices of manufactured goods have been going up less than general inflation. Couple this with rising incomes, and you have halved the number of months' salary that it takes the average executive to buy a basic car. Ergo, dramatic growth in sales as the consuming class burgeons in numbers. At the same time, companies have delivered greater surpluses; corporate savings have more than trebled in relation to GDP, from 2.7 per cent a decade ago to about 9 per cent (their share in total national savings has, therefore, doubled from 12 per cent to 25 per cent). This kicks into the macro story of more savings and investment, and therefore faster growth. Finally, in yet another indicator of improved competitiveness, Indian exports have grown at an annual rate of 19 per cent through the past decade — three times the global average of 6 per cent. The conclusion seems inescapable: Corporate India's DNA has changed.
Looking ahead, the McKinsey Global Institute has forecast that India will be the fifth largest consumer market by 2025. That seems an understatement because, by the end of the next five-year Plan in 2017, India may already have become the fifth largest economy—overtaking the European trio of France, Britain and Italy. So, even as the country grapples with in-your-face corruption and complex challenges in economic management, bear in mind that rapid economic growth, dramatic changes in Corporate India and a transformed quality of life for many millions, has been and remains the most compelling story of our times.
CORRUPTION - LET'S BE PROFESSIONAL ABOUT IT
IT'S TIME INDIA'S ELECTORATE DID SOME RATIONAL THINKING
The recent experience regarding the Lok Pal Bill has re-confirmed a nagging feeling I have been harbouring for a long time. It has to do with what we do as a nation, and the way we do it. There is no dearth of brilliant people in India; in every activity that one can think of, we have people who can hold their own against the best in the world — be it movies, cricket, science or medicine. And the people who excel do so in a highly competitive, global and professional world. However, when it comes to solving our own societal problems, we show a serious lack of professionalism. This is not to say that the problems we face are simple and any professional expert can solve them; but certainly, the chances of a professional expert coming up with a solution are no worse than those of a well-meaning non-professional.
Of course, some of us reading the last line will immediately come up with instances showing how serious problems were solved by complete non-professionals; the more scholarly will refer to not only cases from our own past but also the history of other countries. And that is precisely where we will be making the mistake I am referring to — using anecdotes that serve our purpose rather than compare these very special instances with the number of times things have failed miserably because of lack of professionalism. I am reminded of a famous Indian (and world-renowned) statistician who described what he thought was usual of a "Bengali" economist. Being from Bengal, and knowing that he was not trying to be complimentary at all, I objected to the use of that phrase. He immediately assured me that it was just a description and not a comment on Bengalis. To clarify, he immediately mentioned the name of a person who he felt was also a Bengali economist, though we both knew he was not from Bengal. What he was saying is that there are people in India who on being shown data will refer to special instances that disagree with the statistical findings. In other words, they are unable to differentiate between an outlier and the usual. Let me put it more plainly: no matter how many times an engineer has been able to diagnose an illness correctly, you will certainly not go to the best engineer when you fall ill; alternatively, you will not go to a world-famous cardiac specialist when you want a bridge to be built, no matter how many bridges built by engineers have developed cracks.
There is yet another way to demonstrate this. Recall the number of times you have been involved in a discussion of a pressing social problem, and someone in the group has reminded you that she has been "in the field" working on this problem more than anyone else and, therefore, must be saying something that is the right way to solve it. Indeed, think of the number of times you have used this line of "reasoning" to bring home your point. I have only one response to that. If someone has been grappling with this problem for long, and the problem is still important enough to warrant a discussion, she should probably be the last person, and certainly not the only person, I should listen to. After all, if you are so good at solving it, why does it persist?
And finally, I am exasperated with the number of times I have to listen to references being made to other countries as to why we should do something. If only those people also referred to the much larger number of countries that do not follow what they are asking for and yet do not have the same problems as we do.
So, how do I connect all this to the corruption tangle and the candle-light vigil of supporters of activist Anna Hazare? First, we have given in to an extra-Constitutional authority's demand to draft laws. This authority was not chosen by the people; remember that even if a million people supported the protesters, it is still way less than 1 per cent of the population. Second, we are a democratic and common-law country where law making is left to elected representatives and the precedents set by the decisions of judges in a court of law. Law making has no place for self-appointed groups regardless of the threats they make to their own lives. Third, there is no reason to believe that civil society members, who have dedicated their lives to fighting corruption – and they deserve our respect for that – are also the best people to draft laws that will root out corruption. Fourth, suppose the law is passed as drafted by them but corruption continues. Have we developed a system that will hold them accountable for wasting the country's time to write an ineffectual law? Recall that some people were praised when a movement against criminals in politics forced lawmakers to make laws requiring all candidates to sign affidavits in court disclosing their assets, liabilities and criminal charges against them. Has this prevented criminal politics? Are elected candidates amassing less wealth during their tenure? What about the cost and the time lost in doing all of this?
It is time to consider the following difficult question. The common Indian wants political leaders to be free from corruption. Yet, every time in elections Indians vote the same corrupt leaders to power. Are they stupid? Or, are we, the well-meaning active group, missing something here? Should we not be professional enough to ask ourselves this question?
The author is research director, IDF
MAMATA'S TRAIN OF TIME-SERVERS
If a week is a long time in politics, a month is four times as long and 34 years, a geological aeon. Polling in West Bengal's Vidhan Sabha elections started this week. In a month's time, the results could end a 34-year aeon.
I was 15 when the Left Front won the Assembly-Lok Sabha elections in 1977. I voted from Calcutta South and Alipore Assembly Constituency, an anecdotal indication of the rigorous polling processes of the era.
A ration card, ample facial hair and adult voice let me pretend I was my 26-year-old cousin, who was out of town. The chaps at the local poll booth knew me and my cousin. They set it up. I voted for CPI(M); that was the purpose of the impersonation.
The Left Front was supported by many genuine voters in 1977, and later. The 1980s' land redistribution plan, "Operation Barga", created rural goodwill. The rest of its deeds were less praiseworthy. It created a power base of unionised time-servers, in every arm of bureaucracy, including police. It enabled cadres who hawked goods on pavements and ran high-pollution public transport.
The share of industry in state GDP dropped from 27 per cent (1975-76) to 18.5 per cent (2009-10) as the shenanigans caused capital flight. Party members ran schools and colleges. English was dropped from primary school. By 2008-09, West Bengal ranked 32nd (out of 35) in the Composite Educational Development Index. Deficit budgets coloured finances appropriately. The state fisc was 43 per cent in 2009-10.
Anti-incumbency feelings were masked by the mastery of rigging and strong-arm tactics. Voters were systematically impersonated, or excluded. Bangladeshi illegals received IDs for the quid pro quo of voting the Left Front. The Opposition didn't help itself by infighting. And so, the Left Front won time and again.
The 2006 Assembly Elections saw a statistical high. The Left Front won 233 out of 293 seats. By 2008, it had, to put it bluntly, pissed away the mandate. Nandigram, Singur, Maoist trouble, scams, all contributed to erosion of support.
In 2008, the Left Front won just 18 out of 81 municipal councils. It won only 15 of 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2009. The Trinamool Congress' (TMC's) internal projections suggest the TMC-Congress alliance may now take 200 of the 294 Assembly seats.
Assume that "Didi", aka Mamata Banerjee, will soon be sitting in Writer's Building, from which she was once ejected, while biting a policewoman. Once there, what does she do? The TMC is a presidential party. Whoever wins her ear can push through his/her agenda.
The TMC's coherent, market-friendly manifesto details objectives and timelines. But that slick document conceals huge internal contradictions. The party line veers alarmingly from right to left, depending on the TMC talking-head you access.
One star TMC candidate is Amit Mitra, who was a pillar of the anti-Didi-camp in Singur. Now he's being projected for a ministerial role! Will his Ficci-economics prevail? Or will the "more Left than the Left Front" ideologues who masterminded Singur call the shots?
More than economics, if she wins, Didi's biggest challenge would lie in energising the administration. She would have to reboot the mindsets of the unionised time-servers. One analogy is that of the former Warsaw Pact nations. The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary offer some hope that this is possible.
A 1970s Samizdat joke places Lenin, Stalin and Brezhnev in a train that breaks down. Lenin gives a speech exhorting the train to repair itself. Stalin shoots the driver. Brezhnev says, "We have vodka and caviar. Let's pretend the train is moving." A change in government may at least ensure that attempts are made to get West Bengal moving again. It would be up to Didi to set the direction. Maybe her stint in the railway ministry will help.
HAL MARKET - A TASTE OF INDIA
HAL Market in east Bangalore, just off the Old Airport Road, sits on a prominent corner of the public sector giant's huge stretches of real estate that could have earned Bangalore the sobriquet of HAL City, until software came and began to hog the limelight. The market is fascinatingly poised between the informal and the formal economy and in many ways symbolises India in the making, both promise and loose ends showing.
In about a quarter of the total area over which the market sprawls in the mornings stands a single-storeyed structure, its yellow paint long faded, with shops lining a couple of lane-cum-corridors. That's the pucca part. The rest of the space, both front and behind, is made up of sheds of varying degrees of permanence or space left open where fruit, flower, vegetable, egg and fish sellers camp and decamp to a well-thought-out timetable.
Early in the morning, the open space in front of the pucca market is full of fruit sellers, who have stationed their push carts till it is past 9.30 a m and they are gone elsewhere. Similarly, the open space at the back is full early in the day with people with odd lots of fruit and vegetables, desiring to quickly be rid of their produce at semi-wholesale rates and go back home. The fish sellers, all in a row at the back, mostly surface on weekends, in keeping with the lifestyle of their Bengali patrons for whom the weekend begins with a pilgrimage in search of fresh-water varieties, of which the locals knew little till not so long ago.
HAL Market was a sleepy company town kind of place until Bangalore became a boom town attracting software and other crowds from all over the country. East Bangalore, being less built up and with the huge offices coming up in Whitefield next door, automatically became the preferred abode of the outstation crowd, and HAL Market their bazaar of choice.
Locals complain bitterly that the outsiders have ruined the market, causing its prices to skyrocket. The north Indians have grabbed all the vegetables, the Bengalis all the fish that money can buy and everybody all the fruit that horticulture-savvy Karnataka can grow.
At least three languages are prominent in the market — Kannada, Hindi and Bengali. All three can be heard in the fruit and vegetable area but along the fish stalls it is Bengali that predominates. It is fascinating how some of the more enterprising fish sellers have picked up snatches of Bengali and keep yelling Kolkatar bhetki and Bangladesher ilish grinning away at both their own pronunciation and their spurious claim.
The fascinating thing about Bangalore is that at 3,000 feet, it is technically a hill station and you keep getting what are considered winter vegetables elsewhere in phases round the year. Just when you have stopped buying the cauliflower because it is well past its prime, there comes a new crop of small budding bouquets that in time will reach the full glory of a 10-inch diameter.
The fruit that is uniquely available in all seasons, unmatched anywhere in the country for taste, is the papaya. In contrast, the seasonal king is the table grapes, vying with Nashik in this plateau of vineyards, which reign supreme in the early months of the year. One prima donna that is missing most of the year, presumably because it is unable to cover the long distance from the north, is the Himachal apple. Its place has been usurped by imported Fuji or Washington varieties.
Bits of the foregoing will be visible elsewhere in the country and the city, but in its entirety, HAL Market is so much like today's India. There is more cash floating around than there is produce to match it, thus causing prices to zoom. But the owners of all the cash, whose week will not be made without a visit to the market, will not lift a finger to ask for a cleaner and better organised marketplace.
The covered area between the pucca part and open space at the back usually has on the pathway a carpet of discarded spoilt vegetables and leaves, left to rot. This is just about bearable except when it rains and the mud and rotting vegetables make a unique and rich slush which will drive votaries of composting ecstatic. But what really takes the cake – or the fish – is a large corner next to the row of fish stalls where the discards of cleaned-up fish and sundry other refuse are left to rot for days. The stink is authentically small-town India.
The only people who are a little more better organised and tidy are the stall owners in the pucca part of the market, selling mostly fruit, local and exotic. They are usually a sulky lot, put off like the old gentry whose better graces have been swamped by the owners of new money. My favourite is a shop specialising in every kind of mango. It is difficult to say which is superior there: the langra or the alphonso?
In the age of organised retail, it is easy to find all the fresh produce you care for in large, neat and tidy stores at competing prices. Those who come to old-style markets like these tell themselves the stuff here is more fresh. The mud that comes with the palak is certainly authentic and takes unconscionably long to wash away but, surely, upwardly mobile health-conscious Indians can ask for and get a cleaner place to shop for what is supposed to be garden-fresh.
BENGALI LITERARY JEWELS - RENDERING AND BEYOND
Bengali is the richest of the 18 officially recognised Indian languages but if you had any doubts, Kalpana Bardhan's two-volume The (Oxford India) Anthology of Bengali Literature, I861-1941and 1941-1991 (Rs 695 each) should close the debate about how it compares with the rest, including Malayalam and Hindi, its two closest competitors. All literary anthologies are, by definition, exercises in unravelling the basic landmarks of a literary culture by providing a "historical depth" in categories of poetry, fiction and non-fiction that would attract the intelligent common reader. No matter how large the canvas, the distinguishing marks of an anthology, whether in original or translation, are intimacy and informality, or in the words of Hazlitt, "What do I know?" or "What am I supposed to know?"
It, thus, follows that an anthology cannot be hampered by preconceived notions of order and regularity; if it has to seduce the common reader it must include all the names one would expect in a representative anthology but to make it readable it must also be "a loose sally of the mind". This is what this definitive anthology, which covers more than 100 years of Bengali writing in its English translation, does but it targets non-Bengali readers, who have hitherto been served with uneven translations of even the best-known Bengali writers, including Tagore.
Before getting into the formatting of the two volumes and a representative selection of the three genres – poetry, fiction and scholarly essays – a word about translation. The success or failure of this anthology would depend upon how we understand a translation should be done. First, to cite Ralph Manheim, who translated the German classics, translators should be like actors who speak the lines as the author would if she could speak English. Translation, according to Manheim, must be a kind of interpretive performance that bears the same relationship to the original text as the actor's work does to the script.
But the translation process must be auditory so that it is immediately available to other people, as opposed to a silent, solitary process. The author's voice and the sound of the text must be clearly "heard". This is especially true for poetry, though it also holds for other pieces, because all literature is emotional, not intellectual.
The first volume begins with the work of Michael Madhusudan Dutta (1824-73) who had described himself (in English) as "a tremendous literary rebel" and the poetry section includes Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Sukumar Ray (1887-1923), Jibanananda Das (1899-1954), Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976), Bishnu Dey (1909-1982) and Samar Sen (1916-1987). (Strangely, Sukanta Chaudhuri's brilliant translation, Select Nonsense of Sukumar Ray, which would have served as a fine example of how attractive translations can be if the translator had a little courage to depart just a little from the original, has not been included here.)
The second volume has been formatted in the same manner into poetry, short fiction and non-fiction. It has a heavy preponderance of writers from Bangladesh, which closes with the journalism of Taslima Nasrin, who has been incarcerated in her country.
No anthology can ever be fully representative but the essential question is whether the selections here will tempt readers to dip into the two volumes and perhaps persuade them to buy the set. The straight answer is yes because some of the translations have broken from the straitjacket of the original text flow as spontaneously as the original verse. This is the acid test for all translations of any literary form, and nothing else. Purists who are sticklers for the meaning of the original will no doubt find this objectionable, but no successful translation has ever worked unless its "voice" has been interpreted in the right spirit.
Many writers have wondered why the renaissance of Indian writing first took root in Bengal and then spread to other vernaculars. There is no simple answer to the question because all regions came under the same constraints imposed by a colonial rule. But a possible answer has been provided by Partha Chatterjee in Our Modernity. Chatterjee says our modernity is "deeply ambiguous" in the sense there is a close proximity between "modern knowledge and modern regimes of power", that is, "it has borrowed heavily from the west, yet retained its own national characteristics". This reflected both "courage and inventiveness". "Courage" because we did not shy away from western regimes of power which required us to study the English language. And "inventiveness" made us adapt these concepts to our own condition. Looking back, there is no doubt that one of the factors that led to the Bengal renaissance was the eagerness with which it embraced the study of the English language, which it adapted for its own purposes.
Like all anthologies, this two-volume set has one great advantage: its variety with the promise of containing something for every reader. You won't be disappointed.
THE EMIGRANT SONG
IT IS BAFFLING HOW NRIS ARE INTENSELY POLITICAL AND TOUCHY ABOUT THE COUNTRY THEY LEFT
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
The only readers of this column I am wary of are overseas citizens of India, people of Indian origin, non-resident Indians (NRIs), call them what you will, in the US. Not distinguished achievers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Siddhartha Mukherjee, but ordinary migrants whose patriotic fervour, devotion to Mahatma Gandhi, Hindu zeal, intense anti-westernism and, quite often, venomous hatred of the Congress party leave me gasping.
It's baffling that highly-trained professionals who have migrated in search of better incomes and creature comforts, and whose number includes some 200,000 millionaires, should still feel so vehemently about the landscape they have abandoned. Being thoroughly apolitical myself, I am even more surprised by their intense party loyalties. The unorthodox syntax and imaginative spelling of some of their protest emails are so extraordinary that I have reproduced them untouched in this column.
Anna Hazare's fast brought emigrant passions to the surface once again. So has the government's delayed order that the roughly two million Indian-Americans should produce their last Indian passports to be cancelled for a fee. Quibbling over the amount of the fee is another surprise. Passport and visa charges are going up worldwide but our Indian-Americans seem to think rupee rates should remain static since they left India. Fasting being the fashion, they "have decided to Fast, Gandhian way, on April 30 and May 01, 2011 in Houston at 5810 Hillcroft Avenue, and other places in USA" to have the passport order rescinded.
They seem to hold Sonia Gandhi personally responsible for the passport decision and accuse her of driving a wedge between Bharat Mata and her diasporic children. "In their rush to bleed the nation with corruption, destroy its culture through millions of dollars spend by missionaries whom Mahatma Gandhi called as deadliest poison, Sonia and her cohorts in cahoots with Pope and Italian Mafia, seem to come up with a plan to create distance to any possible forces that will slow their moves" says one particularly bizarre email.
Forget the grammar, but note the hint of a sinister international conspiracy. Note, too, the implicit claim that Mrs Gandhi is attacking NRIs because they alone can save India.
I can understand the chagrin that must underlie the wild language and wilder accusations. Some NRIs may really have lost their old passports. But an extra passport means backdoor dual-citizenship for others. Multiple passport-holders can also pop in and out as often as they please despite India's once-in-three-months entry restriction.
Singapore doesn't bestow citizenship without proof that the applicant's original passport is no longer valid. The US doesn't bother because Americans don't care two hoots about a naturalised citizen's other papers. But India can't be complacent. If the original passport isn't checked, any Pakistani or Bangladeshi with a US citizenship can pretend to Indian origins and demand a lifetime visa.
I stirred up another hornet's nest by suggesting that the most realistic remedy for the corruption that provoked Hazare's fast is to allow existing police and justice systems to function properly. An angry Indian-American reader ordered me to "think of Mahatma Gandhi and his unimaginable power of mind that could suggest a method for erdicating crime and corruption both."
He told me that Gandhi's formula for spiritualising politics, unfolded in Calcutta's Mirzapur Park on January 23, 1921, and accepted by Hyderabad Muslims in November 2008 "is welcome to the 900 million Dhaarmic India of Maatma Gandhi that is not educated by Macaulayan anti-spiritual and Anti-Vedic education system that runs your 'SYSTEM' in India from 1835."
Clearly, the writer yearns for a Vedic past before Macaulay's Minute on education muddied the pure waters of Indian culture. Is that why he and others like him have fled India's bastardised westernism for the US?
One reason for all this posturing could be an official report that describes Indian-Americans as "an invaluable asset" and says "for the first time, India has a constituency in the US with real influence and status."
Amit Gupta of the Department of Strategy and International Security at the US Air Force War College in Montgomery, Alabama, disagrees. His paper, The Indian Diaspora's Political Efforts in the United States, argues that NRI prominence is the result – not cause – of improved India-US ties.
Accusing Indian-Americans of being "more concerned about making quick profits rather than a long-term commitment to Indian development", Gupta points out that more than 50 per cent of India's foreign investment comes from the Gulf. He could have added that NRIs hastily withdrew $2 billion from India when the Gulf War broke out.
DIRECT TRANSFERS, HIDDEN COSTS
CASH TRANSFERS AND COUPONS ARE NOT NECESSARILY AN OPTIMUM WAY OF DELIVERING SUBSIDIES EFFICIENTLY
The government's think-tank seems suddenly optimistic about cash-transfers and coupons (direct transfers) to reach subsidies to the target population. Direct transfers are being talked of as the panacea in major areas involving subsidies — food, education, fertiliser, kerosene, and so on. There are, however, several weaknesses in the panacea.
Subsidies are a kind of market intervention by the government when the market by itself finds equilibrium at a much lower consumption-level than socially or economically desirable. The attempt mostly is to intervene and make the goods or services available at a lower price so that the desired consumption level is reached. Since equilibrium is an interplay between demand and supply, the intervention can be from either side. Let us see some limitations of the current proposals.
First, consider the choice of side from which the intervention will take place. Direct transfers work most effectively from the demand side where the recipient uses the coupon or cash to buy the goods and services in question and increases his consumption. Not all goods and services are amenable to intervention from the demand side. Supply-side interventions try to work by altering the marginal cost structure of various players. The government can bring down the cost structure by supplying some inputs at cheaper prices (like coal for electricity producers), reducing taxes or handing out subsidies. If the variable costs come down for all suppliers, and the government can ensure competitive conditions, markets will drive down market prices.
Fertilisers and fuels are examples of how supply-side intervention will be far more effective than cash transfers and coupons. Imagine the complexities if one were to attempt distribution of coupons to consumers to subsidise fertiliser. Apart from problems of "how much to whom", which will itself open the flood gates for corruption, a massive increase in the number of people to be dealt with will require the creation and administration of a massive system. If the transfer size is the same for all irrespective of land holdings, then there will be an enormous spillage owing to mismatches; if based on land holdings, falsification of size will be natural besides it being unequal and regressive. The government's hopes on proper information systems and unique identification (UID) system to effectively tackle all these issues appear rather naive. For similar reasons fuel subsidies (petrol and diesel) work much better through supply-side, rather than issuing subsidy coupons to millions of truck owners, auto drivers, two- and four-wheelers.
Second, a good subsidy system should also consider the "hierarchy of wants" of the target segment. If the consumption of good or service being targeted for subsidy is way above the current consumption profile of the recipient, he is more likely to sell his entitlement or use the cash than consume his subsidised good. Physical transfers like subsidised rice score here, even if relatively.
Here is where politicians like Tamil Nadu's Kamaraj and M G Ramachandran made for far more practical economists. They exchanged "what the target segment wanted" (physically distributing food by mid-day meal schemes) in exchange for "what the state wanted them to consume" (education) and delivered education, although it was way above the target's immediate concern in the fifties and sixties. A coupon system here would have mostly failed, since poor children in rural areas would have preferred to work the fields to earn their bread (and realise some extra cash by selling coupons) to first fill their bellies: intellectual pursuits could wait.
Third, the argument of cash-transfers reducing corruption. Any transfers involve giving out entitlements by some "authority" without the recipient paying commensurate value. Unless the system of policing is highly effective, it creates ideal ground for the giver to demand bribes and the receiver to pay it and the exact amount transferred (or price of coupons) will settle in between. One already sees it in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) and old-age pensions — the percentage to be paid to original certifiers (read some local politician) and the monthly dispensers (read the postman) are well established. Every touch-point provides opportunities for extracting bribes.
Even between cash and coupons each may have its merits in a given situation. In areas like higher education where prior qualification determines eligibility and thus restricts spillage, coupons may be better. When all the problems could directly be traced to corruption instead of setting right our criminal administration and policing why are we naively giving up our fight against this one national enemy? When systems work in so many other nations why not here?
The government has a responsibility to expand public services, like policing, appointment of judges, criminal investigation personnel, education capacity, and so on in line with global per capita standards (India's record in most of these areas are woefully inadequate). It is disturbing that the government has abdicated its prime task in the name of controlling its deficit.
Even the choice of goods to be subsidised needs careful design. Instead of years of focus on academic education, skill development would have delivered more productive skills to industry, improved our competitiveness and delivered jobs to the recipient, which would have attracted them to schools.
Delivery of subsidies requires careful analysis of the recipient, nature of goods in question, and several other factors than can't be addressed by a one-size-fits-all approach. Unfortunately, mistakes in designing economic systems take unduly long to be discovered. It is usually the next generation that cares to admit failures – like our socialistic pursuits – but by that time the populace would have paid a heavy price.
The author is CFO of a large paper company. These views are personal. He can be reached at
HUNGER STRIKE OR BLACKMAIL?
Now that Anna Hazare's hunger strike has persuaded the government to reconsider its policy on the Lok Pal Bill, it is timely and relevant to examine the use of hunger strike as a tool for persuasion. Whenever there is a dispute between two parties (for instance, between an employer and employee or a producer and consumer) the first stage of trying to resolve the issue is through an oral representation or a discussion. The next step will be a written representation that may lead to a discussion and possible resolution of the issue. If that does not succeed, the parties can go to a government-appointed regulatory body (for example, the labour commissioner). If that also fails the aggrieved party can go to the court of law, pursuing it through the several layers of court — small causes court, high court and the Supreme Court. Simultaneously, the trade union can instigate go-slow tactics at the workplace, which can put pressure on the employer. If that does not yield results, they can go on strike although it would mean loss of wages, which many employees cannot afford. Usually during this possible sequence of developments, the two parties find an acceptable solution.
It is only in exceptional cases that there is a prolonged breakdown and stoppage of work. Hunger strike is not part of this normal dispute-resolution procedure. It is a form of blackmail by those who adopt this method. Gandhiji used hunger strike as part of his agitational-kit. It certainly drew attention and created awareness among the public about the cause being espoused. But it was not because of his hunger strikes that the British gave India independence. It was essentially due to a change of circumstances and of government in Britain. An impoverished Britain found it too difficult to rule a large and distant country like India beset by agitation for independence, American persuasion also played a part. Simultaneously, the post-war election brought the British Labour Party in power. Their party had more liberal views about colonies and wanted to give them independence. If the Conservatives, led by Winston Churchill, had come to power the course of history of Indian independence would have been probably very different because Churchill was an outright imperialist who had proclaimed earlier that he was not elected prime minister of Britain to preside over the liquidation of its empire. Some unexpected and unplanned events occasionally change the course of history. The coming to power of the Labour Party in Britain after the war is an example of this.
Another example of such an unexpected event that had a decisive influence on the course of World War II, Hitler's move to attack the USSR. There was no strategic reason for him to do so. It was his own megalomania. It will be interesting to speculate what would have happened if Hitler had not attacked the USSR. The Western Allies had no love for Russia, which they saw as a communist threat. The Americans were most allergic to anything to do with communism. So if Hitler had not attacked the USSR, the Allies would have maintained their aversion to the USSR and left it alone. Hitler's unwise decision to attack Russia had two very negative consequences: (a) It provoked the Allies led by Americans to consider the implication of such a large country like Russia with its vast natural- and mineral-resources falling into Hitler's hands and (b) It overextended Hitler's own military capability that faced the same problems as Napoleon had faced in his expedition into Russia — a hostile nature of severe winter and a long supply lines to be sustained through hostile territories.
With regard to corruption, one has to identify the root causes of corruption and find remedies for them. There are two basic reasons why corruption exists in government. The first reason is the inadequate level of salaries paid to government functionaries. The second reason is the level of discretionary powers vested in them. The remedy for the first cause is to make the remuneration of government officials sufficiently high, so that they are not tempted to accept any unlawful payments. My own experience in private-sector employment is that apart from one's own personal morals, once you have a fairly generous income you are not tempted to degrade yourself by feeling obliged to a person who has succeeded in bribing you. The overall cost to the country by paying higher salaries to government officials will not increase and may even decrease because with more efficient and decisive officials, the bureaucracy can be trimmed down in all ministries.
With regard to the second cause, that is discretionary powers vested in officialdom, this can be moderated by abolishing or reducing the rules and regulations applicable to economic activity. The abolition of industrial licensing and price controls, among other measures are worthy examples of this procedure, which is considered part of liberalisation.
Therefore, if we want to minimise or even eliminate corruption we must ensure that government officials are well-paid and that their discretionary powers are not as pervasive. Hunger strikes will not solve the problem of corruption. They can only blackmail the government to appoint another commission of enquiry.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NOT SO COARSE
DEMAND FOR COARSE GRAINS IS SHOOTING UP; IT'S TIME TO REVERSE POLICY NEGLECT
Demand for coarse grains like sorghum or jowar, bajra, maize, ragi and psyllium husk is picking up as well-heeled Indians wake up to the benefits of consuming them. Food companies like Britannia and ITC are in a rush to procure these, as multigrain diets go mainstream from being mere fads. Jowar, once treated as a poor man's food, now costs nearly double as much as wheat. All the other coarse grains have seen prices shoot up as well. These are welcome trends, reversing a long decline in the fortunes of these crops. From the 1970s, as government policy, pricing and procurement heavily favoured wheat, rice and sugarcane, farmers took the rational decision to grow more and more of these, so land under coarse grains shrank rapidly: falling by as much as 1.3% every year through the 1980s, and by 0.76% every year through the 2000s. This should now change, a change that will be good for India's crop diversity. Apart from being healthy foods, the coarse grains have an additional advantage: unlike wheat, rice and sugarcane, which need lots of water to grow, coarse grains are hardy and flourish in relatively dry weather.
This is a blessing in India, where cropping is heavily dependent on monsoons and irrigation is skewed towards areas that grow rice, wheat and sugarcane. The proliferation of coarse grains will give farmers insurance against patchy rainfall while it makes Indian diets more varied. The gains of the green revolution — large increases in production and yield — seem to be petering out for the major crops: sugarcane output grew about 15% from 2009-10 to 2010-11, rice increased around 5.5% and wheat by less than 1%. In comparison, coarse grains grew nearly 20% in the same period. And while yields for rice and wheat stagnate between 1% to 2% growth, they've grown nearly 4% for coarse cereals. These are impressive numbers and help to show the direction that farm policy should take in future. Policymakers, so far obsessed with the major cereals and sugarcane, should divert some attention to these neglected crops. Market forces are moving in their favour, policy needs to get active as well. The result would be to better both income and health in rural India.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LAY OFF EXEMPT FUNDS; RATHER, ALLOW THEM TO MIGRATE TO THE NEW PENSION SYSTEM
The Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has a poor track record of managing workers funds. Strangely, it now wants to manage the funds of exempt trusts — provident fund trusts run by private firms — that are unable to pay a 9.5% return to their employees in 2010-11. The idea is wholly unsound. Exempt trusts should be allowed to migrate to the New Pension System that offers superior returns — an average 12% return last fiscal year, higher than the 9.5% return offered by the EPFO. The manner in which the EPFO has financed its payout is also opaque — it discovered an accounting error that left the Fund with more money than it knew it had. Exempt trusts do not have accounting snarls that conveniently throw up hidden treasure every once in a while. They are constrained to follow the investment pattern followed by the EPFO and so, in the absence of hidden caches in an accounting morass, cannot match the EPFO's rate of return. The norms prescribe investment of 25% in government debt, Centre and state, 30% in state-owned enterprise bonds, and the balance 30% in a mix of these three instruments — no stocks. The yields of nearly 42 funds run by private trusts were between 7.5% and 8% last fiscal year. However, allowing the EPFO to take charge of managing the funds of exempt trusts is a recipe for disaster. These trusts should be given the option to switch to the NPS, choosing their fund manager and enjoying the world's lowest asset management fees, secure accounting and proper regulation. Even better, the government should amend the EPF Act to give workers the option to migrate to the NPS to obtain superior returns on their retirement savings.
Pension funds from around the world invest in Indian stocks. It is ridiculous for Indian workers to be denied the opportunity to benefit from the dynamism of India's economy via its vibrant capital market. The EPFO's total corpus, of over . 3.5 lakh crore, is large enough to be diversified across the spectrum to generate higher returns, while minimising risk. The EPFO's board of trustees make a virtue of forgoing that opportunity.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BUG, BURROW & STEEL
INDIAN TERMITES SET A NEW WORLD RECORD, BORING THROUGH METAL TO EAT UP MONEY
If corruption has eaten into the very vitals of civil society, there can be no reason to doubt the officials of a bank in UP who aver that termites have decimated an estimated . 1 crore lying in a trunk. Termites are known for their formidable boring skills (an adjectival phrase that can probably describe the nature of the daily grind of the bank staff, too) but their latest feat of tunnelling through several supposedly impenetrable barriers — a steel trunk inside a reinforced strongroom — marks a first documented instance. The ancient Indian P a n c h a t a n t r aparable about the merchant who claimed that rats had gobbled up solid iron to fob off the real claimant cannot obviously be cited as a credible precedent. If the insects' heroic burrowing feat is accepted, there is still the question of all that money lying untended (albeit in a steel trunk) for a long enough time for the termites to have had their fill of the contents. Surely, the incident is as much a testament to the fortitude of the termites as to the lassitude of the overseers, for it seems the insects have made a meal of other precious documents in the same bank branch.
That the town is called coincidentally called Barabanki — there is no confirmation of whether the town had or has 12 banks — should not be cause for undue mirth, for the matter is serious. If the authorities gnaw no better than to take the bank officials' explanation at face value, then all manner of dubious people in India and around the world will instantly hold termites accountable for every inexplicable disappearance of currency or bullion. If these bugs can penetrate bank vaults, after all, what place can be considered termite-proof any more? On the positive side, stamping out at least one form of 'corruption' — if eating money is considered as such — will now become easier.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SMOKE & LIGHT IN CORRUPTION BATTLE
ANNA HAZARE'S ANTI-CORRUPTION MOVEMENT BARELY CONCEALS THE MANY MALADIES THAT AFFLICT IT
The anti-corruption campaign launched by Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare and his associates has raised as many hopes as eyebrows. While its supporters are euphoric over the "victory" gained by forcing the government to accede to their demand that a new Jan Lokpal Bill should be drafted by a joint committee that gives equal representation to the government and civil society, it has also given rise to a sense of deep disquiet over the very nature of the movement and its ideals and methods.
Several commentators have drawn attention to the deepseated disdain displayed by the movement leaders towards parliamentary democracy. Anna Hazare himself has made a controversial remark to the effect that the Indian voter does not know who and how to vote. He paints all elected representatives with one brush and his statements imply that all of them have been elected to state legislatures and Parliament by bribing the voters.
While it is nobody's case that the Indian democracy is free from flaws, it is also a fact that despite being a flawed system of governance, no better system exists. We have to devise ways and means to work the system in favour of the common man. But the much-glorified Gandhian leader and his much-hyped anti-corruption movement seem to have no patience with democracy. Those who have studied his experiments in rural regeneration at Ralegan Sidhi point out that a system of unquestioning obedience, army-like command structure, liberal use of Hindu religious symbols and motifs and a version of puritanical Brahmanism constitute the main elements of this model. Mahatma Gandhi's main contribution to the freedom struggle was that he brought the common man into its fold. And he did so by asking them to contribute a chavanni (onefourth of a rupee) as membership fee to the Congress. Besides this, his participation and close association with the anti-British struggle were ensured in myriad ways so that it was soon transformed from a middle-class movement into a massive mass movement. While we witnessed film stars like Urmila Matondkar and Diya Mirza wearing designer caps to support Annaled anti-corruption movement, we are yet to see the participation of the common man. It looks as if civil society is comprised of only urban middle class and its well-educated, well-placed representatives. The speed with which this movement attracted funds from the corporate world and hysterical support from the corporate media was truly unprecedented. As The Times of India reported on April 15, 2011, within a few days the movement received donations from banks and other corporate entities of more than . 82 lakh and its leaders were quick to spend more than . 32 lakh.
The insistence on the inclusion of certain individuals in the drafting committee too raised disquieting concerns as did certain provisions of the draft as proposed by Anna Hazare and his associates. They want that all Nobel laureates of Indian origin and recent Magsaysay award winners should be members of the collegiums that would select the Lokpal. As one commentator has jokingly said, acceptance of this proposal would mean that VS Naipaul too would be a member of this collegium and his love for India is much too wellknown! Also, it is beyond comprehension as to how receiving an award makes a person eligible for inclusion in such a high-powered collegium. It is not only a patently elitist notion, but an absurd notion, too. Had such a criterion been adopted in the times of Mahatma Gandhi, he himself would have been excluded from this august body because he was never considered worthy of any such international award.
The presence of international yoga guru and CMD of a recently-acquired multinational herbal drug company Baba Ramdev too generated some scepticism as his near-saffron views are much too well known. His angry outbursts at being kept out of the drafting committee made it clear that he and his supporters formed the backbone of the movement, besides NGOs of various hues. The movement raised high hopes of creating a mechanism for removing corruption from public life but did not address the causes and processes that breed corrupt practices. It made no effort to take into account the kind of economic policies that various governments have been pursuing from time to time and their role in creating a favourable environment for corruption. Anna Hazare surpassed himself when he praised the "good governance and development-oriented policies" of the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat, totally unmindful of the fact that the same government had not cared to appoint a Lokayukta in the state since 2003 on one pretext or the other.
Also, as Samajwadi Party leader Mohan Singh has pointed out, Shanti Bhushan does not seem to be a very good choice for drafting a law. He is the author of the anti-defection law whose defects are there for all to see. Moreover, close association and interaction of some of the prominent leaders of the movement with Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council and its working group on transparency, accountability and governance too reinforce doubts about the timing of Anna Hazare's televised fast-unto-death that was preceded by a 15-minute meeting between him and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A scam-tainted government that was beleaguered suddenly started receiving accolades after acquiescing to the demand for a joint drafting committee. The way Swami Agnivesh thanked Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee was to be seen to be believed. And all this on the eve of state assembly polls! Isn't it too much of a coincidence?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'INDIA'S ART MART IS MATURE ENOUGH TO BUY ONLINE'
A decade after its inception, Dinesh Vazirani does not have to worry anymore of what his father thinks of his office. In the beginning, when he (and his wife Minal) had embarked upon Planet Saffron, an umbrella a start-up dealing in visual arts (Saffron Art); holistic medicines like Panchkarma, meditation and massages (Saffron Soul); design, interior modules; and fashion (Saffron Style), his father was flummoxed by the kind of visitors — from gallery owners to doctors, from software engineers to experts of holistic Indian medicine — who swarmed his office building. But he was convinced that their venture was on track after a hugely successful auction in Mumbai in 2005. Saffronart, India's first online art auction house, has survived all apprehensions, misgivings, the bubble burst and even low bandwidths to complete 10 years of virtual existence.
"It started as Planet Saffron.com providing goods and services for the overseas market," says Dinesh. "The idea was to channelise and guide exotic India for the global market online. We were looking at a market that was comfortable with transactions on the internet. In those days the Indian market was at the mercy of dial-up connections that were time consuming. The venture aimed to be the access point for items that were normally difficult to find," he adds.
The Vaziranis found ample support from venture capitalist Chrys Capital who pushed them on to be more adventurous. There were hiccups and the Vaziranis soon realised that they had difficulty building three brands simultaneously, besides the fact that they were out there at a time when the online boom was on its last legs. "We had to focus on a single brand and the appropriate target market. Though we had our first auction in 2000, we were slowly channelising our energy into art," says Dinesh. They stuck to their first love — art — and Planet Saffron collapsed into Saffronart.
Why art? The duo gradually relied on their good sense, educational background in art and interest to just concentrate on a single entity in 2002. "It was not an arbitrary decision. Both of us had studied art in college and had developed a deep interest in it," recalls Dinesh.
It was not an easy task. "We did not have access to the essentials like strong relationships with galleries, did not have immediate knowledge of market conditions and were forever grappling with irritants while engaging in the process of putting together our collections."
However, Chrys egged them on to take calculated risks and strengthen their resolution to create a consolidated venture. "We decided to create a onestop-shop for modern and contemporary Indian art by enhancing access to good art and making the prices more transparent. We followed the clickand-brick model. The response we got was overwhelming. When we sold a painting online for $11,000, we were slightly more convinced that our online enterprise may work," says Dinesh.
However easy it might have looked by then to sell works of art online there was still a major deterrent in the way of Saffronart. The venture could not source enough art material. They were new entrants and hence had only cursory relationships with galleries, collectors and individual owners. But the two worked hard to iron out those creases and folds in the fabric. During this time they bought back their VCs shares and were all on their own(line) creating a regular clientele of customers and gallery owners who would feed them with works of art so that they could have an auction every season.
Their success also egged them to move on to other artifacts. The coup in each one of them was immense. So much so that a case study was published in the Harvard Business Review in 2007. How did they remove the stigma attached to any online transaction in India? The online bidders harbour a few apprehensions caused by the non-physicality of the object up for bidding. They would want to examine the true colours and textures, and most importantly, want to be thoroughly convinced about the authenticity of the work. "We have our checks and balances in place," says Dinesh. And their preview exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong before the initial auction, helped build a customer base.
Is the Indian market mature enough to understand the enigma that online auction is? "It is changing," says Dinesh. Most of Saffronart's client base is made up of young professionals. "And we have been in the business for 10 years now. So the confidence quotient is high. Recently a lot went for $230,000 and was bid via a mobile phone. Today, there are many apps that make the bidding process even simpler online."
With 10 years behind building a brand like Saffronart surely there would be others who would pick the cue and enter the fray. What then? Dinesh admits that their venture is a drop in the ocean if one were to look globally. So there aren't any immediate threats there.
DINESH VAZIRANI CO-FOUNDER Saffronart
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NEW TIMELINE FOR UNION BUDGET
N V KRISHNAKUMAR
The current Budget process is opaque and the document, nontransparent. In the current context, the finance minister receives demand for budgetary grants from various departments in December. He meets with industry leaders, business representatives and other interest groups for a week in January. He then makes a longwinding speech in Parliament on the last day of February and presents the Budget to the people of the country.
Parliament then gets into the huddle of debating the various provisions of the Budget. Most MPs do not have sufficient time to go through the Economic Survey, which is more than 700 pages of data and statistics on various aspects of the economy. Add to it the finance minister's speech that runs into several pages and there is too much to digest for elected representatives in a short period of time. Hence, they are illprepared for a serious discussion on something that affects the lives of more than a billion people.
Moreover, guillotine procedure is often adopted in Parliament to curtail debates in order to pass the Finance Bill before the end of March. More often than not, ociferous interest groups and influence-peddling industrialists manage to get tax rollbacks before the Budget is passed by Parliament. The same story gets repeated in state assemblies.
All in all, budgets that spend lakhs of crores of rupees that will affect the lives of 120 crore people are adopted with a few hours of debate and no inputs from civil society. In today's globalised world, government finances have a significant relevance to the people of the country both in terms of economic growth and income. India is rapidly progressing and will soon become the third largest economy in the world. The growth rate was 1.4% in 1991-92, the year in which Manmohan Singh launched the transformation of Indian economy. The non-Plan expenditure in the same year was a meagre . 60,000 crore while the overall Budget size was a little more than . 1 lakh crore.
Today, we are a trillion-dollar economy and the country is expected to grow around the 8% mark for the foreseeable future. Government expenditures have ballooned to . 12 lakh crore in the most recent Budget with a non-Plan expenditure of . 4 lakh crore, most of which will be spent on welfare schemes for the poor and building the country's dilapidated infrastructure. The Budget process and analysis, meanwhile, have remained in the time warp of the 1980s — opaque, taxoriented and with very little analysis on policy implications.
As countries become rich, government finances warrant closer scrutiny and evaluation. The Budget is not just a list of estimates of revenues and expenditures from the central and state governments. It is an important exercise to allocate scarce resources to projects that is expected to enhance the welfare of a maximum number of people. It is, therefore, of essence that policy decisions enshrined in the Budget are debated and evaluated carefully in terms of its effectiveness for the entire economy by all stakeholders.
The Budget touches on a number of critical issues that must be debated every year. Issues like provision for attracting foreign direct investment, bridging the growing inequality in society, the government's borrowing programme, balancing social infrastructure needs with physical infrastructure requirements, subsidies ranging from oil to fertilisers, allocation to defense sector and social sectors like education and health all need to be thoroughly assessed and its impact and implications for a billion people analysed before the adoption of the Finance Bill. The government must give sufficient time for civil society to express its opinions and be open-minded to incorporate meaningful ideas emanating from it before the Budget is passed in the Parliament.
With ever-increasing expenditure outlays, it is imperative that the Prime Minister, along with the UPA government's empowered group of ministers, works with opposition parties to amend the current Budget process. The finance minister should present the Budget on the last week of December in the winter session of Parliament. Let the Budget be discussed by all stakeholders for two months before Parliament can debate and adopt it in the month of March. This will certainly enhance policy-making, reduce leakages, make the budget transparent and contribute to the much needed improvement in governance.
(The author is secretary, Janata Dal -Secular, Karnataka.
Views are personal)
FARMS VOTE FOR MACHINES
Farm mechanisation, when combined with policies that seek to enhance productivity, will benefit agriculture in general.
Soaring labour costs arising from the dearth of farm workers for harvest operations in the midst of huge disguised unemployment in rural India highlight the stark paradox in the agrarian economy. Farm labour availability has worsened in recent years for many reasons, including the success of welfare schemes such as NREGA and migration of the rural youth to urban areas in search of non-farm job opportunities. No wonder, then, that large growers and crop-user industries are calling in machines to replace partially at least, men and women for some farm-related operations.
Agro-processing industries in the sugar and oilseeds sectors are encouraging growers to increasingly adopt mechanised harvesting, which is efficient, economical and user-friendly. For instance, some sugar mills in Tamil Nadu have been helping cane growers with mechanised harvesting because labour costs have turned unaffordable. Up North, such a practice is already common. Groups of farmers in Junagadh district of Gujarat's Saurashtra region (the country's peanut bowl) regularly hire combines (harvesting machines) to harvest groundnut in-shell during the kharif season and complete the process efficiently, not only to market the produce in time but also to save the harvested crop from weather aberrations. Although the density of machines used (tractors, combines and so on) is limited now, mechanisation of farming, in general (use of tractors, for instance), and harvesting, in particular, is likely to be adopted more widely in the future as labour becomes scarce and costly. Without doubt, efficient mechanisation practices will contribute to improved farm productivity and farm incomes, as also safety.
Despite its recognised commercial advantages, an important constraint to farm mechanisation here is the highly fragmented nature of landholdings (80 per cent of farmers are smallholders with just about one hectare of land), diverse soil types and limited financial capacity of small farmers to own and operate machines. The way forward could be to motivate small farmers in clusters of villages to combine or form consortia to hire the services of farm machine suppliers. In addition to strengthening the extension services for post-harvest activities, agro-processing units in the private sector can help small growers mechanise in groups. Any perception of threat to existing farm labour in the short run may be misplaced simply because the process of farm mechanisation in the country is likely to be gradual. It is important for the policymakers to realise that mechanisation per se is unlikely to transform agriculture, but when combined with growth-oriented policies that seek to enhance production and productivity, it would benefit agriculture in general.
HEALTHCARE IS NOT ALL ABOUT MONEY
Earlier this week, the New York Times reported on Congressional backlash against the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a key part of efforts to rein in healthcare 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 healthcare programmes 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 healthcare 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-cheque 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 healthcare 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 healthcare 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 healthcare must be limited. Now, what House Republicans propose is that the government simply push the problem of rising healthcare 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 healthcare 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" healthcare 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 healthcare 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 specialised 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 healthcare "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.
SPEAKING OF BURQAS...
Rub-a-dub-dub"The Tale of the Tub by Bachchoo Col. Muammar Gaddafi, appealing to his population to fight the Western coalition's decision to stop his troops from killing the rebels in his land, played the Islamic card. His speeches called their action a modern Christian Crusade against Islam. Col. Gaddafi is not known as the most pious of Muslims. Neither was Saddam Hussein, or for that matter, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. But then that's politics! I don't know what Col. Gaddafi does in his tent. He may piously pray five times a day, refrain from drinks and stick to halal food, but I do read in the press that his sons have — how shall one put this? — tastes and pastimes which can't be characterised as strictly Islamic. These pastimes are well publicised — shooting, yachting and clubbing with financiers and supporters of Israel. I couldn't care less, but what would Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad say? Col. Gaddafi's daughter Aisha recently appeared on TV. She had covered her head, but wasn't in full burqa. I have never seen or heard a public speech by a person in full burqa and would, I admit, be interested to. I have, so far, found that the expression and facial rhetoric of orators and speakers convey to me very much of the intent and meaning of their words. Look, for instance, at footage of Hitler and the sly, ducking expression between tirades. The burkhaed rhetorician would be to me like Big Sister making pronouncements. I don't suppose looking for a website of the Iranian Parliament will satisfy my curiosity by offering me a speaker in such full array. I suppose they have women in their Parliament but I don't know how they are dressed — though one does hear of what happens at secret Tehran parties. This is the week in which the French police have been called upon to act on the new French anti-burqa law. It's not a law that common sense should support. Obviously a gang of men entering a bank wearing balaclavas and robes which could conceal machine-guns should be immediately challenged by the local constabulary. For the same reasons the anti-burqa law should only be applied in parallel or identical circumstances: three burqa-nasheens urgently entering a bank with a getaway car driven by another hidden one waiting a few feet away at the curb? I don't think so. Send for Inspector Poirot! But in general, burqas, hijabs and niqabs should not be the business of the state. Personally, I operate the Groucho Marx principle which states that he wouldn't want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member. Similarly, I don't wish to see the face of anyone who, for some religious belief, doesn't want to show it to me. I really can do without. I am, though, fascinated to know what fundamentalist Islamic girls' schools do for group photographs. Does the photo of the Class of 2010 and 2009 all row after sitting and standing row in their black burqas look exactly like the class of 2011? Are they all smiling when the photographer says "say 'cheese'?" Perhaps we shall never know. Very many Muslim societies and millions of Muslims, including some very learned and respected ones, don't accept that Islam enjoins women to be covered from head to foot. Nevertheless what people wear in the land of liberty, equality and fraternity is, with notable exceptions such as the balaclava in the bank or the birthday suit in the High Street, none of France President Nicolas Sarkozy's business. Neither is what Col. Gaddafi chooses to wear any of mine. I am free to wonder why he wants to look like a circus clown parodying a Ruritanian general with medals which look like they were bought wholesale from Mumbai's or Marrakech's chor bazaar? It certainly isn't a form of dress sanctioned by Islam, so perhaps he is following Idi Amin's tasteful example? Apart from the bad taste, he also behaves badly in public. In the late 1980s, working in British TV, I sent a crew down to Zimbabwe to cover the Commonwealth conference and get an interview with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Robert Mugabe, who was not then known as a murdering swine or usurper, had invited as a special guest to the conference his friend Col. Gaddafi. Darcus Howe (Trinidadian British and a writer and broadcaster by profession), the producer and interviewer of my TV crew, told me the story. The delegates were assembled in a public hall. The traffic in Harare had been strictly restricted with police and Army roadblocks in control. The rule was that no armaments should be allowed past the roadblocks and into the hall. Col. Gaddafi arrived, dressed in his clown's outfit, with a large contingent of female soldiers carrying machine guns and other weapons. The Zimbabwean police stopped them and there was an argument and a consequent delay to the proceedings. Col. Gaddafi wasn't personally stopped and he entered the hall to applause, got onto the stage, was welcomed and looked a bit disconcerted. One of his male generals came hurrying down the aisle and climbed onto the stage and was immediately berated in Arabic by the good Colonel. Where the hell were his female bodyguards? He had arranged and expected to make an entrance into this congregation flanked by them! The general muttered his excuse. They had been detained by the Zimbabweans. In front of that international delegation, Col. Gaddafi slapped with an open palm and shouted at him. The flunkey general slunk off holding his smarting cheek. In a few minutes the female Libyan bodyguards walked into the hall carrying their sub-machine guns and rallying in pantomime array to flank their leader. Mr Mugabe's police had been induced somehow to change their minds and make an exception for the Libyan delegation. Darcus subsequently interviewed Rajiv. The interview ranged over very many topics and when they were off camera Rajiv chatted with Darcus who asked him what he thought of Col. Gaddafi and the previous day's performance. "He's mad isn't he?" was Rajiv's response.
TO FIGHT CORRUPTION, GET THE BASICS RIGHT
It is reassuring to hear the Prime Minister say that his government hoped to introduce the Lokpal Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. In this season, much street-level drama has attended the setting up of a joint committee — of government ministers and civil society members — to draft the bill. This was followed by acrimony involving politicians and civil society elements, giving the impression that the joint panel might disintegrate when it had barely started its labours. It would be a pity if the larger objective enacting the law we seek is lost sight of. In this context, we hope Dr Manmohan Singh's words, which came after Congress president Sonia Gandhi's letter to social activist Anna Hazare underlining her commitment to the cause of corruption-free governance, will restore the needed balance and help focus energies toward realising the Lokpal law. Speaking at a Civil Services Day function on Thursday, the Prime Minister acknowledged that people would not tolerate the current state of affairs, and pledged swift and exemplary action to deal with corruption. "There is a growing feeling among our people", said Dr Singh, "that our laws, systems and procedures are not effective in dealing with corruption." He said the government's aim was to strengthen the legislative framework, revamp administrative practices and fast-track systemic response. Cynics would naturally say that such sentiments have been heard before. From the time Dr Singh took office, he has urged the need for sweeping transformation in this direction. And yet, not the first steps have been taken. At a Congress conclave in December, Mrs Gandhi outlined a programme to deal with corruption's spreading tentacles. But the system has not budged from its lethargy. It might, therefore, be in the fitness of things that the government makes up its mind not only to introduce the Lokpal Bill in the Monsoon Session, but is also seen to be on track to push the legislative process along toward its culmination. Laudable as the Prime Minister's speech to civil servants is, we have to be mindful that much of the corruption that we are so concerned with originates in the electoral sphere and at the political level. Setting the right laws, systems and procedures that the Prime Minister alluded to is, of course, vital if we are to work toward curbing the dynamics of corruption. But there is an unquantifiable aspect as well. Politicians, particularly at the senior levels, and not only those in governing parties, must once again learn to lead by example. In short, the time has come to return to the basics. To take a small example, politicians must not throw their weight about; they must even begin to enter queues that ordinary citizens have to; they must not make arrangements to jump traffic lights (and begin to pay fines if they do). The imperative of security considerations cannot be a licence to break rules. Granted, the Gandhian example of travelling by third class in trains (itself an obsolescence) is not quite feasible now, and security is indeed a factor. But it is important to maintain the broad direction of doing the right thing, on pain of having to pay a penalty. If that's our objective, it was unworthy of a senior Congress leader to take potshots at Justice N. Santosh Hegde, the Karnataka lokayukta, who is a member of the joint panel to frame the Lokpal Bill. It is well known how hard he has worked to deal with governmental corruption in his state. If his efforts have not yet been crowned with success, the fault is systemic. Therefore, when deliberations proceed on the Lokpal Bill, the experience of Karnataka — which on paper has the most effective Lokayukta among our states — should definitely be factored in.
PRESIDENCY'S DRAMATIC DEVIATION
PRESIDENCY University has effected its first dramatic deviation from tradition ~ the introduction of the semester system in the next academic session. Tuesday's decision of the governing council, headed by the distinguished economist, Dr Amiya Bagchi, comes less than a year after the university's foundation. In parallel it must be acknowledged that it isn't a novel experiment on the campus. The semester is a remarkably scientific system of conducting examinations, one that is in vogue in premier universities across the country and abroad. It relieves the burden and helps a student perform better, if not score a first with relative ease. It envisages a measure of academic discipline, a definite schedule for both the teachers and taught. It is here that a huge responsibility rests on the faculties, as yet unconstituted in view of the elections and the model code. The arts faculties have never been known to have completed the syllabus; in certain subjects even one-third of a paper was not covered in course of the classroom lectures. Of course the little that was taught was pure gem; the students were expected to take care of the exams through library work. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that the lectures were seldom examination-oriented. The thrust was on reading and analytical presentation. The Vice-Chancellor, who belongs to the early Seventies' generation, will bear this out. With the introduction of the semester system, the praxis will have to change. In a word, the course content for a particular semester will have to be completed and the students prepared to take their papers accordingly. Short of that, the purpose of the system will be defeated.
The changes will be generally welcomed; they may even help Presidency "to stand apart from the rest"... as it once did. For all that, two crucial tasks remain to be accomplished. First, the new university will have to craft its own syllabus if it has to come out of the umbrella that is still held aloft by its neighbour ~ the University of Calcutta. There is little point in running a university with the neighbour's syllabus. The change is not dependent on the model code; the process can be fairly prolonged and ought to have been set in motion by now. The second task concerns the faculties and this will remain in suspended animation till the election process is done with. Hopefully, political interference ~ the bane of the college ~ will not be renewed under the new dispensation. As Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee faces a personal test on 27 April, there is comfort in the thought that Presidency University is his abiding achievement.
MR PUTIN'S PLANS
TOWARDS A SWINGBACK IN RUSSIA?
THE swapping of roles in 2008 didn't quite entail a dramatic reversal of real authority. As Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin has remained the key figure with President Dmitry Medvedev playing the second fiddle. Now, three years after the new arrangement came into force, Mr Putin has dropped the broadest hint that he may yet run for President in March 2012. This quite plainly was the fine print of Wednesday's address to the Russian parliament. No less implicit was his disenchantment with the general conduct of governance couched in supreme faith in his own infallibility ~ "the country needs a strong and calm decade to ensure economic growth". There was even a mild disapproval of the liberal winds blowing under President Medvedev with a caveat against what the Prime Minister called "unnecessary liberalism". Mr Putin has made the strongest political statement since the change of roles, to the extent that he has even outlined the contours of his preferred agenda in foreign policy and domestic affairs. Chiefly, this entails political stability and an end to the Soviet-style rhetoric about "unspecified foreign foes". "The nation needs decades of stable and calm development without any sharp movements and ill-conceived experiments based on unjustified liberalism or social demagoguery." The Prime Minister was diplomatic enough not to be explicit on whether such trends have been manifest under President Medvedev. The attendant applause of the MPs suggests that his dominant United Russia party may yet prefer a swingback to the pre-2008 arrangement ~ an omnipotent President instead of a theoretical head of Kremlin with powers pruned.
It would be premature to speculate whether Putin will contest against Medvedev; suffice it to register that both have ruled out contesting against one another. Equally, both have refused to rule out standing in presidential elections. And it isn't often that the Prime Minister has disagreed publicly with the President. There is an element of pregnant symbolism as Mr Putin recalled his achievements as President and announced certain promises, notably to tackle Russia's demographic crisis. Should he become President again, he will be at the helm till 2024; a recent legislation envisages two additional terms with the tenure extended from four years to six. He can afford to give himself a long rope.
MAKE FIRE TENDERS A MUST AT HELIPADS
IN what can be described as Arunachal Pradesh's worst helicopter accident, 17 people, mostly tourists, died on 19 April when the craft in which they were flying from Guwahati reportedly caught fire minutes before touchdown at Tawang civil helipad, crashed and was destroyed. The victims included two children, two pilots and a crew member. There were six survivors. According to Pawan Hans, which has been operating daily services between the two destinations for the past nine years, the ill-fated chopper had only the previous day made two sorties. A preliminary conclusion pointed to a technical snag but the inquiry ordered by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation should reveal whether this was the cause or indeed if human error was involved. The survivors should be able to provide valuable information. It is unfortunate that Arunachal Pradesh home minister Tako Dabi should have hastily alleged that Pawan Hans was putting "non-worthy helicopters" into service. In November last year, 12 Army officers were killed in a copter crash. Many pilots have admitted that flying in Arunachal Pradesh is tricky, with treacherous weather conditions and high terrain to manoeuvre. It is not often that air crashes occur because meticulous care goes into maintenance of flying machines and if, despite this, these take place then the element of bad luck deserves consideration.
According to reports, there was no fire tender at the crash site. Availability of fire fighting equipment at all civilian helipads at the time of takeoff and landing must be made mandatory since the Centre has reportedly offered assistance of Rs 75 lakh for each helipad construction and more if fringe areas are to be developed as tourist centres. Sikkim has been running chopper services for tourists for many years. The mode is catching on in Nagaland and Manipur. With restrictions on foreign visitors relaxed, these states can look forward to welcoming a large number of them. But they must provide infrastructure of reasonable quality if they want visitors.
A PROFITABLE INVESTMENT OPTION
THE price of silver has jumped over the past year from Rs 28,000 to Rs 62,000 per kilogram. The reason is that other methods of storing wealth can create problems. One may not find a buyer for property; for there are difficulties in buying and selling. One has to pay a high stamp duty. It is difficult to protect property from the land mafia. It may take decades to retrieve what is one's own from their hands.
Investment in shares is extremely risky. Three years ago, Sensex had risen to 21000 but fell to 8000 in the aftermath of the global economic crisis. A similar collapse had taken place after the Harshad Mehta scam in the nineties. The Sensex has very recently fallen from nearly 22000 to 18000.
Commodities are no better. The price of oil had touched a high of $150 per barrel only to decline to $80. A fixed deposit in banks is generally regarded as safe. It is not so. The value of a fixed deposit declines as price rises. Say you have invested Rs 100 in a bank fixed deposit today. With the money you can now buy three kg of sugar at Rs 33 per kg. Now, the bank returns Rs 106 to you one year later after adding interest. But, say, the price of sugar has shot up to Rs 53 in the interim. In consequence, you will be able to buy only 2 kg of sugar with the same money after one year. In other words, you deposited 3 kg of sugar in an FD but got only 2 kg in return. The increase in price has eaten away the value of your FD.
Such erosion of wealth is less likely in the purchase of gold and silver. Their prices increase along with the general price level in the economy and the investor does not have to suffer a loss.
Gold and silver have become particularly attractive. America and Europe occupy the dominant position in the world economy today. Investors like to invest their wealth in bonds, shares and properties of these countries. These economies are in trouble today. The American Government is incurring a huge budget deficit. This borrowing is expected to lead to a decline in the value of the dollar. European governments are also mired in debt as evident in the problems of Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Global investors are hesitant to invest their wealth in these countries because the value is likely to decline. They are buying gold and silver instead.
The increase in the price of precious metals is partly offset by an increase in production. The farmer begins to cultivate barren lands to grow bajra and ragi if prices are high. The rickshaw puller is willing to ply over bad roads if the passenger offers more money. Similarly, mining companies are willing to extract gold and silver from mines with low content of metals if prices are high. This increase in production puts a stop on further increase in price. Say, the cost of extracting a kilogram of silver from a substandard mine is Rs 50,000 per kilo. The mining company may start production from this mine if the price increases to Rs 55,000 per kg. Production from this mine would prevent increase in price above this level. However, this production cannot lead to reduction of price below Rs 50,000. The company will shut the mine if the price in the market falls below this. Therefore, the price of precious metals is likely to move up despite increased production from new mines.
Moreover, the impact of increased production will be seen after a gap of 5 to 10 years. It takes time to identify the mines, start mining and to establish factories to extract metal from the ore.
The price of silver is likely to move faster than gold. Gold is used almost wholly for investments. The other use is in jewellery which is, in part, for investment. Gold is not used much in the production of goods. Silver, on the other hand, has many uses. It is used in the manufacture of colour printers, photographic films and paper, bandages, tooth brushes and computer key boards. It is used in the treatment of water and skin diseases and air purification. Silver is a natural killer of germs. As a result, the demand for silver is growing from two sources ~ investors as well as industrial use. The demand for gold is growing only from investors. The industrial demand for silver is likely to increase as the standard of living of people improves and the demand for goods like colour printers increases.
Supply of silver, on the other hand, is shrinking. The yearly global consumption of the commodity is 800 tons more than production. This shortage is being met from the silver reserves of the past. The global stock of silver was about 10 billion ounces in 1940. It has declined to one billion ounces today. The global stock of gold, on the other hand, has increased from one billion ounces to five billion ounces in the same period, the reason being that the current production of gold is largely added to the stocks. Very little gold is consumed. But the current production of silver is inadequate to meet even the consumption; hence stocks are getting depleted. The depletion of stocks along with increase in industrial demand is likely to lead to increase in the price of silver.
Historically the price of gold has been about 10 to 15 times that of silver. This changed dramatically at the end of the 19th century. New silver mines were discovered in north-western United States. This led to a huge increase in supply. The price of silver fell. Gold began to be sold at a rate that was about 100 times the price of silver whose rate has been moving up slowly since then. At present, the price of gold is about 40 times that of silver. Ten grams of silver cost Rs 550 while a similar quantity of gold costs Rs 21,000.
Analysts are of the view that the price of silver will continue to increase and it may stabilize at the historical rate of one-tenth of gold. Accordingly a huge increase in the present price of silver may take place.
The price of silver had increased in the Eighties just as it is increasing presently. Its price in the international markets had reached a high of $50 per ounce in 1980. It fell to a mere $4 in 2001. That increase was due to accumulation of silver stocks by Hunt Brothers and was rooted in their speculative activity. Hunt Brothers went broke and the prices collapsed. It is possible that the speculators are similarly pushing up the price of silver at present. However, this does not cancel the increase in price that is taking place from three sources ~ increased investment demand due to weakness in the western economies; increased industrial demand due to improvement in the global standards of living; and production being less than current consumption. In the net, the price of both metals is likely to move upwards ~ more of silver than of gold.
The writer is former Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.
'STATES SHOULD ENFORCE MARKET LAW PROVISIONS'
Mr Arun Subashchandra Yadav is generally a man of few words. But the Union minister of state for agriculture and food processing likes to talk on a subject close to his heart ~ the welfare of farmers. He was recently brought in as the new minister of state in the agriculture ministry from the heavy industries ministry. "I am a farmer myself; hence the special attachment," he said shyly as he answered questions on the agri sector, onion crisis and price rise in an interview with NIRENDRA DEV.
It must have been a tough year for the UPA government. You are a new entrant to the agriculture ministry, but price rise has been haunting the government for some time. In December 2010, it nearly exploded with the onion crisis. What's your observation as a minister of state in the agriculture ministry?
The prices of agricultural commodities, like any other commodity, follow the economic principle of demand and supply. The increase in prices of onions in December 2010 was on account of untimely rains and unfavourable climatic conditions affecting standing crops in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, resulting in spoilage and losses. This resulted in a low supply of onions while the demand remained unchanged. The consequence was a rise in prices. All efforts were made to increase domestic availability of onions by banning exports, encouraging imports from neighbouring countries and sale by National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (Nafed) and other Central agencies at subsidised rates. But today, I can say that the prices of onions in domestic market have come down considerably owing to the arrival of the late kharif 2010 crop. There has been a substantial fall in the price of onions. So, the commerce ministry has been requested to encourage export of onions so as to stabilise prices in domestic markets in the interest of farmers and consumers.
The working group on agricultural production, headed by the chief minister of Haryana, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, has recommended, among other things, that the minimum support price (MSP) for vegetables, especially potatoes, onions and garlic, be fixed by the government as well. But the government seems unwilling. What is your take on the issue?
A core group of Central ministers and state chief ministers on prices of essential commodities, in a meeting held on 4 April, 2010 under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, constituted the working group on agriculture production. The committee, as you pointed out rightly, has recommended that the MSP for pulses, oilseeds and vegetables, especially potatoes, onions and garlic be fixed by the government. In this regard, I must point out that the government does not fix the MSP for vegetables; but it does intervene under the market intervention scheme whenever prices of vegetables fall to distress level. MSP cannot be fixed in a day. There are several prerequisites for bringing any crop under the MSP regime. Importantly, states have to be in a position to procure, store and sell the crop, if prices fall below MSP. Moreover, vegetable storage involves tremendous problems as the crops are mostly perishable. However, I can tell you that the recommendation of the core group is being examined by the government, keeping in view all relevant factors. There are already 25 crops under MSP scheme including paddy, wheat, jowar, maize, pulses, soyabean, cotton and sugarcane.
Another working group of chief ministers on consumer affairs headed by Gujarat chief minister Mr Narendra Modi, in its report, has recommended a ban on futures trading of essential commodities and also setting up of a price stabilisation fund. Is anything moving in that direction?
The nodal department for examining this report is the department of consumer affairs. The report was submitted on 2 March, 2011. The matter is being examined.
What is your opinion on futures trading? You hail from an agricultural background and parliamentary committees like the standing committee headed by Samajwadi Party MP Mr Ram Gopal Yadav have recommended a ban on futures trading.
This does not come under my ministry, so I would not like to join issue at this juncture.
Coming back to onion prices, it is alleged that there is no clear understanding among the agriculture ministry and policy makers on what is a good monsoon or untimely rainfall as far as onion cultivation is concerned. As per the official definition, onion is not considered a "major crop" in India as the quantity exported is small. Do you agree with the view that basic policy overhauling is needed with regard to onion ~ a vital ingredient in all Indian dishes?
Onion, I should tell you, is a major horticulture crop as more than 70 per cent export earning from the vegetable pool comes from onions. India occupies first position in onion export in the world and accounts for more than 25 per cent of global export. I don't agree with the view that onions or matters related to the bulb are not really understood in the ministry. I can also inform you that onion export during 2009-10 was 18.73 lakh metric tonne which fetched us Rs 2,834 crore in foreign exchange.
Critics say a large section of the government, especially the commerce ministry and a section of politicians in December 2010, maintained that the onion prices had gone up owing to hoarding. Observers say this excuse is weak as it is not possible to hoard onion. How did the government suddenly discover the phenomenon of onion hoarding?
(Smiles). It was not discovered or anything like that. We all are aware that onion crop is very sensitive to the vagaries of weather. When availability is reduced in the market, prices climb. Onion prices increased after the first week of November 2010 in Maharashtra and other states in anticipation of more demand in southern states. There was also unseasonal rain in many kharif onion-growing pockets in Maharashtra, Gujarat, MP and Rajasthan. I agree that kharif onion varieties are not store-worthy since sprouting takes place, leading to losses. But you must admit that in the event of short supply of any commodities, including onion, there may be a tendency among traders or even consumers to hold stock, create an artificial shortage and jack up prices.
So, you are washing your hands of the issue. What is the government really doing on agricultural marketing?
No, no, we are not running away from anything. The Centre is pursuing the matter with the state governments to amend the current Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act on the lines of the Model Act circulated by the Centre in 2003 to facilitate alternative marketing channels for efficient marketing. As I have said earlier, this will facilitate competitive trading and provide options to producer-sellers to decide on sales channels.
Onion is regarded as politically hyper-sensitive in India. But onion growers have never got due attention.
The UPA government is giving full attention to issues related to the farming community, including onion growers. In general, I can say, we are trying to enhance income and improve the livelihood of farmers by ensuring remunerative returns to them. The UPA regime is taking appropriate steps for bringing more acreage under onion cultivation and ensuring reasonable prices. We are taking appropriate initiatives such as providing market facilities and introducing market reforms. Onion growers are also given due attention whenever there is damage to crop owing to vagaries of weather or when prices fall owing to excess production.
Time and again, the Central government has sought to put the onus of price rise on state governments. Is that not running away from your responsibilities?
I have said earlier that agricultural marketing is a state subject. Organised marketing of agri produce, including onions, is implemented through APMCs, which work under respective state agricultural marketing boards. We have an advisory role in terms of policy and introducing reforms. It is, therefore, for the states to enforce provisions of market laws, including fair trading practices and proper prices of agricultural commodities.
You should have no doubt of my commitment to the fight for probity in public life.
Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi to Gandhian Mr Anna Hazare
The Trinamul campaign is swamping television and newspapers and is very, very visible. Helicopters are ferrying campaigners and candidates to each district. All this cost crores. Where is the money coming from? We have some idea.
West Bengal chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at an election meeting
Why should we give an explanation to them (the CPI-M)? This is people's money. We are answerable to the people and to the Election Commission... The helicopters have been provided by the Congress.
Trinamul Congress chief Miss Mamata Banerjee
She is going hammer and tongs after the (Left) Front in West Bengal. She opposes everything that we do in this state. But when the UPA government raises the prices of essentials ... the price of petrol and diesel, she has nothing to say ... her voice is just not heard. Delhi mein woh goongi ho jati hai (she goes dumb in Delhi).
CPI-M general secretary Mr Prakash Karat on Miss Mamata Banerjee
I am very, very happy. I wish everybody could be as happy as I am this evening. We hugged each other. No words came out. I kissed him. He looked fine. He looked very happy. He smiled. He said nothing. We couldn't say anything. Today is a special day!
Dr Binayak Sen's mother Mrs Anusuya Sen after her son was released on bail
It has been revealed that the Congress-Trinamul Congress alliance came about under US pressure. It was at the behest of Americans that the Congress consented to contest 65 out of 294 seats. Recently, WikiLeaks revealed all this.
Left Front chairman Mr Biman Bose at a Press conference in Kolkata
We're working on turning the book into a documentary to narrate the history of cancer ~ it's a complex subject. This has been the most amazing honour.
Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee after winning the Pulitzer for non-fiction for his first book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
When nails are hammered into trees, cavities form. This leads to infection and gradually, the trees get damaged. Through such irresponsible and uncivilised acts, people are reducing the life span of the trees.
Mr Ranjit Kumar Samanta, former horticulture adviser to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation
100 YEARS AGO TODAY
The outcome of the Howrah Gang case can only be described as farcical. This prodigious prosecution has been in progress for 176 days in all. The inquiry before the Magistrate occupied 86 days in court, and the trial before the Special Tribunal has lasted over 90 days. Yet the result has been that out of 39 prisoners who came up for judgment 33 have been discharged and that the only convictions obtained have been those of six prisoners who had previously been convicted in the Haludbari dacoity case. All that has been done in short is to establish further charges against criminals whom the police had the good fortune to catch, as it were, in the act. This is a miserable achievement to secure at the cost of enormous expenditure and a lengthy consumption of judicial time and energy. We do not doubt that the failure of the prosecution ~ for failure it is ~ must be largely ascribed to the particular form of criminal proceedings which was adopted, and we shall be much surprised if one effect of the fiasco is not to give the coup de grace to what are known as gang cues. Even to the casual reader of the reports of the trial which has just concluded, the difficulties with which counsel in a gang case have to contend were sufficiently obvious. The intricacies and the mass of detail are such that it is impossible for any man, however able to obtain a mastery over them. Yet the theory hitherto accepted has been that the gang case form of trial facilitated conviction, because evidence against one prisoner was evidence against the rest. No one doubts that there are circumstances in which gangs must be dealt with as such, but it is clear that the success of the procedure depends upon the case being kept within manageable proportions. In this instance, however, the desire to make a clean sweep of those suspected of being concerned in a number of murders and dacoities seems to have defeated its own object. Even if convictions had been obtained on an adequate scale the time over which the case has been protracted has blunted any moral effect which a State prosecution of this character, involving the grave charge of waging war against the King-Emperor, should have produced. The gang case procedure has in fact proved a failure in every respect, so far as political cases are concerned. Everyone who is anxious for the maintenance of law and order and desires that the prestige of the Government should be upheld must regret that proceedings should have been instituted in a manner which has not conducted to increased respect either for justice or the Government. Through a mistake of judgment on the part of someone, not only have deplorable crimes escaped punishment but an impression has been conveyed that Government have not the power, with all their police organisation, to bring criminals to book. A more competent tribunal than one composed of three judges of the High Court could not be found in this country, yet, after a careful and painstaking hearing of the case, the Special Tribunal has been compelled by legal considerations to release virtually the whole body of prisoners. Such a conclusion to an elaborate State prosecution is ignominious.
SOUTH ASIAN LONG VIEW
The old opposition between the East and the West not only refuses to go away, but it also surfaces in the most unlikely of places. Who would have expected that the Long Room at Lord's would become a venue for a quarrel over the pernicious influence of Asia over world cricket. The Long Room is known for its sobriety, a place where the toffs gather to hold forth, more often than not, on how cricket is no longer what it used to be. The theme took on a different and somewhat rancorous turn when a gathering there decided to have a post-dinner panel discussion on "Is the influence of Asia destroying world cricket?" A number of people present seemed to think that cricket is no longer what it used to be because of Asia, or to be more correct and specific, South Asia. The debate, at the beginning of another cricket season in England, is timely since India, the current holder of the world cup, is slated to tour England.
Cricket in South Asia is a phenomenon. The English brought it here as a way of spending their leisure in a far corner of a foreign field. (There is, of course, the contrary view of the redoubtable scholar, Ashis Nandy, who has written, memorably and provocatively, that cricket is an Indian game that the English discovered.) In no other part of the world does cricket draw the kind of crowds and money that it does in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The grounds are chock-a-block with thousands of enthusiasts while millions more watch the matches on TV in their homes, in street corners and in community halls. The English village summer game has acquired a mass dimension in South Asia. The knights of empire sitting in Whitehall and the Long Room never predicted this transformation. This is one reason for the English gripe against South Asia, which now unequivocally dominates the world of cricket.
Opinion on the results of this dominance will vary according to the perspective adopted. If the perspective is that of the expansion of cricket, then the answer is resoundingly in the positive. Cricket has grown in popularity; it is no longer a dying game. Popularity has engendered innovations — other forms, even if they are derided as impure, have been introduced. The sheer number of matches played has also gone up. Cricket is now played round the year in some part of the world or the other. It is no longer a seasonal game. The purist's perspective would be different. He would point to the downside of popularity: betting, match-fixing, the overwhelming presence of money and so on. But where would cricket be today without its growing popularity emanating from South Asia? It would be diminished to a game on the village green from where it began. South Asia has ensured a future for the English summer game. Without the enthusiasm generated in South Asia, the Long Room could become another conference hall and Lord's a common playing field near St John's Wood.
A THOUSAND BINAYAK SENS
OF THOSE FOR WHOM NEW DELHI IS TOO FAR AWAY POLITICS AND PLAY: RAMACHANDRA GUHA
Last week, the Supreme Court granted bail to Binayak Sen, the doctor and civil rights activist who had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in Raipur on the charge of sedition. Sen was charged with being a Naxalite sympathizer, and of acting as a courier for the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The verdict of the lower court had been widely condemned. The proceedings were farcical; with no concrete evidence to press their charge, the government of Chhattisgarh argued by insinuation and innuendo, at one stage claiming that since the police had found no stethoscope in the house Sen was not a doctor but a Maoist. Even if the evidence had been rock-solid, the sentence was outrageous. In China, professedly a totalitarian country, the writer, Liu Xiaobo, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for speaking out against the State. A court in democratic India had awarded a life sentence for the same transgression.
In granting bail to Sen, the Supreme Court also commented adversely on the process by which he had been sentenced. The two judges hearing the appeal, Harjit Singh Bedi and Chandramauli Prasad, said that to have Maoist literature in one's possession did not make one a Maoist. As they pointedly added, mere ownership of a copy of My Experiments with Truth did not make one a Gandhian.
Reading the judgment, I was reminded of a visit I had made several years ago to a jail in Chhattisgarh. In May 2006, I was part of a team of independent citizens studying the fall-out of the civil war between Maoists and state-sponsored vigilantes known as Salwa Judum. Pulling out my notes of the trip, I find that it was on May 21, 2006 that I visited the Jagdalpur jail. Built in 1919, the prison had large, tiled, airy and well-lit rooms. The rooms were built around a courtyard; each room housed about 50 prisoners.
Indian jails are known to be small, crowded, dark and filthy. This was an exception. So, perhaps, was the superintendent of the prison, who was a tall, thoughtful, compassionate man named Akhilesh Tomar. Tomar organized a weekly dance and music show for and by the prisoners. There were other diversions; as we walked around the jail, we saw men playing carom.
The Jagdalpur jail had, at this time, 1,337 prisoners in all. On a board in the superintendent's office, these were classified under different heads. 184 men and one woman were classed as being 'Naxal Vaadi Baandhi', that is, as being incarcerated in connection with the Naxalite or Maoist rebellion. Tomar hastened to add that the classification was very approximate. Those prisoners who came from Dantewada — the district that was at the epicentre of the civil war —were usually classified as 'Naxalites'. The superintendent remarked that this did not mean that they were all Naxalites.
After a tour of the prison, our group was allowed to talk, one-on-one, to some of the inmates. I had a conversation with a prisoner named Dabba Boomaiah. He was a soft-spoken Muria in his twenties, from a village named Bamanpur near Bhopalpatnam. He told me the story of how he now found himself in Jagdalpur jail. He had, he said, a job as a labourer on a lift irrigation project. One day, at work, he was passed by a road-building crew, who asked him the way to Bhopalpatnam police station. He escorted them there, but was then detained by the police. They began quizzing him about the presence of Naxalites in his village. Then they asked him to join the Salwa Judum. He said he couldn't become a vigilante, since he had a wife, two small kids and a widowed mother to support. Thereupon they arrested him.
It was now three months since Dabba Boomaiah took the road-building crew to Bhopalpatnam police station. After his arrest, he had been taken to Dantewada jail, from where he was shifted to Jagdalpur. He had not seen his wife and children since his arrest. When I asked why he hadn't been in touch with his family, he answered that they had never even visited Dantewada town. How then could they come to Jagdalpur, which was many hours away? However, he was in touch with a lawyer, who would represent him in a court hearing, which was scheduled for the following week. At that hearing, Dabba Boomaiah hoped to get bail, and be permitted to rejoin the family.
I do not know whether Dabba Boomaiah got bail, whether the charges against him were dropped, whether he is still in Jagdalpur prison or has been reunited with his wife and children. A friend who knows the region well tells me that hearings are often cancelled at the last minute, as the criminal court in Jagdalpur is short of staff. Besides, cases against alleged Naxalites demand extra security, and when this is not available the cases are postponed.
There is always the possibility that Dabba Boomaiah was a consummately gifted actor. To me, he seemed merely to be another victim of the civil war in Dantewada. In the eyes of the Raipur sessions court, Sen's 'crime' was that he had talked to Maoist prisoners and was alleged to have Maoist literature in his home. The guilt they presumed was by association and insinuation, for Sen was not himself a member of the Maoist party, nor had he committed acts of violence or otherwise broken the law. Association and insinuation had also landed Dabba Boomaiah in jail. His 'crime' was that he happened to live in a district that had seen intense Maoist activity, and where a suspicious and paranoid state government demanded that everyone take sides.
From what one hears and knows, there are thousands of Dabba Boomaiahs languishing in the jails of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, thousands of adivasis innocent of all crimes except that of having made their home in districts where insurgents and the police are ranged against one another. Pace the Supreme Court judgment, these adivasis have not read Mao; indeed, have not even heard of Mao. But they live in areas where Maoists are active and influential; which makes them, in the eyes of what passes for the law in these tragic, troubled parts of India, Maoists themselves.
When the judge in Raipur sentenced Binayak Sen to life imprisonment, the home minister said that he could always appeal to a higher court. Most victims of the civil war in Chhattisgarh, however, do not have such recourse. They are at the mercy of an arbitrary and often brutal police, and of lower courts shot through with corruption and subject to intimidation. For someone like Dabba Boomaiah, New Delhi is even more distant than Jagdalpur is to his family. The Supreme Court deserves three cheers for the relief it has granted Binayak Sen, but, pending the suffering of the ordinary adivasi in Maoist-infested areas, let us not raise three cheers for Indian democracy itself.
'THE COURT HAS RAISED ISSUES THAT HAVE TROU-BLED MANY.'
The supreme court has rightly slammed the government for its deeply flawed approach to dealing with hunger and starvation in the country. It has questioned the government's declaration of just 36 per cent of the population as falling below poverty line (BPL) and its use of figures thrown up by the 1991 census to determine BPL status for extension of foodgrains to the poor under the PDS, rather than more recent figures that would put a much larger number in the BPL category. It has also admonished the government for fixing the cutoff for BPL status at Rs 20 and Rs 11 per capita daily income for urban and rural areas respectively. In essence, the court has rapped the Planning Commission on its knuckles for downplaying the extent of poverty, starvation and other related issues through its fudging of figures. The apex court has raised questions that have troubled many of us for some years now: Why is it that a country that claims to be an economic powerhouse, which boasts of bumper crops and overflowing food silos still has people dying of starvation? India is a rich country. There appears to be no shortage of foodgrains. Why does it then have the largest number of malnutritioned people in the world? Why are we exporting grains or allowing it to rot in godowns when people are dying of starvation?
In a bid to reduce its spending on subsidies for the poor, the government has been fudging figures on the number of people it regards as poor. It has been able to do so easily by drawing on census statistics that are two decades old, when India's population was smaller.
Another ruse to play down the starvation and hunger crisis in the country is to simply deny it. Some years ago when reports of starvation deaths in Rajasthan emerged, officials denied it by going into technical details and definitions. A starvation death, they said, is when there is no food material found in the stomach. Pieces of wild grass were found in the stomachs of the dead tribals, thus they had not died of starvation, the officials gleefully pointed out. Whether through fudging definitions, facts or figures the government is denying the starvation crisis. The apex court has asked the Planning Commission for an explanation for its use of outdate data. It must keep up the pressure on the government to mend its ways.
'DIVERSIFICATION OF EXPORTS LEADS TO GREATER OPTIMISM.'
The phenomenal growth of Indian exports in 2010-11 is a sign of the strong rebound of the economy from the troubled times of global recession. The 37.8 per cent growth in dollar terms, compared to the previous year, is unprecedented and is perhaps a sign of greater momentum building up in the economy. Comparison with last year may give an inflated picture because it had a low base. But even in comparison with earlier years, the performance has been remarkable. The annual target of $200 billion has been exceeded and trade deficit has fallen to 6 per cent of the GDP. Increasing deficits arising from faster growth of imports in relation to exports had been a cause of worry because of its impact on currency and exchange reserves. But fast -rising imports might allay some apprehensions on these counts.
It is not only the volume of exports but its structure and the nature of the emerging trade relationships that should be reason for greater optimism. Engineering exports rose by about 85 per cent. Items like transport equipment, textiles and iron and steel have seen more than 60 per cent growth in exports. The rise in exports of many unconventional goods shows the changes taking place in the economy. Exports of emerging economies have been growing faster than those of developed countries after the recent slowdown. India's performance is part of the trend but among emerging countries also India has done better than others, except China. While increasing trade is a sign of the recovery of all economies, greater trade among developing countries shows that the recovery and growth impulses are stronger in these countries. Indian exports to Latin America grew by more than 100 per cent and those to Africa rose by over 40 per cent. These are good auguries. The increasing geographical diversification of trade is good for stability. Diversification provides good insurance against possible volatility in trade arising from economic or other reasons.
China has always done better than India in exports. But it should be noted the growth in India's exports is not with the help of an exchange rate which is artificially kept low, as in the case of China. China's exchange rate policy is designed to boost its exports. The 2010-11 export trend should be sustained in coming years through increased production, infrastructure development and more congenial policies.
BY RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA
Why are only the civil society members on the panel being targeted? Do the govt nominees have lily white reputation in public life?
Congress president Sonia Gandhi's assertion, in reply to Anna Hazare's letter, that she "neither supports nor encourages the politics of smear campaign" by her partymen against the civil society members on the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, will not carry any conviction as long as she fails to rein in her barking dogs and hired Doberman Amar Singh.
The shrill and concerted attacks on Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan and even Anna Hazare ever since the Jan Lokpal people's movement forced the government to begin the process of tackling the hydra-headed corruption, has left no one in doubt that powerful vested interests are working overtime to scuttle the establishment of the Lokpal and other similar bodies at different levels.
The Lokpal Bill drafting committee, comprising five ministers and five civil society representatives, has so far met only once in a 'cordial' atmosphere, but instead of generating a nationwide debate on how to make it an effective instrument to minimise, if not completely eliminate, corruption, the Congress busy-bodies have sought to derail the entire process by launching a vicious campaign against the Bhushans and Hazare himself.
It was Digvijay Singh, a jobless politician, and Kapil Sibal, a Machiavellian lawyer-turned-minister (both Sonia Gandhi loyalists), who began the attack by roping in a pliable electronic media. A wheeler-dealer called Amar Singh jumped onto the bandwagon with his diabolical act, producing a 'CD' allegedly implicating not only the Bhushans, but a supreme court judge, who is hearing crucial cases, including the 2G spectrum scam, and a damning audio tape case against Amar Singh himself.
The Bhushans have rubbished the CD as doctored, produced lab reports to support their contention and filed a defamation case against Amar Singh. Not to be left behind, the unnamed Delhi Police have claimed through media plants that the CD is 'genuine' and it has not been tampered with. Meanwhile, another allegation of obtaining land from the Uttar Pradesh chief minister's 'discretionary quota' has been levelled against the Bhushans, with UPCC chief Reeta Bahuguna quickly demanding that Shanti Bhushan withdraw from the Lokpal Bill drafting committee.
As Soli Sorabjee has pointed out, the whole campaign is designed to derail the process which was initiated by a people's movement. He said the Bhushans will certainly have to answer the allegations, but their presence on the committee is based on their undoubted legal competence and the two cannot be linked.
People have begun to wonder why only the civil society members on the committee are being targeted. Are the government nominees — Pranab Mukherjee, Kapil Sibal, P Chidambaram, Veerappa Moily and Salman Khurshid — paragons of virtue and have lily white reputation in public life? Why aren't they under scrutiny? Why did the government pack the committee with only Congress nominees, giving no representation to any other party, including other alliance partners?
And why is heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi avoiding the media from answering questions on corruption issues and the smear campaign, while he throws barbs at the Yeddyurappa government as the most corrupt?
The plain truth is, contrary to prime minister Manmohan Singh's lip-service to fighting corruption, the UPA government is most uncomfortable with the idea of establishing a Lokpal, whose contours are now being dictated by the civil society. The government's draft legislation on the Lokpal, making it another toothless institution with no independent powers, is no longer acceptable to any one and it fears that with the Bhushans and Santosh Hegde on the drafting committee, the government will have little 'manoeuvrability.'
The UPA is also afraid that once the civil society tastes success with the institution of a powerful Lokpal, the other demands for greater autonomy for the Central Bureau of Investigation, and electoral and police reforms, just to name a few, will inevitably follow. But if Sonia Gandhi and her coterie are tuned to the public sentiment and the mood of the nation, they should swim with the current and take the credit for effecting the long-delayed reforms. There is no reason to believe that Sonia Gandhi, who made the 'supreme sacrifice' of not taking up the prime ministership twice, will be averse to the transformation which is in the overall interest of the country.
She will also do well to immediately direct her party colleagues to stop the smear campaign against the civil society members of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee and try and bring about a national consensus on the institution of Lokpal with a meeting of opposition leaders. Parties like the BJP, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Janata Dal (U) should also feel a sense of involvement when a historic legislation is being drafted.
A disinformation campaign is already on, saying that an all-powerful Lokpal will jeopardise the democratic system and will turn out to be some sort of a 'super government' with dictatorial powers. It should be clearly understood that the Lokpal will only go into corruption issues, both at the political and bureaucratic levels and will have nothing to do with policy matters. The elected representatives will still run the country's affairs, but with an element of responsibility and accountability, especially where financial issues are concerned.
Is it too much to expect even 64 years after independence?
MORE THAN A COINCIDENCE
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
Many years ago, on a visit to Bombay, I happened to be staying in Hotel President overlooking the sea.
They had given me a room on the top floor. From my window I could see the city's coastline with ships and boats plying.
One afternoon I decided to go down to the ground floor to see the hotel's bookshop. As I left my room to catch the elevator I saw two elderly European women looking for something.
One of them spoke to me: "Excuse me," she said "Do you know where the staircase going to the roof top is? We want to see what the coastline looks like. From our floor room we can only see blocks of flats."
"I don't know if there is staircase going to the roof, but you can get a view of coastline from my room-window. Come to have a look."
I opened my door and invited the ladies to have a 'dekho'. After they had their fill of the see-scape we got talking.
"Where you from?" I asked.
"Where in England?"
"Where in Hertfordshire?"
"A new town named Welwyn Garden City. Have you heard of it?"
"I be damned," I exploded, "I lived for three years when studying law in London."
"Were you a member of the Delcott Tennis Club?"
"I was. I spent most of my summer evenings playing tennis there."
It was her turn to express surprise. "Would your name be Mr Singh?"
"Yes, how do you know?"
"I played tennis with you many evenings."
I have never forgotten this encounter. It was more than a coincidence that she should have been in the same hotel and in the corridor outside my door just at the time I came out of my room. I can't help feeling that there must be a hidden hand which wanted me to know that there is more behind such encounters than we know.
Some interesting observations on the Taliban by that great American philosopher, Jeff Foxworthy:
"You may be a Taliban if....
1. You refine heroin for a living, but you have a moral objection to liquor.
2. You own a $3,000 machine gun and $5,000 rocket launcher, but you can't afford shoes.
3. You have more wives than teeth.
4. You wipe your butt with your bare hand, but consider bacon 'unclean'.
5. You think vests come in two styles: bullet-proof and suicide.
6. You can't think of anyone you haven't declared jihad against.
7. You consider television dangerous, but routinely carry explosives in your clothing.
8. You were amazed to discover that cellphones have uses other than setting off roadside bombs.
9. You have nothing against women and think every man should own at least four.
10. You've always had a crush on your neighbour's goat.
The 'BRA' definitions:
Question: Which is the stripped BRA? Ans. ZeBRA.
* Poisonous Bra? — CoBRA
* Mathematical Bra? —
* Sunsign Bra? — LiBRA
* Magical Bra? — AaBRA ka daBRA
* Religious Bra? — BRAhmin!
* Metallic Bra? — BRAss
* Angelina Jolie's Bra? — BRAdpit...
* Botany Bra? — BRAnch
* Marketing Bra? — BRAnd!
* American Presidential Bra — BRAaak Obama
* Punctuation ka liye Bra? — BRAcket
* Scary Bra — GhaBRAahat!
* Cricketers ka Bra? — BRAdd Hogg
* How does a donkey cry — BRAAAA! Braaaa!! Braaaaaaaaa!!!
* A room where BRA's are kept — LiBRAry
* Bra which became the American president and inspired the whole world — aBRAham Lincoln!
* The BRA which holds the record for most no of T20 runs in an innings? — BRAndon McCullum
* Which BRA is very important for any vehicle? — BRAke
(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)
IN RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
BY H N ANANDA
Minutes after the train rolls out, these brawny boys warm up to serve us.
Airhostesses are smart, suave, lean and beautiful. They attend to the needs of the airborne at high altitudes, cattle class or otherwise. Back on the terra firma we have trainhosts — sturdy, rugged, hard working, prosaic and not necessarily suave. They are the catering boys on long distance trains who supply eatables and drinks for earthy passengers.
I watched these unsung heroes on job as I travelled on a Jan Shatabdi on a hot afternoon. I was amazed at the labour these trainhosts put in while quenching the thirst and /or satisfying the hunger of hundreds of passengers. The distance an airhostess clocks on each flight walking in the aisles gently pushing the trolley of hot food trays has been measured and documented but does anybody know how much these boys walk on each journey? Yes, this is a hard job which only boys can handle — carrying weighty trays laden with eatables, from one end of the coach to another sweating and panting in the sweltering ambiance of non AC bogies.
Minutes after the train rolls out of the station and picks up speed, these brawny boys, in usually unwashed uniforms, warm up to serve us. First roll in lunch items — pulav, biriyani, curd rice, etc for those who have not had their lunch at home. Carrying these lunch packets the trainhosts deftly move from coach to coach, not colliding with the idling passengers en route. As the demand for lunch wears out the next target audience are those who had an early lunch and now feeling the pangs of hunger. For them upma, idlis, etc start making the rounds. To wash down these snacks you need coffee or tea, no? Here comes the chaiwallah and with him the coffeewallah serving the cup that cheers.
As the snack packets disappear, a tasty aroma now starts filling the stuffy coach heralding the arrival of hot, crisp masala vadas. Few can resist the temptation and soon the vadas are passed around. Even as the vadas are melting in the mouths another similar aroma hits the nostrils now — it's time for hot cutlets with tomato sauce. Time for another round of coffee/tea. Those who had missed this beverage earlier get another chance to charge their nerves. In between you have trivia like kurkure, biscuits, chips, etc to help you keep chewing as a time pass activity as the trains hurtles along. When the train ends the journey for the day these sturdy men rightfully deserve a rest. Perhaps they stretch along the sleeping berths unlike airhostesses who check into a star hotel.
Next time you board a train spare a thought for these young men who perform a walkathon to quench your thirst and satisfy your hunger. They expect no rewards nor do they greet you with a namaste. But just imagine how the journey would be without these magnificent boys with their food trays.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
The debt limit is supposed to make Congress think twice before passing tax cuts or spending increases that add to the national debt. Instead, lawmakers routinely support policies without paying for them — like the Bush-era tax cuts and two wars — and then posture and protest when their decisions require raising the debt limit.
So it will be once Congress returns from its spring recess. The debt limit — $14.3 trillion — will be hit as early as mid-May. If it is not raised in time, the government will have to use increasingly unorthodox tactics to meet its obligations, which would disrupt the financial markets and the economic recovery.
Default is theoretically possible, though public outrage over the mess would likely compel Congress to raise the debt limit before then. The best approach, the most sensible and mature, would be to pass a clean and timely increase.
However, nothing sensible or mature is on the horizon. Republicans have vowed to extract more heedless spending cuts in exchange for their votes to raise the debt limit. To that end, they seem likely to demand changes to the budget process, like a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, or spending caps.
Such reforms have a glib appeal — who can oppose something as prudent-sounding as balanced budgets? In fact, they are a dodge, because they cut spending broadly without lawmakers having to defend specific cuts. They are also often wired to block tax increases, without which deficit reduction efforts are not only unfair, but also will not succeed.
Take, for example, the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that Senate Republicans recently endorsed. By rigidly requiring a balanced budget each year, it would deepen recessions by forcing tax increases or spending cuts in a weak economy.
Worse, the amendment would hold annual spending to 18 percent of the previous year's gross domestic product, a formula that works out to about 16.7 percent in the proposal's early years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That is a level last seen in 1956 — a time before Medicare, before the interstate highways, when many baby boomers were not yet born, never mind aging into retirement.
Sharply lower spending would, in turn, allow for big tax cuts. Those tax cuts would be virtually irreversible, since the amendment calls for a two-thirds vote of both houses to raise taxes.
Another bad idea is the spending cap proposed by two senators, Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, and Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. It would cap spending at around 21 percent of G.D.P., compared with about 24 percent now — which would require deep cuts likethose in the House Republican budget plan. With its emphasis on spending cuts, the cap also seems intended to reduce the deficit without tax increases.
In the successful deficit reduction efforts of 1990 and 1993, budget process reforms were helpful. The key, however, was to first enact credible deficit-reduction packages — with spending cuts and tax increases — and then impose rules, like pay-as-you-go, to prevent backsliding. Process reforms alone avoid the hard work. Still, they can exert powerful political pull.
The White House and Congressional Democrats must not allow themselves to be taken hostage again.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
SHIELDING THE PRIVACIES OF LIFE
The Supreme Court has never heard a case challenging the government's authority to search a computer. It is time, after a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit opened the way last month to vast government intrusion. It ruled that, without good reason to suspect evidence of a crime, border agents could seize a laptop and open a dragnet search of files, e-mails and Web sites visited.
The majority pats itself on the back for stopping "far short of 'anything goes' at the border," since any intrusion must not violate the Fourth Amendment's ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures." But by not requiring the government to have a reason for seizing a computer or to say what it is searching for, a dissent notes, the majority "allows the government to set its own limits." In other words, pretty much anything goes.
The government asked the court to create this precedent, though in this case it had genuine grounds for suspicion. When the defendant crossed from Mexico into Arizona, his criminal record as a child molester came up in a database. When the government looked for child pornography, it found plenty on his laptop. The government has a duty to secure the borders against this and other kinds of illegal material, including drugs and weapons.
Fourth Amendment law already gives border agents huge leeway, allowing them to search travelers and their belongings, without a warrant, proof of probable cause or suspicion of illegal activity. The Ninth Circuit decided that computers could be searched on site as part of those belongings. But this ruling allows the government to hold a laptop for weeks or even months, transport it away from the border and subject it to an intensive search.
The difference between the search of a briefcase's physical space and a laptop's cyberspace — a window into the user's mind — is profound. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, the Fourth Amendment must protect just such "privacies of life." It was 1928 when he warned that "ways may some day be developed by which the government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences."
Searching a computer is a major invasion of privacy — one that may be necessary to protect the country's security. But there still must be limits and protections. It is now up to the Supreme Court to establish those limits.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
DEMOCRATS AND GUN CONTROL
Months after Al Gore's defeat in 2000, Terry McAuliffe, then the Democratic Party chief, urged Democrats to steer clear of gun control, warning of the "devastating impact on elections" wrought by the gun lobby's monied campaign attacks. Far too many Democratic politicians have since followed that cynical doctrine. The gun lobby's power has only grown while 30,000 Americans die each year by gun violence.
So it is heartening to hear an unwavering call for stronger controls from Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the incoming chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. At a rally Monday for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Ms. Wasserman Schultz spoke out for legislation to close the loophole — she called it "outrageous" — that allows gun-show customers, whether felons, terrorists or the deranged, to avoid background checks.
The Florida congresswoman was not officially speaking for the party, but she hardly trimmed her sails in anticipation of her national role. She called as well for improving the information available to law enforcement about people with histories of mental illness.
Four years after a mentally troubled gunman massacred 32 people at Virginia Tech, and months after the Tucson rampage, the federal database created to track risky gun buyers is waiting for full cooperation from state officials. Congress should bolster and adequately finance this needed resource. And it should ban sports outlets from selling the banana-magazines of ammunition used in Tucson that were designed for soldiers, not hunters.
The Tucson shootings finally forced President Obama to break his silence and call for "comprehensive and consistent" background checks on buyers. Ms. Wasserman Schultz has shown real leadership in rejecting the McAuliffe doctrine. Mr. Obama needs to join her.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
SENATOR ENSIGN MAY GO, BUT THE QUESTIONS REMAIN
Senator John Ensign abruptly announced his resignation on Thursday night, hoping to head-off a public airing of the ethics investigation into sordid misdeeds that destroyed his political future.
Far from pronouncing the case closed, however, the Senate Ethics Committee owes the public a full report on its 22-month inquiry into how Mr. Ensign boosted the lobbying career of a former top aide — after the aide discovered the senator had had an affair with the aide's wife. The Nevada Republican, who had already announced he wasn't running for re-election, stepped down as reports suggested the ethics panel was on the verge of formal charges of wrongdoing.
Of critical importance is whether a $96,000 payment to the aggrieved aide, Douglas Hampton, was hush money, and whether Mr. Ensign's admitted support for Mr. Hampton's lobbying clients violated the Senate's quid-pro-quo strictures. These are serious ethics questions that will reflect badly on the Senate if the resignation is used as an excuse to conclude in official silence.
Mr. Ensign, a family values conservative, confirmed the affair when Mr. Hampton went to the news media. But the senator denied any ethics violations, insisting that the $96,000 was a simple gift from his parents to Mr. Hampton and that he used his office to help two of Mr. Hampton's lobbying clients on merit, not because they were crucial to keeping his old aide employed.
In a separate criminal investigation, Mr. Hampton is facing charges for allegedly lobbying his old boss sooner than the one-year limit mandated after he quit. Senator Ensign's lawyers claim he is clear of the criminal investigation, but the Justice Department has been silent.
All the unanswered questions require the ethics panel to issue a full disclosure of its findings. Mr. Ensign's retreat does not mean that the Senate can duck its own responsibility to the American people.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
LIES AND VIDEOTAPE
BY CHRISTOPHER WALKER AND ROBERT W. ORTTUNG
FACEBOOK, Twitter and other social media have revolutionized the global press landscape, helping to dislodge dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and foment protests in Bahrain and Syria.
But another revolution is taking shape simultaneously in old media institutions — one that could break the stranglehold that the state news media hold over unfree societies.
Dictators make controlling the news media a priority for a reason. For most authoritarian states, state news media, especially television, have helped leaders stay in power by creating a parallel reality for their populations and depriving dissenters of a wider audience. Tunisia's news media environment was routinely ranked among the world's most stifling in Freedom House's annual assessment of press freedom before this year's revolution. In Egypt, state television stood steadfastly behind President Hosni Mubarak, deceptively playing old video of an empty Tahrir Square rather than broadcasting images of the millions protesting there.
Autocratic governments spare no effort to ensure that their state news media provide their audiences a steady diet of regime-friendly news and information. In Mr. Mubarak's Egypt, some 46,000 people worked at the government's news media complex, and the government-controlled Egyptian Radio and Television Union still owns all non-satellite television broadcasters. While growing numbers of viewers have turned to Al Jazeera and other private channels, significant segments of Egypt's population continue to rely on the state news media. A 2007 study found that 72 percent of Egyptians turned to state television as their main source of political news.
In addition, the state still owns 99 percent of newspaper publishers and newsstands. In recent years, independent newspapers have made significant strides, but their numbers are still dwarfed by official news outlets: the government-run daily Al Ahram claims a circulation of roughly one million while the country's entire independent press prints fewer than 200,000 copies a day.
State news media remain dominant today, although reformers are working hard to change that. In response to protesters' demands, Egypt's interim military government eliminated the position of minister of information in February and earlier this month fired three top officials from state television and radio.
Meanwhile, the upheaval in Libya has laid bare the depredations of state media. Still in Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's grip, Libyan state television continues to feed its audience a warped mix of conspiracy and sham. For instance, it has shamelessly vilified Eman al-Obeidy, the Libyan who said she was raped by Colonel Qaddafi's security forces and desperately sought to tell her story to foreign reporters, alleging that she is a prostitute and clinically insane.
In Syria, state television operates as if growing protests and a government crackdown are not taking place; viewers are instead fed images of pro-government demonstrations and told of conspiracies against the regime. But cracks have begun to emerge. Last week, the prominent state television journalist Maher Deeb quit in protest, writing on his Facebook page, "I am no longer able to bear the failed approach of the official Syrian press ... as well as its failure to cover the practices of some security branches and popular committees that torture, arrest and attack protesters."
Revolutions occur when enough people decide to ignore state media warnings, take to the streets and join other protesters, as they did in Tahrir Square. But Egypt was an encouraging exception. Where their roots are deep, state news media create an almost insurmountable obstacle for civil society and political opposition groups by barring them from communicating with mass audiences. Although social media have been a critical tool for creating political openings, opposition groups need national outlets if durable institutional reforms are to take place in societies that have endured extraordinary manipulation and repression.
The gains achieved by Egyptian and Tunisian protesters in reshaping their state-controlled news media in the weeks since their revolutions should not be taken for granted. Transforming politically dominated television and radio networks into more transparent and democratic institutions is a long and difficult process, and the vast majority of citizens in authoritarian states across the world — from Libya and Syria to Russia and China — continue to consume a twisted version of reality through the looking glass of state television.
Christopher Walker is the director of studies at Freedom House. Robert W. Orttung is an assistant director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
ANKARA'S SECRET: STUPIDITY OR CONSPIRACY?
I am not the greatest fan of Charles Krauthammer, the neoconservative columnist of the Washington Post. But the man is undoubtedly smart, and one of his insights was a true gem. "In explaining any puzzling Washington phenomenon," he advised in his column, "always choose stupidity over conspiracy, incompetence over cunning." The opposite, he said, gives American politicians and bureaucrats "too much credit."
I know there are huge differences between Washington and Ankara, but there might well be parallels as well. And the more I get to know the ways of the latter, and the details of the puzzling phenomena there, the more I tend to think like Krauthammer.
Just take a look at the most recent episode. Early this week, not just Ankara but the whole country was shaken by the unexpected veto of a dozen independent candidates for the upcoming elections in July by the Supreme Election Board. Seven of these candidates were supported by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, which is the political wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a recognized terrorist group. So, everybody instantly realized that this was a very dangerous thing to do. No wonder the already-agitated supporters of the BDP hit the streets, starting riots and clashing with the police. A youngster got killed by a police bullet, and a policeman got seriously injured.
From the first moment of the crisis, various political commentators interpreted this "provocation by the Supreme Election Board" as a conspiracy. Some accused the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, of working behind the scenes to weaken its Kurdish opponents. Others accused the "deep state," for working behind the scenes to weaken the AKP, and the democratic system, by destabilizing the county.
Yet it did not take too long to realize that "the conspiracy" was probably nothing more than problems with paperwork. The judges of the election board announced that the vetoed candidates had "missing documents," which would free them from the legal burdens of their previous sentences. The candidates rushed to get the papers, and nine of them were able to get de-vetoed. Others, apparently, are really not eligible to be elected according to Turkish laws.
This must be a case study, I believe, for those of us in Turkey who see a plot behind every oddity in Ankara. Instead of seeing a well-planned scheme behind every political phenomenon, we should consider that they might be the result of mere accidents, mistakes or stupidity.
Yet this is not a popular way of thinking in Turkey. Here, people rather want to believe that the political powers that they oppose are always very smart, very cunning, and very powerful.
Some of my liberal friends, for example, seem convinced that the "deep state" orchestrates almost every political evil around us. When the PKK attacks a military garrison in the east, and the General Staff seems not to have taken necessary measures to protect the soldiers there, this is explained as a plot to intentionally allow the PKK to hit Turkish targets and thus destabilize the county to pave the way for a military coup. Well, maybe. (Aspirations for a military coup are factual, I believe, not imaginary.) But maybe it is just because that our military can be dull, unprepared and incompetent.
On the other side, there are the secularists who believe in a similarly all-powerful and all-heinous Islamic enemy – "The Imam's Army," as jailed journalist Ahmet Şık provocatively put it. In this worldview, everything that the AKP or Islamic communities such as the Gülen Movement do is a well-crafted effort to take over the state. Their confrontations with the secular establishment are not hasty acts of self-defense, but well-crafted tactics of ultimate conquest. The elders of Mecca, if you will, are behind every policeman, every non-Kemalist prosecutor, every stone.
More lenses to see
I am not denying the fact that politics in this country is extremely confrontational, and opposing actors do their best to maximize their power. I am also aware that the state machinery is much less transparent, and much nastier, than in any democratic country. In other words, neither the deep state, nor the social forces which combat with it, is imaginary.
But if this political war is all that we have in mind, and the only lens through we see the world, then we will most likely neglect other realities, such as the stupidity factor Krauthammer finds so pervasive in Washington. There are probably other factors as well, such as mundane interests and mere emotions. The reason that the AKP appoints like-minded people to bureaucracy, for example, might be not "Islamist infiltration," as the secularist believes, but just good-old patrimonial Turkish politics.
Yet Turkey's political camps love to see each other as more powerful, more cunning and more ill-willed than what they really are. Hence our internal, nationwide "clash of civilizations" persists. And that's why we need a "dialogue of civilizations" at home, at first.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
A SAD ANNIVERSARY
Greek Cypriot leader, comrade Demetris Christofias was generous towards the Turkish Cypriot people in his Good Friday message. He said Turkish Cypriots as well should be considered as Cypriot. This display of enormous generosity by the Greek Cypriot leader, who is indeed definitely considered by Turkish Cypriots as a Cypriot as well, shall always be remembered and probably every year huge festivities will be organized in the Turkish Cypriot quarters of Cyprus ahead of Good Friday ceremonies in the Greek Orthodox-populated areas.
It is sad to say but has become absolutely and very painfully clear that there is either no difference at all between the late former terrorist-turned Tassos Papadopulos, who was suggesting to get rid of the Turkish Cypriot people through osmosis, and the socialist Christofias. If there was any difference, apparently it was such a small nuance that it is very difficult to identify.
Who is Christofias to decide Turkish Cypriots should as well be considered as Cypriot? What sort of insolence is that? Will he be reaching a settlement accord with the Turkish Cypriot side with such a mentality?
Cyprus is the common homeland of both Turkish and Greek Cypriot peoples of the island who if they agree will renew their partnership contract and establish a federal Cyprus with two component states, which would retain residual sovereign powers that were not transferred to the federal government.
Though Greek Cypriots still have mental problems accepting the "component" or "constituent states" terminology and prefer to use a vague "entity" term instead, irrespective they recognize or acknowledge or not, it is a fact even acknowledged by the international community that any settlement on the island must be negotiated between the two equal "states" or "entities." Obviously, that negotiated settlement might be a federation, so far favored for some unclear reasons by the international community, confederation or two independent states.
The current exercise is the direct talks process, which has been continuing for more than three years, and is aimed at reaching a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation on the basis of political equality of the two peoples of the island. There is frustration in the Turkish Cypriot side. There is frustration in Turkey. There is frustration in the international community. The talks are not progressing towards a resolution. Greek Cypriot leadership, which enjoys international recognition as the "sole legitimate government of Cyprus" and European Union membership, has been playing for time. Like his predecessor fascist late Papadopoulos, Christofias employed all possible tactics to avoid tangible progress. He gradually evolved the entire Cyprus talks process into how the EU Acquis, suspended in "areas not under government control" that is in northern Cyprus, can be applied.
Now, there is talk, by secretary-general's special advisor for Cyprus Alexander Downer, that the "natural deadline" for the current process will be end of March 2012. There are suggestions after March 2012, if no Cyprus deal is reached by then, probably an international conference will convene and a Cyprus settlement would be imposed on the two peoples of the island. There are claims, convening an international conference might not wait till March 2012, even though Greek Cypriots have been adamantly opposed to such a development.
Domestic politics-wise, things are getting really serious in northern Cyprus because of unprecedented increased tension between labor unions, left segments of the Turkish Cypriot community and Turkey. Turkey is in collaboration with the conservative government has been trying to implement a very tight austerity package aimed at restructuring the public sector in the unrecognized Turkish Cypriot state battling serious international isolation.
The isolation, promised to be lifted or at least eased by all leading Western powers, including the EU, should Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of a United Nations-sponsored peace plan in the April 24, 2004 simultaneous referenda on both sides of the island, continues biting seriously the Turkish Cypriot people and after seven years the EU is hopefully at least pondering how to live up to its pledges to the Turkish Cypriot people.
Yes, for those who might have forgotten, Sunday is the seventh anniversary of the 2004 referendum in which Turkish Cypriots demonstrated their political will for a settlement and were punished for that by the EU, United States. and others and the Greek Cypriot side said they did not want a power sharing deal with Greek Cypriots and their intransigence was crowned with EU membership.
Poor Turkish Cypriots, on the seventh anniversary they still expect to see a limit to European hypocrisy…
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
HAS THE GOP FOUND ITS TRUMP CARD?
STEWART J. LAWRENCE
At the start of the annual Indianapolis 500 auto race, the announcer famously intones: "Gentlemen, start your engines!" Apparently, this year's designated Indy pace car driver – billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump – already has. While most of the 2012 GOP presidential field has barely reached the starting blocks, Trump's off and running – and could soon lap the field.
The speculation about a possible Trump presidential bid started last October, when unknown sources – most people say Trump, though he denies it – started polling New Hampshire voters about their attitudes towards the man known, with mock reverence, as "The Donald." No one's released the results of that survey, but ever since, Trump has raised his visibility and started floating the idea of running publicly – first, during a surprise appearance at the bellwether Conservative Political Action Conference, where he denounced China, trashed CPAC veteran Ron Paul as unelectable, declared himself a "lifelong Republican" and dyed-in-the-wool social conservative – against abortion even – and all but dared his audience to back him.
That was followed by a fawning hour-long interview with Larry King's CNN replacement, Piers Morgan, who owes his television career to Trump, and a succession of appearances as a guest commentator on Fox Television News. Trump says he'll make a "final decision" about his presidential candidacy in June and that his decision "is going to surprise a lot of people" – which means, of course, that he's running.
Most analysts in America and abroad haven't really taken the prospect of a Trump candidacy seriously. After all, Trump, ever the shameless media hound, has threatened to run in the past, usually at a time when his popular TV series, The Apprentice, was nearing the end of its season, or when a jolt of publicity might assist one of his new business ventures. Some top politicians, including former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who knows and likes Trump, says the man who once called Rosie O'Donnell "ugly, in fact uglier on the inside than she is on the outside," is still just kidding, and others say he's bored, but some of his closest associates insist that he's serious this time, and the accumulating evidence – including his politically astute decision to accept the prestigious Indy pace car invitation – suggests that indeed, he is.
So what makes Trump's latest bid anything more than another grandiose publicity stunt?
For one, the state of the GOP competition, which, with the expected entry of Tea Party diva Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), and that vitriolic gay-basher Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), is growing more bizarre by the day. The most electable candidates – those favored by the party establishment, especially GOP mastermind Karl Rove – including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, are reluctant to serve as sacrificial lambs in the GOP's increasingly long-shot bid to unseat a powerful incumbent like Obama. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who still leads most GOP polls, including in Iowa, confessed that he was intimidated to run against Obama, given the president's unprecedented war chest (estimated at roughly $750 million, well beyond Dubya's previous historical record) and his combined establishment and social media machine.
It's not that Obama isn't still vulnerable – he is. But some key trends are pointing in his favor, and GOP strategists, beneath their optimism, know it. The economy, though languishing, is improving, and unemployment, at least officially, is likely to fall below 8 percent, and perhaps even lower, by election time. A similar drop in the unemployment rate got Ronald Reagan re-elected in 1984, after his own presidency looked headed for disaster with the economy mired in a deep recession just two years earlier. The same was true of Bill Clinton in 1996. But the fact is, history shows that it's quite hard to unseat an incumbent executive. Most presidents, once elected, do tend to serve a second term, in part because ever since FDR, they've been constitutionally term-limited anyway, and most voters, ever the risk-averse moderates, aren't keen to change horses – or at least the top jockey – especially when there's war on, which there usually is these days. The first George Bush and Jimmy Carter are the only exceptions in modern times, in fact.
Trump, of course, has no political experience, much like H. Ross Perot, another iconoclastic businessman who ended up wowing the political establishment by running neck-and-neck in the polls with Clinton and the first George Bush for nearly six months in 1992, before bailing out under a barrage of media criticism, the same kind of criticism – or worse – that would probably greet Trump should he actually win the GOP nomination, and begin holding his own with voters. Most political observers continue to dismiss that as improbable, despite the fact that early polls show Trump running extremely well not only against the GOP competition (he was a close second behind Mitt Romney in a poll last week) but against Obama himself.
In fact, in a poll jointly sponsored by Newsweek and Daily Beast, Trump trailed Obama just narrowly 43-41, with 16 percent undecided. One extraordinary survey result – in fact, a separate poll had Obama slightly further ahead – doesn't make Trump electable, but it's a tribute not only to his extraordinary name recognition – especially compared to the likes of a Tim Pawlenty or Haley Barbour – but also to a deep, underlying sentiment among voters, strongly confirmed by polls, that the country is "on the wrong track" and that neither party's leadership, including Obama, seems to have the answers.
One commentator has referred to Trump's ability to play to voter disgust with America's current Carter-like malaise as "plutocratic populism," which nicely captures Trump's unique ability to project extreme, indeed, unreachable wealth, combined with seemingly genuine concern for the "little man" – the masses of aspiring middle-class consumers who Trump rarely sees, except in the audience demographics for his television shows. It's fitting, perhaps, that Trump is driving the pace car at the Indy 500, and not at NASCAR, where the fan base is larger and more working class-oriented. Well over 95 percent of Indy fans are whites, 93 percent own their own homes, and well over 50 percent earn $100,000 or more per year. Indy also appeals to older white Americans: The key demographic is 45-64 year olds, with 31 percent over 55.
So Trump clearly has his priorities straight: on the eve of his expected campaign kickoff, he's making a big publicity splash before the GOP voter base, the very one he needs to catapult him toward the nomination.
And the broader masses? For now, they can wait, but don't expect Trump to restrict himself to the country club set. In a recent Gallup poll, Trump's favorability/unfavorability rating was 43 to 47 percent, with 10 percent undecided. That's actually an improvement over the past year, while other GOP contenders have seen their ratios decline. But more important, perhaps, is that among two key slices of the electorate, younger voters, and those with "some college" but still lacking a college degree, Trump's favorability ratio is positive, by a substantial margin, in fact. That means Trump's strongest appeal is with those aspiring to a better life, but perhaps, still frustrated by their lack of progress in getting there. Historically, all great political movements – and candidacies – are rooted among those whose "rising expectations" are dashed. If Trump can find a way to craft a message that appeals to these voters – students struggling to pay their loans, small businesses squelched by high taxes, waitress moms with kids, and other course disenfranchised minorities – he may just have a shot at building something larger than himself.
Ross Perot clearly did, but in the end, the public demands and the pressure nearly overwhelmed him, and his burgeoning movement sputtered, a victim of its leader's foibles. Trump, who once considered picking up Perot's third-party mantle but decided he could never win outside the two-party system, is far more accustomed to public criticism than Perot ever was. But he's even pricklier and more gaffe prone – and judging from his tentative embrace of the "birther" cause, may not have the political ear he needs to go the distance. Trump's a compelling and forceful speaker, and alone among the current crop of GOP wannabes, he may be the only one with the sheer presence and physical stature – to say nothing of the money, according to former political adviser Roger Stone, Trump could spend as much as $2 billion on his bid – to go up against Obama. But he still hasn't learned how to stop talking, let alone how to listen, and no politician, certainly no neophyte, can survive for long on pugnacious bombast alone.
Still, for a Republican party that's largely ceded this election to Obama, it seems, Trump's big mouth and anti-Obama fervor could make him a convenient patsy of sorts. If Trump's willing to spend his own fortune, he'll leave Rove and Co. with the resources to zero in on recapturing the Senate, where a shift of just four seats could consolidate Republican control of the states for years to come. And in 2016, with Obama gone, and no heir apparent, the GOP's chances for the White House – armed with a bevy of young and attractive candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Senator Marco Rubio – will improve dramatically.
In the meantime, with "Le Donald" the GOP may have found a convenient – and deniable – distraction. Or quite possibly, an unexpected trump card.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
WHAT SHOULD WOMEN DO?
Political parties have announced deputy candidate lists: The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, seems like acting as a coherent mass in discipline and obedience.
We see a serious hierarchical discipline in the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and in the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP. Both act in unity and as a whole flawlessly. But poor CHP! Yes, if you want to have mercy, have mercy for the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, for its being criticized by all. Everyone can be criticized in this world without exception, the CHP, too. However, it is impossible to take seriously those who are left out of candidate lists.
Don't let them fool themselves
I am mostly interested in militia of this "women's case." In daily Cumhuriyet, a headline on April 13 said, "Women are betrayed!" What if women betrayed themselves?
Women organizations argue that female deputy candidates were placed in the least likely spots on the lists to be elected and were used like filling materials. Daily Hürriyet dittoed the issue on April 13, "Demanding 275 female deputies in Parliament, which is half of 500 in total, and launching a campaign in this direction, the Righteous Women Platform is not satisfied with the number of women candidates. The platform announced in a statement 'Equal representation of women in the next Parliament to be formed after June 12 2011 elections will not be achieved.'"
As far as I see, the Righteous Women Platform and other women organizations criticize the AKP, CHP and MHP.
HEPAR introduces 122 candidates
Only three of about 20 political parties joining the race are being targeted and the rest is being neglected by women organizations. For instance, the Rights and Equality Party, or HEPAR, Press Center rightfully complains and contests the news, "The CHP becomes the first runner up by nominating 109 female deputy candidates for the elections to be held on June 12." And the HEPAR Press Center has published a comparative list:
HEPAR: 58 electoral regions, 122 female candidates out of a total 431.
CHP: 85 electoral regions, 109 female candidates out of a total 550.
AKP: 85 electoral regions, 78 female candidates out of a total 550.
MHP: 85 electoral regions, 56 female candidates out of a total 550.
They asked: "As everyone who has a bit of investigative spirit and an arithmetic mind can easily see, we now ask which party introduced the highest number of women candidates?"
TKP's 227 candidates
HEPAR is right. However, the party itself did something wrong too and forgot the Turkey Communist Party, or TKP. The TKP introduced 227 women deputy candidates out of a total 550 candidates. No quota is applied and the figure equals to 41 percent; 41 percent women and 59 percent men. But this is not enough either! According to "women," it must be an equal share, 50 percent!
To be fair, the TKP has the highest number of female candidates but women organizations do not seem to be aware of it. Women constitute 50 percent of overall electors. If they vote for the TKP for the sake of gender solidarity, equality, justice and freedom, do they not happen to make a real revolution? Now let's make a list of political parties according to the importance they give to women: The TKP, HEPAR, CHP, AKP and MHP. In order to match this order in the ballot box, everything is up to women. If women calculate carefully, they might send 275 female deputies to Parliament!
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
SHIFTING FACTORS FOR APRIL 24 IN WASHINGTON
April 24 is the date Armenians around the world commemorate the "Armenian genocide," this year coincides with the Eastern Sunday, a Resurrection day in Christian faith.
Contrary to previous years, not many people, including Armenian-Americans, expect President Obama to use the word "genocide" in his Commemoration Day Statement this year. Primarily, there seems to be simply no compelling reason for Obama to change his mind and language following last 2 years. The Obama administration cited not to disturb the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia, which started 2 years ago on April 23, by jointly issuing a road map, as chief the reason for opposing any "genocide recognition" passage at the United States Congress and choosing to omit the same word from presidential statements.
Armenians in Los Angeles reflected their disappointment in Obama this week with some protests, when Obama launched his first major fundraiser in Southern California for the "Obama Victory Fund 2012." During private conversations, some of Armenian-Americans diaspora leaders did not hide their anger with the Obama administration and some others publicly push Armenians to take on this matter with the Obama re-election campaign head-on in coming months during campaign stops.
It is certainly unclear whether calls for protests will make any dent on the Obama 2012 campaign, though a couple of other transformations also shifted the balance in Washington in favor of Turkish cause further and dimmed significantly much of the hopes of Armenian-Americans who want to see such Congressional passages or Presidential statements with accordance to their beliefs during Obama terms.
New Republican majority in the House of Representatives is one of these new shifts, a political alliance known with its traditional distance to the Armenian arguments over the issue. The Republicans still tend to view matters regarding Turkey from more of a national security perspective, regardless of their personal beliefs in the 1915 events. For instance, strong supporters of the Armenian cause in the last Congressional sessions, Nancy Pelosi, as the speaker of the House and Howard Berman as the Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, have been replaced by Republican leaders John Boehner and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both known by their pro-Turkish stances in most issues.
Latest revolts across the broader Middle East equally played an important role in terms of polishing Turkey's strategic importance in Washington. Economically and politically stable Turkey transformed its image by pro-active foreign policies in recent years, and became an ever-sought actor since the upheavals began. Whether Turkey has been using this historic opportunity fully and diligently to advance its regional leadership status is certainly another topic that should continue to be discussed. Though, level of relationship between the leaderships in Washington and Ankara unquestionably received an extra boost during the latest Arab Spring episode.
That is why it would be one of the last and extremely imaginative expectations from the US president, who day in and out deals with multidimensional political and economic metamorphoses occurring around the world along with monumental economic challenges in home, to infuriate Turkish leadership at this time. The US administration has been treating Turkey with extremely cautious and nuanced polices in other current affairs as well, such as in the face of policy differences on Libya or Iran.
In addition to all of that, this year, while no genocide recognition bill has introduced to the House floor so far (can happen anytime), two pro-Turkey resolutions introduced, one by co-chairs of the Turkey caucus on April 12, and second resolution praising Turkey's parliamentary democracy ahead of April 23, by mainly lobbying efforts of the Turkish Embassy.
Some of the Armenian-American community leaders and members confirmed that there is indeed a discussion started within their community this year to shift the genocide strategy dramatically to spend their energy pursuing the legal grounds rather than the political ones, which don't seem to be promising in coming legislative years. According to one Armenian-American leader, the reason for changing the ground is because "the genocide battle is already won by Armenians. It was won when President Reagan issued a statement recognizing it in 1981, when two other House resolutions in 1975 and 1984 passed and scores of other countries also recognized it. Therefore, these discussions are only arriving late, instead of taken place much earlier." The World Court, or IJC, European Court of Human Rights and US federal courts were some of the options cited to me in one conversation as legal venues.
While Turkish arguments gain momentum in Washington, the genocide battle across the globe continues to cause much time and energy of the Turkish diplomacy. Just to give the latest two examples, this week Switzerland decided to erect an "Armenian genocide monument" in Geneva's city center and Iran decided to show "Armin Wegner, the Armenian Genocide Photographer" documentary by Armenian film director Tigran Khzmalyan, for the first time. Of course the Turkish diplomats have spent time and energy to find creative ways to stop both actions.
Turkey's pro-active diplomacy certainly helped Turkish arguments in Washington along with other political changes cited above. Though, Turkey has to show its real pro-active policy in the Caucasus region by revitalizing the normalization process if it wants to make a dramatic break for the better for both countries. While there is no reason for us to believe Ankara will move on the normalization process before the general elections of June 12th, the frozen political environment between Turkey and Armenia might get complicated even further if Erdoğan's order to tear down the symbolic monument to Turkish-Armenian friendship in Kars is being undertaken, which ironically also corresponds to around April 24.
As I stated in an interview with the News.az from Azeri media recently, the failed normalization process is a failure more for Turkey than for Armenia. Turkey obviously does not need better relations with Armenia for an economic sense. Turkey and Armenia, via Georgia, traded a quarter of a billion dollars in 2010, a small amount when comparing Turkey's trade with only Northern Iraq, which amounted to $10 billion.
Nonetheless, Turkey needs to step forward to normalize relations with Armenia more of a moral obligation. With close to 75 million strong people and ten times the size of Armenia in terms of its accumulated wealth or economy, as if a big brother who made a much bigger fortune than his little brother since they fought and parted ways during the last century, Turkey has moral obligations to take the lead of healing relations with Armenia. Armenia, for its account, also needs Turkey's help to move towards a freer and wealthier future where it will be less dependent on Russia.
Otherwise, Turkey, whether it is winning the Washington political and diplomatic war or not, will always be met with a lot of suspicion and constant criticism in especially Western capitals, and therefore is seen as the more responsible party by the international community for the problematic relations with Armenia. Without reaching an understanding with Armenia, Turkey will never present itself as a truly peaceful state that is able to come to terms with its own history.
And as Turkey's Caucasus policy perspective, even though multi-billion dollar energy projects, like Nabucco, can be realized without Armenia, in much the same way as Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan was in the past, and relations with Azerbaijan and Georgia have let Turkey become an influential player in the region already, without normalizing relations with Armenia, it will be very difficult to call it a success in whatever Turkey is trying to do in the region.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
OUR TECHNOLOGY REPORT CARD
The other night, we were together with the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBİTAK, President Professor Nükhet Yetiş and State Minister for Science and Technology Mehmet Aydın.
TÜBİTAK shared the technological report card of Turkey with the press for a few years.
And they are doing the right thing.
We know about research and development, or R&D, expenditures, number of personnel, patents and scientific publications.
According to Professor Yetiş, the Royal Society in Britain in a report published in early 2011 pointed out Turkey among the "rising" countries in science, technology and innovation.
In the European Union Progress Report 2010, the European Commission emphasized Turkey's progress in scientific and technological integration with Europe.
Starting with the information provided by Professor Yetiş presiding TÜBİTAK since 2004, the technology report card is summarized below.
R&D expenditures tripled
* R&D expenditures tripled to 8.5 billion Turkish Liras in 2009 compared to 2003.
* R&D expenditures increased at the highest level.
* R&D personnel, again compared to 2003, doubled to 74,000. And for the year 2013 target number is 150,000.
* Number of scientific publications exceeded 25,000.
* Number of applications for national patent increased five times during the period 2003-2009.
* The progress in our technology report card and increase in TÜBİTAK supports have transformed into an added value for our economy with a success story:
Lütfi Yenel was the Alcatel Teletaş CEO in 1995-2007.
After he resigned from office in 2007, Yenel founded his own telecommunication software firm, Kron and strived for innovation with its 40-member staff of engineers.
The company has managed to open up to the world within three years by manufacturing four new products.
I spoke to Yenel recently, who said TÜBİTAK supported Kron's three telecommunication software products.
The company has grown 100 percent in two years with a 12 million liras turnover.
Some of products developed with TÜBİTAK's support are sold to Iran and Pakistan.
Yenel plans to open up to Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Malaysia in the upcoming days.
Aiming to turn Kron into a "global brand" within a few years, Yenel believes the countries he is targeting need Turkey's know-how in software production.
There is also another story about how our industrialists are moved by the progress in our technology report card.
The other day, I was with a group of businessmen and academics who claimed to launch the "Wind Industry Revolution" in Turkey.
Group members are from different sectors. However, they got together in order to develop wind tribune technology in Turkey, believing the country could be a global player within a few years in the wind industry.
For instance, AKSA Executive Board Member Mustafa Yılmaz, who led the formation of the group, has confidence in carbon fiber developed by AKSA because manufacturing lighter wings of a wind tribune is possible by using carbon fiber.
If the wing of a wind tribune manufactured in China weighs 3 kilograms, the wing manufactured by AKSA weighs 1 kilogram.
After the automotive sector, a second jump forward in Turkish industry depends on how good we do in "our technology report card."
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE GUARANTEE OF FUTURE DEMOCRACY LIES IN THE RESOLUTION OF THE KURDISH CONFLICT
Known as the Sun King, Louis XIV of France was one of the European rulers who remained on his throne the longest: Officially 72 years and effectively 54 years! Since Louis XIV was just a child when he was enthroned, Cardinal Mazarin, acted as regent for a while. During his long tenure, the king posted some remarkable achievements and ruled France with an iron grip. Historians cannot agree upon whether Louis XIV actually pronounced his famous dictum, "L'état c'est moi" (I am the state), to describe his authoritarian rule, but the saying nonetheless entered political literature to describe autocracy.
When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says, now and then, "I am the guarantee of…" on any issue of interest to citizens and society – to either deny its very existence or to imply that he is the only one who can solve it – I think of King Louis' saying.
Erdoğan's answer to a question about freedom of conscience in Turkey during his recent appearance at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, or PACE, in Strasbourg and the endless personal guarantees he gave during the famous Dolmabahçe meetings held with various social or ethnic groups are only a few of the myriad examples of such an almighty stance, so to speak.
In this day and age, in a country like Turkey, even with a limping democracy, can a prime minister hold absolute authority and assume sole responsibility for the solution of problems? Even if possible legally, is it possible practically? Do we not see every day that the prime minister cannot be the only guarantor of solutions to issues and that his judgments on issues are often inadequate?
"In this country, there is no Kurdish problem from now on," Erdoğan said in a speech Monday morning to promote the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, parliamentary candidates. "But there are problems for my Kurdish brothers. There also are those who take advantage of my Kurdish brothers."
On the same evening, the Supreme Election Board, or YSK, with a decision directly influencing the Kurdish question, turned the entire country upside down, choosing to reject the candidacies of a number of pro-Kurdish candidates. I wonder if the high judiciary is "exploiting" Erdoğan's Kurdish brothers!
In fact, the YSK's decision has created an atmosphere of chaos which could have worsened if the decision were not withdrawn on Thursday. But as we were all preoccupied by such an atmosphere, many missed the fact that the indictments in the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, case – which are mainly targeting Kurdish elected local officials on being members of the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK – were accepted by courts in Van and Hakkari, probably as part of the same approach taken by the YSK.
The approach seems quite clear: The state is trying to elbow Kurdish politicians out of politics.
This time, however, Turkish society and the political arena are resisting the fait accompli. And all political actors, with the logical exception of the extreme right Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, have not only condemned the YSK's decision but also taken a stance against it. They have called for an urgent solution and assumed responsibility. The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, which usually reverts to statist reflex in similar cases, effectively said "enough" this time. The political world, including ministers and the speaker of Parliament, as well as citizens at large, have understood that such an approach cannot generate anything good for politics, the elections, the southeast, the new constitution, or, ine essence, the future of the country.
Therefore, the Kurdish problem does exist more than ever, contrary to Erdoğan's verdict that there would be no Kurdish problem from now on. It still survives even to a degree that the conflict could become the unique concern of the country had the YSK not reversed its decision, and could have sucked up all of Turkey's energy. Today's social and political consensus demonstrates once again that the solution to the Kurdish problem remains "the guarantee of democracy." In any case, the "guarantee" rests not with "one man" but with society and politics.
As a matter of fact and contrary to Erdoğan's opinion, the AKP election manifesto reads: "We will solve the Kurdish issue in a way to strengthen our brotherhood on the ground of freedoms and democracy and for that we will not let any obstacle stand in our way. Therefore, the conflicts acting as a shackle in the way of Turkey's progress and development will be permanently relegated to the past."
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE CORRIDOR - HOW MANY FEMALE CANDIDATES MIGHT BE ELECTED TO PARLIAMENT?
How many female deputies will be elected to the 24th Turkish Parliament? Are the expectations of women being met properly? These are just a few of the questions swirling around in advance of the June 12 elections.
The Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates, or Ka-Der, announced that they want to see 275 female deputies in Parliament. This was actually an expression of yearning for a Parliament having equal number of men and women. But the result was a disappointment.
The male-dominated Parliament did not clear the way for women deputy candidates; still, the powers that be must have been impressed by Ka-Der's campaign as the percentage of female candidates increased slightly compared to the last election period. Approximately 80 women were nominated from the most rows most likely to win on the electoral lists.
The A&G Research Co. released the results of a public opinion poll conducted in April 2011, which indicated that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was running at 46.9 percent support; the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, was at 29.7 percent; the opposition Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, was at 10.4 percent; and independents were at 6.7 percent. The numbers more or less mean that roughly 79 female deputy candidates have a chance of being elected. There are a total of 50 female deputies in Parliament in the current term: 30 from the AKP, 10 from the CHP, two from MHP and eight from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP.
In terms of female candidates, the distribution according to party is AKP 45, CHP 24, MHP one and BDP nine.
This table proves that although the percentage of women has increased, it is still not enough for their proper representation. And the regional distribution reveals rather distressing picture: In some regions, there is not even a single female candidate.
For instance, only three women rank in the best-placed rows from the Black Sea region. The AKP has only three female candidates in the provinces of Trabzon, Tokat and Amasya. The CHP and the MHP don't even have a single female candidate in the same region. In the east and southeast, the BDP relatively saves face with its "independents."
The parties, in the end, chose to nominate females from big cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir.
Fourteen of the 45 female AKP candidates located in the best-placed rows are from Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir, including Mihrimah Belma Satır, Alev Dedegil, Nimet Çubukçu, Ayşe Nur Bahçekapılı, Türkan Dağoğlu, Sevim Savaşer, Halide İncekara, Tülay Kaynarca and Gülay Dalyan.
The CHP has a total of 15 female candidates in the country's three largest cities, nine of whom are well-placed to be elected, including Ayşe Eser Danışoğlu, Şafak Pavey, Fatma Nur Serter, Ayten Kayalıoğlu, Bihlun Tamaylıgil, Sedef Küçük, Melda Onur, Binnaz Toprak and Sabahat Akkiraz.
The MHP, on the other hand, has only one woman candidate in the most likely spot in Istanbul: Meral Akşener from the 3rd Region in the first row.
While she seems like a lock for election, it appears unlikely the MHP will have female candidates in other provinces, although Ruhsar Demirel is nominated from the first row in Eskişehir and Şenol Bal is in the second row in İzmir.
The AKP has three female deputy candidates in Ankara with a high probability of being elected: Tülay Selamoğlu, Ülker Güzel and Nurdan Şanlı.
Interestingly, though, İzmir has comparatively fewer women who are likely to be elected. İlknur Denizli and Nesrin Ulema have a chance from the AKP, as do Güldal Mumcu, Hülya Güven and Birgül Güler from the CHP.
The BDP's "independent" women candidates have a good chance in some provinces. Leyla Zana and Emine Ayna from Diyarbakır, Sabahat Tuncel from Istanbul, Gülser Yıldırım from Mardin, Gültan Kışanak from Siirt, Aysel Tuğluk from Van, Ayla Akat Ata from Batman, Selma Irmak from Şırnak and Pervin Buldan from Iğdır could all make their way to Ankara after June 12.
The other female candidates, their provinces and their parties are as follows:
Adana - Fatoş Gürkan (AKP), Zeynep Canan (CHP); Ağrı - Fatma Salman Kotan (AKP); Antalya - Sevgi Doğan (CHP); Aydın - Semiha Öyüş (AKP); Balıkesir - Tülay Babuşçu (AKP), Ayşe Nedret Akova (CHP); Bursa - Canan Candemir, Tülin Erkal Kara (AKP), Sena Kaleli (CHP); Denizli - Nurcan Dalbudak (AKP); Diyarbakır - Mine Lök Beyaz, Oya Eronat (AKP); Elazığ - Sermin Balık (AKP); Erzurum - Fazilet Dağcı Çığlık (AKP); Eskişehir - Ülker Can (AKP), Gaye Usluer (CHP); Gaziantep - Fatma Şahin,Derya Bakbak (AKP); Kayseri - Pelin Gündeş Bakır (AKP); Kocaeli - Azize Sibel Gönül (AKP); Konya - Ayşe Türkmenoğlu, Gülay Samancı (AKP); Kütahya - Bedia Türkyılmaz (AKP); Kahramanmaraş -Sevde Beyazıt Kaçar (AKP); Malatya - Öznur Çalık (AKP); Manisa - Sakine Öz (CHP); Mardin - Gönül Bekin Şahkulubey (AKP); Sakarya - Ayşenur İslam (AKP); Samsun - Tülay Bakır (AKP); Sivas - Nursuna Memecan (AKP); Şanlıurfa - Zeynep Armağan Uslu (AKP); Tekirdağ - Özlem Yemişçi (AKP), Gülferah Güral, Candan Yüceer (CHP); Tokat - Dilek Yüksel (AKP); Trabzon - Safiye Seymenoğlu (AKP); Uşak - Dilek Akagün Yılmaz (CHP); Van - Gülşen Orhan (AKP); and Aksaray - İlknur İnceöz (AKP).
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
INTERCULTURAL ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR
Business culture analysts define four main streams of organizational cultures. These are fulfillment-oriented, project-oriented, power-oriented, role-oriented, and organizational patterns.
Fulfillment-oriented cultures are ones where creative people get together to develop new things. They are mainly incubator cultures, determined to change things. New Internet companies are great examples of these. They do not have regular work hours. Status is determined by the creativity of the individuals. Relations are very spontaneous. Improvised, ad hoc, inspirational and outside-the-box behavior is appreciated. A shared creative process keeps them together.
Project-oriented cultures work with matrix organizations. You have several equally authorized people who work for the same specified objectives such as quarterly results. Status is determined based on the contribution of the members toward the goals. Cross-disciplinary problem solving is the key to performance. Everyone executes their own tasks but holds hands when a decision is necessary. A subordinate has two or more direct and dotted reporting lines. Lack of consensus can delay the decision-making process. Targets and performance criteria can be changed over time. American, British and Canadian companies usually feature project-oriented cultures.
Role-oriented cultures are mechanical systems of required actions. Relations are very specific and based on individual roles. Everything is defined and written in procedural forms based on efficient and effective rational. People are required to fulfill their job descriptions. Insurance companies and banks are great examples for such organizational behavior. A hierarchical system determines status. German and Dutch companies tend to have role-oriented cultures.
Family-oriented cultures function exactly like families. You have a father/mother figure and children. The relations are very diffuse and include strong social interactions. The father figure determines the objectives and status is based on rank within the company. Being loved and respected are the main motivating factors. Success creates pride among all the members. Mistakes are tolerated in a family style. Being disloyal to parents, i.e. the company, is considered as a severe mistake. Japanese, Spanish, Indian and Turkish companies have family-oriented cultures.
Except state-owned organizations, all private-sector companies are owned by families in Turkey. Fulfillment-oriented firms are mainly the creation of people of the Y-generation, which emerges in all cultures based on freedom and creativity. However, large international companies that usually have role- and project-oriented cultures are bound to have problems while working with local recruits whose previous experiences are predominantly family-oriented cultures. They are raised and educated like this as a kid and therefore they will question why they have two fathers in an American company, and why a certain rules block their creativity in a German company. They will prefer managers who act like a father or mother concerned about their well being rather than purely their work function. They will seek to form their own local family even within large international structures. Human resource departments often send expats to abolish what they sometimes call a "local tribe" feeling and enhance the influence of the headquarters in local decision-making. In return this creates high turnover and loss of experienced staff, but provides freshness if executed well.
Organizational behaviors are shaped by cultures over many years. Going against the local flow is not an easy task, as is keeping one company culture in between countries. It needs a very delicate balance to manage such interactions and there is no "one size fits it all" cure for that.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
A BIRD'S EYE VIEW - JAILED IN THE EU WITHOUT CHARGE
Humans are getting arrested in European Union countries, and their lives are being destroyed for no apparent reason. We have the case of Adlene Hicheur, a French-Algerian physicist working on antimatter at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN's, enormous particle collider. He was arrested in October 2009 on suspicion of conspiring with an Algerian branch of al-Qaeda.
Hicheur still remains in preventive custody in a Paris prison. He has not been charged with any crime. His lawyers and family said he did nothing more than surf Islamic political websites. No trial has been scheduled.
Under French law, a human suspected of terrorist connections can be held in provisional detention for up to four years depending on the nature of the alleged offense without being charged or tried. What is even more incredible about this story is that the Swiss government closed its own investigation into Hicheur last fall and said it had found no evidence of wrongdoing; France, however, extended Hicheur's detention by four months.
Nearly 100 scientists, including the Nobel laureate Jack Steinberger of CERN, signed a letter in December to Sarkozy, saying, "It seems to us that there is no justification for the prolonged detention of almost 14 months so far, of Dr. Adlene Hicheur, an internationally recognized scientist, held in much esteem by his colleagues."
What shocks us birds with this story is that it is happening in France and not the United States. It is taking place in the European Union, which is supposed to be a champion of respecting human rights. At least this is what the EU is telling Turkey. Furthermore it is France leading the war against Col. Moammar Gadhafi in order to restore democracy in Libya. It is France who has restricted the rights of women to wear a burqa in public. Democracy à la carte is what Sarkozy wants. You cannot detain, without reason, innocent citizens of that country and at the same time bomb the Libyans for democracy. This is called hypocrisy. And you humans should stop it. Because it is a shame.
To change the subject to something more pleasant: We discovered in London, for the last seven years, a Bird's Eye View Film Festival has been going on. It was founded by Rachel Millward and Pinny Gryllis to promote emerging women filmmakers. So we are proud to lend our name to such a prominent film festival that helps young women filmmakers.
Ponder our thoughts, dear humans, for your benefit.
I. THE NEWS
END OF THE ROAD
For Mukhtaran Mai, victim of one of the most brutal rapes reported in our times, the journey to seek justice from the courts for the gang-rape she suffered in 2002 has come to an end. Hearing an appeal from Mai against a Lahore High Court verdict that acquitted five of the six accused men, while sentencing the sixth to a life-term, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict and ordered the release of the five men declared not guilty. And so the matter ends. A disappointed Mai has said that she will await God's decision in the matter while human rights activists have warned that the ruling could encourage other crimes of a similar nature.
There are some facts about the case which need to be understood. Courts can only rule on the basis of findings placed before them by the police and the inadequate nature of these investigations means culprits often escape unpunished. This is what appears to have happened in the Mukhtaran Mai case. Judges cannot, after all, base rulings on emotions, no matter how events are reported. If anything, the outcome of the case is a reminder to take measures to tighten the proceedings of police inquiry and create within the system greater urgency when it comes to considering cases such as those involving rape. The manner in which such investigations are conducted also means that too often there is simply not enough evidence for courts to act on – and of course courts can act only on the basis of the proof laid out before them. It is unfair to blame them for the verdicts they must mete out. In this case, the men who held a 'jirga' during which it was concluded that 'punishment' must be extended to Mai as revenge for her brother's elopement with a woman of higher rank, too have escaped penalty. This is unfortunate given the need to discourage 'jirga' gatherings and the meting out of extra-judicial punishments in our society. Sadly, more and more such 'jirgas' have been held in recent times.
There is a silver lining to Mukhtaran Mai's grim story. Against tremendous odds she has fought back against terrible abuse; she refused to allow oppression, illiteracy or threats to stand in her way. Her story is inspirational. Her courage is a slap in the face for all those who wronged her. And while it is undoubtedly a pity that they should escape, Mai's example has already encouraged others to fight back against all kinds of adversity and will no doubt continue to do so in the future.
I. THE NEWS
THE DIR ATTACK
As of Friday afternoon information was still sketchy about some aspects of the attack on a Frontier Corps post in Dir from across the Pak-Afghan border during the early hours of Thursday. Reports of casualty figures have varied widely, as have reports of exactly who the attackers were and what their motive was. The post under attack is eight kilometres inside Pakistan, so not sitting directly on the border with Afghanistan, and it was said to have been attacked by a group numbering in the 'hundreds'. This figure has to be treated with a degree of caution as the attack was launched at night, and it is difficult to see how 'hundreds' of potential attackers could have been counted so accurately. Counting them in daylight may be no easier either as the fighting will be from concealed positions in what is by all accounts rugged terrain. Exact numbers aside, there are reliable reports that the attackers overwhelmed the lightly armed occupants of the FC post and may have kidnapped a number of personnel and retreated with them back into Afghanistan.
Local people are said to have blamed Nato forces but this seems highly unlikely, though what may be less unlikely is that Nato forces in Afghanistan could have been aware of the preparations for the attack as assembling and moving a company-size group of heavily armed men is not something you can easily do in complete secrecy – even in Afghanistan. If they were Afghans, and this seems likely, then were they regular Afghan forces? – in which case, a whole new dimension is added to the incident – or 'irregulars' conducting a raid for their own arcane reasons but possibly linked to the recent assassination of a pro-government Afghan commander Malik Zareen in Kunar, a province on our borders? Raiding across the Durand line is nothing new and has a history that far predates the conflict in Afghanistan today. What marks this incident as being different is the depth of the raid and the numbers in the raiding party which were clearly greater than platoon strength. Who ordered or organised it? Should we be looking for answers from the Afghan leader himself who has by inference blamed the assassination of Malik Zareen on Afghanistan's "historical enemy" – meaning Pakistan. Much remains obscured by the fog of war, but what is uncomfortably clear is that not all those who profess friendship and brotherly love towards us are as good as their honeyed words.
At least 18 people died as a massive blast ripped through the Rummy Club in the old city area of Karachi. More than twice that number were injured. The club, situated not far from Lyari, is one of the biggest gambling establishments in the country. For now, there is no way of saying who was responsible for the explosion which took place after a bag was left at the club during a time of peak activity on Thursday night. There are so many strands of violence that run through Karachi that making any kind of guess is a hazardous affair. It is possible that the blast was the result of gang warfare that has raged in the Lyari area for many years now. But there are also other possibilities. In some ways, the attack on the gambling den resembles similar strikes of a "moral" nature that have taken place in Lahore and Peshawar, targeting cinemas, theatres, music stores and other businesses. Gambling is, of course, an illegal activity in the country. But we all know it continues at many places with the police turning their backs to what is happening. There is no way to determine at this stage whether criminal elements that run the gambling mafia in the country may be behind the devastation that took place Thursday night.
Karachi has seen almost ceaseless violence over the past few years. This attack is another addition. We hope that the investigation begun by the police can get to the bottom of what happened and identify the forces behind a blast that has added to the sense of terror in the city and could involve any of the groups who operate in the country using terrorism as a means to push forward their own agendas.
I. THE NEWS
PROPAGANDISTS OF WAR
AKBAR S BABAR
Pakistan has suffered, and continues to suffer, unimaginable human, economic, and social consequences of the US-led war on terror. Yet, some so-called opinion-makers with their convoluted views go against the national consensus that the sooner we distance ourselves from this war, the brighter our chances of national survival.
One such opinion-maker, Mr Najam Sethi, in his article, "The Pakistan ultimatum," talks about the brief by the GOC 7 Division in which the general claims that "(1) a majority of those killed by drone strikes are hardcore Taliban or Al-Qaeda elements, especially foreigners," while civilian casualties are "few." (2) ".... by scaring local populations and compelling displacement through migration, drone attacks create social and political blowbacks for law enforcement agencies."
The columnist says that "the first consequence is good and welcome as part of the national solution strategy and the second is problematic and should be minimised because it creates local problems of a tactical nature." Mr Sethi goes on: "Pakistan and America have some strategic interests in common, like eliminating Al-Qaeda from Waziristan." His advice to the military is that "they must be upfront with America – because it's a greatly beneficial 'friend' to have and a deadly 'enemy' to make." He concludes his article by stating that "this is more our war than it is America's, because we live and die here, and not far away across two great oceans..."
Mr Sethi's article is, by far, the most misleading and inaccurate analysis of our present mess. At a time when the West is making concerted efforts to disengage from its ten-year war by engaging in political negotiations with its enemy, Mr Sethi's recipe for eliminating terrorism conveniently ignores that a failed policy by all accounts cannot be justified as the rationale for more of the same, with some minor "tactical" adjustments.
Rather than contemplate, assess and objectively analyse the root causes and the cost of this deadly war and think of ways to mobilise national resources to save the country from further chaos, Mr Sethi continues to advocate national suicide.
First and foremost, terrorism is an age-old and complex phenomenon. The underlying causes of terrorism change with changing times and political realities. Terrorism is akin to political violence committed by individuals or groups who do not have a legitimate army under their control. According to Robert Fisk, "Al-Qaeda exists because injustice exists in the Middle East and it feeds and breeds on (the West's) lies and hypocrisy."
The US occupation of Afghanistan was to eliminate Al-Qaeda and the small band of Arabs who had been inducted into the war against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. According to Pentagon estimates, there remain around 100 Al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan. The US spends about $100 billion per annum to support the occupation of Afghanistan. So the US taxpayer is being charged almost $1 billion per annum per Al-Qaeda member in Afghanistan.
During the Vietnam War, the propagandists tried to persuade the world that the war was justified, and that defeat would produce a domino effect, with nation after nation crumbling before a communist onslaught. At that time also, thanks to our self-serving rulers and their propagandists, we were a frontline state against communism. The US exit from Vietnam resulted in the fast growth of the country's economy. Vietnamese are enjoying the fruits of peace today.
Not a single Pakistani was involved in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon building. Yet Pakistan is battered and ruined as a consequence of that event.
Let us analyse the state of affairs in Pakistan since 9/11, with the focus on Fata. Suicide attacks, an alien phenomenon until 9/11, are almost a daily occurrence there. All the seven agencies of Fata and the adjoining six frontier regions have become ungovernable. Hundreds of schools and health facilities have been destroyed, and the social infrastructure in Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is in tatters. The political administration exists in name only and the army is directly administering Fata and Swat.
The system of Maliks has been destroyed with the extermination of dozens of noted Maliks in Fata. In all, almost four million people were displaced at one time or another and about one million citizens continue to languish in IDP camps. Our total internal and external debt has ballooned from Rs5 trillion to Rs10 trillion despite US aid. Military operations are a daily occurrence with 140,000 troops deployed in Fata alone, apart from the 20,000 troops now required to be permanently stationed in Swat. Out of the total budget of Rs1.6 trillion, Rs750 billion is being spent on debt servicing and Rs550 billion on defence, which leaves little for social development.
Tourism has collapsed and expatriate staff of diplomatic and international development agencies is lured with special hardship benefits, to be posted in any part of Pakistan for the limited term of one year. All the major cities of Pakistan, cantonments in particular, have been turned into fortresses with civilians forced to endure police barricades.
An estimated 3,000 people have been killed in 235 drone attacks since 2004, a majority of them innocent Pakistanis. Even the UN has declared the butchery by drones as extrajudicial killings. Hundreds of Raymond Davis-type operatives are on the loose and probably thousands of their local operatives are pursuing agendas totally against our national interests. No wonder, our internal security stands compromised and attempts are being made to rein in CIA operatives roaming the streets of Pakistan.
Mr Sethi's describes the use of drone attacks as part of the national "solution" strategy and terms the dislocation of the populace in the hundreds of thousands as "problematic". Can Mr Sethi even conceive of his own house being levelled, with all his loved ones inside, by a Hellfire missile that was actually targeting another house in the neighbourhood? And, as a consequence, his entire neighbourhood had to vacate their homes and live in IDP shelters?
The policy advocated by Mr Sethi is only going to lead to further violence and mayhem in Pakistan. Most independent analysts are now convinced that the US occupation of Afghanistan fuels extremism in Pakistan, and if the US wants to help Pakistan, it should leave Afghanistan.
What is strategic for Pakistan? For it to be at peace with itself, as a country where, despite the social challenges and poverty, its people can sleep peacefully; where parents can send their children to school without fear; where there are no traffic jams because of police roadblocks; where politicians can reach out to the people without fear of being blown apart; where the images of shredded human bodies are a thing of the past; where international sporting events are frequently held once again, where cultural events can be held without body frisks at security gates. In short, Pakistan should no longer be chasing Al-Qaeda's ghosts in Waziristan at the behest of the US.
As against 3,000 innocent US citizens killed on 9/11, 52,000 innocent Pakistanis have lost their lives and over 100,000 have been injured. If the US policy which Mr Sethi advocates is to protect US citizens from perceived and potential threats, do we have a similar policy to protect our citizens? Or do we continue to allow our soldiers and innocent civilians to be turned into cannon-fodder in pursuit of the policies of self-serving rulers and prejudiced opinion-makers?
The writer is the political spokesperson of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
I. THE NEWS
DENIAL OF DEMOCRACY
S M TAHA
Pakistan is perhaps the only country in the world where the word 'democracy' has been used and abused rampantly to cover the dictatorial mindset and actions of the elected leadership. Our politicians have a great misperception that a country is said to be democratic if the government comes through an election process, however, election alone does not ensure democracy in the country.
At the 2005 World Summit, the world's governments reaffirmed that ''democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives.'' Pakistan is clearly not even close to the above mentioned standard, nor in pursuit of it.
A fair analysis of Pakistan's history suggests that Pakistan has never experienced a real democracy since its creation. Even Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's regime and elected governments from 1988 to 1999 do not meet the most basic standards of democracy. Our self-proclaimed democratic leaders did very little to change the dictatorial pattern of governance in Pakistan. As a matter of fact, elected members of national and provincial assemblies mostly happened to be parliamentarians without training, will and vision. This is why they badly deformed democracy in the country.
Because of the diverse cultures and values of nations and regions, democracy does not provide a universal model. Fair enough, but there is a large consensus on fundamental standards of democracy among nations. These standards of democracy ensure a society in which people could decide their collective goals.
Pakistan presents a very ugly picture of democracy – perhaps even the ugliest. Democratic experiences in Pakistan have not provided for the right of public participation in governance and development. Instead of sharing and decentralising power to the grass-root level, elected governments centralised power, concentrating it in the hands of a few. It is very unfortunate that democracy in this country has become the business of a few family-owned undemocratic political parties that provide a protective shield to corrupt and incompetent people.
Why did this happen? Many reasons may be given. Voters in Pakistan, at large, have not yet matured enough to select the right people from among themselves. And the electoral system does not facilitate the entry of ordinary people in the electoral process. Moreover, the feudal set-up has hijacked the electoral process. The return of Mr Jamshad Dasti in the bi-election strongly supports the thesis that the voters have not matured enough to select the right people.
The conscious and independent opinion of voters is an essential component of democracy. How many voters caste their vote consciously and independently in Pakistan? A small percentage.
Resistance to taxing agriculture and sales income is indicative of a feudal-industrialist nexus in parliament. And the weak election commission could hardly provide a level playing field to all the people of Pakistan in the election process. Because of these reasons, our parliament has turned into a gathering place of nominated incompetent people (with few exceptions) pursuing personal agendas which translate into successive public policy failures and bad governance.
There are some structural flaws in Pakistan's democracy. First, in this system, the opinion of the sane and the insane counts for the same. Or, in other words, democracy is the form of government in which heads are counted not weighed. Secondly, political parties are undemocratic, family sponsored and most of them are centred on personalities.
In the absence of grass-root political nurseries, that is, elected bodies, at union, town and city levels, cronies and family members get nominations in provincial and national elections.
Thirdly, highly skilled human capital is out of the political process. Last but not least, the federal structure of Pakistan divides along a number of fault lines that hamper democratic growth in the country. The federation and its four uneven units are uneven in all aspects; ethnic, religious, resources, and population. Sectarian and provincial feelings play havoc to an already fragmented society. Sixty-two years after independence, we still haven't begun the process of nation-building.
These structural flaws prevent the growth of real democracy in Pakistan. A real democracy is one where society manages diversity, where society exercises democratic behaviour and constructs a pattern of democratic morality, where nations attain sustainable economic growth, the delivery of social welfare services to all citizens, good governance and equal opportunities to all.
Contrary to these attainable goals, elected governments from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto till today have perpetuated corruption, bad governance, economic meltdown and underdevelopment. Elected governments have bulldozed merit and snatched the rights of public participation at the grass-root level. The failure of democracy has led to the rise of ineffective institutions which in turn have produced patterns of behaviour inimical to democratic success. Institutional breakdown has caused functional inefficiency in Pakistan. It is rightly said that a democracy without a sense of direction is like a ship with a sail, but no rudder.
The call of democracy demands betterment in the quality of citizens' lives. Their lives can only be improved in the presence of rule of law, rights of equal access to public services, due social justice, and sustainable economic growth. Desirable and holistic growth is only possible through participatory decision making. And devolution of power (along with fiscal devolution) to local government is the right and tested strategy to strengthen genuine democracy in the country. The present state of democracy in Pakistan is not really democracy; it is a denial of democracy.
The writer teaches public policy and politics at the University of Karachi. His areas of research are policy analysis, governance and development. Email: tahaku@ yahoo.com
I. THE NEWS
THE LIBERAL 'PROBLEM'
Pakistan's intelligentsia are worried about the direction in which the country is headed, and they should be, given that they form the intellectual elite who are supposed to be the custodians of the thoughts and emotions which dictate how this society should be managed and governed.
However, it is the reason why they are worried which is disappointing and which brings in to question their ability as thinkers and whether they are actually connected to the masses. The dilemma of the intelligentsia today is the growth of extremism and society's march towards the right; to be more precise the increasing belief and conviction among the masses that Islam should form the basis of the political organisation of society.
For them the right is winning, the left losing. But what is disappointing on the part of liberals (who form the core of the intelligentsia in Pakistan) is the absence of a sincere attempt to understand the "extremist" viewpoint, a willingness to engage in dialogue, the courage to subject their own ideas to scrutiny and the imagination to accept the possibility of their solution being wrong.
The liberals have convinced themselves that it's the other side that is not sincere in dialogue, likes to kill ideological rivals, and won't give up its ideas. They believe this is the natural attitude of a faith-based ideology which pushes and mobilises people with the force of emotions. Is there a better example than the Taliban?
However, by choosing the Taliban, a fringe element from amongst the right wing, the liberals have chosen the easiest ideological enemy. In fact, this choice seems quite deliberate. The liberal mantra is: This is what the Taliban believe, and if you don't want the Taliban's version of society, you should switch over to the liberal side – This is equivalent to adopting a propagandist approach rather than engaging in a dialogue.
So at the intellectual level there really isn't any debate all. Because what the liberals want to do is to prove themselves right and their strategy for showing the strength of their ideas is to package it as an alternative to the Taliban's violent extremism. Hence, the liberal strategy for ideological debate hinges on the weakness of the opponent's ideas, not the strength of their own. This is the classic "bogey man" approach.
Moreover, this approach has alienated liberals from the masses at large to the extent that they have become frustrated and angry at the extent of radicalisation being witnessed in society. But the liberals need to understand that the Taliban are not the intellectual elite of the right wing. Even the right wing would gladly concede that. By insisting on making the thought of the Taliban the defining debate on Pakistan's outlook, the liberals are running away from the debate. In fact, we can perhaps, with some degree of accuracy, now suggest that the liberals have reached a stage of intellectual stagnation where they have trapped themselves in a static intellectual framework; everything is Zia's fault.
The Muslim world has been transformed. The reformist Islamic politics of the '60s, '70s and '80s, the idea of Islamising the secular state is dead, at least clinically. The Zia era embodied this current of Islamic thought, which focused on working within the ambit of democracy and gradually Islamising the state by working through the secular constitutional framework.
Politics in the Muslim World, Pakistan included, is changing. The idea that the present system is inherently incapable of reform or resurrection has taken deep roots within society. This has consequently led to a debate about the revival of the caliphate, a governance model radically different from and in direct contradiction with the present system implemented in Pakistan.
Zia is history, even for the rightwing. So what is the post-Zia response of the liberals? How do they respond to the changing dynamics in the Muslim World? Whom do they take on in the battle of ideas? The caliphate or the Taliban?
Debating the caliphate as a governance model is by far the greater intellectual challenge for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the Islamic caliphate enjoyed stupendous success as a governance model for many centuries in the Muslim world. Perhaps the strongest argument against it is that it doesn't exist and with the idea of Westphalian sovereignty having taken root across the globe, it is unfathomable, for some, to imagine the resurrection of a pan-Islamic state.
Again, this argument tells nothing about the strength of the ideas, it merely talks about practicality. While talking about governance models, the liberals would have to put their own ideas on the table as well. So are they ready to debate democracy, pluralism, capitalism, freedom, the abolition of the separation of state and religion?
Finally the liberals are the forces of the status quo. Since the abolishment of the caliphate, the Muslim world has been ruled by ideas, systems and constitutions inherited from the colonialists with the liberals forming the ruling elite. In Pakistan since its independence from the British Raj, governance models based on liberal thought were implemented consistently.
True that dictatorship and democracy alternated but the thought which forms the cornerstone of both systems is the same. The law which formed the basis of court rulings was the same – the economic models the exact replicas, the foreign policy consistent (and subservient to the US). It is this failure of liberal thought, to address the problems faced by society which has catalysed our march towards radicalisation.
Will the liberals then engage in a sincere debate? Or will they opt for David Cameron's "Muscular Liberalism"?
The News welcomes comments and responses to the ideas expressed in this article
I. THE NEWS
THE SECOND SEX
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir's seminal work on feminism published in 1949, defined a woman in the following terms: "...humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being...And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called 'the sex', by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex – absolutely sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other."
The Mukhtaran Mai case establishes that the picture painted by de Beauvoir over half a century ago continues to define the reality for women in Pakistan, especially those belonging to the most vulnerable segments of our society. Notwithstanding one's position on the reasoning of the majority and minority rulings in the Mukhtaran Mai case, there are a few things that are certain. One, essential components of our criminal justice system, such as the police and the prosecution are incompetent and unprofessional and consequently the chasm between law and justice is growing.
Two, the courts are not immune from extraneous considerations such as public opinion, which in turn compromises the safety of our justice system. And three, coercive social traditions and chauvinistic tendencies are so firmly ingrained in our collective psyche that we are not even unaware of the biases we harbour and their role in entrenching loathsome customs in the name of tradition and honour. But before one begins to bemoan the Supreme Court order it is essential to understand what it has held.
In a split judgment the Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of Mukhtaran Mai against the acquittal of all of the accused for rape and connivance, except the one convicted for rape by the High Court and sentenced to a life term. In other words the Supreme Court has held that there isn't sufficient evidence to establish that Mukhtaran Mai was a victim of gang rape. It has endorsed the High Court ruling that Mukhtaran Mai was a victim of rape and the prime accused will serve a life term behind bars. A dispassionate reading of the ruling suggests that the Supreme Court has applied settled law to the case and consequently it is hard to disagree with the ratio of the majority ruling.
The principles of law reiterated by the court are as follows: One, that the scope of interference in appeal, especially against acquittal, is extremely limited. In other words it is not for an appellate court to retry cases by initiating a fresh appraisal of evidence, unless the appellant can establish that essential evidence was either not considered or misread. It is settled law that an appellate court should not replace the factual findings of the trial court merely because it would have formed a different opinion if placed in the shoes of the trial court.
Two, an accused is to be considered innocent until proven guilty; guilt is to be established beyond reasonable doubt; and in case of doubt its benefit ought to go to the accused. And three, that sole testimony of a victim of rape backed by "medical evidence and strong attendant circumstances" shall suffice to warrant conviction, but in such cases the courts should proceed with caution in order not to reverse the onus of proof from the prosecution to the defence i.e. require the accused to prove his innocence.
In view of these principles of law the majority reached the conclusion that there was no basis to interfere with the ruling of the High Court as there was insufficient evidence to establish that (i) anyone other than the prime accused raped Mukhtaran Mai, and (ii) the co-accused had the shared intent of facilitating the rape and consequently were liable to be convicted for abetment.
It is important to note that even the minority judgment doesn't find that a 'panchayat' endorsed and facilitated the rape and its participants ought to be punished or that there was sufficient evidence to convict any co-accused on charges of rape. Consequently the minority judgment only seeks to convict two co-accused (who were charged by the victim as participants in the gang rape) as accomplices guilty of facilitating and abetting the commission of rape.
So what wrong has been done if the apex court has strictly applied principles of law to a much-publicised case and rendered a judgment that might be against public opinion but juridically firm? Aren't courts meant to be neutral arbiters of the law oblivious to public opinion? Should the courts only rubberstamp controversies preordained through media trials? No. But there are at least three reasons why the outcome in the Mukhtaran Mai case is disconcerting.
One, the final ruling of the Supreme Court might not be infirm, but in this case the Supreme Court has either meted out injustice to Mukhtaran Mai by letting some of her rapists off the hook or those accused by her. The Supreme Court had taken suo moto notice of the Mukhtaran Mai case and through an order passed on June 28, 2005, suspended the High Court judgment and instructed that all accused in the case (including those acquitted even by the initial trial court) be arrested and kept in jail as under-trial prisoners not to be released on bail. It has now ruled that except one, all others are innocent. If they are indeed innocent, who will account for the six-year jail term they have already served?
Two, the obiter comments of majority judgment reflect a patriarchal mindset and our collective social biases. The apex court endorses the High Court's view that a DNA and semen test should have been conducted to establish that more than one person raped Mukhtaran Mai. But it also goes on to insinuate that had four people indeed raped her for an hour, she would have struggled and had injuries to show. The minority judgment however finds from the same record that Mai had healed bruises a week after the event that back up her version of the story.
The majority judgment also wonders why Mai did not file an FIR immediately after the rape. It acknowledges that considerations such as 'badnami' (disrepute) and stigma and the consequent urge to hide the matter to protect one's honour are relevant in case of an unmarried virgin victim, but not in case of a mature divorcee allegedly raped with the consent of a 'panchayat'. While such observations might not inform the judicial outcome of the case they lend credence to the view that in rape cases it is the victim who is under trial.
And finally, the Supreme Court ruling is disappointing for it projects the apex court as an instrument of the status quo and not a vehicle of change in a society where women have the deck stacked against them. The Mukhtaran Mai incident and the attention it attracted had created a false hope that the legal outcome of this case might break new ground in reducing the atrocities and violence inflicted upon women in our society.
Maybe it is time to realise that there are no short cuts. If women are to be treated as equal and autonomous beings and we are to emerge as a society that does not see half its population as chattels to be possessed, controlled, abused and sold, the battle for securing equal rights for women will need to be waged in earnest, not in the courts alone, but in society at large.
I. THE NEWS
NO CAN DO!
They travelled to Washington in the hope of returning home and presenting the Zardari government with a bagful of $11.3 billion. It was to be the sixth and last loan package from IMF. To date, we've already consumed $7 billion in loans but remain hungry for more. Fix your finances first, and then come back to us for more, scolded the brackish IMF. Hafeez Shaikh, Nadeemul Haq and Shahid Kardar – the dream team – thus left DC empty handed. "No can do," said the trio privately to friends. "We can't get our government to impose taxes as the IMF demands." Don't we already know that! The poor in Pakistan pay taxes and the rich spend them.
Faces and figures may change but Pakistan's trust deficit with the IMF and the World Bank cannot change. Years ago when Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister cum finance minister, she'd send her finance adviser V A Jafri to negotiate for loans with these warlocks in Washington.
He'd put before them cleverly cooked figures that had no feet to stand on. The begging bowl team would thus return home with dimes and cents and a few dollars for the BB government to avert imminent bankruptcy, only to return for more. It never pays to doctor the data.
When Musharraf came, the Americans, not him, smashed our beggar's bowl in return for us fighting America's war on terror. The general and his top guns hastily stuffed their own pockets just as Zia and his cabal had done. Ever seen how the fat generals live in retirement with their hefty bank balances? Well go take a look.
So what then can stop us from singing for charity that has become our national anthem? Oh by the way, what happened to FOP (Friends of Pakistan) who promised Zardari millions in aid? Jahangir Tareen, who resigned as a federal minister told the New York Times recently that the poor in Pakistan were the real sufferers. "In contrast to their misery, they see the rich getting richer, including the sons of rich, corrupt politicians and their compatriots openly buying Rolls-Royces with their black American Express cards."
What else is new? If Zardari and Gilani choose to get confrontational and tell their western donors that Pakistan because of its nuclear status is "too big to fail" the IMF and America have no option but to bail Pakistan out. So far our nukes have come to our aid. As long as we continue to flash them in the donors face, we'll get our $2 billion in aid every year. But for how long? The net is already closing around Islamabad. This week alone, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen visited Islamabad. Unlike his old friendly self – profusely praising Gen Kayani and talking of bonhomie over cups of tea with him – the man was blunt this time. He accused the ISI of "retaining links with the Haqqani network". What was Gen Kayani's and the ISI chief Gen Pasha's response will never be made public. Kayani's rebuttal was that he "strongly rejects propaganda (about) Pakistan not doing enough", according to the Associated Press. Gen Athar Abbas, Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) is a thorough gentleman. But he does not like to say much. While the US military has embedded journalists – a select few who report on the briefs handed down to them for dissemination to news outlets, GHQ does not believe in such drills and frills.
The 'no can do' line is then our best shot. Keep our fingers crossed that our foreign friends continue to buy into it.
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email: anjum firstname.lastname@example.org
SHAHBAZ' LEAP FORWARD IN POWER SECTOR
PUNJAB Chief Minister Mian Muhammad Shahbaz had very fruitful interaction with Chinese leadership resulting into some of the concrete and tangible agreements for cooperation in different fields of economy. One such agreement relates to an understanding with the Chinese company Sino-tech, under which the company will select projects for investment in livestock, agriculture and other sectors. But more important is the historic accord with China for generation of 120 megawatt of electricity from Taunsa Barrage.
Pakistan, these days, is facing crippling power shortage and despite claims by the present Government to have added 2,000 MW of power during the last three years, there are no indications as yet that the crisis would be over in the foreseeable future. In this backdrop, the plan to build Taunsa Power Plant at a cost of Rs 26 billion in three years augurs well and needs to be emulated by both federal and other provincial governments to add low-cost power to the national grid. The Chief Minister has rightly described the project as a memorable gift of people and Government of China for the people of Punjab and another glaring example of Sino-Pak friendship. This is because the project would help reduce the curse of load-shedding, transfer of hydel power technology to Pakistan, resumption of industrial activities and generation of more job opportunities. The way the Punjab Government conceived this low cost power generation project, offers a way out of the existing crisis in the country. Power rates are hiked in Pakistan every now and then as a consequence of which these have become one of the highest in the region but despite all this there are active proposals to push them up further on the pretext of increasing cost of generation, which is mainly based on costly thermal power. The solution lies in focusing attention on initiation of hydro-power projects and exploiting alternative energy resources but regrettably this has not happened so far because of lack of vision on the part of our policy-makers. According to WAPDA's own estimation, there is hydro-power potential of 100,000 MW of electricity with identified sites of 55,000 MW. There is need to make use of all such sites including construction of major water reservoirs that would not only help overcome power shortages but also meet our future irrigation needs. However, as mega projects would take some time to materialize, it would be in the fitness of things if small hydro power plants are installed on identified sites in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan where these are in abundance.
SBP'S DISMAL QUARTERLY REPORT
SECOND quarterly report of the State Bank of Pakistan on State of the Economy has projected 2-3% growth in GDP for the current financial year. Initially, it was anticipated that the economy will grow by about four percent but the devastating floods had a highly negative impact on the overall economic activity.
There were times during tenure of the previous Government when the country's economy demonstrated robust growth of 7 to 7.5% per annum with projections that 8 to 9% growth was within sights. It was because of innovative policies pursued by Shaukaz Aziz-led government that Pakistan was considered to be one of the top ten fastest growing economies of Asia and its economic performance was appreciated by neutral entities like World Bank and the Asian Development Bank as well. It is, however, regrettable that despite claims by the incumbent rulers to have launched programmes for economic stabilization, the situation is deteriorating further with the passage of time and there is no ray of hope for early recovery. This is highly intriguing because otherwise there are quite healthy indicators like anticipated record wheat crop of about 25 million tonnes, all time high exports and remittances by overseas Pakistanis touching $11 billion mark this year. There are, of course, some factors like war on terror and precarious security environment that discourages investment but the Government too is to be blamed for creating a messy situation. It seems to be directionless, as prices of inputs and cost of doing business is increasing and mostly without any justification, playing havoc with industrial and economic activity. In fact, we should salute our industrial sector that has withstood the grave challenge and performed well in the face of obstacles created by the Government itself, which is supposed to create a facilitating environment. As budget-making is in progress, we would urge the economic managers to come out with imaginative solutions to help spur economic activity in the country.
TILL HUGE BARREN LANDS
THE National Assembly was informed on Thursday that around 8.2 million hectares of land was lying barren in different areas of the country. Parliamentary Secretary for Food and Agriculture Liaquat Ali Khan told the house during question hour that a project for procurement of 300 bulldozers has been launched to bring 219,375 hectares of waste land under cultivation.
Pakistan is basically an agricultural country and ever since independence the area under cultivation has increased by more than one-third due to improvements in the irrigation system that made water available to additional areas. But substantial amounts of farmland have been lost to urbanization and water logging besides the huge area that still remains untilled due to neglect by Federal and provincial governments. The procurement of bulldozers to level lands for farming is an appreciable initiative but this alone is not enough and we will have to formulate an all-encompassing strategy to ensure optimum utilization of all available cultivable land. This is because right focus on agriculture sector can not only make the country self-sufficient in food and other commodities but also produce surplus for export to earn much-needed foreign exchange. Though land reforms were introduced in the past as well but these made no fundamental difference and therefore, there is need for initiating reforms that ensure transfer of ownership of the entire waste and uncultivated land to peasants and landless with clear goals given to them to make full use of the allotted pieces of land. Similarly, we have not added much to the irrigation system that we inherited from our colonial masters and therefore, a comprehensive programme is required to be undertaken to augment storage capacity and improve distribution system providing water to hitherto neglected areas. Agriculture now being provincial subject, provincial governments should concentrate on research, availability of quality seed and provision of agricultural implements to farmers on subsidized rates to stimulate a genuine revolution in agriculture.
GLIMMER AMID THE GLOOM
NEWS & VIEWS
At this point in time, when the country is facing multifaceted crisis and the nation is living in an atmosphere marred by confusion, despondency, frustration and distrust, a glimmer amid the gloom evokes hope and gives a sense of satisfaction. Addressing the inauguration of Government Institute of Technology set up for vocational training of the local youth in Gwadar, General Kayani said: "The Army would be withdrawn from Sui and Gwadar within the next two months, and in future no operation will take place in Balochistan without the permission of the provincial government". In fact, he defied the predictions of those who were betting that army would never leave Sui and Gwadar. Since the time, he assumed the responsibility as COAS he has taken many landmark decisions. His announcement to withdraw army from Balochistan had hit the headlines of the national press and media but army's real contribution is its positive role in social sector development in Balochistan. General Kayani declared that Army Medical College would soon be established in Gwadar, and furthermore the Army would assist the Baloch people in the development process of the province.
Immediately after elections, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had strictly directed all officers of the Pakistan Army and commanding officers to stay away from politics in line with the established rules and should not call any politician in headquarters or their offices. In a letter written to officers, he had said that the role of the Armed Forces has already been defined in country's laws and Constitution. He further advised the officers that they should not indulge in any profit-making venture other than their salary and perks as per their ranks. And all army officers deployed in civil departments were recalled to their units. Today, the army is opening up schools and technical and vocational training institutes, and establishing facilities for specialized education of Baloch students in disciplines of particular relevance to the province. Apart from recruiting Baloch youths in thousands, the army is indeed lending a helping hand to the provincial administration in development works. Chamalang Education Programme, Sui Education City, Balochistan and Gwadar Institutes of Technical Education, Kassa Hills Marble Project and the Army's enhanced recruitment from Balochistan are some of the projects army has undertaken.
The youth of the province is, indeed, a tremendous human asset, lying untapped and till recently unattended. It is a youth, with enormous promise, brimming with vitality, talent and capabilities, and given opportunity it has proved its mettle admirably, making its mark in all the professions, services and vocations. It has flowered into lawyers, doctors, engineers, educationists, scholars and bureaucrats and generals of great repute. But for the most part, this youth has been left to waste and decay for want of educational facilities, primarily due to an oppressive feudal order and sardari system in which the youthful talent is imprisoned in the suppressive darkness of desolate shacks and hamlets. On the other hand, the overbearing sardars and chieftains have all the means to send their scions to elite institutions at home and abroad for education, none has been an enthusiast for the schooling of their tribes' children. One has never heard a demand from its any nationalist quarter for establishing a specialised educational institution in mineralogy in the province to produce native trained manpower to explore and exploit this wealth for its residents' welfare, progress and prosperity. But enemies of Pakistan eye the Balochistan's wealth and strategic location. According to a report published in the Pakistan Observer, British intelligence agencies are turning a blind eye or rather give "tacit support to dissident Balochi and Sindhi elements directly connected with terrorists inside Pakistan. It stated: "These reports indicate that the anti-Pakistan Baloch elements are in direct contacts with so called BLA and Lashkar-e-Balochistan militant groups. They are freely contacting American, Indian and British diplomats in London and have been regularly organizing anti-Pakistan campaign since 2010. The Baloch militants are running training camps near Spin Boldak (Afghanistan)". Pakistan's so-called friends and arch enemies do not wish to see that Pakistan becomes a trading hub in the region. Apart from target killings of Punjabis, Pushtuns, ethnic and Shia-Sunni fracas has shaken the erstwhile ethnic and sectarian harmony, as criminal gangs are stoking ethnic and sectarian divisions. Anyhow, one of the main reasons for backwardness of the province is the centrifugal forces that scuttle any efforts to develop Balochistan.
If Baloch sardars had cooperated with the government in establishing educational institutions in 1970s, the new generation would have today assumed important positions and there was no need to have manpower from other provinces. It is true that Balochistan was neglected during British Raj and no serious effort was made during last six decades to bring Balochistan at par with other provinces. But sardars, nationalists and centrifugal forces are responsible for having brought the province to the present pass. Sardar Ataullah Mengal often complained that America did not pay any attention or help the Baloch cause. Once he had gone to the extent of saying that he would welcome if any country would help him to get freedom for Pakistani yoke. Sardar Akhtar Mengal, Zain Bugti and Marri sardars also openly talk about disintegration of Pakistan, and that Balochistan was never a willing federating unit. It is true that Balochistan was neglected during British Raj and also later by the various governments. Bur there are many countries in the world where development was lopsided and was not done equitably. And efforts are made to make up for the past neglect.
Baloch nationalists were indeed very angry with former president Pervez Musharraf over Akbar Bugti's killing but after his exit from the political scene there should have been change in their attitude and thinking. After his election as president, Asif Ali Zardari had dashed to Balochistan and apologized for the excesses on Baloch people. He had promised to look into all genuine demands of the nationalists and also allocated a huge sum of Rs 46.6 billion for development purposes. The problem is that tribalism is firmly rooted in Balochistan, as ethnic and tribal identity is a potent force for both individuals and groups in Balochistan with the result that there exists deep polarization among different groups. Each of these groups is based on different rules of social organization, which has left the province inexorably fragmented. Baloch sardars should try to negotiate with the elected government to improve the living standards of Balochs. They should wean off from politics of confrontation and help stop bloodshed in the province. And this is in the interest of the people of Balochistan and also in their own interest. Nationalists of all provinces should remember what happened to the Balkans when they remained involved in internecine conflicts.
—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.
WHY PAK WANTS STABILITY IN AFGHANISTAN?
A Joint Commission of Pakistan and Afghanistan was formed on April 16 this year for facilitating and promoting reconciliation and peace which will include all the Afghans so that whenever the US and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the situation in Afghanistan does not turn into another destruction or civil war. In this regard, it is for the first time that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's visit to Kabul also included Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Director General Inter Service Intelligence, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and other high officials in whose presence negotiations took place. Afghan President Hamid Karzai described the parleys as "historic", saying that "the two countries stand together as they have shared destinies."
Notably, Pakistan's civil and military high officials have repeatedly been saying that a stable, viable and prosperous Afghanistan is in the best interest of Pakistan. On February 1, 2010, while making clear that his country had no interest in "controlling" Afghanistan, Gen. Kayani had reiterated that Pakistan wants a peaceful, stable and friendly Afghanistan, adding, "We cannot wish for Afghanistan anything that we don't wish for Pakistan." On April 1, last year, Pakistan's former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, while giving a statement on the concluded Pak-US strategic dialogue also said that Islamabad "has conveyed to the US that it has legitimate concerns in Afghanistan to which the country could not remain oblivious." He further explained, "Pakistan does not want to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan…we want a stable, peaceful and friendly Afghanistan."
In the recent past, Washington Post reported that India and Pakistan are "competing for influence in Afghanistan." The post further elaborated, "For US officials, India's increasing presence in Afghanistan is causing new security and diplomatic problems in a country where more than 1,000 American troops have died…Washington also fears upsetting the delicate balance in its relations with Islamabad." As a matter of fact, controversy exists between New Delhi and Islamabad because of difference in interests of the two nuclear countries in Afghanistan. If Pakistan wants stability in Afghanistan, India desires instability in that country.
In this respect, by availing the golden opportunity of the 9/11, India left no stone unturned in getting its hold in Afghanistan under the cover of the US-led NATO forces. In this regard, stiff resistance of the Taliban militants against the occupying forces created unending lawlessness in the country which has become a most suitable place for New Delhi so as to prepare conspiracy in order to fulfill its secret strategic designs against Iran, China and particularly Pakistan. Under the pretext of Talibinisation of Afghanistan and Pakistan, secret agencies like Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad have well-established their networks in Afghanistan.
Especially, India has been running secret operations against Pakistan from its consulates, situated in Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, Kandhar and other sensitive parts of the Pak-Afghan border. It has spent millions of dollars in Afghanistan to strengthen its grip on the country, and to get strategic depth against Pakistan. New Delhi has not only increased its military troops in the counry, but has also decided to set up cantonments. Indian RAW, based in Afghanistan has been sending well-trained agents in Pakistan, who have joined the ranks and files of the Taliban. Posing themselves as the Pakistan Taliban, they not only attack the check posts of Pakistan's security forces, but also target schools and mosques. They are continuously conducting suicide attacks and targeted killings in our country. In this context, India has also arranged some Madrassas in Afghanistan where highly motivated and RAW-paid militants are being trained with the help of Indian so-called Muslims scholars. Now, Indian support to insurgency in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Baloch separatism has become a routine matter.
Besides backing subversive acts in Pakistan, India is also in collusion with the Balochi separatist leaders who have taken shelters in Afghanistan. For example, Akber Bugti's grandson, Brahmdagh Bugti has been operating against Pakistan from Kabul. On July 23, 2008, in an interview with the BBC, Brahmdagh Bugti had stated that they "have the right to accept foreign arms and ammunition from anywhere including India." Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had repeatedly indicated that Islamabad has strong evidence of Indian intervention in Pakistan, and the same would be shown to the foreign countries.
Apart from Indian investment in order to achieve secret designs against Pakistan, drug and kidnapping are some other source of Indian income. According to an estimate, world's 90% heroin is cultivated in Afghanistan. So money earned through drug-smuggling and hostage-takings is utilised in buying weapons, being sent to the foreign agents and the insurgents in Pakistan. Nevertheless, Afghanistan has become a hub of anti-Pakistan activities due to Indian influence. In the past, some American officials had also suggested to engage India in Af-Pak strategy. But while realsing the ground realties, a shift occured in the US strategy. In this connection, on September 20, 2009, the then NATO commander, Gen. McChrystal had clearly revealed: "Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan including significant development efforts…is likely to exacerbate regional tensions."
Last year, during his visit to India, US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, while discussing Afghanistan with Indian leadership, had urged India to be transparent with Pakistan about their activities in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, to what extent, India has been creating lawlessness in Afghanistan by using Afghan soil for terrorist activities against Pakistan as well as Iran could be judged from the fact that on January 16, 2010, three foreign ministers of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan committed to non-interference in the internal affairs of each country, ensuring that their territories were not used for activities detrimental to each other's interests.
However, unlike India, Pakistan has been paying a huge price in the war against terrorism in relation to Afghanistan. It has faced huge losses such as political instability, financial crisis, social turmoil, human casualties and collateral damage owing to a continued wave of suicide attacks in wake of a continued war in Afghanistan. In this context, on April 11, this year, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari stated that war in Afghanistan was destabilising Pakistan and seriously undermining efforts to restore its democratic institutions and economic prosperity. While pointing to widespread concerns in Pakistan at the slow pace of efforts to end the Afghan conflict, he indicated that some US politicians showed limited understanding of the impact of American policies. Taking cognizance of the implications of the deteriorated situation of Afghanistan on Pakistan, during a recent visit of President Asif Ali Zardari to Ankara, a Pakistani official revealed on April 14, 2011 that Pakistan would back a plan to allow the Taliban to open a political office in Turkey to help with talks to end the war in Afghanistan, while Turkey, which has hosted talks aimed at building trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan, has replied that it is allowing the establishment of a diplomatic presence for the Taliban on its soil. Nevertheless, unlike India, Pakistan also shares common geographical, historical, religious and cultural bonds with Afghanistan.
In fact, India has illegitimate interests in Afghanistan; hence it is involved in illegitimate activities because instability in Afghanistan favours Indian secret goals. While on the other side, Pakistan wants stability in Afghanistan, which is not possible due to Indian presence in that country including a prolonged war of the US-led NATO forces with the Taliban. Therefore, Pakistan wants stability in Afghanistan, having legitimate concerns in that country.
IS THE PPP SPOILING IN ITS OWN BOWL?
ALI ASHRAF KHAN
While the PPP government never cared about implementation of the verdicts of the Supreme Court and has made it almost a matter of principle to contradict the apex court, they have now surprised everyone with a shot from the hip by submitting a reference to the otherwise disrespected Supreme Court – badly drafted and not to the point though- demanding to revisit the death sentence passed against former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as if there were no more important problems to be solved by the Supreme Court and this government both. Wasting the time of the Supreme Court by bringing up such an unnecessary matter is one of the often repeated tricks of this government to distract the attention of the people from the real and life-threatening issues of the nation emanating from compromised sovereignty, killing by drone attacks, spiral price increase in items of daily use, utility services and fuel price, complete breakdown of administrative machinery leading to blame game between provinces and federation, burning issue of missing persons and mounting corruption.
In this case though the matter may well go against their desire. As Geo TV in its program 'Capital Talk' had shown to the public there is more to the happenings around Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's so claimed judicial murder than meets the eye. Geo had invited Gen Talat Masood, Riaz Khokhar, Mehdi Masood & Rustam Shah Mehmand who for the first time revealed a strange fact hidden until today namely that Mr. Bhutto had made a flying tour just few days before he was dethroned on 5th July 1977, when he was in Kuwait with the Amir of Kuwait, where Yasser Arafat and Sheikh Zaid Bin Nayhan were also present when Yasser Arafat told Bhutto that they were worried about his (Bhutto's) security because army has got the signal from the powerful quarter to topple your government.
On hearing this Bhutto ignored it and remained silent, then Yaser Arafat and the then Amir of Kuwait again expressed their worrisome concern about the security of life of Mr. Bhutto, as a conspiracy was already hatched to eliminate him. Bhutto perhaps knowing it well again ignored their concern; and within the next few days this was what happened. We have to believe this because these persons Riaz Khokhar and Mehdi Masood were also on board with Prime Minister Bhutto on this flying tour of Middle East, where the news about the giving of green signal to Army to topple Bhutto was first broken by Riaz Khokhar. When the Geo anchor Hamid Mir asked Mehdi Masood to comment on this, he fully endorsed Riaz Khokhar's statement and said that he considered this fact as highly irritant, which could lead to straining of relations between US and Pakistan, as such Mehdi never opened his mouth on the issue, now since Riaz Khokhar has spelled it out, Mehdi Masood honestly endorsed it as a true fact.
This strange revelation is showing the case in a different light. While the judicial murder of Mr. Bhutto, which is acknowledged widely even by people who are no friends of Bhutto is well-known to us, but timing of this revelation on the TV talk show on Thursday is quite intriguing in that way, that the background of this episode is revealed now, when a reference has been filled in the apex court, which points its fingers towards US and not the Judges or the army junta as being the perpetrators in the first place. While the PPP and Babar Awan wanted to blame the judiciary for its past false verdicts implying that the Supreme Court judges were influenced by political agendas at that time as much as today it now becomes clear that Bhutto government was toppled on 5th July '77 and he was hanged as desired by a super power; the same powerful country, which is the first ally of this current government in the so-called war against terror which is rather a war of terror against the Pakistani people initiated and sustained by the PPP who came into power with the help of the US sponsored NRO, which former President Gen. Musharraf is now trying to declare void by the guarantors of this deal.
This revelation makes a lot of sense given the situation at that time. Bhutto had been planning to start Pakistan's nuclear program against the will of the US. We recall US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance had told Mr. Bhutto that if you do not give up your nuclear plan, we will make a horrible example of you. Bhutto was no man who would easily succumb to American pressure; he was of a different statue than today's PPP stalwarts, but before the launching of nuclear project at Kahuta, he was removed as a result of coup d'etat in July '77. Gen Musharraf is on record having said that at the time of Bhutto's removal only the PC-1 of this project was prepared and not a single brick was laid to start the project. But it is quite astonishing that BBC TV made a documentary film which was released in 1979 under the title of 'Islamic Bomb' to accuse Pakistan of harbouring anti Israel tactics, so nuclear weapons in Pakistan continue to be a bone of contention for US till date. So history took its course and Bhutto was hanged by his own countrymen who thought American money and protection is more important than the national interest of their own country. Has anything changed since then? Nothing has changed otherwise this reference would not have brought these hard facts to light. Our political qibla has remained the same until today. Any lesson learnt from history?
Yes, it appears that all those who matter and enjoy power have learnt their lesson from this as how to compromise patriotism against personal gain and greed and how to make fool of their nation. So all and sundry are playing for the US gallery just like "More loyal than the King" simply forgetting that the wheel of nature is grinding and will grind little faster to take them to that final accountability, which every one of us will have to face including those who remain silent spectator of the whole scene.
And there is another lesson also. While at that time the US had to hang the PPP leader because after hosting 2nd Islamic summit in Pakistan, from which Shah of Iran was absent. Mr. Bhutto could not grasp the situation, so he did not succumb to American pressure at that time, today's PPP leader have to keep their eyes open on this leaf of history, though the present rulers are sitting in this position by the grace of the US and though they are duly fulfilling US agenda but India-Israel-US nexus can create another tsunami in Pakistan. The need of time is not to play game of musical chairs, governance needs to provide relief to its people first and then create National consensus and greater harmony amongst the federating units, which is of no importance for the ruling elite as they only look towards dangerous Oasis to lead to our collective doom. That is the 'progress' made in Pakistan.
PROGRAMME OF POOR MASSES
The history of Pakistan is quite reflective of the fact that the poor have always exploited. We have witnessed that numerous schemes in the past have been launched on the name of poor masses but none of them provided any relief to these segments of society in practical terms. Moreover, despite various schemes in social sector, the problems of poor masses continually got worsen and already privileged people remained the real beneficiary of such schemes.
It's ironic that the state of Pakistan has been providing subsidies on numerous sectors including food items. However, the real beneficiaries were again privileged segments of the society. Thus, the idea of providing relief to poor through indirect subsidies turned to be a complete failure as its benefits could not be transferred to downtrodden people effectively. Despite its failure, the exercise of relief through indirect subsidies has not been stopped even until recent past as some political circles deemed it a useful instrument of obliging their cronies in the name of poor. In such a bleak scenario and sorry state of affairs, the poor and downtrodden segments of society that were suffering from unprecedented inflation and growing joblessness, were in dire need of some practical relief instead of some old tools based on mere exploitation.
Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) is a practical manifestation of the notion of providing direct relief to the poorest of the poor and it has become only programme in the social sector of Pakistan which is providing all the benefits to real deserving families and no one else can be benefitted by it by any mean. This programme has been envisaged to serve downtrodden segments of society and it is also for the very first time that these deprived people have developed a genuine feeling among them that this is the first ever such endeavor in social sector that aims at providing relief to them.
It is worth mentioning here that several countries of the world, during recent years, have initiated similar type of programme after numerous experiments in social sector aiming to provide relief to their less fortunate segments of population. The special and significant aspect of such programme is that only actual deserving people or families can be benefitted through them. Such programmes demand deep planning and deliberations before their practical manifestation to ensure that the benefits are being transferred only to the real deserving ones. From its very inception, BISP envisaged a comprehensive planning and the trust on BISP posed by all political parties in the parliament, is self evidentiary that the effective and transparent mechanisms adopted by BISP has been recognized by them. Therefore, this trust has been expressed by them in the shape of unanimous approval of BISP Act from both the houses of the parliament. Likewise, various prestigious international organizations have also shown full trust in the transparent mechanisms adopted by BISP and its service to poor and downtrodden segments of the society. The level of trust that BISP has gained from within and outside the country is unprecedented in the history of Pakistan.
The achievements of BISP during the short span of 3 years could be termed as huge success and not only government but all the political forces in the parliament should be feeling proud of it as it is actually a programme of poor people of Pakistan. The experts from development sector are of view that any programme at such huge level and volume requires decades to establish all its systems in place beside hard work and sheer dedication. The experts have termed the achievements of BISP in regard with service to poor masses as highly commendable. Indeed, the constructive criticism always plays a positive role in institution building process. However, criticism for the sake of criticism is an unhealthy attitude and such prophets of doom serve no one by spreading their pessimism. Therefore this negative approach demands a revisit. We need to take the fact into consideration that no effort in the past has been done to assess the level of poverty in the country. There was no data available regarding poor families in the country. However, to provide relief to poor on urgent basis, BISP involved all the members of the parliament to identify poor and deserving families. This exercise was done totally on non political basis. Later, to provide fair chance to every deserving family to get registered with BISP as a beneficiary, a nationwide poverty survey has been launched which is first and only such endeavor in the social sector of Pakistan.
Similarly, to disburse financial assistance to beneficiary families, Pakistan Post was only available source in the beginning. While the management of BISP has taken stern action on various complaints regarding staff of Pakistan Post, simultaneously, alternate mechanisms of payments based on modern technology i.e. Benazir Smart Card and Mobile Phone Banking have been launched to make the process more transparent and effective.
BETWEEN JAPAN AND CHINA
The visit to Japan by Australia's Labour Party prime minister, Julia Gillard, reminds us that Australian foreign policy has never been known for its consistency. She will, of course, go out of her way to talk about Japan-Australia friendship. But for many years Canberra was strongly anti-Japan. At the Tokyo war crimes tribunals it sought to impose the harshest punishments possible. Its 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty determination to force Japan to give up all pre-war territorial acquisitions did much to create the Northern Territories dispute with Moscow and the Takeshima dispute with Seoul.
In exchange for agreeing to a peace treaty it demanded and got the US to agree to a treaty - the ANZUS Treaty - to counter feared future Japanese aggressions - a detail many prefer to forget nowadays. Even as Australia's trade dependence on Japan grew in the 1960s and 1970s, conservative governments in Canberra refused Tokyo's requests for a friendship and commerce agreement. Anti-Japan bureaucrats also blocked the 1975 efforts by the more progressive Whitlam government for a similar agreement. They said it was a plot that would allow Japan to dominate the Australian economy (I know because I was there, even if Canberra has since air-brushed this disgraceful affair from the history of the agreement finally reached in 1976.)
Meanwhile a love affair with Beijing was developing under Whitlam, thanks to the 1971 ping-pong diplomacy breaking the ice imposed by the previous conservative regime. Diplomatic recognition of Taiwan was ended. Active political, cultural, academic and trade relations with China were pursued. A foreign minister, Alexander Downer, even went so far as to suggest that Australia would not be obliged by the ANZUS Treaty to join the United States in any conflict with Beijing over Taiwan.
But now all this has come into shuddering reversal. Japan is the flavour of the month, and China is being moved into the potential enemies list, despite China's enormous trade importance, and the refusal of Japan's farm lobby to accept a free-trade agreement with Australia. Canberra has recently negotiated a military assistance pact with Tokyo. It is looking for other military cooperation areas, including basing US troops in northern Australian, which fits in neatly with Japanese conservative hopes for a Japan - Australia - India alliance against China.
Relations with the US dominate Canberra's policies; Australians still feel very dependent on the large Pacific neighbour that once rescued them from Japanese aggression. The dominating Murdoch press works hard to prevent any deviation from a pro-US line. Even the leftwing apparatchiks in the allegedly leftwing Labour Party are cooperative, as we now discover from cables released by WikiLeaks showing how they consulted with US officials in staging the coup which saw Gillard replace the former somewhat pro-China and independent minded Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Vietnam showed the other face of Australian diplomacy - a deep but immature fear of Asian threats. Many think Canberra's strong military presence in that war was the result of US urging. In fact it was if anything the opposite, with a concerned Canberra leaning on Washington to make sure it remained militarily involved in Asia till the very end. Canberra had convinced itself that the Vietnam war was, in its own words, the first stage of a Chinese military thrust southward between the Pacific and Indian oceans and towards Australia. Only the US could stop that thrust, it believed. (In 1964, when stationed in Moscow, I saw first hand some of the immaturity and ignorance behind these anti-China attitudes. Arguing that the Chinese were "bad" communists and the Soviets were "good" communists the then foreign minister, Paul Hasluck, came all the way from Canberra to persuade Moscow to join the West in opposing the alleged Chinese "thrust" in Vietnam. Recovering from the shock of this bizarre request, then Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin leaned across the Kremlin green baize conference table to tell Hasluck how committed Moscow was to the cause of Vietnamese liberation and how he wished the Chinese would do more to help.)
It talks earnestly about educating young Australians into Asia. But the Australia-Japan Foundation, which some of us did so much to establish in the seventies as a vehicle to get young Australians into Japan for work and study, has been allowed to lapse. Only once has Canberra ever had a Japanese speaker as its ambassador to Japan.
But I doubt if any of this will worry Julia Gillard greatly. She has already admitted her lack of interest in foreign affairs. Cherry blossoms, tsunami victims and more talk about closer military cooperation with Japan and the US will be her main concerns.
INDIGENOUS DISADVANTAGE AWAITS SOME TWEET SORROW
APOLOGISTS for Behrendt ignore the greatest national challenge.
Infamous as it's become, it was too much to hope that Larissa Behrendt's tweet comparing the heartfelt comments of Bess Price unfavourably with televised bestiality would be an isolated indiscretion. Readers and contributors to The Australian overwhelmingly supported Price, an Aboriginal community leader from central Australia whose stated agenda is to improve the lot of indigenous people. But, predictably, activists have ignored the substance and directed their fury at this newspaper for having the temerity to publish the story. Using a post-modern political map, any view challenging their own is labelled "right wing" and their own fringe positions are treated as mainstream. Yet in the real world there is virtual political bi-partisanship between Labor and the Coalition to learn from past mistakes and find meaningful solutions.
Anyone who has visited remote communities, or listened to people on the ground, would understand the time for intellectual parlour games is over. For the past 40 years, urban sophisticates have been conducting an abstract debate about land rights, apologies, treaties and separatism, providing an income for academics and reconciliation advocates but doing precious little to further the practical circumstances of indigenous Australians. Fortunately, some independent thinkers are prepared to contest the moralising mumbo-jumbo spreading like a virus from university humanities departments. In The Weekend Australian, Marcia Langton and Noel Pearson have contributed devastating critiques of Behrendt's muddled thinking. Former federal Labor minister Gary Johns and anthropologist Peter Sutton, a land rights campaigner in Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland, have written about the pernicious effect of the post-Whitlam orthodoxy, making a strong case for change. Recently we've seen testimony from women in central and northern Australia, like Price and Alison Anderson, who have seen too much violence, drunkenness and degradation, and been to too many funerals, to retain any confidence in whitefella dreaming.
Readers may be familiar with another failed experiment, an online opinion forum known as Crikey, which promised to level the playing field in the contest of ideas and democratise our national conversation. This week, on the most pressing social policy challenge of our time, Crikey offered the musings of Guy Rundle, a former comedy script writer. He writes from London incidentally, as far from the Tanami Desert as you can get, but he presumes to know much more about indigenous Australia than Price, a member of the Warlpiri community. Rundle defends Behrendt and the welfare/rights agenda, and accuses Price of being a patsy clocking up frequent flyer points. His main attack, however, is on The Australian for publishing a "beat-up".
Rundle's focus on what he imagines as this newspaper's agenda fails to divert attention from the paucity of policy solutions coming from what is commonly called the progressive side of politics. What does he propose, for example, on the challenge of improving school attendance, the first rung on the ladder to enable indigenous children to climb out of the welfare cycle and secure the opportunities for prosperity that Rundle's Australia takes for granted? The ABC's Deborah Cameron also decided The Australian was the story and enlisted the aid of a disgruntled former employee to construct a fantastic corporate conspiracy story in which our coverage of the Behrendt case was based not on its news value but upon the need to defend Andrew Bolt, a Herald Sun columnist being sued for racial vilification by Behrendt and others. This is facile, but given Cameron learnt her craft at The Sydney Morning Herald, she should not be judged too harshly for failing to spot the real story. That paper and its sister, The Age, have failed their readers by disregarding this topic and the crucial issues it exposes.
The response to the Behrendt story is another reminder of the crisis in policy debate in Australia. The universities, where many of our finest brains reside, have become detached from the real world, retreating further into the theoretical and away from the practical. The generational challenges of improving indigenous health, education, housing and employment should not be used as some proxy battlefield between the Right and Left urban elites. Rather this should be the focus of intense national efforts to identify the most practical solutions. Gough Whitlam's famous rebuke could equally apply to those who today wail about racist solutions to the indigenous crisis: Only the impotent are pure.
HOPE AND REDEMPTION AT EASTER
JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION HAS SHAPED A PROGRESSIVE CULTURE.
Whatever our beliefs about a young Jewish man from Nazareth who was crucified outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago and whose two billion followers today continue to believe he rose from the dead, the Easter message of redemption and fresh hope remains as important as ever in the 21st century. In Australia and New Zealand, the season is especially poignant this year, coinciding with Anzac Day on Monday, when we pay tribute to those whose heroic sacrifices benefit the greater good and reaffirm our belief in allies working in unity towards a safer, more peaceful world.
The rich symbolism and rituals of Easter, secular and sacred, help make the season more than just another extended long weekend, although Australians relish the chance to relax in the company of loved ones and enjoy the beach. The commemoration of the Last Supper, Stations of the Cross and the Paschal fire lit outside darkened churches as the Vigil Mass of the Resurrection begins tonight are powerful reminders of what lies at the heart of Judeo-Christian tradition. The yellow and white blooms, hot cross buns and eggs that are also so much a part of the season are welcome tokens of new life and fresh beginnings.
The Easter message inspires our forward-looking attitude to life, built on hope, that for 20 centuries has made enormous strides by encouraging our best endeavours to deliver progress. Backward-looking, repressive cultures fixated on past golden ages are not conducive to progress. An animist tendency that attributes everything that happens, for good or ill, to dark forces beyond our control renders us helpless victims of fate. The Easter message, by contrast, draws out the best in humanity. It urges us to forgive past wrongs, to be reconciled, to show compassion and, where needed, begin anew.
In contrast to the northern hemisphere, where Easter signals the arrival of spring and the end of the long, dark winter, it is part of autumn in Australia, bringing welcome relief from the ravages of summer. This year, the concept of Easter's healing redemption is especially pertinent as thousands of families continue the struggle to put their lives back together after a summer of natural disasters. As Cardinal George Pell says in his Easter message, our humanity is defined by how we grapple intellectually with the challenges of suffering and evil, or refuse to do so; but even more by what we do in response to catastrophes when they touch us or come close. Those who lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the floods and cyclone that ravaged eastern Australia, in the Christchurch earthquake and further afield in the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown in Japan last month found their courage and resilience tested to the limits in the face of almost incomprehensible suffering. At such times, societies bound by sound, solid values pull together and recover better than those wracked by discord and hopelessness.
We feel that the Reverend Niall Reid, moderator of the Uniting Church synod of NSW, drew too long a bow, however, in claiming that such catastrophes are the "inevitable outcome" of "unthinking addiction to economic growth" by powerful people "no more willing to contemplate a different way than they were when, for expediency's sake, they sent Jesus to the cross". Whatever we need to learn from the unfolding science of climate change, natural disasters were part of human experience before the time of Christ. The Easter message should not be hijacked by one side of politics.
Nor should the pursuit of economic growth be equated with sin. Soundly and ethically pursued, economic growth is essential for lifting millions of people out of poverty, creating meaningful employment, providing healthcare and education, funding philanthropy and enhancing human dignity. On that score, the Parable of the Talents makes interesting reading.
Viewed in religious or secular terms, or both, the Easter mysteries offer much to think about. Periodically, the human spirit needs time out from the everyday routine to regroup, enjoy a good glass of wine and a few chocolates, a good book or movie and the company of family and friends in order to return refreshed. Happy Easter.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
JULIA GILLARD IN THE GIANTS' PLAYGROUND
Though China, Japan and South Korea are all valued and important diplomatic and trade partners for Australia, Julia Gillard's visits to the three north-east Asian countries are taking place in the right order. Making Japan the first stop was the correct choice for the Prime Minister.
There had been a lingering concern that the Labor government was overlooking the quiet, longstanding friendship of this ally in the excitement of the China boom, and the broad strengths of the relationship, overshadowed by the emotion of the whaling issue. Now Japan is a nation shaken by the impact of the catastrophic tsunami and the struggle to contain radioactive material from the destroyed nuclear reactors at Fukushima. Australia, with many other countries, quickly contributed what it could to the rescue and relief operations. With an exodus of many foreigners from Tokyo and subdued commercial activity, Gillard's visit seems to have been seen by her Japanese counterpart, Naoto Kan, as a gesture of confidence that the crisis is being managed, that Tokyo is safe, and Japan is not fundamentally damaged.
Likewise her second stop in Seoul. South Korea's President, Lee Myung-bak, has already visited Australia, and his government puts considerable priority on the bilateral relationship. This is not just in trade but in deepening affinities between the peoples, as shown by the recent opening of a new Korean cultural centre in Sydney. Likewise the Australian government has designated Korea as one of its priority languages for encouragement in our schools.
The coincidence of the 60th anniversary of the Kapyong battle with this year's Anzac Day has given a distinctly martial tone to Gillard's visit, one that is not unwelcome to Lee, who has taken a tougher line towards North Korea than his two predecessors and been paid back by the sinking of a South Korean warship and shelling of an island fishing community.
We need to be reminded sometimes that the Korean peninsula - the ''giants' playground'' as the author Cameron Forbes has called it his recent Korean War history - is the most likely place where Australian forces could still be pulled into a high-intensity conventional war. Indeed our army's armoured forces train principally for this contingency. Their new Abrams tanks might as well be parked in Pusan as Darwin.
But we would be selling ourselves and the South Koreans short by seeing things mostly through a military perspective. This is, after all, the most broadband-connected country in the world, with a ''Korean wave'' of contemporary culture sweeping large parts of the world. Of course the same goes for Japan, which the world looks to for its financial, technical and cultural strength. Simply by being successful and a place of opportunity, it can be a strategic counterweight.
Indeed the main drawback of Gillard's approach to this region is its overt strategic message. Her talks with Kan quickly got down to enhancing intelligence and military co-operation. Analysts expect her to push defence ties with South Korea in the same direction. This will not go unnoticed in Beijing, her last stop, where Chinese analysts worry this points to an interlinking of US bilateral security pacts with Asian and Pacific countries into a multinational alliance aimed at containing Chinese power.
Gillard will be a more reassuringly typical antipodean for the Chinese leadership, after the shock of Kevin Rudd's open questioning of their system in their own language. Like John Howard, she knows little about China, but knows what she likes: a voracious appetite for Australian resources and produce. But her effusive embrace of the United States in her Washington appearance last month will have also been noted. Australia is right to stand alongside old friends against adventurism by North Korea or recent Chinese military assertiveness over contested territory. Firmness and patience are needed to steer the region's legacy problems - North Korea and Taiwan - to peaceful settlement.
But we should be cautious about being guided in the emerging Asian strategic environment by institutional frameworks that were built 60 years ago. We should be aware that Chinese strategic objectives are not necessarily sinister or outrageous, even if they seek to change the power balance prevailing since 1945. Military dominance of its contiguous seas, for example, is not so different from the sway Australia's defence forces try to exert over the ''air-sea gap'' between this country and Asia.
As much as by military line-ups, Asia's security will be best assured by strong and confident societies, and vibrant, interconnected economies. We should expect to see the US becoming more of a partner, less of a leader in this community.
Telling the world: You're fired
LET'S face it about Donald Trump. He's got the readies, about $US600 million of his $US2.7 billion fortune. He's got the comb-over. He's got the suits, from his Donald J. Trump Collection. He's got the TV audience, from his program Celebrity Apprentice. He has brand power, his name on building towers and casinos all over the place. He runs Miss Universe, and has had a conga-line of beauties ready to be the new Mrs Trump. He has the catchy views, such as his only being ''interested in Libya if we take the oil'', slapping a 25 per cent ''tax'' on Chinese products, and getting Barack Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate ''forensically tested''. He has jumped to the front in the early race for next year's Republican presidential nomination, outstripping the Tea Party favourite Sarah Palin. So there are doubters, like the comedian Chris Rock (''I won't vote for him, I'm afraid he'll leave us for a younger, prettier country.'') But when the other front runner, the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, calls for Julian Assange to be executed and says Obama was tutored by the Mau-Mau in a mythical childhood in Kenya, we are starting to know what ''race to the bottom'' really means.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
THE GAME'S AT RISK, IT'S A SURE BET
THE full-forward marks the ball and prepares to kick what may be the first goal of the match. Around the ground there is a hush as supporters of both sides wait to see whether the full-forward's side will take the lead or whether he will kick another behind, levelling the scores. Everything hangs on what he will do. As The Saturday Age has revealed, however, what ''everything'' means in such a situation is in danger of changing. As betting on AFL football - already worth $300 million a year - continues to surge, whether, and when, goals are scored not only affects the hopes of a club and its supporters for victory, but punters' chances of earning big money. Sports betting is an increasingly enticing form of gambling, and a potential source of corruption for the game.
Betting on football was legalised in Victoria two decades ago. There has been no evidence of corruption but it would be naive to think the game will always be immune to the sorts of scandals that have already tainted international cricket, especially on the subcontinent. The AFL is certainly aware of the risks because it has appointed a former United Nations investigator, Abraham Haddad, to establish a new database that will record suspect behaviour by players, coaches or officials. But the origin of the danger, as cricket's experience shows, lies in the huge amounts of money that can be made from betting, and in that respect the AFL has been sending mixed signals. AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou says he is concerned about the level of gambling advertising and the constant display of betting odds at venues and on radio and television. Despite that concern, however, odds are flashed on scoreboards and the AFL has deals with Tabcorp and Betfair that give it 5 per cent of football-related takings.
According to Charles Livingstone, a senior lecturer in health social science at Monash University, displaying odds on scoreboards creates an association between having a bet and enjoyment of the game - and that association, for young minds still being formed, may become a necessary connection. The dangers cannot be ignored, or evaded by citing supposed difficulties in deciding who owns the scoreboards at the MCG and the Docklands stadium. The AFL decides whether or not it will promote the business of commercial partners, and it could reduce the risks for problem gamblers and uphold the integrity of the game by ceasing to publish odds on scoreboards.
Betting on the outcome of a sporting fixture is part of the Australian way of life, and unexpected results are part of the pleasure of sport. But the second of these things is not supposed to result from the first. Sports administrators must do everything possible to ensure that it remains that way.
SCOTLAND AND WALES: DIFFERENT DRUMS
In a devolved union, the old ties no longer bind as tightly as before
Look back, this St George's Day, to 1999, when Scots and Welsh voters first elected their new devolved governments. The convergence between the results was striking. In Scotland in 1999, Labour came top of the constituency poll with 39%, with the SNP nationalists second on 29%, the Conservatives 16% and the Liberal Democrats 14%. In Wales that year, the constituency result was Labour 38%, Plaid Cymru nationalists 28%, Conservatives 16% and the Lib Dems 14%. To all intents and purposes, Scotland and Wales seemed in political step, albeit with different devolved powers. In both, although only after trying to govern alone in the Welsh case, Labour eventually took power with Liberal Democrat coalition support.
Now fast forward 12 years to the latest opinion polls in the two countries for their latest devolved elections, the fourth in both cases, which are due to be held on 5 May. The striking thing today is how Scotland and Wales are no longer in step and now appear to be marching to very different drums. In Scotland this week an Ipsos Mori poll put Labour on 34%, SNP 45%, Tories 10% and Lib Dems 9%. In Wales, by contrast, on YouGov's most recent poll there, Labour is on 49%, Plaid Cymru 17%, Tories 20% and Lib Dems 8%. An opinion poll is only an opinion poll, and is certainly not an election result, but it seems increasingly possible that, while Wales is swinging heavily behind Labour in the face of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in London, Scotland may re-elect the SNP administration that first took power there four years ago.
Results like these would certainly be a blow for the London coalition parties, though hardly an unexpected one. The Lib Dems are facing a particularly brutal outcome, with the prospect of steep losses in places that have been Liberal for generations. The picture is more mixed for the Tories, who retain a stronger position in Wales than in Scotland. Yet there is some solace for the UK coalition too. These are the first devolved elections to take place with Labour, the original begetter of devolution, no longer in power at Westminster. After a torrid first year for the London government, Labour might have expected that the voters would place the party firmly in its traditional place at the head of the Welsh and Scottish opposition. A few months ago this still looked likely. Now, an important lesson, it is much less certain. Reasonably enough, voters in both countries seem to be thinking at least as much about the politics of Wales and Scotland as about the UK. In Wales that benefits Labour rather than the nationalists. In Scotland the effect increasingly looks to be the reverse. But that's the logic of devolution. The union may survive. But the old ties no longer bind as tightly as before.
SUPERINJUNCTIONS: THE RICH MAN'S GAG
The rulings appear to place the power of the courts at the disposal of the rich and famous (and male)
The relationship between the courts, the press and parliament has been severely shaken over the past week by a froth of injunctions protecting the identity of allegedly unfaithful footballers and other celebrities. In the process, some of the tensions within the current evolution of the British state have been exposed. Though it may seem far-fetched this sunny Saturday morning, future historians could judge that the wives and girlfriends, so long the objects of prurience and mockery, were indirectly the catalyst of a significant realignment.
There is a long back-story to these developments, but the pace quickened 18 months ago when the courts granted a gagging order against the Guardian that could not be reported in any way despite the evident public importance of the story. This newspaper was barred from printing not just the details of an account of claims of damaging activities by the oil-trading company Trafigura but also anything said in parliament about it – a plain breach of parliamentary sovereignty as defined by the Bill of Rights 1689. The order was rapidly rescinded. But the episode showed how the courts were increasingly using their powers, in secret hearings, in ways that allowed the right to privacy to prevent the press from reporting matters in the public interest. By their very nature, it is hard to judge how many such superinjunctions exist, but there appear to be at least 30, including several that are plainly of public significance, including one relating to allegations of water pollution, and another to a right-to-die case.
These superinjunctions, distinguished by their total secrecy, are different in kind but not in effect from the ones that have generated this week's lurid headlines about the sex lives of unnamed celebrities. In each, the court held that the privacy of the individual (or, in one case, their children) outweighed freedom of expression. The rulings appear to place the power of the courts at the disposal of the rich and famous (and male), to the considerable disadvantage of the women in these cases, some of whom have been brutally exposed to public derision. This granting of anonymity is beginning to look like a trend, interrupted only when the England captain John Terry failed in an attempt to protect his identity after the court held that he was less interested in privacy than in the commercial value of his reputation.
This week David Cameron joined in, admitting his own unease about the rulings and blaming the Human Rights Act for allowing judges to develop a law of privacy in place of parliament. This is a largely spurious claim. In fact, English common law has long been used to protect both confidentiality and the privacy of children, while the European convention on human rights has been an available remedy for breach of privacy for more than a generation. Less partisan observers suspect that the sudden surge of cases may simply be a lawyers' market response to a lucrative new fashion.
Meanwhile some MPs are alarmed at the way the courts appear to be interfering with the right to raise important issues in parliament and, more expressly, with MPs' right to discuss them with concerned constituents. The Lib Dem backbencher John Hemming is at the forefront of a campaign to challenge the courts, in a way that jeopardises the fragile relationship between them and parliament. Equally, senior judges are unhappy at the spread of secrecy: the master of the rolls, Lord Neuberger, will soon publish the findings of his inquiry into the use of superinjunctions. In a speech in March his commitment to open justice was unequivocal, his defence of injunctions to protect privacy equally so. How, he asks, can privacy be sustained if the press reports the claims before the court can rule. Expect a report strong on procedure (time-limited injunctions, perhaps, and submissions from all those with an interest) but one that looks more likely to defend the right to privacy than the freedom of the press.
UNTHINKABLE? VOTES FOR CHILDREN
The old vote more and the politicians make policies for them – time to introduce proxy votes for children then
Taskforces running short on ideas regularly peddle votes at 16 as a way to spruce up democracy. But when the voting age fell at the 1970 general election nothing much changed. There is an abject lack of teenage hunger for suffrage. To truly stir things up, consider instead votes at 16 months. Hungary said this week that it may give mothers with young children an extra ballot. The ruling Fidesz party is deeply conservative, and feminists discern an ancient rightist impulse to encourage women to stay home and breed. By restricting the proposed child votes to one per family, Budapest hopes to disempower big Roma families, but also undermines a potentially principled argument. It hardly matters if parents know or care about their offspring's formative opinions; the real point is the equal representation of raw material interest. With the old voting more than the young everywhere, things are skewed – and the total exclusion of the youngest of all makes matters worse. Those who doubt this should look at the UK coalition's social security plans. While the old cling on to bus passes, and pensions are pegged to earnings, payments for younger families are being slashed. Proxy votes for children – split half and half between mothers and fathers to avoid presumptions about who speaks for them best – could restore some balance. With climate change imposing a heavy price on a distant tomorrow, there's even a case for enfranchising the unborn. That, however, would be impractical – and truly unthinkable.
THE JAPAN TIMES
BOLSTER DISASTER ASSISTANCE FUND
The government has started the work to draw up a grand design for reconstruction of Japan from the March 11 quake and tsunami. But it also must focus on helping disaster victims to put their lives back together. The most pressing priority should be the rebuilding of residences. According to the National Police Agency, some 80,000 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged.
Following the 1995 Kobe earthquake, a fund was created to provide up to ¥3 million to families that have lost their homes in natural disasters. The central and prefectural governments each bankroll half of the fund. As of the end of March 2010, however, the fund contained just ¥53.8 billion — far too small an amount to cope with the vast destruction of 3/11.
In the wake of the Kobe quake, the central government was reluctant to directly assist quake victims in the rebuilding of their homes, but in 1998 the Diet passed a law to create the fund. At first, the maximum assistance was ¥1 million and use of the money was limited to buying household goods. The amount was raised to ¥3 million in 2004 and the restriction on the money's use was lifted.
By the end of January, some ¥24 billion had been paid to some 18,000 families that had sustained property damage in 40 natural disasters such earthquakes and floods. But the money is provided only when certain conditions are met. It is given only to residents of a municipality in which 10 or more houses have been destroyed. Owners of houses that have not been badly damaged are not eligible for the money. To receive support, home owners must endure a time-consuming administrative process.
Given the horrific degree of damage caused by the 3/11 disasters, it is clear that the amount of money provided must be increased and that the administrative procedure should be streamlined to enable those who require financial assistance to receive it as quickly as possible. The central government should increase the percentage of the fund that it pays. It should also consider how to mesh assistance to disaster victims with its grand reconstruction scheme.
THE JAPAN TIMES
MR. KEENE'S NOBLE DECISION
Mr. Donald Keene, a prominent scholar of Japanese literature and Columbia University professor, has decided to make Japan his permanent home and has begun the process of becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen, it was reported last week. In an interview with NHK, the 88-year-old Japanologist said that now that Japan has suffered tremendously from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, he would like to express his "faith" (shinnen) in Japan, which he stated he loves. He went on to say, "I married a woman called Japan."
Mr. Keene has a residence in Tokyo and spends about half a year annually in Japan. His decision to become a Japanese citizen is an expression of the strong solidarity he shares with the Japanese people at a most difficult time — especially with those in northeastern Japan who have lost their loved ones, property or communities in the disasters, and those who are living in the shadow of the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. His decision should give every Japanese citizen a feeling of joy and encouragement, especially because so many foreigners left Japan in the wake of the disasters.
Mr. Keene read "The Tale of Genji" in translation while at Columbia, studied Japanese in the U.S. Navy and served as an intelligence officer in the Pacific region during World War II. After the war, he studied Japanese literature at Columbia, Harvard, Cambridge and Kyoto universities. Japanese authors he translated include Yoshida Kenko, Matsuo Basho and Yukio Mishima. He also wrote many books, including "Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan." He received Japan's Order of Culture in 2008.
For their part, Japanese should take a cue from Mr. Keene's love for Japan by developing a greater appreciation of Japanese culture and tradition (without becoming insular), making efforts to protect Japan's natural environment and building a society in which the socially weak are never abandoned.
Though most Christians tend to give prominence to Christmas, the foundation of Christianity is Easter Sunday which is celebrated tomorrow. As the Bible tells us, "If there is no resurrection of the dead then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not being raised, our preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain" (St. Pauls first letter to the Corinthians chapter 15 verses 13 and 14).
In these profound words St. Paul emphasizes the fact that Easter—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ—is the cornerstone of Christianity and the Christian journey with the Lord Jesus. It means that if Christ had not been raised from the dead church ceremonies and services, feasts and festivals, rites, rituals and prayers are all in vain.
In other words the New Testament says that Christianity is not merely a religion, philosophy or way of life but essentially a Person—the Risen Lord. If Christianity is essentially a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, then who is a Christian?
St. Paul himself gives us the answer in the book of Acts chapter 9. He tells us how and when he became a Christian. He tells us that he became a Christian when he met the Risen Lord in that famous episode on the road to Damascus. After he met the Risen Lord the greatest persecutor of the church became the greatest propagator of the Christian faith being inspired to write as many as 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament of the Holy Bible. Today hundreds of millions of people are inspired by the letters of St. Paul.
What happened to Paul on the road to Damascus must happen to any and every Christian. If Christianity is essentially Christ alive then a Christian is a person who meets the Lord and has a personal, deep and growing relationship with Him.
How does one meet the Lord? In the gospel of St. Mathew chapter 18 verses 19 and 20 the Lord Jesus says—"where two or three are gathered together in my name and in unity I will manifest myself among them". Three important truths emerged from this great promise-- The Lord is present in unity, every Christian has the power to make the Lord present by positing and act of unity, the deeper the unity, the more powerful the manifestation of the Lord.
In the gospel of St John chapter 15 the Lord Jesus says that just as he lives and abides in us we also must live and abide in Him by connecting ourselves to Him like branches to the vine. He tells us that we connect ourselves to Him when we obey the one commandment he has left for us—love one another as I love you. When we do that we will keep on being filled and refilled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Everyday, every hour, every moment we need to keep on being filled and refilled with the healing power of the Holy Spirit, the living waters and the fire of the Holy Spirit. When this keeps on happening the main manifestation will be the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, peace and joy in our lives. As we freely receive the unending, unfailing and ever-merciful love of God through the Risen Lord who lives in us and by the power of the Holy Spirit we will keep on freely giving this love and forgiveness to others.
A diplomatic tussle is going on at present between the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) and the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa over the release of the report compiled by the three-member advisory panel appointed by Ban Ki moon. This is not a fresh development but only an extension of the "cold war" that has been continuing ever since Ban Ki-moon visited Sri Lanka after the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was concluded.
The UN SG along with influential western nations has been trying hard to get Sri Lanka to set up an accountability mechanism and conduct inquiries into the final phase of the war. The Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa for reasons of its own has been resisting such efforts strenuously.
Despite this stance adopted by Sri Lanka, past events display a seeming lack of cohesion on the part of Colombo in dealing with the issue. It appears that Sri Lanka had no clear consistent policy on this matter and often see-sawed between rigid and flexible postures in this regard.
The high watermark in Sri Lanka's diplomatic prowess was the victory it achieved in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council conclave in May 2009. Sri Lanka with the help of friendly nations not only defended itself effectively against a resolution brought against it but succeeded in getting a "counter resolution" favourable to it passed.
That resolution described as the "Geneva consensus" was carried by twenty-nine votes to twelve with five abstentions in the council comprising forty – six member states. The architect of that diplomatic achievement was Sri Lanka's envoy to the UN in Geneva, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka. However, in a baffling move, Dr. Jayatilleka was recalled to Colombo within weeks of that diplomatic triumph.
Dr. Jayatilleka was also responsible for resisting UN pressures on Sri Lanka and stridently articulating the viewpoint of Colombo in the corridors and halls of Geneva. One recalls the cutting remark made by Dr. Jayatilleka to former UN Human Rights chief Louise Arbour when she kept on pressing Sri Lanka to agree to the setting up of a UN field office on Human rights in the Island as was done in Nepal. Dr.Jayatilleka asked Arbour "Which part of "NO" do you not understand"?
The flamboyant Dr. Jayatilleka with his ebullient mode of expression kept the Lankan flag flying at Diplomatic fora without complying to international diktat. All UN' efforts to compel Colombo to set up an accountability mechanism were rebuffed by him. But things changed particularly after his recall.
It was our representative at the UN in New York, HMGS Palihakkara who first agreed to consider the appointment of a domestic accountability mechanism at a UN basement discussion. This consent to consider a domestic accountability mechanism was apparently made to Susan Rice the US representative at the UN.
In fairness to Mr.Palihakkara, it must be said that the seasoned diplomat made such a decision only as the best option available in a tricky situation. This was a time when strong moves were afoot to place Sri Lanka on the agenda of the UN security council. Although Sri Lanka's friends Russia and China could always veto any adverse resolution there was no way in which they could have prevented the Sri Lankan issue being placed on the agenda and being discussed.
It was this prospect which perhaps made Palihakkara resort to the option of agreeing to consider a domestic accountability mechanism. This was a hard choice made with the best interests of the country at heart. On the one hand it prevented Sri Lanka being placed on the UN security council's agenda and undermined pressures to launch an international probe on the other.
The flexibility displayed by the Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN at New York was a departure from the rigidity adopted by the Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN at Geneva. Whatever the merits of this move the "consent" given was a boost to the international community pressuring Colombo. It also indicated that Colombo did not possess a precise strategy on the matter and was resorting to ad hoc tactical moves whenever suitable.
The Rajapaksa regime however did not give in readily to pressures on the setting up of a domestic accountability mechanism despite the view expressed by Palihakkara in NY. It continued to procrastinate. This delay was in a sense typical of a stratagem followed by President Rajapaksa in dealing with certain types of situations. It is best described in Sinhala "Porunduwela Enda;passa balamu" (Promise and come; we'll see later)
This resistance was annoying perhaps to Ban Ki moon who was beginning to get impatient. In March 2010 the UN Secy –Gen announced his decision to appoint an advisory panel to delve into the final phase of war in Sri Lanka and submit a report to him.
This sparked off heated protests from Colombo. A legalistic position was taken that the UN SecyGen had no authority or mandate to appoint a commission of this type as the UN Security Council or General Council had not sanctioned it. Ban Ki moon countered it by saying this was not a UN panel but only an advisory panel responsible to him.
After weeks of exchanges both private and public the Sri Lankan Govt announced the appointment of a commission in May 2010.Its terms of reference however were different to what was specifically being demanded. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was to go into events from the cessation of hostilities accord in 2002 between the United National Party (UNP) led Govt and the LTTE up to the end of the war in May 2009.
On May 6, 2010, the Sri Lankan government announced that it will establish a commission to report on the lessons learned from the conflict and reconciliation efforts. In a statement posted on the government's website, the government announced that "there will be the [sic] search for any violations of internationally accepted norms of conduct in such conflict situations, and the circumstances that may have led to such actions, and identify any persons or groups responsible for such acts." The statement said nothing about holding such persons accountable under Sri Lankan criminal law or what other steps would be taken against those found to have been acting in violation of Sri Lankan or international law.
On May 10, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, welcomed Sri Lanka's intention to establish a commission on the war and listed several criteria that would need to be met for the commission to play a valuable role in advancing accountability for violations of international humanitarian law.
These criteria included independence, the impartiality and competence of the members, a proper mandate, adequate and effective protection for witnesses, adequate resources, and serious government consideration of the commission's recommendations.
International Human Rights monitoring agencies such as the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group were sceptical and critical from the start. They declined an invitation by the LLRC to testify before it. These agencies opined that the LLRC was structurally flawed and functionally impaired and was more an attempt to deflect international criticism than genuinely investigate rights abuse allegations.
On May 28th 2010, Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister Prof. GL Peiris met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and impressed upon her the fact that the LLRC was the best mechanism for domestic accountability available under prevailing circumstances and assured Washington that an independent report would be forthcoming. Human Rights Watch however wrote to Clinton urging her to not let Sri Lanka continue with its climate of impunity.
Despite these moves and counter moves the LLRC did not commence sittings for quite a while. This lethargy was shed when Ban Ki-moon in a controversial move went ahead with his earlier intention of appointing an advisory panel.
The official UN press release of June 22nd 2010 that announced the appointment of this panel stated as follows –"The Secretary-General has appointed a Panel of Experts that will advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka
Its terms of reference at the time of appointment as outlined in the official press communiqué were –
"The panel will advise the Secretary-General on the implementation of the commitment on human rights accountability made in the Joint Statement issued by President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General during the latter's visit to Sri Lanka in May 2009. It will look into the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka. It will be available as a resource to Sri Lankan authorities should they wish to avail themselves of its expertise in implementing the commitment."
The official statement further said "In the conduct of its mandate, the panel hopes to cooperate with concerned officials in Sri Lanka. It is expected to complete its advisory responsibilities within four months of the commencement of its work. The Secretary-General remains convinced that accountability is an essential foundation for durable peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Through the panel the Secretary-General expects to enable the United Nations to make a constructive contribution in this regard".
The three members of the panel were Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Chair; Yasmin Sooka (South Africa); and Steven Ratner (United States).The highly respected Darusman was a former Indonesian Attorney –General.He had also been the UN special rights investigator for North Korea. Yasmin Sooka was a former member of the commission that investigated apartheid atrocities in South Africa. Steven Ratner is an American lawyer and author of a book on the struggle among nations to hold people accountable for human rights abuses.
The appointment of the advisory panel was met with stiff opposition by Sri Lanka. The appointment of Darusman as chair was particularly controversial. President Rajapaksa had earlier in 2006 appointed a commission of inquiry to probe fifteen cases of alleged human rights violations.
Rajapaksa also appointed a panel of international experts to observe proceedings of the Presidential Commission of inquiry. This panel comprising ten persons was called the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP). Darusman was a prominent member of the IIGEP panel. The Sri Lankan Attorney–General at that time was Chitha Ranjan de Silva(CR de Silva).
Darusman had objected to some aspects of the conduct of CR de Silva during proceedings. The Attorney-General's conduct was cited as the main reason for the IIGEP to pull out of proceedings. Apparently Darusman was the driving force behind the pull - out from monitoring the inquiry proceedings.The IIGEP stated that it had "not been able to conclude...that the proceedings of the Commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards."
Now the very same Darusman was chair of the advisory panel. By a quirk of fate the head of the LLRC was none other than CR de Silva. The one time prop forward who captained the Royal College Rugby team in 1968 is known in rugger circles as "Bulla".
Nominating Darusman was perceived as a deliberate move by Ban Ki moon. Darusman was suspected (unfairly perhaps)of being partial and against Sri Lanka on account of his role in IIGEP proceedings. Likewise the other two members were also vilified as being partisan.Sooka because of her African National Congress connections was seen as being pro-LTTE. Ratner was seen as prejudiced against Sri Lanka due to some of his writings in his book.
What was lost on those castigating Darusman, Sooka and Ratner as not being impartial was the fact that by the same yardstick the same charges could be laid out against the LLRC chairman and some other members also because they too had held or were holding official posts and thus could be deemed as not being impartial.
Such slandering on flimsy grounds is unacceptable. The members of both the LLRC and the Ki moon advisory panel are persons of integrity whose independence and impartiality deserves respect unless and until proved otherwise.
The announcement that an advisory panel had been appointed by Ban Ki-moon triggered off a wave of protests in Sri Lanka. National Freedom Front (NFF)leader and Cabinet minister Wimal Weerawansa spearheaded demonstrations opposite the UN office in Colombo. While Weerawansa embarked on a "fast unto death" campaign demanding that the UN backtrack other demonstrators burned Ban Ki moon's effigy. Demonstrators blocked entry and exit to the UN premises.When conscientious Police officers tried to stop this obstruction they were berated and allegedly reprimanded by higher authorities.
Weerawansa's fast was called off after three days without his demand being granted. Apparently his health was decaying and President Rajapaksa himself asked him to call it off and symbolically ended it by giving Weerawansa water to drink.
The boisterous manner in which the protest was held and the rowdy behaviour of some demonstrators had a negative effect internationally. Earlier there was considerable sympathy for Sri Lanka among UN member states notably the non – aligned movement. These feelings however began dissipating after the Weerawansa led demonstration.
Ban Ki-moon however continued to emphasize that this panel was only an advisory body set up to advise him and that it was not an official investigative body set up by the UN. He reiterated that the report was only to advise him and nothing further.
In spite of these assertions the Sri Lankan Govt vehemently opposed the move and declined to cooperate with the UN Secy Gen in this. Sri Lanka refused to acknowledge the panel and refused to grant visas for the panellists to visit Sri Lanka.
Consequent to the protests against the panel the LLRC also geared up for action. The LLRC that had been nominated in May began to conduct proceedings in July 2010.Likewise the advisory panel appointed in June commenced work in September 2010. Richard Bennet the former head of the UN field mission in Nepal functioned as secretary to the panel.
Sri Lanka's dismissal of the panel and strong views articulated conveyed the initial impression that the Island nation was going to stand firm on the matter. But as time went on it appeared that the Govt was not of a singular mindset on this. There seemed to be both hawkish and dovish tendencies within the establishment. While one school of thought wanted a confrontational attitude the other opted for a conciliatory approach.As a result there were conflicting signals.
On one occasion the Govt that had decided not to grant visas to the Darusman panel members was prepared to revise its stance. It was ready to allow the trio to come to Sri Lanka and observe LLRC proceedings. The panellists were also to be allowed to meet civil society representatives and political leaders. But they would not be able to hold investigations or conduct parallel sittings or participate in LLRC sessions apart from observing.
Predictably, these moves evoked a storm of protest from Weerawansa and others who had protested strongly against the panel being set up. Allowing the panellists into Sri Lanka was tantamount to tacit recognition they argued. The Govt was now in a quandary. But the crisis died down when Darusman and Sooka refused to attend LLRC sittings as mere observers. They wanted a more vibrant role. When this was ruled out the panel declined to visit Sri Lanka.
Another incident demonstrating the vacillating mindset of the Govt was in late February this year. A four member team representing Sri Lanka held a secret meeting with the Darusman,Sooka, Ratner and Bennet in New York. Also present was Lynn Pascoe the UN under secretary for Political affairs. Pascoe had apparently brokered the meeting.
The Sri Lankan team comprised former External Affairs Ministry Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe, Attorney General Mohan Peiris, Sri Lanka's permanent representative to the UN in New York Palitha Kohona and deputy permanent representative Shavendra Silva. The Sri Lankan delegation had also met with Ban Ki moon earlier in a publicized meeting. Subsequently Prof. GL Peiris confirmed at a press conference in London that a Lankan delegation had indeed met the panel. No further details were disclosed.
To be continued on Monday
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached on email@example.com
Libyan crisis is exploding out of proportion. The international community, it seems, is more interested in flaring the ongoing fighting, rather than brokering a ceasefire.
The reported British involvement with rebels in Benghazi is a case in point. The BBC quoted Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati Al Obedi as saying that a British plan to send a military team to advise rebels could harm chances of peace in the war-torn country. On its face value, it is a profound concern. The mandate of Britain and France, who spearheaded the momentum to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya to save the civilians from indiscriminate use of force by Col Muammar Gaddafi, doesn't allow for meddling in petty domestic affairs. The expressed intention on the part of London to provide logistics and intelligence training in Benghazi would result in truncating the territorial integrity of Libya and create poles of political divide that would hamper peace prospects for a long time to come. This strategy is bound to flare civil war and result in insurmountable casualties. What the Allies are doing is not a done affair, as it is tantamount to breach of trust and the mandate of the UN Security Council under Resolution 1973.
Obedi, however, has a point when he stipulates his embattled regime's blueprint for an immediate ceasefire to be followed by an interim election to be supervised by the UN. While this has come close on the heels of the African Union peace plan that had all the ingredients to save Libya from chaos and war mongering, it needs a serious consideration. The task at hand should be to ensure humanitarian aid and assistance, as well as rehabilitation of people who have been displaced in the two-month long uprising. Britain and France desire to upgrade NATO's onslaught across the length and breadth of Libya is unlikely to yield the desired results. From Vietnam to Afghanistan, history is testimony to the fact that battles can only be won on the negotiating table, and Libya is no exception. What is really surprising is the fact that no serious efforts have been made by the United Nations to bring the warring factions across for a meaningful dialogue, nor Gaddafi has been approached with a viable plan of action, which could lead to his exit and restoration of state writ.
The US obliviousness, too, is a point of concern. Having abdicating its assertive role, in military and political spheres, Washington will find it as an anti-thesis to its interests in the long run. This fluid situation on the diplomatic front can prove be a precursor for more deaths (and destruction.
When the United Nation's Secretary General (UNSG) Ban-ki-moon appointed a panel of experts to advise him on accountability issues relating to alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said that the Panel was not a formal investigative body. However, now the Panel has submitted a report that resembles a report of an investigation.
One may argue that the members of the Panel had to obtain an amount of knowledge on the alleged human rights violations before they give any advice to the Secretary General and may justify any investigation by them. But given the Panel's "findings" as they are called, it seems to have gone too far and it resembles an investigative body.
The reactions on the report of the Panel by political parties in Sri Lanka are interesting as almost all parties seem to address to their constituencies while Opposition parties attempting to justify their adverse views on the Government as well. The Opposition parties based in Colombo and generally critical of the Government on the human rights situation in the country are in a quandary with the appointment of the UNSG's panel. They are attempting to get along with the public mood that is in favour of the Government while criticizing the same Government for human rights violations. The TNA also as a means to address its constituency has welcomed the report in the face of its ongoing talks with the Government.
Euphoria on war victories was created among the majority of the people living mainly in the southern parts of the country since 2008 with the fall of the LTTE fortifications and more and more people have joined this bandwagon. No party including the UNP that did not have a positive approach towards the forward march of the security forces until the fall of Killinochchi to the troops, dares now to hurt the feelings of this triumphant crowd.
UNP in a statement on Wednesday said that it would be willing to extend its maximum cooperation to the government to deal with international pressure if the government made a determined effort to rectify its mistakes by restoring democracy and repealing the draconian laws used by the state to stifle dissent.
UNSG's Panel report deals with the past and the UNP's conditions to the Government could be fulfilled in future. Had the allegations of war crimes levelled by the Panel report really been committed in the past, then they cannot be justified just because Government treats the Opposition well in the future. Also had they not been committed by the Government it is the duty of the Opposition to defend the Government in spite of any ill-treatment of it by the Government.
The JVP in a statement says that it is the present regime that has allowed the UN Secretary General to act in this manner using human rights issues in Sri Lanka. During the two years since the end of the war the present regime totally failed not only to establish democracy in the country but also to protect human rights, it said.
No one would disagree with the UNP that the democratic/human rights of the people should be protected now and in future. Also the JVP's contention that human rights should have been protected since the end of the war is incontestable. However, it is not through perusing those incidents after war that the Panel had made its "findings," rather it refers to incidents took place during the last lap of the war in the Mullaitivu District.
The ruling party leaders, in spite of their fears expressed publicly, seem to be jubilant over the Panel and its report, given their overreactions with it, as they can again ride over the patriotic wave. President Rajapaksa referring to the UNSG's Panel report said at a public meeting that he is prepared to face the electric chair, a declining execution method in the US, without any foundation of him being personally targeted. Unlike the Serb leaders of the nineties President Rajapaksa is in good terms with the West, the driving force behind the UN.
Now that the UNSG's Panel had submitted its report, the UN has an obligation to cite examples of waging war without violations of human rights, especially with the help of the Western countries and the Israelis who are still at war in some parts of the world. A comparison of civilian victims of Gaddafi's forces and those of NATO forces would be further helpful.
However, the most pertinent question here is whether the Panel would contribute to the much needed reconciliation or otherwise.
GULF DAILY NEWS
CHILD LABOUR CLAMP VITAL
BY JENNIFER GNANA
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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