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Friday, April 29, 2011

EDITORIAL 29.04.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 29, edition 000819, csollected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




















  1. 2G, two groups













































The draft Public Accounts Committee report has confirmed the people's worst fears that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was a mute spectator to the 2G Spectrum scam by then Telecom Minister A Raja and his cohorts. The documents and the testimony of various officials and others that the panel has relied upon leaves no doubt — if there was still any — in one's mind that Mr Manmohan Singh had failed to act decisively. In fact, his desire to keep the Prime Minister's Office, and thereby himself, at an "arm's length" even as the scam was given shape and executed is clear indication that he did not want to stop Raja. Why, one can only speculate, but it is at least obvious that he did not want to rock the alliance by antagonising the Congress's key partner, the DMK, the party to which Raja belongs. There were, of course, other high-ups in the Government who too were disinclined to crack down on the fraud, like then Finance Minister P Chidambaram who favoured closure of the issue despite damning observations by the Finance Secretary. But such efforts would not have borne fruit had Mr Singh taken proactive steps. The sequence of events that unfolded is by now well-documented, and uncontested by the players concerned. It clearly reveals that the reluctance of the Prime Minister to act directly helped in the faulty distribution of 2G licences by the Telecom Ministry. Amazingly, Mr Singh woke up to the fact after the licences were disbursed, with his office writing to the Telecom Ministry that the Prime Minister desired to "take into account the development concerning the issue of licences". Mr Singh obviously found merit in bolting the stable door after the horses had fled. The Prime Minister had other occasions to clamp down on the scam but did not. For instance, after Raja wrote to him claiming he had been "enlightened" by certain eminent people on the course of action he was taking, the Prime Minister ought to have sought a detailed explanation to nip the racket in the bud. He did not, and took the safe way out by routinely acknowledging the letter. This was yet another encouragement for Raja to go ahead.

Given so much damning material at hand, it was obvious from the beginning that neither the Prime Minister nor Raja would escape indictment from the PAC headed by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi. Sensing the inevitable, panel members belonging to the Congress and the DMK have tried to discredit the process by casting aspersions on Mr Joshi and claiming the PAC exercise is futile since a Joint Parliamentary Committee has been constituted to study the fraud. In their desperation, at one stage they even attempted to obstruct the proceedings when the PAC was to question key people like the Attorney-General, Mr GE Vahanvati, the Cabinet Secretary, Mr KM Chandrashekhar, and the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr TKA Nair. Eventually, the three responded to a written questionnaire. It is strange that the agitating members, after blocking the proceedings, should complain that they have not been adequately consulted while drafting the report. Allegations by the Congress and the DMK that Mr Joshi had acted with a "pre-determined notion" is fit to be dismissed contemptuously, because the PAC chairman has gone entirely by the material at hand and scrupulously followed established procedures by calling before the committee a wide array of persons who could throw light on the scam. If that upsets the Congress and its friends, so be it.







Those who object to elections being held under the shadow of the gun, even when the weapon is wielded by security forces whose loyalty to the state and the Constitution is unimpeachable, have a point. After all, elections are the biggest celebration of democracy and afford the citizens of the republic an opportunity to openly, fearlessly reaffirm their faith in the democratic process of electing their representatives to various levels of governance — from panchayat to Parliament. It is, therefore, desirable that the deployment of security forces, if any at all, should be bare minimum. However, the harsh realities of India prevent banishing khaki from polling stations. While it is true that 'booth-capturing' and 'ballot box-looting' which were invariably the highlights of elections in the past, are no longer heard of, political parties have devised other means of influencing the outcome of polls. The alleged 'scientific rigging' of elections by the Left with the help of doctored electoral rolls and the use of muscle and money power to deter or entice voters are only some examples. These, along with other factors, have invariably vitiated the atmosphere during elections in many States. In such circumstances, people need to be made to feel safe and secure, and hoodlums need to be kept off the streets. Sadly, this task cannot be left to the State police for a variety of reasons, including the identity-linked political biases of those charged with the task of maintaining law and order. For instance, in West Bengal the majority of policemen are seen to be in thraldom of the Left Front, more so the CPI(M). Naturally, those who do not sympathise with or support the Left parties fail to find comfort in their presence: The police and the politicians are indistinguishable.

It is in such situations that the presence of Central security forces can play a crucial role. As they did on Wednesday in Kolkata, and before that in the northern districts of West Bengal. Many voters came out and voted due to the heavy presence of men and women in fatigues, convinced that nothing or nobody could either stop them from voting this time round. The spurt in voter participation is reflected in the spurt in voting percentage which, according to conventional wisdom, is bad for the incumbent Left Front Government. That apart, till now the three rounds of polling in West Bengal have been stunningly peaceful despite an acrimonious and bitter campaign. This is directly attributable to the two-pronged strategy adopted by the Election Commission: Make Central troops the main force at polling stations and use them to prevent the free movement of goons and hooligans. It could thus be argued that but for the very large, very visible presence of Central security forces, perhaps the people (as well as the political opposition) would have less reason to be happy. To that extent, Thursday's newspapers were not exaggerating when they said that the Election Commission will turn out to be the real winner in these Assembly elections.









As the US and it's Nato allies flounder on the rock of jihadi resistance in AfPak and the fire of radical Islamism rages across West Asia, the future looks bleak.

It is just possible that, President Barack Obama, tiring of the obstreperous cliques and claques on Capitol Hill will send his horse to the Senate as Caligula, the Roman Emperor, did two millennia ago. The equine presence might even introduce a modicum of horse sense into the proceedings of a body which today is more absurd than august.

Standard & Poor has downgraded the US economy to negative, the first time this has occurred in living memory. There is only so much the balloon of patriotism ardour can take without going bust.

Britain has the welcome distraction of a royal wedding this weekend, but come the waking hours of leaden days to come, people will once again be waiting for god to bring hope where there is none.

The American Eagle has long lost its bearings in Afghanistan, the British Lion, now turned jackdaw, pecks furiously with dissembling words: They have only their conceit and imperial fantasies as consolation. The Daily Telegraph headline reflected their quandry — "Hundreds of Taliban escape in tunnel as jail guards sleep". This was in reference to a mass jailbreak in Kandahar, to the Afghan prison which held the most ruthless and formidable adversaries of the US-led Nato coalition. The AfPak war goes on with no end in sight this side of eternity.

The plot thickens with every passing hour, it would seem. A Taliban suicide bomber who infiltrated the Afghanistan defence headquarters in Kabul recently had made the journey from London. The bomber apparently was part of a sleeper cell in the British capital. Michael Evans, Pentagon Correspondent of The Times, writes: "Security chiefs (in the UK) in the past have warned of the growing threat of individuals plotting attacks. But the trend of sleeper cells has created a new and even more dangerous development that will require intensive scrutiny by the intelligence services" — a scrutiny they and their American peers were once reluctant to undertake since the targets of Islamist terror were usually Indian and Russian and the perpetrators had a role in the scheme of things.

The 9/11 bombings in Washington and New York was proof that Frankenstein's monster had started stalking its principal creator. "But, 10 years after 9/11, we still pander to extremism," commented Andrew Gilligan (who exposed Mr Tony Blair's skulduggery on Iraq) in an extensive newspaper feature on inflammatory Al Qaeda videos and hate broadcasts to congregations of the faithful in certain London mosques.

Ponder the following The Daily Telegraph report: "More than £300,000 of British aid money was used to bankroll a suspected Al Qaeda sympathiser... Mullan Haji Rohullah... was paid taxpayers' money to eradicate (opium) poppy crops (in Afghanistan). Instead, he allegedly supported Al Qaeda and helped terrorists escape Allied forces — while continuing to act as a major drugs trafficker."

The stresses and strains are affecting non-combatants. The US Nobel Peace Prize nominated-author Greg Mortenson, who has been accused of making up parts of his acclaimed book about his humanitarian work in Pakistan, has undergone heart surgery, brought on possibly by allegations that much of the writing was an osmosis of truth and fiction, that his charity, the Central Asia Institute, was a personal cash machine rather than the advertised source of Pakistan school buildings. Worse, the American authorities were claiming substantial unpaid taxes on Mr Mortenson's part. It may be the water or soil or climate change and its consequences on the human frame and psyche in these benighted parts that conflate such disorders.

Meanwhile, drones operating from CIA bases in Pakistan are taking a heavy toll of Pakistani lives in Waziristan and other border regions abutting Afghanistan. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a strong advocate of close ties with Pakistan, told the country's media that Washington had "strong reservations over the relations of elements of the ISI with members of the Haqqani network" of Afghan insurgents. Clearly the US-Pakistan relationship requires a willing suspension of disbelief. The mismatch of credulity and the incredible is a latter-day political wonder.

Elsewhere in the Islamic world the script appears to have taken a familiar turn. The 'Arab Awakening' resembles a beached whale in the ebbing tide. Liberal hopes are fast giving way to recidivist ideologies and attitudes. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is showing a darker face as it teams up with elements of Al Qaeda and kindred groups. The once emollient Egyptian military is baring its teeth with tanks and guns, with US paymasters in close attendance in the shadows. Mr Hosni Mubarak and his clan may have fallen but the system which reared him lives to fight another day.

The Saudi monarchy flexes its muscles in Bahrain, the seat of America's Fifth Fleet, the beleaguered Syrian regime breathes even as many of its cities burn, while Yemen marches on regardless, and the Arab League bleats in the wind. The US and its Nato allies flounder in the desert expanses of Libya. Colonel Gaddafi rules in Tripoli and beyond, snarling defiance at the intruders with no endgame on the horizon. The "intensity of the Western imperial grip on the region, over the past century" continues, says the Marxist historian and polymath Perry Anderson in a luminous summing up of the current situation.


"From Morocco to Egypt, colonial control of North Africa was divided between France, Italy and Britain before the First World War, while the Gulf became a series of protectorates and Aden an outpost of British India. After the War the spoils of the Ottoman Empire fell to Britain and France, adding what became under their callipers Iraq, Syria, the Lebanon, Palestine and Transjordan, in the final great haul of European territorial booty... formal decolonisation has been accompanied by a virtually uninterrupted sequence of imperial wars and interventions in the post-colonial world." The more things change the more they remain the same, is the Gallic saying.

Mr Vladimir Putin, as President of the Russian Federation, remarked that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the "greatest geopolitical tragedy of our time." The USSR in its high noon had balanced the power and authority of the US and Nato in an equilibrium that kept the peace, if nothing else. The world's Time of Trouble has been one of unbridled Nato expansion and aggression as might prevailed over right in shameless ways.

The eminently decent Mikhail Gorbachev, to his immense credit, ended the Cold War, but decency alone is not necessarily the enduring strength of a true statesman. Mr Gorbachev lacked the intellect and will, held too many illusions about his Western interlocutors to safeguard the national interest. That he remains an admirer of Mr Tony Blair says it all. Not surprisingly, his stock in Russia remains low.







Anna Hazare's Gandhian intervention has galvanised 'civil society' into taking decisive action in the war on corruption in high places. What has also played a crucial role is media's unrelenting exposure of scams and tainted politicians who can no longer escape public scrutiny

A seventy-three year old unassuming man by the name of Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare is again set to give sleepless nights to the Government of India. More popularly known as Anna Hazare, this isn't his first endeavour to take the putrescent establishment head on. He earned his due recognition when he tirelessly fought to develop a model village in the district of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. As it happens to most in our country, for all the good work, Mr Hazare was arrested in 1998 and was released on account of a huge public uproar.

Incidentally, the Government of India also recognised his efforts by bestowing him with the Padma Bhushan. But amongst all his mini-revolutions which have advantaged the smaller sections of society, this time Mr Hazare is taking up such an issue which is probably the biggest malaise of our democracy and is a cause which affects every living Indian in some way or the other.

Our Governments time and again have been most deleteriously corrupt and demonocratic. But in all these respects, the current reprobate Government takes the cake. The biggest of scams have surfaced under this execrable leadership. And it's not big simply because times have changed. Even if one accounts for inflation, these are gigantic scams, which only goes on to show that the people in power are knavishly corrupt and greedy like never before.

Thus, 2010 can safely be called the year of unparalleled and historic corruption. The year of shame, in which media — especially the electronic media — had a field year and ended up making a lot of people from the 'civil society' very vocal. Amongst them were some people with honest backgrounds and with a spotless record of serving this nation and having a great following in this country — people like Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal and the grand old man of India's now famous India-against-corruption movement, Mr Hazare.

They decided that enough was enough with the flagitious Government's lip service. It was time for the honest man to show his powers, and if necessary, arm-twist the Government a little. They came out on the streets. And Mr Hazare took to fasting. Fasting to get a people's bill introduced which will give people and their representatives the power to prosecute the quisling corrupt in the Government and bureaucracy.

On a normal day, a man fasting at Jantar Mantar wouldn't bother many. But it was not a normal day. It was after a year of corruption being exposed one after the other — and a huge role in that too had been played by the much often criticised electronic media of India. Yes, with the need to sustain themselves in the 24x7 format, the media often shows eyeball grabbing programmes; but that does not mean they do not show real news when there is any.

The Indian electronic media is full of people and TV hosts who want to see a real change in this country's cankered economic and political system — and a majority of these media channels are in Hindi and other regional channels. For eyeballs as well as genuine frustration with corruption, the electronic media had seen to it over the entire year that every Indian was not just aware of corruption in high places but had also seen stammering representatives of the current government unable to defend the very straightforward and scathing attack of the new age Indian TV.

In this day and time, when Mr Hazare took to fasting, a different breed of people — more awakened and angrier than ever before — came out in hundreds first and thousands soon after to support this man. The entire show was again covered very well by TV and propagated around the country. In contrast to Mr Hazare, my heart does go out for Irom Sharmila, who has been fasting for 10 long years without any success and with the Government turning a blind eye to her existence.

On any other day, Mr Hazare could have also spent a few years fasting with the Government not budging a bit. Who after all cares if 4,000 people come together and demonstrate? A good lathi charge, an arrest of the leaders including Mr Hazare and a few hours later, all could have been over. But in the new India, under the scathing eye and leadership of the electronic media more than Mr Hazare, all this was not possible. On the contrary, with every given hour, masses only increased. And the Government — given its indictable track record in recent times in terms of corruption — had no other choice but to budge and accept Mr Hazare's demands to avoid the possibility of a much larger scale uprising.

At the end, it's true that Mr Hazare led from the front and was ready to put his life at stake. It's true that for every conscientious movement, you need a spotless leader with unblemished credibility. But the fact is that the real support of this leader did not come from the few men who went to Jantar Mantar. It came from the much criticised newsrooms of India's electronic media, which didn't care about their party alliances but came out all supporting the movement. And anything that makes the elected representatives of India — the politicians — budge is democratic. Every time Governments across the world have taken their people for a ride, a people's movement has taken shape.

-- The writer is a management guru and editor, The Sunday Indian.







Sathya Sai Baba proves his critics wrong

The world-wide outpouring of grief over Sathya Sai Baba's passing away testifies to the faith that a vast multitude vested in the guru, who came both to be mocked and adored for the miracles that he performed. Myriad attempts by his baiters to pull him down from the pedestal, upon which his disciples placed him, failed to achieve their purpose. The baiting still continues via media reports, ridiculing his claim that he would be re-incarnated as a spiritual figure called Prem Sai; and that he would live till 96, when he was 86 at the time of his demise. Reams of newspaper space are being devoted to highlighting the discrepancy between his actual age at the time of death, and the age, allegedly stated by him, for his demise. The supposed vastu defect in the hospital where he was being treated — a top class medical facility, built by his trust — has also been played up by naysayers, as if this shortcoming alone were to blame for the death of the body.

Yet, as believers well know, the spirit, life force — call it what you may — never dies, even if the cynical rationalist brigade stridently debunks belief in god, soul and immortality. And many of the Baba's followers aver that they sense his presence, though he is not there in a physical form. Devout Christians, who believe completely in Christ's resurrection and await his second coming, just as Mahayana Buddhism anticipates the advent of the Maitreya Buddha, to redeem humanity by his suffering, should not find the idea of Sai's return absurd. Evangelists, who fervently promise healings and other miracles from the pulpit during their sermons, are essentially trying to do what savants such as the Puttaparthi master effortlessly induced. His public displays of materialising ash and physical objects, though dismissed by professional magicians as tricks of their trade, were clearly much more than that.

In the Indic tradition, great masters are known to resort often to 'miracles' — that is, acts that defy conventional measures of time, space and perception — to help devotees, on being importuned for such intercession, or to awaken faith. Yogandanda Paramahansa, in his widely acclaimed Autobiography of a Yogi, writes about masters and their miracles so convincingly that their world, of infinite possibilities, is definitely preferable to the bleak, hopeless landscape, inhabited by sceptics, rationalists and others of their ilk. He provides a detailed description of Trailang Swami of Benaras, whom historical records show lived for an unsually long period of time, possibly between 1601-1881. Extending life span was a possibility that George Bernard Shaw accepted in his play, Back to Methuselah. He drew inspiration from a Hebrew patriarch named Methuselah, mentioned in Genesis 5, who apparently died at the age of 969 years. Shaw thereby subscribed to the doctrine of creative evolution, which hinges on the power of the will to attain that, considered impossible. The best example of this view is contained in Indic doctrines that teach man's bounden duty to be ascent to the state of divinity, after countless transmigrations of the soul through myriad life forms or yonis.

The extraordinary realm, inhabited by saints and masters, their mission in the world and the service they render to people, is beautifully portrayed in Living with the Himalayan Masters, a detailed record of Swami Ram's encounters. The American writer, astrologer and Ayurvedic physician Robert Svoboda has focussed on the esoteric aspects of the guru-shishya tradition in his unique trilogy: Aghora, Kundalini and Aghora III: The Law of Karma. He draws from his own experiences as well as events, revealed to him by his guru, the Aghori Vimalanand. Some of the episodes in these books defy reason, as we know it, so completely that willing suspension of disbelief, as the poet Coleridge advised, is necessary for readers. But the greatest miracle is the internal awakening that exalted masters bring about, with the celestial sage Narad, for instance, intervening to turn an outlaw, like Valmiki, into a maharishi and the immortal raconteur of the saga of the divine avatar Ram.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy". These words, spoken by Shakespeare's Hamlet, sums up the esoteric weltanschauung. Gurus and their miracles are as real for Hindus as god, prophets and angels, and the Devil and his retinue, are in the Judaic-Christian-Islamic cosmos. Judaic-Christian annals, too, are replete with accounts of healings and magical happenings, such as the Red Sea parting on Moses' intercession, to allow passage to the Israelites, fleeing from slavery, with the Egyptians in hot pursuit. Finally, it is related, the sea waters moved back, drowning the Egyptians. Yet, Sathya Sai Baba, more than any other contemporary spiritual master, has unfortunately been singled out by scoffing western sceptics and some Indians, to be systematically ridiculed and defamed. Renegade devotees have accused him of sexual misdemeanours. The BBC, in 2004, aired a documentary, The Secret Swami, which had two men charging Sai Baba with sexual abuse. Seduced By Sai Baba, another documentary, produced by Denmark's national television and radio broadcast company, Danmarks Radio, made the same allegation.

The orchestrated anti-Baba campaign, in the media here and abroad, began to be ascribed to a Church-sponsored conspiracy to wean away Christian votaries. For, his eclectic appeal was formidable. But faith triumphed.






Given the already frayed ties with its electoral ally, the Congress, even before poll results are out and the plethora of family problems that plague its patriarch, the DMK is in a tough spot

The DMK-Congress relationship is hinging on if the combine will win the Tamil Nadu Assembly poll. And this is a big 'if' especially in a State where no one is willing to predict the outcome. The stability of the Government at the national level also depends on these results.

The DMK-Congress ties were already strained even prior to the polls — first due to the arrest of former Union Telecom Minister A Raja in the 2G Spectrum scam and then because of disagreements regarding the seat-sharing equation. Although both the parties are playing down the degree to which their relationship has soured after the recent chargesheet against the DMK chief M Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi, the DMK is now worried about its future. No doubt that the name of his wife Dayalu Ammal has been left out for the time being but someone will certainly go to court asking for reasons. Once Ms Ammal's name —which directly involves Mr Karunanidhi's family — gets embroiled in the scandal, it will be a matter of great embarrassment for the Chief Minister.

For the Congress it will be a stable situation if the combine wins Tamil Nadu poll even though the DMK would carry its baggage of corrupt Ministers. It will also begin to flex its muscles. On the other hand if the DMK withdraws or even pulls out its Ministers from the Manmohan Singh Government, the UPA would become unstable. For every issue the Government will have to make a fresh effort to get the support of the DMK, which has 18 MPs. With the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election next on the agenda, the UPA regime will also have to look elsewhere for support like the SP, the RLD or smaller parties. Getting the support of the SP or the BSP is going to be dicey as far as running the day-to-day Parliament business is concerned. Mr Karunanidhi would not like the Congress to tie up with the AIADMK if it comes to power, as Ms J Jayalalithaa had already promised to get 18 members if Congress dumps the DMK. Essentially, if it does well in the Assembly poll the Congress would be in a stronger position irrespective of the DMK's performance.

As for the DMK, it is in a Catch-22 situation. It has no other option but to swallow the humiliation on the 2G Spectrum scam arrests. This is a serious problem. If the combine wins the poll, the DMK will have an upper hand. But then other problems like the Congress demands to join the DMK Government will arise. Mr Karunanidhi will also have problems dividing power within his family. Of course, with Kanimozhi's arrested the DMK patriarch will have to deal with one less contender.

But the fact that his wife Ms Ammal, who has a 60 per cent share in the Kalaiagnar TV has not been named by the CBI, while implicating Kanimozhi as the co conspirator, will create additional trouble for the Mr Karunanidhi.

As for Kanimozhi, her young political career in already in trouble only four years after she moved to New Delhi as a Rajya Sabha member and became the face of the DMK in the capital. She enjoyed the support of many DMK MPs and Ministers because of her proximity to Mr Karunanidhi. However because of sibling rivalry, she got little support from her brothers Mr MK Stalin and Mr MK Azhagiri who are now fighting it out between themselves.

Since Mr Karunanidhi has already announced that Mr Stalin would be his successor, it is to be seen how he will deal with Mr Azhagiri.

Also, if the DMK loses in Tamil Nadu it will have to face a Jayalaliathaa-led Government in the State and a strong Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre. Therefore, even if the DMK pulls out its Ministers, it will have to continue supporting the Congress at the Centre to save itself.

With all these issues staring it in the face, the DMK is still debating what to do as it waits for the poll results. It is the same situation with the Congress, which does not want to rock the boat unnecessarily. Within the DMK, a section suspects deliberate design behind the leaks leading up to the chargesheet while others are cautious and willing to wait for the poll results. At the momentm, the party is not even discussing the situation. In all probability nothing much will happen in Chennai until May 13 when the crucial poll results are announced, and then the cat and the mouse games will continue. By mid-May, things will crystallise and the political situation will become clear. -AP






Anna Hazare got instant all-India fame when he successfully launched a campaign for the enactment of the Jan Lok Pal Bill by Parliament. But publicity has made him a reckless critic of democratic India's electoral process which is no doubt flawed and corrupt. It was fantastic nonsense for Mr Hazare to observe on April 10, 2011 that an 'ordinary voter does not have awareness... They do not understand the value of their vote.'

As if this was not enough, he went on to assert that 'if I fight elections I will lose my deposit. I don't have money to buy up voter and buy them alcohol or a sari.' It was not unexpected that political leaders like Mr LK Advani, Mr Digvijay Singh, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav et al would publicly state that Mr Hazare was wrong to paint every elected representative in black and had opted to condemn the whole political system in a blanket manner.

Not only this, Mr Hazare's ill-founded general censure of the democratic political process led many tall leaders to ask questions about the very legitimacy of the 'unelected and unrepresentative' individuals, who along with Mr Hazare, launched a movement for the enactment of the Jan Lok Pal Bill.

How can elected representatives, even in a completely imperfect democracy, accept the pre-eminent role of the 'unelected' in public policy formulation processes and supplant the elected Government and Parliament in India? It will be an unempirical statement to make that the role of black money and involvement of criminals is not a reality of the political-electoral process. However, it shows a high level of ignorance on Mr Hazare's behalf when he claims that the Indian voters are not politically conscious and are solely guided by petty temptations when exercising their very valuable right of vote during the elections.

A few facts may be mentioned to substantiate the argument that the illiterate, the poor, and the wretched have shown a highly developed political sense while participating in elections. First, a large section of Indians have exercised their precious right to vote under the shadow of gun wielding militants, secessionists and terrorists. Elections for Panchayati Raj Institutions were held in two phases in Jammu & Kashmir under the dictates of separatists who had called for a 'boycott of elections'. Still in this atmosphere of fear, 78 to 82 per cent of Kashmiris decided to vote. Only cynics and vulgar armed-chair elite can ignore the active participation of citizens even in State like Jammu & Kashmir where militancy is at its peak. In Assam, the State Assembly election held in April brought more than 70 per cent men and women to the polling booths despite a segment of disgruntled gun-wielding ULFA cadre continuing to terrorise voters. How can one dismiss such conscious voters in States and regions that are witnessing 'abnormal' political situations? Fear was conspicuous by its absence among voters when they decided to punish Mrs Indira Gandhi for her authoritarian Emergency regime in 1977?

Second, elections in India have become highly competitive and every major or minor party and leader is on his tenterhooks because of fear of punishment by the voter. If Indian voter is not conscious of his rights, the country would have been ruled by only one party and one party dictatorship would have been the order of the day.

Voters have changed the political map of India and by electing or rejecting parties, a system of multi-polar democracy has emerged where all-India national parties have to co-exist and compete with regional parties. The outcome of the Assembly elections of Kerala and Tamil Nadu is unpredictable because of unexpected heavy voter turnout. Is Mr M Karunnadhi's DMK, with huge financial resources at its command, sure about electoral victory? Election studies have shown that large number of voters accept money or other goodies from every candidate or party and make promises to vote the party candidate but in reality the secret ballot is secret and the voter has learnt to milch every party.

Thirdly, a significant fact of electoral politics is that it is the poor, deprived and struggling labouring classes that are in the forefront of participation during elections and it is the comfortable metropolitan middle class comprising professional businessmen and others are the ones who stay one. Political parties have to undertake a lot of effort to bring the so-called highly educated strata of society to the 'polling booth' for voting during the elections.

It is an insult to the Indian democracy to maintain, or even suggest, that the Indian voter is not 'conscious' of his right to vote because serious election studies disprove such condemnatory statements made by armed-chair, candle-light protestors belonging to the middle classes of metropolitan cities.









As Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding dawns, it's important to ask why the world cares so much. It's estimated the ceremony will be watched by two billion people spread across one-third of the planet. For the small House of Windsor that rules an island of 61 million - that too only symbolically - it's quite an act. Many viewers won't share 'WillKat's' religious beliefs, cultural context or aristocratic backdrop of palaces, carriages and maids-in-waiting. Why then should they care so much?

The reasons are few but powerful. At one time, the
British monarchy ruled most of the world, and not just symbolically. Currencies, institutions and symbols of power, from songs to structures and services, operated in the monarch's name; the globe grew familiar with the business of British royalty. In India, kings and khidmatgars had knowledge of the monarchy's pomp and style. Although India had many a maharajah to boot, Britain's rulers were considered a 'class' apart, their status linked to cultural rather than real capital.

While interest in British royalty waned with countries gaining independence through the 20th century, it revived in 1981 when young Prince Charles married the lovely Lady Diana. The world was transfixed by the fairytale; it then watched this turn into a circus. The marriage deteriorating, the once-grand Windsors started losing their sheen. Britain's royalty witnessed the death of its dignity. The global public was served up too many salacious telephone conversations, marital secrets and peccadilloes for it to keep a straight face, let alone a stiff upper lip.

'WillKat' changed that. Easy on the eye, the couple personifies mature values of British royalty. Middleton's wedding invitation to her Indian grocers is testament of these values alongside a public relations triumph, reflecting a Britain that's cosmopolitan but very different from Diana's crowd of Arab millionaires and Pakistani playboys. In the public eye, Kate brings middle-class morality to the monarchy. The marriage injects verve to the tourism industry revolving around Buckingham Palace, the dynasty's refreshed virtuousness reflected in
Hollywood hits. From the tabloids, the royals return to china plates, tablecloths and thimbles. Fresh and glamorous, 'WillKat' bring a whiff of the old and familiar back to the 'grandeur' market royalty today serves. To many around the world, they also represent love that dares to hope above difficulties. Perhaps that's why people care so much. And send them their congratulations.







It is deplorable that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) draft report on the 2G spectrum allocation scam has become the subject of a vicious slanging match between the government and the opposition. Accusing BJP leader and PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi of holding a biased view of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and cabinet ministers under UPA-I, members of the Congress and DMK not only called for his resignation, the report was put to vote and rejected. Hitherto the UPA had insisted that the PAC was the appropriate body to probe the 2G scam. Now when the same committee raised questions regarding the government's handling of spectrum allocation, the latter cried foul. On its part, the BJP had wasted the entire winter session of Parliament asserting that a PAC report was insufficient and a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe was needed. But sensing an opportunity to score political points it now fully backs the PAC. If a PAC report can be the source of such political acrimony, one can well imagine the stir a JPC probe would cause.

The PAC report has made some valid points requiring answers. If indeed a minister of the government misled the prime minister or the latter chose to distance himself from a dubious dealing under his watch, it is a matter of serious concern. That former telecom minister A Raja ignored the advice of his cabinet colleagues and allocated 2G spectrum licences in a questionable manner is already in the public domain. The PAC report, therefore, needed to be discussed in a civilised manner, properly addressing the issues raised. Its recommendations on protecting whistleblowers and reforming the bureaucracy needed to be considered as well. Parliamentary processes cannot be held hostage to political one-upmanship. Greater maturity is expected of our political class.








Two years ago, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, routinely brushed off criticism of Pakistan's ISI. He had worked out an excellent relationship with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's inscrutable army chief. They were friends and they were singing from the same sheet of music. Sure, the Pakistani army would have a tough time of it, but they would get there.

Last week, Mullen berated
Pakistan on TV for ISI's continued patronage of terror groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba that was undermining the war in Afghanistan. The conclusion we should draw is not the one that says, phew! Mullen finally saw the light. But that Pakistan will not change its strategic posture of opposing India and befriending terrorist groups, notwithstanding incentives or pressure.

Now that India is apparently flirting with the idea of talking to the Pakistani army, this should serve as a useful reminder for all who believe this will smell of roses.

The story 'floated' in The Times,
London, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had been quietly talking to Kayani excited the imagination of many in India and overseas. It seemed to signal that India and Pakistan were serious about putting their differences behind them and getting on with life. Extrapolated from this is also the suggestion that the Afghanistan war could be brought to an honourable end if peace breaks out between India and Pakistan.

There should be no quibble about the virtues of India engaging the Pakistani army, because as we have made the point repeatedly in these columns,
Islamabad is not quite the same without Rawalpindi. In July 2010, the India-Pakistan foreign ministers' dialogue was stopped in its tracks. An agreed agenda for discussion was upended followed by some avoidable bad-mouthing at a joint press conference. It was generally believed that the army pulled the rug from under the talks after India went public with the fact that the ISI had been fully involved in planning the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.

The importance of engaging the generals is acute. But the Indian government has an irrational distaste for the Pakistani army when it's not in power. On the other side, Kayani has been cold to overtures made to him by the Indian envoy in Islamabad. For a man who only sees heads of government and defence forces, what's a mere ambassador?

But let's say the Indians manage to credibly engage Kayani, by, say, Shivshankar Menon, national security adviser. What would they talk about? And how much of the dialogue should be under the radar?

Sir Creek comes to mind. After a joint survey of the creek there is now a general agreement on the broad issue. The problem is that the heart of the dispute - that is, where to draw the line on the creek - remains unresolved. Pakistan wants it on the eastern bank, India wants it midstream. An out-of-the-box solution could disconnect the resolution of the maritime boundary from the creek itself. This would see a 'seaward' solution which could result in the two countries demarcating their exclusive economic zone.

Resolution of where the line would run on the creek itself could entail some give-and-take of territory. Singh, who battles an overwhelming perception that he is ever ready to concede to Pakistan and the US, will find this difficult. Any back channel with the army risks being seen as a sell-out.

On the other side, Pakistan would want a deal on Siachen. This is their core concern, far outstripping Sir Creek or others. At the top levels, Pakistan is well aware that no solution to the Kashmir issue could entail a territorial concession. But a deal on Siachen where the Indian army could be persuaded to vacate the heights of the Saltoro range is irresistible to Pakistan. India cannot do this deal, no matter how you dress it up. No amount of satellite mapping and authentication on maps will help the Indian army retake the heights once they have been relinquished, and Pakistan knows this. The trek on the Indian side is far tougher than on theirs. And nobody should get conned by claims of Siachen being a wasteland. India needs it for strong strategic reasons.

This discussion, too, can never happen in the quiet, no matter who does it. Neither can a conversation on terrorism or Kashmir. Nobody wants to be surprised by another Sharm-el-Sheikh. On Kashmir, the
Mumbai attacks put paid to any romance with 'irrelevant borders'. There are too many jihadists per sq km in Pakistan for India to feel comfortable with anything less than secure borders.

The prime minister's aim of 'normalising' relations with Pakistan is laudable, but given his present troubles, Singh doesn't have the political capital to do it. In fact, in the current atmosphere where his eagerness to deal with Pakistan is viewed with suspicion, back channel talks with the Pakistani army would be inviting trouble. Besides, as the three years of the Lambah-Aziz dialogue showed, Islamabad is master of the selective leak in the media, always a disruptive act in the India-Pakistan context.

There should not be a great distance between what they say privately and in the public eye. Instead, India should invite Kayani for standalone talks with the government here. In the India-Pakistan context, back channel talks cannot be counted as a confidence-building exercise.






Ram Puniyani is an academic activist who has been focussing on countering communal politics. His latest volume is Communalism Explained! A Graphic Account where his text is accompanied by Sharad Sharma's graphics.


For several years you have been writing extensively on how to battle communal outfits. Do you think such writing makes inroads?

Communal politics had been planted during the freedom movement by the declining sections of landlords and later articulated by some educated people who joined in. The communalists were using religion for their political agenda of maintaining the status quo of social relationships. They resorted to vicious propaganda against the people of a different religion, leading to communal violence. From the 1980s communal politics has become stronger. Communal biases have also been propagated by a section of the media, and through school books. Due to this, biases against minorities have become part of the 'social common sense'. There is a strong need to bring forward the truth behind these falsehoods which are widely prevalent. So the need is not only to write against communal politics, against myths and biases, but also to develop mechanisms to reach it to society at large. That's where our efforts are not adequate, mainly due to our inability to develop young activists to work more on these lines.

And do you think that books like this ought to be introduced by the government at the school level so that they are part of the syllabi and make the upcoming generations aware of the lurking dangers?

During the NDA government, Murli Manohar Joshi further communalised school books. It is heartening that the UPA government has tried to bring back a rational viewpoint in history and social studies books in schools. Still the state boards are yet to fully adopt such books. In addition, it is clear that more efforts are needed from the government, as the state is duty bound to promote secular values. Introduction of books like Communalism Explained in school curriculum as additional reading will definitely curb communal common sense in the new generation.

Why do you think the government has not been able to curb or handle communalism?

To begin with, after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, we have not seen any leader so deeply committed to take on communal outfits. Lots of opportunistic compromises have been made with communal politics. In addition, many communalists have infiltrated politics, bureaucracy, judiciary, media and the educational system. A case in point is the investigation of acts of terror and dealing with them. It is clear that many RSS affiliated groups are involved in acts of terror. But the investigating authorities kept deliberately looking the other way and harping on the theory that all terrorists are Muslims. The trend was seen in blasts in Mecca Masjid ( Hyderabad), Samjhauta Express, Malegaon, Modasa and Ajmer. Hemant Karkare meticulously investigated and unearthed the nexus involving Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami Dayanand Pande, Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit and Swami Aseemanand. The truth is out in the open and it is clear how a totally biased investigation led to the arrest of many innocent youths from the minority community. As far as terrorism unleashed by the state is concerned it is more in areas like Kashmir, parts of the northeast, and in areas where Maoists are a sizeable force. Here also the process of dialogue and understanding the problems of people have been bypassed, leading to the horrific situation.







I've just undergone a minor surgical procedure. Nothing serious, a small but painful cyst, located in a particularly sensitive part of the anatomy, which had to be removed under general anaesthesia. The operation, performed by my surgeon friend, Doc Nigam, took about 20 minutes and went off without hitch or hiccup. Three days after the surgery, i was taking my daily 4-km evening walk.

The painless ease of the whole thing brought home to me how much medical science has progressed since 31 years ago, which was when i'd had my previous encounter with surgery. In a household accident, i'd severed my Achilles tendon and had to have an emergency operation in a Calcutta nursing home. They misjudged the amount of general anaesthesia they gave me - a horrible process in those far-off days, which involved a gas mask placed over your face that pumped foully sweet-smelling vapour which spun you into unconsciousness as though you were being sucked into a pitch-black whirlpool from which you'd never emerge - and i woke up in the middle of the surgery in the operating theatre, one of the scariest moments of my life.

This time around there were no gas masks, no spinning whirlpool of blackness, no post-operation pain or nausea. A needle prick on the back of my hand which i barely felt, and the next thing i knew i was asking Doc Nigam when he was going to start cutting me open and he told me that it was all done and over with, and in a polythene envelope held up the villain of piece - the removed cyst - to prove it.

It was a cakewalk. In more ways than one. For as i thought about the marvellous progress made in medical science over the years - and particularly so in recent times during which state-of-the-art private hospitals have mushroomed all over the country - something struck me. A lot of the advances made in medicine were undoubtedly effected in laboratories and similar research and development facilities in India and abroad. But could at least some of the progress be attributed to the one facility that all these large private hospitals - including the one i was in, courtesy my medical insurance - possess in common: the cafeteria? Go to any big hospital in the country and it'll almost certainly have an in-house cafeteria for use by visitors, staff members, and even patients who'll have snacks sent up to their rooms.

The Gurgaon hospital i was in had a large, crowded cafeteria well-stocked with all manner of tempting goodies: wedges of gooey chocolate cake, doughnuts full of jam and cream, deep-fried samosas, veg and non-veg patties oozing grease. Chocolate cake, doughnuts, fried samosas, greasy patties? Weren't all these definite no-nos from the health point of view? Weren't they all fast foods, fried, full of refined sugar, and so chock-a-block with trans-fats that just looking at them would terminally harden the arteries in your toenails, which would be a heck of a thing in that your toenails don't have arteries to begin with? So what were all these cholesterol-crammed junk foods doing in a hospital cafeteria, the last place you'd expect to find them?

Or was it? In the world of business there's a process called backward integration. Suppose you're a publisher. It would make sense to backwardly integrate your business and start a printing press to print your publications. And further backwardly integrate to set up a paper mill, to supply paper to your printing press. And so on. Similarly, for hospitals to run - and for medical science to progress - there have to be patients, unwell people who have to be made well. The more patients doctors have to treat, the better they get at their jobs. Practice makes perfect. How to ensure a steady supply of patients? Visit your friendly neighbourhood hospital cafeteria and find out. And while you're at it, order a double portion of fries with your aloo-tikki burger. What the hell. It's all for the noble cause of medical progress. Move over, Alexander Fleming and Ronald Ross.







Buying a weapon would seem to be a simple enough decision. Arms are destructive. Whichever is more destructive should be better. Would it were that easy. There are probably few things more difficult than purchasing weapons. Because they lie at the core of national security concerns, choosing a major weapon system must factor in more than mere firepower. The surety of spare parts, the issue of life-cycle costs, training and interoperability must also be assessed. What is probably the most important factor, and the most difficult to assess, is the strategic context of the weapon. Though men in uniform complain bitterly about this, strategic context is an inevitable part of an arms purchase. It is a political judgement and highly subjective.

Strategic context matters little in the buying of small arms or helmets. It matters hugely in the purchase of major weapons platforms — fighter aircraft, warships and heavy armour. These are at the heart of battlefield dominance. If

India or any country buys such weapons from overseas, it implies a degree of commitment from both sides that can run into decades. This is especially true for the technologically most advanced platform: the fighter aircraft. An additional concern these days is the issue of offsets. India is the world's largest arms importer, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Between 2006 and 2010 its imports represented 9% of the world's total arms transfers. Bringing more of these purchases home is both an economic and a strategic need. It is also important because a wise offset policy lays the seeds, over time, for domestic capacity in high-technology development.

The so-called medium multi-role combat aircraft contract has been a matter of global interest not merely because of its size, but also because it is expected to serve as a signal of where India sees its strategic future. Russia, the source of 80% of India's purchases in the past, is on a declining technological trajectory and has a new primary client in the form of China. The recent shortlisting of two European-origin fighters and the resignation of the US ambassador to India have weaved an exciting but strategically ambiguous tale around the aircraft contract. But arms procurement in India has tended to be a long and tortuous process so the final word on the matter may not have been said. However, Europe, which runs to the US whenever it has a serious military problem and is unable to project power into Asia, cannot be a long-term strategic partner for India. Thus whatever the plane that is inducted into the air force, what has been postponed and left open is India's strategic future in a 21st century that has already been marked by remarkable international flux. Weapons can be bought, mothballed and replaced with new ones. Strategic partnerships need to be selected and developed because they are the stuff of national security and the product of years of cultivation.





What's in a ring tone? Plenty, if you ask Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik. Recently, the senior officer issued a government circular, no less, warning his subordinates to avoid using 'vulgar' ring tones. Cut the officialese and it means a ban on item number ring tones. So goodbye 'Munni Badnam Hui' and any thoughts of silky Sheila, instead back to the classics or the trusty old 'tring, tring'.

The top cop, reports say, wants to change the public's perception of men in khaki and, therefore, has sent this circular. Now you can't fault the man for doing this. Just think about his predicament: he is on a surprise check and lands up at a police station late at night. He sees things out of order there and starts lecturing the men there about the rulebook. Even as he thunders and the men look down and out, suddenly a mobile phone comes alive to the sound of, horror of all horrors: 'Sheila Ki Jawani…!' Not once, but twice! Studies say ring tones do say a lot about the mobile owners' personality and Patnaik must have definitely gauged the mood at the station.

Nevertheless, it's not such a bad thing to have an item number: after all everyone listens to them these days. In fact, a normal ring tone suggests that you are showing your age and your inability to master technology and change the ring tone. Don't believe it? Even we don't. So, using the same logic, then 'Munni Badnam Hui' really does not reveal anything, does it? So Mr Patnaik, let there be music wherever we go.






In common with millions in India, Britain, the rest of the Commonwealth and elsewhere around the world, I look forward to today's marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

The Royal Wedding has captured the public imagination. Facts and figures about the scale of the occasion have come thick and fast. Experts predict that some 2 billion people will watch the event on TV, that 162 million internet pages have a Royal Wedding connection, and that every 10 seconds someone on-line writes about the occasion. On a lighter note (thanks to the Daily Telegraph), I have discovered that 26,000 tulips will be trimmed in front of Buckingham Palace on account of the recent fine weather in London, and 200 km of bunting will be sold in leading British supermarkets to decorate street parties up and down Britain, of which 298 will be held in Hertfordshire alone (one of Britain's more compact counties).

The underlying point of such statistics is that the Royal Wedding will bring together people from across the world to celebrate the marriage of the young couple. As a country that is home to over 160 nationalities speaking over 300 different languages, there are a few, if any, better places than Britain to host such an event. London's Heathrow airport, which already handles more international passengers than any other, will be buzzing. The 1,500-plus London-based correspondents of the world's media will vie with their British counterparts to offer the best coverage.  And even those 400 or so of the Fortune 500 companies that have operations in Britain may take a breather from business to enjoy the atmosphere.

Other events capture global interest in their own way, be it the US presidential election, the annual Hajj, or the Olympics (and international eyes will again be on London in the summer of 2012). But there is something unique about a British Royal Wedding.  It is a major public occasion, but at the same time a very private moment. It demands a balance between honouring cherished tradition, while marking the day with something different and modern.

Given the deep ties between the people and cultures of our two countries, it should come as no surprise that there will be a significant Indian contribution to each of these public, private, traditional and modern aspects of the Royal Wedding. Some of the two million strong Indian diaspora in Britain will undoubtedly be at street parties or other events to enjoy the day alongside friends and neighbours. But there will also be an Indian contribution within the private sanctum of the family wedding celebration itself.  The wedding cake — a centrepiece of the meal for family and select friends after the marriage service — has been made by Fiona Cairns, the wife of Kishore Patel, a Gujarati entrepreneur who is now managing director of the family's high-class bakery business. And a further Indian contribution will be commemorative scarves, made by a Ludhiana-based company to classic, yet modern designs provided by a leading British fashion house.

But the real joy of the occasion is the coming together of family and friends to celebrate the prospect of a happy and successful life for the young couple. This is something that is immediately understood by every Indian family. For all the pressures of modern life, such as spending extended periods away from home, it is still family ties that bind. This is an enduring tradition and on clear display at every Indian wedding, festival and ceremony.

It will be these same sentiments that unite all those gathered in Westminster Abbey today, whether from Royalty, politics, celebrity, or simply friends such as Mr and Mrs Hasmukh Shingadia, whose family originated from Gujarat and now run the local shop in the village of Upper Bucklebury  where the Middleton family lives.

Of course, this is the case for any wedding, but the nice thing about a Royal Wedding is that many more of us have the chance to join in. So let us all raise our glasses this evening to toast the happy couple.

( Richard Stagg is the British high commissioner to India )

The views expressed by the author are personal





It is hard to think of any nation that is more history-conscious than Britain. History tumbles out every day from the pages of its national dailies. From radio and television reports, Britons are carpet-bombed with commemorations that seek to mark the obscurest of events. 

Politicians, generals, journalists and writers make it their business to drum into the heads of the populace: 'You are British, you have history.' History may have been declared dead in parts of the world; in Britain, it's about to begin. Once again.

Today, Friday, April 29, Prince William is marrying his sweetheart Catherine Middleton. Unrivalled pomp, pageantry and rituals will be played out before an expected global audience of two billion. The actors in this elaborate theatre, from carriage footmen up, will be expected to harness every inch of their sense of history to impress the world.

Everyone in this nation of over 60 million has been primed already. For weeks now, we have read, watched, heard every detail of the first British Royal Wedding of the millennium. From the comfort our living rooms, we have met the Middletons in their village, watched William as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot and, days before Friday's celebrations began, speculated on succession.

But why, a visitor could be forgiven for asking, are people celebrating in a country that appears to have so little to celebrate at this time in its history, with half a million public sector jobs facing the chop and a massive £80 billion being cut from the public services over the next four years? Precisely because, answers Martin Fidler, the butcher from Kate Middleton's home village Bucklebury.

"This will give people a lift," Fidler said last week. "There's so much of doom and gloom around — we need it." People have stopped buying steaks from his small family-run shop, opting instead for cheaper cuts, mince and sausages. "Meat is the most expensive item on your plate," Fidler pointed out.

And this in Bucklebury, where signs of poverty and destitution are hard to come by. Small businesses such as his will find the going hard in the years ahead — the result of a credit crunch and recession that took the country close to a Greece-like bankruptcy at one stage, according to Prime Minister David Cameron.

Some relief is sorely needed, that much is clear. The past few months have been torrid for poor Britons. Parts of London have burned with riots, led by students angered by a steep hike in university student fees in a country faced with skills shortages. Half a million workers marched through London recently as anarchists attacked shops on Oxford Street.

It's not only at home that Britons are struggling. Abroad, punch as it may above its weight, its influence is waning. Things have looked desperate at times. The national press sank its head with a collective groan when Cameron turned up in Egypt within days of the heady saffron revolution. The first western leader to visit Egypt since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, he had eight arms sellers in tow.

Now, the military action against the Libyan regime of Colonel Gaddafi has the ghost of Iraq written all over it. The anger of a generation that grew up helplessly watching Labour take Britain into a war founded on flimsy grounds could easily boil over. How can Britain justify the expense of another war, they ask, while cutting 42,000 defence jobs at home?

But history-minded Britons know better than anyone else that turbulent as 2010 and the recent months have been, the year Charles and Diana wedded 30 years ago was equally scarred with conflict and violence. In April 1981, the Margaret Thatcher government, faced the anger of 5,000 blacks in Brixton, culminating in unprecedented anti-police riots and changing race relations forever. A month later in the rebellious province of Northern Ireland, the death of hunger striker Bobby Sands renewed years of Republican violence and disaffection with British rule.

That was one more fairytale wedding — aren't they all? — that was meant to have calmed the nation. In the event the nation rejoiced briefly and then watched the marriage unravel painfully and publicly. With every act played out on television channels and the pages of Sunday papers, a globalised media blew the mystique off the monarchy.

Everyone hopes William and Kate will have learned from these mistakes and, in time, help bring lasting stability to the monarchy — a likeable pair ordinary Britons will be able to look up to in times of trouble.

Things are changing rapidly for Britons — the old certainties of an Empire founded on pre-eminence in manufacturing and trade have long vanished, giving way to a fickle economy based primarily on financial services. What is emerging is a modern country that appears to have accepted these changes — and getting more used to the idea that it must embrace the new opportunities held out by India, China and others.

Although questions crop up sporadically on whether the Royal Family is worth the taxpayers' money (£38.1 million last year, down £3 million from 2009), mostly the feeling is that they do a pretty good job of selling Britain. Today, the eyes of the world will be on William and Kate, and on Britain, as they work through the many history-laden rituals of monarchy. The overwhelmingly sentiment will be one of affection for the couple and the nation, as both try to adapt to a changed world.

Dipankar De Sarkar is ou London correspondent.





The scam season seems to be in full bloom. There have been scams in the past too, though not on the same scale. In the past, little effort was made to identify the systemic failures behind a scam. As a result, effective safeguards have not been introduced to eliminate the possibilities of recurrence. Good governance, then, is all about checks and balances that channelise behaviour in the right direction.

Take the example of the Delhi Commonwealth Games (CWG). According to press reports, not only were the projects of the Delhi government hugely delayed, their costs were also allegedly doubled from about R2,000 crore to R4,000 crore.

In contrast, redevelopment of the Delhi airport, with an investment of over R10,000 crore, was completed well before the Games. The construction of the Games Village, worth about R5,000 crore, was also finished on time albeit with some deficiencies in construction work. But the key outcome was that such huge construction projects were completed on time and without cost over-runs while several smaller projects were barely completed just before the Games opened, and at much higher costs.

Nothing seems to have been written about the basic reason for this stark difference in outcomes. All projects other than the Delhi Airport and the Games Village were undertaken through an outdated mode of contracting that has potential for delays, cost over-runs and corruption. In a conventional PWD-style contract, bids are invited on the basis of the unit rates payable in respect of each item of work. The government engineer measures each item and pays for the work done. He is free to allow additional quantities and new items. Delays on this account are borne by the government through compensation for inflation. This is like an open contract which offers many opportunities for corruption. The engineer and the contractor have little incentive to complete the work on time and within the estimated costs. The result of this approach was evident in all the Games-related projects handled by the PWD, etc.

On the other hand, the Delhi airport was constructed through the public private partnership (PPP) mode, which allocates all the construction risks to the concessionaire. Since the concessionaire can collect the user charges from the new facility, he pushes even harder for early completion. For the Games Village, the contractor was given a turnkey contract, which also required him to bear the burden of time and cost over-runs. As a result, this project was also completed on time and at no extra cost to the government — unlike the PWD projects related to the Games.

The message is simple: allocate the construction risks to the contractor and let him have an incentive for timely completion. It would change the entire scenario. All that needs to be done is substitution of the item rate contracts by turnkey contracts. If this is done, the construction of highways, flyovers, bridges, dams, etc. won't suffer from time and cost over-runs. The potential for corruption would be minimised too.

The advantage of a turnkey contract is that the government engineer would lose his day-to-day control over the project. The engineer and the contractor not be able to collude to increase the project costs at government expense. This would affect the contractor-engineer-politician nexus, known for its pursuit of rent extraction. As a result, while the developed countries as well as the private sector across the world have moved towards the turnkey approach, all the engineering departments in India seem opposed to this reform.

This is an issue related to good governance. Hopefully, the shame and embarrassment that India faced before the world during the run-up to the CWG will lead to some systemic reforms. The money thus saved can help build more projects that would accelerate growth.

( Gajendra Haldea is advisor, Planning Commission )

The views expressed by the author are personal



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

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

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

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






Questions raised by Anna Hazare's Jantar Mantar protest still linger. Was it a victory for the people, on whose behalf a few fought for their seat at the table and their right to frame a law that held the powerful to account? Or is it a partial cause, with a few well-organised and well-connected making unsubstantiated claims to represent "the people"?

These questions are important because the worthy citizens rallied by that protest appear to be united by nothing but their antipathy to "the way things are" and their common sense of betrayal by those that India elected. Their solutions, certainly, are absurd. The Lokpal, as envisioned by five of them on the drafting committee, is an overweening, unconstitutional monster empowered to police and adjudicate anyone, fitted out with contempt of court powers. But who set up these people to decide for the rest of a diverse country? And what stops another interest group from hijacking legislation for their own ends, say a group that wants reservation in jobs and higher education or some other self-serving petition? These demands acquired critical mass because it was an easily understood middle-class issue, and excitable television anchors decided it was a picturesque cause. Its apolitical emptiness makes it easy to relate to, and easy to commandeer.

Electoral democracy involves filtering the demands of diverse publics through representative institutions. Without this mediation, and the inbuilt checks and balances of executive, legislature and judiciary, direct agenda-setting by "the people" can lead to many passionate errors — as witnessed around the world. The Lokpal agitation touched a real chord in its despair about the political system — how entry is a by-invitation-only affair, how elections are skewed by money and power, etc. That is difficult to deny, and equally important to reform. Certainly, elections alone are small consolation without constitutional arrangements meant to check the accumulation of power — we need a democratic government, and we need a deliberative government. The only way to adjudicate between competing demands is a system where one ambition counteracts the other. But the truth of the matter is that a democracy is only as good as its institutions. And to make democracy more meaningful, we need to keep chipping away at the problems that show up in these institutions — not to debunk those institutions for the lure of self-certified men and women of the people, for that is the way of dictatorships.






India's new cricket coach is clearly not a man who stands aloof from his team's circumstances. Duncan Fletcher is reported to have said of the last day of an Ashes Test in 2005: "It hit me. Suddenly at that moment the magnitude of this day must have come crashing down on my body. I began retching." But his track record is certainly encouraging. Having failed to persuade Gary Kirsten to stay on longer, the BCCI seems to have traced back the Kirsten cricketing gene to his former coach, Fletcher. In fact, on his first coaching job, he got Kirsten to choose cricket over rugby at university.

Fletcher is credited with many turnarounds. As the coach of a flustered, fumbling England, he got the team its first series win in the Windies in over three decades and the Ashes triumph of 2005. India, of course, are hardly demanding a turnaround, they are the one-day world champions besides being the top-ranked Test team. But it's been a curious feature of Indian cricket in recent years that its fortunes are seen to be so closely associated with the coach. And Fletcher will obviously pick lessons from the recent past.

John Wright remade the team, after the match-fixing scandal had left it in such disarray, and upgraded fitness and practice regimens. His successor, Greg Chappell, got too closely involved in personality clashes and ended up being defeated by the terrible lows the team hit by the end of his truncated tenure. Kirsten, a man who resolutely kept away from the public glare, is currently a hero not only because the World Cup returned to India on his watch. Cricketers — V.V.S. Laxman for instance — mark him out as the catalyst for better averages. Fletcher should read that record fine, but he'd do well to remain less excitable.






It was reported in this newspaper on Thursday that the government intends to set up what will be called, disdaining understatement, "ultra mega steel plants". These Rs 50,000-crore, 10-million-tonnes-a-year UMSPs were guaranteed a supply of inputs; but that supply will not, it appears now, be heavily subsidised. Any "captive" mines — sources of raw materials that will be earmarked entirely for the plants — will be paid for at rates determined by competitive bidding.

To the extent that it reveals a fresh mindset in New Delhi's bhavans, this is very welcome news. For too long the giant gaps in

India's infrastructure systems and core-industry capabilities have been covered up by trying to hand over to the private sector incentives to vertically integrate their operations — meaning that steel producers will be expected to mine their coal and iron ore, too, because otherwise they won't be able to be secure in their supply of inputs. That problem, to an extent, continues, or we would have stopped hearing about captive mines. Yet, it's to be hoped that there is now some political and bureaucratic will to control the most unfortunate by-product of this approach: the giveaway, and subsequent misuse, of the resources so committed. The government, desperate for new coal and steel plants, would assign captive resources. These would not cost the plant's operators what they would in the open market, which in any case led to rent-seeking behaviour in how those captive mines would be assigned. And there was always an incentive, as resource prices then ballooned, to sell the captive mines' product elsewhere, taking home the difference in an extra-healthy balancesheet — at the public's expense.

We hope this is a sign of a new New Delhi, which recognises that the absence of competitive bidding leads to rent-seeking, waste and corruption. Yet it's also true that many such commitments to auctions and to openness have been dialled back before being written into law or implemented as policy. This is one case where such backsliding would be a severe mistake. It would cost the exchequer; the mispricing would cascade problematically through the economy; and it would, most crucially, further perpetuate the culture of closed-door deal-making which has contributed so much to the current fraught political mood.








It was humbling and moving. Our mortal god was mourning the passing of a godman. So it felt as pictures of Tendulkar paying homage to Sathya Sai Baba flashed across the world. It is always presumptuous to claim to know what "faith" is. It is even more presumptuous to second guess the pathways and motivations that lead to it. That is why both loud assertions on its behalf and equally vehement acts of debunking almost always strike a false note. Both claim more knowledge than they are entitled to. A genuinely deep struggle to make sense of the nature of our place in the universe is much too complicated to be reduced to simple dualisms of faith and reason. The course of any single life is itself mysterious enough, subject to contingency, shaped by causes we do not fully understand. To not acknowledge this is to be wilfully blind to the fact that the world is, for anyone who cares to reflect on it, experienced as a mystery.

The quest to come to terms with everyday mysteries can take many forms. Often it expresses itself in ways we exhibit gullibility, a suspension of minimal reflection that is self-defeating. This gullibility can sometimes be endearingly silly. Often it has dangerously legitimised abuses of power. There is often good reason to be sceptical of particular claims to the miraculous or the divine. But it is more difficult to debunk those claims than we think. The enduring following of men like Sai Baba demonstrates that incredibly large numbers of intelligent and clear-thinking people can inhabit different orders of causality with-out experiencing a contradiction. Perhaps there is a deeper truth in this more abundant view of what is possible. While disenchantment can seem heroic against the irrational exuberance of faith, the lack of enchantment can itself produce deep intellectual closures and premature condescension. There is something eminently understandable about the metaphysical impulses that drive us towards godmen. Chesterton, in his inimitable fashion, once said something to the effect that the whole secret of mysticism was that one can understand everything by the help of what one cannot understand. "The morbid logician, on the other hand, seeks to make everything lucid and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious and everything else becomes lucid." In part, our fascination with godmen is the way in which they deploy a mystery in the service of something followers experience as some kind of workable clarity.

Nor is the worship of these godmen simply a form of idolatry, a cultural affliction that supposedly weighs on Hindus. On this reading we simply displace onto the living what was reserved for the idols. The superficiality of this charge rests on not understanding either idolatry or worship. As the philosopher Arindam Chakrabarti once brilliantly wrote, any act of worshipping so-called idols is not premised on regarding them as divine or even representing the divine. It is premised on something deeper. Abhinavagupta described this meaning of "divinification" or adoration as "immersing any object in the I-ness of the worshipper". On this view, the "I" is the egoless Soul of the Universe which is found in the worshipper's heart. True worship is not the recognition of an idol, or the elevation of your self. Far from being idolatry in disguise, worship is premised on dissolution of the ego.

But metaphysics apart, there is a more sensible, social reason to be wary of godmen. It is the concentration of power that comes with them that can be debilitating. Whatever the divine plan may be, concentration of power is not part of it. Trying to enlarge the scope of understanding and self-knowledge to come to terms with the mysteries of fate is one thing. Suspending reason is quite another. In practice, the line between extending reason and suspending it, between humility and abject self-abasement, between enchantment and credulity, turns out to be very thin.

It is also equally true that the impulses that often lead to following godmen are less than meta-physical. Nirad Chaudhari was onto something when he argued that in India "religion" is often the highest form of self-interested and egoistical quest — we look to godmen to provide the plain old things: power, riches and glory. Not to put too fine a point on it, this was often the odour exuded by throngs of rich and powerful that surround people like Sathya Sai Baba. One good reason for staying away from him was that the whole spectacle seemed to thrive on legitimating of power: the famous vibhuti for the poor, diamonds for the rich. The Cosmic Power broker seemed to collude with the Earthly Power brokers.

People looked to him to solve problems no one else would solve. But often the motivations driving individuals also seemed less to do with a quest for self-clarification. They seemed a desperate attempt to cling on to the vestiges of material success. It was a form of hyper-attachment, and the insecurities it breeds drove them to want more. And Sai Baba, like so many others, seemed to oblige. Appearances to the contrary, the edifice seemed to prey on our fears, insecurities and vulnerabilities, even as it promised enlightenment.

There was often an explanation given for this. Creating an organisation and producing the conditions that serve the poor require the cooperation of the rich and powerful. There was a paradox here. The godman whom the powerful sought had to himself pander to power. And the vicious cycle of the legitimation of power continued. The extraordinary social service organisations that provided genuine relief for the poor cannot take away from the fact that, in its own way, this extraordinary power was not put in the service of questioning the basic premises by which we live.

But perhaps there is also more of an invisible force at work here than we recognise. For even in the hyper-materialist drives of many powerful people, somewhere there was an acknowledgement that they were less in control of the world than they liked to appear. Their insecurities made them, at least at this place, oddly vulnerable. Even in that materialism was some act of humility. Even those who had mastered their domain by their sheer hard work and genius had the nagging feeling that they were not ground of their own being. So when a mortal god pays genuine homage to a godman, we understand the real reason godmen exist: to remind us that we are, after all, human. It takes a godman to tame the illusion of invincibility we might otherwise have. We in turn have to take their invincibility with a pinch of ash.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi







The monsoon forecast as normal has led to a range of opinions ranging from happiness bordering on complacency to downright cynicism. The critics are wrong in saying that there are better models and correct in implying that we don't know enough. There is the recurrence of statements that so and so has computers or access to satellite data and does forecasting better. In a CII-sponsored committee we had gone through this in some detail and while, in a particular year, there is the possibility of one or the other think-tank claiming better performance, with hindsight there was no evidence to say that the met model has been consistently bettered. On the other hand, the met and other models are statistical models and we don't really have a solid explanation of the monsoon and a physical model based on such a model.

It will cost us a lot of money to do that, and since that is critical to India, we should spend that money; but that is another story. So we have a model of statistical association with many variables, and quantitative forecasts are possible with that. They used to be kept under wraps, but when I was their minister I told them to release the forecasts in advance. They did, and when the attacks began, we defended them in Parliament saying, sure there are limitations, but this is the best we can do and meteorologists and statisticians are like the guys nextdoor doing their job. They have detailed explanations of what they do. Now both the monsoon and the GDP forecasts, where much the same problems are there, get attention although the snipers persist.

This year's forecast is comforting. The average is good. The range of error is smaller. It is extremely unlikely that we will get the kind of bad monsoon where more than half the meteorological regions have extreme scarcity of rainfall or a severe drought. But an average monsoon can still be possible with a lot of variability at the regional level. We had made the point in this column last year that a met drought and an agricultural drought are two different things.

Even though life is not very bad this year, there could be and probably will be many surprises for agriculture. For the crop calendar there is a distribution of rainfall through the weeks of the monsoon from May to the middle of September and there is the distribution of precipitation across the met regions. There are also combinations of the two. In fact, we have been seeing odd behaviour. Last year, when the averages were all right, the spread through time was very odd and that meant paddy cultivation got jinxed at many places and there was late sowing of inferior cereals and pulses. To an extent, the excellent showing in these crops with 20-plus per cent performance is on account of the weather although the scale of improvement suggests that policies had a lot to do with it also.

In a sense, it becomes difficult to separate the policy effects from the weather effects. If there is late rainfall you can bemoan the climate change effect and sit back or you can put in place contingency plans, like sowing an alternative crop. It is all very well to say so but you also have to follow up with seeds, technological advice and so on. Asked what to do this year, I would say do what you did last year, because a good management principle is that if you do well, repeat that story. But also prepare for contingencies.

All of a sudden crops in lightly irrigated areas and what were called "inferior" cereals have got importance for health and feed reasons, and also "mixed" crops like pulses and oilseeds. These grow in unpredictable areas and if you have a contingency plan, more power to you. Punjab, Haryana, western UP and now Gujarat with SSP will take care of themselves. Concentrate on the so-called backward regions which gave you the great push. I don't believe the pessimists who live in the past. There is a definite break in our agriculture and it is worth cultivating instead of giving up and saying that only 3 per cent is possible. My information is that Krishi Bhavan has such a contingency plan if the agricultural monsoon plays truant, and more power to them.

The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand







"Order! Order!" The stentorian voice of MRSA rose above the din in the Bugworld Assembly and quickly quietened the belligerent bacteria and virulent viruses that had gathered for a special conclave.

His Excoriating Highness Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, of flesh-eating fame, glowered at the motley crowd of now muted microbes. This was once a happy place, he mused, with all the bacteria and viruses living together without danger or division. Then came those antibiotics and anti-viral drugs. It took a while to overcome that threat but they did it, with unexpected help from careless humans who did not know how to use those weapons and allowed microbes to become resistant.

That is when the trouble really started, with a fierce competition among the bacteria to show off who was resistant to more antibiotics and among the viruses to claim the honour of causing greater pandemic panic. This was temporarily stalled when MRSA scared the world so much that all other microbes grudgingly gave him respect and elected as their leader. HIV threatened to take over at one time but new drugs managed to hold it down. Those terrible twins, MDR-TB and XDR-TB, were causing trouble but did not yet acquire the "dread factor" needed for leadership. Recently, serious challenges were thrown up by SARS, H5N1 and H1N1 viruses. While the first two did not show staying power despite initial bravado, H1N1 went around the world without much danger, causing more noise than damage.

However, the latest threat was very serious. Reports were coming in of NDM-1, which was resistant to the most powerful antibiotics. Humans had started calling it the "Super Bug". Trickily, it was not one bug. It was a trait that could be passed on to different species of bacteria, as though the devil incarnate could simultaneously assume many forms. Rumours were rife that many bacteria were ready to join him to mount a leadership challenge to MRSA.

Pensive as he was, MRSA knew he had to speak to this restless gathering to ward off the new claimant to leadership. "I have called this meeting," he said in his deep baritone, "to warn you of a saboteur called NDM-1 who is trying to enter many of you and convert you into different beings. Stay away from that seducer".

"But I understand he confers supernatural powers of antibiotic resistance on any sbacteria he embraces," Klebsiella pneumoniae spoke up in her dainty voice. "That will make us all invincible. I would like that protection".

"I see you are already taken,"growled MRSA, "where on earth are you getting this propaganda from?" "I do access the Internet on microbe-soft enabled PCs and tablets whenever I visit a young human," responded Klebsiella. "Tablet?" roared MRSA in apoplectic rage, "don't you know words like tablet, capsule and injections are taboo in the Bugsworld?".

"I understand this Casanova comes from the city of New Delhi," interceded Escherichia Coli, who gets her gossip from tabloids. "Not clear at all," replied Klebsiella, "a journal called Lancet has reported that NDM-1 originated in Delhi and then moved around the world but in reality it could have gone from another country to India, where it was first detected."

"Like Charles Sobhraj who came from elsewhere to use his charms on foreigners visiting India?" asked Escherichia. Just then, a huge commotion broke out as NDM-1 entered with Band Baaja Baarat, Delhi-style. The handsome stranger took Klebsiella with one arm and Escherichia with the other and defiantly faced up to MRSA. "Time for you to step down and let me take over as leader," he said with the mix of confidence, arrogance and impatience that characterises young politicians seeking high office.

"What gives you that sense of entitlement?" thundered MRSA. "Just because the newspapers and TV channels say so, do you really become the Super Bug? Remember, I too was the cause of fear and frenzy in the media not a long while ago and I still strike terror in doctors."

"You may retain your bite, MRSA, but I have gifts which can make other bacteria powerful and protected as never before. When my genius mingles with their genes, they too become Super Bugs. I am now found in air, water and sewage. If being omniscient and omnipotent are the signs of divinity, then I am the One!" On hearing NDM-1, the assembled microbes bowed reverentially and beseeched him, "O Bug-One! Bestow on us your boons!"

MRSA knew that he was beaten. He made way for the new leader. After assuming the position of the Supremo, NDM-1 made his first proclamation. "I have taken note of the protests from New Delhi about my name. I belong to nobody and I belong to everybody. Wherever I appear, I will take that name." Klebsiella clung to her hero and crooned, "As my gallant knight, I dub thee Sir Lancet-a-lot, since that is where you appear most." Cogito Incognito.

The writer is president, Public Health Foundation of India, Delhi







Manmohan Singh on how A. Raja came to be in his cabinet for the second time, despite his questionable deeds in the first term: "In a coalition, you can suggest your preferences, but you have to go by what the leader of the (coalition) political party ultimately insists."

Anna Hazare on how Shanti and Prashant Bhushan came to be on the Lokpal drafting committee, despite them having been given subsidised land by the UP government, in violation of their principles: "I did not get them onto the Lokpal committee on my own; their names were suggested by other members and I agreed."

Ashok Chavan, former CM of Maharashtra, on why allegations are being levelled against him — and how his relatives are returning the apartments in Adarsh Society in any case: "The allegations against me are politically motivated... Seema Vinod Sharma and Madan Sharma are relatives. Today, they have informed in writing that they have resigned from the society".

Shanti Bhushan on why allegations are being levelled against him — and how the UP government can cancel his plot if it likes: "This is part of the malicious campaign by those corrupt, influential people... If there has been any arbitrariness in the allotment of the plots, the allotments should be cancelled..."

Suresh Kalmadi on why he can't resign from the Commonwealth Games Committee: "These Games are my baby... My priority is to make a success of the Games and I will not run away from responsibility." 

Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi on why the Bhushans can't resign from the Lokpal drafting committee: "No one will resign. We are at a historic juncture where we are going to have a strong anti-corruption law..."

The intention behind pointing out these uncanny parallels is not to suggest an equivalence between politicians and civil society activists. Politicians get to have their hands on thousands of crores of public money and they take fundamental decisions that affect our lives. Civil society activists do neither. So the actions of politicians have a kind of gravity that the actions of civil activists simply do not carry.

However, these parallels do serve another function: they point out the flaws in the movement led by Anna Hazare, India Against Corruption (IAC). Unless these are addressed, the establishment will make mincemeat out of the movement. Already, the honourable leaders of IAC are beginning to look like caricatures of the politicians they are taking on.

The first flaw is that IAC's leaders have spent all their time on how to improve the political system and very little on how the movement itself is to be organised. Even the principles that drive the movement are not available for public examination. Who forms IAC's leadership? How are they chosen or elected? How are decisions made? The only information of significance that you can find about the organisation of IAC on its website is a list of twenty "eminent personalities who started this movement."

This seeming lack of attention to the movement's structure has led to a situation where IAC's response to attacks from politicians, that are only to be expected, is no different from those of politicians themselves when they are caught in the act. Needless to say, this takes away the pedestal which any popular movement needs to stand on. Here are two specific steps that could have helped IAC avoid getting into unnecessary controversy.

1. All office-bearers or representatives of IAC need to declare their assets. If any asset has been accumulated by the munificence of public authorities, that ought to be disclosed. This would have avoided the movement's leaders being taken aback by the revelation that the Bhushans were recipients of the UP government's generosity. And Justice Santosh Hegde wouldn't have had to say, as he did a few days ago, "if all this (were) known earlier, people who were advising Annaji... probably would not have included them in the committee".

2. An affirmation that, in the work of the IAC, principle would take precedence over loyalty. This would have made it clear to IAC leaders that when, rightly or wrongly, charges are levelled against any one of them, their first priority is to protect the movement. If this was a clearly stated principle, the Bhushans would have offered to resign — and even if they didn't, the others would have asked them to step down in the interests of the movement.

This is not to say that the Bhushans are guilty. Whether or not they are is immaterial at this stage. What is material is that doubt has been created about the propriety of some of their actions. By his own admission, Shanti Bhushan accepted land at absurdly subsidised rates from the state government of Uttar Pradesh even while he was arguing against that government in court. Considering that the Bhushans have consistently weighed in against public officials accepting subsidised plots from government, there is an appearance of impropriety. Come to think of it, a serious appearance of impropriety is all that we have, as of now, against the Rajas, the Kalmadis and the Kamal Naths.

This is why the stance of IAC's leaders is problematic. I wish them the good sense to set the course right. The focus and urgency that IAC has brought to the issue of corruption in high places is a huge positive and that needs to be sustained.

The writer is a former editor of 'Businessworld' 






This week, Tsinghua University celebrates its centennial. Founded in 1911 in deep national humiliation, Tsinghua University was initially funded by the infamous Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship, which was essentially war reparations China paid to the US. Since then, Tsinghua has epitomised the Chinese experience of modernisation. As China's emergence shakes the core of the international system as we know it, Tsinghua's centennial offers an opportunity for reflection.

Many see China's rise in political, economic and military terms. But the Chinese renaissance is in its essence a moral and intellectual challenge to the modern world. For nearly 300 years, the European Enlightenment was the intellectual and moral source of change, if not legitimacy, for mankind. Yet the tidal wave of Westernisation also brought about — along with the glory of economic and technological transformation — confusion, defeatism and even catastrophe to non-Western civilisations.

The product of the Enlightenment was modernism — centered on individualism, rights and science — a unique Western heritage.

The first division of Christianity and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire more than 1,500 years ago put the West on the road of separated political and religious authorities. The consolidation of power by the landed aristocracy, legalised by the Magna Carta, made balance of power a unique characteristic within Western political structure. The Reformation unintentionally contributed to making the individual the sovereign and basic unit of society.

All of these historic and cultural developments culminated during the Enlightenment and created the unstoppable meta-narrative: modernism. Modernism facilitated science and the industrial revolution and led to the greatest advancement of material power in the history of man: modernisation.

The individual, conceived as rational and endowed with God-given rights, sits at the center of the value system of modernism. These individuals, combined with the cultural traditions of their homelands, created the nation-state. Balance of power and electoral democracy became the defining political characteristics of these nation-states. The ownership of private property formed their social and economic foundation — what we now call capitalism.

Almost all non-Western civilisations, including China, attempted to import the political, social and economic values of modernism to recreate their own cultures in order to achieve modernisation. For over a century, modernism was seen as the only route to modernisation. Even non-liberal experiments such as Soviet communism were essentially (though fundamentally flawed) derivatives of modernism. For many years and in many countries, the ideological hegemony of modernism was unchallenged and the desirable consequences of modernisation through modernism unquestioned.

Then came China.

In the same year of Tsinghua's founding, the Xinhai Revolution launched China's attempt to import and grow modernism on its ancient soil. Two generations toiled and bled only to see their country fall deeper into the abyss of national weakness, civil and foreign wars, and the unbearable sufferings of its people.

Then in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party took power with violence and continued to consolidate and centralise national political power in a fashion consistent with China's imperial tradition. Under its absolute rule the Chinese nation paid an enormous price, in famine and civil strife, yet achieved at last an unchallenged national independence.

Thirty years after the founding of the People's Republic, China began its current phase of development. China's modernisation received enormous Western influence. Yet its essence is not modernism.

In today's China, the individual remains part of the collective and by no means the independent and basic unit of society. Political power is not divided and balanced but centralised under a single political authority.

A market economy adapted from the West is delivering efficient allocation of resources and high rates of growth and has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Yet, it is pointedly not capitalism. Ordinary Chinese people enjoy as wide a range of personal liberties as those anywhere in the Western world. But those with political aspirations contrary to the collective objectives of the state and society are severely constrained, even repressed.

Language is life. Words contextualise our world and lend it meaning. The word "modern" is translated into Chinese as Xiandai — which simply means "the current generation." Xiandai does not and can not carry the rich meaning inherent to the word "modern." And Xiandaihua — modernisation — carries only material meaning. Xiandaihua has been the overwhelming objective of the Chinese nation.

One of the founding fathers of the People's Republic, Premier Zhou Enlai, announced to the Chinese people at the end of the tragic Cultural Revolution that the four modernisations (Xiandaihua) were China's national aspirations: modernisations of agriculture, industry, national defence, and science and technology. These by no means add up to modernism.

Though China's rise is still not a foregone conclusion, its success to date is beyond dispute. When we understand how Chinese modernisation differs fundamentally from that in the West, it could provide the needed proof that modernism is no longer the only viable route to modernisation. If not modernism, then what is China's story?

At the moment, no one has the answer. But for those gathered for the centennial of Tsinghua and those watching China's rise from afar with intellectual fascination, this is perhaps an opportune time to begin this process of understanding.ERIC LI







Reading the riots

The affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court by Sanjiv Bhatt, a senior Gujarat IPS officer, implicating Chief Minister Narendra Modi of deliberate inaction in 2002, has been the subject of great discussion in the Urdu press. Rashtriya Sahara writes in its April 24 editorial: "The most important thing is that Mr. Bhatt made the allegations against the chief minister not at a press conference or briefing, but through an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court. Not only this, he made the sensational statement that he had provided these and other facts related to the Gujarat riots to the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigative Team (SIT) but no action was taken on his submissions... It can be said with full confidence that Mr. Bhatt's affidavit is the first direct statement against the CM regarding the communal riots of 2002, that has been received by the Supreme Court. If true, it is a serious matter for the country."

Hyderabad's Siasat, in its editorial (April 24), writes: "The affidavit of Gujarat's IPS officer about Narendra Modi with expressions of doubts about the work of the Supreme Court-appointed SIT demonstrates the alienation of an oppressed community before the law, Constitution and democratic values of this country." In a significant remark, the paper says: "The forces that are gagging humanity by spreading communalism will now get a chance to use Sanjiv Bhatt's affidavit to present Narendra Modi as a national hero before their community..."

Another Hyderabad-based daily, Munsif, in is editorial on April 25, writes: "The massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 was an organised conspiracy... We firmly hope that the oppressed will get justice from the Supreme Court and punishment would given to the culprits ... Many commissions have given recommendations for putting a stop to communal violence against Muslims and ending Muslims' backwardness. Action on these recommendations must be considered the most important need of the time."

The daily Sahafat, in its editorial (April 25) demands Modi's resignation. It asks: "Does a lawyer of the level of Arun Jaitley not know what a big crime it is to submit a false affidavit to the country's apex court and the fate of a person who submits it? Why doesn't Jaitley file a case of perjury against Sanjiv Bhatt if he really thinks that his submission is not true?"

The Jamaat's party

The newly launched Welfare Party of India has been sponsored by Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. In the Jamaat's biweekly, Daawat (April 25), its chief editor, Parvaz Rahmani, writes: "Informed circles know that the establishment of the Welfare Party has been the result of Jamaat-e-Islami's desire and campaign. The Jamaat had made it obvious, at the time of its formation in 1948, that it would also adopt the path of electoral politics to achieve its objectives, at the appropriate time."

According to Rahmani, "the party has accepted the challenge posed by the distorted political culture of the country...Today, India's electoral politics has become the most corrupt politics of the world... The political acts of privatisation and market economy have doubly distorted the situation... The cadre should be aware of the fact that this party is not a political party of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind."

Rahmani's piece also reveals that there are serious differences and reservations among the Jamaat's cadre about this plunge into electoral politics, as "it is not our job and it is not even appropriate from the point of view of our conscience and belief (imaan-o-aqeede ke pahloo say bhi)".

Describing the basic objectives of Jamaat-e-Islami as "stability of religion and establishment of a rule of God (aqaamat-e-deen aur hukumat-e-Ilahiya)," Delhi-based daily Jadeed Khabar, in its editorial entitled 'Muslim siasat mein hulchul' (stir in Muslim politics), writes: "There was not only a ban on participation in politics for Jamaat's members in the past, they were also deprived of their right to vote. It was only a few years ago that members of the Jamaat were given permission to vote, on the condition that they would act according to the instruction of the Jamaat."

War of the veil

The enforcement of the burqa ban in France has generated hostile commentary. Hyderabad-based daily, Rahnuma-e-Deccan, in its editorial entitled 'Islam dushmani mein France sub say aagey' (France leads, in terms of animosity to Islam) on April 22, writes: "The French president, known as the torch-bearer of human rights, is apprehensive of the damage to secular identity posed by the public expression of Muslim beliefs. Therefore, he has an objection to the observance of namaz on streets outside some mosques in France, along with use of niqaab (or burqa) and hijab by Muslim women."

Siasat writes in its editorial, 'Europe mein taassub pasandi' (communal attitudes in Europe) on April 13 observes: "By targeting only Muslims, the French government has enforced a law that attempts to curtail their rights, which must be protested. And this law can also be challenged in the courts."








If savings bank deposits—that currently deliver real returns of minus 5-5.5% to account holders—remain regulated more than a quarter century after RBI began deregulating interest rates, blame this on the country's commercial banks. Since around a fifth of the banking sector's deposits come from savings accounts where RBI has fixed a 3.5% interest rate, way below the rate of inflation and unchanged since 2003, banks are loathe to let this interest rate be freed. An RBI discussion paper on deregulating small savings interest rates, released yesterday, points out that banks whose CASA (current and savings accounts) deposits are over 50% of total deposits have a cost of funds of 2.2%, and this rises to 5.4% in the case of banks whose CASA is between 30% and 40%. A big incentive not to want to free savings bank rates.

While RBI has given time for all concerned to respond, its broad view is that freeing up savings rates won't result in too much of a problem, and will help small savers. For one, RBI points out, depositors in rural and semi-urban areas are contributing less to savings bank deposits—from a share of 42.7% in 1991, this is down to 36.2%; while the share of bank deposits in household financial assets is up from 46% in 2005-06 to 54.9% in 2008-09, the share of savings deposits fell from 16% to 12.8% (the share of cash rose commensurately). So, RBI concludes, if interest rates rise after being freed, this may help banks get more savings deposits. RBI also dismisses fears of rates rising hugely post-deregulation—it says that since term deposit (they're 60% of bank deposits) rates didn't skyrocket after they were deregulated in 1997, there's no reason why savings deposits should.

From a central bank's perspective, the biggest problem is that hikes in policy rates have a slow and limited impact, and the main reason it says is that with savings rates regulated, banks don't get affected as much by policy rate changes—so freeing savings rates, and the rise in them once liquidity gets tight, will make the transmission mechanism of monetary policy more efficient. RBI doesn't believe freeing savings rates could result in an asset-liability mismatch—this is a big fear of banks—since over 90% of savings deposits tend to be 'core'. If RBI is a bit hesitant, it's because freeing rates could hit the growth of 'no frills accounts'—after all, if banks don't get access to cheap money, why would they want to invest in servicing such accounts? What that means is savers will have to get used to paying for services (cheque books, for instance) if they want higher interest rates, and that the government will have to consider paying banks to start 'no frills accounts'.





Although the Lokpal Bill appears to be the focus of attention, a more meaningful solution is likely to come from what is being proposed in the Group of Ministers (GoM) forum on corruption. So far, the discussion has centred on reducing the discretionary power of ministers—so, if a minister or a chief minister cannot allot a plot of land to someone from his discretionary quota, the chances of him or her taking a bribe for this are virtually reduced to zero. Similarly, if the minister does not have the power to decide if you get a licence, this reduces another avenue for corruption. All of this is leading to the view that, for precious natural resources, auctions must be made mandatory. But even so, there will still be room for discretion. In the current 2G case, for instance, the ministry gets to decide whether those firms that haven't rolled out their networks should be penalised or whether their licences should be cancelled. In 1999, although the NDA's decision to migrate to a revenue-share-based telecom policy was a progressive one, the decision was taken by the government; in 2003, similarly, the decision to create a Universal Access Service Licence (UASL) was taken by the government. In each case, there would be powerful interests who would be willing to spend big money in favour of the policy as well as against it. What the government is discussing, FE reported yesterday, is that such policy decisions taken by the government should be ratified by Parliament. Indeed, in its ruling on the development fee on airports at Delhi and Mumbai a few days ago, the Supreme Court has held that the government cannot unilaterally decide on cesses without Parliament ratifying this.

While some of this will, no doubt, slow the process of decision-making, it seems a good idea since it dramatically lowers the scope for discretion, and therefore for corruption—mandating a certain minimum number of working days in Parliament may be a way to fix part of the problem. More important, once legislation is passed by Parliament, it also ensures continuity in policy. Another idea the GoM would do well to consider is the one proposed by the Planning Commission—of taking away licensing/penalty powers from ministries and handing them over to independent regulators who report directly to Parliament; and whose every action is scrutinised by parliamentary committees along with help from the CAG. We've lost R1,76,000 crore in the 2G scam, let's make the most of the opportunity this has provided to clean up the system properly.






The inflation rate of 9% for March-end has indeed caused a big scare that the generalised increase in prices may be getting horribly out of control. Until a few months ago, both North Block and RBI seemed optimistic that the inflation curve, even if showing a \rising trend, was much flatter during 2010-11 as compared with 2009-10.

Until February this year, the general discourse at the Planning Commission and finance ministry was that the inflation rate would trend somewhat downward in 2011 as the worst was over. In their anxiety to lower inflation expectations the officialdom had been predicting a much lower inflation rate by end-March 2011. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is known to have sleepless nights over the issue of price rise, was repeatedly told by experts within the government that the inflation rate would be no more than 7.5% by March-end. He was also assured that the worst was over and that 2011-12 will see a more moderate rate of growth in prices. It is perhaps based on this assessment that the Union Budget also assumes a GDP growth of close to 9% with the inflation rate at 6-6.5%.

All these assumptions are now going awry as the inflation rate is showing unusual stickiness at around 8% levels. RBI has admitted that the food price inflation was first cyclical and is now structural in nature.

However, until late last year, the manufacturing price increase seemed to stay at moderate levels and this was seen as a silver lining of sorts. Now, manufacturing prices are also climbing up furiously on the back of rising global commodity prices.

It is interesting to note that even if Manmohan Singh—an economist by training—worries a lot about inflation, the political class seems to be more sanguine about it. Many senior Congress leaders argue that inflation was not such a dominant issue in any of the elections since 2009 when the UPA-2 came to power. Some senior Congress leaders argue that higher inflation is not damaging if people's incomes also go up substantially. A few weeks ago, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee also suggested that some degree of inflation may be a price one has to pay for sustaining high growth.

This has been officially sanctified by his Chief Economic Advisor, Kaushik Basu, who has stated in the Economic Survey that higher inflation is a natural phenomenon that occurs as emerging market incomes catch up rapidly with those of the developed economies. It will be interesting to find out what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thinks about the Kaushik Basu formulation.

I reckon Manmohan Singh would be very uncomfortable with the new discourse that some extra inflation could be tolerated purely to sustain higher growth.

Some argue that RBI had been somewhat lulled into complacency in its fight to contain inflation precisely because of the post facto political rationalisation in New Delhi, which treated higher inflation as a fallout of higher incomes and relative prosperity among the people.

My sense is RBI had been acutely aware of the pitfalls of the new discourse in New Delhi but had adopted a calibrated approach to raising interest rates mainly because global growth recovery had been quite uncertain throughout 2010. Many of the global risk factors such as sticky unemployment in the US and sovereign debt cum banking crises in Europe are still alive. To these have been added the political turmoil in the Middle East and the natural calamities in Japan, which are making global oil prices more sticky than ever.

Higher oil and commodity prices will sooner or later feed into domestic prices even if the government tries to suppress oil prices through subsidies. The point is, emerging market central bankers around the world are necessarily behind the curve as they are overwhelmed by global liquidity driving up commodity prices and creating long-term asset bubbles, such as in the real estate sector.

Last month, a senior European Union negotiator at the G-20 said they were seriously looking at the commodity bubble build up globally, especially with regard to food prices. He said speculative volumes in wheat in the international futures market was at 30 times the actual global production. He suggested this was unsustainable. The same may hold true for some other commodities, including oil.

What can a central banker do in the face of such a build up of asset bubbles globally. Monetary policy is only partially a sovereign function that central banks can use to control domestic prices. In the first round of asset bubble build up between 2005 and 2008, no central banker could predict the precipitous fall of economies after September 2008. They were all raising interest rates furiously to avoid overheating of their respective economies.

A similar pattern seems to be repeating with more risk factors embedded in the global economic system. As RBI prepares to make its important monetary policy statement next week, the key question that it will have to answer is—what is the economy's potential output that can be achieved with moderate inflation? A GDP growth of 9% with 8% inflation is an impossible combination to sustain. Certainly not with the current level of reforms (or the abject lack of it) in the factor markets as well as the product markets. The UPA government has committed a huge error in taking for granted a 9% GDP growth. A totally new framework of reforms is needed to deal with emerging global headwinds. Is the UPA up to it?





The fourth quarter results in the Indian information technology sector have thrown up at least two significant thoughts for us to chew on. First, TCS has pulled away from the rest of the pack and the game has now become TCS versus the rest of Indian IT. While TCS grew 8% in FY10 and 24% in FY09, Infosys managed to grow only 5% and 21% in the last two years, respectively, and the last quarter continued that trend. The second aspect has been the less than impressive showing by some of the hotshots—Infosys missed its profit estimates for the third time in four quarters and Wipro provided a shockingly muted guidance (-0.4 to 1.5%). Although TCS and HCL have covered up for the rest of the tier-1 set to some extent, there is no denying the fact that the immediate future of the Indian software industry looks a little ragged. And unexpectedly so.

However, many of the software sector analysts are expecting to see stronger demand for IT services over the next four quarters. They have based their analysis on the larger global picture and how companies like Accenture and Oracle have been going about their business. Research firm Forrester has raised the forecast for the US technology market to 8% from 7.4% for the year 2011, and that's encouraging. Analysts worldwide are predicting that enterprise purchases will grow faster than small and medium size business buying, and verticals like manufacturing and utilities will outpace government, retail, media and leisure.

In India, only TCS is in a position to share that kind of optimism. The Street has upgraded TCS's earnings in 6 out of the last 7 quarters and that trend is likely to sustain after the current quarter report as well. "TCS continues to show urgency in reducing operational flab and is steadily closing the margin gap with Infosys, while inching ahead on revenue growth," CLSA said. TCS's 4.7% quarter-on-quarter growth in dollar revenues should allay fears of an industry-wide demand flux, created after the Infosys report. "We see the TCS result and management commentary increasing investor confidence on sustainability of Indian-tech order books through 2011," added the CLSA note.

But the same is not the case with Infosys or Wipro, which are just about managing to keep their heads above water. Angel Broking said that Infosys's sluggish performance was because of the lack of budget flush from few clients due to unstable macros resulting in lower utilisations. CLSA was harsher in its comments, stating that Infosys's March quarter report was extremely poor, missing the most pessimistic expectations. With regard to Wipro, Kotak Securities said the ongoing restructuring affected its margins and outlook. Analysts uniformly slammed Wipro's muted outlook for the first quarter, though CEO TK Kurien said the guidance was given out keeping in the mind all the transformation that was going on within the company.

The hard truth is that the Indian software industry has entered a phase where high competitive pricing and the resultant cost pressures, together with higher wages and taxes, have become a harsh reality. IT budgets in Europe are still to recover from recessionary shocks and budgets of American banking clients have just started to return to normalcy. Foreign exchange fluctuations have not helped either. A Motilal Oswal note said that pricing and productivity are expected to remain flattish from the current levels through FY12.

Despite that, analysts are expecting top IT companies to deliver a 25% sales growth in FY12. Some experts with a more optimistic bent of mind say that Infosys's performance is an exception and point towards client specific issues as the reason for a 1.4% volume decline in Q4. Infosys is known to maintain high margins on deals even at the cost of high profile contracts. HCL posted a 4.8% volume growth while TCS recorded a 2.9% growth in volumes. Wipro's volumes grew 1.9% sequentially. So, clearly, things have not come to a halt.

In fact, HCL Technologies was the surprise packet in Q4, crossing the $100 million per quarter milestone. The highlight of the quarter was the strong margin performance by the company, whose EBITDA margins improved by 100 basis points sequentially to 17.3%. "On the other hand, increase in spending in the transformational projects has also benefited HCL Tech in winning more deals," said ShareKhan in a note.

Overall, it has been a mixed bag. It may not have been the quarter one bargained for, but the future is not without hope. The immediate fate of the top tier Indian IT vendors will depend on how the titans of IT spending like AT&T, BT and the powerful American banks open up their purse strings this quarter.







The announcement by the Prime Minister's Office that the government will soon create, through appropriate legislation, an independent and autonomous Nuclear Regulatory Authority that subsumes the existing Atomic Energy Regulatory Board will be widely welcomed. Those concerned with India's nuclear safety and regulatory issues have long been of the conviction that what needs to be done cannot be directed and implemented by a body that is under the authority of the very system it is mandated to oversee. The official assurances of complete transparency in the nuclear power domain, the promise to put the post-Fukushima reviews of nuclear safety in the public domain, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's call to the atomic energy establishment to continuously engage with public opinion on safety are not without significance. Further, Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has taken the lead in this 'new thinking' with his willingness to engage in public debate on a difficult issue and with his concrete proposals to assuage serious concerns. However, the government will be fooling itself if it does not recognise that public opinion remains apprehensive in light of what has happened at Fukushima. Reassuring words need to be backed with actions that demonstrate that the independence and the autonomy of the new authority as well as the promises of transparency will be real and substantive.

Against this background, what causes concern is the government's dogmatic insistence that it is not willing to take a fresh look at the Jaitapur power project. Reiterating its determination to go ahead, it has insensitively added that a comprehensive environmental review will be undertaken after the project's first phase of two 1650 MW reactors is completed by 2019. At stake is not merely compensation for those whose assets and livelihood will be affected by the project, though that is important. The crux of the disputation is related to fears regarding the long-term environmental impact of the project and the long-term safety of the reactor complex. The government would do well to address these issues directly and transparently, abandoning any fear that pressing the pause button would result in anti-nuclear-power groups running away with the agenda. Its assurance that it takes strengthening domestic nuclear capabilities seriously lacks credibility, considering that it has virtually ruled out the possibility of modifying the Jaitapur project in overall scale as well as the size, design, and make of the individual reactors. If the new policy outlook on nuclear safety is to win credibility among the people, the government must halt the work in progress at Jaitapur and talk sincerely with the protesters and the sceptics, keeping an open mind on the future of the project.





Air India has managed to remain in the news for the wrong reasons. After years of being in the red and repeatedly asking the Government of India to bale the airline out of its financial mess, it has been unable to sort out its labour issues and long-standing problems with its pilots. Normally, the passengers, who are at the receiving end of such strikes, have no sympathy for the pilots because they may be the highest paid class of employees in an airline. But the present case is somewhat different — at the very least, it has to be understood from a different perspective. Although the passengers are put to hardship, and hundreds of families are losing out on their summer holidays for no fault of theirs, the striking pilots, affiliated to the Indian Commercial Pilots' Association (ICPA), have some legitimate demands that need to be addressed. From 2007, the process of merging the two national carriers — Indian Airlines and Air India — has been going on endlessly at the management and the government levels. Even the muddling-through has not been completed and glaring inequalities between the staff of the two merged entities remain.

The pilots who were originally with Indian Airlines have been demanding parity in pay with their counterparts in Air India. A pilot's monthly pay package depends on the number of hours he flies. For a variety of reasons, the Indian Airlines segment that takes care of the domestic sector has not been able to operate as many flights as it used to. So the take-home salaries of those pilots have dipped. Since pay parity has also not been achieved and the pilots borne on Air India cadre fly on the foreign routes, the differences seem striking. Without addressing this basic issue, arising out of an ill-planned and perhaps even unwise merger, the airline management and the Union Civil Aviation Ministry are dealing with it as an industrial relations exercise — derecognising ICPA and sacking at least eight of the striking pilots. With over 50 flights cancelled each day, the passengers have been left in the lurch. Those who need to fly have been placed at the mercy of private airlines which have silently raised the fares, given the dynamic pricing policy in place. Political interference in the running of the national carrier has also affected Air India over the years, denying it a level-playing field with the private airlines. Good sense demands that the Air India management initiate talks with the pilots to first end the strike, and then resolve the long-standing issue urgently.







India's sex ratio, among children aged 0-6 years, is alarming. The ratio has declined from 976 females (for every 1000 males) in 1961 to 914 in 2011. Every national census has documented a decline in the ratio, signalling a ubiquitous trend. Preliminary data from the 2011 census have recorded many districts with sex ratios of less than 850. The ratio in urban areas is significantly lower than those in rural parts of the country. Reports suggest evidence of violence and trafficking of poor women and forced polyandry in some regions with markedly skewed ratios. The overall steep and consistent decline in the ratio mandates serious review.

Sex selection and technology : Medical technology (like amniocentesis and ultrasonography), employed in the prenatal period to diagnose genetic abnormalities, are being misused in India for detecting the sex of the unborn child and subsequently for sex-selection. Female foetuses, thus identified, are aborted.

A large, nationally representative investigation of married women living in 1.1 million households documented markedly reduced sex ratios of 759 and 719 for second and third births when the preceding children were girls. By contrast, sex ratios for second or third births, if one or both of the previous children were boys, were 1102 and 1176 respectively. A systematic study in Haryana documented the inverse relationship between the number of ultrasound machines in an area and the decline in sex ratios. Studies have also documented correlations of low sex ratios at birth with higher education, social class and economic status. Many studies have concluded that prenatal sex determination, followed by abortion of female foetuses, is the most plausible explanation for the low sex ratio at birth in India.

The steady decline in the sex ratio suggests that marked improvements in the economy and literacy rates do not seem to have had any impact on this index. In fact, the availability of new technology and its easy access for the urban, wealthy and the educated have worsened the trend and harmed the status of women in Indian society.

Sex selection and statutes : A prolonged campaign by women's groups and civil society organisations all over the country, in the wake of the skewed child sex ratio in the 1991 census, led to the enactment of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act in 1994. However, this statute was not effectively implemented, leading to further skewing of the sex ratios as recorded in the 2001 census. Social and financial pressures for smaller families intensified the misuse of such technologies to ensure the birth of sons. Such misuse cut across barriers of caste, class, religion and geography. The Act was amended in 2003, to include the more recent pre-conception sex selection techniques within its ambit, with the aim of tightening regulation to provide more teeth to the law to prevent the practice. It mandated the regulation of sale of technology, the registration of diagnostic centres, the monitoring of medical personnel, procedures and protocols. It has procedures for complaints and appeals and regulation by local authorities.

And yet, the problems of implementation are ubiquitous. Violations go unpunished with very few cases being booked and a zero conviction rate. The collusion between people, the medical fraternity and the administration has resulted in the worsening of the sex ratio and failure of the Act to make a difference.

Patriarchy and prejudice: The social system of patriarchy, with males as the primary authority figures, is central to the organisation of much of Indian society. The system upholds the institutions of male rule and privilege and mandates female subordination. Patriarchy manifests itself in social, religious, legal, political and economic organisation of society. It continues to strongly influence Indian society, despite the Constitution's attempt to bring about an egalitarian social order.

Patriarchal societies in most parts of India have translated their prejudice and bigotry into a compulsive preference for boys and discrimination against the girl child. They have also spawned practices such as female infanticide, dowry, bride-burning and sati. They have led to the neglect of nutrition, health care, education, and employment for girls. Women's work is also socially devalued with limited autonomy in decision-making. The intersections of caste, class and gender worsen the situation. Despite its social construction, patriarchal culture, reinforced by the major religions in the country, maintains its stranglehold on gender inequality. The prevalent patriarchal framework places an ideological bar on the discussion of alternative approaches to achieve gender justice.

Ethical blindness: The declining sex ratio cannot be simply viewed as a medical or legal issue. It is embedded within the social construction of patriarchy and is reinforced by tradition, culture and religion. Female foeticide and infanticide are just the tip of the iceberg; there is a whole set of subtle and blatant discriminatory practices against girls and women under various pretexts. It is this large base of discrimination against women that supports the declining sex ratio.

Many approach the problem superficially and focus on the declining sex ratio and its medical and legal solutions. But those who seriously engage with the issues have found that much unethical conduct that goes on, whether in one's social or work life, happens because people are fooling themselves. Men, the dominant figures, and older women, who have lost the battle and have joined hands to form the ruling coalition, overlook many transgressions because it is in their interest to maintain the patriarchal culture. With such focus on patriarchal goals, the ethical implications of important decisions fade away. Such ethical fading results in engaging in or condoning behaviour that one would condemn if one were consciously aware of it. It results in ethical lapses in our social world, which are pervasive and intractable.

While viewing the girl child from only the narrow and bigoted, or financial perspectives, one fails to notice that many decisions have an ethical component. Consequently, one is able to behave unethically in relation to girls and women, while maintaining a positive self-image. Ethical fading also causes one to condone the unethical behaviour of others. Such "motivated blindness" tends to disregard issues that work against patriarchy. With the acceptance of patriarchal standards, based on religion or culture, even the most honest people have difficulty being objective. Those who overtly or covertly accept and defend patriarchy have a conflict of interest which biases their decisions against girls and women, in contexts both big and small. It is the everyday casual and hurtful misogyny — gendered language, sexist innuendo, stereotyping and jokes, small institutional inequities, sexualisation of society encouraged by advertising, media and capitalism that actually undergird violence of all types against women.

Need for gender justice: Viewing the sex ratio as an individual or medical issue and suggesting medical or legal interventions to end the practice reflect poor understanding. While strict implementation of the law will help reduce female foeticide and infanticide, it will not eliminate the problems. Simply exhorting the general population and the medical profession to desist from such practice without attempting to change patriarchy will prove futile.

The major barrier to mainstreaming gender justice and scaling up effective interventions is gender inequality based on socio-cultural issues. The systematic discrimination of girls and women needs to be tackled if interventions have to work. Although medical intervention (of sex determination and selective abortion of female foetuses) in the sex ratio stands out as causal, it is the more hazy but ubiquitous and dominant relationship between gender and patriarchy that has a major impact on the outcome. The failure to recognise this relationship and the refusal to tackle these issues result in the declining sex ratio. Debates on gender equality should not be reduced to talking about culture, tradition and religion. The prevalent patriarchal framework needs to be acknowledged as causal, interrogated and laid bare. Discussions on alternative approaches to achieving gender justice are mandatory.

While women are guaranteed equality under the Constitution, legal protection has little effect in the face of the prevailing patriarchal culture. India needs to confront its gender bias openly. It would appear that nothing short of a social revolution would bring about an improvement in the health and status of women in the country. Irony and hypocrisy are the two words that come to mind when patriarchal societies talk about justice for their women. Surely, the disappearance of millions of girls in India is reason enough to question the acceptance of patriarchy and search for an egalitarian social order.

(Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)









At 14.46 on March 11, Japan was hit by one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history. We are now making all-out efforts to restore livelihoods and recover from the series of tragedies that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake. The disaster left more than 25,000 people dead or missing, including foreign citizens.


Since March 11, Japan has been strongly supported by the international community and our friends around the world. On behalf of the Japanese people, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude for the outpouring of support and solidarity we have received from over 130 countries, nearly 40 international organisations, numerous NGOs, and countless individuals from all parts of the world. The Japanese people deeply appreciate the Kizuna (a Japanese word for "bonds of friendship") that has been shown to us by friends around the world. Through this hardship, we have also come to truly understand the meaning of "a friend in need is a friend indeed."

I am very thankful that, immediately upon learning of the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh sent me his message of heartfelt condolences, expressing India's full solidarity with the Government and people of Japan, and offering to help Japan in any way required. The members of both Houses of the Parliament read out messages of condolences. Indeed, the Government of India sent us blankets, bottles of mineral water and packets of high-calorie biscuits, all of which have come in handy and are truly appreciated by the evacuees. In addition, India dispatched a 46-member NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) Response Force team to join in the relief efforts in the affected region, demonstrating India's true friendship and feeling of goodwill towards Japan. Support has poured in, not only from the Government but also from numerous groups and organisations and individuals, as countless messages of sympathy, functions of condolence, charity events and donations for relief. I wish to express our sincere thanks for all the sympathy and assistance extended by the Indian people.

That Japan has experienced nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant whose severity was assessed as most serious based on an international scale is extremely regrettable and something I take very seriously. Bringing the situation at the plant under control at the earliest possible date is currently my top priority. I have been working at the forefront of efforts to tackle this troubling situation, leading a unified effort by the Government. I have mobilised all available resources to combat the risks posed by the plant, based on three principles: first, give the highest priority to the safety and health of all citizens, in particular those residents living close to the plant; second, conduct thorough risk management; and, third, plan for all possible scenarios so that we are fully prepared to respond to any future situation. For example, we continue to make the utmost efforts to address the issue of outflow of radioactive water into the ocean from the plant. In addition, the Government has taken every possible measure to ensure the safety of all food and other products, based on strict scientific criteria. We have taken highly precautionary measures so that the safety of all Japanese food and products that reach the market has been and will continue to be ensured. In order to assure domestic and foreign consumer confidence in the safety of Japanese food and products, my administration will redouble its efforts to maintain transparency and keep everyone informed of our progress in the complex and evolving circumstances at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

A pledge

I pledge that the Japanese Government will promptly and thoroughly verify the cause of this incident, as well as share information and the lessons learned with the rest of the world in order to prevent such accidents from occurring in the future. Through such a process, we will proactively contribute to global debate to enhance the safety of nuclear power generation. Meanwhile, from a comprehensive energy policy perspective, we must squarely tackle a two-pronged challenge; responding to rising global energy demand and striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. Through the "Rebirth of Japan" I would like to present a clear vision to the entire world — that includes the aggressive promotion of clean energy — that may contribute to solving global energy issues.

The Great East Japan Earthquake and the resulting tsunami are the worst natural disasters that Japan has faced since the end of the Second World War. Reconstruction of the devastated Tohoku region will not be easy. However, I believe that this difficult period will provide us with a precious window of opportunity to secure the "Rebirth of Japan." The Government will dedicate itself to demonstrating to the world its ability to establish the most sophisticated reconstruction plans for East Japan, based on three principles: first, create a regional society that is highly resistant to natural disasters; second, establish a social system that allows people to live in harmony with the global environment; and third, build a compassionate society that cares about people, in particular, the vulnerable.

We, the Japanese people, rose from the ashes of the Second World War, using our fundamental strength to secure a remarkable recovery and the country's present prosperity. I have not a single doubt that Japan will overcome this crisis, recover from the aftermath of the disaster, emerge stronger than ever, and establish a more vibrant and better Japan for future generations.

I believe that the best way for Japan to reciprocate the strong Kizuna and cordial friendship extended to us by the international community is to continue our contribution to the development of the international community. To that end, I will work to the best of my ability to realise a "forward-looking" reconstruction that gives people bright hopes for the future. I would wholeheartedly appreciate your continued support and cooperation. ARIGATOU.

( Naoto Kan is Prime Minister of Japan.)








Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is a historic achievement for the Palestinians, whose rivalries and divisions have weakened them and been exploited by their enemies.

Agreement to form an interim government and fix a date for elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip next year is also a real triumph for Egyptian mediation — and a surprise given the momentous changes in Cairo in the past few months.

But above all it is a challenge to Israel, the U.S. and the European Union (EU), which have all shunned Hamas as a terrorist organisation since its shock victory in Palestinian elections in 2006.

The agreement is, in its way, a version of the Arab spring shaking regimes from Libya to Syria and giving hope of change after years of impasse.

First indications from Jerusalem, in the form of an angry reaction from Israel's Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, suggested real alarm.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, had pushed in recent months for reconciliation with Hamas, despite differences and animosity.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) gave up its armed struggle and recognised Israel with the 1993 Oslo agreement, although the self-rule deal saw an intensification of Israeli settlement activity and is considered by many Palestinians to have been a strategic error by Yasser Arafat.

Hamas, whose name means the Islamic resistance movement, was founded in 1987 in the Gaza Strip. It still pursues armed struggle. It is backed by Iran and Syria, implacable foes of Israel, and has carried out many rocket attacks and suicide bombings aimed at Israeli civilians. Its leader, Khaled Mishal, has signalled readiness for a long-term ceasefire or "hudna" with Israel, but not for formal recognition.

If implemented, the unity agreement will make it easier for the Palestinians to go to the UN in September and demand international recognition for an independent state — without negotiations with Israel that seem doomed to failure.

But celebrations will be premature until key details are resolved: security is a difficult issue, as are the mechanics of governing the Gaza Strip and the West Bank when they are separated by Israeli territory.

The last attempt at unity collapsed during a brief civil war in 2007 and ended with Hamas seizing power in Gaza, where it remained, firing primitive but occasionally deadly rockets across the border, before and after Israel's Operation Cast Lead offensive killed 1,400 Palestinians.

Fatah, frustrated by slow moving talks with Israel — often rightly dismissed as all process and no peace — had been calling for a deal for two years. The Quartet of peacemakers, represented by Tony Blair, has always insisted that in order to secure recognition, Hamas must respect existing peace agreements, abandon violence and recognise Israel. The Fatah-Hamas deal will be closely scrutinised for how it addresses these points.

Abbas's Palestinian Authority is heavily dependent on U.S. and EU aid. The Obama administration will likely come under pressure from Israel to cut funding if Hamas returns to power in the West Bank. The EU will face a tough decision too — but it will also have a rare opportunity to make its own mark on the endless quest for peace in the Middle East.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011





The Hindu, on April 25, 2011, published an editorial that we at the Embassy of Algeria to New Delhi consider to be biased and inappropriate: it conceals known facts with respect to the political, economic and social situation of Algeria. The Embassy has immense respect for the quality of articles published in, and the history of, this leading newspaper, but wishes to state the following:

We have to also consider reasons other than those mentioned, for Algeria's evolution being different from that of its neighbours.

1. Algeria's government is neither monolithic nor monopartisan. Since 1995, successive Cabinets have been constituted by coalitions of three to six different political parties. Now the government comprises three parties associated under a 'presidential alliance';

2. The 389-member Parliament includes elected representatives from 22 parties, including 33 independent persons;

3. The local and regional bodies and assemblies are ruled by several hundred elected representatives owing allegiance to around 30 political parties, including independent elected candidates;

4. The elections are not fraudulently rigged, but there are very low levels of participation. This is linked mostly to the sentiment that one vote will not bring any change in the country's social or political situation. When only a few people vote, it is natural that the candidate with the strongest electoral support gains 'Stalinian vote results';

5. Public protests are not 'banned' in the capital city of Algiers. As part of security measures, prior approval needs to be obtained, and many protests have been held in the city since the beginning of 2011. Until now, almost all the protests organised in Algeria have had social objectives, related especially to issues of housing, jobs, cost of living and wage increases. More than 9,000 local and sectorial acts of protest were registered in different parts of Algeria last year;

6. Following the uprising that is usually referred to as the 'Arab Spring,' some groups of former professional politicians have tried to give the illusion of an out-of-the-system alternative while staging street demonstrations each Saturday morning. These groups comprise persons who are living abroad and are not considered credible by common citizens; hence they have failed to gather more than few dozen demonstrators each week.

7. As in any other developing country, corruption is a reality in Algeria. It is linked to the capacity given to public managers to use the financial means of the state while negotiating deals with companies from the richer countries, and to the propensity of these companies to use bribes to influence them. Accusations of bribery are also often pretexts to explain the failure of a company's process of negotiation to secure a deal; claims follow that the successful company paid extra money. While such trends are strongly fought by the law and by institutions, we have observed in Algeria that the accusations are systematic when an Asian company succeeds in a bid against a Western company. Moreover, the sentiment of the existence of a high level of corruption in Algeria is exacerbated by the traditional egalitarian social behaviour of its population. It is now linked to the country's status as a hydrocarbon exporter that has just changed from a centralised economic system of governance to a liberal economy. And people are often quick to explain the enrichment of others by means of corruption while comparing the success achieved by them in comparison with their own stagnation.

In conclusion, " to usher in democratic political reform without blood-letting" is also the wish of the major part of the Algerian people. After a week-long visit to Algeria, with the purpose of making a full assessment of the situation of freedom of opinion and expression in the country, Frank La Rue, a UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, said on March 17 that Algeria has " made significant gains in addressing social concerns through political reforms that have averted the social upheaval that has gripped much of the Arab world" and saluted "the expressed desire of the Government to embark in a new process of political reforms."

The government lifted the state of emergency in February and started implementing a series of reforms, including the drafting of a new Constitution. It will go into force before national elections in May 2012.






Hidden deep in the leaked Guantánamo files is a small but important trove of information, too historical and too technical to have commanded much space in newspapers keener on hyperventilating about "nuclear al-Qaeda hellstorms" this week. Each of the 700-plus files includes a short biography of its subject. These cover his "prior history" and "recruitment and travel" to wherever he became fully engaged with violent extremism and, with brutal if unintended efficiency, demolish three of the most persistent myths about al-Qaeda.

The first is that the organisation is composed of men the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) trained to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan who then turned on their mentors. In fact among the bona fide al-Qaeda operatives detained in Guantánamo Bay there are very few who are actually veterans of the fighting in the 1980s, and none of these were involved with groups that received any substantial technical or financial assistance from the U.S., even indirectly via Pakistan.

The second is that an "international brigade" of Islamist extremists was responsible for the Soviet defeat. The records make it clear that their combat contribution was negligible.

The third myth is that most of those currently waging "jihad" against the Crusader-Zionist alliance or the "hypocrite, apostate regimes" of the Muslim world were actively recruited by al-Qaeda and brought, brainwashed, to Afghanistan to fight or be trained. The descriptions of almost all those in Guantánamo genuinely associated with al-Qaeda shows that in fact they spent much time and money overcoming many difficulties to find a way to reach al-Qaeda. They were not dumb or vulnerable youths "groomed" to be suicide bombers; they were highly motivated, often educated and intelligent, men.

Waves of mythmaking

Such details are easy to dismiss as irrelevant to the threat posed by Islamist militancy today. But they are not. For one of the elements marking the evolution of the discussion and analysis of the phenomenon that al-Qaeda constitutes is the extraordinary degree to which it has been informed by myths.

There have been various waves of mythmaking about al-Qaeda. The first wave came in the late 1990s, when the group gained international notoriety with attacks on U.S. embassies in east Africa and a warship off the Yemen.

It was then that the idea that al-Qaeda was "blowback" from the Afghan war became conventional wisdom. After 9/11 came a new, massive surge of fearful fantasy. There was the normal derogatory propaganda expected in wartime — that Bin Laden has deformed g******* or partied wildly with prostitutes — which gained no real purchase. A more pernicious myth was the idea that al-Qaeda was a "tentacular organisation" with sleeper cells across the world waiting for the moment to strike with weapons of mass destruction. This minimised the role that both ideology and a variety of historical factors (ranging from demographics in the Islamic world to a discourse that stressed the "humiliation" of Muslims by the West) had played in the success of the group.

The emphasis on the agency of Bin Laden and his entourage discouraged interest in the broader causes of terrorism and thus made the fundamental strategic errors made by the U.S. and other policymakers in the early part of the last decade much more likely to happen.

New Delhi's claim

Many myths were deliberately generated by governments. In 2002 and 2003, repressive and dictatorial regimes around the world scrabbled to uncover or rebrand local militant movements with long histories as al-Qaeda offshoots. New Delhi claimed that Bin Laden, a 6ft 4in Arab and one of the most recognisable fugitives for centuries, had hidden in Kashmir, a smallish part of India crawling with 500,000 soldiers and police.

Chemical, biological weapons

The Russians claimed the Chechen conflict was not about centuries of territorial wars in the Caucasus but about "global jihad." The discovery of a local branch of al-Qaeda guaranteed major financial, diplomatic and military pay-offs from Washington — or at the very least a blind eye turned to domestic repression. So the Macedonians rounded up some Shia Pakistani immigrants, clothed them in combat outfits and shot the "al-Qaida operatives" dead.

Finally, there were the most egregious examples of mythmaking: the spurious connection of al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein and the non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Most of the documents in the Guantánamo files date from 2003 to 2005, and reflect the concerns of the time. The assessments of each detainee reveal a particular focus on the threat of a mass casualty attack involving chemical and biological weapons.

For those who remember the headlines announcing al-Qaeda plans to smear ricin, a poison, along parts of the London underground nine years ago, the stories this week announcing the existence of an al-Qaeda nuclear device hidden in Europe, or that London is a "hub" for al-Qaeda activity, seem from a distant era when every reported scare provoked panic.

Indeed, many of this week's scare stories, based on the "confessions" of tortured Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, were leaked at the time, and now appear to have been made up or even the product of al-Qaeda's own myth machine. Now, thankfully, the public is better informed and less prone to being scared. Given that terrorists' primary aim is to terrorise, this is to be welcomed.

The events of this spring have shown that Bin Laden and his cronies are definitively drifting to the geographic, political, cultural and ideological margins of the Islamic world. Their attempt to radicalise and mobilise hundreds of millions of people has failed. Crowds shouting slogans of democracy, not of violence, have succeeded in forcing the departure of two dictators and shaken several more. The Arab spring started with a public self-immolation, an act of spectacular violence which impressed because it harmed no other and was thus a clear repudiation of the suicide attacks of the last decade. The few statements from al-Qaeda's leadership or affiliate groups have sounded tired and irrelevant.

One reason for the group's current weakness is the gradual unpicking of the myths that contributed to the fear al-Qaeda once inspired and the aura it had for the alienated and the angry of the Islamic world. Happily, it is unlikely those myths can be rebuilt. ( Jason Burke is the Guardian's south Asia correspondent and the author of Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam.)

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






Ironically, it is the massive destruction caused by the recent accident — caused by an earthquake and tsunami of unsurpassed and unanticipated magnitude — at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan that provided the primary level of education on various aspects of nuclear energy and nuclear technology for most Indians,

rather than a home-grown programme of information dissemination about nuclear issues by the government. That the latter should have been the case is a self-evident proposition, especially as India plans to increase domestic generation of nuclear power manifold in the next decade and beyond from the mere three per cent of the national energy mix at present. It is so obvious that it is trite to say that a better informed public is a better prepared public when things go wrong at a nuclear power plant. This is among the key lessons to emerge from Fukushima.
But it is amply clear this lesson has not been learnt. After Fukushima, there were two key official announcements from the government. The Prime Minister publicly called for a safety review of all our nuclear power installations. It was subsequently proclaimed quite blandly that our plants are safe. Following this, Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, Union minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh and Atomic Energy Commission chairman Srikumar Banerjee held a press conference on Tuesday to announce that India will go ahead with the proposed nuclear power stations at Jaitapur on the Konkan coast, although local residents have protested strongly against siting a nuclear power plant in the region. Ordinarily it would have been expected that the government would be more sensitive to people's concerns on the safety aspect. If a detailed safety audit has been done, its findings should be put in the public domain. On Jaitapur, the government should give detailed explanations — along with technical data that would take on board citizens' concerns regarding environmental degradation in that particular stretch of the coast, and anxieties about probable loss of life. If this is not done, doubts will linger and many are apt to take it upon themselves to fan such doubts.
In the last three decades or so, all we have been told from the government is that nuclear power is cheaper than its alternatives, and that it is clean energy, unlike fossil fuels. The first has been questioned by many, including in responsible quarters. The second is undeniably true. But in the event of an accident, all bets are off. Fukushima underscores that. It is therefore also necessary that the government place all the facts on these issues before the public. To fill the information gap, it must also be officially explained why our reactors are better placed to withstand accidents, including those arising from storage of spent fuel rods (as at Fukushima). Data about our reactors being more modern, and advantages accruing from this, if any, also need to be explained, besides the nature of the three-stage Indian nuclear programme, culminating in the use of thorium as fuel.
Given the sheer magnitude of this country's energy needs to maintain a certain rate of economic growth and to meet the challenges of development, probably we need to have every source of power in our energy mix, including nuclear. For this to find willing acceptance within India, a lot of background work needs to be done by the government. At the moment the nuclear sector is a black hole, virtually mired in secrecy. One positive fallout of Fukushima has been that the government has decided to separate the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board from the AEC so that the safety aspect can be monitored independently of the atomic energy establishment.






The role of social media websites — such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube and Skype — in the unfolding revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, with ripples elsewhere in North Africa and West Asia, has given new impetus to the discussion of their impact on world politics. The eminent American journal Foreign Affairs recently

debated the issue, with opinion divided between those hailing them as Twitter revolutions and others dismissing the argument on the grounds that the uprisings would have occurred even in the absence of social media.
Both have a point, and my own position is somewhere between them. Of course uprisings can occur (and have occurred) without Twitter or Google, but media always has an impact on the reach and spread of word about protests, and therefore, on their intensity and sustainability. In this case, satellite television — notably Al Jazeera and its imitators — as well as SMSes, had probably more of an impact on the unrest across the North African Arab countries than Facebook or Twitter. But whatever the degree of social media's impact, the fact of impact is undeniable. As American commentator Peter Osnos puts it, "It is pointless to dispute that digital advances have played an enormous role in recent years in the speed of communications, and, in some situations, Egypt and Tunisia certainly among them, these technologies have played a meaningful part in the rallying of crowds and in garnering international recognition. A global generation of mainly young people will continue to refine and use the capacity to reach out to each other. Turmoil reflects the conditions of the era in which it occurs, and social media are very much a factor of our age".
This is why China has paid particular attention to censoring the Internet, employing 40,000 cyber-police to monitor blogging sites, shutting down any sites that get out of line and banning Twitter. When a US-based Chinese-language site called for a Jasmine Revolution in China, the Great Firewall of China blocked all searches for the word "Jasmine", even if you were merely looking for jasmine tea! Clearly the authoritarians in Beijing are quite aware of the enormous potential of social media to disrupt even their politics.
The reach of social media has been facilitated by rapid technological developments. In a recent study, my good friend Nik Gowing of the BBC highlights how in a moment of major, unexpected crisis, the institutions of global power face a new, acute vulnerability of both their influence and effectiveness, thanks to new media technologies. As Mr Gowing points out, it was a 41-second video taken on a mobile phone by a New York investment banker that dramatically swung public perceptions of police handling of the G20 protests in which a protester died. Similarly, when US-led Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) warplanes bombed villages in Afghanistan's Azizabad area, US forces initially claimed only seven people died. When mobile phone video emerged, US commanders had to re-investigate and revise the death toll up to 55. As Mr Gowing argues, "Such examples confirm how new information technologies and dynamics are together driving a wave of democratisation and accountability".
Increasingly, a cheap camera or mobile phone that is easily portable in a pocket can undermine the credibility of a government despite the latter's massive human and financial resources. The new lightweight technologies have created what Mr Gowing calls "non-professional information doers": hundreds of millions of amateurs with their own electronic eyes, who can now be found anywhere. As many as four billion people worldwide — including 84 per cent of Americans and today over 50 per cent of Indians — now use mobile phones. They all get messages out. And they do so more rapidly than the official mechanisms can. Their strength is that they enable people to issue and disseminate material, including raw footage and compellingly authentic images, before the mainstream media, or for that matter governments, can do so. Inevitably, this means they shed light where officialdom would prefer darkness, as China learned when video footage of a shootout involving Uighur separatists in 2008 made it to the world media despite Beijing's denials. In the old days, governments assumed they could command the information high ground in a crisis. That is simply no longer true.
Of course, there can be a more positive use of social media in a crisis, as we saw with the triple catastrophe of the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear accident in Japan. Within days of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, 64 per cent of blog links, 32 per cent of Twitter news links and the top 20 YouTube videos carried news and information about the crisis in Japan. Nine days after the earthquake, two urgent tweets for help in evacuating patients from a hospital in the affected area, addressed to US ambassador John Roos, led him to activate the US military and the Japanese Self-Defence Forces, who transported the patients to safety. A year earlier, before Mr Roos opened his Twitter account, getting the US ambassador's attention in such a direct and immediate way would not have been possible. This time, troops were mobilised by Twitter.
Japan's disaster has spotlighted the critical role that social media websites are increasingly playing in responses to crises around the world. They may have been designed essentially for online socialising and just having fun, but such sites have empowered people caught up in crises. In one week after the earthquake, people viewed more than 40 million disaster-related items. Volunteers using social media sites have played pivotal roles in responses to various types of global crises, from the BP Horizon oil spill to the unrest in West Asia to the earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, New Zealand and Japan. There were 70 million tweets on the Haiti earthquake alone, and social media proved indispensable in providing information to draw crisis response maps, find missing people and dispense assistance.
On any given day, people are sending 140 million Twitter messages, nearly a billion tweets every week. Facebook has more users around the world than the population of any single country, ours included. There are two ways to look at this. One is that it's symptomatic of information overload. The other — my own view — is that it represents a huge audience of information-generators and consumers, which people in positions of public responsibility ignore at their peril.

Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency









Indian Muslims just got luckier. Already spoilt for choice, the Spring of 2011 has brought two fresh bonanzas for the country's "second largest majority". One comes gift-wrapped as a brand new political party; the other is a forum of Muslim advocates of Maharashtra. Many compliments of the season, Badhai ho badhai!

But hang on a moment. It perhaps is too early to exult. The Jamaat-e-Islami's (JI) invitation to a party has met with more jeers than cheers. Not many Muslims, it appears, are keen on singing Happy Birthday to the new-born named Welfare Party of India. The Muslim advocates' meet in Mumbai on a Friday (April 22) saw the enthusiastic participation of around 300 advocates from all over Maharashtra. The stars of the show were two retired Muslim judges from the Mumbai high court: Justice Bilal Nakzi and Justice Shafi Parkar. But outside the venue the reception was mixed.
Let's take the second one first. What on earth is the meaning of a separate Muslim lawyers' forum? What's coming next: Muslim doctors' forum, Muslim journalists' forum, Muslim IAS/IPS officers' forum, Muslim consumers' forum? Thane city's advocate Abdul Kalam explains the rationale for such a forum thus: "After the communal riots, it has been found that Hindu advocates are reluctant to fight cases of Muslim victims or accused. We don't say that all non-Muslim advocates are biased, but during moments of crisis, many upright advocates have developed cold feet".
Is that so? What about Kapil Sibal, Shanti Bhushan, Anil Divan, P.P. Rao, M.S. Ganesh, Kamini Jaiswal, Sanjay Parikh, Aspi Chinoy, Navroze Seervai, Gautam Patel, Mihir Desai, Aparna Bhatt and Ramesh Pukhrambam, all of whom have contributed time and talent pro bono, fighting for justice to the Muslim victims and punishment to the perpetrators of the state-sponsored 2002 Gujarat carnage? What about Teesta Setalvad and her non-religious organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), which for over nine years has led the Gujarat victims' struggle for justice from the front? What about Mukul Sinha, the lawyer from Ahmedabad, and the hours and days that he has spent before the Nanavati-Shah-Mehta inquiry commission?
As for the JI and its new baby, the Welfare Party of India (WPI), if you've never heard of Syed Abu Ala Maududi, the maulana who founded the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1941, here's a crash course. Throughout his life Maududi preached that unlike other religions, Islam is not just about worship and religious rituals like prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage. Instead, Islam is a revolutionary ideology; to be a Muslim is to be a revolutionary committed to debunking man-made ideas (democracy etc.), institutions (Parliament etc.) and laws (Constitution etc.) and striving by every means possible to establishing Allah's rule (Islamic state etc.) and Allah's laws (Sharia etc.).
This is what every Jamaati has fervently believed and preached for the last 70 years. Among those who were deeply impressed by Maududi was a person named Syed Qutb of Egypt who proceeded to argue that striving by "every means possible" includes killing those who are Muslims only in name in the interest of ushering Allah's sovereignty on earth.
Now that the same JI has chosen to place itself at the service of man-made laws, should we not welcome this change of mind and heart? We should if the JI were to publicly declare that Maududi's views now belong to a library that houses outdated, intolerant, outrageous ideology. But that's not what the JI is telling us. Instead, it wants us to believe that the WPI is a secular, democratic entity, never mind the fact that 11 out of its 16 office-bearers are Jamaati stalwarts.
That's reason number one for the non-Jamaati Muslims' lack of enthusiasm. To many of them, the JI-WPI relationship looks like a mirror image of the RSS-BJP equation. The goal is the same: infiltrating the institutions of democracy for subverting the constitutional spirit from within. But the facade is all too transparent: How much cover can you expect from one of WPI's several vice-presidents, including a Christian priest who chanted the Gayatri Mantra at the party's launch, to provide? Some Muslims see him as the WPI's Sikander Bakht!
Reason number two: Less than two years ago, in July 2009, we saw the Popular Front of India (home in south India to ex-Students Islamic Movement of India leaders and activists following the ban on the radical outfit) give birth to the Secular Democratic Party of India. Simi, remember, emerged from the womb of the JI in the early '70s, and the PFI still draws inspiration from Maulana Maududi and Syed Qutb of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. In its spare time, the PFI runs a moral police enforcing Islam on Muslims in a manner that might make the Bajrang Dal and the Ram Sene envious. Ask Kerala's Muslims.
Adding to the Indian Muslim's embarrassment of riches is the All-India United Democratic Front of India floated by the Assam-based Badruddin Ajmal of the Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind in 2005. And let's not forget the nearly half-a-dozen Muslim organisations in Uttar Pradesh that have sprouted in recent years.
What then should Indian Muslims expect from this abundance of Muslim-floated parties? Ideologically speaking, it means secularism by daylight, Sharia after dark. Politically speaking, at best they'll cancel each other out; eat into votes of mainstream parties that swear by secularism. At worst, they'll provide propaganda fodder to Hindutva, feed Islamophobia.
The increasing political disempowerment of India's Muslims in Parliament and in the Assemblies, continuing discrimination and "red zoning" are no doubt problems crying to be addressed. But a cancer cell like proliferation of Muslim parties will, if anything, compound the malady.

Javed Anand is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy








As regards the composition of the Lokpal, there is little justification for restricting the appointment to judges. Nor would it be wise to make the area of eligibility too wide, as has been suggested by the group associated with Anna Hazare. The soundest course to follow would be to open the field of selection to retired judges of the

Supreme Court and retired chief justices of the high courts, retired constitutional authorities, such as Comptroller and Auditor General, Chief Election Commissioner and chairman of the Union Public Service Commission and retired civil servants and educationists of eminence who have not been connected with politics or business for the last 10 years.
The Screening Committee for selection of the Lokpal can also be one which can inspire confidence in the public. It should neither be too big, as suggest by the Anna Hazare group, nor should it be dominated by political elements, as provided in the legislation proposed by government.
The legislation proposed by the government denies suo moto power to Lokpal to take cognisance of complaints against a "public functionary". This denial, coupled with the restriction of complaints being received only through the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and chairman of the Rajya Sabha, would make the Lokpal an imbecile institution. It would not command public respect and severely undermine the very objective of the proposed legislation.
But conferment of suo moto powers on the Lokpal without any restriction, as demanded by the Anna Hazare group, would have its own disadvantages. This could, besides harassment, cause serious impediments in the smooth and speedy functioning of the governance machinery at the highest level. The dilemma could, perhaps, best be resolved by empowering Lokpal to take suo moto action and at the same time making a provision in the law to ensure that this power would be used in exceptional circumstances and only after a showcause notice has been given to the "public functionary" concerned, his reply considered and a "speaking order" passed.
In the legislation proposed by the government, the judiciary has been kept out of the purview of the Lokpal. Its problems of accountability are proposed to be tackled separately. But a section of the Anna Hazare group is demanding that judges' alleged acts of corruption should fall within the jurisdiction of the Lokpal. This demand is not at all justified. Apart from being unconstitutional and destructive of the judiciary's independence, it would make the Lokpal a virtual dictator. In fact, every finding of the Lokpal should be made appealable to the Supreme Court.
The Anna Hazare group has taken a strong exception to the government proposal of awarding punishment of imprisonment of "not less than one year and extendable to three years" to those who are found by the Lokpal to have filed "false and frivolous complaint, with the malafide intention of harassing the public functionary". Clearly, this provision is draconian and would act as a strong inhibition in approaching the Lokpal. The power of the Lokpal in this respect should, therefore, be limited to imposition of fines, leaving it to the party falsely complained against to file a defamation suit or a criminal case on the basis of Lokpal's findings.
Another pressing demand of the Anna Hazare group is that the functions of Lokpal should not be limited to "finding facts". It should be empowered to launch prosecution, and the entire machinery of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Central Vigilance Commission should also be placed under its charge. The group also wants that the ambit of the Lokpal should extend to civil servants.
All this, it is easy to see, would make the Lokpal an unwieldy institution. It would also become a super-investigator and a super-prosecutor with regard to the alleged misconduct of almost all the important functionaries in the arenas of the Legislative and the Executive. Too much power would get concentrated in one institution, and there is every danger of it being turned into a Court of Star Chamber.
The change that needs to be made in the proposed legislation is to empower the Lokpal to inquire into the conduct of civil servant if it is connected with the conduct of a "public functionary" under inquiry. Neither the CBI nor the Central Vigilance Commission need to be placed under administrative control of the Lokpal. But the course of investigations and prosecutions, launched as a consequence of Lokpal's findings, could be monitored by it, as is being done by the Supreme Court in the case of 2G spectrum scam.
The above suggestions, I have little doubt, would create a balanced law on the Lokpal. But what will matter in the end is the social and moral climate of the country. Unfortunately, it is this pivotal issue that has been totally ignored, since Independence, by the Indian state and society. That is why, despite civil society groups' humming and hawing, legislatures passing several laws and the judiciary's frequent angry outbursts, the caravan of corruption has gone on, daily swelling its ranks.

This is the concluding portion of a two-part series

Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister








Jammu region is again reeling under unscheduled power cuts that disrupt normal life. Year after year we are told that power position is stabilizing but the present situation belies all these tall claims. Previously the strong excuse on the basis of which PDD could find an escape route was that there was extensive pilferage of power and thus enormous loss was accruing to the exchequer. To some extent this was the situation and the department could not be faulted. The civil society needed to be educated regarding obligation of observing civic rules. Then the department hit upon the sensible idea of installing meters which effectively prevented pilferage of power. Even the department itself confessed that in metered localities the revenue position had immensely improved. As against this, the PDD made a strong propaganda that metered regions of the city and rural area would be supplied uninterrupted power and no cuts for them were sanctioned. This did work for some time but then everything seemed to be crumbling and relapsing into traditional mess. Now as of today, there is no such thing as metered or non-metered areas and localities. There is wholesale unscheduled and unannounced power cut that has almost paralyzed normal activity of life. Hospitals, industries, essential services all are affected adversely. The department is totally silent about its inability to meet the requirements of the public. Telephone calls and complaints made by members of civil society are not responded and nobody is prepared to answer the queries made by the public.

The authorities when approached by some inquisitive media persons say that except for some technical snag in Baglihar-II Power station, the entire system is functioning normally. They are not prepared to accept the complaints or own the faults but at the same time have no answer to unscheduled recurrent power cuts. Authorities claim that the State is purchasing power from the neighbouring states and also from the Centre and its function is normal. This may be the official stand, but ground situation does not support it, not the least. Through knowledgeable sources it has been learnt that there is a deficit of 40 per cent in supply and demand scenario of electricity in Jammu region. The situation in rural areas is far worse and they are facing shut downs for days and nights. In many areas total night shut down is observed. This is an alarming situation particularly in face of the hot summer ahead. The temperature in Jammu is hovering around 38-40 degrees and the harsher hot days are still to come. The secretariat is now on its move to summer capital and with that accountability graph for the department will come down further. Therefore Jammu region citizens will have to gear up for very hard days ahead unless some miracle happens in the context of power supply, which, however, does not happen. The power situation this year is not anything different from what we had the last year or the year before. The amusing question is where are the much touted hydroelectric power stations that the authorities claim to have been set up to overcome power deficiency in the region and the state? All this suggests that the government is incapable of tackling the situation for reasons best known to it. We could make some suggestions to improve power supply. First is that private sector should be allowed to step in and play its role in setting things right. Two years ago almost similar situation had developed in Delhi state and then the administration brought in private sector. Things in Delhi have immensely improved. Another step would be to constitute a joint committee of state government representatives, both from administrative and technical areas and knowledgeable members from the civil society to discuss the entire issue of power generation in the state. A new policy touching on all aspects from generation to supply, maintenance and collection of revenue should come under purview. A new approach to the entire system is needed particularly keeping in mind that alternative means of production of power should also come under discussion. Among the alternatives, there could be the options of thermal and nuclear power stations as well. Antiquated supply system and wiring has to discarded and replaced by new and most recent technology. This is more important in view of the fact that sooner than later J&K will be brought on India's industrial map and power will be the first and foremost of requirements on which the government's future planning will depend.







Mob rallies, pre or post-meditated, public protests and hysterics, lanes and bye-lanes skirmishes and consequential reaction by the law enforcing bandobast was the scenario in Kashmir during the last summer and before. There was also loss of precious lives, which should have been avoided but could not be. All this has stirred an academic and theoretical study of governmental level of protest culture not related only to J&K but other states of the union as well. As such the home ministry had constituted a committee of senior police and security officers of the country headed by the State Director General of Police to prepare a report on having a standard operating procedure to control protest rallies and mob mobilization that often lead to violence and reaction by law enforcing apparatus. The Committee has submitted its report which the Union Home Ministry has adopted and its broad features are conveyed to the states for consideration and implementation. This was a much needed step essentially aimed at two things. One is not let law and order slip out of hand so as to worsen the situation. The second is to use minimum of force for dispersing the crowds and seeing to it that no or minimum loss of life is inflicted. The recommendations speak loudly of government's concerns when a situation arises. No doubt situations change from incident to incident but what the committee has aimed at doing is to have a standard desk-book for dealing with unpredictable or predictable situations. If strictly followed, it would reduce chances of complaints from civil society of police or security forces indulging in high-handedness in controlling mass protests. That would be something appreciable.







Ever since word spread, some months ago, that Indian money forms the largest component of money in secret Swiss bank accounts I have been following the story closely. My interest came from finding the news hard to believe in the first place and heightened steadily because I began to see it as a red herring being fed to gullible news channels to distract them from investigating big corruption in India. So last Tuesday when Julian Assange was interviewed on Times Now I listened carefully. He said clearly that there were Indian names attached to Swiss accounts and that these would come out in some future installment of Wikileaks. He said that the Indian government should be more aggressive in investigating these accounts because per capita India was losing more tax money than Germany. The largest stash in secret Swiss accounts is from Germany. What Assange did not say was that Indians had the largest number of secret accounts in Swiss banks but most newspapers that I read the next morning reported that this is what he had said. The Navbharat Times made the story first lead on its front page and its more financially literate cousin, the Economic Times, reported the story less dramatically but had this headline, 'More Indian Money in Swiss Banks Than Others.' It was supposedly quoting Assange but when I read the story I discovered that he was not quoted as having said this.

He could not have said it because as the world's current super-sleuth he would know well that Indian money does not constitute the largest component of the Swiss banking system. Even cursory investigations will reveal that most of the money in Swiss banks comes from Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and the United States. India comes after these countries and possibly even after China and Southeast Asia. But, in recent months Indians have been led to believe that if the money salted away in secret Swiss accounts comes back to India then it would be the solution to all our economic problems. Prominent opposition politicians have gone on record to say this on national television and leftist journalists have repeated the story endlessly in their columns and their TV shows.

What is interesting about this emphasis on Swiss accounts is that the people who go on and on about bringing India's money back seem not to notice that a whole new breed of Indian politicians has come to power and they have no interest in depositing their loot in foreign banks. They need it in India for political purposes and to make sure that their families roll in wealth for generations to come. With this in mind they use their ill-gotten riches to start up businesses in India that in the shortest possible time do remarkably well. If Jagan Reddy's tax returns are anything to go by this young scion of the late Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh is a business genius. Within three years his annual advance tax went from a paltry Rs 3 lakhs to a mind-boggling Rs 84 crores. Why does he want to be in politics, you may well ask, if he is such a business genius.

He is not alone among India's political heirs in exhibiting this extraordinary talent for business. It requires only the most basic investigative journalism to discover that in nearly every big political family there is at least one so-called business genius. A son or a son-in-law who suddenly becomes head of a big corporation or a big group of companies without anyone being completely certain where the money came to fund these mysterious new businesses. How is it that nobody seems interested in investigating sources of such huge new wealth?

Clues to its origins lie in the spate of scandals that have recently unraveled. Suresh Kalmadi out of one small job of organizing the Commonwealth Games managed to favour a whole range of companies and contractors causing losses to the Government of India and allegedly big gains for himself. Similarly when A. Raja was in the Ministry of Telecommunications he favoured certain companies when he handed out 2G Spectrum and they favoured his family and friends with generous dollops of cash for ostensible investment. What may have been made as profit in these scandals is small change compared with what the Chief Minister of a state can make. It is in his hands to change land use and hand out government contracts and there is big, big money in these activities. So one of the most effective ways to reduce corruption in India would be to reduce the discretionary powers that high officials enjoy. Another way of reducing corruption would be to lay down clear rules by which contracts are handed out instead of keeping the process so vague and nebulous that they can be tailored at will.

The reason why I continue to believe that the Swiss accounts story is a red herring is because even when it comes to big businessmen stashing their black money abroad there is less need than there used to be in socialist times. In those days when businessmen were made to sometimes pay taxes that were higher than their profits secret stashes in Swiss banks were almost necessary. Especially since there was in those dark, impoverished times such strict restrictions on foreign exchange that the amount allowed by the Reserve Bank of India for Indians traveling to foreign lands was often less than you needed to pay for the taxi that took you into town.

The times have, mercifully, changed. Indian businessmen are allowed not only to take out more than enough money to be able to stay in fine hotels in London and New York they are even allowed to buy foreign companies and open legitimate accounts abroad. So instead of chasing after Swiss bank accounts those who want to reduce corruption in public life in India should be paying more attention to finding the holes into which black money disappears inside India. Real estate is a reliable parking spot because it is almost impossible to buy property in our towns and cities without black money. The corporate geniuses that have sprouted in the homes of our big political dynasties are full of black money secrets and then there are political leaders like Mayawati who flaunt their new wealth with pride. This is without even going into the thousands of crore rupees of black money that fund elections in India.






We have issues of our own and the electronic media has little time for events in the Middle East and as I write this there is an internal war waging in Syria. Tanks and armored carriers are deployed and casualties go into hundreds and the issue goes to the UN Security Council and Syria asks Iran for assistance and turbulence continues in Libya, Yemen ,Egypt and most of the Middle East and between the interests of the super powers and the local monarch's and Army dictators the civil society is cramped for space and their cry for freedom is lost in these conflicts. The Middle East and much of North Africa has become a battle zone and there is little need to elaborate on the situation prevailing in Iraq, Afghanistan and most of Pakistan. The march towards freedom and democracy have been temporarily stalled as violence continues and supreme leaders and monarchs battle their own people who strive for greater freedom. Oil prices escalate and create long term security issues and fuel inflation and food prices across the globe have escalated by 50%. Oil prices continue to rise and we can expect steep increases both on petrol and diesel prices after the Assembly polling is over in West Bengal.

We have a great deal of excitement with the IPL providing thrills on a daily basis and the matches are being played to a capacity crowd and on the political front we have the usual issues associated with the Lok Pal bill and daily sermons on morality and integrity and we have action on several fronts on the 2G scam and the PAC under Murli Manohar ji arrive at certain conclusions and this will be contested by another faction of the PAC led by the Congress and the DMK and I suppose we will have a similar situation in the JPC in due course of time and in the meantime the CBI continue with their 2nd and 3rd charge sheets with additional names and the Supreme Court monitor every action. The DMK family wars are inevitable once the results come on the 13th of May and while the EC may have confiscated 50 crores [cash for votes] the multiple member alliances of both the DMK and the AIDMK can move in several directions at the same time unless there is a decisive victory for the AIDMK which is beyond financial challenge. The DMK Chief has to contend with two wives, three sons, daughter and nephews and the problems will surface both in victory or defeat! The reality of the 2G probe is that the CBI, ED or the IT cannot show any bias as the Supreme Court will deciede issues and this will be a relief for the Congress as now both wife and daughter are involved in 214 crores received by the TV company. The situation in Tamil Nadu is very complex and the DMK have very few options and if they lose the elections the AIDMK and J Jayalalitha will have a field day and the Congress may well become the senior partner in the alliance. The DMK and the AIDMK are both capable of political gymnastics considered impossible by many and we will see a real thriller in Tamil Nadu on the 13th of May 2011.

West Bengal will be the other battle to watch and in fairness to the Left they are doing everything possible and more to meet the challenge posed by the charismatic Mamata Banerjee and I think with all the usual electoral problems she will win by a landslide and I would be surprised if the Left win 65-80 seats. Mamata Banerjee knows her politics and to keep her party intact she will grow in the East and will also chance her arm in the North. The patterns of 2014 have yet to take shape and it is common sense that if the Congress numbers drop to 150 seats and their major ally in Tamil Nadu is demolished then their chances of government formation at the Center are limited and the BJP with their limited agenda will find it difficult to go beyond 120-140 seats and clearly it is the others who will hold the cards and the major players will be Mayawati, Mamata, Nitesh Kumar and Naveen Patnaik. The Yadav brigade has already shrunk and I see a further decline for both in Bihar and UP. The Congress even with 150 MP's will always be in a formidable position but Regional leaders who win on their own competence, ability and charisma do not accept a higher authority easily and while they may share power with each other they will always perceive the Congress as a 'predator'. I have not mentioned the NCP here as Sharad Pawar, daughter Supriya Sule and nephew Ajit Pawar are all getting involved in issues not related to politics and with the Supreme Court monitoring cases the future is far from predictable and the UPA government cannot influence events.

The media is being extremely active and there are no secrets today and this applies equally to all three wings of governance and also to members of the Civil society and we have seen lawyers and well known journalists subject to scrutiny and as the electronic media gets aggressive and throws a few punches they can get a few in return and I think the Aam Aadmi besides cricket will have a great deal of other entertainment to look forward to in the immediate future. We are often told we have a rotten government, a rotten opposition and the negative sentiments extend to other wings of government and it is a rotten Civil society who have elected this group but all these rotten people have given us the RTI bill, they have not forced us to accept their sermons or manipulated the media and look at the freedom we have today to express our views and at the end of the day all we have is one vote and we have a opinion and we have a stable Democratic structure in which we can exercise both these options.

West Bengal will be the other battle to watch and in fairness to the Left they are doing everything possible and more to meet the challenge posed by the charismatic Mamata Banerjee and I think with all the usual electoral problems she will win by a landslide and I would be surprised if the Left win 65-80 seats. Mamata Banerjee knows her politics and to keep her party intact she will grow in the East and will also chance her arm in the North.






It is not just politicians or activists who jump on bandwagons. Even professionals are prone to this failing. Perhaps this is why the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) had chosen "inclusive growth" as the focus for its national conference 2011, instead of the more mundane theme of how to substantially raise the share of industry in our GDP.

Ah yes, "inclusive growth" has a silken seductiveness as a topic of discussion in a country like ours, where 50 per cent of the population scrounges for the bare necessities. It soothes the defensive guilt of the well-heeled elite who have benefited disproportionately from the past two decades of strong economic growth. It provides a cutting edge to the perorations of the argumentative intellectual who sneers at the growth numbers, quite ignoring the fact that without such growth, perhaps three-fourths of our population would have been below that infamous Poverty Line. And, of course, for the bureaucrat and politico, it provides the notes with which to weave another siren song of subsidy which ultimately lines their own pockets.

The cynic may be forgiven for ascribing Indian industry's newfound anxiety for inclusiveness in growth to the dictates of simmering resentment and even revolt in a countryside which till now was meek in its response to exploitation. The fact that the entry of industry is being vehemently opposed by the inhabitants of backward areas, despite the promise of such investment being a panacea for endemic regional poverty, must be agitating the minds of industry bigwigs. It has certainly thrown a spanner in the grand plans for industrial growth in the country. Hence, perhaps, the navel-gazing by associations like the CII about winning over the hearts and minds of the bottom half by promoting inclusive growth.

About time too, since the record shows that, barring honourable exceptions, most of Indian industry has tended to operate in the return-on-investment cocoon that brooks no digression into such offline anxieties as socio-economic upheavals, habitation displacement, environmental fallout and the like. In fact, so high has been the level of indifference of Indian industry to reaching out to the surrounding community that if one were to draw contours of development around any industrialised area, one would notice a precipitous fall beyond a few tens of kilometres from the centre.

One can come across countless examples of this in and around industrial pockets all over the country, such as the deep backwardness of the countryside surrounding the metallurgical industrial towns of Orissa, the conversion of the Jamuna near Delhi from a river into a sewer due to discharge of effluents from nearby industries, the blatant disregard to safety and the Child Labour Act in the fireworks units of Sivakasi, etc. This writer is not an opponent of small-scale industries but it is also, unfortunately, true that perhaps because of being totally preoccupied in trying to stay afloat, small industries are the least concerned about inclusive growth.

Industrialists will, of course, argue that their primary responsibility is to run their industries efficiently and it is the government's job to ensure that the corporate taxes industry pays are utilised for inclusive growth. It is not the onus of industries to develop and care for social infrastructure, provide for the deprived in society, create physical assets needed by the community in general and the like.

To an extent, this is true. By insisting on industry undertaking corporate social responsibility, the government is only passing on the burden of what it should be doing on the shoulders of industry. It has to be also acknowledged, that the skills that industry possesses to undertake its manufacturing goals, are not necessarily the same that suit civil society's goals. For example, it is one thing to run a machine shop and quite another to run a primary school. Therefore, to expect industry to take up what the government or civil society is geared to do, is unfair on industry and places a tremendous burden on it.

On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that industry draws its assets from society and doing its bit to strengthen society benefits it in the end. Industry has a vested interest in inclusive growth since that expands its market base. The rapid expansion of India's manufacturing sector during the last two decades is precisely because of a growing middle class which came about due to the benefits of growth gradually encompassing a larger percentage of the population. Just imagine how strong and prosperous our industry could become if the size of the middle class doubled from the present 200 million in the next two decades.

The question then arises: how best can industry do its bit for promoting inclusive growth? The best way to start, perhaps, is by undertaking projects which lie in their knowledge domain. For example, they can undertake education programmes in their hinterland which will enhance the skills of the rural population to meet the demands of new types of employment opportunities that follow industrial investment - such as masonry, carpentry, driving, welding and a host of others.

Another thing that could be undertaken is enhancing primary infrastructure, such as road connectivity to the interior, over and above what the state does. Industries could also exploit their marketing clout to channel products made by self-help groups in villages to urban markets. There is no dearth of possibilities. The will has to be there. There are several large and medium scale manufacturing companies which have successfully launched such outreach programmes. The CII should use its internal network to pass on their experience to other companies who want to undertake such activities and thus create a national movement.( INAV)






2G, two groups

PAC splintered along political lines


The storm caused by the leaked draft report of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) looking into the controversial 2G spectrum allocation has led to a major political upheaval. That the Congress would seek the help of the lone Samajwadi Party and BSP members in the PAC to get the report rejected was quite expected, but things went way beyond that. These two, coupled with seven representatives from the Congress and two from the DMK "elected" a new chief, Congress MP Saifuddin Soz, after committee chairman Murli Manohar Joshi walked out. They also rejected Joshi's report. The question as to how tenable the change is would lead to another fierce debate but for the time being, the tables have been turned.


There are two reasons for this precipitate action. One, the way the draft report was leaked helped the Congress make Mr Joshi the fall guy, accusing him of trying to destabilise the government. Two, the party knew very well that at a time when it was reeling under a spate of graft charges, an indictment of the Prime Minister and senior ministers by PAC would be a grievous blow. That is exactly what the draft report had done, besides indicting former Telecommunications Minister A. Raja. It castigated Dr Manmohan Singh and the PMO for giving an "indirect green signal" to Raja for going ahead with his policies and also attacked the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram for recommending to the Prime Minister to "treat the matter as closed" instead of taking action against those responsible for loss to the exchequer.


The 21-member committee has seven representatives from the Congress, four from the BJP, two each from the AIADMK and the DMK and one each from the Shiv Sena, the BJD, the JD(U), the SP, the BSP and the CPM. With such delicate balance, the support of the SP and the BSP had become crucial for the Congress to scrape through. With a majority of one on its side (11-10), the Congress managed to stage a coup of sorts, although the damage has already been done with the leakage of the draft report.









Sudden flight cancellations have inconvenienced travellers and further dented Air India's not-too-flyer-friendly image. The trouble — as also the consequent loss — was avoidable had the government-owned airline management and the agitating pilots been a little flexible. There won't be any public sympathy for the pilots who struck work without reasonable notice. They even defied the Delhi High Court order asking them to go back to work in the larger public interest. Pilots are paid fabulous salaries but the strike is against pay disparities. Post-merger, Indian Airlines pilots are at a disadvantage viz-à-viz their Air India counterparts.


Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi and Air India CMD Arvind Jadhav have mishandled a simple issue. Over-reacting, they have derecognised the pilots' association and sacked six activist pilots. "Nobody can dictate terms to the government… I don not think there is scope for negotiation", declared Ravi. The immediate sufferers of the management's stubbornness are the passengers who had booked their tickets in advance. The gainers are the private airlines, which lost no time in raising fares. The high court also came down heavily on the management for ignoring wage issues of a section of the pilots for so long.


Indian Airlines and Air India merged in 2007 with the blessings of Praful Patel, the then minister in charge. A parliamentary committee has called the merger "ill-conceived, whimsical and a marriage of two incompatible individuals". The protesting pilots are unfortunate children of this unhappy marriage. The global recession in 2008 bedevilled airlines globally. In India, the government carrier too suffered, but more than others. Air India has lost its number one position in market share. It suffered a loss of Rs 7,200 crore in 2009-10. That should have been reason enough to sack the management, which has no clear blueprint for effecting a turnaround. It has needlessly angered 800 of the 1,200 pilots by following discriminatory wage policies. The government is under pressure to offer the beleaguered airline a bailout. A more mature leadership should be put at the helm before committing more public money to the airline.











The Ministry of Defence has shortlisted two out of a total six types of medium range multi-role combat aircraft evaluated for induction into the Indian Air Force (IAF). The IAF has projected a need for 126 such aircraft to make up for shortfall in its fighter strength and also to modernise its fleet in keeping with rapid changes in military aviation technology and the country's security requirements.


By shortlisting the Typhoon Eurofighter and the French Dassault Rafale after evaluating on 643 parameters listed under the IAF's Qualitative Requirements, India has effectively ruled out two formidable and strategic players in a deal estimated at a staggering $ 10 billion – Russia, which has been the country's traditional weapon supplier starting from the Cold war period, and the United States, which, in recent years, has emerged as a major supplier of defence armament. Instead, by shortlisting two aircraft types, both of them from Europe, the IAF is set to add a variant to its already uniquely diverse fleet comprising over a score different aircraft types bought from half-a-dozen countries ranging from Russia, the US, Poland, France, UK and Brazil. Quite expectedly, the evaluation and shortlisting was preceded by intensive lobbying by companies and governments through their politicians and officials.


Irrespective of which aircraft is eventually selected, the government must ensure that the final decision is taken with due propriety and in keeping with national interest. The government must not succumb to external pressures while ensuring that the deal goes through without complications. This is important considering that in the recent past, agreements for purchase of critical weapon systems have either had to be scrapped following allegations of kickbacks or are facing inquiries resulting in excessive caution in decision making. Consequently, this has resulted in not only a setback to the armed forces modernisation programme, but, more seriously, caused a setback to its capabilities vis-a-vis adversaries in the neighbourhood. This is a situation that a country of the size and importance of India can ill-afford.









The so-called Guantanamo File of 700 diplomatic papers dated between 2002 and 2009 published by WikiLeaks makes grim reading. The other leaked papers relate to American political and diplomatic assessments of men, nations, opportunities. The Guantanamo File, however, is a record of shame: of torture, illegal detention, violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Human Rights Charter that the US has practised and condoned on foreign soil where such infractions do not attract American domestic law which would not tolerate such vicious processes. Hence, also the wretched story of "renditions" when those suspected to be inimical to US interests were sent to countries where un-American practices would not attract legal consequences or which were prepared to assist for a consideration.


 A dragnet was used to trawl suspects with al Qaeda or other terrorist links post-9/11. Once in, there was no simple way out. Proven innocence itself sometimes became a problem as there was often no easy way to return these "suspects" to liberty. There were protests at home and abroad but these were muffled by the louder and more insistent refrain that such measures were required for US homeland security. Many of those incarcerated suffered mental and psychological breakdowns and others later became terrorists in search of vengeance against the US.


 Despite internal "reviews" and international protests, the Guantanamo "facility" survives. Some 600 prisoners have been transferred to other countries and still others released after so-called rehabilitation and supervision. Yet, despite Obama's pledge to shut down the place, 172 detainees remain incarcerated in that hell-hole. Among those released are a Sudanese al Jazeera cameraman who was interrogated about this network's training programme, equipment and news gathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan.


 According to a Guardian of London analyst, the argument seemed to be "that it was necessary for democratic states to excuse themselves from the rule of law in order to save it"! This sounds like the infamous US response in Vietnam that a certain village had to be destroyed in order to save it! In officially protesting the publication of documents "illegally obtained" by WikiLeaks, the US administration blandly seeks to hide the very illegality and inhumanity of the entire Guntanamo prison operation.


 Nor is this the first time. We heard the same story of macho illegality in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (napalm bombs against civilians, massive defoliation and unexploded ordnance that continue to take a grim toll of life and limb). In Iraq, the lying, deception and brazenness were singularly blatant. Then Afghanistan, where the US encouraged the mujahadeen, the "good Muslim", to wage jihad against the atheist Evil Empire and financed Pakistan to officer, train, direct, mentor and protect the Taliban – a monster that is now devouring that country, which is being bombed by American drones with considerable "collateral damage" as are Afghan civilians in a messy war that is unlikely to be won.


And what about little Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territories (BIOT), where the US, in partnership with the imperial overlord, the UK, expelled several thousand native islanders from their homeland decades back to vest the UF Air Force with the untrammelled right to operate strategic missions from out of there? The latest argument is that these Islands, minus the Islanders, have gradually retuned to their pristine state and constitute an ecological treasure trove that it would be a pity to lose! The sheer inhumanity of it all!


 And now Libya, where an ex-Guantanamo prisoner is among the "rebels" fighting Gaddafi with NATO assistance. The Security Council resolved, with India, China. Russia and Brazil abstaining, to permit UN intervention to declare no-fly zones and impose sanctions to compel Gaddafi to desist from targeting civilians demonstrating against his regime. Britain and France are in the lead here with US support in what has become a NATO operation that seems scarcely, if at all, accountable to the UN. Here is another case of the UN mantle being spread over a largely Western operation to serve what increasingly look like Western interests in which oil, located in the eastern provinces now largely controlled by the Libyan rebels, is no doubt a factor.


The Libyan war is not going the intended way. Gaddafi has shown that he is no push over, given the limitations of air and sea power. Now efforts are under way to eliminate him and secure a regime change. Hence, the bombing of one of his palaces in central Tripoli is a repeat action that has evoked strong backing from the US Senate. There were 45 civilian casualties reported on this occasion. And so it goes. The goal posts are shifting under the cover, as always, of mounting humbug.


Even as this drama unfolds, Saudi forces have quietly entered Bahrain to prop up the minority Sunni monarchy against his restive Shia subjects, who feel they are second class citizens. Pakistani Sunni mercenaries and military are reinforcing all the threatened Arab monarchies. Iran is disturbed and a new Sunni-Shia confrontation could be in the making.


And now — no secret this — comes a WikiLeak paper that shows that the US officially categorises Pakistan's ISI as a terrorist outfit and that Guantanamo Bay officials were so notified for the purposes of interrogation. And this is America's close frontline ally whom they denounce periodically – Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, Mike Mullen – and immediately thereafter offer yet another generous dollop of military aid. What is one to make of this bizarre love-hate tango that has gone on for decades, with "collateral damage" to India, which has been the prime target of much of the military aid and fight-the-Taliban charade.


The Americans need to do much better. The US is not inappropriately called a Great Society but a Dangerous State.









Walking along a dingy bylane of the old city of Bangalore, I ran smack into a push-cart vendor peddling a medley of objets d'art, which is the blue-stocking word we Francophiles use for worthless junk. A little papier mache figurine which looked like nothing on earth caught my fancy. Brisk bargaining (or rather haggling) ensued. A tenner changed hands and the weird what-not was mine.


Returning home I was faced with the familiar problem of finding a suitable 'niche' for the latest addition to my art collection consisting mostly of gaudy and garish prints of assorted gods and goddesses snipped out of calendars put out by beedi companies.


I gingerly hammered a rusty nail into the peeling mud wall, taking care to see that the thatched roof didn't cave in on me. I hung the grotesque figurine and stepped backwards to view it critically from an acute tangential angle of 45 degrees like visitors to the Louvre Museum in Paris do to view Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa painting. I wasn't quite satisfied. The folding rattan chair — my version of 18th century Chippendale — didn't quite fit in with the new scheme. I moved it near the corner stand which, in any case, was an upturned deadwood box that was a haven for nifty mice.


Even as I moved the box, a large well-fed cockroach scampered up the wall and with an alacrity and dexterity remarkable in one of my age, I whipped out my Kolhapuri slippers and gave the 'roach a resounding thwack causing a large spreading stain on the crumbling wall. I could have framed the stain and passed it off as a late 18th century post-Moghul Kangra miniature without which no interior decoration scheme is complete.


I was dissatisfied with the position of the occasional table made of valuable jungle wood. I dragged it along the mud floor into the alcove which, in any case, had been formed by the wall sagging under the weight of the lintel stone. I decided that the room needed a velvety Persian carpet into which one's feet sank. I got hold of a jute sack and went to work with a tailor's scissors and my luxurious Persian carpet was ready.


Draperies? No problem. I took out my Kerala 'lungi' with its weird violet, magenta and orange check patterns and went snip snip. My draperies were ready. I pushed the sofa set consisting of a wicker basket chair and a low wooden stool into the nor'-nor'east corner and the lamp stand with its handkerchief shade more to the left. My handiwork was complete and haven't I been telling you all along? Am a High Society Interior Decorator!








South Asia is the second most unstable region in the world and is closely following West Asia in the race for the number one spot. Among the world's major democracies, India faces the most complex threats and challenges spanning the full spectrum of conflict from nuclear to sub-conventional. Unresolved territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states, rising tide of left wing extremism and the growing spectre of urban terrorism have vitiated India's security environment. Despite the prolonged exposure that the security establishment has had in dealing with multifarious challenges, India's national security is poorly managed.


The first and foremost requirement for improving national security management is for the government to formulate a comprehensive National Security Strategy (NSS), that also covers internal security. The NSS should be formulated after carrying out an inter-departmental, inter-agency, multi-disciplinary strategic defence review. Such a review must take the public into confidence and not be conducted behind closed doors. Like in most other democracies, the NSS should be signed by prime minister, who is the head of government, and it must be placed before Parliament and be released as a public document. Only then will various stakeholders be compelled to take ownership of the strategy and work unitedly to achieve its aims and objectives.


It has clearly emerged that China poses the most potent military threat to India and, given the nuclear, missile and military hardware nexus between China and Pakistan, future conventional conflict in Southern Asia could be a two-front war. Therefore, India's military strategy of dissuasion against China must be gradually upgraded to deterrence. Genuine deterrence comes only from the capability to launch and sustain major offensive operations into the adversary's territory. India needs to raise new divisions to carry the next war deep into Tibet. Since maneuvers are not possible due to the restrictions imposed by the difficult mountainous terrain, firepower capabilities need to be enhanced by an order of magnitude, especially in terms of precision-guided munitions. This will involve substantial upgradation of ground-based (artillery guns, rockets and missiles) and aerially-delivered (fighter-bomber aircraft and attack helicopters) firepower. Only then will it be possible to achieve future military objectives.


The armed forces are now at the cusp of the fifth and final year of the 11th Defence Plan (2007-12) and it has not yet been formally approved by the government. The government has also not approved the long-term integrated perspective plan (LTIPP 2007-22) formulated by HQ Integrated Defence Staff. Without these essential approvals, defence procurement is being undertaken through ad hoc annual procurement plans, rather than being based on carefully prioritised long-term plans that are designed to systematically enhance India's combat potential. These are serious lacunae, as effective defence planning cannot be undertaken in a policy void.


The government must commit itself to supporting long-term defence plans or else defence modernisation will continue to lag and the present quantitative military gap with China's People's Liberation Army will become a qualitative gap as well in 10 to 15 years. This can be done only by making the dormant National Security Council a pro-active policy formulation body for long term national security planning. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) only deals with current and near term threats and challenges and reacts to emergent situations.


The defence procurement decision-making process must be speeded up. The army is still without towed and self-propelled 155mm howitzers for the plains and the mountains and urgently needs to acquire weapons and equipment for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. The navy has been waiting long for INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) aircraft carrier, which is being refurbished in a Russian shipyard at exorbitant cost. Construction of the indigenous air defence ship is lagging behind schedule.


The plans of the air force to acquire 126 multi-mission, medium-range combat aircraft in order to maintain its edge over the regional air forces are also stuck in the procurement quagmire. All three services need a large number of light helicopters. India's nuclear forces require the Agni-III missile and nuclear powered submarines with suitable ballistic missiles to acquire genuine deterrent capability. The armed forces do not have a truly integrated C4I2SR system suitable for modern network-centric warfare, which will allow them to optimise their individual capabilities.


All of these high-priority acquisitions will require extensive budgetary support. With the defence budget languishing at less than two per cent of India's GDP – compared with China's 3.5 per cent and Pakistan's 4.5 per cent plus US military aid – it will not be possible for the armed forces to undertake any meaningful modernisation in the foreseeable future. Leave aside genuine military modernisation that will substantially enhance combat capabilities, the funds available on the capital account at present are inadequate to suffice even for the replacement of obsolete weapons systems and equipment that are still in service well beyond their useful life cycles. The central police and para-military forces also need to be modernised as they are facing increasingly more potent threats while being equipped with obsolescent weapons.


The government must also immediately appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee to provide single-point advice to the CCS on military matters. Any further delay in this key structural reform in higher defence management on the grounds of the lack of political consensus and the inability of the armed forces to agree on the issue will be extremely detrimental to India's interests in the light of the dangerous developments taking place in India's neighbourhood. The logical next step would be to constitute tri-service integrated theatre commands to synergise the capabilities and the combat potential of individual services. It is time to set up tri-service aerospace and cyber commands to meet emerging challenges in these fields. International experience shows that such reform has to be imposed from the top down and can never work if the government keeps waiting for it to come about from the bottom up.


The softer issues that do not impinge immediately on planning and preparation for meeting national security challenges must never be ignored as these can have adverse repercussions on the morale of the officers and men in uniform in the long term. The numerous anomalies created by the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission report must be speedily resolved. In fact, the ham-handed handling of this issue has led to a dangerous "them versus us" civil-military divide and the government must make it a priority to bridge this gap quickly.


The ex-servicemen too have had a raw deal and have been surrendering their medals and holding fasts for justice to get justice for their legitimate demand of "one rank-one pension". One rank-one pension is an idea whose time has come and it must be implemented without further delay and without appointing any more committees of bureaucrats to look into the issue. While a Department of Ex-servicemen's Welfare has been created in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in keeping with the UPA's Common Minimum Programme, till recently there wasn't a single ex-Serviceman in it. Such measures do not generate confidence among serving soldiers and retired veterans in the civilian leadership. Finally, rather unbelievably, India is still without a National War Memorial.


The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

Priority Measures

  • Formulate a comprehensive National Security Strategy (NSS), after undertaking a strategic defence review.
  • Approve LTIPP 2007-22, the long-term integrated perspective plan of the armed forces, and the ongoing Defence Plan 2007-12, now in its fourth year.
  • The defence budget must be enhanced to 3.0 per cent of the GDP for meaningful defence modernisation and for upgrading the present military strategy of dissuasion to deterrence against China.
  • The long-pending defence procurement plans such as artillery modernisation, the acquisition of modern fighter aircraft and aircraft carriers, warships and submarines must be hastened.
  • Modernisation plans of the central paramilitary and police forces must also be given the attention that they deserve.
  • The government must immediately appoint a Chief of Defence Staff to head the defence planning function and provide single point advice on military matters to the Cabinet Committee on Security.
  • Anomalies created by the Sixth Pay Commission have led to a civil-military divide and must be redressed early, including acceptance of the ex-Servicemen's legitimate demand for one rank-one pension.
  • A national War Memorial must be constructed at a suitable high-visibility spot in New Delhi to honour the memory of all those soldiers, sailors and airmen who have made the supreme sacrifice in the service of India.


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Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention, the inspector asked Sherlock Holmes. "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time," said Mr Holmes. "The dog did nothing in the night-time," said the inspector. "That was the curious incident," replied Mr Holmes. That about sums up the approach of the chairman of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi – in naming the prime minister and his office in its draft report on the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG's) report on 2G telecom licences. If this had been the unequivocal opinion of the PAC as a whole, it would have amounted to substantial criticism of the government and the prime minister. But even that would not have implied culpability, much less guilt. That the dog did not bark does not implicate the dog in the crime. Whether or not the lack of diligence on the part of the Prime Minister's Office was an act of omission or commission has not been clearly established. However, the real problem with Mr Joshi's draft report, which a majority of the committee members have now rejected, is that it has generated avoidable controversy. Given that all PAC reports have by tradition been adopted consensually, Mr Joshi should have worked towards a consensus rather than queer the pitch for a confrontation. That confrontation has since taken an unfortunate turn which can only diminish Parliament in the eyes of the people, rather than empower the institution and bolster its image among an increasingly cynical public.

The partisan division of the PAC on the controversial draft report will also raise questions about the relevance of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). If members of Parliament are divided along party lines, who would be able to testify as to what is truth and what is fiction? Mr Joshi began this exercise with his own party attacking him for the enthusiasm with which he got the PAC to take up the CAG report on the 2G issue. At a time when the BJP was keen on getting the government to agree to a JPC, it was not keen on a diversion like this. In the event, Mr Joshi went along with his party to endorse the need for a JPC. Having done so, his hurry in getting his version of events out before his term as PAC chairman ends is rather puzzling. It is now all too clear that such partisan division of opinion will also mar the work of the JPC. In the process, the public is the loser. They do not know what to believe and how much of what is being said is motivated and partisan and what exactly is the truth. A consensual report, even if not a unanimous one, would have established a large part of the truth, even if not the whole truth. That would have been a better outcome and restored people's faith in their elected representatives and institutions of governance. The muddled and muddied outcome that is now before us can only add to all-round cynicism about the ineffectiveness of democratically elected representatives of the people in improving governance.






With a sizeable part of India's coastline being only marginally higher than the mean sea level, vast tracts of coastal India remain vulnerable to any abnormal fury of the seas. That is why the tsunami of December 2004 took its toll in many parts of coastal India. The ferocious tsunami that hit Japan recently is a reminder of the continued vulnerability of coastal India, including major urban centres like Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi, Surat, Mangalore, Panaji, Vizag and so on, to nature's fury. It is, therefore, only appropriate that the Union environment ministry has begun mapping and demarcating coastal areas that run a major risk of devastation owing to tides, cyclones and even the feared rise in the sea level owing to climate change. After delineating such susceptible areas with the help of stereo digital aerial photography, land markers are proposed to be put up to indicate the flood lines. Apart from digging out past 40 years' data related to maritime disasters, this exercise is also aimed at predicting potential erosion that might take place over the next 100 years due to tidal waves and other ocean-related factors. This initiative would be useful if it helps prepare the government and people to deal with natural disasters, including tsunamis. Hopefully, it will also spur result-oriented action on impact mitigation.

India urgently needs such livelihood security strategies for coastal areas since there has been an increase in the population dependent on coastal maritime economy. Unlike the global trend of people moving away from seashores to inland economies, in India fisherfolk and others living along the coastline have moved even closer to the coast — all the more why the identification of hazard-prone coastal areas is more important for India. Several methods are available for protecting habitations and infrastructure in the vicinity of the coasts against turbulent oceans. These include wave breakers and other kinds of civic-engineering works like erection of sea walls, besides environment-friendly wind and tide moderators. The civic works have been tried out in many parts of the world but only on a limited scale, chiefly to guard urban clusters. However, seafaring fishing communities are quite wary of sea walls and other civic-engineering structures since these tend to pose hardships in their routine work. On the other hand, belts of coastal plants, notably those of region-specific trees, shrubs, deep-rooted grasses and even mangroves, usually called bio-fences, have more often proved effective. These help conserve shore-zone environment by checking coastal erosion and dampen the ferocity of tidal waves to lessen their adverse impact. Natural mangroves alongside seashores serve as spawning grounds and shelters for several useful marine fauna, including lobsters, shrimp and fish. Coastal green cover did play a role in protecting man and nature during the 2004 tsunami in India and during recent storms along the coast. India's coastal zone regulation should take note of this evidence and incorporate the lessons drawn into public policy on coastal development.






The economic growth experience of countries suggests that in the early stages, growth is based on exploitation of natural resources and labour. Subsequently, capital accumulation leads the process. Beyond capital accumulation, the growth process is driven by productivity enhancement through innovation. The innovative activity is widely seen as an important influence on a country's international competitiveness and growth prospects in an increasingly globalising and knowledge-based world economy.

Theoretical literature has established the role of technological capability in explaining growth and trade performance. Technology has been assigned an important place in the policy framework of most of the industrialised and newly industrialising economies. Governments in these countries aggressively promote innovative or research and development (R&D) activities of national enterprises. As a result of the huge R&D subsidies given by the governments in developed countries, R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP has risen from 1.85 per cent in 1980 to 2.55 per cent in recent years with the ratio being higher at 2.7 per cent in the US and 3.3 per cent in Japan. In many advanced economies, direct subsidies given to business enterprises by national governments account for a substantial proportion of R&D performed by business enterprises — 28.3 per cent in the US and nearly 20 per cent in Germany. The government's share in total R&D expenditure in both the countries was close to half. The European Union runs multi-billion euro Framework Programmes such as EURAM, Esprit and Eureka which are geared towards strengthening the technological edge of European enterprises with R&D subsidies. They also take steps to jealously guard the technological capability of national enterprises through various means such as the strengthening of intellectual property protection the world over. These trends have been variously described as technonationalism or technoprotectionism.


Emerging countries have also stepped up their innovative activities, with the Republic of Korea spending 3 per cent of GDP on R&D, Taiwan province of China 2.3 per cent, and China 1.4 per cent.

In India's case, the spending has risen slightly to 0.9 per cent from 0.8 per cent a decade ago. It is, however, important to note the visible outcomes of the industrial R&D in the country. It is owing to R&D activities geared to developing cost-effective processes of known chemical entities that Indian pharmaceutical companies have emerged as leaders in the generics market in the world. Indian automakers have employed R&D activities to develop world-class vehicles such as the Nano following the Indica, Indigo, Scorpio, Xylo and a host of two-wheelers that are sold in a number of countries.

India needs to increase the spending on R&D to close the technology gap and to exploit the potential of emerging technologies, such as green technologies, for development and employment creation. Furthermore, the public-funded R&D institutions account for the bulk of R&D expenditure in India, with industry accounting for only about a quarter of national R&D expenditure. India needs to focus on enhancing the corporate R&D activity since that would have a direct bearing on competitiveness and productivity improvements.

A recent quantitative analysis of R&D behaviour of Indian enterprises showed that the motivation for R&D activities in the post-reform period has changed. The evidence suggests that R&D activities of Indian enterprises in the post-reform phase are explained by imports of knowledge and their outward expansion, while in the pre-reform period they were largely explained by the availability of tax incentives. It appears that reforms may have pushed the Indian enterprises towards rationalising their R&D activities and making them increasingly focused.

What can be done to boost R&D activities of Indian enterprises? As observed earlier, governments in developed countries spend billions of dollars on R&D subsidies given to national enterprises to shore up their competitiveness. Subsidies up to 50 per cent of project costs have been made non-actionable under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. In India, R&D activities have been encouraged mainly through weighted tax deductions in certain industries. It is arguable that more direct support in the form of R&D subsidies for specific projects may be desirable to develop products or processes, thus strengthening competitiveness. Moreover, in the case of subsidies, it is possible to direct the R&D effort of an enterprise in a desirable direction or field. For instance, it may be used to promote capability building for new products or process innovations for local markets or internationalisation rather than customisation of imported technologies and products. It is also possible to achieve other desirable objectives such as promoting industry's linkage with public-funded research laboratories and universities through more direct subsidies. In recent times, the government has set up funds for specific industries, such as pharmaceuticals, to assist R&D activities. These funds have remained underutilised owing to onerous conditions attached. Obviously, there is a need for a generous programme to push R&D activities of enterprises through subsidies for viable R&D proposals of industry to strengthen India's competitive edge. Besides, products based on indigenously developed technology could be extended production tax concessions (such as those extended to small-scale industry products) and income tax concessions (such as those enjoyed by export turnover) to encourage innovation.

Another policy to promote local innovation could be to protect minor innovations through utility models and industrial designs protection as has been done by a number of east Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and so on. The patent system fails to encourage minor innovations since the criteria for inventiveness tend to look at the novelty of the invention. The experience of several east Asian countries suggests that petty patents and industrial design patents could be effective means of encouraging domestic enterprises to undertake minor adaptive innovations and foster an innovation-based rivalry among them. India might consider adopting a petty patents regime that provides limited protection to minor incremental innovations made by enterprises and spurs inventive activities.

The author is Chief Economist of UN-ESCAP (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific), Bangkok.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the UN

Comments are welcome at






Ten years ago, almost to the month, Indian sport seemed headed for an eternal spring. Viswanathan Anand was the World Chess Champion, the first time ever that an Indian player had reached the pinnacle of the sport. In cricket, India had beaten Australia in a modern-day classic. Pullela Gopichand won the All-England Badminton Championship in March 2001, becoming the first Indian player since Prakash Padukone to do so. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had decided to go their own ways, but reunited one final time to win the French Open tennis doubles. The Junior Hockey team clinched the world title, raising hopes that the nucleus of a world beating side was in place. A new crop of young chess players looked to be on their way to emulating Anand. To Ramanathan Krishnan, arguably India's finest tennis player ever, it was the beginning of a "golden era" in Indian sport.

The spring just gone by had its moments of glory as well, albeit a little less spectacular than a decade ago. Anand reached his highest-ever Elo rating of 2817 in April. A reunited Paes and Bhupathi are again the world's top ranked doubles team. India is the official limited-overs cricket champion and has a world champion in middle weight wrestling, Sushil Kumar.


That's way too little though, after what the new millennium promised. Ten years is a long time to make a mark, if a systematic development programme is in place. Two Olympic medals in shooting, and a medal each in boxing and wrestling notwithstanding, we still do not count as a sporting power. It is disappointing that Anand and the tennis duo are still the torch bearers of their respective sports. Something is still seriously missing.

To ascribe India's failure to the lack of a "sporting culture" would be trivialising the problem. Instead, let us identify a couple of tangible factors that if seriously addressed would go a long way in laying the foundation of future success. Above all, sports infrastructure in the country is highly concentrated. High-quality sports infrastructure, if it exists at all, is still concentrated in a few urban centres, far away from the real talent hotspots. Too often, this talent withers on the vine for want of opportunity.

Take hockey, the official "national sport". Most tournaments in the country at the sub-national level are still played on grass. By the time a player comes through the ranks and plays at the national level on synthetic surfaces, it is too late to adjust his/her technique to the demands of the new surface. It is surprising how few "turf" pitches are available even in traditional powerhouses of the sport like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bhopal. This holds true across the board, with the exception of cricket. The Sports Authority of India has tried to spread its reach, but it is largely private initiative that is providing facilities that the government ideally should.

The second factor is the top-down structure of the various sports associations. Almost every sports association is headed by a politician or bureaucrat with little or no knowledge of the sport. Even if one were to reconcile to this as a by-product of a paternalistic society, the lack of autonomy to the people trying to make a difference – the sportspersons and the coaches – is what ultimately pulls the sport down. In cases where the heads of associations have confined them to what they should – fund raising, creating the requisite infrastructure and providing much-needed international exposure, while leaving coaching and team selection to the coaches – the results have been encouraging. An enlightened leadership can do wonders to revitalise a sport under its watch.

There is really no reason why this should happen. The India of 2011 is a lot richer than it was in the 1980s. If sport is an extension of national ambition, it is important to lay the foundation with single-minded dedication, as China has successfully done. Even in India, when things have come together, individuals have shown that the wherewithal to succeed exists. In particular, the recent wins in boxing and wrestling have demolished the tired myth that Indians do not have what it takes to succeed in sports which need explosive power or strength. What was missing was systematic talent spotting and nurturing, starting at the grass roots. The successes brought about by a nascent programme should lend belief that it is possible.

Is the next spring in sports a decade away? Let us hope not. The hedgehogs are out of their boroughs. We should ensure they stay there for awhile.







A fortnight ago, Moin was beaten to death by his uncle who was the owner of the factory where the 10-year-old worked. Very few would have cared but for television, which brought the horrific images of his battered body into middle-class living rooms. But it's doubtful if anybody would remember Moin's tragedy once the TV cameras shift elsewhere.

This has happened many times. Just a year ago, an engineer couple was arrested in Bangalore for torturing a 14-year-old domestic help. The girl told the police that she was asked to remove her clothes while at work. When she protested, she was beaten black and blue. The couple got bail after a few days, and now that the media has moved to more sensational cases, no one cares about how that case finally panned out.


 Since International Workers' Day is just two days away, it's time to look at the grim statistics on child labour in India. According to Bachpan Bachao Andolan, 12.6 million children continue to work in hazardous factories across the country and around five children go missing from Delhi's streets every day. These children are trafficked by inter-state gangs as bonded labourers.

Others are still mopping floors in residences, sweating in the heat of stone quarries, working in the fields 16 hours a day, picking rags in city streets, or serving at roadside eateries. Worse, their presence in hazardous occupations only seems to grow bigger and bigger. Are they any luckier than Moin?

Take the beedi industry. Despite countless laws against child labour, the average number of beedis a child labourer rolls in a day is 1,500, for an average daily wage of Rs 9. The working conditions are dangerous to the child's health. The long hours spent hunched over the basket of tobacco causes growth deformities, and the constant proximity to tobacco dust causes and exacerbates lung diseases; there is a high rate of tuberculosis in communities dedicated to the manufacture of beedis.

A Human Rights Watch study has shown how every industry thoroughly violates the protective regulations of the Child Labour Act. The violated provisions include the right to an hour of rest after three hours of work; a maximum work day of six hours; prohibition of child work before 8 a m or after 7 p m; a mandatory day of rest every week; and the requirement that various health and safety precautions be observed.

In a research note, CRY (Child Rights and You) CEO Pooja Marwah says in the 7,000-odd villages and slums in which the organisation works, there is evidence of child labour being intrinsically linked to the lack of free, quality government schools near home. No buildings, no teachers, irregular teaching, and no separate toilets for girls — these are some key realities that push children out of school and into work.

Though the last few decades have seen significant progress in improving the enrolment of children in schools (the gross enrolment ratio or GER from Class I to VIII was 94.9 per cent and from Class I to XII, 77 per cent), Marwah says hiding behind the GER is the sheer number of children who do not attend, or those who drop out. Government schools lose a quarter of their students by Grade V, and almost half by Grade VIII.

Many children can't go to school simply because there isn't one to go to in their neighbourhood. As many as 17,282 eligible habitations in India do not have a primary school within one km of the habitation, Marwah adds.

CRY also shows how children's health is a forgotten priority in India. This comes up very clearly when we see the infant mortality rate at 50 child deaths per 1,000 live births, against the government's target of bringing the numbers down to 28 child deaths per 1,000 births by 2012.

A more telling indicator is India's approach to healthcare in general with 42 per cent of the world's undernourished children within its borders, the government still spends only 1.27 per cent of its GDP on health for the entire population.

India has not fallen behind in framing legislations, the latest being ban on child labour in homes. That the legislation can have only a negligible impact is apparent from the fact that child labour is nothing but a by-product of grinding poverty, experts say.

These children are holding out a slim lifeline to impoverished families, or are just trying to keep themselves from starvation. For example, in about 60 per cent of the Sivakasi households with working children, two-thirds of the total income is contributed by children. In any case, the working child is a mouth less for families in penury to feed.






Merger regulations under the Competition Act, 2002 have always been controversial. Now that the government in its wisdom has announced June 1, 2011 as the date for operationalising them, Indian business has again voiced concerns over whether these norms would be a boon or a bane. They seem to be leaning towards the latter ("Hobbled by regulation", Business Standard, April 20). Some concerns are valid while many are not. One of the principal aims of a competition law is to promote economic democracy by regulating anti-competitive practices and concentration, to ensure consumer and business welfare.

One of the concerns seems to be centred on the financial thresholds set by the government for mandatory notification. However, our law was drafted looking at the good practices around the world. Financial thresholds are yardsticks used by such countries as the US and the UK, among other countries. To address the issue of low thresholds, it is important to note that the Draft Merger Regulations that were recently released for consultations have proposed an increase in the threshold limit by as much as 50 per cent. And this has been welcomed by several business groups. This threshold, too, is not cast in stone and can be reviewed as our economy grows. Further, several inane provisions, like acquisition of shares and so on have been dropped in favour of the litmus test of acquisition of an enterprise that has the potential of dominance. Indeed, the proof of the pudding will lie in eating it.


An ice cream is both a snack and a pudding, depending on when one consumes it. A few years ago, the Indian ice cream market underwent radical changes when Hindustan Lever acquired various fractions of the home-grown ice cream major Kwality, when no merger regulation existed in India. Taking this as an example, it has been argued in the Business Standard editorial that market domination in an economy like India might not be a bad thing and may have pro-competitive effects by encouraging competitors to enter. It is pertinent to understand that it is not the evils of market dominance but the abuse of such dominance and situations that is being targeted through such norms and initiatives. We cannot shut the gates after the horses have bolted. Therefore, such a conclusion might not be entirely true as there were no entry barriers at the time of such takeover to cause "appreciable adverse effects on competition" — the litmus test.

A critical point of analysis by Competition Commission of India (CCI) in any merger analysis will be to also scrutinise whether the proposed transaction would create entry barriers for new entrants. The exception to this rule will be in the case of industries with deep pockets, where there is a natural entry barrier due to the huge amount of investments involved that create a practical entry barrier. For example, a merger between two aircraft manufacturers, as happened in the US. The norms in the US to test dominance have been different when Boeing took over McDonnell Douglas, but times have changed. One is sure that the CCI will exercise caution in dealing with such cases. However, let us not forget that trade policy instruments are also available to the government to deal with such situations, by allowing imports at reasonable tariffs to promote competition. Granted that praxis like lobbying from the domestic industry to maintain high tariffs and/or use of trade remedial measures, like antidumping or the standards bogey can thwart the desired competition, but all that is fodder for another article.

In so far as sector regulators being experts in their specific sectors, so that they can deal with mergers in their domains, let us not forget that often they lack the necessary expertise needed for market/economic analysis needed in merger cases. Exceptions can always exist, like the case of telephone companies where the department of telecom has guidelines to ensure that there are at least six players in any circle. Also, sector regulators have the potential to be captured by the regulated sector as they are constantly hobnobbing together. Therefore, a generalist regulator like the CCI will be a better umpire because it has to deal with the whole economy, and it does not hobnob with any particular sector. Further, sector regulators can always consult the CCI that should possess sufficient knowledge regarding the market structure and conduct to enforce the objectives of the Competition Act. No wonder, in the European Union merger cases in regulated sectors are dealt with by the competition agency and the sector regulator jointly as a rule.

The concerns regarding the risks apprehended due to low standards of confidentiality of transactions, which is an unfortunate feature of public institutions due to widespread corruption, are well-founded. Notwithstanding such concerns, a well-implemented merger regime adds to industrial growth and promotes economic democracy. In the backdrop of the recent trend of foreign companies taking over Indian pharmaceutical companies – which has threatened the availability of cheap and affordable generic medicines and made the flexibilities granted under TRIPs redundant – the relevance of a competition law and the role of CCI to deal with such transactions through conditional approvals have been further highlighted.

We disagree that the competition law has been poorly designed. Instead, the true test and focus here should be on its effective implementation. And let us not lose sight of the fact that the CCI is an enforcement agency that has been entrusted with the task of competition regulation of which merger regulation is a part. Interventions by advocacy groups, customers and competitors who can guide the CCI to take care at every step during the course of its functioning will be valuable. Besides this, the CCI and the government have assured that to begin with there will be light-handed regulation. And majority of the mergers will be cleared within a short period rather than the long period provided under the law. Let us wait and see how this intent is translated, otherwise we can go back to the drawing board and make suitable amends.

The author is the Secretary General of CUTS International. Natasha Nayak of CUTS has also contributed to the article







The Supreme Court has quashed the development fee levied on passengers by Mumbai International Airport Ltd as it has not been okayed by the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority, never mind the go-ahead from the civil aviation ministry. The ruling is a welcome leg up for independent regulation. Note that the cost of developing the Delhi International Airport Ltd has escalated upwards of . 12,500 crore, far higher than the figure of . 9,000 crore initially envisioned during private participation. The apex court has also held that the operator of the Delhi airport had the Authority's nod to levy the fee of . 200 for domestic flights and . 1,300 for international ones. The additional fee is supposed to bridge the gap between the projected and the actual cost of developing the two major airports. Sound regulation is better than inflexible contracts subject only to arbitration and legal resolution. If traffic volumes dip below the levels deemed normal, there could be valid reasons to raise airport service charges one way or the other. However, the reverse should also be true. If and when traffic volumes zoom ahead of anticipated levels built into the calculus of revenue projections, service charges/imposts such as airport development charges need to be lowered/removed.

The point remains that in the public-private partnership for Delhi and Mumbai airports, the policy emphasis has been on revenue share and not on arresting costs and expenses. This is a glaring lacuna in the PPP model that needs to be speedily rectified. Note that operators at the two major airports are not required to share development-fee revenue with the Airports Authority of India, their common partner. In fact, it was the focused policy on revenue share that led to spiking of the proposal to collect substantial deposits from airport investors in Delhi — which would have reduced overall costs — simply because the move would stem revenue collections! It's perverse incentive to disregard costs. Our future PPP contracts need to be reworked to align multiple goals, not lone objectives. While airports at least have a regulator, PPPs are deployed in sectors without regulators as well.







In India, less than 3% of people file tax returns; and a few thousand admit to having incomes higher than . 10 lakh a year. The net result of such few people paying tax on their incomes is high tax rates for the few that do pay taxes and a low level of tax collection in relation to GDP. This is not sustainable. The base of income tax has to be widened, and black money creation stopped. The best way to do that is to expand the coverage of annual information returns (AIR) that identify potential taxpayers by examining their expenditure patterns. The income tax department's move in this direction is wholly welcome. Every major financial transaction should be tagged with a unique identifier, currently the tax department's permanent account number (PAN). Why should debit card payments be excluded when credit card payments are covered? Or fixed and current account deposits when savings deposits above . 10 lakh a year are reported by banks. These transactions must come under the net to enable intelligent analysis of the data to derive information on untaxed incomes. Many high net-worth individuals also use their unaccounted money to buy jewellery and bullion. The department can easily tap into the information pooled by jewellery houses. The unorganised sector can be brought under the net once the goods and services tax is rolled out and IT systems get interconnected. Data on spending patterns of individuals is relevant in real estate transactions where tax evasion is rife. The registrar of properties provides information on those who buy or sell property valued at over . 30 lakh a year. A lower threshold is in order, even if it adds to the volume of transactions gathered by the Tax Information Network (TIN). The only limit on how much information is collected is the department's ability to use what is collected, while safeguarding data against misuse.

An efficient TIN and a fool-proof PAN would lower the government's dependence on information volunteered through tax returns. The tax department would then be able to identify people with large incomes, even if they do not file their tax returns.





The pilots who have been grounded as a result of the fake flying licences scam must have been swayed by all the publicity given to the dismantling of the licence-permit raj and the consequent take-off of the Indian economy. Considering that the man who is credited with devising and piloting that freeing exercise now occupies one of the highest offices in the land, people can perhaps be forgiven for thinking that a wider application of the liberalisation mantra — to include professional qualifications in the list of jettisoned licences and permissions — is par for the course. The number of scams that have emerged of late involving either the bypassing of, or disregard for, permissions and authorisations of all kinds by senior government functionaries could be cited as at least a tacit official acknowledgement of the new mantra too. In that context, if lesser mortals have deemed it fit to circumvent the stifling procedures and crippling norms that had anyway been formulated back in the bad old days, and instead believe that even the sky is not the limit any more, it should not surprise anyone. After all, challenging existing systems and procedures have become a badge of honour for many.

A bumpy landing triggered off an investigation into the licences of pilots, revealing alarming discrepancies and leading to defaulters being suspended and arrested in double quick time by Indian standards — a mere two months between the faulty touchdown and the revocation of that pilot's licence. When that is compared to the time it has taken for the same apparatus of the state to move against other high-flying flouters of norms, it is clear that some have a licence to fly, others have, or unilaterally assume, licence in general.






One of the least talked about issues in the debate on India's demographic dividend is child malnutrition. India is home to about a third of the world's underweight and stunted children under the age of 5. A child under 5 is almost twice as likely to be chronically underweight in India as in sub-Saharan Africa. Sadly, the impressive economic growth of the past decade has made only a modest dent into the obstinately high incidence of severe underweight and stunting of children in the country. Poverty is one obvious underlying cause. But it does not explain the wide difference in malnutrition between India and sub-Saharan Africa. Unicef data show that about 47% of Indian children under 5 are underweight; the corresponding figure for sub-Saharan Africa is 24%.
The overall poverty rate is lower in India than in many sub-Saharan countries. Besides, the incidence of child malnutrition in India remains high even in non-poor families. According to data from the National Family Health Survey for 2005-06, a quarter of all children below the age of 3 in the wealthiest 20% of families are stunted and 20% chronically underweight. Of course, children living in families with lower incomes and wealth are at a much higher risk of being malnourished. But the incidence of severe underweight and stunting in non-poor families is not trivial.
What then explains this puzzle that India has much higher rates of underweight and stunting of children than countries with higher poverty and relatively stagnant economies? Is it per capita food availability? No, India has somewhat higher per capita food availability than countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Is it higher mortality among children under the age of 5 in sub-Saharan Africa? Yes, but only to some extent. Mortality among children under 5 is 140 per 1,000 in sub-Saharan Africa and 66 per 1,000 in India. A backof-the-envelope calculation would show that about a third of the gap in chronic underweight among children in India and sub-Saharan Africa is due to higher child mortality in the latter, which simply removes from the data a large number of undernourished children in sub-Saharan Africa.
What explains the remaining two-thirds of the gap? Are we Indians less caring about our children than people in sub-Saharan Africa? Is there something in our traditional social and cultural values and practices that hurt the health and welfare of our children? The answer, sadly, is yes.
In 1996, Vulimiri Ramalingaswami, Urban Jonsson and Jon Rohde wrote a commentary for Unicef investigating the various possible determinants of child malnourishment and concluded "the exceptionally high rates of child malnutrition in South Asia are rooted deep in the soil of inequality between men and women."
How? Here it is worth repeating how the three experts on child health and nutrition reached this conclusion. They studied weights of children at birth in India and sub-Saharan Africa. In India, a third of the children have low birth weight; in sub-Saharan Africa, only one sixth. A child's birth weight is an indicator of the health and nourishment of the mother when she is pregnant as well as her overall health and nourishment as a child and while growing up. Most African women gain 10 kg of weight during pregnancy, but women in South Asia gain only half as much. They also found that while about 40% women in sub-Saharan Africa suffered from iron deficiency, as many as 60% women in South Asia and 83% of pregnant women in India were anemic.
    Dr Ramalingaswami and his co-authors also found a major difference in the feeding practices of children in the two regions. In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of breast-fed children aged to 6-9 months receiving complementary foods was almost twothirds; in South Asia, less than one-third. Indeed, age-wise pattern of undernutrition studied in a World Bank report on South Asia published in 2006 shows that most of the growth retardation occurs early in life. The difference in length-forage and weight-for-age between Indian and South African children begins to widen around the time the child is three to four months of age. The report finds that most of the retardation in growth in India occurs either during the pregnancy or during the first two years after birth.
Critics often argue that the economic reforms have failed to reach the poor and deprived sections of society. But malnutrition also prevails in families that are neither poor nor deprived. While it is true that the implementation of government programmes such as the ICDS needs a lot to be desired, and such programmes are not aimed at changing gender relations at home. A sustained long-term dent in child undernourishment can only be achieved by improving the health, opportunities and rights of the mother, the primary caregiver of children. Not just legislative rights but rights to participate in decision-making both at home and outside it, opportunities for social interactions, rights to improve their lives through education and employment. The historical pattern of the state and status of women in India reveals that it is largely unrelated to economic growth. Let's look at sex ratio — a number that has been much discussed since the release of the provisional 2011 census results. At 914 women per 1,000 men, the sex ratio at birth is the lowest since Independence. In two of the richest states, Punjab and Haryana, preference for the boy child results in many families abort the girl child or kill her soon after birth. But the story does not really end there. Women's subjugation continues throughout their lives. One would hope that an adverse sex ratio would increase the value of women in society. Alas, our beliefs are too deeply embedded in traditional cultural norms to allow us to respond to the forces of demand and supply.










M A RAHMAN WRITER, FILM-MAKER & ACTIVIST The Killer Pesticide Can't be Exonerated
The people of Kasargod, Kerala, are living proof of why endosulfan should be banned. Here, endosulfan was sprayed for 22 years at a stretch in cashew plantations. There was popular protest as early as 1992 when the effects of the pesticide were first noticed. In 1998, an employee in the agricultural department filed a case against this pesticide and endosulfan was temporarily banned after a court order. But the Indian Pesticide Act doesn't give provision for a permanent ban. Therefore, the high court decided to leave the final decision to an expert committee appointed by the central government. An expert committee headed by Sharad Pawar was constituted.
In 2002 at the direction of the NHRC, NIOH under the ICMR, Hyderabad, conducted an epidemiological survey in an affected area. It was found that endosulfan was the cause of genetic problems among people. Two significant findings of the study were: "There is significant higher prevalence of neuro-behavioural disorders, congenital malformations in female subjects and abnormalities related to male reproductive system in the study group...the most probable cause for the health problems in the study area could be relatively high and continued exposure to endosulfan… The possibility of endocrine disrupting effect of endosulfan observed in the study has great relevance to the health of future generations. Considering the potentiality of grave consequence the Principle 13 of the Rio declaration of the Earth Summit should be followed. This relates to the precautionary principle and emphasises that lack of scientific certainty is no reason to postpone action to avoid potentially serious or irreversible harm to the environment."
But it was another report prepared at the behest of the Plantation Corporation that was submitted to the committee. The committee led by Pawar submitted the concocted report and endosulfan was exonerated. This was in 2003. Now the PM and the environment minister are soliciting yet another ICMR study and the earlier NIOH report was underhandedly shelved. This is a bid to delay the ban and help the Endosulfan lobby. Endosulfan is banned in 81 countries. According to the Kerala government, there are 7,200 severely affected people, with over 25,000 people suffering the effects of this pesticide in other ways.



The Indian pesticide industry has opposed listing endosulfan as a persistent organic pollutant (POP) under the Stockholm Convention, suggesting that the proposal is inspired by European agrochemical interests. Endosulfan was manufactured and exported out of Europe for over 55 years. There were no issues until 2001, when the sole European manufacturer (Bayer Crop Science) decided to phase out the product to promote their new products. After this, the EU in 2005 withdrew all authorisations for use of plant protection products containing endosulfan on account of data supports by the inventor. Two years later, the same MNC stopped manufacturing endosulfan, while continuing with its sales. The same year, the EU sought its listing as a POP before the Stockholm Convention.
Endosulfan is the world's third largest selling generic insecticide, with a 40 million litre-plus market, valued at over $300 million. India is the world's No 1 producer and exporter of endosulfan with 80% of the global market, which accounts for about . 450 crore of its . 5,200 crore pesticide industry. This is the reason the EU banned endosulfan to make way for patented products manufactured by EU nations.
Endosulfan has been in use in India for 40 years. We consume around 12 million litres annually, of which more than a third is by AP, Maharashtra and West Bengal. When no such harmful effects have been reported from these and other major consuming states, how can endosulfan cause problems in Kerala, which, even at its peak, was consuming a few kilolitres in 2005? Endosulfan was reviewed four times by central government committees and twice by the Kerala government. All gave a clean chit to endosulfan.
We have full sympathy for the suffering of people of Kasargod in Kerala and the government must find out the real reason for their health problems. BARC studies indicate high level natural radiation areas off Kerala's coast. After the Japan nuclear crisis, World Nuclear Association also indicates high level of background radiation in Kerala and in Chennai. Coastal Kerala also has vast amounts of thorium in its soil. This indicates endosulfan isn't the cause for health problems faced by people of Kasargod.







Zenobia Aunty is a staunch advocate of clean governance. Yet, in the backdrop of the stir relating to the Lokpal Bill, she says: "The change begins with us. Only if each one of us takes a pledge not to participate in corruption — by vowing not to give a bribe, even if it is the easy way out, will we see a change".
It is true the change begins with us. But legislations, if properly drafted, after a dialogue with all sections of stakeholders, do bring about some certainty. Punitive legislations can also effectively act as a deterrent. Yet legislations without a change in the mindset or fair administration are of no use.
Zenobia Aunty has lately been hob-knobbing with a lot of overseas visitors, who are looking at cross-border trade opportunities or for setting up India operations. Zenobia Aunty takes these visitors through various regulatory changes which have made us a much more investorfriendly country. Take for instance, the recent step deleting the FIPB approval requirements for foreign investments, even in those cases where joint ventures and technical collaborations exist in the same field.

Yet, the expressions on the faces of these visitors reflect that they are thinking: "hohum", even as they are too polite to voice their opinion vocally. Yes, there is a lot of interest in our country, but at times such interest does not devolve into action. Investment figures are clearly reflecting this. FDI inflows during the 10-month period ended January 2011, were . 77,902 crore, showing a decline of 29% over the previous corresponding figure of . 1,09,668 crore.

On digging deeper, Zenobia Aunty finds that uncertainty in tax policies as well as in the administration of such policies is causing a lot of anxiety. While cross-border M&A deals have caused a lot of apprehension owing to heavy tax demands on a few buyers, today there is growing uncertainty in other areas as well.
Today, the scope of the transfer pricing officers stands widened. They have the powers of survey to conduct on-spot inquiry and verification. There has been a mention of introduction of 'safe harbour' provisions in the Finance Bill, 2011-12, but guidelines are yet to be issued. The dispute resolution mechanism, which was introduced some time ago, hasn't been able to alleviate the tax payers' woes fully.

What is needed is certainty. We still haven't been able to put in place an advance pricing agreement (APA) mechanism, even as it has been given lip service for quite some time. An APA is an arrangement between the tax authorities and a taxpayer that determines in advance of intra-group transactions, an appropriate transfer pricing methodology for a fixed period of time. This finds mention in the DTC, but one remains uncertain on whether we will have an APA mechanism in place even on introduction of the DTC.

India is entering into exchange of information pacts with a host of tax havens (with whom India does not have tax treaties), such as Cayman, British Virgin Islands, etc. This is a good step. Yet, new provisions on the transfer pricing front provide that if a taxpayer enters into a transaction, where one of the parties to the transaction is located in a notified jurisdiction (one which does not effectively exchange information with India), all parties to that transaction shall be deemed to be 'related parties' covered by Indian transfer pricing regulations. While the intent of this anti-avoidance provision maybe justified, it will create complexities in doing business with India. The Supreme Court has directed the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) to issue directions to tax authorities including transfer pricing officers to take the opinion of technical experts and bring on record technical evidence in cases involving complex issues and substantial tax revenues. The CBDT has accordingly issued instructions. The instructions provide that the evidence would be made available to the concerned taxpayer whose case is being scrutinised and a reasonable opportunity would be given to the taxpayer before finalisation of its assessment proceedings. One hopes that a reasonable opportunity is indeed given and it is also open to the taxpayer to submit the reports of its own technical experts, if need be. There is a fear that if these instructions are not judicially applied, it will not ease the situation but result in prolonged litigation. Safe harbours (wherein transactions meeting the criteria are not subject to scrutiny), finalisation of APA procedures to ensure that there is no delay come April 1, issuance of revenue rulings on important legal issues having wide ramifications, judicious application of provisions and instructions will provide a comfort factor to investors. Certainty in tax policies and judicious administration is required to help us emerge victorious in the global market arena.








The Supreme Court's order in the Airport Development Fee (ADF) case once again underlines a problem that has become endemic in the Government: When it suits, it does not follow the law and the proper procedure. The Supreme Court's order in the ADF case shows how. The Act lays down two requirements. One, the fee cannot be collected by Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) and Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) "unless the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority determines the rates of such development fee". Second, the fee can be collected only after "an appropriate order is passed by the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority" (AERA). The law also lays down the purposes for which the fee can be collected. So the Court has asked DIAL and MIAL to "account to the Airports Authority the development fees collected" so far. It has also told the Central Government and the Airports Authority "to ensure that the development fees levied and collected by DIAL and MIAL have been utilised for the purposes mentioned in clause (a) of Section 22A of the 1994 Act." Most importantly, it has directed that "henceforth, any development fees that may be levied and collected by DIAL and MIAL…shall be credited to the Airports Authority and will be utilised for the purposes mentioned." Net-net, Court has ruled that the fees can indeed be collected but only after the proper procedure is followed. It has also said that that the proceeds should be used for the purposes intended by the law. It can be safely concluded, therefore, that it is only a matter of time before the fee is restored.

It follows from this that the fee cannot be used for meeting costs already incurred. To see why, it is important to keep the legislative intent in mind. These have been spelt out as follows: (a) funding or financing the costs of upgradation, expansion or development of the airports at which the fees are collected; (b) establishment or development of a new airport in lieu of the existing airport; or (c) investment in the equity in respect of shares to be subscribed by the Airports Authority in companies engaged in establishing, owning, developing, operating or maintaining a private airport in lieu of the existing airport or advancement of loans to such companies or other persons engaged in such activities. It would seem that DIAL and MIAL cannot use the fees they collect for meeting past costs. If these went over the budget, as indeed they have, the travellers cannot be charged for that.

Another problem relates to the term fee. Is the amount charged to travellers a fee or a tax? If it is mandated by the Government, regardless of who collects it, AERA or the concessionaire, it is a tax. Elsewhere in the world, such taxes accrue to the general revenues of the Government. But in India the concessionaire has been taking it all. This is what the Court has rectified.






There is no book in recent times with a sweep as comprehensive and vast, insights as rich and thoughtful, data as recent and authentic, and production as lavish and well-done as the International Handbook on Public-Private Partnerships by Greame Hodge and Anthony Boardman, two scholars who have gone beyond the known in this interesting and complex field of great relevance today.

The book is divided into four parts, namely conceptual frameworks, disciplinary themes in public-private partnerships, empirical experience in public-private partnerships and crucial issues for the future.

Some of the areas it examines, perhaps for the first time in serious academia, relate to the economic worth of PPPs, governing partnerships, P3s in America and the World Bank/UN experiences, a process perspective on PPPs, lessons from developed and developing world to name a few. Erik Hans Klijn argues that than in the traditional principal-agent relationship or in traditional government contracting with the private sector, in PPP, the private sector gets involved fundamentally in decision-making. In an essay on reviewing PPPs, Greame Hodge argues that neither the availability of off-budget financing nor the avoiding accountability for capital funding are particularly valid reasons to evaluate PPPs and argues how, like any household mortgage, they merely distribute a one-off chunky capital outlay into a bunch of manageable payments in the future.

Principal-agent problem

In an extremely insightful piece, Mathew Flinders argues that PPPs are founded on an underlying logic that clashes intellectually with the values on which the modern state rests.

The one area where the book could perhaps go further in a future edition is to demonstrate whether government failure or market failure is more expensive to society and which needs to be addressed how.

Jean Bettigenies and Thomas Ross demonstrate the challenges posed by the buying and selling of goods in an environment of imperfect and incomplete markets and contracts and argue that PPPs are a special case of the principal-agent problem.

Political risk factor

Anthony Boardman and Aidan Vining try to postulate what the economic worth of a PPP could be. They argue that PPPs postpone governments cash outlays; make the government's current balance-sheet look good for future liabilities are seldom reported ; may improve cash flows for citizens; may be more willing to pay a toll to a private operator than to the government for the same service; and lastly, transfer of risk to the private sector.

A caveat is that in sharply polarised polities, especially in imperfect democracies, large PPP projects actually increase political risk for they can become the subject of debate and dislocation of the incumbent (worse case scenario), especially where there is some form of crony capitalism involved. Enron's huge India investment and the Chennai desalination plant are cases in point.

The chapter on the Australian PPP experience powerfully demonstrates that it has been a mixed story so far, and not as rosy as some commentators would want one to believe.

Lessons for policy-makers

It argues how discount rates have been manipulated to show the public sector comparator poorly in some projects and how the size and value of risks has been less than robust in terms of calculations, which have often led to contentious results.

In an interesting chapter, Carston Greve argues that there is a rapidly emerging PPP 'industry' in the world with the UK and Australia leading the way.

But he rues about the absence of data and transparency of the complex relationships between companies, governments and international organisations, and says future research should look at the efficacy of PPPs from the government's perspective and how and why companies themselves are involved in developing PPPs.

In brief, the Handbook informs, engages, questions, criticises and educates, especially at a time when most of the world, reeling under the global financial meltdown, are looking at PPPs as a manna to rev the engine of economic growth.

PPPs are indeed here to stay, and have an impact and reach across sectors — the great contribution of this volume is to prove with evidence that they are not an unqualified blessing and indeed have areas of concern that need to be addressed.

Apart from the minor criticisms above, the only point one can mention is that a chapter each on India's and China's PPP experience who, accordingly to the World Bank's PPIAF database today, account for a majority of the global PPPs, is perhaps the only shortcoming of an otherwise brilliant, seminal volume. A must buy.






From the dawn of history, the passing of a potentate of any description had invariably been followed by rumblings and feuds, often bloody.

Religious orders were no exception; there are many accounts of the fights to the finish among the contenders for the papal authority in centuries past. Human nature continues to be the same, regardless of time and place, and runs the same course to this day.

It is not, therefore, a matter of surprise that almost coinciding with the demise of Sathya Sai Baba, Puttaparthi and thanks to the media, the entire nation should be rife with rumours about a brewing tussle to get control of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust and growing differences among the members of the Trust on the way ahead.

Lending such reports a measure of verisimilitude is the fact that the Trust is undoubtedly a source of immense prestige, power and influence, having dominion over moveable and immoveable property worldwide valued at Rs.40,000 crore.

A member of the inner circle has gone public in an interview to a TV channel casting doubts on the line of treatment itself, with ugly allegations that the deterioration in the Baba's health was due to his being administered sedative drugs without proper food being given. Questions have been raised about the reliability of the financial accounts, despite the presence of Justice P.N.Bhagavati, former Chief Justice of India, Mr Indulal Shah, a well-known Chartered Accountant, and Mr S.V.Giri, a former Central Vigilance Commissioner, on the Trust.

Grand proclamation

The imputations have been vehemently denied, as is only to be expected. Whether the denial is for real or for the record, it is hard to tell just yet.

However, in their very first resolution passed by the six members of the Trust after the death of the Baba, they have vowed to "offer themselves in all humility and a sense of total unity" to ensure that the Trust founded by the Baba "continues to make the difficult achievable and the impossible a reality, exactly as it happened when he guided the Trust earlier".

It is a grand proclamation, reminding one of the French proverb: "The impossible we do at once, miracles take a little longer". It is quite in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion and the onerous nature of the responsibility cast on the Trust members. Living up to it is what will turn out to be the litmus test of their unwavering commitment to Sathya Sai Baba's teachings and their unswerving loyalty to his legacy.

They should realise that any slipping up on their part from the lofty standards of conduct expected of them at this fateful juncture will not only expose them to the charge of being false to the Baba's precepts but also devastate the millions of his devotees round the world who put their faith unquestioningly in the immutability of the values he expounded for well over half a century.

The tasks before the Trust members are daunting, but not unachievable, provided they display the requisite resolve and dedication. For instance, they should:

Adhere, in word and deed, to the path of total unity and solidarity, and the principle that Sai Baba had been propagating life-long: Love all, Serve all.

Have a complete and accurate inventory of the assets and liabilities prepared and place it in the public domain.

Maintain, as before, the world-class character of the institutions established by him, without letting sloth and shoddiness creep into them.

Make each project a centre of excellence under an independent Governing Board, comprising top professionals in the field.

Have a roadmap drawn up by the best minds willing to take up the task for future expansion of the activities of the Trust.

The void left by Sathya Sai Baba can, to an extent, be filled by adding, and imparting a greater momentum, to the vast array of projects touching the lives of the people as per his vision.






The Government's move to create a Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India with statutory powers is a bold and pragmatic one. For nearly half a century, the Atomic Energy Department has exercised control over all nuclear-power-related activities. It enjoys a measure of legal protection and works under the direct supervision of the PMO.

The events in Fukushima, Japan, and the protests in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, have pushed the Centre to undertake some scrutiny of nuclear power and research activities.

The proposed Authority is expected to replace the existing Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), which has been unable to break its umbilical cord with the DAE (Department of Atomic Energy). Though the AERB was conceived of as an independent identity, it lacked teeth in decision-making and was forced to fall back on the DAE.

Given the sensitivity of atomic energy, the DAE was given virtual immunity, under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 (undergoing changes of late). The watchdog role of the AERB was a small step in bringing in some transparency; public interest litigations and environmentalists' protests failed to make much headway in the past as the Department enjoyed protection on the pretext of national security issues.


The Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) has set its sights on pushing the installed capacity of nuclear power to 40,000 MW by 2030, from the present 4,700 MW. The decision to go in for import of foreign reactors, especially from France and the US, has brought to the fore the need for greater emphasis on security, environmental safety and financial accountability.

With the signing of the Indo-US nuclear deal and slow easing of nuclear isolation, the Department is optimistic of a surge with access to both technology and fuel.

Another boost to its plans is that, after decades, the NPC has also been able to identify new sites to locate the large capacity reactors. These include Koodangulam (Tamil Nadu); Jaitapur (Maharashtra); and Kovvada and Kadapa, in Andhra Pradesh.

Though, credit should be given to the DAE and the NPC for running the existing 18 nuclear reactors with very few significant mishaps, issues of safety (in scores) have been raised by former AERB Chief, Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, in a report that was submitted to the Government over a decade ago. The Atomic Energy establishment maintains that it has stepped up safety measuresin all the reactors.

Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) constitute the mainstay of nuclear power today. The technology is proven and and operational aspects mastered. However, in its ambition to hike the proportion of nuclear power in the overall energy mix to at least 4 per cent, the NPC has upped its stake. It has decided to set up 700 MW units and 1000 MW units, and has opted to import French pressurised light water reactors (LWRs).

Talks are on with Areva of France to have two European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) reactors with 1,650 MW capacity each at Jaitapur initially, and then a cluster of six totally with total capacity of 9,900 MW. NPC is also negotiating with GE and Westinghouse of the US for the latest reactors.

The cluster of 1,000 MW reactors being set up with Russian collaboration at Koodangulam are in an advanced stage of construction. If the wishes of the NPC materialise, the country would have at least 20,000 MW capacity by 2020 itself with more than a dozen new units joining the existing PHWRs. However, the mix would be disproportionately in favour of imported reactors. Though these are advanced reactors with the latest safety features, the concerns of environmentalists cannot be brushed aside.


Critics of the AERB, including Dr Gopalakrishnan, describe the organisation as subservient to the Secretary, DAE. Even the NPC, which has raised funds from outside through bonds, reports to the DAE. There is no separation of regulatory and promotional activities of nuclear power, as required by the Convention of Nuclear Safety, which India ratified in 2005. DAE enjoys a degree of legal immunity, which allows it to keep deficiencies in nuclear power stations under wraps by quoting the Official Secrets Act. The AERB is not in a position to push the Department towards transparency. The AERB has, however, put in place several safety-related issues, and has been training personnel over the years.


The Nuclear Power Corporation has been creating awareness about safety, and is agreeing to public hearings in some places where it is setting up facilities. In public, the NPC and DAE scientists have been upbeat on the safety of nuclear power stations. However, opposition from environmental groups and local people on safety and displacement is bound to gain ground, as in Jaitapur.

It is in the fitness of things that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Environment and Forests have taken some steps to create the nuclear regulator. India is an energy-starved country, and needs safe and economical energy forms to sustain high growth.







A simple reform measure has been doing the rounds of debate for quite a while — the freeing of interest rates on savings bank deposits (SBDs) and suitably rationalising these accounts.

Introduced essentially as an instrument for inculcating the savings habit and spreading the banking outreach, SBDs now account for a major chunk of total deposits, with diversified ownership. However, the way in which SBD accounts are structured in India makes them akin to current accounts. For instance, SBDs elsewhere do not generally allow cheque-writing facilities.

Indian banks treat current and savings deposits (CASA) as a base to be exploited for reducing the cost of funds. Commercial banks compete with one another to strengthen the CASA base, as part of aggressive liability management. The RBI Deputy Governor, Dr K.C. Chakraborty, in a recent interview, remarked that CASA was peculiar to our country. The norm the world over is only retail deposits with free and mostly floating interest rates.


The deregulation of interest rate on SBDs has been opposed on the ground that it would deprive public sector banks of a major source of low-cost funds. This, in turn, is rooted in the assumption that the freedom to set the SBD rate might lead to a rate war, causing an erosion of the deposit base of public sector banks in favour of private sector and foreign banks.

In terms of both number of accounts and value (Table 1), the public sector accounts for about 75 per cent, private sector about 10-15 per cent and the foreign banks a meagre 1-3 per cent. Therefore, the belief that the CASA base of the public sector will be shaken because of the rate war seems ill-founded. Overall, the safety factor favours the public sector. In spite of lower rates, public sector banks should be in a position to retain their deposit base.

The annual policy announced on April 29, 2002, considered liberalisation of the savings bank deposit rate, but decided to continue with the administered structure.

To quote: "In view of the present deregulated interest rate environment and the reduction in interest rates on Government's small savings schemes in the recent period, there is an apparent case for deregulation of interest rates on savings account also. However, considering the fact that bulk of such savings deposits is held by households, including households in rural and semi-urban areas, on balance, it is not considered as opportune time to deregulate the interest rate on savings account for the present."


The ownership pattern of SBDs in terms of deposit amounts (Table 2) shows that though the household sector held about 84 per cent, farmers and wage earners together accounted only for about 22 per cent of the ownership, while business-persons and the non-household sector accounted for the rest.

While the government sector and foreign sector accounted for about 15 per cent, a somewhat nebulous category, 'other individuals', within the household sector accounted for about 44 per cent. The incentive for such a diversified ownership apparently does not come from the 'savings habit', but obviously because of the accountholders' ability to write cheques on these accounts.

If the cheque-writing facility is allowed only in respect of current accounts, a substantial part of SBD amounts can be expected to migrate to current accounts. In that circumstance, it is most likely that the cost of CASA will turn out to be more beneficial to the banking system.


The basic difficulty with the SBD is its dual nature of being a savings account, combining the features of a cheque-writing account. To promote the savings habit, especially among relatively low-income groups, the cheque-writing facility in these accounts may be withdrawn.

Savings bank deposits, as in other countries, could offer minimum facilities such as withdrawal and ATM/debit card with modest interest payment. SBDs may, in principle, be treated on par with 'no frills' accounts. There need not be a distinction between savings deposits and 'no frills' accounts. Interest rate on such accounts may be totally freed.

Opening of savings accounts may be allowed only to individuals and households , and all other categories of account-holders, including government organisations, trusts, non-banking organisations, etc., should be encouraged to open current accounts. Post-office savings accounts, which are similar in purpose to savings deposits of commercial banks, now carry the same rate of interest as commercial bank deposits, but the eligibility for opening accounts is restricted mainly to individuals.









In the summer of 1978, I took a train to Piparia in Madhya Pradesh. As far as I could tell, it was the middle of nowhere. I was straight out of school and was headed for a small village nearby. My parents had insisted I work for a few months with an NGO called Kishor Bharati which, with the Friends Rural Centre, had started a science teaching programme in rural Madhya Pradesh.


There were engineers, scientists and doctors at the centre, from all over the country. The pay must have been miserable, if there was any. The amenities were basic: common toilets, water pumps or wells for bathing, simple meals and none of the tools we have today.


I remember Arvind Gupta from IIT Kanpur, a lean, tall, bearded man who seemed to care for only two things: science and children. These people were there to bring science into villages, to develop 'a scientific temper'.


The project had to work to a prescribed syllabus. That meant bringing into the lives of village children alien concepts and objects, things I took for granted. Those Camlin compass box sets, for example, with their little rulers, dividers and compass. Arvind fashioned a divider out of a piece of string and two sharpened twigs and then went out to explain to the children how to use it. I think he related it to water — using it to draw a circle in the dust, the site for a future well.


I've lost touch with Arvind since; that's entirely my loss. I believe he works at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune. He is said to be a popularizer of science, but calls himself a toy inventor. His website has a wonderful range of toys made from everyday household objects, all designed to bring science, mathematics and astronomy into children's lives. His passions remain undimmed.


Despite all its problems, or perhaps because of them, India is a country of countless men and women like Arvind, working individually or with voluntary organisations of every stripe, from the dentist in Ooty who works with indigenous peoples to the doctors from Mumbai and Delhi in Chhattisgarh and the lawyers, architects and planners in city slums. Many work against terrible odds in appalling conditions and for next to nothing in financial terms. They wouldn't dream of doing anything else.


Years ago, during the hearing of an environmental PIL, a senior lawyer asked one of the NGO's activists what he did. "I do this," the young man said. "No," said the lawyer. "I meant what you do for a living." The activist looked bewildered. "I told you sir. This is all I do. Nothing else." The senior's expression said it all.
    India's corporate fashionistas and the auction arteratti tell us that India has no "culture of philanthropy". But philanthropy and charity are not the same things and one might have nothing to do with the other. Philanthropy is a 2,500-year-old word, probably traceable to the Greek myth of Prometheus. It combines philos or love of anthropos or mankind and speaks of humanitarianism. It's also not right to say there is no culture of donations or charity.


The Tata Group and the Birlas have long been known for their support to voluntary groups. Companies and banks are now following suit, and there are many firmly committed individuals like Azim Premji.
    The private sector does lend support; perhaps not enough, but that can and will change. The problem is elsewhere. Often, it seems that anything worthwhile in the country is being done by an NGO and the government's only role is to find ways to shut them down.


That is what happened in 2003 to the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP). By the early 1980s, it was adopted across Madhya Pradesh and was then being run by Eklavya, a voluntary organisation set up with support from different central government agencies. By 2003, the HSTP had shut down. Somebody in the Madhya Pradesh government didn't like it.


This is what most desperately needs to change: an acknowledgement from those we vote into power that voluntary groups are not hindrances, certainly not seditious, but the most powerful agents of change in this country. The RTI Act, perhaps the most seminal piece of legislation in recent times, was the direct result of NGO work.


Without various groups and individuals, those affected by the Bhopal gas leak would have been long ago reduced to statistics. Environmental NGOs have saved entire forests and valleys; and young men and women from well-to-do city families are volunteering to teach in municipal schools and in villages. Philanthropy is about more than money. It is also about improving other people's lives; and this is what our NGOs do.


Nobody seems to have counted their numbers. Karmayog, a remarkable aggregator of NGOs, reports nearly 20,000 groups of different kinds and I know that the list is incomplete. As much as those in uniform, these men and women too are warriors, and they are resilient. For every Eklavya a government shuts down, two rise. There is an India shining out there; it's just not the one with the glitzy shopping malls and six-lane highways.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Ironically, it is the massive destruction caused by the recent accident — caused by an earthquake and tsunami of unsurpassed and unanticipated magnitude — at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan that provided the primary level of education on various aspects of nuclear energy and nuclear technology for most Indians, rather than a home-grown programme of information dissemination about nuclear issues by the government. That the latter should have been the case is a self-evident proposition, especially as India plans to increase domestic generation of nuclear power manifold in the next decade and beyond from the mere three per cent of the national energy mix at present. It is so obvious that it is trite to say that a better informed public is a better prepared public when things go wrong at a nuclear power plant. This is among the key lessons to emerge from Fukushima. But it is amply clear this lesson has not been learnt. After Fukushima, there were two key official announcements from the government. The Prime Minister publicly called for a safety review of all our nuclear power installations. It was subsequently proclaimed quite blandly that our plants are safe. Following this, the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr Prithviraj Chavan, Union minister of state for environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, and Atomic Energy Commission chairman, Mr Srikumar Banerjee, held a press conference on Tuesday to announce that India will go ahead with the proposed nuclear power stations at Jaitapur on the Konkan coast, although local residents have protested strongly against siting a nuclear power plant in the region. Ordinarily it would have been expected that the government would be more sensitive to people's concerns on the safety aspect. If a detailed safety audit has been done, its findings should be put in the public domain. On Jaitapur, the government should give detailed explanations — along with technical data that would take on board citizens' concerns regarding environmental degradation in that particular stretch of the coast, and anxieties about probable loss of life. If this is not done, doubts will linger and many are apt to take it upon themselves to fan such doubts. In the last three decades or so, all we have been told from the government is that nuclear power is cheaper than its alternatives, and that it is clean energy, unlike fossil fuels. The first has been questioned by many, including in responsible quarters. The second is undeniably true. But in the event of an accident, all bets are off. Fukushima underscores that. It is therefore also necessary that the government place all the facts on these issues before the public. To fill the information gap, it must also be officially explained why our reactors are better placed to withstand accidents, including those arising from storage of spent fuel rods (as at Fukushima). Data about our reactors being more modern, and advantages accruing from this, if any, also need to be explained, besides the nature of the three-stage Indian nuclear programme, culminating in the use of thorium as fuel. Given the sheer magnitude of this country's energy needs to maintain a certain rate of economic growth and to meet the challenges of development, probably we need to have every source of power in our energy mix, including nuclear. For this to find willing acceptance within India, a lot of background work needs to be done by the government. At the moment the nuclear sector is a black hole, virtually mired in secrecy.






The Indian Supreme Court's judgement that led to the release and repatriation of an Indian national, Gopal Dass, deserves attention for more reasons than one. The judgement by Markandey Katju and Giyan Sudha Misra, written by the former, begins with a couplet by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Qafas udas hai yaro saba se kuchh to kaho / Kahin to behr-i-Khuda aaj zikr-i-yar chaley. There is reason to feel gratified at the disclosure that the echoes of the Faiz centenary celebrations have reached the apex court in India, even if the reasons for quoting this particular couplet here are not very obvious. The court had before it a writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, praying for a direction to the Union of India to take steps for the release and repatriation of Gopal Dass who was allegedly detained in Pakistan. According to the facts given by the detainee's brother, Gopal Dass was tried by a field general court martial at Sialkot and awarded life sentence on December 27, 1986 under Section 59/3 of the Pakistan Official Secrets Act, 1923. The sentence was confirmed by the commander, 10th Brigade. He was lodged in different jails, and presently was allegedly in Mianwali jail in Pakistan. An affidavit filed by the Indian ministry of external affairs stated that although the petitioner was an Indian citizen, he had been convicted by a Pakistani court, and hence his detention was governed by the law in force in Pakistan. The Indian government had an agreement with Pakistan on consular access, and had been continually pursuing the issue of release of Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails. The affidavit also took note of the work of the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners, consisting of retired judges, four from each side. The petitioner was produced before this committee during their visit to Pakistani jails in June 2008. The committee had held several meetings and made certain recommendations, and the response was awaited. The story doing the rounds in Pakistan was that Gopal Dass had been charged with spying and had been convicted after trial by a field court martial, and that the Pakistani public did not like "spies" to be treated lightly. After hearing the petitioner's counsel and the solicitor general of India, the court observed: "We cannot give any direction to the Pakistan authorities because we have no jurisdiction over them. The Indian authorities have done all that they could in the matter. However, that does not prevent us from making a request to the Pakistani authorities to consider the appeal of the petitioner for releasing him on humanitarian grounds by remitting the remaining part of his sentence". The court noted what it considered a discrepancy on record — that according to the Indian government the prisoner had been awarded imprisonment for 25 years on June 27, 1986, that is, he could be released by the latest on June 26, 2011 but the decision of the court martial had said he had been sentenced to life imprisonment. In any case, the court recalled Portia's speech in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice in support for its recommendation for clemency: "The quality of mercy is not strain'd; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. It is an attribute to God Himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice". In the end, the court said the Supreme Court of Pakistan "deserves to be commended" for ordering the release of 442 Indian prisoners who had been languishing in Pakistani prisons. Notice was also taken of the fact that India "reciprocated the gesture by releasing many Pakistani prisoners (held) in our jails. Thus there is a humanitarian spirit on both sides, which we applaud". Soon after the court's request for remission of Gopal Dass' remaining part of the sentence was received the Pakistan president conceded it and Gopal Dass was reunited with his family after 27 years. The case needs to be given wide publicity in both India and Pakistan in the hope that the people of the two countries will rediscover their potential to be good to one another. It also throws light on the scope for fruitful cooperation between the judicial authorities of India and Pakistan to complement each other's efforts for mitigation of their people's sufferings. The work of the judges' committee has vindicated its claim to continued support. Further, the need for revising the India-Pakistan protocol on prisoners is pretty obvious. It is no secret that Indian and Pakistan authorities treat each other's nationals in their jails worse than prisoners anywhere in the civilised world are treated, with Guantanamo Bay standing out as a most perverse exception. It is time this shared stigma was washed off.







Indian Muslims just got luckier. Already spoilt for choice, the Spring of 2011 has brought two fresh bonanzas for the country's "second largest majority". One comes gift-wrapped as a brand new political party; the other is a forum of Muslim advocates of Maharashtra. Many compliments of the season, Badhai ho badhai! But hang on a moment. It perhaps is too early to exult. The Jamaat-e-Islami's (JI) invitation to a party has met with more jeers than cheers. Not many Muslims, it appears, are keen on singing Happy Birthday to the new-born named Welfare Party of India. The Muslim advocates' meet in Mumbai on a Friday (April 22) saw the enthusiastic participation of around 300 advocates from all over Maharashtra. The stars of the show were two retired Muslim judges from the Mumbai high court: Justice Bilal Nakzi and Justice Shafi Parkar. But outside the venue the reception was mixed. Let's take the second one first. What on earth is the meaning of a separate Muslim lawyers' forum? What's coming next: Muslim doctors' forum, Muslim journalists' forum, Muslim IAS/IPS officers' forum, Muslim consumers' forum? Thane city's advocate Abdul Kalam explains the rationale for such a forum thus: "After the communal riots, it has been found that Hindu advocates are reluctant to fight cases of Muslim victims or accused. We don't say that all non-Muslim advocates are biased, but during moments of crisis, many upright advocates have developed cold feet". Is that so? What about Kapil Sibal, Shanti Bhushan, Anil Divan, P.P. Rao, M.S. Ganesh, Kamini Jaiswal, Sanjay Parikh, Aspi Chinoy, Navroze Seervai, Gautam Patel, Mihir Desai, Aparna Bhatt and Ramesh Pukhrambam, all of whom have contributed time and talent pro bono, fighting for justice to the Muslim victims and punishment to the perpetrators of the state-sponsored 2002 Gujarat carnage? What about Teesta Setalvad and her non-religious organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), which for over nine years has led the Gujarat victims' struggle for justice from the front? What about Mukul Sinha, the lawyer from Ahmedabad, and the hours and days that he has spent before the Nanavati-Shah-Mehta inquiry commission? As for the JI and its new baby, the Welfare Party of India (WPI), if you've never heard of Syed Abu Ala Maududi, the maulana who founded the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1941, here's a crash course. Throughout his life Maududi preached that unlike other religions, Islam is not just about worship and religious rituals like prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage. Instead, Islam is a revolutionary ideology; to be a Muslim is to be a revolutionary committed to debunking man-made ideas (democracy etc.), institutions (Parliament etc.) and laws (Constitution etc.) and striving by every means possible to establishing Allah's rule (Islamic state etc.) and Allah's laws (Sharia etc.). This is what every Jamaati has fervently believed and preached for the last 70 years. Among those who were deeply impressed by Maududi was a person named Syed Qutb of Egypt who proceeded to argue that striving by "every means possible" includes killing those who are Muslims only in name in the interest of ushering Allah's sovereignty on earth. Now that the same JI has chosen to place itself at the service of man-made laws, should we not welcome this change of mind and heart? We should if the JI were to publicly declare that Maududi's views now belong to a library that houses outdated, intolerant, outrageous ideology. But that's not what the JI is telling us. Instead, it wants us to believe that the WPI is a secular, democratic entity, never mind the fact that 11 out of its 16 office-bearers are Jamaati stalwarts. That's reason number one for the non-Jamaati Muslims' lack of enthusiasm. To many of them, the JI-WPI relationship looks like a mirror image of the RSS-BJP equation. The goal is the same: infiltrating the institutions of democracy for subverting the constitutional spirit from within. But the facade is all too transparent: How much cover can you expect from one of WPI's several vice-presidents, including a Christian priest who chanted the Gayatri Mantra at the party's launch, to provide? Some Muslims see him as the WPI's Sikander Bakht! Reason number two: Less than two years ago, in July 2009, we saw the Popular Front of India (home in south India to ex-Students Islamic Movement of India leaders and activists following the ban on the radical outfit) give birth to the Secular Democratic Party of India. Simi, remember, emerged from the womb of the JI in the early '70s, and the PFI still draws inspiration from Maulana Maududi and Syed Qutb of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. In its spare time, the PFI runs a moral police enforcing Islam on Muslims in a manner that might make the Bajrang Dal and the Ram Sene envious. Ask Kerala's Muslims. Adding to the Indian Muslim's embarrassment of riches is the All-India United Democratic Front of India floated by the Assam-based Badruddin Ajmal of the Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind in 2005. And let's not forget the nearly half-a-dozen Muslim organisations in Uttar Pradesh that have sprouted in recent years. What then should Indian Muslims expect from this abundance of Muslim-floated parties? Ideologically speaking, it means secularism by daylight, Sharia after dark. Politically speaking, at best they'll cancel each other out; eat into votes of mainstream parties that swear by secularism. At worst, they'll provide propaganda fodder to Hindutva, feed Islamophobia. The increasing political disempowerment of India's Muslims in Parliament and in the Assemblies, continuing discrimination and "red zoning" are no doubt problems crying to be addressed. But a cancer cell like proliferation of Muslim parties will, if anything, compound the malady. * Javed Anand is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy






As regards the composition of the Lokpal, there is little justification for restricting the appointment to judges. Nor would it be wise to make the area of eligibility too wide, as has been suggested by the group associated with Anna Hazare. The soundest course to follow would be to open the field of selection to retired judges of the Supreme Court and retired chief justices of the high courts, retired constitutional authorities, such as Comptroller and Auditor General, Chief Election Commissioner and chairman of the Union Public Service Commission and retired civil servants and educationists of eminence who have not been connected with politics or business for the last 10 years. The Screening Committee for selection of the Lokpal can also be one which can inspire confidence in the public. It should neither be too big, as suggest by the Anna Hazare group, nor should it be dominated by political elements, as provided in the legislation proposed by government. The legislation proposed by the government denies suo moto power to Lokpal to take cognisance of complaints against a "public functionary". This denial, coupled with the restriction of complaints being received only through the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and chairman of the Rajya Sabha, would make the Lokpal an imbecile institution. It would not command public respect and severely undermine the very objective of the proposed legislation. But conferment of suo moto powers on the Lokpal without any restriction, as demanded by the Anna Hazare group, would have its own disadvantages. This could, besides harassment, cause serious impediments in the smooth and speedy functioning of the governance machinery at the highest level. The dilemma could, perhaps, best be resolved by empowering Lokpal to take suo moto action and at the same time making a provision in the law to ensure that this power would be used in exceptional circumstances and only after a showcause notice has been given to the "public functionary" concerned, his reply considered and a "speaking order" passed. In the legislation proposed by the government, the judiciary has been kept out of the purview of the Lokpal. Its problems of accountability are proposed to be tackled separately. But a section of the Anna Hazare group is demanding that judges' alleged acts of corruption should fall within the jurisdiction of the Lokpal. This demand is not at all justified. Apart from being unconstitutional and destructive of the judiciary's independence, it would make the Lokpal a virtual dictator. In fact, every finding of the Lokpal should be made appealable to the Supreme Court. The Anna Hazare group has taken a strong exception to the government proposal of awarding punishment of imprisonment of "not less than one year and extendable to three years" to those who are found by the Lokpal to have filed "false and frivolous complaint, with the malafide intention of harassing the public functionary". Clearly, this provision is draconian and would act as a strong inhibition in approaching the Lokpal. The power of the Lokpal in this respect should, therefore, be limited to imposition of fines, leaving it to the party falsely complained against to file a defamation suit or a criminal case on the basis of Lokpal's findings. Another pressing demand of the Anna Hazare group is that the functions of Lokpal should not be limited to "finding facts". It should be empowered to launch prosecution, and the entire machinery of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Central Vigilance Commission should also be placed under its charge. The group also wants that the ambit of the Lokpal should extend to civil servants. All this, it is easy to see, would make the Lokpal an unwieldy institution. It would also become a super-investigator and a super-prosecutor with regard to the alleged misconduct of almost all the important functionaries in the arenas of the Legislative and the Executive. Too much power would get concentrated in one institution, and there is every danger of it being turned into a Court of Star Chamber. The change that needs to be made in the proposed legislation is to empower the Lokpal to inquire into the conduct of civil servant if it is connected with the conduct of a "public functionary" under inquiry. Neither the CBI nor the Central Vigilance Commission need to be placed under administrative control of the Lokpal. But the course of investigations and prosecutions, launched as a consequence of Lokpal's findings, could be monitored by it, as is being done by the Supreme Court in the case of 2G spectrum scam. The above suggestions, I have little doubt, would create a balanced law on the Lokpal. But what will matter in the end is the social and moral climate of the country. Unfortunately, it is this pivotal issue that has been totally ignored, since Independence, by the Indian state and society. That is why, despite civil society groups' humming and hawing, legislatures passing several laws and the judiciary's frequent angry outbursts, the caravan of corruption has gone on, daily swelling its ranks. This is the concluding portion of a two-part series * Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister







REGARDLESS of what emerges from Thursday's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, both the open revolt by its Congress members/allies and the calculated leak of its scathing draft report have ensured that yet another watchdog of the Republic has been defanged. Self-destructed by the despicable standards to which Indian politics have degenerated. That a confrontation on party lines was brewing was no secret: so also that it was not a direct outcome of the unseemly but perhaps inevitable PAC-JPC "competition" ~ which the Speaker was unable to contain. For scuttling the PAC is clearly part of the "aggressive" strategy to which the UPA has taken recourse to counter the battering it has suffered for its pathetic non-performance on the corruption front: recall Kapil Sibal's damning the C&AG. It is true that Murli Manohar Joshi has been demonstrably hyperactive, used the media to project his actions ~ maybe to settle scores with the present BJP leadership with whom he is no favourite. Sure he overdid it, but the Congress members of the committee had the means to cut him to size within that forum: strong notes of dissent would have devalued the report. In choosing the press conference route to make their differences public (reportedly with the approval of senior UPA ministers/strategists) they have destroyed, perhaps for all time to come, a key parliamentary entity. Since two can play the same game the prospects of a meaningful JPC probe appear dim. Actually those prospects dimmed with the selection of its chairman: PC Chacko is too much of a "loyalist" to match the example set by RN Mirdha, the Congressman who headed the JPC into the securities scam.

What emerge are clear signals that the UPA lacks the moral fibre to accept its own shortcomings ~ at least not of its top leadership. It is not ashamed if a Raja, Kalmadi or Thomas bite the dust: some others are sacrosanct. The criticism of the Prime Minister in the draft PAC report really does little more than mirror some of the recent observations of the apex court. Even Dr Manmohan Singh has confessed to not doing enough: his "coalition compulsions" alibi articulates just that. As for Chidambaram being "condescending", others have used less temperate terms ~ ask Congress stalwart Digvijay Singh. As for brazening out the corruption cyclone, the PM's theory that electoral success equates with complete exoneration takes the cake. Parliament must survive on politics' leftovers.



THE fiscal straits may remain direly critical for some time yet. But the Bengal Left  must be grateful to the Congress-led UPA for profound mercies. Pranab Mukherjee has come through, but not before having dragged his feet long enough for every voter to appreciate just how desperately stretched Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government is. The state's finance secretary drew a blank in Delhi on at least three successive visits. Wednesday's bailout package must rank as one of the astonishing ironies of the electoral season, indeed a critical care therapy for a government seemingly going through the wrap-up motions. And also of course the behemoth staff. Notable no less is the fact that the Centre has made the announcement a day prior to Asim Dasgupta's almost personal test in Khardah though it would be idle to speculate on the eventual outcome. In a very real sense, the state government as much as its finance minister have been put in the spotlight. The Union finance ministry ~ under a Congress heavyweight ~ has permitted the state to generate additional funds through market borrowing, precisely to pay the salaries for April. The Centre has conceded to a demand that had been consistently turned down, most importantly after the Congress had forged an alliance of sorts with Trinamul. Critically enough, the state has now been permitted to raise additional market borrowings to Rs 1773 crore, up from the permissible limit of Rs 1440 crore ~ a sum that is already exhausted. The political crisis would doubtless have deepened in parallel with the crucial third phase if the state staff had been denied their salaries for this election month. The CPI-M is in a spot ~ it must publicly acknowledge the aid from Mr Mukherjee, but must at the same time realise he has underscored its utter fiscal ineptitude.

Much as Mr Mukherjee's bout of benevolence will help the state to clear the salaries for April, it devolves on the government to account for the fiscal mess. For all the rumbustious campaigning, this core issue has been left unexplained. The point that the state has left delightfully vague is how the salary bill could have risen from Rs 2600 crore in January to Rs 2700 crore in February-March. Unplanned recruitment as an electoral lolly? No less puzzling is the drop in the projected revenue receipts for May to Rs 900 crore from the anticipated Rs 2500 crore in March. Zero-deficit budgeting is much too theoretical a concept for the layman. Whichever party comes up trumps on 13 May, it will be a terribly depleted inheritance for the next dispensation. To be able to clear the April salary bill addresses only one facet of what could turn out to be a virtually crippling problem.



THE reported misgivings of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board over the Right To Education Act are not well-grounded. While implementation of the landmark, if belated, legislation may have been sluggish, it bears emphasis that it is not intended to make the functioning of the madrasas "difficult" or even to infringe on the rights of minorities, as feared. Indeed, it would be less than fair for the AIMPLB spin-doctors to lend even the faintest communal overtone to "universal compulsory education'', cutting across gender and religion. If at all the RTE Act unwittingly reduces the enrolment in madrasas, it is wholly because of the stress on conventional learning rather than fundamentalist instruction from a very tender age. And if today more and more children of a particular community are enrolling in conventional schools, it points to the community's preference for contemporary disciplines rather than a generally theocratic straitjacket. The AIMPLB's fear that the RTE Act could be used to "outlaw" madrasas imparting religious instruction is awfully misplaced if not contrived, indeed a mite alarmist. The proper course would be for the madrasas to function in step with the conventional schools instead of being caught in a time-warp. Ergo, a dramatic change in course content is imperative. This can best be achieved by updating the syllabi and incorporating contemporary and utilitarian disciplines. Regrettably, the opposition to modernisation stems not merely from within the madrasas but also from the secular fundamentalists, notably of the Bengal Left which has never been keen to rock the boat. Small wonder that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, despite his periodic appeals, has scarcely been able to modernise the madrasas. Not wholly unrelated has been the emergence of unaffiliated madrasas in the states bordering Bangladesh. A legislation on education, in any country for that matter, is not expected to protect the irregular centres of religious instruction. It devolves on the AIMPLB to modernise the madrasas and clamp down on the unaffiliated in order to reap the benefits of the Right To Education Act. The ultimate objective is Benthamite ~ the greatest good of the greatest number.








A MAJOR failure of the Left regime over the past 34 years has been the steady decline of law and order. There have been frequent  inter-party clashes and political killings. Left leaders now hold the Trinamul Congress responsible, but it is the cumulative legacy of seven consecutive Marxist governments. As law and order declined, the party and the government were engaged in capturing and controlling areas through organised terror.

To execute the agenda, the Left Front government took the help of grassroots cadres and comrades, and subsequently hired goons. To most people, the CPI-M has become almost synonymous with terror, mayhem and murder.

The two main Communist parties ~ the CPI and the CPI-M ~ have never been able to capture power at the Centre. An invitation to Jyoti Basu ~ extended by the national parties ~ to become Prime Minister in May 1996 was opposed by the Politburo. Basu later described his party's stand as 'historic blunder'. In the 90 years since the launch of the CPI in Tashkent (USSR) on 17 October 1920, the party could wrest power from the Congress only in three states ~ Kerala (1957), West Bengal (1977) and Tripura (1978). West Bengal went under two brief spells of non-Congress coalitions between 1967 and 1970 before a Left coalition came to power in 1977 and exists till date.
During the second U F government, with a tenure of  13 months, the CPI-M launched its terror tactics to the extent that the then Chief Minister, Ajoy Mukherjee of the Bangla Congress, observed a hunger strike at a park in March 1970, paradoxically against the government that he led.
There is no parallel in any other state to the violence that Bengal has witnessed over the past three decades. Since the Eighties, the CPI-M has been terrorising those who support other parties or refuse to be politicised. Political clashes between activists of the CPI-M and Trinamul began after the Congress splinter group was launched as a party in 1998. The violence has escalated after the Left debacle in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. This has provoked the Union home minister to describe West Bengal as a 'killing field', comparable to Cambodia under Communist despot, Pol Pot.

Why do Communist regimes terrorise and kill their own people, while others do not? Is it in their nature or did Karl Marx prescribe the method? The answer to these two questions is 'yes', but they go under the euphemism, called 'class struggle', a 'dialectical' phrase before the coming of the Revolution, when the proletariat will wrest power from the bourgeoisie and build a socialist society. "The Communists expose and fight anti-Communism which constitutes a principal ideological weapon of the ruling classes", states a CPI-M publication, Programme.

In terms of perpetrating violence, the parent party, CPI, is notches below the CPI-M. Unlike in Kerala, it has always played the second fiddle. This is not due to any ideological difference because in the scale of violence against non-Communists, Soviet Russia and China, to which respectively the CPI and the CPI-M owe their allegiance, were much the same.

Soon after taking over as Chief Minister on  21 June 1977, Jyoti Basu got about 39,000 police cases withdrawn from the courts, claiming that the previous Congress governments had filed them against members and supporters of the Left parties. Among them were the killers of the Sain brothers in Burdwan on 17 March 1970 and some genuine political prisoners. Arguably, some of today's armed cadres may have been among the freed convicts who thereafter helped carry out the party's anti-opposition programmes.

The cruellest lot from the mid-Sixties to the early Seventies were the Naxalites who were members of a radical faction of the CPI-M, named the CPI (M-L). They exterminated money-lenders, traders, policemen and jotedars to buttress  their model of Maoist Revolution. This was also a Communist pogrom or purge. In 1968 and 1969,  there were 575 and 640 political murders respectively in West Bengal, according to official figures.
The killings by the CPI-M began during the United Front regime with the murder of a village teacher in Asansol, Satyanarayan Sinha, and his pupil, Bhabani Sharma in July 1969. Next day, a student of Katwa College, Swayambhu Sinha, was done to death. Four months later, on 4 December, another student, Indu Garia succumbed to a bomb attack. The next victim was also a student of Khandaghosh, Kishore Dhrubananda. He was killed on 3 March 1970 for joining the Chhatra Parishad. The most barbaric incident occurred a day after the fall of the second United Front government, on 17 March 1970. A CPI-M mob stormed into the house of the Sains in Shibtala Lane in Burdwan town and hacked to death the two brothers and a home tutor. They flung a six-month child, mixed spilt blood in the rice and forced the mother, who had fainted, to eat it.
A year later, the eldest brother, Naba Kumar, an advocate who was pursuing the family case, was killed in Ahladpur village, when he was looking for an abducted Congress worker. The Sains were Congress members who had rejoiced the previous day over the dissolution of the UF government.

Three young comrades who took part in this gut-churning mayhem were Benoy Konar. Nirupam Sen and Anil Basu. Later, Mr Sen became industries minister in the seventh Left Front government. The Sain bari killings are well-documented.
 (To be concluded)

The writer is a retired member of the Indian Information Service







 At the time of inking far-reaching trade and related pacts during the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), there was little or no recognition of the possible adverse effects of such agreements on the poor and developing countries. It was only much later that the extent of the ills became apparent, especially with regard to changes in patent or intellectual property laws pertaining to seeds and medicines.
Now, the same mistakes are likely to be repeated as crucial but secretive negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement  between the European Union and India are proceeding a brisk pace. Despite the enormous significance of this proposed agreement, very little is known about the progress which has been made so far and the crucial issues involved. The reason is that most of the negotiation has been conducted in an opaque and secretive manner. Despite the obvious impacts of these agreements on farmers, small-scale entrepreneurs, fisherfolk, artisans and workers, neither the stakeholders nor their representatives have been apprised of the important subjects being debated by India and the EU. The negotiations have got least attention in Parliament and state Assemblies, not to mention Panchayati Raj institutions.

Judging from the information that could be obtained from a few scattered sources, the impact of the FTA could be very harmful and civil society representatives have been warning of that. In the field of agriculture, the seed rights of farmers can be adversely affected. Many farmers and people related to the farm sector can be crushed by the impact of cheaper food imported from the EU, for example, cheap imports of milk powder and other milk products. The very survival of fisherfolk in coastal areas will be at stake if mechanised craft from EU countries have an increasing presence in our coastal waters.

A representative of the South India Coordination Committee of Farmers' Movements recently said, "Opening up our agriculture market to Europe, where agriculture is dominated by large corporates suffering from over-production and whose exports are heavily subsidised, will have a devastating effect on India's self sufficiency in food production and on farmers and farm hands. We are extremely worried about the impact of such a move on our dairy products. An FTA with theEU should not be negotiated in secret. Farmers are demanding transparency at all levels."
According to Mr P Peter, president of Kerala Independent Fishworkers' Federation: "If the deal goes through, Europe's dominant fishing fleets will get access to Indian waters. India's traditional fishing communities living along its 7,517-km long coastline will be pitted against European fishing and food-processing giants. This will threaten their very existence. We strongly oppose the FTA that will likely threaten the livelihood of an estimated nine million fishworkers, including a large number of women."

India is a leading manufacturer of generic drugs and this helps make available cheaply-priced medicines not only to Indians but to several other poor and developing countries as well. But some provisions of the FTA currently being negotiated between India and the EU can throw a spanner in the production of generic drugs. According to a proposed note written by the Delhi-based Centre for Trade and Development, "We feel that the FTA being negotiated may include more stringent intellectual property rights propositions which will seriously jeopardise the health rights and access to medicine of common man. The EU position is very well known and it proposes the inclusion of provisions which go beyond India's present obligations under the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, such as patent term extensions, data exclusivity and stronger enforcement measures."

Keeping in view these and other apprehensions of an adverse impact, sometime back, 76 voluntary organisations, academic organisations, trade unions and eminent persons asked for complete transparency in the conduct of FTA negotiations. In a statement of concern, these organisations and civil society representatives demanded that all existing negotiating positions, draft proposals and government-commissioned studies be made public and all current proposals be debated and discussed in Parliament and public fora. They also wanted the federal process of consultation with the state governments to be completed and a consensus reached and consultations with key constituents such as trade unions, farmers, women, Dalits, Adivasis and people's organisations, small and medium enterprises, cooperatives and hawkers conducted. This apart, another key demand is the release of a white paper which should be discussed in Parliament with a focus on all socio-economic and ecological impacts of all aspects of the EU-India FTA, especially with a view to addressing social inequalities and discrimination.

The very veil of secrecy on the negotiations, especially considering the EU's adverse position on many aspects of the proposed treaty, is making the stakeholders and civil society uncomfortable. The government must shun secrecy at all costs and share the details of the negotiations with the public to dispel the growing notion that it is not doing enough to safeguard national interest in its haste to close the deal.

The writer is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi





On 26 April, the world marked the 25th anniversary of the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union ~ the worst nuclear disaster in history. As Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) struggles to bring the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant under control, we should learn lessons from the Chernobyl disaster.

The Chernobyl accident was caused by an operational error that led to an explosive nuclear reaction inside a reactor and a fire. Large quantities of radioactive substances were released into the environment over Europe and other areas. Twenty-eight workers died after being exposed to massive amounts of radiation. Children living near the plant developed thyroid gland cancer, and concern about the accident's effect on human health mounted.

At the time, the Japanese government regarded the Chernobyl crisis as a "man-made disaster," caused by a violation of operational regulations and the structural defects of the Soviet-type nuclear reactor. It has stressed that Japanese nuclear plants are safe. As it turned out, this assessment was optimistic.

The Fukushima accident is different from the Chernobyl disaster and the amount of radioactive substances released is far less. But both accidents had serious impacts both at home and abroad. We have to recognise that there is no perfect technology. Compilation of international standards is being studied to improve the safety of nuclear power plants. Japan, for its part, should provide data on the Fukushima No. 1 plant promptly.
The Soviet Union collapsed five years after the Chernobyl accident. One reason for its demise is said to be the Communist Party's clumsy handling of the disaster, particularly the concealment of information that increased the people's distrust in the government. Criticism has been voiced both at home and abroad about the lack of public disclosure of information about the Fukushima plant accident. The government must not be reticent about giving precise details of the accident.

Problems also arose in dealing with the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. It is not yet known when the damaged reactor can be dismantled. It was encased in a so-called sarcophagus, a concrete shell that has become so aged that rain leaks into its cracks. The contamination of subterranean water continues.
A new sarcophagus is scheduled to replace the existing one at an estimated cost of US$1 billion. No one is permitted to enter an area within a 30km radius of the Chernobyl plant. Radioactive contamination extends beyond this zone.

The Fukushima No. 1 plant should not lend itself to a "negative legacy" like that. The first task is to get the cooling system up and running again, but the government must urgently study the dismantling and removal of the damaged reactors.

The main lessons to be learned are that nuclear accidents cause an enormous amount of damage and it takes a long time to restore everything to its original state. Greater efforts are needed to enhance nuclear safety, and there should be no limit to investment for this purpose.

the yomiuri shimbun/ann






Preparations for the royal wedding have advanced with the stately sense of purpose this country does so well. As the day has neared, so the pace has accelerated. In the streets of London, displays of flags and good wishes have multiplied by the day. The final sprint has seen the flowers ~ and the trees ~ installed in the Westminster Abbey. That speciality of royal occasions ~ cast-iron security exercised with the light touch of discretion ~ is almost in place. Almost 30 years after the nuptials of Charles and Diana ~ and all that followed ~ we have to evince just a little surprise that a Prince's wedding is again exerting its magnetic power.
Yet it will be in very many ways a different country that greets Prince William and his bride: more diverse, more tolerant, less respectful of convention, perhaps less confident. In some ways, too, it will be a different monarchy that embraces Kate Middleton. The traumas of these three decades, which brought separation, divorce, scandal and the untimely death of the Princess of Wales, have left their mark. The Queen herself described 1992 as her annus horribilis, but there was more, much more, to come.

And while the country may have rediscovered a taste not just for reassuring pageantry, but for the solidity that the institution of the monarchy still represents, the contrasts between the wedding of July 1981 and that of April 2011 are at least as telling as the similarities. Charles's life had been more traditionally royal, more protected, than that of his son. His choice of bride was severely restricted: aristocratic birth and virginity still came into it. And with hindsight, the wedding, at St Paul's, manifested much of the excess of those years: the dress, the train, the procession, the guest list, the banquet. As for the country, the street parties held that day have passed into many an adult memory: loyalty to the Crown was still mostly a given.

William's childhood was hugely privileged, but ~ probably thanks to his mother ~ not isolated. His experience of school and university was exclusive, but shared. He lived openly with Ms Middleton ~ a well-to-do and privately educated commoner, but still a commoner ~ before embarking on marriage. As a search-and-rescue pilot, he has a "proper", and highly skilled, job. His life has already intersected with those of his future subjects infinitely more often than his father's ever has.

What is more, this marriage will bring together two grown-ups whose wild oats are sown and whose wedding celebrations, while far from a cut-price trip to the register office, will recognise today's more austere public mood. That Prime Minister Mr David Cameron's guest attire became a talking point itself hints at our socially shifting times.

Westminster Abbey, of course, even on a late spring day, will inevitably conjure up darker memories; memories of that September day when, only 15, William walked with his brother behind his mother's coffin. The funeral of the Princess of Wales, with its lavish outpouring of public emotion, the bitter reproaches of her brother from the pulpit, and the cold formality of the response from the Palace, betrayed a monarch more remote from the people than at any time in her reign ~ and a monarchy whose durability could no longer be presumed.
That crisis was gradually overcome. Now, the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton opens the way for the monarchy to continue into a new generation, but also ~ we hope ~ for the royal couple to influence its evolution into a simpler, less hidebound and generally more modern institution, more closely attuned to the changing social climate of the 21st century.

the independent






There was a sobriety about Calcutta on the day of the polls. Although part of the calm could be put down to closed shops and sparse transport, much of it had to do with a sense of unprecedented gravity about the vote. That the citizen could go to vote in the third phase of the assembly elections in West Bengal in peace was largely the achievement of the Election Commission. A few days before the polls, the deputy election commissioner had assured interlocutors of adequate arrangements by virtue of which people would be able to vote "freely and safely". The EC kept its promise. The arrangements were lavish: whether in the deployment of the state and Central forces, or the monitoring of electoral officers, or the removal of the occasional malfunctioning voting machine, things moved in as clockwork-like a manner as possible. Sixty thousand paramilitary personnel looked after 2,700 polling booths with an extraordinary degree of success — even the queues moved fast in most places. Around 25,000 city police personnel were on duty as well, but at a distance from the booths. Mobile squads and the planned response time of two to three minutes, too, must have had a deterrent effect. The EC had begun planning for the state's assembly polls since October. The thoughtful deployment of security personnel, the mapping of sensitive pockets, unflagging alertness, and quick, visible action all paid off on April 27.

The EC has long been one of the institutions that India can be really proud of. Its efficiency, confidence and discipline are an example to emulate, especially in West Bengal. But taking pride in the EC has its flip side in this state. It should be embarrassing that such a vast and forbidding machinery was necessary just so that citizens could vote. It implies there is no security in the state; worse, its capital cannot expect to vote without violence, coercion and bloodshed should there not be truckloads of silent, gun-wielding — although extremely polite — uniformed forces to protect or prevent, as the case may be. It is certainly a comment on the government, but the Opposition has nothing to be proud of either. It takes two sides to make a battlefield. But in the most extensive fields of mutual killing people are still waiting to go to the polls. So far the EC has won, even if to Bengal's shame. It is to be hoped that the EC keeps this winning streak for the rest of the poll period.






Pilots employed with Air India have a peculiar propensity to go on strike at the drop of a hat. Last year, after the freak air crash of an Air India flight in Mangalore, which killed 158 of the 166 on board, the airline had imposed a gag order on its pilots to prevent them from speaking to the media. The move was perfectly well- intentioned, meant to stall the wild rumours and speculations that were causing much alarm among fliers across the nation at that time. But the decision displeased about half of the pilots on the airline's payroll to such an extent that they promptly went on a strike. Since their action was endorsed by the leaders of only two unions, the strike became, in effect, a thoroughly undemocratic mode of protest, imposed on all employees by the will of a malcontent minority. Something similar is happening once again. But the latest strike by Air India pilots is likely to have far more serious repercussions since it violates a court order with shocking impunity. In spite of the Delhi High Court's stay on the strike, the protesting pilots adamantly stayed away from work, causing untold inconvenience to passengers and steep losses to the company.

The present crisis has been sparked off by the dispute over the pay parity between employees of the former Indian Airlines and those belonging to the former Air India. However, the overall situation closely reflects the deplorable state of the national carrier, which had supposedly reinvented itself after the two erstwhile airlines merged in 2007. Since the emergence of a number of pocket-friendly domestic airlines, Air India has lost its shine. Apart from the competitive rates offered by these new-age airlines, the quality of service provided by them is usually far superior to the lacklustre ways of Air India. If the latter is lorded over by individuals lacking in imagination, innovation is the buzzword for these new airlines. This is unfortunate, since Air India pilots, as the Union aviation minister pointed out, happen to be some of the best paid employees in the country. It is ironic that the privileges enjoyed by these pilots have left them asking for more rather than delivering quality service. As a result, the drooping image of the national carrier has taken more battering than it can fully recover from. And taking advantage of the stalemate, the new airlines in the sky are making a pretty pile for themselves.





The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance would probably have lost the 2009 general election even if its candidate from Pilibhit had not been caught on camera making a provocative hate speech. The significance of Varun Gandhi's misplaced show of muscular sectarianism, which was repeated ad nauseam on television, was that it bolstered an existing trend and widened the BJP's electoral deficit.

It is not that the BJP instantly recognized that its Gandhi had scored an untimely self-goal. Despite the tut-tutting of a few, a great many of the party faithful refused to believe that the speech would rebound on the party. The thunderous acclaim at the venue that greeted the threat of Hindu retribution was replicated in many BJP offices in North India. Indeed, many of the senior leaders who made a beeline to visit Gandhi in jail actually believed that the vile speech was a positive game changer. It was, but not in the way the BJP would have liked it to be. In hindsight, that one outpouring of bad taste cost the BJP a chunk of its traditional middle-class support.

Although no two elections are exactly alike, it is tempting to draw an analogy between the Gandhi speech in Pilibhit and the contentious utterances of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) state committee member, Anil Basu, at a rally in the Hooghly district. Just as Gandhi was carried away by his own rhetoric and the applause of the gathering, Basu forgot the important distinction between sarcasm and tastelessness. His comparison of the Trinamul Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, with the prostitutes of Sonagachhi violated every rule of political engagement and forced a harassed chief minister to order a salvage operation. But what is interesting — as the video recording of the speech makes very clear — is that Basu's outrageous assertion was greeted by loud applause. He spoke to the committed and the comrades loved his abusive combativeness.

At the same time, it is undeniable that Basu's speech was seen by all those Bengalis with a bhadralok self-image as a complete violation of civil conduct. For the CPI(M), Basu's speech was its Varun Gandhi moment. The speech by itself won't be the determining factor behind the possible Left Front defeat on May 13 but it may help widen the existing gap between the forces of paribartan and continuity. With his arrogant exuberance, Basu may have undone some of the gains from the CPI(M)'s lavish, post-2009 show of contrition. It is one thing to commit the party to learning from past mistakes and promising people that the follies of Nandigram and Singur won't happen again. The sincerity of the self-criticism becomes suspect when it is accompanied by a high-handed show of arrogance by a functionary who spent enough time in the Lok Sabha to know what is parliamentary and what is not.

To be fair, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was quick to grasp the magnitude of Basu's offence and extract an apology within 48 hours. The chief minister, for all his political shortcomings, has always been a model of bhadralok refinement and has desisted from both abrasive speech and the abrupt cussedness that was the hallmark of his illustrious predecessor. But Bhattacharjee is a rarity in the contemporary political world of West Bengal. The four decades of Marxist domination in the state, going back to the first United Front government in 1967, have witnessed a cultural transformation that has seen many of the established behavioural assumptions being relegated to the fringes.

Till 1967, the cultural tone of politics was set by a Congress leadership that had cut its teeth in the national movement. Unlike large parts of North India, where the advent of Gandhian mass politics had also triggered a social revolution, Bengal politics remained in the firm clutches of the upper echelons of the professional classes and the gentry. There was a remarkable cultural continuity between C.R. Das's emergence as the supreme nationalist leader and the 14-year chief ministership of Bidhan Chandra Roy. It was not merely that the main leaders of the Congress — the Bose brothers, Tulsi Goswami, Kiran Shankar Roy, Nalini Ranjan Sarkar, Humayun Kabir, et al — came from the same social strata, but that the district leadership of the Congress, comprising heavyweights such as Atulya Ghosh, Ajoy Mukherjee and P.C. Sen, followed the tone set by the Calcutta elite.

The tone of politics did not emerge in isolation. At a time when Bengal was economically vibrant, the bourgeoisification of public life was a logical consequence. The terms of refinement, public behaviour and even the parameters of what was regarded as avant garde were moulded by a deep commitment to the established order. Social respectability implied emulation of a relatively enlightened bhadralok order, backed by an expanding economy. The only hiccup was an unsettled class of refugees from East Pakistan who were relegated to the margins of a vibrant metropolitan society — with disastrous consequences for the settled order.

The communists consciously challenged this inherent elitism. Although many of its erstwhile stalwarts, such as Jyoti Basu, Hiren Mukherjee, Indrajit Gupta and Bhupesh Gupta, were products of the same privileged social strata, they sought to consciously déclassé themselves. This meant celebrating rebellion, disavowing bourgeois refinement and embracing plebeian coarseness. The communists wanted to turn the world upside down and this involved wilfully violating the norms of respectability and consciously giving offence. As the leader of the Opposition, Jyoti Basu, for example, refused to get up when the assembly stood in silence to pay homage to Nalini Sarkar who, apart from being a politician of standing, was an entrepreneur of repute.

The communists always harboured a sense of Marxist superiority that stemmed from profound intellectual arrogance. They posited their own 'scientific socialism' to the backward mindset of their opponents. The sneering brusqueness of Gautam Deb, the CPI(M) chief propagandist in this election, stemmed from this ingrained sense of superiority. It was this attitude that infuriated the Opposition and was an obstacle to Somnath Chatterjee (a much mellowed man today) functioning as an effective Lok Sabha Speaker.

The plebianization (in its most pejorative sense) of Bengal has also flowed from the sharp economic decline of the state. The sheer lack of opportunities and the debasement of education have created the groundwork for a desperate, often mindless, aggression that has permeated the entire public space. This is reflected in popular Bengali cinema and TV serials. The stereotype of the refined Bengali bhadralok still persists all over India but its reality has increasingly become questionable in today's Bengal.

The Left has been remarkably successful in dismantling an old culture centred on courtesy and, indeed, deference. In its place has emerged a culture that in the emerging Calcutta of the late-19th century was associated with the Battala novel and the khemta dance. An aggressive lack of courtesy, bordering on lewdness, has become the hallmark of assertive and successful leadership.

Nor has the cultural shift been confined to those who were empowered by the agitational politics of the Left. Its tentacles have spread to the Trinamul Congress and even the local BJP. It goes without saying that Mamata Banerjee could not have achieved the level of success she has had her politics not been couched in a pugnaciousness that often mirrors the Left. She has taken on the Left on the Left's own terms, undercutting its social constituency and even attracting a clutch of former comrades. This may explain why those looking expectantly to the recovery of Bengal's self-esteem may have to look beyond one election. Yet, a mandate for paribartan could begin the process of rolling back decades of regression.





There was a time when Air India was the pride of this nation and represented the best of this country with impeccable service and much style. A group of sophisticated, intelligent and cultured men and women, with a profound understanding of aesthetics, comfort and efficiency, laced with unmatched public relations, ran the many complex divisions of the airline company, recognizing every minute detail as being intrinsic to the whole for competing with the best in the world. They respected fine detail and infused the Air India family with that ethos. It was a kind of public sector operation that did India proud.

Bobby Kooka did the inventive advertisements that became part of the vocabulary of the time. Training was stringent, and the staff members were well-spoken, caring and attentive. The aircraft were clean and specially designed. It was a joy to eat and drink on board. The gifts were carefully chosen to reflect the spirit of India. The posters were enticing. The management collected some of the finest Indian art and displayed them in their offices across the world. The international offices operated from iconic locations, and took India to places that mattered. There was no other airline one opted for.

But sadly, all that is a mirage from some faraway past. The deterioration of the airline has been shameful, and the dilution of service unacceptable, and worse, at the cost of the tax-payer. A clumsy, babu-like management of a competitive service sector company has brought one of the world's most favoured airlines to its knees. For the last few decades, Air India has become synonymous with grubby ineptitude and slap-dash service, catering only to a strange animal called the VIP, who never pays for the services because he serves the government. Seats in the first class cabin are always 'occupied' by free travellers, either staff on vacation with standby tickets or politicians and secretaries of the government who can never, personally, afford to pay the fare. They lord it over on board, bully the airline staff, drink as if there was no tomorrow, and expect royal treatment as babus in a democracy.


This attitude had reduced the success story of a public sector company to one of disaster. The only attraction today, for the politician and the babu, seems to be the buying of new aircraft. What they do with those aircraft and the passengers is of no interest whatsoever. Broken seats, television screens in disrepair, faulty headphones, unimaginative menus, ugly stationery, menu cards, uniforms and lounges have brought the standards down. If till the 1970s, Air India was ace, surely we should have added value instead of allowing the rot to overwhelm the airline? Why does the government not see the writing on the wall and put appropriate individuals, drawn from the private realm, in charge of the various divisions to ensure quality and service?

The average babus must be responsible for making sure that the processes and the delivery systems operate in a transparent and efficient manner. They cannot, under any circumstances, be the creative heads. Their training does not permit them that liberty. When they enter that space, they are at sea and therefore must be kept away from designing the grand plan. They must be accountable for the smooth implementation. An advisory group of independent professionals must have the last word. But it must not be made of friends and family of the minister or secretary unless they happen to have a salutary track record.

Private Indian airlines have taken over from where the Air India of yore let us down. Internally, private airlines here are better than internal airlines anywhere in the world. It is the same Indians who are running them. So why does Air India always fail the test?








A UN report of a probe into the final stages of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 has said that both sides violated international humanitarian and human rights laws in a way that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report provides damning details of how government forces raped women, shot dead prisoners and shelled hospitals, UN centres and Red Cross ships. It also describes how the LTTE used civilians as human shields, and shot those who tried to flee the war zone. Tamil civilians and health workers in the war zone had drawn the world's attention to the terrible violence that was unleashed on them by both sides. The UN report now confirms these allegations. The panel blames both sides for the large number of civilian deaths. But since the LTTE's top leaders are no more, it will be senior government officials and military commanders who could end up in the dock.

Much of the violence that the UN panel has detailed could have been avoided had the international community played a more responsible role in the final stages of the war. Sadly it did not. Countries either looked the other way or issued weak statements calling for a ceasefire. The international community cannot escape responsibility for allowing the war crimes.

The panel has called on the government to initiate an effective accountability process beginning with genuine investigations followed by prosecution of those found guilty. The Lankan government has however rejected the report. It has powerful friends in the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council who can be expected to bail it out.

India is among those countries that did not speak up in the final stages of the war. In the UNHRC it stood by the government and enabled the passage of a watered down resolution that congratulated it for the victory over the LTTE, rather than haul it over the coals for civilian casualties. Delhi must right that terrible wrong. It must nudge Colombo to put in place a credible mechanism to investigate the final stages of the war.

Prosecution of those who are guilty of war crimes is essential not just to ensure justice to those civilians raped, maimed and killed in the Lankan civil war but to ensure that this unpleasant chapter in Sri Lankan history is never repeated.







The bull has finally been grabbed by the horns. The supreme court has issued directives to rein in what are called khap panchayats in the north and katta panchayats in south India. The apex court has not minced its words in describing them as illegal bodies that deserve to be "ruthlessly stamped out". Several instances have come to light of khap/katta panchayats taking the law into their own hands and decreeing inter-caste marriages or intra-gotra marriages as illegal. They are known to have encouraged the killing or public shaming of young boys and girls who dared to marry outside their caste or without parental consent. The punishments they have meted out to those who have challenged their authority are illegal and barbaric. Despite this they have been allowed to function freely. That is now poised to change, thanks to the apex court's intervention. The court has ordered suspension, departmental proceedings and criminal action against district magistrates and superintendents of police, if they fail to act against the illegal actions of khap/katta panchayats.

The stern stance of the supreme court is quite in contrast with the waffling on the issue by politicians. Especially in parts of Haryana, where action against the khap panchayats could cost political parties dearly among the Jat community, politicians have shown little inclination to crackdown on these illegal bodies. Congress MP Navin Jindal extended support to khap panchayats' demand for amending the Hindu Marriage Act to make intra-gotra marriage illegal. Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has repeatedly supported khap panchayats on the ground that they are embedded in local tradition and culture. Given the support that khaps get from the political establishment, officials have been reluctant to crackdown against them. These officials will now be forced to act.

That the khap panchayats will not be easily cowed down is evident from the fact that within a day of the supreme court order, a khap panchayat in Panipat declared a marriage as illegal and ordered the boy and girl to live as siblings. The administration must act quickly against the members of this khap. If officials do not do so, action must be initiated against them as prescribed by the court. That will send out a clear message to officials and khap panchayats that the judiciary means business.







The UPA government or the Sonia-led Congress does not have the gumption to punish Narendra Modi.
Politicians often make loaded remarks to convey what they have in mind without spelling it out explicitly. However, when a country's prime minister takes to such an exercise, it means he wants to say something specific but does not like to face the storm it might evoke.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh has said at Kolkata that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has given more jobs to Muslims than the Left government in West Bengal. He may be factually correct. But does this lessen Modi's crime of planning and executing the killing of Muslims in 2002? Roughly 3,000 Muslims were killed and many more thousands looted and ousted from their homes and lands.

If Modi has given some jobs to Muslims, he has not in any way made amends for his diabolical scheme of ethnic cleansing. It is unfortunate that the prime minister should commend Modi at a crucial state election campaign. In a way he has tried to cover up the biggest mass murder after independence. This uncalled for praise of Modi is ominous in many ways. The supreme court has appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to reopen the cases of fake encounters and other crimes. The Gujarat government and, more so, Modi is in the dock. Do the prime minister's remarks reflect in any way the Central government's thinking on the judgment? The verdict is yet to be delivered. Modi has already started preparing the ground for criticising the judgment.

Some 14 policemen, who are being prosecuted, have said that they have no faith in the SIT inquiry. Another disclosure has tumbled out of the state's cupboard. This time the state Inspector General of Police Sanjeev Bhatt has spilled the beans. He has said in an affidavit that Modi wanted the police to let Hindus 'ventilate their feelings' and 'teach a lesson to the Muslims.' The police officer was referring to a top-level meeting on February 27 after the Godhara incident when a train compartment was set on fire in which some Hindu kar sevaks were burnt to death.

I have had no doubt about Modi's involvement from day one. When I visited Ahmedabad two days after the killings and talked to men and women in refugee camps, I could reconstruct a story of a pre-meditated murder of Muslims in the entire Gujarat state and their forcible eviction from homes and hearths. It was a familiar pattern of killing and looting, with police staying at distance.

It is apparent that India's secular polity did little even after knowing Modi's culpability. Seven years ago the supreme court took notice of fake encounters for the first time. It appointed SIT under its own supervision. Even though late, the entire conspiracy is being peeled out like the skin of an onion. SIT has submitted the report to the supreme court this week with the finding on whether Modi had actually ordered police officers to take no action against rioters.

Helpless Vajpayee

One person who could have taken action against Modi was BJP's prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, during whose tenure the massacre took place. I believe that he wanted to dismiss Modi. But the RSS, the BJP's mentor and leaders like L K Advani did not allow the prime minister to act. On his own Vajpayee, did not have the political support to take on the RSS and Advani at the same time.

All eyes are focused on the supreme court, although there are allegations that SIT has been selective in admitting evidence. Bhatt's affidavit was not even considered when he submitted it for the first time. Whether his fresh affidavit was taken into account before SIT gave its report is not known.

The question which the government of India has to answer is whether it would take any action at all. If it were a matter of moral responsibility, the chief minister should have quit long ago. Instead, Modi has built a campaign to show how Gujarat has achieved 12 per cent growth rate and how his tight administration was an example for the rest of the country. In fact, top industrialists have been taken in by this propaganda when they met at Ahmedabad two years ago to declare Modi as the best person to be the country's prime minister. These things hardly matter against what Modi did in 2002.

Ultimately, the Centre would have to decide how to punish Modi. I do not think that the Manmohan Singh government or, for that matter, the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress has the gumption to do anything even if the supreme court passes strictures against Modi, without directly blaming him. The prime minister's remark at Kolkata indicates his attitude.

What the nation has to worry about is that one Modi has distorted India's ethos of pluralism. That he has brainwashed most Gujaratis is a dangerous development. The very ideology of secularism is endangered if Modi gets away with what he did.


It would be a tragedy if such planned killings as happened in Gujarat are decided in a way where he gets the benefit of doubt. Modi's is a test case for the entire nation, particularly the minorities. Neither the court nor the Centre can afford to play with India's basic structure of the constitution: democratic, secular polity.







The rules do not allow content producers to defend their work or appeal a decision to take content down.
Free speech advocates and internet users are protesting new Indian regulations restricting web content that, among other things, can be considered 'disparaging,' 'harassing,' 'blasphemous' or 'hateful.'

The new rules, quietly issued by the department of information technology earlier this month and only now attracting attention, allow officials and private citizens to demand that internet sites and service providers remove content they consider objectionable on the basis of a long list of criteria.


Critics of the new rules say the restrictions could severely curtail debate and discussion on the internet, whose use has been growing fast in India. The list of objectionable content is sweeping and includes anything that "threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order."


The rules highlight the ambivalence with which Indian officials have long treated freedom of expression. The constitution allows 'reasonable restrictions' on free speech but lawmakers have periodically stretched that definition to ban books, movies and other material about sensitive subjects like sex, politics and religion.

An Indian state, for example, recently banned an American author's new biography of Gandhi that critics have argued disparages Gandhi by talking about his relationship with another man.

Cellphone revolution

Although fewer than 10 per cent of Indians have access to the internet, that number has been growing fast — especially on mobile devices. There are more than 700 million cellphone accounts in India. The country has also established a thriving technology industry that writes software and creates web services primarily for western clients.

Even before the new rules — known as the Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011 — India has periodically tried to restrict speech on the internet. In 2009, the government banned a popular and graphic online comic strip, Savita Bhabhi, about a housewife with an active sex life. Indian officials have also forced social networking sites like Orkut to take down posts deemed offensive to ethnic and religious groups.

Using a freedom of information law, the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), a Bangalore-based research and advocacy group, recently obtained and published a list of 11 websites banned by the department of information technology. Other government agencies have probably blocked more sites, the group said. The new internet rules go further than existing Indian laws and restrictions, said Sunil Abraham, executive director for CIS. The rules require internet 'intermediaries' — an all-encompassing group that includes sites like YouTube and Facebook and companies that host websites or provide internet connections — to respond to any demand to take down offensive content within 36 hours. The rules do not provide a way for content producers to defend their work or appeal a decision to take content down.

The rules are based on a 2008 information technology law that parliament passed shortly after a three-day siege on Mumbai by Pakistan-based terrorists that killed more than 163 people. That law, among other things, granted authorities more expansive powers to monitor electronic communications for reasons of national security. It also granted privacy protections to consumers.

While advocates for free speech and civil liberties have complained that the 2008 law goes too far in violating the rights of Indians, internet firms have expressed support for it. The law removed liability from internet intermediaries as long as they were not active participants in creating content that was later deemed to be offensive. Subho Ray, the president of the Internet and Mobile Association of India, which represents companies like Google and eBay, said the liability waiver was a big improvement over a previous law that had been used to hold intermediaries liable for hosting content created by others.


"The new IT Act (2008) is, in fact, a large improvement on the old one," Ray said in an email response to questions.

Ray said his association had not taken a stand on the new regulations. An India-based spokeswoman for Google declined to comment on the new rules, saying the company needed more time to respond.

Along with the new content regulations, the government also issued rules governing data security, internet cafes and the electronic provision of government services.







I opened a box labelled 'kitchen items,' to find jackets, and a fruity scent.

Recently, my family and I shifted house. After three years spent in one place, it was hard to gather everything together — for so much more had been added to what we already had. Too many books, for example, were crammed into too many shelves. It would have been an impossible feat to have packed everything ourselves. Hence, we called a packer.

Professional packing, we hoped, would be just that. Efficient too, with stuff packed neatly into boxes and correctly labelled, so that they could be arranged accordingly in the new house. Books would go into a set of boxes and marked, utensils would go into a set of boxes and marked. Clothes would be packed separately so that one knew where they were. Calling the packers was an optimal solution to an impossibly complicated task. After all, these men were professionals. weren't they?

When they actually turned up, packing turned into a nightmare. Young men, full of youthful exuberance and loud voices, charged into every room, turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to any instructions. Clothes were dumped into large boxes, and sealed shut. These were pushed out of the way. My books were tossed into more boxes. I'd asked for a few DVDs to be packed on top of the books so that they wouldn't be crushed. The packer nodded solemnly, and I left it at that. Packing was a whirlwind of activity, at least it seemed to be a whirlwind of activity, and the old house was emptied.

In the new house, panic ensued. Most of the boxes had not been labelled, and those that were, were marked incorrectly. Clothes had been packed over kitchen utensils, pictures from the walls were in the box marked 'puja items,' my DVDs suffered under the heavy weight of books. Missing potatoes from the kitchen were found rotting in a box of papers. To top it all, I opened a box labelled 'kitchen items,' to find jackets, and a fruity scent. When the box was emptied, I saw why — lovely squished bananas at the very bottom which merrily rode the van to our new house.

Of all the times we've moved, this experience was the strangest. The worst we've had before was perhaps a picture frame broken. I've certainly never seen fruit being packed with clothes, and potatoes and onions being tossed into boxes and sealed. And yes, our dining table was broken during the moving. In retrospect, all this seems like sheer callousness, deliberate avoidance of common sense and lack of sincerity towards one's job. Our reliance on 'professionals' was, obviously, misplaced.








A ghastly specter has Israel terrified − the specter of the Palestinian state. More accurately, this specter has been terrifying Israel's leaders for the past four decades. It has now been replaced by a feeling of perplexity, which grows as we approach the day the Palestinian state is declared in the United Nations, with a sweeping international majority.

Despite Israel's desperate efforts to stall the process, the die appears to be cast − a Palestinian state will be founded, and soon. Now the question is what Israel should do − beyond lobbyism, spreading horror and expressing fears.

It would be naive to see the establishment of the Palestinian state − especially without prior negotiations or an agreement with Israel − as a magic solution that will abruptly end the conflict. But it is no less naive to think that preventing its establishment is still possible or even helpful. Perhaps the opposite is true: If the land is destined to be divided, maybe Israel will benefit by standing genially beside the nascent Palestinian state's cradle, even as one of its nurturers.

Israel can improve its status if it takes its fate into its own hands. It can be the first to welcome the establishment of a Palestinian sister-state, wish it luck, hold out its hand in peace and express a desire to discuss borders, refugees and settlements issues, this time on an entirely different level − as two sovereign states.

Perhaps such a courageous and generous step will help Israel shake off the stranglehold of delegitimization closing in on it, reduce the responsibility it has been charged with for the refugee problem and the occupation, and shift the conflict from the religious to the territorial dimension. On the tactical level, Israel will be able to pass the responsibilities required of a state to the Palestinian side as well, whatever its government.

As is his custom, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hastened to denounce the reconciliation agreement reached this week between Fatah and Hamas, instead of giving the Palestinian unity government a chance.

Even if the Palestinians prove a disappointment and even if the move doesn't yield immediate practical results, demonstrating goodwill would help Israel retrieve assets it has long lost in the eyes of the world − a moral standing, good faith and honorable intentions.







On the eve of the vote in the Knesset on the Referendum Law about six months ago, the leader of the Opposition, Kadima's Tzipi Livni, said that the people were not a substitute for leadership.

Livni was right. In a parliamentary regime, every few years the public delegates to its representatives the authority to make decisions in all spheres of life − first and foremost the issue of war and peace. The first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, did not ask the people whether to accept the Partition Plan. He acted according to the principle of "I don't know what the people want but I know what the people need."

Menachem Begin also did not ask for the voters' approval before returning all of the Sinai peninsula to Egypt. Yitzhak Rabin made do with a modest majority in the Knesset when he signed the Oslo Accords in 1992, while Ariel Sharon rejected the settlers' demand to hold a referendum on the withdrawal from Gaza.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his declaration − during his speech at Bar-Ilan University − that there was no choice but to establish another state between the sea and Jordan, it seemed for a moment that Israel had a leader who was not a captive of ideology and whose hands were not bound by political fetters.

The prime minister convinced the presidents of Israel and the United States that he had relinquished his opposition to the principle of territories in return for peace. He got the government to pass a decision about temporarily freezing construction on the settlements and agreed to remove a considerable number of roadblocks from the roads of the West Bank.

However the major obstacle has been, and remains, Netanyahu's refusal to utter the words "the borders of June 4, 1967, as a basis for a peace agreement" − wording which leaves open the possibility of exchanges of territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Whoever does not accept this principle by September will probably instead get the recognition, by more than 100 countries, of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders whose capital will be East Jerusalem. Without "on the basis of" and without "settlement blocs", and without special arrangements in the Holy Basin. There is no third way.

The "peace process" as a cover for gradual annexation of the territories is over. The countries that recognize a Palestinian state will not be impressed by Netanyahu's complaint that Palestine will be the only state in the world not to recognize Israel as "the nation-state of the Jewish people."

Netanyahu's demand that Fatah concede its peace with Hamas in favor of peace with its neighbor is an indication mainly of hysteria. If the prime minister were genuinely interested in promoting the two-state solution, he would willingly accept Hamas' readiness to accept the conditions of the organization that signed the Oslo agreement, which is taking steps against the use of violence and is committed to the Arab peace plan.

Who would have believed that Hamas would join a Palestinian government that is working indefatigably for international recognition of the 1967 borders as the permanent borders of Palestine ‏(and of Israel, which does not have borders‏)?

Recognition by the UN of the partition plan in September 2011 could bring Israel back into the circle of violence that began in the wake of the UN declaration on the Partition Plan of November 1947. It is hard to think of a more fateful decision than that which now faces the state of Israel.

The right-wing people who presented the draft law on the referendum explained that their initiative was designed to ensure that "a most fateful decision would be taken by the entire people." Go ahead − now is the time to go to the people. Since there is no king in Israel, let the people decide, once and for all, whether they want an isolated, leprous state that occupies others, or a free and healthy state.







In the Second World War, the leadership of the Yishuv − the Jewish community in Palestine − adopted the slogan, "We will fight Hitler as though there is no White Paper and we will fight the White Paper as though there is no Hitler." But to come up with that kind of concept you have to be David Ben-Gurion. Only a leader of his stature could have promoted the establishment of a Jewish Brigade to fight in the British Army, while simultaneously weapons were being stored in Haganah caches and plans for operations against the country's British rulers were being drawn up.

Benjamin Netanyahu is not necessarily a leader on the scale of B-G. As a prime minister who already failed once quite embarrassingly, he is so far not rising to the occasion as everything falls apart around him. On the contrary: Some among the band of extremists in his close vicinity are saying, "What luck that we are not in a situation of peace with Syria and without the Golan Heights − absorbing the bloodshed there now, losing both the Golan and the peace." Utter twaddle. Even though Mubarak, the faithful guardian of peace for decades, was deposed and may even be condemned to death, the peace between the two countries remains intact. Many believe that it will continue to stand firm.

Even the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, who is not exactly enamored with us, has reiterated that the peace agreement between the two countries is an Egyptian interest, no matter who is in power.

A key cabinet minister in Israel says that when it comes to a settlement with the Palestinians the government is doing nothing. Here and there it scares itself, saying that after Syria will come Palestinian intifada no. 3, even though Abu Mazen is sending an indirect message that an intifada will not be good for the Palestinians. Ephraim Halevy is of the opinion that a "no solution" situation must not be allowed to come into being. True, in the present state of affairs there is no chance of a permanent solution, but both sides have an interest in working to achieve partial or temporary arrangements. Anyone who does not want a peace settlement and a compromise, on either side, will sooner or later find himself at war.

Those who have known the taste of peace have savored it mightily. The fact is that the Egyptians do not like the Israelis, did not want cultural relations or hobnobbing, but sought us out as good tourists in Sinai ‏(they were less pleased to see us in our masses in the heart of Egypt‏). The Kingdom of Jordan is another old love affair of ours, despite the wars. Now, when they aren't eager for an overly warm embrace, they still trust us not to settle Palestinians on their border in the Rift Valley.

Despite what is happening in our region, we must be both initiators and generous. On the other hand, we have to ensure that the withdrawals we are being called on to make will be proportionate and gradual. And more important, that they will be padded with solid international guarantees, especially of the American variety. Under no circumstances should we bring about a situation in which we will be perceived as the main party to blame for blocking progress toward a settlement.

Bibi's speech to both Houses of Congress must be delivered under the slogan that Israel is ready ‏("for real," as the kids say‏) to take risks in order to achieve peace. This, on the premise that the Palestinians, too, must make an effort and be partners in risk-taking. The assumption is that there is or will be a dialogue between Obama and Netanyahu ahead of September. Leading Jews in the United States advised a Knesset delegation that visited there recently to tell Bibi that he has to project good will in his speech and in his arguments.

And the same goes for his assistant speechwriter, Sara.

It is not up to us to decide what kind of government Syria will have and whether a democracy will be established there or not. When we conducted talks with President Hafez Assad, we knew well that his hands were steeped in the blood of 20,000 residents of Hama.

Nevertheless, we often declared publicly that we were examining the possibility of reaching a peace agreement with him. The fact is that Syria meticulously upheld every agreement we signed with it − rather like "oriental yekkes." It's the same in regard to Egypt: Peace with that country has been preserved for decades, proving how greatly peace agreements are preferable to war and how vital the backing of the great powers is in our region.

The reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is not necessarily a negative development, if the Palestinians are bent on an agreement. It creates an opening for an Obama initiative to create order here, while neutralizing terrorism.

What's not clear is why Bibi rushed in a panic to present an ultimatum of either Hamas or Israel. As Uri Zohar used to say: "What's he jumping?"







Some people complain about this column, saying that it only sees gloom and doom everywhere. Moreover, that it looks at events as though the whole world were just one long tunnel. No more: Suddenly the light has come on and it is shining on Israel's beautiful face.

Soldiers and officers in an elite reserve battalion who served recently on the Egyptian border received the "hot return" order: Namely, every infiltrator from Africa, every refugee from Sudan and from Eritrea, must be cast into the wilderness lest they multiply.

Unlike their predecessors and their replacements on the line, the reservists immediately identified the black flag: In the thermal cameras, at night, it is possible to see the death and rape awaiting those expelled across the border. Where others looked away, they saw.

There is no contradiction between conscience and obeisance. The soldiers refuse to define their decision as "refusal to obey an order" and prefer to call it "a dignified understanding achieved between the battalion commander and the brigade commander, who was wise enough to understand it was not worth entering into a conflict on this issue." Soldiers are not pawns and they are not made of cast lead − especially not reservists, who are first and foremost civilians. They have influence, the power of which they are not always aware of, and regrettably they do not use it very often. In the past their maturity and life experience has spared unnecessary bloodshed. Consequently though, the army has been discouraged from calling them up en masse, lest they testify to what goes on under fire and trip up generals in their race to glory.

And indeed, here too, on the Egyptian border and after only three weeks, they were replaced by soldiers from a standing army battalion. "They do 'hot returns' all the time," reports an informed reservist. "You have to ask what is happening there," he adds. And we are indeed asking, only there isn't anyone who is going to answer − or even anyone to ask.

Today Gilad Shalit also belongs to the reserve forces, though he is unable to report for active duty. His buddies, however, are still serving, having been demobilized, like him, three years ago. I am certain they always have Gilad in mind: He is still living in their memories.

Gilad's grandfather, Zvi, accuses the prime minister of a cynical and cruel attitude toward the captive's father and mother, calling the refusal to release his grandson at the stipulated price "equal to a death sentence." This means Gilad's buddies have no alternative but to fight even harder for his return while he still lives and breathes. If they don't hurry, they are liable to be called upon to fire three volleys in salute and to listen to innumerable eulogies of disgrace.

Let us return to the reservists on the southern border: They also tell of a Sudanese family − men, women and children − whose entry to the base was prohibited. They sat them down in the freezing cold outside the gate. Hours passed and they were not removed. "We called the battalion and said that if within one hour they weren't taken care of, we would contact the media to film them. Within half an hour a vehicle showed up."

Next time you go on reserve duty, friends, tell your commanders similar things. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not show up within one hour − and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is invited to accompany him − and if he does not explain why Gilad Shalit is still an unrescued captive, why the casualty is still left bleeding on the battlefield, then you will call in the media to film Bibi, who seems to be everywhere you look but is absent precisely here. You aren't Facebook. You are faces. It is necessary to talk to faces and you cannot be dismissed with an offhand "The government of Israel is doing everything."

And at the end of the tour of duty, during your handover, pass the message along to those who come after you, who will be there in your stead. Only when they cry out "Gilad!" from the depths of the military service will he be saved.








Israel's cautious foreign policy on legal matters over the past 44 years is likely to collapse in September. The mechanisms of legal defense that it built since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to combat the "danger" of international jurisdiction about its conduct toward millions of people who are under its control, are likely to turn into dust at the stroke of the diplomatic moves.

If indeed the international community recognizes a Palestinian state, officers in the Israel Defense Forces who are involved in assassinations, shooting at unarmed demonstrators and using phosphorus bombs will be interrogated and brought to trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. And the question of whether international human rights treaties ‏(and other treaties‏) will obligate Israel during action in the territories will no longer be decided in the government offices in Jerusalem but rather in the corridors of the Muqataa in Ramallah.

Together with the diplomatic "tsunami" that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has forecast, Israel can expect a legal tsunami, which for the first time will claim a price for violating human rights in the occupied territories.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories that Israel conquered in 1967, are not an internal Israeli issue. This is an international conflict in which the international community has a legitimate interest.

However, during the years of the occupation the state of Israel has repelled the professional legal mechanisms of the United Nations, that deal with protecting human rights, from discussing its actions there. Thus, for example, Israel refrained from granting authority to the UN Commission on Human Rights to discuss complaints from Palestinians against the IDF. ‏

(The commission is a professional body that consists of world renowned experts in human rights law, as opposed to the Council on Human Rights, which is a political body composed of representatives of countries.‏)

In a similar vein, in the territories Israel refused to apply the various human rights treaties that deal, inter alia, with discrimination against women; rights of the child; racial and other discrimination; and torture. Some of Israel's most talented advocates were sent to Geneva to claim that these treaties were not binding on Israel beyond the Green Line.

Israel considers itself the representative of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and as such was one of the initiators of the establishment of an international criminal court for war crimes. The height of jurisdictional isolation came when Israel decided not to ratify the court's constitution so as not to grant it authority to investigate and discuss crimes that, on the face of it, were/are being carried out by Israeli officers and soldiers.

Over the course of 44 years, Israel has succeeded in putting the job of judging its actions in the occupied territories in the hands of the High Court of Justice, which approved almost every policy and practice of the army in the territories, deepening the occupation and making possible massive violations of human rights under its patronage.

Israel succeeded in leaving the investigations of its crimes to military jurists who made sure that the policy of investigation would be such that enforcing the rigor of the law on soldiers and officers who had violated it would be a sort of miracle.

All of this is about to come to an end. Judging Israel's actions in the sphere of human rights is apparently about to be placed in the hands of the nations of the world. To become internationalized.

If indeed Palestine is accepted as a full member of the UN in September, the button controlling judicial authority over events that will take place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will, to a large extent, be transferred from Jerusalem to Ramallah, from Benjamin Netanyahu to Mahmoud Abbas − because the significance of accepting Palestine as a member of the UN is that the new member will be sovereign to sign international treaties, to join international agreements and to receive the jurisdictional authority of international tribunals over what happens in its territory.

The young state of Palestine will act wisely if it decides, immediately on joining the UN, to sign all the major human rights treaties and all the clauses or protocols that grant its professional committees the authority to discuss claims by civilians of violation of their rights.

If the Palestinian government also decides to sign and ratify the international criminal court's Treaty of Rome, the territories of the West Bank and Gaza will fall under the international tribunal's authority to investigate and prosecute.

The significance of a Palestinian state joining the UN is that, for the first time, it will be the Palestinians who will decide what the international legal framework is that is binding in their territory. After more than 40 years in the wilderness of the occupation, the Palestinians will have the possibility of influencing their fate through legal means.

Attorney Michael Sfard is the legal adviser for the Yesh Din human rights organization.







In advance of the coming school year, the Education Ministry has decided that the matriculation exam in history in the Arabic-language school system will include a mandatory question about the Holocaust, and that it will be worth 24 points − almost a quarter of the maximum score.

This decision came in the wake of the state comptroller's report on the subject of Holocaust education in the various population sectors, and the "grave results" of a survey on "Holocaust denial" among Israel's Arab citizens. That survey, which was conducted four years ago, found that about 40 percent of Arabs polled said that "the Holocaust didn't happen at all."

Unfortunately, the ministry's decision will not solve the real problem revealed by the survey, which has nothing to do with "Holocaust denial" in the usual sense. This is not only because Holocaust studies have been mandatory for years in the Arab school system, but also because interest in the Shoah on the part of Arab educators and students has been on a steady rise. This interest is reflected in various ways, from school-wide projects to organized delegations of Arab students to Poland. In addition, even in the context of Arab students' university studies, Holocaust Remembrance Day ‏(which this year falls on Monday‏) is observed in an organized manner.

The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that at least in terms of knowledge, nearly all of Israel's Arab citizens ‏(the vast majority of whom graduate from the public school system‏), definitely know that the Holocaust of the Jewish people did in fact take place.

The results of the survey, then, must have an explanation other than Holocaust denial, and understanding these results first requires an understanding of the context in which Israeli Arabs are asked about the subject. Many of these citizens feel that since its establishment, the state has turned its back on their suffering and their most profound pain. Not only is there no recognition on the part of the Jewish majority of their continuing deprivation and the fact that they have in effect become second-class citizens: There is not even recognition, legitimization or empathy for the pain and loss they experienced as part of the historical process that led to the establishment of the State of Israel.

In a correct reading of the situation of Arab citizens, the "denial" of the Holocaust should not be understood as a lack of knowledge of the subject or as a failure to recognize its importance for the Jewish people, but as simple defiance: "If you don't recognize us and our pain, we will retaliate by not recognizing your pain." Paradoxically, the painful use of "denial" by the Arabs polled in the survey actually implies recognition of the Holocaust and of the depth of the pain it represents for the Jews.

This complexity assumes an additional current and tragic dimension, because the decision of the Education Ministry regarding the matriculation exam is being made parallel to a series of steps by the government, including legislation, whose objective is to forbid Arab citizens and groups from teaching or commemorating − even in a low-key manner − the historical story of the Palestinian tragedy that took place with the establishment of the State of Israel, the Nakba, and to persecute and punish those who do so. In that sense, we can assume that if the above-mentioned survey were to be conducted now, the percentage of Arab "Holocaust deniers" would skyrocket.

The teaching of the Holocaust to Arab students in Israel is not and never will be a neutral issue. For the Arabs it will always be part of a wider historical context, and see themselves as those on whose doorstep the terrible tragedy of the Jews ended up.

Are there any serious educators who believe that a mandatory question on a matriculation exam will arouse empathy and identification among young Arabs vis-a-vis the Jews' terrible tragedy, while at the same time they are forbidden even to acknowledge their own past?

Social solidarity and cohesion are based on a shared fate. Alongside the tremendous importance of studying the Holocaust in the Arab school system, with all its universal and particularistic dimensions, it is also important that the Israeli establishment recognize the need of the Arab-Palestinian minority to study and commemorate its tragedy and its pain.

When this happens, the real objective behind the decision of the Education Ministry will have been achieved in any case.

Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu is co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, an organization that promotes coexistence and equality between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens.







The winds of freedom are blowing across Africa and the Middle East. While there are dictators who, under popular pressure, have relinquished their grip on power, others, including Muammar Gadhafi, hang on to it, even at the expense of attacking their own people, if that is what it takes to keep them in power.

On the other side of the world, the people of Venezuela have been following developments in Libya with special interest. What has become increasingly evident is the profound link between the respective revolutions of their president, Hugo Chavez, and of Libya's Gadhafi.

Gadhafi feels an affinity for Chavez's military background and his leftist ideas. He presented Chavez with a copy of his "Green Book" in 1998, when the Venezuelan ascended to power, and it has been widely studied in circles close to Chavez with the intent of applying it there.

So it came as no surprise that last month, when the Libyan dictator was attacking his own people, he received Chavez's vocal and public support. More worrisome to the Venezuelans was Chavez's statement that he would react in the same way as Gadhafi if a rebellion were to break out in Venezuela. Venezuelans know this is a distinct possibility: Chavez has often repeated that his "is a pacific but armed revolution," meaning that if Venezuelans try to reject the changes he is promoting, he will impose them with force.

The world may forget that, nearly a decade ago, Venezuelans almost experienced an armed repression comparable to Libya's. On April 11, 2002, one million of them participated in a non-violent demonstration, marching toward the presidential palace in Caracas demanding Chavez's resignation. In response, the president ordered the army to institute "Plan Avila," a military plan designed to repel a foreign invasion. When the army's top generals refused to fire on civilians ‏(similar to the recent refusal of both the Tunisian and Egyptian armies‏), the demonstration was dispersed by gunfire by civilian militias loyal to the president.

The outcome of the carnage was staggering to Venezuelans: Nineteen people were killed and more than 300 were wounded. As peaceful demonstrators were being attacked, President Chavez commandeered the national airwaves to broadcast a speech, in order to prevent the media from portraying the shocking images from the streets. One TV channel, RCTV, courageously showed a split screen, simultaneously broadcasting the president's address, which they were forced to transmit, alongside images of the attacks. The true face of the regime was shown to the whole country.

That day Venezuelans learned just how difficult and painful it was to confront an authoritarian system with the usual democratic methods. As opposed to the Libyan case, in which Gadhafi's regime took power when it overthrew the monarchy of King Idris I, in 1969, Hugo Chavez rose to the top in 1998 by popular election in a vigorous democracy. Their democratic tradition underlies the reaction of a large part of the Venezuelan population to the violation of their constitution during Chavez's first two years in government, as his real intentions were revealed. For the rest of the world it was difficult to understand the basis of these protests because of the democratic origins of Chavez's government.

Step by step, during the 11 years of his rule, Chavez has been gradually assuming complete control of Venezuelan society and institutions. Now he intends to impose a communist way of life on his countrymen, while he forges international alliances with leaders whose actions contradict the historic values of Venezuela. The most recent "innovations" in his race to achieve total control are the creation of the "communal system" and the armed militias.

The communes, neighborhood coalitions of social organizations whose leaders are elected from a group of persons appointed by Chavez, are the equivalent of the popular congresses in Gadhafi's Libya. They would in turn elect the president, in place of the general population‏) In giving them power, Chavez is nullifying the authority of both mayors and governors and the National Assembly. According to the new law, each commune will receive state resources, and will have its own parliament and a charter that will presumably ensure the primacy of the collective interest over individual rights. In reality, this will allow the supreme leader to decide the country's economic, international and domestic policy. Such a pyramidal system may be appropriate for a tribal society like Libya's, but it does not sit well with Venezuelans, who cherish their individual freedoms and feel that the collectivist idea goes against them.

Another law seeks to introduce a private presidential guard into the formal structure of the army. At the same time, the regime seeks to introduce mandatory military instruction in the educational system, a plan that has been greeted with widespread public protest.

Nine years ago, Venezuelans failed in their will and actions to peacefully remove the president, as the chaotic actions of the opposition's leaders in the 48 hours that followed the April 11 coup convinced the military to reinstate Chavez to his position. Nonetheless, they continue with their effort to fight authoritarianism in a democratic way. In this context, next year's presidential election will be an important milestone, as the parties of the democratic opposition intend to unite around a single candidate to challenge Chavez. The election will occur in the middle of a tireless effort to restore the constitutional and democratic tradition, and as Venezuelans also protest and fight for their civil rights, for education, for health, for housing, for security. A strong reminder of this situation is the profusion of hunger strikes and demonstrations.

Venezuela is not going through a lightning "jasmine revolution," a la Tunisia, but living through a long one under the tropical sun, where the law of the jungle prevails. If the African revolutions are driven by the evolution toward human rights, Venezuela's Bolivarian "revolution" is leading to social regression.

This bitter experience is a demonstration of how elected leaders can easily forget why they were chosen, as they use the democratic system for their own ends. It is also a reminder of the need for citizens to remain vigilant if they are to defend and reaffirm democracy and keep their values and precious rights.

Lena Soffer, a landscape architect, is a Caracas native living in Paris. She acts as a spokesperson there for Dialogo por Venezuela, a Venezuelan organization in France that works to advance democracy in Venezuela.







On March 29, at a public rally in front of the Grande Mosque of Paris, French-Algerian Abderrahmane Dahmane called on all 6 million French Muslims to wear a green star. He himself was wearing one on the lapel of his jacket. This former adviser to Nicolas Sarkozy had found, it seems, no better way to express his anger about the French president's policies, and especially over his ill-advised "Debate on Islam," quickly re-titled "Debate on Secularism," that was scheduled to take place the following week.

To any French citizen, such an initiative as that proposed by Dahmane appeared, simply, obnoxious. Obnoxious − and also abysmally stupid. To compare between the current stigmatization of Muslims in France and the persecution of French Jews who, from June 1942, were ordered to wear a yellow star by the Nazi occupiers and by the Vichy regime, is not only historically and philosophically wrong, it is extremely pernicious and potentially dangerous to civil peace in the country.

Many editorialists, politicians and intellectuals in France were split as to how to react to Dahmane's call. Should they pretend they hadn't heard or seen anything, in the hope this would stifle the green star campaign − or should they talk about it openly because, after all, this was the most senseless and offensive political initiative they had encountered in years?

The writer Marc Cohen, in the political magazine Causeur, tried black humor: "We are confronted here with everything that tires me most in life: crass, lacking in culture, vulgar impudence, historical relativism, political marketing ... I'm perhaps even more shocked by the insult to intelligence and to history than by the insult to the victims of the Nazi regime. Abderrahmane Dahmane is definitely more Nintendo than Mohammed."

That same March 29, Dahmane and Hassan Ben M'Barek, head of the association Banlieues Respect, announced that 600,000 green stars had already been produced and were being distributed free to French Muslims. It was a scary thought.

Even if such an initiative is shunned by a majority of French Muslims, it nonetheless highlights the growing tension that Sarkozy's four years in power have triggered within French society. The ban of the niqab and burqa in the streets of France, which took effect on April 11, was rightly perceived by many French Muslims as the last straw. The ban was in fact unnecessary and hypocritical. Unnecessary, because the 2004 law prohibiting conspicuous religious symbols in schools, courts and hospitals already banned the face veil from where it matters − public spaces, where citizens intermingle as equals; and hypocritical because it was, in fact, only aimed at Muslims, thus breaking the sacrosanct neutrality of the state in matters of religion.

Sarkozy always has been more of a lobbyist than a president. Before his election, he hired people like Dahmane, a political consultant, to lobby different communities according to their ethnicity and religion, and to solicit their votes. Sarkozy courted French Jews and French Catholics in the same way, promising special treatment and rights. Now, up for re-election in 12 months, he feels he has to appeal to voters on the extreme right, hence his posturing against Islam.

Sarkozy has been blowing on the embers of division within French society instead of being a pacifying and unifying force. The green star campaign is no less than a natural by-product of the president's divisive policies. Let's just hope the French keep their cool and reject all attempts to antagonize them further. With the largest Muslim and Jewish communities in Europe, France has a lot at stake.

Agnes C. Poirier is a French journalist and writer based in London, specializing in issues of multiculturalism and secularism. Her website is




                                    THE NEWYORK TIMES




When Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father, Hafez, as Syria's president in 2000, the United States and many others hoped that Syria might finally stop persecuting its people and become a more responsible regional power.


That didn't happen. Now Mr. Assad appears determined to join his father in the ranks of history's blood-stained dictators, sending his troops and thugs to murder anyone who has the courage to demand political freedom.


More than 400 people have died since demonstrations began two months ago. On Monday, the Syrian Army stormed the city of Dara'a, the center of the popular opposition. Phone, water and electricity lines have been cut and journalists barred from reporting firsthand what is really happening there.


Mr. Assad finally outlined a reform agenda last week, abolishing emergency laws that for nearly 50 years gave the government a free hand to arrest people without cause. But his bloody crackdown belied the concession, and he is fast losing all legitimacy.


President Obama came into office determined to engage Syria and nudge it away from Iran and toward political reform. Even after the violence began, Mr. Obama and his aides kept quietly nudging in hopes that Mr. Assad would make the right choice.


In retrospect, that looks naïve. Still, we have sympathy for Mr. Obama's attempts. Years of threats from the George W. Bush administration only pushed Syria further into the arms of Iran — and did nothing to halt the repression or Syria's support for Hezbollah.


The president's patience has apparently run out. Last Friday — the bloodiest day of the uprising — he issued a statement condemning the violence and accusing Mr. Assad of seeking Iranian assistance in brutalizing his people. That is a start, but it is not nearly enough.


Let's be clear: Another war would be a disaster. Syria has one of the more capable armies in the region. And while there is no love for Mr. Assad, he is no Qaddafi, and the backlash in the Arab world would be enormous.


What the United States and its allies can do (British, French and Italian leaders have also been critical) is rally international condemnation and tough sanctions. They can start with their own unilateral punishments — asset freezes and travel bans for Mr. Assad and his top supporters and a complete arms embargo.


Washington and its allies need to press the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council to take strong stands. Muammar el-Qaddafi had no friends, so the league had little trouble supporting action against Libya. Syria is far more powerful, and Mr. Assad's autocracy uncomfortably familiar to many Arab leaders.


So far, all the Arab League has been willing to do is issue a statement declaring that pro-democracy protesters "deserve support, not bullets" — conspicuously without mentioning Syria. If the Arab League and its leaders want to be taken seriously, including in their own countries, they are going to have to do better.


The Security Council hasn't even been able to muster a press statement. Russia and China, as ever, are determined to protect autocrats. That cannot be the last word.


The International Criminal Court should investigate the government's abuses. And we welcome the Obama administration's push to have the United Nations Human Rights Council spotlight Syria's abuses in a session on Friday. Ultimately, Syrians will determine their country's fate. Mr. Assad commands a powerful security establishment, but he cannot stifle the longing for freedom forever.







After a decade of frustratingly little progress, it is easy to conclude that the negotiations to reduce global trade barriers have failed. But letting the so-called Doha round of world trade talks collapse could spur a protectionist backlash and deal a huge blow to international cooperation on even bigger challenges, including global warming and financial reform.


When ambassadors from around the world meet in Geneva on Friday, they will likely have to settle for lesser gains, such as streamlining customs procedures and other rules that would at least reduce the costs of trade.


The Doha negotiations, opened shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were sold as a way to boost economic development in the poorest countries by slashing barriers on their exports to richer markets.


While a tentative agreement was reached to grant preferential access to most of the exports of the least developed countries, it has been held hostage by a lack of agreement in broader negotiations between rich countries and big developing countries.


The developing countries argued that they had already made too many concessions in a previous trade round. The rich nations then insisted that they would give nothing without getting something in return.


These positions have only hardened as the big developing countries have become some of the world's biggest traders. The latest snag is over tariffs on industrial goods like chemicals and machinery. There's little chance of a breakthrough.


It is time for all of the players to rethink their responsibilities. As their power grows, big developing countries, in particular, must be willing to make concessions for the sake of preserving a stable global trading system.


As for these negotiations, it is still possible for all players to keep their promise of duty- and quota-free access to most exports from the poorest countries. Negotiators could also reform the dispute settlement mechanism and ease customs procedures and handling fees.


This may sound small next to Doha's original ambitions, but it would be a lot better than a complete breakdown, which would punish the poorest nations while undermining the credibility of the World Trade Organization and poisoning the well for other international agreements.


Going forward, the big question for world leaders is not how to agree on some tariff cuts. It is how to create a common agenda to steer the world economy, supported by rich countries and the developing nations.







The Obama administration's new guidelines for the Clean Water Act are an important first step in restoring vital legal safeguards to wetlands and streams threatened by development and pollution.


The guidelines are opposed by the usual suspects — real estate interests, homebuilders, farmers, the oil companies. They were welcomed, rightly so, by conservationists and others who have watched in despair as enforcement actions dropped and water pollution levels went up.


For nearly three decades, the 1972 act was broadly interpreted by the courts and federal regulators as shielding virtually all the waters of the United States from pollution and unregulated development — seasonal streams and small, remote wetlands, as well as lakes and large navigable waters. The basic idea was that small waters have some hydrological connection to larger watersheds and should be protected against pollution that would inevitably find its way downstream.


Then came two Supreme Court decisions that left uncertain which waterways were protected by the law. A 2001 decision suggested that the law applied only to large navigable waterways, while a 2006 ruling suggested that only waters with a "significant nexus" to navigable waterways could be protected. Those decisions — plus subsequent guidance from the George W. Bush administration — confused regulators and exposed millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams to development.


The new guidelines now restore protections to small streams and wetlands that have a "physical, chemical or biological connection" to larger bodies of water downstream. That is good news with the clear caveat that they are administrative guidance, with no force in law, and subject to fairly easy reversal by another administration.


Legislation reaffirming the original scope of the law would be the best solution. But since that is not in the cards in this Congress, we urge the Environmental Protection Agency to turn the guidance into a formal rule that would, at least, be harder to undo.







The violent storms that struck the South on Wednesday may break one of nature's grimmer records. On April 3, 1974, 148 tornadoes touched down on a single day and left behind a trail of wreckage nearly 2,500 miles long. As many as 135 tornadoes were reported on Wednesday, wrecking homes, towns and lives.


As of this writing, nearly 300 people have been killed by the storms, 195 of them in Alabama. According to some estimates, the power outages could affect as many people as Hurricane Katrina did.


The wonder is that the death toll was not higher — thanks, largely, to the accuracy of warnings from the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center and the wisdom of officials who shut down businesses, schools and government offices for much of the day.


The number and intensity of these storms, which have marched from East Texas to Virginia in the past few days, has surprised even veteran forecasters, who watched as fierce, tight clusters of flame-colored cells gathered on their radar screens. The actual horror Alabamans witnessed was different from the typical sinuous, conical twisters. These tornadoes that looked more like bulky thunderheads, spiraling across the earth's surface in a cloud of debris, including the milewide one that crushed much of Tuscaloosa.


We cannot imagine the force those storms carried or the grief and destruction they left behind. We hope, as everyone must, that there will be clear weather following, giving Southerners a chance to mourn the lives that were lost and start the rebuilding.









Egham, England


AMID the flag-waving and the street parties to celebrate the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton today, bigger questions about the relevance of the monarchy to modern Britain lurk like uninvited guests. Extravagant living in a time of austerity abrades public sensibilities; unearned privilege is resented, while snobbery and elitism are seen as dangerously outmoded. The usual arguments in support of the monarchy — continuity, tradition and dignity — are no longer enough. The royals need to earn their keep.


While only a small minority here favor a republican government, many Britons hope the wedding might signal the dawning of a more populist monarchy. This is the marriage of a senior royal prince and a commoner — the first in 350 years — that spans the class divide and is, it seems, a marriage for love. These two met in college, have lived in a shared house with friends, and plan to spend at least the first few years of their married life in northern Wales, with William continuing his service as a search-and-rescue pilot for the Royal Air Force. They have caught the public's imagination not because of outdated deference to royalty but because of their appearance of normality and togetherness even amid the strictures of royal protocol and the frenzy of press coverage.


Comparisons have of course been drawn to the wedding of William's parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. Diana was young, aristocratic, naïve and intimidated, whereas Kate is older, middle-class, educated, respected by her groom and undoubtedly wiser to the pressures that will surround her. But the circumstances are similar: in 1981, as now, Britain was mired in economic difficulty and the public was expected to welcome the opulence of the ceremony as a respite from hardship.


To understand how a wedding could accomplish that, it is instructive to look much further back than 1981 — to a time before royal weddings meant much at all to ordinary Britons.


Consider Mary Tudor's 1554 marriage to Philip of Spain. Officials feared that the public might object to the queen, herself half-Spanish, marrying a Spanish prince. And so the nuptials were performed some 50 miles from London, at Winchester Cathedral. It was an alliance born of the mutual strategic interest forged by the marriage of Mary's parents, Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon.


Royal marriages had long been arranged for diplomatic and political reasons. In 1420, Henry V married Catherine of Valois in an attempt at peace with France during the Hundred Years' War; in 1589, James I married Anne of Denmark to establish a strong Protestant alliance in Europe; in 1625, Charles I married Henrietta Maria of France during a brief period when England's pro-Spanish policy was replaced by a pro-French one.


Under the Stuarts, royal brides were mainly Catholic, which jarred a Protestant nation. The monarchs of the German House of Hanover, which acceded in 1714, invariably wed Germans of similar rank.


What finally changed all this was a remaking — indeed a rebranding — of the monarchy in 1917. England and Germany were at war, so another marriage to a German was out of the question. Instead, what was then the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was renamed the House of Windsor, and George V decreed that his children could now "marry English men and English women." In that moment the all-British monarchy was born. And royal weddings became big events to be celebrated publicly and patriotically.


When the future George VI married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923, wedding fever engulfed the country. Newspapers and magazines scrutinized every detail: the dress, the guests, the venue. A million people lined the route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey. There were fireworks and parties in the streets.


The wedding of Charles and Diana followed this tradition. The ceremony was moved from the abbey to the larger St. Paul's Cathedral, and much of the country watched on television. Celebratory merchandise, from mugs and plates to plastic trays and tea towels, were sold worldwide. The royal family had become the ultimate British brand.


As the wedding unfolds today, many people here will be keenly aware that this is a spectacle to which they, the taxpayers, have contributed. Britons want to see their royals demonstrating "value for money," to be seen to be in touch, to have a greater ethos of service and to be more than vacuous figureheads propped up by pomp and pageantry. In a democratic age of mass media, maintaining public favor has never been more critical.


Queen Elizabeth II's longevity — next year will be her 60th on the throne — has in many ways suspended public discussion of the reform and modernization of the monarchy.


This might prove to be the biggest threat to the royal future: more than half of Britons now believe William should succeed the queen. With Charles first in line, there is a real prospect that William and Kate will not become king and queen until they are middle-aged. By then, the honeymoon will be over, their public appeal will surely have waned and the new "classless" monarchy that their marriage symbolized may well have arrived too late.


Anna Whitelock, a lecturer in early modern British history at Royal Holloway, University of London, is the author of "Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen."








BENGHAZI, LIBYA — Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is a vain man. Like the other Arab dinosaurs he has his dyed hair, his designer shades, his spoiled children and his compound full of sycophants. He doesn't want, one day, to be dragged from a rat hole like Saddam Hussein or hauled from a bunker like the Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo.


So what's his calculation? Does he have one at all? Here in liberated eastern Libya, where the tricolor Qaddafi banished now flies over hundreds of miles of Mediterranean coastline, I had dinner with an official who's met with the colonel several times and described him as coherent and articulate. Qaddafi is not mad.


But never underestimate the human capacity for delusion. Here's a despot who's managed at various times to pocket America and Europe with après-moi-le-déluge talk of the need for his rule, bought off several smaller African states, cocooned himself for more than four decades with fawning acolytes, murdered with impunity, sired with abandon, enriched himself beyond measure and — like any self-respecting modern tyrant — doled out the cell phone companies to his kids. Through all this he's survived.


Qaddafi might have maneuvered himself into a gilded overseer's role and gifted power to his bespectacled son Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, the nice, educated boy who lost it when he realized — The horror! The horror! — that he might have to give up all his toys.


There was a problem: years of talk of Western-inspired constitutional reform ran up against an addiction. Power, the Sicilians say, is better than sex. The tyrant couldn't face detox. Sibling rivalries played havoc. All the boys wanted to be like Dad and have not a lot but everything. And now it's too late.


Qaddafi and Seif took the hideous option, killing their people along the Mediterranean shore. Misurata is their shame. Their imaginings of survival have become exercises in hubris.


Another country is slowly taking form in the east. An official greeted me at the Egyptian-Libyan border with a terse assessment: "Qaddafi is a donkey." Passports now get stamped by the provisional authorities. The tricolor is everywhere. So are the slogans daubed on walls calling for a united Libya with Tripoli as capital.


Yes, the country's current split reflects old tribal division, the Tripolitania of the west and Cyrenaica of the east. No, a breakup cannot be imagined, the east-west web of relationships and loyalties and family ties is dense. Libya is not Yugoslavia. The lawyer-leaders of an uprising that rose in fury at a lawyer's detention and takes the courthouse as its symbol believe that the rule of law can come to all of Libya and its wealth be distributed among more than a favored coterie.


It's a long drive to Benghazi from the border, desert giving way with abruptness to the lushness of the coast. Arms, mainly antitank weapons from Qatar, come in another way, through Benghazi airport. Libya's rebels, outgunned, need weapons. They also need organization.


Right now, three squabbling generals jostle for control. The Brits, holed up in a Benghazi hotel compound with one of the generals, are trying to help with that. The United States is offering nonlethal stuff worth millions of dollars: body armor, canteens, uniforms, wire cages for sandbags that can be used to make walls.


The war is being fought on three fronts: along the coast between Ajdabiya and the Qaddafi tribal stronghold of Sirte; in besieged Misurata; and in the western mountains near the Tunisian border. The Benghazi army, engaged on the first of these fronts, has perhaps 1,500 men in uniform, another 1,000 or so in training and a few thousand of the guys with bandannas and guns and Toyota pickups who call themselves the February 17 Brigade — after the date of the revolution in Benghazi. These irregulars have enthusiasm in abundance but no military organization whatsoever.


This embryonic force is not going to defeat Qaddafi in the foreseeable future. Nor can it, alone, apply enough pressure on him for his entourage to see the writing on the wall and act accordingly. That burden falls to NATO. But NATO hesitated as President Obama and America drew back. It is now trying to correct that lapse by escalating operations to take out supply and communications lines.


With civilians dying daily in Misurata, the push is now for the broadest possible interpretation of the United Nations Security Council resolution allowing "all necessary means" for the protection of the Libyan people and for, in the words of one person involved, "getting this over as quickly as possible." The talk here is of weeks rather than months.


I cannot see a road back for Qaddafi whatever the current stalemate. What "victory" can he imagine now, despised by most of his people, isolated in the awakening Arab world? The pressure will mount. Those he suppressed in Tripoli will be emboldened again.


His calculation at this point is little more than desperation, the last twist of his hubris. Zimbabwe is better than Saddam's rat hole or Gbagbo's bunker — and the best option he can salvage now.










THE prestigious law firm King & Spalding has not fully explained its decision this week to stop assisting Congress in defending the law that forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriage. But its reversal suggests the extent to which gay men and lesbians have persuaded much of the legal profession to accept the basic proposition that sexual orientation is irrelevant to a person's worth and that the law should reflect this judgment. The decision cannot be dismissed simply as a matter of political correctness or bullying by gays.


Gay-rights supporters have transformed the law and the legal profession, opening the doors of law firms, law schools and courts to people who were once casually and cruelly shut out because of their sexual orientation.


But it was a process that took a half-century to unfold. In 1961, a Harvard-trained astronomer, Frank Kameny, stood alone against the federal government. Fired from his federal job simply for being gay, he wanted to petition the Supreme Court. But at a time when all 50 states still criminalized sodomy, even the American Civil Liberties Union declared it had no interest in challenging laws "aimed at the suppression or elimination of homosexuals." Mr. Kameny wrote his own appellate brief; without comment, the court turned him away.


Over the next quarter-century, lifted by gales of change in sexual morality and in the status of women, gay-rights advocates mobilized at every level of the legal profession. In the late 1960s, they successfully challenged the antigay civil service policies under which Mr. Kameny had been discharged. In 1973, a small group of gay lawyers formed the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, enlisting the help of prominent heterosexual lawyers. They drafted legislation protecting gays from discrimination in housing and employment.


At the same time, gay-rights supporters began lobbying law schools, and then professional organizations like the American Bar Association, to adopt nondiscrimination policies. With these in place, they pressured schools to exclude law firms from on-campus recruiting unless they agreed not to discriminate against gay students in hiring. The Association of American Law Schools endorsed this approach. These developments paved the way for firms that had once fired suspected homosexuals to adopt their own nondiscrimination policies.


Changes in the profession ran in parallel with the evolution of jurisprudence on sexuality. In 1986, in Bowers v. Hardwick, the Supreme Court upheld a Georgia sodomy law. Five justices — one of whom told a closeted law clerk that he had never met a gay person — dismissed the idea of a right to gay sex as "at best, facetious." But four justices disagreed — a harbinger. Within a decade, openly gay law clerks had become unremarkable.


In 1996, the year Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act — the law it is now defending — the Supreme Court struck down an antigay state constitutional amendment in Colorado. Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting, saw the tide turning. He tried to rewrite the narrative from one of a small and despised minority to one of an elitist legal corps disparaging ordinary Americans. The majority decision, he wrote, reflected "the views and values of the lawyer class from which the court's members are drawn."


Any doubt left about where most lawyers stood was eliminated in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas, which involved another sodomy law. Lambda Legal led the challenge, helped by Jenner & Block, a firm with extensive Supreme Court experience. Other big firms, groups like the American Bar Association and scholars filed supporting briefs. The cumulative effect of decades of work by gay-rights advocates was that the best firms and many of the best lawyers were unwilling to defend sodomy laws on constitutional, let alone policy, grounds. The court agreed, holding in Lawrence that such laws demeaned the very existence of gay people.


No serious case can be made that an institution as powerful as Congress has a right to the services of the biggest law firms and the most credentialed lawyers. The Defense of Marriage Act is not unpopular, and while Congress may be indebted, it is not indigent. A thornier question arises when a firm withdraws from a representation, though in this case the quick withdrawal evidently caused no harm to the client. More troubling is the possibility that a firm might quit because of outside economic pressure rather than principle, though it is unclear whether such pressure played a role in this case.


As Mr. Kameny's lone crusade showed, the legal profession was not in the vanguard of gay rights. Unlike Mr. Kameny, of course, the House will have excellent counsel on its side: a former solicitor general who resigned from King & Spalding to protest its decision. The world of legal professionals is still a diverse one where basic values collide every day. Respectable constitutional arguments for the Defense of Marriage Act will surely be made — but grounded in ideas, one hopes, not contempt.


Dale Carpenter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, is the author of the forthcoming "Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas."








Last month more than 14 million Americans were unemployed by the official definition — that is, seeking work but unable to find it. Millions more were stuck in part-time work because they couldn't find full-time jobs. And we're not talking about temporary hardship. Long-term unemployment, once rare in this country, has become all too normal: More than four million Americans have been out of work for a year or more.


Given this dismal picture, you might have expected unemployment, and what to do about it, to have been a major focus of Wednesday's press conference with Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve. And it should have been. But it wasn't.


After the conference, Reuters put together a "word cloud" of Mr. Bernanke's remarks, a visual representation of the frequency with which he used various words. The cloud is dominated by the word "inflation." "Unemployment," in much smaller type, is tucked in the background.


This misplaced emphasis wasn't entirely Mr. Bernanke's fault, since he was responding to questions — and those questions focused much more on inflation than on unemployment. But that focus was, in itself, a symptom of the extent to which Washington has lost interest in the plight of the unemployed. And the Bernanke Fed, which should be taking a firm stand against these skewed priorities, is instead letting itself be bullied into following the herd.


Some background: The Fed normally takes primary responsibility for short-term economic management, using its influence over interest rates to cool the economy when it's running too hot, which raises the threat of inflation, and to heat it up when it's running too cold, leading to high unemployment. And the Fed has more or less explicitly indicated what it considers a Goldilocks outcome, neither too hot nor too cold: inflation at 2 percent or a bit lower, unemployment at 5 percent or a bit higher.


But Goldilocks has left the building, and shows no sign of returning soon. The Fed's latest forecasts, unveiled at that press conference, show low inflation and high unemployment for the foreseeable future.


True, the Fed expects inflation this year to run a bit above target, but Mr. Bernanke declared (and I agree) that we're looking at a temporary bulge from higher raw material prices; measures of underlying inflation remain well below target, and the forecast sees inflation falling sharply next year and remaining low at least through 2013.


Meanwhile, as I've already pointed out, unemployment — although down from its 2009 peak — remains devastatingly high. And the Fed expects only slow improvement, with unemployment at the end of 2013 expected to still be around 7 percent.


It all adds up to a clear case for more action. Yet Mr. Bernanke indicated that he has done all he's likely to do. Why?


He could have argued that he lacks the ability to do more, that he and his colleagues no longer have much traction over the economy. But he didn't. On the contrary, he argued that the Fed's recent policy of buying long-term bonds, generally referred to as "quantitative easing," has been effective. So why not do more?


Mr. Bernanke's answer was deeply disheartening. He declared that further expansion might lead to higher inflation.


What you need to bear in mind here is that the Fed's own forecasts say that inflation will be below target over the next few years, so that some rise in inflation would actually be a good thing, not a reason to avoid tackling unemployment. Those forecasts could, of course, be wrong, but they could be too high as well as too low.


The only way to make sense of Mr. Bernanke's aversion to further action is to say that he's deathly afraid of overshooting the inflation target, while being far less worried about undershooting — even though doing too little means condemning millions of Americans to the nightmare of long-term unemployment.


What's going on here? My interpretation is that Mr. Bernanke is allowing himself to be bullied by the inflationistas: the people who keep seeing runaway inflation just around the corner and are undeterred by the fact that they keep on being wrong.


Lately the inflationistas have seized on rising oil prices as evidence in their favor, even though — as Mr. Bernanke himself pointed out — these prices have nothing to do with Fed policy. The way oil prices are coloring the discussion led the economist Tim Duy to suggest, sarcastically, that basic Fed policy is now to do nothing about unemployment "because some people in the Middle East are seeking democracy."


But I'd put it differently. I'd say that the Fed's policy is to do nothing about unemployment because Ron Paul is now the chairman of the House subcommittee on monetary policy.


 So much for the Fed's independence. And so much for the future of America's increasingly desperate jobless.








We in the commentariat spend a lot of time reporting on the White House and the U.S. Capitol, but relatively little time reporting on the dozens of federal buildings around them where public policy actually gets executed. We engage in debates about the size of government but spend little time directly observing what government is and isn't good at.


To help compensate, I spent some time this week at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is headquartered in a dispiriting 1960s building that is brutalist on the outside and dreary within — 10 stories of basement, as the employees say.


The secretary, Shaun Donovan, was trained as an engineer and is a numbers guy. He learned from his experience as New York City's housing commissioner that you can't fight social problems like crime and homelessness unless you have good data. So he helped create a program called HUDStat, which tracks homelessness among veterans and the results of the various efforts to combat it.


I observed a strategy meeting led by Donovan and Scott Gould, the deputy secretary of the Veterans Administration, with about 30 career personnel and political appointees. The purpose of the meeting was to see which regions were doing a good job of getting the veterans treatment and housing vouchers, and which weren't. (Democrats seem to feel comfortable using vouchers to address housing problems but not education and health care problems.)


The career workers at the meeting were impressive. They made short, highly informed presentations and answered arcane questions about legislative history. They had achieved a herculean task of getting two government agencies to agree on a single data set, a single methodology and a single progress report.


Homelessness touches many government services, from housing to education, and the federal workers presented complicated flowcharts trying to organize overlapping programs into one coherent system. How do you set up services for a homeless female veteran who has a drug addiction, psychiatric problems and is a victim of domestic violence? If a federal agency issues housing vouchers, how should it alert the local housing authority that more residents are on the way?


The HUDStat report is blunt about which state and local departments are efficiently moving veterans into housing (Indiana and Ohio) and which is lagging behind (California).


The career people treated the political people with almost military deference. The career people often spoke about managing the organizational structures and establishing clear rules for case-workers; Donovan and Gould spoke more about the experience of the veterans on the street and probed for ways to move everything faster:


Can we use money from other voucher programs to get the veterans security deposits? Probably not, the accounting issues are too complex. How long does it take between a homeless veteran's first contact and actually moving in? The norm is 127 days. Can we reduce that wait time to 10 days? No, but maybe 90 is possible. Even though the 2011 budget was passed late, can we use some of that money quickly so legislators will be pleased when budget time comes up again in 2012? Yes.



Unlike some political appointees, Donovan and Gould are deeply involved in the intricacies and are powerfully driving policy. Many government efforts are designed to minimize failure and avert scandal. In this program, each region has a clear numeric definition of success. There are clear standards for how quickly veteran homelessness should be reduced year by year. So far, the program is surpassing its targets by 46 percent.


The big question I had was this: How large is the gap between the neatness of data on a bar chart and the messy reality on the street?


For example, 75 percent of veterans in the program have psychiatric, drug or alcohol problems. Under the old policy, social workers tried to get the veterans treated first and offered free housing as an inducement. Now the Housing First approach prevails: Get them the stability of an apartment, then treat their drinking, drug and mental issues.


That produces good homelessness data, but are ill and addicted veterans off their meds and menacing apartment buildings? Does the approach work as well for the severely ill? Does it work as well in sparsely served areas?


Donovan notes that research supports the counterintuitive Housing First approach. Some studies do, indeed, show modest benefits, but I was struck by the vast difference between the way a government sees the world — numerically and organizationally — and the gritty and unpredictable way the world sometimes looks to, say, a crime reporter or a homeless veteran himself.


 Over all, visiting HUD was tremendously useful. Amid the hot-rhetoric government wars, it was important to see the talent and commitment of real-life government workers running a successful program — and to see the limitations inherent in government planning.










Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan finally announced his "crazy project" on Wednesday. For weeks he has been "teasing" the public by saying, in effect, "we have a project that will blow everyone's mind." Well it is indeed a "crazy" project he has unveiled. He plans to join the Black and Marmara Seas with a 45-kilometer canal, which will amount to a new Bosphorus west of the existing one.

Erdoğan did not mention it of course, but the fact is, this project is not his or the Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, brainchild. Not only has it been discussed since the early years of the Ottoman Empire, but it was also proposed in 1994 by the late Bülent Ecevit, a former prime minister and founder and head of the Democratic Left Party, or DSP.

It would have been proper for Erdoğan to pay tribute to Ecevit, but given Turkey's current vitriolic political environment, this would also have been "magnanimity beyond the call of political expediency," at a time when the general elections are so close. AKP supporters are now saying even if it was Ecevit's idea; it is Erdoğan who will realize it.

Critics point out that the AKP mayor of Ankara could not even complete the metro line that will connect the center of the city with the new suburbs that emerged in the Eskişehir highway direction. They said the AKP's minister for transportation had to take this project away from the Ankara mayor to expedite its completion, but has done little yet.

This may be splitting hairs, but it is a fact that Erdoğan's "crazy project," as he himself dubbed it using the term "crazy" in a positive sense of course, does in fact have to be seen to take off first before any hope can be invested in its completion. And even that may not be enough since Turkey is full of half-finished projects.

None of this should lead anyone to think Turkey can not undertake such a massive project, which it is said will outdo the Panama Canal. The same skepticism was expressed at the time when the Southeastern Anatolian Project, known as GAP and involving a network of massive dams, was initially announced.

Turkish contractors, engineers and architects also proved their mettle in Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Erdoğan's "crazy project" is therefore "feasible" as far as Turkish engineering and building capacity is concerned.

There also appears to be valid arguments about increasing shipping safety in the congested Bosphorus, one of the busiest waterways in the world running through the middle of a major city, by channeling shipping, especially oil tankers, through the new canal, which has been given the name "Kanal Istanbul." 

This, they argue, with reason, will reduce the risk of a major disaster in metropolitan Istanbul, which has already seen major tanker accidents and explosions in the past. The biggest and most dangerous one was the Independenta accident in 1979 when the Bosphorus was much less congested than it is today.

There is also the argument that a new waterway will also serve the whole Balkan region, and all the countries with a Black Sea coast, thus increasing Istanbul's importance in international trade. Neither can the fact that this project will generate fresh money and jobs be overlooked it is said.

Politically speaking, on the other hand, the new canal will also be free of any encumbrances that the Bosphorus is subject to due to the Montreux Treaty. This will after all be a Turkish project, executed by Turks and owned and run by Turkey. There is also the promise of a new satellite city that will emerge as a result of this project, reducing, it is said, the demographic pressures on metropolitan Istanbul.

All of this, when put together, indeed makes the project sound feasible. But whether it is also "reasonable" at this point in time is another matter. Already there are well known architects, engineers and social scientist who say the whole thing sounds nice to the ear, but there are major environmental, climactic, demographic and social implications which should not be whitewashed. 

They indicate that because of these implications such a massive project should be debated democratically by the public first before any final commitment is made. The major critics of the project appear, therefore, to have equally valid points. Turkey may be the 16th largest economy in the world, and it is more than conceivable it will be within the first 10 economies by 2050, if not sooner.

The fact is, however, there are major issues of social inequality and regional disparity that have to be address urgently. When looked at Turkey from the perspective of per capita income it certainly does no justice to the fact that it is the 16th largest economy in the world.

Southeast Anatolia is a case in point, being a region that requires massive investments in order to catch up with the Western Anatolia. Neither does this mean there are no poverty stricken regions in Western or Central Anatolia. Istanbul being a microcosm of Turkey, the same disparities can be seen within that city alone.

In addition to this Istanbul, one of the largest cities in the world in terms of population is also a city facing the threat of a major earthquake. Scientists tell us it is imminent that an earthquake will hit the city, even if the time cannot be predicted.

Given the shabby quality of much of the buildings of "old Istanbul," which represents large swathes of the city, and the equally shabby construction practices in large parts of new Istanbul, it is clear the city needs major rehabilitation and reinforcement projects to increase public security.

It is being said Erdoğan's "crazy project" will cost at least $10 billion to build, and probably much more than that.  It will also use up major resources given the AKP plans for the project to be completed by 2023, the centenary of the Turkish Republic. This race against time will be politicized in Turkey so there is the risk that other major public works will be neglected in order to finish "Canal Istanbul."

At the end of the day it is all in the "eye of the beholder" whether this canal project is a good or a bad one. There are arguments both ways. There are also those who remind us of Roosevelt's "New Deal" that involved such massive projects helped the country out of recession. Turkey is not in recession but it does have mass unemployment. Therefore this project can help alleviate this.

But there are other massive projects in the area of housing, healthcare, better education, reforming the agriculture sector, modernizing Turkey's army, mainly by moving to a professional army, rather than a conscript one, that perhaps need much more urgent attention.

Looked from this perspective, Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu seems to be speaking the truth when he says this massive project of Erdoğan's, similar to all his other projects, has a missing link, namely the "human component."  

It is also a fact, however, Erdoğan has dazzled many with his "crazy project," but whether he will benefit from this in term of the elections to the extent he wants, and whether he can even start the project remains very much to be seen.






The famous epigram attributed to Joseph Stalin says that: "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is statistics." In the new century, this very Stalinist epigram distinguishes the dead by their religious identities and their killers.

My column neighbor Mustafa Akyol's headline on Wednesday was probably the best summary of Turkey's increasingly less convincing acrobatic struggles concerning Syria: Zero problems with dictators?

"Some of our neighbors, and other countries in the region that we wanted to get closer to, are dictatorships. So, we ran into the risk of making friends with regimes that crack down on their own people," Mr. Akyol reminded us. But he said more: "…it is… unclear whether Turkey really has stood up for the humanitarian principles that it cherishes so much in its foreign policy rhetoric."

And Mr. Akyol concluded in a chillingly realistic discourse: "But there will be times when soft power will not work, and you might need to stand up more vocally against a dictatorial regime shedding innocent blood. How Turkey will be able to take that moral stance without harming its national interests is the next big question that policy makers in Ankara need to think about. Otherwise, we will be yet another mundane actor with very mundane motives."

Precisely! We have always been so.

Big speeches and, borrowing a phrase from an American reader, "half-baked, Kodak-moment treaties," especially in this very volatile part of the world, can often provide major embarrassments for politicians. They always have and probably always will.

I cannot recall how many times Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu must have claimed how sensitive they (and their foreign policy) are to the well-being of human beings; how they cared about human deaths, especially if these deaths came by violence; how the "human being" is at the center of their policies, domestic and foreign; how they cared about the tragic loss of lives regardless of who the victims and killers are; how they would, as a matter of principle, always and loudly stand against any (repeat: any) killing. It's just that Mssrs. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu made such big speeches about humanity not when people were killed, but when certain people were killed by certain others.

Allow me to quote from this column nearly a year earlier: "Subconsciously (and sadly) the Muslim-Turkish thinking tolerates it if Muslims kill Muslims; does not tolerate it but does not turn the world upside down when Christians kill Muslims; pragmatically ignores it when too-powerful Christians kill Muslims; but is programmed to turn the world upside down when Jews kill Muslims," (Why is Palestine 'a second Cyprus' for Turks? the Daily News, June 3, 2010).

Just in Libya, the estimated death toll ranges between 1,000 and 10,000. The Syrian Observatory for Human rights has said that it had collected the names of at least 453 civilians killed during almost six weeks of pro-democracy protests in Syria. Then there is Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain.

All of which means that more than 10,000 Muslims have lost their lives and several times that number has suffered physical and mental injury. Thousands of others have been arrested and tens of thousands have fled their countries. Add to that the families and friends of the victims, and the number of Muslim casualties – dead, injured or traumatized – can safely be estimated to be at anywhere well over 100,000. The perpetrators? Muslims… 

I was saddened to read that President Abdullah Gül eventually – but shyly – said that "we are saddened by the loss of lives in Syria," and that "the reforms must be given pace." Really? The presidential statement is a sequel to Mr Erdoğan's repeated – but probably not sufficiently heeded – calls for reforms in Syria. The president and the prime minister are sorry about the deaths, no doubt, but why do they not draw swords against the murderers like they did, for instance, during Operation Cast Lead? 

The Israeli military offensive against the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009 killed around 1,500 Palestinians and, rightfully, made Mr. Erdogan et al. furious. The question is, why is the prime minister not equally furious about the deaths of many times more people? Could it be that the death of 1,500 Muslims by non-Muslims amounts to a verbal casus belli, a tragedy, while the killings of 10,000 Muslims by Muslims is mere statistics? It seems that we have come a "long way" from Stalin's epigram to Stalinist rhetoric about the loss of human lives.






When Adnan Menderes, prime minister of the 1950s, decided to open up a great boulevard in Istanbul by filling in the shore to provide for traffic to flow people went crazy.

Some of you may remember.

Then we went into an uproar about the first bridge project.

Then we got mad about late President Turgut Özal's second bridge and road projects. We did everything possible in order not to sell state belongings.

Today all of these projects came true and we are happy to use these bridges and roads. Some feel even a bit ashamed and thank those who built them. And yet some say, "They should have thought in bigger terms, the roads are too narrow."

We've made it our national sport to say no to every great or unaccustomed project.

Until the "Istanbul Canal" project is realized it will be dragged through the mud and 30 years from now we will say, "The prime minister of the term was not thinking big. The dimensions of the canal are too small."

Thinking big is always good.

No matter who initiated this thought, the real owner of a project is the one who makes it happen.

If you were to pay attention, nobody says, "This project can't be realized."

Everybody has questions that are quite justified:

Will forests be destroyed?

Will we lose natural resources?

Will it benefit or hurt Istanbul?

The rest is up to the owners of the project. They need to find answers that will satisfy us and convince the public that Istanbul will benefit from this endeavor.

It may or may not hurt Istanbul. What is important is that it needs to be guided, calculated and coordinated well.

You'll see that our grandchildren will complain about the dimensions of the project.

Election campaign

With respect to communication, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan practices an extremely effective and different election campaign.

He addresses visions of earning more money and becoming rich.

 "Not them, I can make you earn more," he says.

He stuns people with first the 2023 project then with the canal project.

And that's true all over the world.

People love big projects.

No one cares about details or realization of projects. They first consider the money trying to benefit as the project is realized.

No one talks about big money but it attracts even the simplest citizen when it is addresses something beyond their dreams. Those benefiting from the project are delighted and the rest just keeps talking about the leader. The leader's being discussed constantly, be it positively or negatively, is very vital.

It keeps him active on the agenda.

This is exactly what the prime minister does. He uses this weapon very effectively. He keeps the agenda in his hands for days. Look at the present situation. All TVs and papers are talking about the canal project. And if you have notice the timing, it jumps from one big project to another keeping up the momentum.

He uses a very masterful communication mechanism.

Previously in elections he used to be the "aggrieved party, looking for his right," now for the first time he is the leader who "is asking for the votes of his people by coming up with projects." This type of endeavor brings about criticism but also contributes to being discussed in the public opinion for days.

It seems Erdoğan is ahead in this election race.

The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, for the first time has come up with projects and, to tell the truth, evoked its effects.

The language used may not be appropriate, but the election campaign has entered an interesting path.

Punishment for playing the guitar

It is difficult to understand this administration.

On one side it produces giant projects with great vision and bravely changes issues that are considered taboo.

It takes vital steps in democratic issues.

On the other side it arrests and fines children for playing the guitar in a park in Ankara just because a citizen complained about "the environment being disturbed by that noise."

I ask of you, what's there to be punished?

What's with this boorishness?

People ignore the cutting off of the head of a monument labeled a freak.

Protesting students are beaten up by the police.

Those speaking up are arrested.

You may say that some of these events have nothing to do with the government and stir from practices of the judiciary or police and distortion in laws.

But here you are mistaken.

It is the duty of the institution that we call the government to fix these deficiencies. It can't just say, "It's none of my business, it's the judiciary's business."

It looks like Erdoğan's perception of democracy is similar to that of Özal's. He too believed that in economics democracy and liberalism would suffice, thus cutting democratic lines.

What a pity, isn't it? 






There are many Turkeys…

In one Turkey, there is a prime minister unveiling his wild ideas about his multi-billion-dollar project to dig through the European section of Istanbul to create a crossing from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea and provide an alternative to the Bosporus.

Is the project a feasible one? Why should Turkey allocate some $10 billion, dig a 150-meter wide, 25-meter deep, 45-50 kilometers long canal through a forested territory? The scheduled canal is also very close to water reservoirs of a city of almost 17 million inhabitants – a population far bigger than many European states; why should Turkey assume that huge oil tankers passing through the Bosphorus, thus endangering the historical and natural heritage of Istanbul, will opt for this canal and pay some 10,000 euros per vessel instead of passing free of charge through the Bosphorus? Do we expect all tanker captains and executives of all oil companies to be so sensitive on protecting the historical and natural heritage of Istanbul that they would not use a free-of-charge passage? The assumption that the canal will help divert dangerous cargo vessels away from the Bosphorus and the historical and natural treasures of Istanbul is definitely a crazy idea.

The project, of course, has already provided – and will continue providing in the years to come if the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, continues in government and insists on realizing the "crazy project" – some lucrative incentives or incredible payback schemes for all those who bought land in the regions that some "Deep Throat" informants told them would skyrocket in value. Politics, money, nepotism, narcissism, favoritism all appear to be members of the same family, particularly for political clans that come to power with a claim to fight corruption. In the prentice and apprentice period, such administrations learn small- and medium-sized corruption while engaging in mass-corruption in the master period.

Definitely, the canal project will provide a new urban development incentive for Istanbul. The city will further develop and become a city of, let's assume 25 million by 2050. Will it help to prevent the much-feared "big quake?" Will the project help Istanbul improve its housing? Already, experts estimate that about 3 to 5 percent of the houses in the biggest Turkish metropolis will collapse in a quake, killing at least 50,000 people. Will the canal project help prevent such a tragedy?

A reader came up with a brilliant idea. He wrote that the project was a "crazy but a brilliant one" which will provide Istanbul with a new water defense system against potential crusaders from Europe.

Naturally, such a mentality is so comic and indeed pathetic that it does not deserve further comment.

In the other Turkey, on the other hand, there are kids dying of malnutrition. The story of the Kübra baby of Samsun – the Black Sea city from where Mustafa Kemal launched the Turkish War of Liberation on May 19, 1919 – is not an isolated case at all. Even though the police officers who reported that Kübra died of malnutrition were punished and banished from Samsun by the officious caretaker internal affairs minister.

Kübra would care less about how big the ceremony the prime minister's clan organized in Istanbul; what great or crazy projects were unveiled by the bold, bald and ever-angry chief executive of the country as part of a campaign to distract public attention from real problems of the country heading toward crucial parliamentary elections.

She starved to death in this country, which is thinking of investing billions of dollars in a project which, in essence, will not offer anything further than an alternative to an existing seaway.

What about the story of Adile? The small girl in that incredible photograph. She was not the other girl holding a balloon in her hands, going to the April 23 "National Sovereignty and Children's Day" celebrations. She was the other girl, looking with bright black eyes and trying to understand the other Turkey as she was holding the hem of the dress her mother, who was searching for food in a trash can.

Adile's family is unable to pay monthly 50-lira rent in the shanty they are living in. She of course dreams of toys and balloons like all other kids of her age, but for Adile and such kids in the other Turkey, the first priority is to have something in their mouths and hold on to life despite all the hardships. The first priority is to avoid becoming Kübras.

Some 10 billion, 15 billion, or 20 billion dollars is hell of a lot of money for such families that have difficulty paying 50 liras in monthly rent.






Twenty-five years ago, the explosion at Chernobyl cast a radioactive cloud over Europe and a shadow around the world. Today, the tragedy at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to unfold, raising popular fears and difficult questions.

Visiting Chernobyl a few days ago, I saw the reactor, still deadly but encased in concrete. The town itself was dead and silent, houses empty and falling into ruin, mute evidence of lives left behind, an entire world abandoned and lost to those who loved it.

More than 300,000 people were displaced in the Chernobyl disaster and roughly 6 million affected. A swathe of geography half the size of Italy or my own country, the Republic of Korea, was contaminated.

It is one thing to read about Chernobyl from afar. It is another to see it. For me, the experience was profoundly moving, and the images will stay with me for many years. I was reminded of a Ukrainian proverb: "There is no such thing as someone else's sorrow." The same is true of nuclear disasters. There is no such thing as some other country's catastrophe.

As we are painfully learning once again, nuclear accidents respect no borders. They pose a direct threat to human health and the environment. They cause economic disruptions affecting everything from agricultural production to trade and global services.

This is a moment for deep reflection, a time for a real global debate. To many, nuclear energy looks to be a clean and logical choice in an era of increasing resource scarcity. Yet the record requires us to ask: have we correctly calculated its risks and costs? Are we doing all we can to keep the world's people safe?

Because the consequences are catastrophic, safety must be paramount. Because the impact is transnational, these issues must be debated globally. That is why, visiting Ukraine for the 25th anniversary of the disaster, I put forward a five-point strategy to improve nuclear safety for our future:

First, it is time for a top-to-bottom review of current safety standards, both at the national and international levels.

Second, we need to strengthen the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency on nuclear safety.

Third, we must put a sharper focus on the new nexus between natural disasters and nuclear safety. Climate change means more incidents of freak and increasingly severe weather. With the number of nuclear facilities set to increase substantially over the coming decades, our vulnerability will grow.

Fourth, we must undertake a new cost-benefit analysis of nuclear energy, factoring in the costs of disaster preparedness and prevention as well as cleanup when things go wrong.

Fifth and finally, we need to build a stronger connection between nuclear safety and nuclear security. At a time when terrorists seek nuclear materials, we can say with confidence a nuclear plant that is safer for its community is also more secure for the world.

My visit to Chernobyl was not the first time I have traveled to a nuclear site. A year ago, I went to Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, ground zero for nuclear testing in the former Soviet Union. Last summer in Japan, I met with the Hibakusha, survivors of the atomic blasts at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

I went to these places to highlight the importance of disarmament. For decades, negotiators have sought agreement on limiting (and perhaps ultimately eliminating) nuclear weapons. And this past year, we have seen very encouraging progress.

With the memory of Chernobyl and, now, the disaster in Fukushima, we must widen our lens. Henceforth, we must treat the issue of nuclear safety as seriously as we do nuclear weapons.

The world has witnessed an unnerving history of near-accidents. It is time to face facts squarely. We owe it to our citizens to practice the highest standards of emergency preparedness and response, from the design of new facilities through construction and operation to their eventual decommissioning.

Issues of nuclear power and safety are no longer purely matters of national policy, alone. They are a matter of global public interest. We need international standards for construction, agreed guarantees of public safety, full transparency and information-sharing among nations.

Let us make that the enduring legacy of Chernobyl. Amid the silence there, I saw signs of life returning. A new protective shield is being erected over the damaged reactor. People are beginning to return. Let us resolve to dispel the last cloud of Chernobyl and offer a better future for people who have lived for too long under its shadow.

*Ban Ki-moon is the secretary-general of the United Nations.






Turkish sculptor, Mehmet Aksoy has always been in trouble for the artwork he creates in a country with increased disrespect for art, a discipline that is also being taken hostage by political power.

For instance in 1975, when he brought a sculpture of renowned late poet Nazım Hikmet from Berlin, Aksoy, he was directly escorted to the Police Department. In the same year, his work titled "The laborer and his child" in Antalya, was showered with paint before it was torn to pieces.

One of the leading sculptors in Turkey, Aksoy spoke about the pressures he faced and the troubles he had gone through in a recent interview to Tuğrul Tunalıgil of daily Vatan.

Aksoy entered a competition for an Atatürk sculpture at Parliament in 1979. Though he initially won it, the then-Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Kenan Evren, who happened to be an honorary juror, objected to the result. "This is communist artwork. Atatürk is wearing a fur cap anyway," Everen said, and Aksoy was relegated to second place in the competition.

In 1994, Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek decided to remove Aksoy's sculpture, "Realm of Fairies," at Altınpark. "I would spit on such a work," Gökçek said, for he found the piece obscene.

More recently, Aksoy has endured another troublesome part of his life. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered the demolition of his work of art, calling it a "freak." Demolition of Aksoy's sculpture, the Monument to Humanity in the eastern province of Kars, has started. The head of the sculpture, facing the Kars Castle, was removed Tuesday.

Aksoy was asked to create the sculpture by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, mayor in Kars in 2006. The project, however, faced objections from the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, party organization. The monument became a target of the ruling AKP after the office of mayor changed hands in 2009.

In such a long line of troubles, we also see the artist's consistent frame of mind, considering the reactions he faced.

Times have changed, but Aksoy has constantly faced the mentality that removes the head of a sculpture, bans artworks and is disturbed by the creativity of artists.

Though the source of the mentality can switch from the government to civilians or between political parties, the never-changing notion in Turkey is the disrespect of art. There is a hard-line mindset that has the urge to interfere in art and even demolish it if it wants.

The image of the country

And this mentality is facing a gradually increasing dose of objections in the Western world.

The International Association of Arts, or IAA, reached a decision on April 7 during a general assembly in Mexico that politicians had no right to remove works of art just because they dislike them. Such a monument of peace and solidarity should be protected and conserved, the association said.

As Turkey is trying to become a European Union member in the 21st century, it cannot continue demolishing the gigantic works of art of its own artists and intellectuals in spite of the objections of the international community, the association said.

Christos Symeonides of IAA Europe also sent a message to the Turkish Foreign Ministry in March, saying such a demolition was a serious violation of freedom of art.

Similar reactions will likely increase in the days to come and Turkey's image of an intolerant country that demolishes sculptures will likely continue.

Another dimension to the issue is that the demolition is taking place as a result of a political order. A country where the prime minister decides which artwork remains or goes, upon his discretion, is a country that has been taken hostage by political power.

It is not just the head of the sculpture that was cut off in Kars; artists' freedom of creativity in Turkey has been attacked as well.

* Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.








For the third time in three days the Pakistan Navy has been the target of bombers. Once again, the modus operandi was the same. A marked bus carrying naval officers and staff to work was hit by a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) which was remotely triggered. As these lines are written, there are five dead and 18 injured. The attack took place on a principal thoroughfare during the rush hour and civilians formed part of the collateral damage. The attack is so similar to the previous two blasts that it may be assumed that these are all the work of the same group. No group has as yet claimed responsibility and it is not clear why the navy is the target, but what is clear is that a skilled team of bombers is on the loose.

Attacks such as this require detailed reconnaissance and the ability to build a bomb that can be reliably remotely triggered. The bombers are lucky in that our roads offer plentiful opportunity for the concealment of explosives in any of the innumerable holes that pit them. Similarly, few would look twice at a small group of men digging a hole in the road or seeming to be busy repairing a sewer culvert or blocking off an open manhole cover. There may have been CCTV coverage of the place where the bomb was planted; but the bombers may be surveillance-aware, possibly able to disable the cameras. As to targets, the roads of our cities are clogged every morning with well-marked buses taking army, navy and air force personnel to work. They do not vary their routes as they are often working a 'pick and drop' service which is predictable to a window of a few minutes daily. Bombing teams like this are difficult to counter if they are well-trained and have good internal security – and an IED cannot decide to abort the operation as might a suicide bomber. We must expect more of the same, and hope that our security services are able to locate and neutralise the terrorists who take our lives as a farmer cuts his corn.







A civil servant will progress through his or her career by a series of well-defined moves. They will be evaluated and examined and if judged fit for promotion, move to the next tier. At the very top of the ladder are those senior bureaucrats who are far advanced in their careers, and it is they who directly service the elected offers of government, including the prime minister. They fill the federal-secretary posts, and their appointment according to protocol is via the Establishment Division. That is the way it ought to work. But in the time-honoured tradition of breaking that which was unbroken, the prime minister has usurped the process of secretarial appointments and instead moved people around on his whim. Under normal circumstances the PM would notify the Establishment Division of a desire to change a person in post, the ED would present a list of candidates to the PM based on seniority and skill-set, the PM would then make his selection and the process would be completed. This has been turned on its head, to the dismay of the civil service.

It appears that federal secretaries are now being moved and appointed on the verbal orders of the PM, and the ED is sidelined and rarely consulted in direct contravention of the Standard Operating Procedure. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the civil servants being thus moved and appointed are at the beck and call of the PM. They will be selected for their compliance and willingness to toe the 'party line' rather than any competence for the job they have been slotted into. In this way, line ministries are kept weak, reform is slow or non-existent and a culture of corruption flourishes. This is not a new phenomenon – it goes back to the very start of the current dispensation. The new secretary petroleum is the eighth to hold the position in three years – a change that approximates to a new man in the job every 18 weeks. The Privatisation Commission now has its fifth federal secretary and the Sports Commission its fourth. It is not difficult to see how a culture of mediocrity is fostered, nor difficult to see why morale is suffering in the upper echelons of the civil service. If the PM wants to rewrite the civil service rule book then let him do so through 'proper channels' – but that would undermine the now well-established system of nepotism, favouritism and crony promotion - so we expect to see no change other than a further deterioration in the standard of governance.






Today's marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton is a perfect opportunity for a royal rapprochement with Britain's middle classes, say cultural critics. She's even called Middleton, what more do you want! But is the royal wedding really a new take on fairy tale romance? Does it reveal a less classist, more meritocratic Britain? The royal monarchy sure has lapped up this opportunity to rebrand its devalued image, especially after the tragic Charles and Di saga and public knowledge of the royal contempt for Princess Diana who took her sons into the real world to meet real people at charities, hospitals, and even McDonald's. Though Princess Diana lacked a royal pedigree, she was still an aristocrat. On the other hand, Kate's entrepreneurial heritage is the farthest down a royal has ever married. Nothing better, wouldn't you say, than a lovely commoner with coal miner roots and a degree in history to help erase memories of how Diana was treated and back the claim of a new beginning for the monarchy.

But in an era of austerity and looming budget cuts in Britain, does the middle class really see this as a new beginning? British Prime Minister David Cameron has declared April 29 a bank holiday. A recent spate of studies shows the wedding is likely to be a net loss for Britain due to the holiday and cost of services. "I don't want the day off; I have to earn a living don't I?" says a London cab driver. Wedding souvenirs and memorabilia are also not being bought at anything like the rate at the Charles-Di wedding. The commercial bonanza the wedding was supposed to be, it certainly is not, despite the hype. In fact, in recent polls, 31 percent Brits said they 'didn't care' about the wedding and 28 percent said they were 'indifferent.' The 22-page instruction booklet official invitees have received on how to conduct themselves during the ceremony certainly doesn't read like middle class. But why should it have to, some would ask. After all, the monarchy is practically Britain's only tourist attraction now. What else would you go to England for? The weather?







Sometimes I get tired of all this...commenting and pontificating and usurping newspaper space which I have been doing for the last 32 years, a veritable lifetime. So much could have happened in this period but the greatest thing about it is that virtually nothing has changed.

The surface appearance of things may have changed. But the underlying reality remains depressingly the same. The same language of politics, the same issues, or almost the same, in most cases even the same mug shots of the principal characters involved, the dramatis personae.

Sure, there were no cell phones then and no private television channels. And banks hadn't got into the business of providing easy money for auto-lending. But as far as ideas and problems are concerned we could still be stuck in the 1980s, the only difference being that many of the problems, like terrorism and jihad, which raised their heads for the first time then have assumed a more terrible shape since. Which in its own perverted way can be counted as a form of progress.

Problems recycled and, what's perhaps far more worse, the same cast of characters recycled. They just don't seem to go away. Reminds me of the Hugo quote from Les Miserables: "Is it then true? The soul may recover but not fate. Frightful thing! An incurable destiny."

Our incurable destiny seems to be to suffer the same parade of fools and clowns and dummies. And where elders depart, their offspring step effortlessly into their shoes. In our more hopeful moments some of us talk of alternatives and third options only to be left wondering what this means.

Under Musharraf the third option we got was in the form of the holy fathers of the MMA, more skilful political gymnasts than their lay brothers and sisters. Dummies in secular clothing, dummies in religious garb. Saviours in uniform. Agency boys talking about the national interest as if they own it, or alone understand it. The sameness of this routine is enough to drive one mad.

What is it with Pakistani politics? Surely we could do with a better and greater infusion of talent? It's not as if there is no talent in this land. There is no shortage of smart Pakistanis: educated, clever, articulate, the right ideas in their minds, their hearts in the right places. But why don't we get to see this in the political arena?

Next to the entrance leading to the floor of the National Assembly are extracts from Jinnah's August 11, 1947 speech, in which he made a plea for a secular state. No one pays the slightest attention to this exhortation, so what's the point of having it there? Far more relevant would just be this declaration: brevity is not the soul of wit.

And why do I say this? Because some of the speeches are a nightmare: tedious, long and repetitious...long on anger, short on reasoned argument. But then why should we be surprised? The pithy comment, the gift for under-statement – the ability to make your point without protesting too much and without always sounding angry with the world – appear to be notions beyond our reach or grasp.

This is a change for the worse. I remember Ayub Khan's National Assembly and the 1970 assembly. The quality of debate was far higher, with a greater display of wit and irony. This National Assembly, made soporific by Prime Minister Gilani's distribution of lollipops to everyone across the house, appears to be singularly humourless. Anyway, to each his own. If this is what we have, this is what must be endured. Although, I can tell you, the endurance is not easy.

And, as an aside, why must the prime minister be always on his feet, always speaking? It is not good to answer everything. It is not good to speak every day. If you do, your words are robbed of any impact that they may have. But, as I said, the motto of this assembly, especially as far as the front benches are concerned, is brevity is not the soul of wit. So perhaps Gilani is powerless before the force of this dictum.

But enough of this. Only recently did I come across the Coke Studio production of "Alif Allah" sung by Arif Lohar and the very fetching Meesha Shafi. It's a work of pure joy and really sweeps you off your feet. I mention this because if we have young people producing such things in music and the arts, if we have young Hadiqa Kayani singing "Booyey barian" (this was some years ago) and Shazia Manzoor (where art thou?) with her "Chan makhna" and "Diya bale saree raat", to mention only these, because I could go on and on and the list would be long, why can't the same quality of talent come into the realms of administration and politics?

I don't find an easy answer to this question. Where are all the bright boys and girls going, all the products of LUMS, etc? When I go for meetings to Lahore – mercifully fewer with the passage of time – I feel like holding my head in my hands because of the kind of people one has to meet: self-important asses, which seems to be a fair enough description. About the political class the less said the better, although in the preceding paragraphs I may have said enough. So to repeat my question, where is all the talent going? Why are the realms of administration and politics turning into saline deserts?

These are not idle questions, because if we can't fix our politics, if the quality of decision-making doesn't improve, we are done for. The priorities we set, the goals we define, the allocation of resources, are all political choices. Public transport, government hospitals, government schools – what kind of money do we want to spend on these sectors? These are political decisions. So if we want to get things right, the quality of our politics, the quality of our national discourse, have to improve or the next 32 years will be a repetition of the previous 32. And when our time is up and others come to take our place they will be beating their breasts in the same manner and giving vent to the same lamentations.

The next two years are going to be crucial. There is a yawning vacuum in our politics. The last three years since the 2008 elections have been killer years, completely wiping out the enthusiasm which arose when the lawyers' movement was at its height and the Musharraf era was on its last legs and we thought that the shining kingdom was there before us, just around the next corner, just across the next valley.

All that heady feeling has gone and the political class, from one end of the spectrum to the other, stands exposed and discredited...not for the first time, this discrediting not being a new phenomenon, but with the added twist that the politically-interested have begun openly talking of alternatives.

In times past there used to be a yearning for military saviours, galloping horsemen issuing forth from the hallowed gates of General Headquarters and setting right the nation's ills. Thank God that delusion is over, hopefully forever. This was Musharraf's one great service to the nation: ridding us of the saviour complex. Now there is a yearning for some kind of a political saviour, someone like Bhutto, but not quite like him, emerging from the wings, sweeping all before him and laying the foundations of a dispensation dedicated to fighting corruption and redeeming national honour.

This is the fond hope. Imran Khan had only to call for a dharna (sit-in) against drone strikes and regardless of how large or small the gathering in Peshawar was, the chattering classes have begun excitedly to talk of a new knight on the horizon.

We should not under-estimate the Great Khan's ability to lose himself in the wilderness, or shoot himself in the foot. He has done it before. But one thing has to be said for him. A lesser man would have lost heart long many disappointments and so little to show for them. He has to be given credit for persevering.

Anyhow, there is a vacuum out there waiting to be filled. Either a brave adventurer seizes this opportunity or we can dine on cynicism for another generation.








Soon after the US started bombing the Taliban and their cumbersome guests in 2011, I called on a South American president to brief him on Pakistan's stance regarding the latest turn of events in Afghanistan. At one point during my presentation, the president waved his hand and said something I was expecting least. "I know, Afghanistan has been a place of quarrel in history", he said, completely changing the context of the interview. Nine years on, I can only add: well said Mr. President, because we are no closer to settling the quarrel in Afghanistan.

What is the fatal attraction that pulls invader after invader to this rugged landlocked terrain, only to leave exhausted without fully realising their objectives? Several of them conquered the land but never succeeded in subjugating the people. Not surprisingly, a French commentator once asked why the west was helping the mujahidin to combat a European power (the Soviets) when the Afghans could resist the invaders on their own because they simply 'love to fight'. Since 2001, it has been the turn of the latest imperial power to bite the dust in Afghanistan. Yet, until recently, President Obama characterised the war in Afghanistan as just in comparison to the unnecessary invasion of Iraq.

President Obama, having justified the mission in Afghanistan, ordered a surge in men and materiel as demanded by his generals, telling them at the same time to start thinning the forces in Afghanistan from July 2011. And there lies his dilemma. Obama cannot ignore the misgivings his commanders have over a unilateral draw down of forces which could negate the idea of a just war and weaken America's capability to deliver decisive blows to her designated enemies. Hence, the growing tendency to intensify the so called war on terror in Pakistan. Some Americans openly tell their administration that Al-Qaeda having relocated, US military operations should be directed at their sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The US military has its own reasons to sustain their involvement in Afghanistan up to and beyond 2014, the year designated for handing over responsibility for security to the Afghan forces. Nobody knows how effective the Afghan military and law enforcement forces will be in keeping control over the Taliban, local warlords, drug barons and other small time chiefs who can erect road barriers in no time. An outside security force will be needed to serve as a deterrent to all those who are hoping to benefit from a reduced profile of foreign forces.

An unstable Afghanistan will offer a strong temptation to the jihadis of different hues, who are now marking time in Fata or the Central Asian countries to regroup in Afghanistan, multiplying threats all around. Finally, we should not underestimate the desire of America's military industrial complex to continuing the operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is only by assessing the impact of these multiple factors on America's geo-political calculus in Afghanistan that Pakistan can plan its own strategy for striking a good bargain with Washington. The Pentagon and the CIA do not like the ideas of scaling down operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But they cannot overrule the political compulsions of a president preoccupied with his re-election in 2012. Nor can they dismiss the chain of reactions in Pakistan over their aggressive posture in this country. The logical conclusion would therefore be that while the US might scale down operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan over time, their military presence in Afghanistan would continue and we should not expect any let up in pressure on security forces in both countries to pursue their operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Admiral Mullen, therefore, opted to lay his cards on the table by emphasising that 2014 is not a definite date for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

It is time for a pause by all those who are busy forecasting a US rout followed by their departure from Afghanistan. Just like a power sharing formula between Karzai and Mullah Umar may not materialise any time soon, the war in Afghanistan is not ending quickly either. We should start looking at the US mission in Afghanistan as more in the nature of the last rather than the new frontier. Thirty years of warfare have changed the Afghan people unlike earlier wars in that country. The ongoing military operations and training programmes by western forces, supported by reconstruction and development activities by the UN system and NGOs could end up transforming the country as well as the Afghan society.

The economy is growing as a very traditional society is increasingly exposed to satellite television and the internet. The Afghan people may soon start thinking in terms of taking their destiny in their own hands. Just imagine the Afghan youth raising slogans in the streets against the foreign forces, the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, Hamid Karzai, Mullah Umar, Haqqani, Hikmatyar and the whole lot of them, with Afghan forces standing on the sidelines.

The writer is a former ambassador.










With the temperature rises of summer, the first instances of loadshedding are being experienced. Life, for those who can afford them, revolves around talk of generators, UPS devices and the endless challenges of keeping them functional. For the rest, there is of course no choice but to suffer.

Even before summer arrives in earnest, there have been protests in towns in Punjab over power outages that last up to 20 hours. Even in Lahore, cuts of three hours or so are becoming routine. No one appears to say exactly why it is so.

There are scattered claims of major flaws, other Wapda personnel say this is simply loadshedding, like the gas cuts in winter that had people cooking their meals on bits of wood. No one is willing to say precisely what the problem is. This, of course, adds to anxiety among people as to what may lie ahead.

Solutions seem to be in sight. India is reported to have offered to sell electricity to Pakistan. Surely nothing would be simpler than pulling a few cables across the Wagah border. But, mysteriously enough, no one seems to be jumping for joy at the prospect of power from India.

Is there an ideological reason for this lack of enthusiasm, we wonder? Are there fears that power from an "enemy" state could somehow seep into innocent minds and poison them?

Even though the offer has yet to take any concrete form, surely we should be doing more to push it through. For the same reasons every possible effort should be made to acquire electricity from somewhere or the other. Vague talk has been heard of obtaining this from the Central Asian Republics or Iran but nothing seems to have materialised thus far.

What is the reason for this? Why is there so much indifference? Is the lust for profit and illegitimate gain a factor? Is incompetence involved? It is evident that in this, as in the case of so many other crises, there are more questions than answers floating around..

Oddly enough, solutions such as exploiting the coal of Thar have not been adequately explored. Even work on smaller hydro-electric projects has not taken off at an urgent pace. The result is not only a dramatic disruption in domestic life but a devastating impact on industry and commercial ventures. Many businesses have been crippled already. Others will be, if things continue as they are now and more concrete efforts to resolve the energy crisis are not made.

The rather half-hearted approach we have seen over the past three years has led us nowhere. All that has changed is that the scale of the crisis has grown. And those in power seem to do nothing more than twiddle their thumbs and make occasional statements promising rapid change.

Chronic power outages affect many. But these are not the only examples before us of state dysfunction. We see dysfunction everywhere. Very little seems to work, and we are all surprised when it does.

Even a flight taking off on time brings delighted relief from passengers. Well-meaning travel agents with the interests of their clients in mind advise against flying with the PIA, given its tendency for long delays or even the sudden cancellation of flights.

Even though there is still good within the state, and in fact, plenty of it, much of it has dissipated within the pools of inefficiency and neglect that grow quickly in size.

While all these factors influence the lives of millions and consume tremendous energy and time, they are not the only examples of a state that has lost its map to the future. Take the case of the tribal areas; no one seems to know what is going on.

The issue of North Waziristan and the operations of the Haqqani network there have the Americans up in arms. The conviction that the ISI remains in cahoots with the aging warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons has now been clearly expressed – and denied. It is unclear if the civilian and military leadership sees eyes to eye with each other on this, or indeed other issues.

President Zardari, regarded as the blue-eyed boy of the Americans, must be concerned about losing the favour of his key ally. Certainly, he has few at home, and even traditional allies, the Saudis, judging by the Wikileaks documents and fly-on-the-wall accounts, do not seem especially impressed with either his intellect or his sense of protocol.

It sometimes seems as though we live in a kind of mad house. The attempt to reopen the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto case and the dishonour done to the former prime minister by having Babar Awan defend him, makes little sense. There are other matters that are far more important in our current times. There is also the risk of the whole matter being turned into a farce.


An attempt to retry the 1929 murder of Ghazi ilm-ud-din Shaheed has also been reported. Who knows what other cases, perhaps dating back decades or centuries, may be put before the courts – consuming time that could be better spent resolving today's problems.

We see also an increased collapse of the rule of law. The incident in Karachi in which a cracker was lobbed into the Defence residence of a trader who declined to pay five million rupees in extortion money, reflects still bolder action by the mafia that appears to have engaged in this business for many years. Quite evidently despite all the claims made, no one is able to stop them or protect those who wish only to go about their businesses without facing a threat to their lives.

There are other examples of a state of anarchy. We hear of them every day. In the north there has been little attempt to bring life back to normal for people who have remained caught up in conflict for years. An international agency reports that many school buildings are so badly damaged that children are unable to attend classes. The volatile security situation and the sense of fear left behind by the Taliban meanwhile mean that female teachers are reluctant to resume their professions.

So how will all this change? It is time to think deeply about the situation we face. Nothing can be resolved in one stroke but the process of putting things right needs to begin immediately. For now, there is no sign of this happening.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.










Pakistan's education fiasco has landmarks and watersheds: (i) The overnight nationalisation of private schools in 1972; (ii) the short-lived and ill-conceived experiment of redesigning the entire primary education system initiated by Air Marshall Nur Khan, who gained and lost the confidence of Z A Bhutto with supersonic speed; (iii) the emergence of a new kind of private schools during the Zia era which undermined all cultural and social values the education system had been promoting until then; (iv) the stagnating years from 1990 to 1999, during which education became commercial business; and (v) the emergence of the Commando-CEO and his handpicked people who imposed their vision of education on the country during 2000-2008.

The Commando-CEO's years from 1999 to 2008 witnessed the largest state investment in higher education since 1947. This was done mainly through the establishment of the Higher Education Commission in October 2002, by an act signed by the military dictator who had established his writ over the country through a midnight coup. Hardly a laudable start for a commission on higher education, one would say. But the most important aspect of this fiasco was the large shadow of Sept 11, 2001, and the immediate surrender of Pakistan's sovereignty by the Commando-CEO. This shadow loomed large over everything he did; the HEC was no exception.

Right from the beginning, there was a slavish mentality which accepted the superiority of everything that came from foreign sources. In many respects, it was a project funded by foreign money with a great deal of pomp and ceremony. There was hardly anything indigenous in the entire setup; even the task force which recommended the establishment of the HEC was largely funded by foreign sources, and what it recommended was based on a foreign model. The recommendation of the task force said: "A central body is needed for facilitating quality assurance of higher education in both the public and private sectors, and linking funding by the federal government for public universities to the quality of performance (akin to the principle used by the Higher Education Funding Councils in the UK)." (Emphasis added.)

Notice the uncritical, wholesale import of a model that had little relevance to Pakistan. What set the HEC apart from its predecessor, the University Grants Commission (UGC), was this foreignness, this hypertext, imported from the colonial masters whose own aims had been to set up an education system that would produce lower-level cadres of their administrative system. The UGC, disorganised, almost dysfunctional as it was, was at least an outgrowth of the local educational structures and environment; the HEC was a super body, which functioned at the will of a few handpicked confidants of the Commando, who rolled bullions of rupees of foreign money into this ill-suited venture. The result: a lot of pomp, self-projection, ad hoc decisions, zero-sum sham schemes which overnight created universities on paper, and some infra-structure development, which could have been achieved at the fraction of the cost. More importantly, it did what the foreign donors wanted: it siphoned off the cream of this country into their hands as slave labour.

This is an aspect of the HEC which is seldom talked about; in fact, the HEC takes a lot of credit for sending thousands of young Pakistani students to foreign universities on scholarships, and whenever numbers are recited, everyone claps: Bravo. Well done. No one was, or is, interested in asking the next question: what for? What would these young men and women do when, and if, they return home after this state-sponsored extravaganza, to a country where 60 million children cannot read and write and where electricity outage makes it impossible to have a midsize laboratory!

No one was, and no one is, interested in looking at the stark realities of this land, think through the fog of pomp and a maze of statistical uncertainties to fully comprehend the dimension of Pakistan's educational fiasco. All that the HEC did during the General's ad hoc rule over this land was act at a feverish speed to produce a systematic fiasco which has now blossomed.

This failure was evident in the way the HEC operated under the direct command of one person who had the General's ear in his grasp through sweet talk and hyperbole. It is true that the HEC did achieve a certain degree of success in putting together the basic infrastructure of the computer age in various universities. But given the amount of money it had at its disposal, even a medium-size private IT company could have done that at a fraction of the cost. It does not require a genius to buy and set up video-conferencing equipment and digital libraries, which are now increasingly available on the internet at no cost.

Those who created this last fiasco are no more running the HEC, but these "achievements," written in golden letters in HEC records, are still being highlighted on the HEC website. But the irony is that this sycophantic self-glamorisation uses a Prof Wolfgang Voelter or a Prof Fred M Hayward or a Prof Michael Rode to tell this half-illiterate nation that the years 2002-2008 were "Pakistan's golden period in higher education"! With such heavyweights, who figure nowhere in the educational scene of their homelands, no one is going to ask: why are these people telling us that we have suddenly achieved the impossible? How can they make these tall claims when they do not even know that 60 million children of this nation could have been taken off the streets with half the money spent on the HEC during these years? They have no clue of Pakistan's inherent social, economic, and educational dilemmas, nor do they understand or care about our urgent needs in this crucial area of national life. But, then, neither do those who have robbed this country of years of development opportunities and who joined hands with a military dictator of Pharaonic character, who knew it all, who could do anything, who was wisdom incarnated.

The writer is a freelance columnist.







The ups and downs of Pakistan's current political scene are interesting but have little bearing on what it will take to move the country forward. It is difficult to spell out the exact ingredients but unless fundamental decisions are taken in relation to politics, the economy, security and social development; no progress is possible.

The courtship dance between the PPP and PML-Q, the heat and dust over drone attacks, the continued target killings in Karachi and terror incidents in Baluchistan are parts of a troubled mosaic. They will contribute to Pakistan's future trajectory but success or failure will lie in achieving a national consensus on tackling the roots of our malaise.

It may be instructive to look at examples of nations that have progressed at great speed but even there it is not easy to discern a common formula. Since the end of World War 2, and rapid decolonisation, the success stories are mainly in the East: China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and others moving forward such as India and Indonesia.

But now so is Brazil in South America, which has been turned around in a decade, Russia after the end of communism, and even tiny Mauritius. Some are democracies – India, Brazil, Malaysia and Mauritius – while others such as Russia and Singapore are authoritarian. Then there is China, which is a unitary state under the absolute control of the Chinese communist party.

What is it that has propelled these countries forward and has kept others behind? Eric Li, managing director of a leading venture capital firm in China has this to say in an opinion piece in the New York Times: "In today's China, the individual remains part of the collective and by no means the independent and basic unit of society. Political power is not divided and balanced but centralised under a single political authority."

He goes on to add that China has adapted from the West the market mechanism to efficiently allocate resources which has resulted in high rates of growth and lifted millions out of poverty. But, pointedly adds that "those with political aspirations contrary to the collective objectives of the state and society are severely constrained, even repressed."

These views are not of a dissident but of somebody who lives and thrives in China. What he is reflecting is an elite consensus in the country that a centralised state apparatus will determine the trajectory of national progress and anyone who differs or comes in the way will be stopped by force, if necessary. He is not apologetic about this obviously dictatorial edict.

Singapore's great leader Lee Kuan Yew also believes in the state's firm control to move forward. While the island nation is ostensibly a democracy, it is openly authoritarian and dissent is not appreciated. The economic strides it has made are truly stupendous. Was it Lee's vision that made the difference, or tight state-control and centralised planning?

It is often said in our country that we too would have moved forward if we had a visionary leader like Jinnah, the unstated assumption being that a single far sighted individual makes all the difference. The Chinese have disproved this because after decades of Mao and later Deng Xiaoping, the communist party has been led by different individuals but the progress goes on.

Again, the authoritarian assumption - that dictatorships create better economic progress - has mixed results. It helped in China, South Korea, and Singapore but was a signal failure in Brazil, which languished under dictatorships and even Indonesia. Brazil's great leap forward has been under a democratic regime of President Lula and Indonesia's under elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Discounting the progress made in Europe and the US under democratic regimes - long democratic traditions, solid knowledge and infrastructure base – Japan's success also did not come under a dictatorship. India too has economically forged ahead in the last two decades under a democratic dispensation, as has Mauritius on a smaller scale.

What then are the lessons that we can draw for Pakistan, given that we face serious economic, political and security challenges. Some of these issues have been discussed at length in a book edited by Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan, Beyond the Crisis State. While there is general pessimism all round, the series of articles in it suggest a way forward.

Dr Maleeha Lodhi in her signature article suggests that an emerging middle class will coalesce into a strong democratic movement "spearheading an agenda of reform that aims to make governance more effective and also more accountable and responsive to the aspirations of its people". She acknowledges that the prospect of this may not appear strong at the moment but its stirrings are visible in civil society movements since 2007.

There are two assumptions made by Dr Lodhi, one that such a coalition of the educated middle classes has a possibility of emerging and second, that by definition it would be effective and efficient. To me, the first seems problematic and the second, possible, if indeed such a situation does emerge.

My cynicism about a middle class-based party rests on two grounds. The emerging middle classes are largely urban whereas the electoral spread in a parliamentary democracy is largely rural. This demography poses a huge challenge to such a coalition emerging.

Secondly, political affiliations of the people towards the parties they support congeal over long periods of time. There are some floaters in between who change allegiances depending on the circumstances but largely, party loyalty remains steady. This is true of Pakistan as of other democracies around the world. For a new party to create space is very difficult as Imran Khan's unsuccessful attempt so far demonstrates.

There is little doubt though that if such a party does emerge, which would essentially constitute a significant portion of the best and the brightest in the nation, governance would indeed be better. But the wait may turn out to be too long. There are governance and economic challenges staring us in the face and decisions have to be taken now, not tomorrow, or even the day after.

If governance does not start improving now, we may begin to sink into a state of anarchy. We are quite close to this, but are not there yet. If immediate attention is not paid to improving and reinvigourating the state structure, the decay may reach a point of no return.

On the economic front, the state finances face an existential crisis. Again, we are looking for the Americans to bail us out - Hafeez Sheikh says one billion is coming before June - but are not ready to take the tough decisions that will allow us to stand on our feet.

There seems to be no political consensus when it comes to improving the economy or tackling the challenge of declining governance. This is certainly not the way forward. Its opposite is. Is there any possibility of this happening?

The lesson to be drawn from global experience then is that the nations that are ready to tough it out through difficult times and take hard decisions are the ones that prosper. Those who do nothing, wilt and die. We have a choice to make.








Pakistan may not have the satellite-driven drone attack technology that the Americans possess. We do not have the slick unmanned aerial vehicles, which view, lock and eliminate the target from thousands of metres above the ground with a unique combination of callousness and precision. But who says Pakistan does not have its own drones?

Many of us know that American drone aircraft have two primary types, 'Predator' and 'Reaper'. We have our own 'predators' and 'reapers' who do not hit from up above the sky but roam about freely on the ground. Last week, when various segments of the right-wing party cadres and the youth who follow Imran Khan under the banner of his own designer Tehreek-e-Insaf, gathered in Peshawar for a sit-in against the American drone strikes, Pakistani predators and reapers kept on killing, marauding, cutting, collecting and hoarding, without any fear or hindrance across the country, as ever.

When the analysis of the sit-in, which also threatened to block the ISAF-Nato supply lines, continues unabated over the media, Pakistani predators have blown up another government-run primary school for girls in Adezai, just a few miles away from where the sit-in was staged. Five explosive devices were needed to pull down the three-storey building, funded by profane German taxpayers' money. This is the second school to be blown up during the past couple of weeks in the area and an addition to the hundreds of girls' schools destroyed in the province over the past few years. Predators also attacked two buses carrying naval personnel in Karachi. In the same city, a card playing club was bombed causing numerous innocent deaths. This is where men used to come for some respite in this exacting metropolis. On the whims of yet another kind of malicious and halfwit predators, considered political leaders in this city, people were perpetually targeted to be killed with precision.

Mukhtaran Mai, whose body and soul were ravaged by the predators nine years ago in a remote village outside the city of Muzaffargarh, found new reasons this week to fear for her and her loved ones lives because the predators are set free by a lopsided investigative and legal system. She is the victim of a state that largely keeps both reason and human dignity subservient to primeval beastly norms. The state that breeds, nurtures and let loose predators in this society while also keeping a special pedigree under direct supervision which could be used in places like Balochistan.

While the acquisition of mini drones from the Americans is being talked about by some officials of the Pakistani government, there are mini predators of local variety that already exist. In fact, they have penetrated Pakistani neighbourhoods and villages. One such example is the death of a six-year old girl Laiba, a housemaid, at the hands of her predator employers in a suburban neighbourhood of Lahore. She being only six, pissed in the kitchen for some reason. The employer couple beat her to death and threw her body in a ravine. Employed at six? Yes. That's where the role of the reapers, the more sophisticated Pakistani drones, comes to light. The reapers are members of the extortionist rich class who cut and collect all that grows from the seeds sowed by the wretched poor class.

Any outside intervention could only be stopped if we are strong from within. That strength will only come from redefining the archaic security paradigm, devising new economic policies and promoting rational thought. Whipping up raw emotion is the trait of moron politicos faking visionary statesmen.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor. Email:










POLITICAL stability is still a far off cry in Azad Jammu and Kashmirwhere fast changing developments are taking place with far-reaching implications for erstwhile popular forces in the state. There are indications that the monster of PPP is eating up not only other political parties but also the deep-rooted Muslim Conference and this could apparently lead to some fundamental changes in the set up in Muzaffarabad in the near future.

Adjustments and realignments are part of the political process but it is disgusting that known and familiar personalities are deserting their parent parties and making a beeline to join the PPP. Earlier, AJK Information Minister, who has considerable following in overseas Kashmiris reposed confidence in the leadership of Barrister Sultan Mahmood along with a number of other prominent people and on Wednesday Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Chaudary Anwar-ul-Haq, who belonged to PML AJK and Raja Ali Zulqarnain, son of President Raja Zulqarnain Haider, who hailed from the ruling Muslim Conference followed the suit and announced to join the PPP after a meeting with Faryal Talpur, President PPP Women Wing, in Islamabad. In fact, Barrister Sultan has unique leadership qualities and his residence has been centre of political and diplomatic activities even during periods when he was isolated politically. It was because of his proactive role, experience and credibility that foreign diplomats and media-persons remain after him to feel pulse of the Kashmir issue and latest developments taking place in this regard. We, however, feel sorry that the potent force of the state – Muslim Conference – which saw towering personalities like Ch. Ghulam Abbas and Mujahid-e-Awwal Sardar Abdul Qayyum, who emotionally and ideologically inspired Kashmiris all over the world, is being reduced to virtual non-entity because of inexperience, mercurial policies, immature attitude and boyish deeds of its present leadership. It is shocking that such a popular party is collapsing like house of cards and is unable to offer any resistance or pursue a strategy to consolidate its position. As the party had a vast following across the Line of Control (LoC), its fall has flabbergasted Kashmiris on that side as well and sending wrong signals to them. Anyhow, it is quite evident which direction this wind of change would ultimately lead to.







EIGHT NATO troops and a contractor were killed on Wednesday when an Afghan military pilot opened fire in a meeting – the deadliest episode to date of an Afghan turning against his own coalition partners. This is indicative of the growing frustration of the Afghan people over occupation of their motherland by foreign forces that are sending mixed signals about vacation of their aggression.

Wednesday's episode in Kabul was yet another incident of the recent history where leaders like Egyptian President Anwar Sadaat and Indian Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were killed by their own gunmen as they injured sensitivities of the local people. There is also growing realization in Afghanistan that under the garb of freeing them of the Taliban clutches, NATO and American forces have enslaved valiant Afghans and are humiliating and killing them at will. Reports emanating even from far flung areas of Afghanistan speak of deep resentment over trampling of their sovereignty by foreign boots and that is one of the main reasons that Taliban movement is succeeding despite brutal operation and suppression by occupation forces. At this point of time when the United States is dropping hints of starting withdrawal, the plan has further inspired local people to engage in acts that could expedite the process. It is certain that in the days to come such incidents would increase especially because the occupation troops are treating Afghans as their slaves and injuring their self-respect. It is unfortunate that such a saga should continue unabated during tenure of President Obama who emerged as a sort of hero for oppressed people elsewhere in the world. Obama pledged freedom for people around the globe especially Kashmiris but not to speak of Kashmir where Indians are trampling human rights of Kashmiris, his own troops are engaged in same brutalities in Afghanistan because he too has fallen victim to designs of neo-cons.







A fast growing Pakistani Commercial Bank- Summit Bank- has entered into an agreement with Xpress Money to provide instant free remittance facility to Pakistanis residing abroad. Millions of Pakistanis including Kashmiris are settled and working in many countries and they transfer their hard earned money to their families through different channels which is a major source of foreign exchange earning for the country.

Various banks have taken initiatives to channel the transfer of money of overseas Pakistanis to their mother country but the initiative taken by Mr Hussain Lawai, a leading banker and CEO of the Summit Bank is most innovative arrangement as Xpress Money is one of the leading money transfer companies with its presence in over 90 countries around the world. The facility would provide an optimum service which allows beneficiaries to receive the remittances from their loved ones in the fastest, safest and most reliable way. The Bank with a vast network of branches all over the country and Azad Jammu and Kashmir has also extended the working hours to 8.00 PM to deliver maximum facilities to its customers. Not only expatriates but their families would also welcome this admirable step as the amount would be sent through legal channels instead of the much maligned Hundi system. A Pakistani Government programme launched in January 2010 to encourage overseas Pakistanis to send money through legal channels has also started making an impact. Overseas Pakistani workers remitted more than $1 billion to the country in March, 2011, an increase of more than 38 per cent over March 2010, when remittances amounted $763.72 million. In the first nine months of the current fiscal year, $8.02 billion have been remitted to the country, up by over 22 per cent compared with $6.55 billion remitted in corresponding period of fiscal 2010. The State Bank had set a target of $ 9 billion for the year but the growth in the transfers of funds has outpaced this target and with instant money transfer facility as agreed by the Summit Bank, one expects that the figure would reach in the range of $11 billion to $ 12 billion and that would be a great service to the foreign exchange starved nation by the Bank and the Overseas Pakistanis.









The meaning of Tawakkul is expressed by the term taukeel (to make or appoint a wakeel or a counselor, agent, representative). When one lacks the understanding and ability for something then another is appointed to execute the task. Such appointment of an agent to act on one's behalf is the meaning of taukeel. Tawakkul then is to act in accordance with Allah's Scheme i.e. to adopt the principles and laws of the Shari'at, and to resign one's self unto Him. In every act or task, the means required for the task will be employed within the confines of the Shari'at and one's trust will be placed in Allah Ta'ala.

Tawakkul is a fundamental part of the Islamic Aqeedah. Putting our trust in Allah (swt) is a matter of belief and contributes to our view regarding this life. To make this point clear, some of the Ayahs are quoted as below. Allah (swt) says: "If Allah helps you, none can overcome you: If He forsakes you, who is there after that, that can help you? In Allah then, let the Believers put their trust." [3: 160].

And Allah (swt) says: "Say: Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us: He is our Protector: And on Allah let the believers put their trust." [EMQ 9:51]. And Allah (swt) says: "And put they trust on the exalted in Might, the Merciful." [EMQ 26:217]. Allah (swt) also says: "…Then when thou hast taken a decision put thy trust in Allah. For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him)" [EMQ 3:159].

All of the above Ayahs order Muslims to wholly and exclusively rely on Allah (swt) in their lives. It is only Allah who controls the Universe and both good and bad are His decree. The significant element that should always be kept in mind is the omnipotence of Allah (swt). Therefore our actions and the material resources available to us do not guarantee the outcome of any of our undertakings. For example our material and physical strength may deceive us into believing that victory in a battlefield is inevitable. The truth is that our strength or weakness has no bearing on the outcome of the battle, and it is only by the will of Allah that we become victorious or get defeated by the enemy. It was this firm belief that led a handful of Muslims during and after the time of the Prophet (saw) to fight so valiantly against a formidable enemy over and over again.

One may ask, why then do we strive to accomplish any task if we cannot influence its outcome? The answer is rather simple. The actions that we take fall into three categories: They are either obligated upon us by Allah (swt), recommended by Him or we are simply allowed to do them. The obligatory actions are taken because Allah (swt) has ordered them as compulsory. The recommended actions are taken to be rewarded in addition to the rewards we get upon accomplishing the fard. In both of these cases we seek to please Allah (swt), Actions falling under the third category are taken to achieve certain objectives we anticipate to fulfil. However, the certainty of accomplishing those objectives is not under our control. Therefore the cause of initiating any action is not whether we control its outcome. It is the anticipated goal we aim to achieve.

This brings us to an important misconception amongst the Muslims where some of them associate effort with having trust in Allah (swt). For example, it is a popular notion that earning provides rizq and Tawakkul in Allah (swt) should come after one has made a sincere effort to earn a living. Some of the Muslims who hold such a view often present the following Hadith in their defence:

A man came to the Prophet (saw) and said, "I will not tie my camel and trust in Allah" The Prophet (saw) said, 'Tie it and trust in Allah.'

This Hadith does not indicate any prerequisite for trusting Allah (swt). It does not, therefore suggest that somehow there is a link between people tying the camel (an action) and putting ones trust in Allah (swt). However, the Hadith conveys an important lesson to all of us: That while trust in Allah (swt) is absolute being independent of what we do it is our responsibility to act on what we intended to accomplish. In this case tying the camel was a right thing to do if the person feared that the camel would run away. Therefore he should have taken the precaution regardless of his trust in Allah (swt). Tying the camel does not take away from his trust in Allah (swt), irrespective of our efforts and the circumstances surrounding us. This belief should help us to this life according to the commands of Allah (swt) even if we face hardships in doing so. Disappointment, hopelessness should not daunt us because we have put our trust in Allah (swt), our Creator and the only Sustainer. Many Muslims indulge in the prohibited actions arguing that it is the only alternative; otherwise they would face disastrous consequences. Avid example is giving riba when buying a house on a mortgage. They regard owning a house as a necessity and we are willing to sacrifice Islam in doing so.

Many of us at times feel lost, depressed, distressed, lonely and abandoned and yet, are we really feeling as though we have lost everything? Imagine, perhaps, the new born child upon entering the world, leaving the comfort, protection, sanctuary of the womb. At that special moment when the first cry is heard, do we ever wonder how the baby feels. However, by the grace of Allah, that baby finds immediate comfort of the mother's milk.

Just like that baby we, too, in those moments of distress, have a source of nourishment if only we knew, Tawakkul, we must have complete faith in Allah and complete trust that Allah's plan is the best for us. There are those who think that by putting their trust in Allah, they can escape their god-given responsibilities.









Although society in Europe and in the US has evolved significantly since the period when that continent enslaved much of the world, so that today Europeans are among the most liberal and enlightened of global citizens, yet because of the grip of elites over the media, several times they fail to appreciate ground reality. An example was the widespread belief in the US that Saddam Hussein was the chief of Al-Qaeda, when in fact that terror outfit spent many years trying to assassinate him. The demonization of the secular Saddam by US and EU media helped George W Bush and Tony Blair finish off the Iraq strongman. These days, a similar smear campaign has been launched against Colonel Kahafi, which is so extreme in its characterization that many in Europe and the US probably believe that the Libyan strongman - for whom NATO has prepared the same fate as befell Saddam - has horns and hooves. In reality, Libya is a country where women and religious minorities are given equal treatment, and whose life expectancy matches that of many parts of Europe.

The monopoly of the popular narrative by the economic elite has led to the uncontrolled explosion of greed that caused the 2008 collapse and which is leading to a fresh disaster by 20 12. Already, the same small group of speculators who cheated international investors of more than$6 trillion are once again up to their old tricks, sending up the price of commodities and spreading hunger and misery across the globe. The use of force in Libya is a warning by the NATO elites to the Arab elites not to go the Kadhafi way and seek to diversify their investments into non-NATO countries. Fear of NATO action will, it is expected, ensure that fresh trillions of dollars will be entrusted by the Arab elites to the same banks and financial institutions that cheated Arabs of more than $1.3 trillion in 2008. This fusion of criminal greed (of course, legalised and encouraged in the US and in much of the EU during and since the Thatcher-Reagan era) and a 19th century propensity to use military force to keep the natives cowed has meant that several countries face the danger of subversion of their own interests at the altar of seeking to rescue the NATO economies from the pit dug by its own elite.

It is in such a context that the War on Corruption that is being waged by the people of India against their own governmental system assumes importance. So compromised has this system become that it has succumbed to alien powers, in the process sacrificing the future of the people of India. Although the Vajpayee-led government too was complicit in such a sellout, its own dismal record has been eclipsed by the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA, which has made India a meek camp follower of the NATO powers. As a result, the price of items such as pharmaceuticals and insurance has skyrocketed, because of the entry of the same criminal financial entities that caused the 2008 crash. When he was Union Finance Miniister, Palanipappan Chidambaram initiated an Open Door policy towards these dodgy enterprises, in the process making him their favourite for the post of Prime Minister, should the present open conspiracy against Manmohan Singh succeed in throwing out of office India's honest ( if ineffective) PM. As Union Home Minister, Chidambaram has silently constructed a web of regulations and laws so comprehensive that almost any citizen can now get arrested for some technical infringement.

An example is the internet. Although both print and electronic media in India remain submissive to the dictates of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, not daring to challenge her role in the deterioration of administration caused by the misfeasance and worse of her nominees, the internet has remained a point of irritation for her. Chidambaram has sought ceaselessly to sanitize the worldwide web of negative references to Sonia,but is falling back because of the sheer volume of postings. His new internet law makes punishable by long years imprison any internet user who dares to say more than "Our Leader Sonia Gandhi". The wording is so vague and general that almost any critical comment can be seized upon as an infringment, besides such hazards as accidentally opening porn spam. Through such laws, Chidambaram is helping to ensure that India loses its edge in the Knowledge Industry, for whose benefit is not clear. However, unlike in the past, these days more and more officials in crucial ministries are opening out in private about the misdeeds of their masters, and some of this is becoming public knowledge.

Given the reality that several politicians in India are dollar billionaires (and one even has wealth estimated by banking sources at $30 billion), there is disquiet at the top about the way the anger of the public is fanning the anti-corruption campaign. Unlike Germany or the US under Barack Obama, both of which took effective steps to check tax evasion through the use of external shelters, the Union Finance Ministry under Pranab Mukherjee ( who was a minister when Indira Gandhi raised the income-tax rate to 97.25% of income) has adopted an ostrich policy of refusing to even acknowledge the fact that more than $1 trillion has been stashed in Swiss banks by Indian citizens acting through their relatives or directly. Some Corruption Fighters are busy preparing a Public Interest Litigation that would target Mukherjee and his key officers for - in effect - sabotaging efforts at getting back such cash though the minister is not worried, certain as he is that he has the blessings of Sonia Gandhi in all that he does (or more to the point, does not do). The agencies working under him are giving the impression of going after graft, while in reality ensuring the escape of the financial scamsters who have looted India far more comprehensively than the British ever did. Small wonder, as agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and others are carefully manned with pliable officials who will leap to the bidding of VVIPs (of course, after taking a cut of the loot).

On record, Letters Rogatory have been sent by the CBI and the ED to a number of countries in order to uncover details of Indian citizens (though not yet their foreign relatives) having bank accounts and property there. However, officers say privately that such activity is an eyewash, and that word has gone to the higher levels of Mauritius, Seychelles and other tax havens not to take such Letters Rogatory seriously, but to ignore them or reply in a way that conceals far more than it reveals. This, they say, is the reason why India is having zero success in getting back illegal funds, unlike Germany and the US. Some even claim that the leadership of the ruling coalition has constituted an informal group of four Cabinet Ministers to "ensure that the drive against corruption gets sabotaged", and that those parking funds abroad escape. The names on this list comprise four of the most senior members of the Manmohan Singh cabinet, and the whistleblowers say that this "Ganfg of FouR" has been meeting regularly with a ruling party power-broker to steer the investigation into safe channels. Does such a Gang of Four operate in India? Only the future will tell. In case the official effort at accountability fizzles out, it will become clear that this is the consequence of deliberate sabotage at the highest levels of the Sonia Gandhi-led ruling coalition.

In 1993, the led was blown off a scam that involved 115 top politicians and civil servants. This was the Jain Havala Case, in which records showed that several VIPs and VVIPs used the Jain brothers to funnel cash to overseas destinations. Instead of any of them being punished, the individual who took up the scam — Vineet Narain — was arrested, humiliated, financially ruined and driven out of the country. Top officials colluded to ensure that the guilty escaped,while the whistleblowers were taught a lesson. The failure of then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to ensure accountability at the top meant that he had to face prosecution, calumny and criminal charges almost till the end of his life. A similar fate awaits Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in case he allows the Gang of Four ( assuming these reports are correct) to sabotage his efforts at ensuring that those responsible for corruption get punished, no matter how powerful they be. Of course, the record is not encouraging. During the Vajpayee years, two intrepid journalists (Tarun Tejpal and Aniruddha Bahal) exposed widespread corruption in the party and in the government. The Tehelka expose only resulted in both of them facing financial ruin, and in the case of Aniruddha Bahal, criminal cases that drag on to this day. So much for justice!

However, there is a change, and this is the fact that these days, millions in India have become so alarmed at VVIP corruption that they are refusing to be quiet while a Gang of Four once again sabotages investigations. They are collecting documents to target erring politicians and officials, and they hope to use the judicial system to enforce accountability on a government riddled with graft. In a cabinet where - in the estimation of this columnist - only two individuals are honest, it is laughable that so far only one Cabinet minister has gone to jail. Several others need to follow him, and will, once public anger translates into political change.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








According to the latest exposé by WikiLeaks, US authorities describe Pakistan's premier intelligence service ISI as a terrorist organization in secret files obtained by the British daily "Guardian" and "New York Times". The major fauxpas on the part of US reveals recommendations to interrogators at Guantánamo Bay rank the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) alongside al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon as threats. Being linked to any of these groups is an indication of terrorist or insurgent activity, the documents say. The documents dated September 2007 and called the Joint Task Force Guantánamo Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants state that "Through associations with these … organizations, a detainee may have provided support to al-Qaida or the Taliban, or engaged in hostilities against US or coalition forces [in Afghanistan]". It adds that links to these groups is evidence that an individual poses a future threat.

In November 2010, the "Guardian" had attempted to smear the ISI through speculative and baseless reports that US intelligence services had been receiving reports of ISI support for the Taliban in Afghanistan for many years. The Threat Indicator Matrix is used to decide who among the hundreds of Guantánamo detainees can be released. The ISI is listed among 36 groups including Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led by Al-Qaida deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri; the Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs; the Iranian intelligence services; and the Muslim Brotherhood. Though the document dates from 2007 it is unlikely the ISI has been removed from the current Threat Indicator Matrix. In classified memos outlining the background of 700 prisoners at Guantánamo there are scores of references, apparently based on intelligence reporting, to the ISI allegedly supporting, coordinating and protecting insurgents fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan, or even assisting Al-Qaida.

The documents detail Pakistan's support to the war in terror and extensive collaboration between the ISI and US intelligence services. Many of those transferred to Guantánamo Bay, including senior Al-Qaida figures such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attacks, and Abu Farraj al-Libbi, one of the group's most capable operators, were arrested with Pakistani help or turned over to American authorities by Pakistani intelligence services.

The memos rely on a variety of sources to make their case. Though the broad argument for releasing or detaining an individual has sometimes been made public during military tribunals at Guantánamo, the material underpinning those arguments has remained secret until now. Sources for that material include the interrogation of the detainee whose release is being discussed, as well as the records of the questioning of hundreds of other prisoners. Intelligence from elsewhere, including foreign spy agencies such as the Afghan National Directorate of Security, appears to have been extensively used. There is little independent corroboration for the reporting and some of the information is likely to have been obtained under duress. Systematic human rights abuses have been recorded at Guantánamo. The WikiLeaks exposé revealing the alleged ISI support for insurgents, shed light on the thinking process of US strategists and senior decision-makers who would have been made aware of the intelligence as it was gathered. Many documents refer to alleged ISI activities in 2002 or 2003, long before the policy shift in 2007 that saw the Bush administration become much more critical of the Pakistani security establishment and distance itself from President Pervez Musharraf.

Take the case of the continued detention of Harun Shirzad al-Afghani, a veteran militant, placed in Guantánamo in June 2007 and the reasons cited by officials for his continued incarceration is that he allegedly attended a meeting in August 2006 at which Pakistani military and intelligence officials joined senior figures in the Taliban, al-Qaida, the Lashkar-e-Taiba group responsible for the 2008 attack in Mumbai and the Hezb-e-Islami group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Harun Shirzad al-Afghani was reported to have told his interrogators that in 2006 an unidentified Pakistani ISI officer paid 1m Pakistani rupees to a militant to transport ammunition to a depot within Afghanistan jointly run by al-Qaida, the Taliban and Hekmatyar's faction. According to Afghani, who was captured in the eastern Nangarhar province, the depot contained "about 800 rockets, AK-47 and machine gun ammunition, mortars, RPGs [rocket propelled grenades] and mines" and had been established "in preparation for a spring 2007 offensive". More than 230 western troops were killed in Afghanistan in the course of 2007; 99 between January and June.

Another WikiLeaks file pertains to a 42 year old Afghan detainee intelligence reports claiming that in early 2005 Pakistani officials were present at a meeting chaired by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the supreme chief of the Taliban, of an array of senior insurgents in Quetta, the Pakistani city where it has long been believed the Taliban leadership is based. Allegedly, "The meeting included high-level Taliban leaders … [and] representatives from the Pakistani government and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate," the document says. It adds: "Mullah Omar told the attendees that they should not co-operate with the new infidel government (in Afghanistan) and should keep attacking coalition forces."

Many references are more historic. A memo about another detainee, Abdul Kakal Hafiz, cites intelligence that in January 2003, insurgents in the Zabul province of Afghanistan received a month of training in explosives, bomb-making and assassination techniques from "three Pakistani military officers".

The "Guardian", BBC and "Telegraph" stories, which had earlier disclosed an Al-Qaida operative accused of bombing two Christian churches and a luxury hotel in Pakistan in 2002, who simultaneously working for British intelligence MI-6, has been selectively ignored. Adil Hadi al Jazairi Bin Hamlili, an Algerian citizen described as a "facilitator, courier, kidnapper, and assassin for al-Qaida", was arrested by Pakistan in 2003 and later sent to Guantánamo Bay. It is important to note that the baseless allegations are from those terrorists who were arrested by Pakistan and are likely to badmouth the ISI. Moreover, it appears that only those documents have been released to the western media, which show the ISI in a bad light, and hide the human rights abuse, by CIA at the cost of the ISI.







People know Imran Khan but they hardly know about his plans on national issues. Pakistan wants to see Imran's economic plan and the team that will run country's economy. Pakistan is following a capitalism based economic system that is linked to the dollar based financial system which fuels inflation, unequal distribution of wealth, poverty, unemployment and price hike which translate in social and economic challenges at the individual and the state level. Britain used the local resources to become an economic power. Therefore, Imran should tell Pakistan which economic system he supports and why?

There is a need for clear policies on banking sector. Our leaders should take clear stand on government control of State Bank, restricting local banks to retail banking and barring them from investing account holders money to make profit for individuals and transferring the losses to taxpayers. Reportedly, management of public sector banks is drawing six digit salaries which is having adverse impact on the efficiency of banking sector, national savings setups and national economy. Public wants to see the road map to hold heads of State Bank, Securities and Exchange Commission and bank managements accountable for their failures resulting in inflation, debts, loan and scams. Similarly, political leaders should show the prospective candidates for such posts.

By definition, modern and democratic governments are responsible for the "equitable distribution of wealth" but our government is helping individuals to accumulate national wealth. Imran should explain to the public how he plans to protect social and economic interests of the public, end privatization of national assets, restore uniform pay scale, revive unions and protect rights of the workers. Reportedly, unions are unable to protect rights of their members, judiciaries discourage class action suits and employers refuse to respect right to protest and assemble. How he plans to help public stand up for their legal and constitutional rights.

Public would like to know Imran's position on urban-rural policy and enactment of land reforms so that public can benefit from modern banking system on line of advanced economies. It will help reduce poverty, document economy, expand tax net, fight corruption and strengthen economy. Reportedly, less than 9 percent Pakistanis have access to banking services including bank accounts. Beijing has started improving basic infrastructures in rural China including health care, education, electricity, IT, telecommunication and justice system to ease pressure on basic services of major urban centers. According to Turkish PM, Istanbul could split in two due to growing city strains (April 18, The Guardian). Karachi is already a case in point. Pakistan's 62 percent population is living in rural areas and 36 percent in major cities. Our political leaders should tell the public the number of jobs each political party will create and how. Pakistan has over 29 million family units. Today, 90 percent of Pakistanis are living below $2 a day, which is the international standard of poverty. The growing number of dependents on food safety networks show challenges of unemployment and poverty. In addition, people would welcome details of plans on value addition in sectors like dairy, meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, fruits, looms, cotton and textile.

Public wants to know how Imran plans to devolve education to provinces in accordance to the 1973 Constitution. People would like to see a clear policy on education addressing issues of language, decentralization, standardization and reducing cost of all types of educations.

Pakistan would like to see Imran's policies on energy, transport and railway system to cut oil imports by 70 percent with the adoption of renewable energy, metro train services and railway as strategic mode of transport. Japan nuclear disaster and seismic activity has forced a review of construction of dams in China. Railway is six times more economical as compared to road transport. Its use can bring the diesel imports down to $3bn from $8bn. The use of railways as public transport system helps reduce poverty by 30 percent by allowing people to hire cheap accommodation, timely access to public services like education, healthcare and police. Reportedly, the rents and property prices fell by 30 percent in Dubai after the start of metro service. The start of metro services by the government in major cities will ease pressure on basic services and allow government to earn revenue.

Imran should share his policies on restoration of bureaucracy and expansion of judiciary. Local government and city policing have failed in UK and USA. Despite criticism, District management system based on 13- line departments has saved Pakistan from complete meltdown of public services and policing. City policing has failed to win confidence of the public. Sialkot tragedy is the poster child of city policing. The use of armed forces in aid of police and reports of its mega corruption shows that police has failed to perform its duties independently. Therefore, it merits to be returned under district magistrate. The return of magistracy system will help hold police accountable, control crime and protect public. Furthermore, it is need of the hour to expand existing network of courts to bring culture of justice, accountability and transparency in the country.

Pakistan needs a clear foreign policy. All political party heads should spell out their policies on America, regional interests and energy corridors. Reportedly, several pipelines are ready to link Gulf States to Europe through Russia. It will strengthen causes of Palestine, Kashmir and Iran. By establishing road, rail and sea links with China, CARS and Russia, Pakistan can become gateway of Asia with Gwadar as its hub. It is real challenge for our leaders. It explains West's support for puppet regimes. Imran needs to come up with a clear plan to win public support to succeed or else his fate will be no different than most leaders of the past.

Finally, the people of Pakistan know Imran Khan as a player and a social worker but they know very little about his views on economy, education or women rights. Similarly, our young generation knows very little about view of other political parties. Therefore it is need of the hour that leaders of major political parties make their views public on America, drone attacks, NRO, and judiciary so that public can stand up with them to promote democracy, protect national interests and strengthen Pakistan.






"…God told me to hit Kalmadi…" Slipper Thrower

Poor Kalmadi, there he was being escorted to jail in the most undignified manner, and he, trying to act as if it was an everyday affair when out of the blue comes a flying slipper which nearly hits him squarely in the face, and if this indignity wasn't enough, the man tells the world that, god told him to hit Kalmadi!'

Kalmadi lodged in some cell in some jail must be trembling to think that now even the heavens have started battering him! But lets leave the former chief of the Commonwealth Games, and move to the man Manoj Sharma, taken into custody for throwing a slipper, lets imagine him in front of some police inspector: "So Sharmajee why did you throw the chappal?" "Because god told me to!"

"God told you to throw a chappal on Kalmadi?" whispers the inspector and beckons his constable to remove Sharma's handcuffs. The constable does it reverently and respectfully after all you don't want to fool around with someone god talks to, do you? And dear reader, all the slipper thrower needs do in our country is to continue in the same trend and line of excuse, blaming god for his deed, and he will soon be given a cup of tea, biriyani and maybe even acquittal!

You don't fool round with people who invoke the name of god! Personally, I doubt any religion teaches the use of force, and if this slipper thrower heard such a voice it certainly was not a godly voice, but apart from this man there are many who use God's name to try and get away with some such act or belief. Sometime back, two ladies started a prayer group in the area I stay in, and one day had a big fight, the next day, one of the ladies told me that in the night God came to her in a vision and told her that the other lady was of bad character.

"Was it really God?" I asked her. "Of course it was!" she said looking at me angrily. "How well do you know God, that you recognized Him in your dream?" "I know God very well!" "Tell me about God's character?" I asked. "How can I tell you about His character?" she asked, looking confused.

"By reading all about your God in the Holy Book you follow! If you don't know the character of God how do you worship Him, how do you know that it was God who came to you last night and not some silly dream you had?" Before we believe in the words of all and sundry who throw God at us, study about Him deeply, know His character, think whether your God is such who would advise somebody to throw a slipper at another person, ponder whether any god would want you to hurt another even he or she is of another religion, read, know, think and when you get to know the character of God, expressed so well in all the holy books, then follow Him in the right way, without need for slipper, sandal or shoe…!









Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin talks the talk on improving the lot of Aborigines trapped in dysfunctional bush communities. She knows government assistance must be matched by individuals committed to improving their circumstances. And she has walked the walk, continuing the Howard government's Northern Territory intervention, which committed resources to improving health and cracked down on sexual violence, substance abuse and child neglect. Ms Macklin's policy of quarantining welfare payments, to ensure recipients feed their children, not their addictions, addresses a problem too long ignored by the welfare lobby.

But it is time for Ms Macklin to pick up the pace. Certainly the intervention has had some successes. Some 1700 welfare recipients whose payments were quarantined have turned their lives around and now properly provide for their children. School attendance rates are close to 100 per cent in targeted communities. But the intervention has not transformed the Territory. Alcohol abuse and the violence that accompanies it is still endemic in some indigenous communities, especially around Alice Springs. It will take a generation before children growing up in communities where welfare is a way of life learn this need not be the norm. Above all, as Cape York leader Noel Pearson points out, public servants make too many decisions, rather than local leaders with the moral authority to push through change. Last October this newspaper revealed the intervention had led to a doubling in the number of public servants working on indigenous assistance in the Northern Territory.

Ms Macklin's task is to address such issues in a second intervention. Securing support for it should not be difficult. Last night Opposition Leader Tony Abbott called for a renewed effort. In contrast, indigenous opposition seems strongest among urban Aborigines in the universities and public service, men and women so removed from remote communities they focus on the intervention as a breach of UN agreements. As the minister responsible for the most disadvantaged Australians, Ms Macklin is obliged to ignore these critics. She should take Mr Abbott at his word, consult with indigenous leaders on the ground and get moving. The need for the Northern Territory intervention is nowhere near over.






Strange it is that on a day the head of the Church of England is overseeing her grandson's wedding and probably hoping for progeny to extend the line, the Anglican Church of Australia has been forced to defend its faith in procreation. A submission to government by the general synod's public affairs commission suggests the axing of the baby bonus and "any policy that provides an incentive specifically and primarily to increase Australia's population". It also wants immigration cut and repudiates economic growth via population growth.

This is symptomatic of the short-sighted "small Australia" mindset that both major parties pandered to at last year's election. The suggestion that our vast, richly resourced and innovative nation is somehow nearing capacity is as foolish as it is selfish. Clearly we have the space and resources to expand our population, and a charitable, even Christian, interpretation of our global responsibilities might suggest we have a duty to share our prosperity with as many people, native-born and immigrant, as possible.

The Australian supports a big Australia and, while we need to sensibly manage our population growth and infrastructure provision within economic and environmental constraints, we are a long way from capacity. Population growth is vital for our economic development and the baby bonus has won bipartisan support as a practical way of supporting and encouraging families. And families, we are unashamedly old-fashioned enough to point out, are the best form of social welfare anyone can rely upon.

Independent MP Tony Windsor is a longstanding baby bonus critic and has welcomed the latest call, which will no doubt win support from fringe green groups who have a "small" vision for Australia. The church realises the anti-baby bonus and anti-immigration submission to the government's population strategy will offend some of its flock and so is quick to point out these views were not endorsed by the general synod but merely proffered by a "special think tank". It is too easy for politicians and others to prey on people's social, economic and environmental anxieties and suggest all will be better if we can just keep more of this land for ourselves. The truth is our prosperity, influence and ability to develop and manage our environment all depend upon a dynamic population.





REPUBLICANS and royals can unite over a happy occasion.

Pomp and circumstance aside, at the heart of today's royal wedding is the joy and optimism of two young people pledging to devote their lives to each other. Perplexing as it might seem, even to the couple themselves, millions of people around the world happen to share in their hopes and happiness. Taken in the appropriate spirit, this can only be a good thing.

The last time a royal ceremony attracted this much attention was almost 14 years ago for the funeral of Prince William's mother Diana, Princess of Wales. On that sad occasion the sympathy of the world rested on the shoulders of the 15-year-old prince and his brother Harry walking behind the coffin. So the goodwill, and even proud thoughts, of millions of strangers will accompany this young man as he walks down the aisle of Westminster Abbey on an altogether happier occasion.

On one side of the metaphorical aisle the cynics will scowl, disappointed only that the ABC was blocked from broadcasting a mockery of the whole event, and on the other side no doubt many addicted to celebrity will over-indulge in gossip and hype. Somewhere between will be most Australians, wishing the young couple a contented future, enjoying some of the glamour and pageantry, marvelling at the enduring nature of the British monarchy, and admiring the fact that Prince William seems to have inherited much of his grandmother's dignity and all of his mother's charm. Many gathered around televisions tonight will look at his elegant and sensible bride, Kate Middleton, and simply say, he has chosen well. Good on them.

While the ultimately sad story of Lady Diana Spencer has often seen Prince Charles and the royal family derided as cold and calculating, this same family must take some credit for the apparently fine young man William has become. Aside from all the hoopla and the public's voracious enthusiasm, it is after all a significant family day for the royals, the Middletons and, of course, the Spencers. For Kate's sake, let us hope lessons have been learned.

Here in the antipodes it is only natural that this occasion, involving in leading roles our current head of state and at least our next two, should prompt some discussion of the push for an Australian republic. As our Newspoll showed this week, the mood for change is not strong and has, in fact, been on the wane. Some of this can be attributed to respect for the royals but much also to a benign lack of interest.

The Australian continues to support a non-hereditary and Australian head of state for our nation but we recognise also that the current constitutional arrangements have served us well. Given the great challenges confronting us, not least the indigenous disadvantage discussed below, it is understandable that Australians are in no hurry. The republic is simply not a first-order issue and may not be again for some time.

So today represents more than a fairy tale. Many Australians will look to the royals with a strong fealty, grateful for their stability and mindful of the duty they and their antecedents have shown in times of trouble, epitomised by Prince William's late great-grandmother in London during World War II. Those of us who don't share those loyalties would do best not to mock but just to switch over and watch the footy.







IT COULD have got a bit nasty, given the pressures on Julia Gillard to put her stamp on foreign policy and her inexperience in the field, but the Prime Minister's visit to Beijing has shown both sides determined to make the best of the fast-expanding relationship between Australia and China.

Gillard has essentially returned Canberra's handling of the relationship to the patient, pragmatic and optimistic approach that her predecessors have found to be the best, ending the prickly tone in some of the messages of the former prime minister Kevin Rudd. With China becoming Australia's biggest trade partner two years ago and now taking 25 per cent of our exports, and Australia a crucial source of raw material and energy supply for China, there is every reason to look to the positives and work towards averting negative developments.

On the economic side, there seem few concerns that cannot be worked through. The sudden rush of Chinese investment bids after the 2008 global financial crisis rang alarm bells here, and caused a scramble to refine foreign investment policy in Canberra, particularly about government-controlled corporations and cornering strategic commodities. The strong turnout from China's biggest corporations and its sovereign investment fund for Gillard, and its professed interest in building infrastructure, suggest Australia is still seen as hospitable.

It is more in the security outlook that clouds, or at least haze, form. Defence white papers by Australia in 2009 and New Zealand last year see America's dominance of east Asian seas contested by rising Chinese military power. Few strategists see the US withdrawing from Asia, or China achieving the primacy America has wielded since 1945, but they generally see a region more like late-19th-century Europe with a balance of several powers.

Canberra has sought to slow the transition. Its 2009 white paper signalled a much more muscular defence force. It has encouraged a more ''visible and effective'' US military presence throughout south-east Asia and the Indian Ocean. Before arriving in Beijing, Gillard promoted closer defence co-operation with Japan and South Korea. From articles in Chinese media, this has rankled. But Beijing's leadership has obviously realised its assertive claims last year to the South China Sea, and jostling American and Japanese ships, was an overreach. It rang alarm bells around Asia, and sharpened an edge of concern here about China's rise. The expanded defence co-operation between Australian and Chinese forces agreed in Beijing will clarify Beijing's long-term strategic vision, and offset legitimate Chinese worries about being ringed by hostile forces.





THE Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme has given Australians affordable access to drugs necessary for curing, lessening, or at least arresting or slowing, ailments, regardless of individual capacity to pay. Its reach is meant to be universal and non-discriminatory, provided the drugs are available to the PBS at cost-effective prices.

The architecture of the scheme - devised in 1948 and implemented in the Menzies era when doctors were assured the government was not hell-bent on socialised medicine - does not neatly accommodate a mechanism for cutting costs simply by shutting the door on new pharmaceuticals, seemingly without consideration of the urgency of need. Yet this is precisely how the federal government seeks to massage cost pressures ahead of bringing down its budget on May 10. To date, taxpayer subsidies for

13 new medicines - for conditions ranging from colon cancer to bipolar disorder - have been deferred by the cabinet while money men calculate the effect.

This is dangerously close to a last-on, first-off approach to deciding who gets a shot at survival and who misses out. And if the PBS is cracked, the system would need fixing from its roots up. Meanwhile indiscriminately locking out newcomers, waitlisting medicines recommended by the government's Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, is neither fair nor effective.

Slashing the PBS is of questionable efficacy and urgency, especially as fears of skyrocketing, uncontrollable costs have eased, thanks in part to the take-up of cheaper generic brands. Costs have blown out, to be sure, mostly because doctors preferred newer, more expensive medication, even when clinical value was not commensurate with the price gap, and the drugs were prescribed for conditions outside approved use.

At its start, the scheme's subsidy of 139 medicines cost government $7.6 million a year, in today's dollars. Now the cost to government is $6.5 billion, $1.3 billion is carried by patients' co-payments ranging between $5 and $34 a prescription, and about 700 medicines are subject to subsidies that can run to thousands of dollars a treatment. But the rate of growth has slowed in the past few years, and that is a move in the right direction.

In prioritising savings, the Commonwealth is blindsided by our two-headed health system. Better drugs, better targeted - and these pharmaceuticals are subjected to the most rigorous cost-effective analysis of any arm of medicine - dramatically lessen hospital admissions and hospital stays, easing federal and state budgets which jointly fund public hospitals. PBS generosity is not a one-way street. What costs in one hand saves with the other.






Royal weddings, like London buses or St Kilda premierships, are preciously few and far between and always worth noting, indeed celebrating. As it will be at around 8pm tonight Melbourne time, when Miss Catherine Middleton arrives by car at the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey and, an hour or so later, leaves in a state carriage as the wife of Prince William of Wales, the second in line to the throne.

In what has been called ''the wedding of the century'' - an ambitious phrase to apply to a century that is only just over one-tenth completed - this event has already captured the hearts and minds of millions, if not billions, of people around the world. If the power of this single event could be harnessed to the national grid, Britain need not worry about energy sources until the next millennium. It must be said the British do these things extraordinarily well, and today's display of pomp and circumstance, enlivened by a goodly dash of good old-fashioned showbiz hype, is unlikely to be a letdown.

Unfortunately, a few preliminary drops of rain have blighted this royal parade in the form of cold water sprayed directly from Clarence House, the private office of the Prince of Wales and his sons, Princes William and Harry. Surprisingly - indeed, incredibly - stringent contractual restrictions on the wedding broadcast have led to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation having to scrap its ''alternative'' coverage by those anti-establishment dissidents, the Chaser team. The royal press office not only demanded the ABC cancel its plans, but it then contacted the broadcast suppliers, including the host network, the BBC, to ensure the ABC would have no access to footage if it allowed the Chaser to proceed. Such egregious, off-with-their-heads behaviour can only serve as a reminder to anyone prepared to disregard the flaws in the monarchy system that such imperfections still do exist. In the event, this nonsensical royal decree not only serves to make the institution itself appear humourless, but, as far as Australia is concerned, has exposed a valid point in favour of republicanism.

None of this will, of course, distract from the day itself. Only the churlish would wish Prince William and Kate Middleton less than happiness: indeed, their union embodies the qualities of hope and contentment that should accompany any bride and groom not only at the altar but in their future life together. It has to be hoped, however, that the couple are allowed sufficient freedom from the public gaze to enable them to begin married life in a relatively calm way - unlike the continual frenzy of attention lavished on William's late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. It is nearly 30 years since Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were married at St Paul's in a ceremony that, at the time, augured well for the future of the monarchy. A lip-reader caught the groom saying to his bride as they walked down the aisle, ''I told you everything would be all right.'' Sadly, inevitably, that was not to be.

That the same hopes are being expressed for a generation down is not, we hope, merely wishful thinking but something stronger and more appropriate to these times. After all, among the explosions of genuine affection, this young and refreshingly spontaneous couple deserve more pertinent tributes than the one apparently dashed off in 1981 by then poet laureate John Betjeman: ''Blackbirds in City churchyards hail the dawn,/Charles and Diana, on your wedding morn.'' Perhaps a more appropriate couplet for today might be: ''Kate's getting married, and here's the kicker/A sparkler that's worth a million nicker.'' Or would Clarence House deem that too satirical for recitation?

It is tempting, but mistaken, to believe great changes have been wrought between these royal weddings. As The Age's then European correspondent, Peter Smark, wrote on July 29, 1981: ''To a country racked by racial and class division, gripped by the past and fearful of the future, fallen victim to economic experiment under the guise of government, the distraction is crucial.'' As it continues to be, although no one is pretending today's wedding is in any way a panacea to Britain longer-term social and economic problems.

The Australia of 1981 was still recovering from a constitutional might-have-been: the possibility the king-in-waiting could have become governor-general. Three decades later, in an even more independently minded Australia, it may seem contradictory of a republican newspaper to congratulate the prince and his bride; but we do so with affection, if at a distance.






A future environment composed of free Egyptians, Jordanians and even possibly Syrians could wellfashion Israel's borders

The Arab spring has finally had an impact on the core issue of the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It came in the form of a draft agreement between Fatah and Hamas which took everyone by surprise. There are three chief reasons why, after four years of bitter and violent conflict between the rivals, Fatah acceded to all of Hamas's political conditions to form a national unity government.

The first was the publication of the Palestine papers, the secret record of the last fruitless round of talks with Israel. The extent to which Palestinian negotiators were prepared to bend over backwards to accommodate Israel surprised even hardened cynics. The Palestinian Authority found itself haemorrhaging what little authority it had left. The second was the loss to the Palestinian president, Abu Mazen, of his closest allies in Hosni Mubarak and his henchman Omar Suleiman. While they were still around, Gaza's back door was locked. But the third reason had little to do with either of the above: Abu Mazen's faith in Barack Obama finally snapped. For a man who dedicated his career to the creation of a Palestinian state through negotiation, the turning point came when the US vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israel's settlement-building. In doing so, the US vetoed its own policy. To make the point, the resolution was drafted out of the actual words Hillary Clinton used to condemn construction. Fatah's frustration with all this has now taken political form.

Israel's politicians reacted darkly to the news of reconciliation. From right to left, they shared an assumption which is out of date. It is that they retain the ability – and the right – to dictate what sort of state Palestinians will build on their borders. Having spent years fashioning the environment, the penny has yet to drop that a future environment composed of free Egyptians, Jordanians and even possibly Syrians could well fashion Israel's borders. Even after Mubarak fell, the consensus was that Cairo was so preoccupied with internal problems that it lacked the energy to make foreign policy.

Not so. Yesterday foreign minister Nabil al-Arabi announced that Egypt would shortly be lifting the siege of Gaza. These events pose a direct challenge to the status quo that Israel, the US and the EU have fashioned. Do they now subvert the will of the Egyptians they claim to champion? Does the US do what it did the last time Fatah and Hamas reconciled at Mecca, and pull the plug on the unity government? Do the Quartet threaten to withdraw the PA's funds, because, as is very likely, Salam Fayyad will no longer be there to disburse them? The US could twist Fatah's arm, but Fatah might just sign on the dotted line all the same.





A proper sense of perspective about where this wedding stands in the national scheme of things in the 21st would be very welcome and reassuring

The first thing to be said about today's royal wedding is unconditional. We wish Prince William and Catherine Middleton a long and happy married life together. From that wish, a range of other simple and unvarnished hopes – which strangers with goodwill towards any marriage instinctively feel – all follow. That the day goes well for the couple in every possible way. That today's pageantry is not marred by anything inappropriate. That the young couple's happiness is the day's focus and its abiding memory. That, from today, William and Catherine are now allowed some privacy as they accustom themselves to the private and public changes that their wedding heralds. We hope that today's marriage – and you may choose whatever meaning you are most comfortable with from this wish – will be truly blessed.

We also hope, in spite of this paper's continuing republican sympathies, that today's wedding can be a useful collective experience for the Britain over which today's couple may reign one day as King and Queen. After the hysteria, infantilisation and general disproportion that so often surrounded royal events towards the end of the 20th century, a proper sense of perspective about where this wedding stands in the national scheme of things in the 21st would be very welcome and reassuring.

Benevolent mood

In the past days and weeks, the public has shown rather more sign of possessing that good judgment than much of the media has done. This is not a fairytale moment. Modern Britain is not fairyland. A Guardian/ICM opinion poll earlier this week found only one in five Britons admits to being strongly interested in today's events. Three out of four, on the other hand, recognise that today should help to cheer the nation up a bit. The mood, in other words, is rightly benevolent, though as much for a welcome day off, and perhaps a bit of a party, as for any great constitutional issue. It is not entirely clear whether Buckingham Palace gets it. It would definitely have helped, in this low-key but big-tent spirit, if the royals had invited former Labour prime ministers as well as inviting former Conservative ones. That spiteful symbolic snub, alongside the tickets dished out – and in Syria's case withdrawn – to tyrants and their professional apologists, speaks volumes about a British ruling class which is slipping quickly back into its old ways now that the natural order of things has been restored under the Tories.

The future of the monarchy, though, is very clearly a matter for another day rather than this. When that debate comes, which it should and will – certainly before the next reign – the outcome will depend on events and personalities as much as on constitutional principle. The removal of the indefensible parts of the Act of Settlement is an early priority, and now has David Cameron's backing. Last weekend's poll depicted us as a people made up of a large majority of moderate rather than hysterical monarchists and a significant minority of not implacable republicans. But these sentiments are not set in stone. The monarchy's place in the British people's sense of patriotism is contingent. In a democracy, nothing should be taken for granted. Prince William and Ms Middleton, whose generation is less monarchist, seem more alive to this mood than the generation of Princes Charles and Andrew.

Recent royal history makes the cautious approach unavoidable. For all the understandable excitement associated with a very public wedding and national occasion, there is an equally understandable public soberness this time too. These are tough times for millions of British people. This is not a day for demented princess worship or for in-your-face state extravagance. Even if it was, the recent past inevitably casts a shadow over the occasion. As far as dream royal weddings are concerned, Britain is a once-bitten-twice-shy country.

Those who remember the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, 30 summers ago, will sense the welcome difference of tone this time. The wedding of 1981 was fuelled by excitement and generosity too. But it was also pumped up with an overdose of public adrenaline, much of it media-driven. This helped to create an unrealistically heavy expectation whose weight even a much better matched couple than Charles and Diana would have struggled to bear. Theirs was the supposedly fairytale wedding that became a wretched marriage with a tragic outcome. Human beings do not always learn from their mistakes. But the build-up to the wedding of 2011 has been a bit more restrained. And that provides cause for hope that some of the public foolishness and private misery of last time will not be repeated.

Back to reality

So, have a wonderful day. But stay real about it too. Any wedding is a statement of hope about the future; the grandest and most public wedding of this generation inevitably makes a bigger statement. But how big should that statement be? That the marriage of a prince and his bride somehow make everything better and more meaningful for the rest of the nation? That would be a profoundly false message. Away from the pealing bells and swelling choruses in the abbey, today's grandeur is largely vicarious. Hope is a commodity in short supply right now, even – and in many cases especially – among William and Catherine's fellow twentysomethings. In any generation there is room for only one king and one queen. Millions of the young couple's fellow citizens in their 20s, meanwhile, lead lives marked by student debt, by the difficulty of finding a secure job, of getting somewhere affordable to live, and of matching their lived reality to the material and emotional aspirations the surrounding culture sleeplessly and cruelly promotes to them. Not all of their relationships endure either.

Enjoy the big show. Good luck to the newlyweds. But the public mood is right. For most of us this is a day off. It is a day for a smile and a toast, not a day for standing to attention and tugging of forelocks. Tomorrow, and on every other day of the year, we will have to re-enter the world of reality.






Just about a year ago, the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering one of the largest oil spills in history. A year later, the full impact — economic, social, psychological and environmental — remains unknown. But the BP disaster, like the unfolding catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power facilities, is a reminder that risk is unavoidable and that we must better understand, anticipate and plan for crises. Thus far, we (as a species) have shown a remarkable tolerance for failure — even failures we did not need to accept.

On April 20, 2010, while drilling an exploratory well at a water depth of 1,500 meters, methane gas leaked into the bore hole, shot up the drill column and exploded when it hit the surface, killing 11 operators working on the Deepwater Horizon and injuring 17 others. The "blowout" resulted in a flood of oil leaking into the Gulf: It is estimated that 5 million barrels (about 779,000 cubic meters) of crude oil leaked for 85 days before the well was capped.

Experts and officials agree that the spill was the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Putting an exact cost on the damage has been difficult, however. BP, the owner and principle developer of the site being explored, set aside $20 billion to cover claims by victims of the disaster.

Thus far, it has received about 850,000 claims and dispersed around $3.8 billion. The handling of those funds has aroused controversy of its own, sparking claims that individuals have "gamed the system," introducing a new word to the Gulf Coast lexicon — "spillionaires." (For its part, BP suspended dividend payments last year for one quarter; even though the spill is estimated to have cost the company over $40 billion, it took a loss of "just" $3.7 billion in 2010.)

Most environmental experts concede that despite the magnitude of the disaster, the worst fears have not been realized and the region appears to be recovering. That does not mean that individuals and the environment have not been harmed or that we can say with confidence that all the damage has been done.

There are fears that another large storm will dredge up large amounts of oil currently in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. But one expert gives the waters 69 out of 100 points on an ecological report card, a reduction of just 1 point from before the spill. Fishing restrictions have been lifted and tourist bookings on some places on the Gulf Coast are 15 percent higher than reservations before the spill. This was "the ecological disaster that wasn't."

The real question is what lessons will be learned from this incident. The first and most obvious is the need to better appreciate the externalities that are created by our insatiable appetite for energy. No society accounts for all the costs associated with energy consumption. This is evident not only in the gap between liability limits and costs resulting from such incidents, but in phenomena such as climate change that exact a huge toll but for which we seem to make little accounting (literally) or take little responsibility.

A second lesson — reinforced by the Fukushima disaster — is the need to better prepare for disasters and crises. The U.S. government ostensibly learned what not to do from the Hurricane Katrina disaster (2005), although bureaucratic stovepipes, political ideologies and the complexity of relief operations still managed to frustrate efforts to mitigate the damage after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. (And that assumes that bureaucrats are actually performing their regulatory functions — a dangerous assumption given the appalling record of the U.S. agency charged with overseeing deepwater drilling.)

Capping the well required specialized knowledge that has little value outside a narrow community of experts: It may be unreasonable to expect governments to be prepared to respond to such crises. Yet relying on private industry to respond can be a fool's errand. Its priorities are different — focusing on the (private) bottom line rather than the public good — and liability concerns may result in suboptimal responses.

A third lesson concerns how to deal with risk. Deepwater drilling is an extraordinarily complex operation that demands risk assessment at a variety of levels, and while those operations may be integrated into a single process, there is frequently little appreciation of how they interact.

In addition to design issues, there are operational concerns, management challenges and regulatory questions. The layering of those perspectives does not necessarily reduce risk; instead, layering can create new stresses and magnify dangers. Compliance concerns — complying with the law to minimize liability — can get in the way of managing and reducing risk.

Ultimately, we must accept that there is no such thing as risk-free operations. But even if we have to increase our tolerance for uncertainty and negative outcomes, that does not mean abandoning efforts to minimize risk.

Publics need to be better informed about risk and ways to reduce them. Only then can we make proper decisions and be ready to respond when the inevitable occurs.







NEW YORK — The government of Bahrain has been conducting a systematic attack on doctors and other medical personnel, ostensibly because of the care they provide to protesters attacked and maimed by government forces. The United States, which has been quite clear in its criticism of repression in Syria, should now make it clear where it stands with regard to human rights abuses in Bahrain.

The Bahrain regime started its last round of repression following protests Feb. 15, and hasn't stopped since. As of the middle of April, more than 400 people had been arrested. Twenty-seven political opponents and protesters are reported dead and dozens are missing.

On March 16 the government imposed a state of emergency. Its security forces, backed by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, cleared protesters from Pearl Square in Manama, the kingdom's capital.

Government soldiers have taken control of Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain's largest public hospital. According to the government, both the hospital and local clinics are nests of radical Shiites intent on destabilizing the country. The result is that many sick people have nowhere to go.

The government's crackdown on doctors and medical personnel is probably intended to instill fear in doctors so that they will not take care of wounded demonstrators. Many doctors still respond to the mandate of their Hippocratic Oath, managing to care for the wounded, in many cases taking them to the hospital or neighborhood clinics in their own cars, rather than in ambulances, to avoid being stopped by the police.

Bahrain's campaign of intimidation and persecution of doctors runs counter to the Geneva Convention rules guaranteeing medical care to people wounded in conflict. A series of e-mail messages between a surgeon in Salmaniya hospital and a British colleague obtained by The Independent shows the extent of the abuse: "It has been a long day in the [hospital] theater with massively injured patients equivalent to a massacre. Things are still volatile and I hope there will be no more death," wrote the Bahraini doctor to a colleague in Britain.

The government has repeatedly denied that it is targeting doctors or medical personnel. But the opposition claims that plainclothes policemen target medical personnel at checkpoints if they suspect them of having treated protesters. The government is accused of having turned away a Kuwaiti medical delegation that was coming to the aid of injured civilians.

"Now we are seeing security lockdowns and attacks against hospitals, tampering with medical records, beatings of patients and arrests of doctors. This represents a serious escalation of violence against the medical community," states Human Rights Watch, which has been closely following the situation in Bahrain.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has denounced the abduction of three doctors by armed security forces. including one from the operating room while he was performing surgery. The whereabouts of all three are unknown. PHR has also found flagrant abuses against patients and detainees including torture, beatings, verbal abuse, acts of humiliation, and threats of rape and killing.

The government's repression is not only targeted at doctors. According to Human Rights Watch, unknown assailants threw tear gas grenades at the home of Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East Advisory Committee.

The grenades were identified as the Triple Chaser CS 515 type, manufactured by Federal Laboratories in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania. According to Human Rights Watch, only Bahrain's security forces have access to this type of grenade.

"In two decades of conducting human rights investigations in more than 20 countries, I have never seen such widespread and systematic violations of medical neutrality as I did in Bahrain," wrote Richard Sollom, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights for The Independent.

Given its close relationship with the Bahrain government, the U.S. has the right, and the responsibility, to help put a stop to these abuses.

Cesar Chelala, M.D. and Ph.D., is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award.






Those who visited their kith and kin during the recent New Year holidays in the North on their return to Colombo said people in Jaffna were hurting and wounded. These words have to be seen in the context of today's Sri Lanka.

From the urban poor we hear that in places like Wanathamulla even recently constructed houses have been destroyed. Those working with the urban poor say that Urban Development is unfortunately connected with Defence and therefore the work of demolishing houses is done under the supervision of the Defence Secretary and security forces personnel.Colombo's prime land is being sold and apartments to be built will cost the buyer several millions. According to Sri Lanka's Transparency International in the areas of bribery and corruption, Sri Lanka is moving towards a record high meaning that big people in high places are making big money on most transactions.

It has also been reported that there is a party political agenda in most of what is being done in Colombo because the urban poor have traditionally voted for today's main opposition party. With the people of Wanathamulla being shifted to Avissawella and Homagama, Colombo's political equation will significantly change.

As a former Peradeniya don now in Australia has been saying for a long time it is not only the minorities in Jaffna that are wounded and hurting. Although the Housing Minister claims or boasts that houses are being constructed for the poor and Sri Lanka is supposed to be a country well known in the international arena for looking after its people and their housing needs, the war victims are still languishing in camps and in tents in the Wanni.

Amid the wounds and the hurting, Sri Lanka is home to four major religions and many Marxist groups. Against this backdrop and the 18th Amendment in operation it can be summarized that most religious leaders have joined the caravan which is now heading towards Hambantota.

 In the midst of this reality our people are hooked into Bollywood, or Hollywood, the royal wedding  and the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket. So they may tell the wounded and hurting people in Sri Lanka what a former Queen of France is believed to have said that if there is no bread eat cake.

With the continuing euphoria of May 2009 and the recent World Cup it seems there is little possibility of government VIPs being concerned much about the hurting and the wounded people in the post-New Year Sri Lanka. The government is now mobilizing its forces to fight the United Nations, the United States, their allies and the Diaspora. Then what kind of redemption can the wounded and hurting people in Sri Lanka look forward to?






The UN claims that 'Mr. Ban has decided that he will respond positively' to the panel's recommendation for a review of the UN's actions regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates during the war. The modality of which is to be determined after consultations with relevant agencies, funds and programs. How concerned are you of such a mechanism coming to place?The UN can conduct its own internal investigations on responding to humanitarian issues. The value of such internal inquiries is to assess how the UN responds across the board, not in one isolated situation. The UN responds differently to countries favoured by the West, for example the UN response to the situation in Bahrain has been questioned by many. But that's the reality.

 Given the delays in the UN seeking similar mechanisms to bring alleged war crimes by US forces in Iraq or Afghanistan under discussion, is the allegation that the UN exercises double standards fair?

 The UN levelling allegations of war crimes against Sri Lanka in a report is not unique. It is a common challenge faced by coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russian forces in Chechnya and elsewhere in the caucuses, Pakistani forces in FATA and in Swat, Israeli forces in occupied Palestine, and Indian forces in disputed Kashmir and in its northeast. All these theatres have produced civilian suffering, injuries and deaths. As such, instead of singling out Sri Lanka, Colombo should call the UN to launch an investigation into all on-going major conflict zones especially Iraq and Afghanistan where as a proportion more civilians have been killed by US and British forces. Nobel laureate Mohamed Mustafa ElBarade former Director General of the UN body,  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), [December 1997 to November 2009]  called international criminal investigation of former Bush regime officials for their roles in fomenting the war on Iraq. Over a million civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fighting is still continuing.  Nonetheless, human rights have become a political instrument used by Western and other nations to pressurize other countries.

All armies today face such major challenges of fighting unorthodox adversaries using orthodox methods. Of the threat groups, the LTTE was a class of its own. To this date, the LTTE remains the world leader in suicide terrorism with an unrivalled over 330 attacks, pioneer in maritime suicide operations, the first terrorist group to use chemical weapons, and in the assassination of high quality leaders including two world leaders. Deceptive, cunning, and ruthless, the LTTE projected different faces to different audiences. Despite its appetite for unbridled violence for thirty long years, LTTE's capacity for access to the corridors of power, lobbying and campaigning is unprecedented.

While the British Tamil Forum, a LTTE front that supported LTTE's unlawful killings met with senior UN leaders, the Global Tamil Forum, LTTE's premier umbrella organization met with British politicians and US officials including Robert Blake. Sri Lanka especially its Attorney General's Department, Ministries of Defence, Information and External Affairs should build a significant international capacity to investigate support for terrorism, issue Interpol red notices and launch formal and an informal campaign to educate those politicians and officials that are being misled by these terrorist front, cover and sympathetic organizations. If determined, Sri Lanka has a huge capacity to disrupt and dismantle these LTTE affiliates that now threaten its security. 

You have continued to be critical of the role of the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry in effectively dealing with the post war situation in the international arena. How much did they falter in your opinion?

With the shift in LTTE activities from the domestic to the international arena in May 2009, the Sri Lankan government failed to recognize a new set of capabilities it should built to counter that horizon threat.  Today, it is paramount for Sri Lanka to re-engage (a) an important segment of the international community, notably the US, UK, and France; (b) the advocacy NGOs, notably Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International; and (c) the radicalized segments of the diaspora.

The Sri Lankan government should create within its ministry of external affairs a post of Additional Secretary for Public Diplomacy and appoint Ravinatha Ariyasinghe, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to EU, to head it. In addition to media, counter terrorism, this new division should include two new capabilities – diaspora affairs and NGOS division especially to keep advocacy NGOS such as human rights organizations briefed.  While harnessing its best minds, the Sri Lankan foreign office cannot fight this battle without bringing in a new set of highly skilled men and women to the frontline. They should not be relatives or friends or party activists but some of the best minds of Sri Lanka. In addition to retaining Minister Peiris as Minister, the President should bring in Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, an expert on human rights, to the Ministry of External Affairs full time until this crisis is over. The President should appoint former Minister Milinda Moragoda as his personal envoy to bring US, UK and France up to speed on post-war developments in the north and east and former UN Under Secretary General of the UN Jayantha Dhanapala as a presidential advisor to both engage the UN and advice government on the UN system. While Mr. Moragoda participated in all the rounds of talks with the LTTE, Mr Dhanapala was the head of the Peace Secretariat and they are fully aware of the ground reality of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is the only foreign ministry in the world without a proper legal affairs division.  The President should invite Anura Meddegoda, a former Prosecuting Attorney from Hague, as the Legal Advisor to Ministry of External Affairs.






Toiling away their day, producing goods for the export market, the free trade zones in the country, it is the workers in these areas who bring in the largest foreign currency to the country.

Though many say that we as a country could boast about the local labour laws that are established under international conventions, a question arises as to whether we can actually boast about the benefits the workers in these areas receive.  

Among the many who work with employees of the free trade zones, come horrifying stories of over work, inadequate pay and the non implementation of laws that are the workers right to a free and safe environment. Activists and trade unions alike do not complain about the laws, but they criticize the non- implementation and monitoring of these laws that lead to the exploitation of a female dominated work force that suffer the brunt of the benefits that do not trickle down to the lower levels.

The trade unions that do not form in the area leads to a large number of violations of the employees rights that activists point out need to be rectified. Even though the legal background is available in the country , many say the practical background is virtually non-existant. Many speak of the illegal over exploitation of salaries, the unfair treatment and the intimidation that takes place in some factories that adds to an increasing number of complaints that are made by those in the free trade zones.

'Trade union action is not an option that we can take'

Chamila Thushari

Programme Coordinator- Dabindu Collective

As the law goes workers have a lot of good laws, they have the EPF, gratuity, etc but if we look at it practically these laws are not implemented. If we look at the free trade zones, workers there don't have the right to freedom of association, there can be no trade unions and the workers there have collective bargaining agreements there.

There are close to 70 factories in the Katunayake area and there would be close to five trade unions in them all with maybe, three agreements for collective bargaining. Workers are warned right from the beginning that they will lose their jobs or benefits if they were to engage in trade union activities.

Now with the loss of GSP+ the situation has worsened. The productivity of one person is expected to increase twice as much and the workers are now giving the productivity of five years within three years. These are women that are working and are being exploited here.

Trade union action is not an option that we can take. The ones who have taken such action have been fired from their jobs or are in courts for what took place. We are a NGO and the employers don't even like it when workers take part in our activities.

Whatever rights they have, are those that were fought for and they won through it. The "kiri paya" is something that is there for some factories but not all, where some women are allowed to take a day off during the day and the evening to feed their new born babies. There have been many merciless acts taking place, such as pregnant women, have been fired under the guise of downsizing the factory.

The BOI increases their salary every year by Rs. 500 and even with that workers receive a salary of maybe Rs. 7,950 a month, with the OT they work they would get close to Rs. 10,000 a month, which means they have to work for at least 10 or 12 hours.

They increase the productivity of the workers by giving them benefits for the targets that they set out at the current target there is a product being completed every minute.

With the study that we did we have concluded that at least Rs. 20,000 is needed for this people but they don't receive even that. They need at least 60% of what they earn for their consumption and even with that they don't live under good standards.

There are close to 7,000 vacancies in Katunayake alone and an estimated 15,000 vacancies for workers in the free trade zones. If this was given an attractive package where workers were given a salary to live in there would be no such problem.

'Government must intervene to stop these women being exploited.'

Anton Marcus
Joint Secretary, Free Trade Zone workers Union

There are labour laws, it is not a problem of there not being labour laws but of poor monitoring and implementation of them. These women are exploited and the only solution is that the government should intervene to stop it.

Even though lawfully there is freedom of association, meaning that they have the right to make trade unions and fight for their demands through them but practically this is not the case. There are trade unions in some places but they are not recognised by the employers and that is why we say they actually don't have the freedom of association.

The current salary that they receive is Rs. 7,950 a month this is not enough and they need to be given a pay hike, better working conditions and better work environments. I know some of the factories have two cards for a person, that is show how many hous they have worked that is legal and how many hours they have really worked. 

An employee can only work for 60 hours a week and one card shows this while the other one shows the number of hours they actually worked, because most if not all of them work for much longer than 60 hours.

If women are to work after 10 pm the employer first needs to get their consent and then also obtain permission from the Commissioner General of Labour but this doesn't happen, most often these women end up working for two three shifts at a time.

'What we want is a proper implementation of our existing laws'

Padmini Weerasooriya
Chief Organizer, Women's Collective

Our organization usually works with and alongside women working in the free trade zones. We conduct workshops and other programmes to help these women in any way that we can. One of the first things that we tell them is that they should get organised and stand together as a team.

There is a lot of repression in these areas and the employees are scared right from the beginning to do anything or join any trade union because they are severely warned against it. Even if there are trade unions that have come up the leadership of these unions have been paid off and therefore these trade unions have slowly but surely disintegrated. This has changed just a little bit now and they work with organizations like us.

There are so many employees who have been pulled up if they were to take part in any trade union activities.

Trade unions aren't seen in a favourable light by the employers, they don't understand that it will be easier to communicate to the workers through the employees, unlike now where they have to talk to everyone to do something.

There are unions in these areas but they have been established after thirty or so and this is a good example as to what light these trade unions are seen in. Whatever benefits the workers have won, it is through the few trade unions that are there, that have bargained for it.

Some of these workers are over worked and they become unhealthy because of it. The low salaries that they receive as well as the bad facilities that they work under only make it worse. We don't want new laws what we want is a proper implementation of our existing laws. We have good laws the problems that crop up are because these laws are not implemented.

Most of these women have very sad stories, some of them are orphans and have nowhere to go so they make their home in these atrocious boarding houses that have very bad conditions. There are some women who are here from outstation and bring their children along. These children need to be cared for because they are often malnourished.

'We have to have policies that are gender sensitive'

Nimalka Fernando
Convenor, Women's Alliance for Peace and Democracy

There is no need for changes in the existing laws, the only thing that needs to be done is for the existing laws to be implemented and monitored. Sri Lanka can proudly boast of strong labour laws that protect the worker, but these are all thanks to the workers unions who fought for their rights in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

We have to have policies that are gender sensitive, because the free trade zones are where a majority of the workers are women and the policies have to be made in line with their needs. It is the BOI that should include these with the contracts they make with the investors to ensure that they work in better situations.  

There should be policies that would ensure there is zero harassment, hygiene and working conditions. It is the right of the employee to work in a safe environment and that is not something that can be ordered by the law to be done.

There were rumours that trade unions cannot be created among the workers but this is not true. These are just intimidating environments that has been created by the employer. But workers are now forming trade unions, despite the pressure of intimidation and harassment they have at the work place.

There are several proposals that have been made that need to implemented, such as a free environment for the worker in which they are given the perspective of their rights, an environment free of sexual harassment and an awareness among all stake holders of the rights of these workers and the working conditions and the environment they should receive.





The International Monetary Fund's twice-yearly publication, the World Economic Outlook, has been tracking the progress of the global economy in its recovery phase. During the early days of recovery, world economic growth was sustained by the large developing economies, especially China and India. Recently, recovery has become more broad-based, if still uneven. According to the latest WEO, the advanced economies will continue to recover from the global financial crisis while many developing economies are above pre-crisis trend levels. The 'two-speed' recovery carries with it risks. It has resulted in a situation where the world's major economic powers are either unwilling or unable to agree on a common approach to solving global problems. Global financial imbalances cannot be tackled because deficit and surplus countries differ sharply on the policies to be adopted. Virtually every country professes faith in multilateral trade, yet the Doha round is in danger of collapse. G20 countries have found it more difficult to co-ordinate their strategies during the recovery phase than they were able to during the crisis.

The IMF forecasts world gross domestic product to expand by 4.4 per cent this year and by 4.5 per cent in 2012. The advanced economies will grow at 2.4 per cent in 2011 and 2.6 per cent in 2012 and the emerging and developing countries at 6.5 per cent in both years. Many old challenges remain unaddressed even as new ones have emerged. Weak sovereign balance sheets and still moribund real estate markets remain major concerns, especially in some euro area countries. Strengthening the recovery in the developed economies requires that ultra-soft monetary policies continue but these fuel potentially destabilising capital flows to India, Brazil, and other emerging economies. Financial conditions remain fragile in some countries. Rising food and commodity prices impose harsh burdens on people. For India and many emerging economies, the challenge is to ensure that boom-like conditions do not yield to overheating in the coming year. Inflation is likely to intensify as capacity constraints accentuate supply side pressures.

The Hindu





With every passing day, the Libyan picture becomes clearer. The emerging picture confirms what most people, including imperialists, know — that the reason for the military action against Libya is anything but humanitarian.

Protecting Libya's civilians from Muammar Gaddafi's forces is only a cover for a campaign aimed at regime change and the plunder of the resources not only of Libya but also of the whole of Africa.

According to a shocking article posted on, the Libyan war has its roots in oil and Lockerbie. The author, Susan Lindauer, a CIA 'asset' turned anti-war activist, says Libya was made a fall guy in the Lockerbie bombing that was carried out by the CIA's drug mafia. {For a compilation of the CIA's drug operations, visit}

Lindauer claims that Gaddafi was the fall guy and he was forced to cough up about 2.7 billion dollars in compensation for the 270 victims who died when a bomb planted on Pan Am flight 103 exploded on December 21, 1988 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. Gaddafi paid the money in 2008 after admitting to a crime which he had not committed to save his country from the pangs of gruelling UN sanctions.

When Gaddafi improved relations with the West in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, US oil companies wasted no time in striking deals. But they withdrew last year, complaining about the huge kickbacks Gaddafi was demanding.

Justifying the Libyan leader's demand, Lindauer says, "Gaddafi took on the role of a modern-day Robin Hood, who insisted on replenishing his people for the costs they'd suffered under UN sanctions… You've got to admit that Gaddafi's attempt to balance the scales of justice demonstrated a flair of righteous nationalism."

She adds: "Don't kid yourself. This is an oil war, and it smacks of imperialist double standards". {Visit for Lindauer's article.}

If oil is the reward that the US is seeking from the Libyan war, the enslavement of Africa is perhaps what France and Britain are after.


Though Gaddafi courted the West by dismantling Libya's weapons of mass destruction programmes soon after the US invasion of Iraq, the Libyan leader had other ideas. He conceived a vision to free Africa from the West's neocolonialist clutches.

In 1992, 45 African nations formed RASCOM (Regional African Satellite Communication Organisation) aimed at bringing down the cost of communications in the continent. Africa was paying some US$ 500 million a year as satellite fees to French and other European companies, and the call charges in the continent were the highest in the world. RASCOM had a plan to launch its own African satellite. The project would cost US$ 400 million. For 14 years, they went behind the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other donors. These imperialist-run institutions made borrowing difficult by placing tough conditions.

Gaddafi put an end to these futile pleas and offered US$ 300 million. The African Development Bank with US$50 million and the West African Development Bank with US$27 million contributed to the project which was brought to fruition in December 2007. Africa's gain was Europe's loss. No wonder Gaddafi has become a villain for France, Britain and other imperialists though he is a hero for Africa.

Gaddafi had also pledged to fund three ambitious African projects — the creation of an African investment bank, an African monetary fund and an African central bank. Africa felt that these Africa-centred institutions were necessary to end its dependence on the IMF and the World Bank — institutions that prescribe unrealistic and unpopular measures to qualify for loans. These conditions which include measures to privatize natural resources and allowing unlimited access to foreign companies are designed to keep Africa eternally poor or dependant on the West. Libya had pledged funds for these projects from its investments in the United States. The US$ 30 billion which the Barack Obama administration froze (or robbed) at the first signs of the orchestrated troubles in the Libyan town of Benghazi was meant to finance these three African projects which would have given Africa some economic freedom.

Besides oil and Africa's economic freedom, Libya' refusal to join Africom, the United State's African Command, is also a casus belli for the war on Libya. Though Africom's stated objective is to assist African nations, critics say its military objective is to prevent China from gaining a strategic foothold in Africa. At present Africom operates from an old French base in Djibouti. Is the Libyan war aimed at bringing Africom to Libya? The one who controls Libya controls the Mediterranean, the Middle East and half of Africa. Since the end of World War II, the United States had a huge military base in Libya until Gaddafi in 1969 told the US to get out. Amidst uncertainty over the direction a civilian government in Egypt will take, a base in neighbouring Libya assumes added significance. Gaddafi opposed these moves and played a dangerous game with the West — offering them oil deals while taking steps to check the West's influence on Africa and the Middle East.

In one such anti-West tirade in 2003, Gaddafi at an Arab summit slammed Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah who was seated opposite him. "You are a product of Britain and protected by the US."  Six year later, he repeated the accusations at another summit, saying "After six years, it has been proven that with ... the grave before you, it is Britain that made you and the Americans that protected you."

No wonder that Saudi Arabia and other pro-US Gulf states have joined the military campaign against Libya — something they would not even dream of doing to protect the Palestinian people from Israel.







I HAVE never taken to gold or jewellery with the sort of enthusiasm usually expected of me. My extended Indian family scattered around the globe think otherwise and have an obsession and passion for the yellow metal I can never fully understand.

They routinely gift each other some form of gold whenever they meet and I remember pained childhood days when I had to be physically hauled into shops and ordered to buy something I even remotely liked.

The reason I was told when I protested against being forcefully ornamented was future 'investment' and perhaps not to look bad in front of other family members.

I recall my mum coming up to me one day and requesting me to take off my wooden beads as someone in the family asked her if I had joined some hippie cult.

So it was a surprise that my first assignment as trainee journalist was to cover a jewellery exhibition in Bahrain.

Pieces by Arab artists, furniture designers and architects were on show and for the first time I took a genuine interest in the way the metal could be crafted into elaborate, tastefully designed artefacts.

It was also an eye-opener into the world of gold jewellery and the interest and money shown in purchasing the metal.

With the price of gold touching a record high of $1,531 (BD578) per ounce at the time of print and predicted to climb higher, interest has surged in investing in it.

It is seen as a safe haven investment and owing to its limited supply, its price is only bound to climb higher.

Bahrain has long been a hub for jewellery exhibitions and the 600 shops that dot Manama's Gold Suq are testimony to the gold trade here.

Following the unrest in the kingdom, however, business in the commercial area has slowed down as many shops were forced to relocate.

Moreover, the riots from March 13 to 19 cost the gold industry BD378,000 a day resulting in a whooping BD2.65m loss for that week alone.

With gold price climbing to record highs, however, many in Bahrain are trying to get their gold exchanged for money, but there aren't many takers as the industry is still reeling from its losses.

Interestingly, one of the reasons for the climbing gold prices, apart from the declining dollar, is the unrest in the Middle East.

On the other hand, in Mumbai's Gold Suq - the Zaveri Bazaar - business is booming.

With an auspicious Hindu festival Akshaya Tritiya that witnesses people purchasing gold in the belief of increasing prosperity, spending on the precious metal is on the increase.

Banks and financial institutions and even the national postal service are offering investment schemes such as gold Exchange Traded Funds and discounted gold coins.

Even international jewellery brands are lining up customised designs for the festive occasion with Qatar's Damas launching an Akshaya Tritiya jewellery collection to lure in buyers.

With several countries increasingly favouring more gold reserves and the gold industry expanding, Bahrain will be lagging behind in gold if it doesn't provide adequate and timely incentives for its gold traders.

Though some gold shops have been given a moratorium on rent for a few months to augment their trade, others face a rent increase from their landlords.

If Bahrain is eager to strengthen its economy, it should work on improving conditions for its affected gold trade, so that the kingdom is business-friendly once again.

l Ms Gnana is a former Bahrain resident now studying in Mumbai.



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