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month april 30, edition 000820, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
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- PAKISTAN LOOKS TO CHINA
- SHAMEFUL, BUT EXPECTED
- ROMP AND PAGEANTRY - ASHOK MALIK
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- BERTH PLACES, TRUMP CARDS
- INDIA'S GILDED AGE - BAIJAYANT 'JAY' PANDA
- ABILITY, NOT ORIGIN, MATTERS
- GAVASKAR'S ON THE BALL - AJAY VAISHNAV
- INDIA, US: ESTRANGED DEMOCRACIES? - KANTI BAJPAI
- IT'S PARTISAN POLITICS AGAIN
- THIS IS OUR JAITAPUR - SEEMA ALAVI
- A PERILOUS PATH - BARKHA DUTT
- RIP: THE LITERARY PIANO - NAMITA BHANDARE
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- A VOTE TOO MANY
- TAKING OFF
- PEOPLE POWER
- THE GREAT LETDOWN - SHEKHAR GUPTA
- ALL ABOUT YOU - NANDAGOPAL RAJAN
- WHEN CORRUPTION IS VIEWED FUZZILY' - ARUNDHATI ROY
- INDIA GOES TO TOWNS - SURJIT S BHALLA
- THE CIRCUMSTANCE OF POMP - DILIP BOBB
- PROVINCIALISING KARACHI - RUCHIKA TALWAR
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- ARE PILOTS WORKERS?
- STANDARD AND POOR
- URBAN ROADS, TAKE ME HOME ... - SURJIT S BHALLA
- THE MISSING MILLIONS IN CITIES - YOGINDER K ALAGH
- AVOIDING DEBATE
- FROM KOMPA TO POLITICAL STAGE
- BRICS SET TO OUTSHINE IBSA? - RAJIV BHATIA
- EMBATTLED ARAB LEADERS DECIDE IT'S BETTER TO FIGHT THAN QUIT
- MICHAEL SLACKMAN AND MONA EL-NAGGAR
- BEYOND THE STEREOTYPE - HAROON SIDDIQUE
- ANGER AS BP PLANS TO DRILL AGAIN IN GULF
- DUTCH ANIMAL POLICE TO START TRAINING
THE ASIAN AGE
- PAC DRAMA SETS A BAD PRECEDENT
- THE POLITICS OF RESPECT - ANTARA DEV SEN
- WATCH YOUR WORDS - KISHWAR DESAI
- JUST A QUIRK, MY DEAR - FARRUKH DHONDY
- RESOLVING PARKING PROBLEM
- PAC FIASCO
- MENDING FENCES WITH KAYANI
- LOKPAL AS A PANACEA? - BY ASHOK BHAN
- BOOST FOR INDO-PAK TRADE
- LONG ROPE FOR BUILDERS
- INDIA'S NEW COACH FLETCHER
- CHINESE INFLUENCE IN NEPAL - BY S.D. MUNI
- MAID IN INDIA - BY VIVEK ATRAY
- FARMING FOR THE MARKET - JOGINDER SINGH
- RICH CROPS, POOR FARMERS - SUMAN SAHAI
- ORDERING ORDINANCE - T N NINAN
- RIGHT APPROACH, WRONG YARDSTICK - RAJEEV MALIK
- RATING SOUTH INDIA'S THREE CAPITALS - SUNIL SETHI
- THE SUBLIME AND THE ORDINARY - K NATWAR SINGH
- A MATTER OF HISTORY - V V
- MAN BEHIND THE UNIFORM - ADITI PHADNIS
- A KEEN EYE ON HEALTHCARE - JYOTI PANDE LAVAKARE
- PULSE OF THE NATION - LUX LAKSHMANAN
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- RIGHT CALL
- NOT BY COMMITTEE
- ALL IN A NAME
- DO NOT MERGE SBI SUBSIDIARIES
- THE DOHA ROUND'S PREMATURE OBITUARY - JAGDISH BHAGWATI
- POLITICAL FUNDING: NEED VS GREED - C P BHAMBHRI
- SAVING GRACE
- PLANES, REACTORS AND DIPLOMACY
- JUDICIAL CLOUT
- SUBALTERN VICTORY
- GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
- NO LAW, NO ORDER~II - BY BIBEKANANDA RAY
- 'KILL GRAFT BEFORE LETTING STATE FUND POLLS'
- ON RECORD
- THE ROAD TO RECOVERY AND REBIRTH - NAOTO KAN
- SHODDY SHOW
- WHEN ALL ROADS ARE TAKEN - K. DATTA-RAY
- BULLDOZING TACTICS
- MESSY STRIKE
- CONTROLLING CORRUPTION - BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
- FRIENDSHIP OF MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- A BIT OF OLD WORLD CHARM - BY VATSALA VEDANTAM
THE NEWYORK TIMES
- DITHERING ON REDISTRICTING
- NOT A POLITICAL TOOL
- CO-VICTIMS AGAINST THE DEATH PENALTY
- LEARNING TO BE A 'COUNTRY BOY'
- WHAT THE WIND CARRIED AWAY - BY JAMES BRAZIEL
- SILLINESS AND SLEIGHT OF HAND - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
- INTRODUCING THE THINGS OF SPRING - BY GAIL COLLINS
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- MARCH OF ANATOLIA AGAINST THE PLUNDER OF NATURE, CULTURE, CITIES - CENGİZ AKTAR
- BASHAR AL-ASSAD NULLIFIES DECADE OLD TURKISH EFFORTS TO NORMALIZE SYRIA - BARÇIN YİNANÇ
- ATATÜRK YOUTH AT WORK - MUSTAFA AKYOL
- CAN THE ARAB AWAKENING BE A POSITIVE BLACK SWAN FOR TURKEY? - İLHAN TANIR
- PARTIES' ENERGY VISION - GİLA BENMAYOR
- MORE THAN JUST A ROYAL WEDDING - YUSUF KANLI
- TOP CHARACTERISTICS OF TURKISH EXECUTIVES - ZAFER PARLAR
- A BIRD'S EYE VIEW - CIVILIZATION - ONE FOR ALL, ALL FOR ONE - ADVENA AVIS
- CAPTAIN ALI, CEMILE AND RAPE - CAN DÜNDAR
- BEGINNING ANEW
- DANGEROUS NEXUS
- MUKHTARAN MAI: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY
- BRONWYN CURRAN
- BLINKERED JUSTICE? - DR FARZANA BARI
- MANDATE TO REGULATE - DR SANIA NISHTAR
- END-GAME IN AFGHANISTAN - SALEEM SAFI
- OUR SICKLY DEMOCRACY - BABAR SATTAR
- GEN BETRAY-US TO ICON PETRAEUS - ANJUM NIAZ
- NATION SHARES RESOLVE OF NAVAL CHIEF
- PPP-PML(Q) BURY HATCHET, RIGHTLY
- KASHMIR STANDS FURTHER MARGINALIZED
- SELF-INFLICTED AFFLICTIONS - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- OF STATISTICS; OR A FISHY TALE! - KHALID SALEEM
- STATE OF EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN - HUSSAIN MOHI-UD-DIN QADRI
- ECONOMIC DILEMMA OF PAKISTAN - SHAUKAT MASOOD ZAFAR
- SNUBBING THE FALLEN..! - ROBER CLEMENTS
- TIME IS RIGHT TO BANK THE BOOM
- BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID
- REAL COMPASSION IS ABOUT ENCOURAGING EMPLOYMENT
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- A SWELL PARTY, BUT WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
- PM STRIKES RIGHT BALANCE ON CHINA
- ROYAL WEDDING: A PECULIARLY BRITISH DAY
- NORTHERN IRELAND: SO NEAR YET SO FAR
- UNTHINKABLE? AN AMBEDKAR MEMORIAL
THE JAPAN TIMES
- LEARNING FROM TRAIN TRAGEDY
- THE END OF MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION? - By SERGEI KARAGANOV
- NO TIME FOR POLITICAL GAMES AS JAPAN TRIES TO RISE AGAIN - BY KEVIN RAFFERTY
- MAY DAY: SOME MEDITATION FOR WORKERS
- THE OPPOSITION'S DILEMMA IN HANDLING THE UN PANEL ISSUE
- THE CRISSCROSS OVER LIBYA
- ALL WE TAMILS WANT IS TO LIVE AS EQUAL CITIZENS IN PEACE
- LEGITIMACY OF THE PANEL WAS QUESTIONABLE
- DOMESTIC DOCUMENT, NOT A UN DOCUMENT
- PLANTERS ASSOCIATION REPLIES
GULF DAILY NEWS
- MEDIA MOVES THE MASSES - BY PAUL BALLES
- U.S. RETHINKS STRATEGY: WAR AS OPPORTUNITY IN LIBYA - BY RAMZY BAROUD
- THE AFRICAN 'STAR WARS' - BY PEPE ESCOBAR
PAKISTAN LOOKS TO CHINA
TELLS AFGANISTAN TO DO THE SAME
A recent report in the Wall Street Journal that Pakistan is lobbying Afghanistan to ignore the US and instead build a strategic alliance with China may have angered policymakers in Washington, DC who feel betrayed by a long time ally but it nonetheless proves what the Americans have feared for quite some now: Pakistan is not on the same page with the US as far as a comprehensive Afghan strategy is concerned; worse still, Pakistan has its own plans that are tailored to suit its anti-India agenda. According to the report, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the Afghan President Hamid Karzai at an April 16 meeting in Kabul that "the Americans had failed them both" and their plans to have peace talks while still fighting the Taliban "made no sense". This is total bunkum. If anything, it is the Pakistanis who have failed the Americans by supporting terror networks at home. Additionally, Mr Gilani also pointed to America's "economic problems" which according to him meant that the US would not be able to "support long-term regional development" (in other words, no more American dole) — instead, he recommended China: Pakistan's own "all weather partner." At this point, we can only hope that Beijing will know better than to get involved with Pakistan which has all but been labeled a terror state and that too, by no less an ally than the US. That Mr Gilani is reported to have rounded up his argument with references to the America's "imperial design" — something Mr Karzai himself has mentioned before — is also particularly worrying, especially when one factors in China's own aspirations to be a global leader. Mr Gilani of course is making the best of it all: He doesn't want to push the Afghans too hard and be labelled as 'interfering', so he has politely added that the decision would ultimately be that of the Afghan people, but has simultaneously made clear that he would oppose any such pact and ideally, Mr Karzai should forget about US military presence in the country.
At this point, it is important to mention that as the Americans plan their exit strategy, some 10 years after US troops landed in Afghanistan — a majority of the soldiers are expected to leave by the end of 2014 — several regional powers are working to find their niche in the new country. Apart from Pakistan, India, Russia and Iran are all lobbying for influence; the Americans too want to maintain their presence (otherwise they fear the Taliban will return and hit back with a vengeance). In this situation, Afghanistan is of course trying to get as much money as it possibly can. In fact, the WSJ report states that details of the April 16 meeting were leaked by Afghans who support a continued US presence in the country but would like to see their 'asking price' go up. Such negotiations are not uncommon but India must ensure that its own interests are not hurt.
SHAMEFUL, BUT EXPECTED
CONGRESS SHOWS TRUE COLOURS ONCE AGAIN
The manner in which the Congress has sought to scuttle the findings of the Public Affairs Committee in the Great 2G Spectrum Robbery is, to put it mildly, shameful. What makes Thursday's sheer hooliganism — there can be no other word for the behaviour of the Congress MPs as also those of the DMK, the SP and the BSP — particularly revolting is that it should enjoy the sanction of the party leadership which does not tire of declaring that it is in the frontline in the war on corruption in high places. That declaration, it is now abundantly clear, is as hollow and lacking in credibility as Pakistan pretending to be a crusader against terrorism. It does not require much intelligence to figure out as to why the BSP and the SP should have opted to help the Congress to try and spike the PAC's draft report on the 2G Spectrum scam that deprived the public exchequer of a mind-boggling sum of money, qualifying it as the biggest scandal in independent India. Both Ms Mayawati and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav are keen that CBI inquiries into their assets should not be taken to their logical conclusion. The Congress, which has mastered the art of using the CBI to secure political leverage in moments of crisis, would be only too happy to return the favour extended to it by the BSP and SP on Thursday. Hence, we can look forward to the inquiries against these stalwarts being put on hold — at least till such time they step out of line in the future. Nor are there any prizes for guessing as to why the Congress should continue to make common cause with its discredited ally, the DMK. Survival in power, let us make no mistake, is the sole objective of the Congress; it is willing to pay any price for this purpose. Therefore, Thursday's brazen attempt to debunk what is now common knowledge — how then Telecom Minister A Raja pulled off the scam, how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh maintained silence, and how then Finance Minister P Chidambaram pretended all was fine when it patently wasn't — should really not come as a surprise. It would have been stunningly surprising had the Congress acted in any other manner.
Yet it would be in order to recall how the Prime Minister had offered to depose before the PAC and the Finance Minister had sought to empower the PAC with an expanded remit before accepting the demand of the Opposition to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the 2G Spectrum scam. If the stalwarts of this Government were indeed so mindful of the sanctity of the PAC in our parliamentary system, how come they have no qualms about their party denigrating the same institution? Or are Mr Singh, Mr Chidambaram and others in the Congress hierarchy scared of a full discussion in Parliament on the PAC's findings? The Congress may yet ensure that the report gets an official burial. But that will serve little or no purpose. Nor will a doctored report by the JPC, in which the Congress and its allies have a majority, convince anybody of either the Government's or the Prime Minister's innocence. The people of this country now have no doubts that while Raja may have pulled off the robbery, there were others who helped him do so. Their reputation lies in tatters.
ROMP AND PAGEANTRY
The world was charmed by the fairytale wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Three decades later, few were bothered about William and Kate's nuptials.
How things change in 30 years. When Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in July 1981, it was in many respects a bigger event than the wedding of their son, Prince William, to plain Ms Kate Middleton on Friday. A caveat needs to be entered here. In absolute terms, the television ratings for the wedding of 2011 may well have been higher. More cameras, a bigger contingent of journalists and news anchors descending upon London, merchandise doing brisk business: All of this was a given.
Yet the William-Kate wedding occupies a smaller quantum of the entertainment and leisure economy in 2011 than did the Charles-Diana wedding in respect to its contemporary economy in 1981. This is not just a reflection of Britain's economic troubles. There is a recession in the country today but frankly 1981 was scarcely better. The 1970s were a nightmare decade for the British and Mrs Margaret Thatcher had been elected only two years before that 1981 wedding. She still hadn't "put the Great back into Britain"; the Falklands War and the business turnaround were some distance away.
More than Britain, it is the response of global society to the William-Kate wedding that is telling. In 1981, Britain still mattered. Even if numbers and statistics and growth figures didn't justify its importance, it retained a certain heft by virtue of its imperial history and its institutional legacy. To understand countries such as India, for instance, foreign offices in European capitals and Washington, DC, inevitably turned to Whitehall. Today they make their own judgements, form their own equations.
Likewise, society too seemed to take Britain's establishment — its politicians, its cultural icons and of course its royalty — far more seriously in 1981. When he visited India a few months before his wedding, Prince Charles was treated as more or less a head of state. Every word he spoke was heard in sombre silence. On another note, Bollywood actress Padmini Kolhapure kissed him in public and set off a mini-controversy in a (then) less exhibitionist India.
What if Prince William had visited India this past winter? What if Bipasha Basu, to take a random name, had kissed him? It would probably have got the same coverage as, for example, a B-list Hollywood hunk turning up in India and declaring he loved Aishwarya Rai and she was the most beautiful woman in the world. More seriously, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew (and a host of minor royals) have come to India in recent years without anybody even noticing their presence.
What we are seeing is the diminution of the standing of Britain in not just India but many parts of the world, particularly its former colonies. However, there is a bigger phenomenon at work as well: The democratisation of celebrity. In an age of 24/7 television, of breathless and gasping celebrity-stalking journalism, and of media driving public opinion and fads, it is sometimes impossible to distinguish between sustained, lasting and well-deserved fame and simply the flavour of the week.
That's why 30 years ago Prince Charles and Lady Diana were seen as part of a fairy-tale romance. Today, William and Kate are just another everyday 'beautiful people' story. The quantum of reportage may change but for some societies, some sections and some media markets, the wedding of the second-in-line to the British throne and the multicultural nuptials, some years ago, of model Liz Hurley and Indian-origin businessman Arun Nayar would be just as relevant.
Are William and Kate ever going to be as big a couple as Victoria and David Beckham or Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt? Thirty years ago, would we even dared have asked that question? Fame is no longer a function of memory. It's a strange animal, one that requires Kate Middleton to compete with Katrina Kaif for the same space on Page 3.
If that is the broader context, there is a narrower one as well. It concerns the family Kate has just married into. Part of the reason for the contraction in the aura of British royalty has been simply its overexposure in the media and the public eye. Ironically, the blame (or credit) for this must go to Diana, Princess of Wales. As she moved from Shy Di, the teenaged girl — certified a virgin, as per palace protocol — who seemed so endearing when she got her husband's full name all mixed up as they exchanged vows before a worldwide audience, to future queen and then to immediate past future queen, something seemed to happen to her.
Perhaps that is untrue. Very little happened to her; she remained just where she was. It's the world that expected her to grow into a public role and grow up as a private person. She accomplished the first with aplomb but the second was a non-starter.
It is tempting to speculate what Diana would have turned out like were she still around. She would probably have become some sort of female Bill Clinton — strictly without the intellectual rigour — as an iconic rallying figure for the trendy Left, the limousine liberals if you like. She would possibly have been out on the streets, marching in protest against the war in Iraq. She would almost certainly have had an active presence on Twitter.
Diana's fame proved fatal, literally some would say. As history's most photographed royal, she was paradoxically also responsible for stripping British royalty of whatever mystique remained. The "People's Princess" became the Commonplace Celebrity. For all their love for their mother, it has made her children wary of an over-the-top public profile, one where the media is used to target your enemies — remember Diana's carefully scripted interviews on the state of her marriage, which admittedly followed Charles' gratuitous public announcements about his infidelity — but ends up hounding you as well.
Other than in learning lessons from Diana's life and tragedy, her son and daughter-in-law are also lucky in that the world will not obsess about them the way it did about the folks at Buckingham Palace a quarter-century ago.
This is the age of the lowest common denominator, not the highest common factor. It means man's voyeuristic instinct can be served as easily by a footballer, his girlfriend and their out-of-wedlock child as by, some day in the future, Kate Middleton (or Princess Catherine as she should be correctly addressed) making the Prince of Wales a grandfather and giving the British their king for the mid-21st century.
As we said, how things change.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BERTH PLACES, TRUMP CARDS
"You're fired!" He's said that to business apprentices on a reality show. Now realty showman Donald Trump wants US prez Barack Obama laid off as well! He's exhumed an old debate about whether Obama is US-born or not. The latter would make him ineligible to be president. Not accidentally, Trump's eyeing 2012's Republican presidential nomination. So, from doubting Obama's natural born status to questioning whether his intellect matches Ivy League standards, the tycoon's in sniping mode. Only, by releasing a detailed birth certificate showing Honolulu as his place of birth, Obama's dodged the "birther" bullet. In true Hawaii Five-O style.
Donald's been ducked, with Obama reminding Americans of the "silliness" of getting birth pangs over non-issues when America faces serious economic challenges. But the billionaire businessman's vocal here as well. Courtesy rampaging China, Trump warns, America could "fall off a cliff" - presumably unless slayers of Asian dragons such as himself get elected. Does that mean Trump brand menswear, tie pins and teddy bears will no longer have Made-in-China labels? Either way, star Republican Sarah Palin's impressed, herself a moose hunter who's seen Russia if not China from her Alaskan window. Trump, she tweets, 'forced' Obama's Born In The USA gig. With two presidential apprentices uniting, Obama should worry. Isn't Trump now demanding that he display his academic grades? Spoof writers say Obama should go further and reveal his dental records next. For, tooth will out.
India-born, we know how birth-shatteringly important ID-related documents are. As army chief VK Singh has realised, when you're born counts as much as where. His birth year being 1950 or 1951 - the records show both! - means different retirement dates. As also nail-biting suspense for his successors. As for aam admi not yet UID-ed, they need a mountain of ID-certifying papers to access public services. This, besides often finding identity thieves thriving in their name at ballot booths or ration shops. Natural born or no, citizens anyway must sweat to acquire birth and death certificates, ration cards, PAN cards, driving licences, voter IDs, police-verified address proofs, passports, et al. Without greasing bureaucratic palms, few even obtain babu-attested 'evidence' to furnish Obama-style. Then, for many, fake papers will do. How else do under-qualified pilots get a licence to crash?
On their part, our netas must have certificates showing precise dates, hours, minutes and milliseconds of their birth, for the purposes of making political horrorscopes. It's in their electoral stars and not in themselves that they're winners or underlings. So, for them, fortune-tellers must certify auspicious timings to, say, cut ribbons, garland statues, declare proportionate assets, purchase party tickets or topple governments. Post-poll, numerology trumps star-gazing. Here's a berth certificate unique to us desis: it shows the numerical strength of the certificate-holder's party. The bigger the number, the better the ministerial berth.
Mind you, if not in the mood to fete berth anniversaries, voters can always use their Trump card. By saying: You're fired.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
INDIA'S GILDED AGE
BAIJAYANT 'JAY' PANDA
The public enthusiasm for the anti-corruption campaign headed by Anna Hazare has been a shock to the system. Despite a year of ever-larger scandals, many in the establishment had been convinced that this was a storm that would blow over. One of the arguments for this view was that corruption was largely a middle-class issue and not something that significantly impacted political fortunes. Very few still think that.
India is potentially at a major inflection point in matters of public probity. But this is not just due to the Jantar Mantar protest: the tide has been turning for sometime now, and in fact with the support of large numbers of Indians who are distinctly below middle class. A crucial role is now being played by the middle class (more on that later), but the call for change has deeper roots.
Conventional wisdom in Indian politics had two long-cherished rules. First, that the quality of governance was almost irrelevant to electoral results. Instead, the identity politics of caste, religion and region had disproportionate weightage in the country's political calculus. The second great belief was that the electorate voted against incumbents. The exceptions to anti-incumbency used to be those parties who got the first rule right, which is the vote-bank arithmetic, an example being the three elections in Bihar between 1990 and 2004.
The past decade has seen conventional wisdom being turned on its head several times by a few shrewd politicians who sensed an opportunity and aggressively championed good governance as a political strategy. The proponents of this approach have spanned the political spectrum, with the latest poster boy being the JD(U)'s Nitish Kumar. Before him, the BJD's Naveen Patnaik positioned himself similarly to win three straight elections. And the BJP's Narendra Modi, whatever you may think of his politics overall, has acquired a reputation for governance. Even the Congress in Delhi under Sheila Dikshit, before being hit by the CWG scandal, won three elections by campaigning on a governance platform.
These campaigns represent significant turning points in recent Indian politics, and all were made possible not by the middle class, but by hundreds of millions of voters who bought into the promise of good governance.
Ironically, this shifting paradigm seems to have escaped the attention of many national leaders. What else can explain the absence of anyone, or any party, attempting a countrywide extrapolation of a strategy that has succeeded repeatedly in various regions? There are sceptics who argue that an overwhelmingly governance-focussed political strategy would flounder at the national level due to coalition politics. But that is far from obvious. A cursory look at the regional successes cited earlier, particularly the coalition examples in Bihar and Orissa, shows that many politically risky decisions were taken in pursuit of good governance. Although these had the potential to implode, in fact they led to a surge of public support, enabling those leaders to either keep their coalitions in check or to dispense with them altogether.
A similar opportunity to refashion national politics has largely been squandered by politicians of all hues. The opposition parties may gloat at the discomfort that the government is in today, but in fact should be concerned about the damage to the credibility of politics on the whole.
On its part, the governing coalition faces severe challenges. None of the credit for the arrests of and chargesheets against prominent politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats has gone to it. Instead, it is seen as having resisted action until coerced by the activists, the media and the Supreme Court. Apart from the damage to the UPA's reputation, its very continuance must surely come under pressure as the process grinds on.
In all this, the role of the middle class will remain important. Long ignored by politicians for their electoral apathy and lack of numbers, something is now clearly changing. Their purchasing power attracts the national media to focus on the same things as them. And now perhaps their surging numbers through two decades of economic liberalisation, combined with their newfound activism, is reaching a tipping point. If that turns out to be true, Indian politics will be forever changed.
There are startling parallels between today's India and the experience of the other large democracy, the US, over a century ago. The latter part of the 19th century, known as America's Gilded Age, saw the rapid growth of its economy as well as unprecedented levels of corruption, exactly like present-day India. Enormous fortunes were made by new billionaires, the so-called robber barons, and massive corruption among elected officials became commonplace.
Nevertheless, sustained economic growth transformed a nation of farmers into an industrial superpower where the size of the middle class kept growing rapidly. Their sensibilities, and outrage, led to what is called the Progressive Era in American history, in the early 20th century. The progressive activists pushed through many political reforms that tackled corruption and underlined good governance, and even motivated the robber barons into turning great philanthropists.
The similarities with today's India are unmistakable, but the story doesn't end there. Besides the activism of the middle class, equally important was the emergence of a new breed of political leaders who made the cause their own. Many of them, both Democratic and Republican, went on to become presidents. What India needs now are political leaders who eschew point scoring on corruption in favour of non-partisan advocacy for reform.
The writer is a Lok Sabha MP.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
ABILITY, NOT ORIGIN, MATTERS
There is no reason to disapprove of the appointment of Duncan Fletcher as the new Team India cricket coach. The Zimbabwean has an impressive coaching record that includes presiding over English cricket's revival from 1999 to 2007. He also oversaw the English victory in the 2005 Ashes series, the first since 1987.
At 62, he is vastly experienced and spoken highly of by his peers. The suggestion by former cricketer Sunil Gavaskar that an Indian candidate would have been better for the job as he would have better understood the psyche of Indian players - Gavaskar's favoured nominee is Mohinder Amarnath - is not necessarily true. Three successive foreign coaches show such understanding is not a problem.
Given the stage at which Indian cricket is today, it is important to have a coach who can be a mentor to the young players and maintain a high level of performance. Being the No. 1 team in the world could easily lead to complacency. With his tough yet understated approach, Fletcher is the right man to ensure this doesn't happen. True, unlike his predecessors Fletcher's appointment comes without scrutiny by a selection panel. But outgoing coach Gary Kirsten - a South African - under whose tutelage Team India reached the acme of international cricket, had a glowing recommendation for Fletcher. Also, a foreign coach will be immune to behind the scenes politics and bring professionalism and fresh perspectives to the job.
In the age of IPL where international players regularly share dressing rooms, it is outdated to harp upon a local coach for the national team. A coach should be selected on the basis of experience and record, not origin. A foreign coach who is capable of bringing out the best, guiding the youngsters and pushing the seniors, should definitely be considered. Duncan Fletcher fits the bill.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
GAVASKAR'S ON THE BALL
If the appointment of Duncan Fletcher as the new coach of Team India has been greeted with disapproval by legendary Indian cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, then blame it on the BCCI. Gavaskar is spot on in expressing displeasure with the board's decision to not consider an Indian coach since the era of John Wright.
BCCI's mindset seems to be that only foreign coaches can work well in India. That the BCCI didn't even consider a single ex-Indian cricketer's name for the job indicates that this notion is now well entrenched in the corridors of the most powerful board in the cricketing world.
If Indian coaches are chosen from among former players for the Indian side, they would have better understanding of the pressures under which Indian players work. Not to mention, as Gavaskar has pointed out, that most Indian players are from the Hindi-speaking belt now. Personal chemistry is extremely important in motivating players, and only a native Hindi speaker can establish the personal rapport with players that is needed to make them gel as a team.
Indian cricket is no longer confined to metropolitan centres; instead, many of its most talented players come from small towns. As part of this evolution, we must now question the colonial mindset that favours foreign coaches and, instead, consider Indian coaches only for the post.
Not only that, in Fletcher's case, the BCCI arbitrarily bypassed the screening committee that was created to closely scrutinise the profile of applicants. The board's apparent fascination for foreign coaches stems from the warped perception that an Indian would get involved in the politics of the game rather than focussing on the job. It is wrong to presume that seasoned former Indian players like Mohinder Amarnath, Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad cannot rise to the challenge of coaching the high-pressure, high-profile team. And as a plus, they will communicate with Indian players better.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
INDIA, US: ESTRANGED DEMOCRACIES?
India and the US matter to each other and have gone a long way in constructing a mutually beneficial relationship. The two 'estranged democracies' of the Cold War have become fairly robust 'engaged democracies' over the past decade. President Barack Obama's visit to India in November 2010 and his expression of support for India's UN ambitions was a high point in the India-US engagement. Six months later, however, we are at a low point.
There are many reasons India and the US should be close. Both worry about terrorism and Islamic extremism. Both have a stake in a stable Pakistan. The future of Afghanistan also is a vital concern. The safety of the high seas against piracy, particularly off the Horn of Africa and in the Indian Ocean, is a shared worry. The rise of China is unstoppable, but its behaviour internationally produces anxieties in New Delhi and Washington. India and the US have a growing economic relationship, one that is more consequential for India but increasingly so for the US as well.
The stability of the world economy is part of the conversation that the two countries are having bilaterally and multilaterally. Other global issues that demand their attention include nuclear proliferation, climate change, disaster management, epidemics and other medical threats, and the future of Africa and West Asia. There are a range of bilateral issues too that bind them - Indian immigrants in the US, Indian access to US higher education, work visas for Indians and Americans, development cooperation, and technology transfers and co-development, amongst others.
On these and other issues, India and the US have forged a dialogue bilaterally and in larger gatherings. As a result, India-US relations have a density and balance that is historically unprecedented. Yet, the signs going forward are not at all good.
In the past several months a number of developments have complicated the relationship, not the least of which is the resignation of ambassador Timothy Roemer, within hours of New Delhi's decision not to shortlist the US F-16 and F-18A aircraft in the Multi-Combat Role Aircraft (MCRA) selection process. Indeed, the consequences of the MCRA decision are going to be felt for years - and not positively. That the ambassador resigned so precipitately is surely no accident and is extraordinarily ill-timed for the general health of the relationship. To appreciate this, consider that there are only 18 months before the US presidential campaign enters its final phase in 2012. There is a good chance, therefore, that India will not have a US ambassador in town until 2013 and, if it does, he or she will be a lame duck. To compound matters, India's ambassador, Meera Shankar, is near the end of her term.
A series of developments have clouded the relationship. The US's sale of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan, the tardiness with which Washington reacted to India's desire to access David Headley (the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks), continuing differences over Afghanistan, the US's tagging of Indian university students, worries amongst Indians about US H-1 visas, the humiliating 'pat down' of Indian ambassadors Meera Shankar and Hardeep Puri at US airports, New Delhi's handling of the nuclear liability issue, its decision to abstain on the Libya vote and its subsequent criticism of the western use of force in that country, US perceptions of the recent BRICS summit in China, and the WikiLeaks - all these have buffeted India-US relations.
Ambassador Roemer has said that he is leaving on a high note. While Roemer has been amongst the more successful US ambassadors in New Delhi, he leaves after one of the shortest tenures in recent memory (in recent memory, only Thomas Pickering has done a shorter term).
With New Delhi's MCRA decision, relations are in the doldrums. Looking ahead, the Obama administration's interest in India, never very high, will sink to nothing. On the Indian side, the meltdown of the UPA government means that serious decision-making on foreign policy is utterly stalled. The best we can hope is that India and the US don't delay in appointing new ambassadors. Those who wish India-US relations ill must be rubbing their hands with pleasure at the state of affairs.
IT'S PARTISAN POLITICS AGAIN
It wasn't so long ago that the Congress leadership was all for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) looking into the 2G spectrum issue. "The PAC is a joint parliamentary committee presided over by a senior member of the Opposition. I am willing to appear before it." These were the words of no less a personage than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee offering a multi-disciplinary investigative agency to assist the PAC headed by Opposition leader Murli Manohar Joshi. But the vehemence with which the UPA members of the PAC have rejected the report is puzzling and worrying. Allegations that the report was outsourced and that the PAC had no right to criticise the PM go against the very grain of Mr Singh's desire to resolve this issue.
The issue has moved from 2G to whether or not the report stands on the technicality of Mr Joshi having walked and a substitute allowing the report to be rejected by 11 of the 21 members. Significantly, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, arch rivals in UP, seem to have found common cause in scuttling the report along with the UPA. This is a most unfortunate development at a time when the corruption issue is exercising the country as never before. It would seem from this spectacle that our political establishment is unable to get away from narrow partisan concerns. It now appears that Mr Joshi will present the draft report to the Speaker who will take the final call. If the members who have rejected the report feel that their views weren't accommodated in it, they could surely have put this forward in a democratic manner. The atmosphere in the country today on the issue of corruption is such that this move will raise further doubts instead of making things more transparent. Allegations that the draft report was leaked may be valid but that alone is not reason enough to reject it in its entirety.
So after a short period in which both the Opposition and the ruling coalition seemed to be on the same side on the corruption issue, battle-lines have been drawn once again. This will only serve to further devalue our democratic institutions and lower the image of our elected representatives in the eyes of the people. If this is the fate of the draft PAC report, people will lose faith that the Joint Parliamentary Committee report will fare any better. The UPA government had just begun to recover lost ground with its decisive action against some of those under suspicion in the 2G scam, albeit a little too late. This signal that it means business on the issue of corruption will be meaningless in the face of these obstructionist tactics on a report from a committee that it endorsed earlier. So, in many ways we are back to the drawing board once again.
THIS IS OUR JAITAPUR
This is in response to Bahar Dutt's article (Different Rules for different people, Comment, April 28). As someone who admires her reporting, I was surprised to find how ill-informed she is about the campaign against the waste-to-energy incinerator that is being built barely 2 kms from thickly congested residential areas in south Delhi. I do not wish to go into the technological merits and demerits of the incinerator and the environment versus development debate because Dutt and the anti-incinerators campaigners of Okhla are on the same page on that.
I do wish to clarify here that the Okhla campaign is hardly, as Dutt mentioned, one of 'posh south Delhi' alone, its certainly not about aesthetic concerns on 'stench of the garbage', nor are there any official 'different rules' for it. Instead the campaign identifies with other vulnerable communities and sees parallels with their protests. It is unfair and misleading to distort facts and trivialise the campaign as an elite time pass.
First, like Jaitapur, the residents of south Delhi's Okhla area were not consulted in any discussion on the incinerator. The so-called public hearing was a farce attended by three employees of the plant. The procedural laxity on the part of the Delhi government meant the exclusion from consultation of not just the 'posh South Delhi' residential areas of Sukhdev Vihar, Maharani Bagh and New Friends Colony, but also the thickly populated low-income group Muslim minority areas of Haji Colony, Ghaffar Manzil, Jamianagar, and Harkesh Nagar. The protest, therefore, is a rainbow coalition in terms of income groups, religious and professional categories.
Second, I am shocked that an environment journalist like Dutt can trivialise the scientifically proven toxic emissions from such waste-to-energy plants and reduce its hazards to mere 'stench of the garbage'. It is not only the stink and the aesthetics that has brought hundreds of people together. The neighborhood has been living with the stench of burning hospital waste from a bio-medical waste plant that shares the boundary with the Sukhdev Vihar DDA flats. It belches out pollutants and thick black smoke despite a high court order to re-locate it. And now the residents are worried about their own health and of that of the medically un-insured poor Muslim neighbours once the plant starts functioning. The current location is surrounded by Apollo, Escorts and Holy Family Hospitals, a Cheshire old home, Jamia Millia Islamia and, of course, the thickly-congested population of economically poor and medically vulnerable members of the minority community.
Finally, the anti-incinerator campaign sees striking parallels with Jaitapur and other such locations chosen for setting up nuclear and other energy plants. Indeed, it realises that all such campaigns across the globe share one referent: most sites are in low income, vulnerable minority- concentrated locations. The Okhla anti-incinerator campaign too is a victim of such a global universalism in the choice of locating both experimental and scientifically proven hazardous projects cheek by jowl with vulnerable residential areas.
( Seema Alavi is professor, University of Delhi )
The views expressed by the author are personal
A PERILOUS PATH
You don't have be a clairvoyant reader of tea- leaves to spot the paradoxical, but extremely illuminating patterns of behaviour that defined India's headlines this past fortnight.
In Delhi, and perhaps in swish drawing-rooms across metropolitan India, the anti-politician chorus was hitting a crescendo. For a middle-class which was once too prickly to accept Slumdog Millionaire's portrayal of grime and poverty as a defining image of India, we were strangely delighted to have the western press discuss our democracy and compare Jantar Mantar to Tahrir Square. Why blame them? This is now our own stated self-image. And as we clicked 'Like' on all the dislike and hatred that was given vent to online, we breezily offered Facebook as an alternative to elections.
But as the internet generation declared its derision for all things political, it was simultaneously poll time in key states of the country. And outside the self-loathing bubble that we have created on our laptops and blackberries, was a very different and telling reality. The voter turnout was staggeringly high in West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. West Bengal broke many previous records when the north of the state revealed that almost 85% of the electorate had felt engaged enough to vote.
Travelling through rural Bengal almost two weeks ago on finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's campaign trail, I marvelled, not for the first time, at the fact that even the absence of bijli, sadak, pani had not turned the voter here into an apolitical, perennially disgruntled creature. In Nalhati, where Mukherjee's son, Abhijeet, was fighting his maiden political battle in a seat traditionally held by the Left, a dusty, bumpy mud track wound its way around a cluster of impoverished families. There was no road for miles; and a single handpump belched out a muddy trickle that passed for water.
Yet when the chopper landed on the local school grounds throwing up a tornado of sand, the people still looked up at the skies as if searching for signs of possible change. I so vividly remember the determined expression on the face of an old woman, a thin-cotton sari wrapped around her fragile frame, as she pushed her way through the crowds to get a good listening seat at the rally that evening.
If Tahrir Square is the new metaphor for a determined citizen, why doesn't she get to represent that? Or must you hate politics, democracy and the electoral process to be celebrated these days? Or perhaps be a shoe-hurler before the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal will want to write about you?
Did anyone notice that while we were so busy hating our democracy, panchayat elections were held in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in more than a decade. Usually, the right-wing loony fringe is not just well organised in the venom it orchestrates online; it is especially vocal against anyone with a nuanced perspective on the genuine issues of alienation in the Valley. Any talk of 'political solutions' to the Kashmir issue gets you labelled 'anti-national' and invites instant online stalking.
Yet, here was a historically high participation in the local polls, that mirroring the previous two assembly elections, had defied boycott calls and militant threats. While middle class India was seeking affirmation in autocratic regimes and wanting to be more like China or Singapore, a young woman candidate was shot dead in Budgam district.
Several candidates withdrew their nominations fearing the same fate. And yet, even after the killing, the multi-phase panchayat elections has seen voting figures hit an 80% turnout. This is the how high the stakes are to protect the vote in some parts of India. No one is over-simplifying the political conclusions that can be drawn from the Kashmir local polls. Veteran watchers of the state are able to separate the complex and seemingly contradictory strands of participation in elections and problems of alienation co-existing. But equally, no one can deny that every election that is fair and transparent and is able to draw on the engagement of the people is one step towards mending broken fences. And yet, we were so heady on our own 'people power' that we forgot to acknowledge the real and meaningful assertions of popular will.
High-voter turnouts are not signs of benign forgiveness of political misdeeds. On the contrary, statisticians will tell you they often herald decisive mandates and could thus be tell-tale symbols of popular discontent as well. But their participation in democracy entitles voters to anger much more than our arm-chair venom.
It is no one's case that democracy is an antidote for all our ailments. And electoral victories in the court of public opinion does not diminish the judicial accountability of any politician accused of violating the law. So, yes, India's democratic institutions are weak and we are correct to be sceptical, even cynical. But can we with any honesty opt out of a system and still feel entitled to pronounce on it?
While we may not remember him on most days, when it suits us we often like to cloak our discontent behind the dignity of quoting Gandhi. So here are some sage words from the Mahatma who presciently said: "Democracy is an impossible thing until power is shared by all but let not democracy degenerate into mobocracy." And talking of Gandhi, it's a matter of some irony that we think our own country is one where the political process is not worthy of our respect or attention. But we see no contradiction in spending the weekend drooling over a 'royal' wedding, vicariously feasting on our slightly slavish cravings, left over from the Age of the Commonwealth.
Er, "people power?"
( Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV )
The views expressed by the author are personal
RIP: THE LITERARY PIANO
News of the imminent death of the manual typewriter sent romantics all over our interconnected planet into a state of gloom. Neither the demise of the vinyl record nor the unsung departure of the rotary dial telephone triggered the sort of lamentation set off by a news report in the Business Standard: Godrej & Boyce, the last frontier for the manual typewriter, was stopping the production of its last brand, the Godrej Prima. The report went viral, inspiring requiems from Auckland to Vancouver. Not so fast, cautioned others. Apparently a New Jersey company still manufactures typewriters — including a see-through one that is very popular in prisons (easier for guards to spot contraband in its innards).
Phew, the manual typewriter still lives. Yet, what was surprising was the response, particularly by Facebookers and Tweeters, most of whom have probably never touched one. Why on earth would anyone shed tears over a gadget that can't store, won't google or spell-check and doesn't give you a choice of fonts and typeface? Surely, the typewriter's obituary is overdue.
Yes, the typewriter continues to have its more prosaic uses, outside our courts, for instance, where a small army of typists hammer out pleadings, replies, affidavits and other legalese. But their numbers are dwindling and you have to wonder: for how much longer?
Typewriting — the real thing, not the two-fingered tango — was once an essential skill. The school that admitted me to its journalism programme in 1986 insisted that I know how to type at a certain speed and so off I went to Rajesh and Naresh Gupta's typing school where I learned to mind my qwertys and asdfgs. The trick was 'touch' typing; the penalty for glancing at your keyboard was to type the page all over again.
When I went looking for my first journalism job, one of the considerable seductions of the now defunct Indian Post newspaper in Mumbai was that it had these new-fangled computers. Change was knocking at the door also at the Old Lady of Boribunder. But the Times of India hadn't reckoned with the resistance of its powerful Mumbai union which, bizarrely, didn't want computers. For over a month, every lunch hour, protesting journalists pushed back their typewriters to angrily bang their pens on their desks.
What accounts for our enduring nostalgia for the typewriter? The typewriter physically connected writer to paper. It forced concentration. You had to be sure of what you wanted to write — cut-paste was not a matter of hitting controls x and y, nor could you open windows to quickly skype a friend or buy a book on Flipkart. It was a private symphony between you and your sheet of paper. Even now, you can spot old-timers from the sound of their keyboard. I come down so hard on mine, the volume building with the speed at which my fingers fly off the keyboard, that many letters on the keys have been erased. When I try the genteel tip-tipping of my children, it just won't cut it: typing must have its accompanying music, even though many of the notes — the hard cc-rrunch of the roll when you fed in your paper, the polite ping when you reached the end of a line, the triumphant crack of the carriage return — are extinct. These were the sounds that led a Scientific American article in 1867 to describe the newly-invented typewriter as a 'literary piano'.
It's in the imagination that the typewriter lives for a generation of writers — sleeves rolled up, slouched over a Remington, cigarette dangling from mouth, a glass of whisky on the side, pounding out their masterpiece. It's an image that has stuck, from Mark Twain, apparently the first important writer to send out a typed manuscript, to Jack Kerouac who wrote On the Road single-spaced on just one roll of paper, 120 feet long, writers and typewriters just go together.
Sure, it's a no-contest. Given a choice, I'll choose my computer over a typewriter any day. That doesn't mean, however, that I won't feel a twinge when the last one heads to the museum.
( Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer )
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
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A VOTE TOO MANY
For weeks it had been clear that the Public Accounts Committee was headed for a fracas — especially after Congress and DMK members took up their party line that once a joint parliamentary committee on telecom had been constituted, the PAC should desist from inquiring into 2G spectrum allocation. The argument was, and remains, flimsy. Yet, no one could have expected the meeting called to take a final view on the draft to collapse so fast into such unprecedented mayhem. After UPA MPs tried to force a vote, a move resisted by opposition MPs, PAC chairman M.M. Joshi adjourned the meet. But the UPA MPs — who with support from a BSP and an SP MP, held a 11-10 majority on the committee — stayed on and elected themselves a new chairman, Saifuddin Soz, and rejected the report. This is a tactic of such breathtaking recklessness that the UPA should consider what it implies for the committee system in Parliament and for the immediate need to bring a working civility to Parliament.
The PAC is a committee of long lineage, and after Independence it has been incrementally strengthened as a watchdog on the government's finances. Early on ministers were kept out of the committee, and by the mid-1960s a convention was adopted of appointing an opposition MP as chairperson. It is a convention that's mostly worked well, and it has served as a mechanism to nurture working relations between government and opposition so critical in a parliamentary democracy. This is why the UPA's ploy of forcing a vote is so reckless — it threatens to wreck the consultative and give-and-take mechanisms between treasury and opposition benches that steel the legislature into the sum of more than the ruling party/ coalition's numbers. Certainly, the current stand-off draws from the politically charged 2G context. And Joshi, as committee chair, could have done more to prepare the members for a more deliberative paragraph-by-paragraph reading of the draft, especially the contentious portions relating to the prime minister. He should have seen the polarised my-truth-versus-yours political environment and refrained from making his press conferences such a performance.
Of course, Joshi's job was not made any easier by the Congress's obstructionism. And ultimately, the PAC — by extension, Parliament itself — has been let down by the UPA. Forcing a vote — using brute numbers to overturn convention — is not always the
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
After doing little for years, things are moving in A.K. Antony's ministry of defence. First the armed forces spent the entire defence budget for fiscal 2010-11 — after returning approximately Rs 5,000 crore in 2007-08, Rs 7,000 crore in 2008-09 and Rs 5,200 crore in 2009-10 unspent. Then the MoD asked for more, and the 2010-11 defence budget saw an 11.6 per cent hike — with 12 per cent more for capital expenditure meant for procuring, among other things, 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). For the MMRCA, French Dassault Aviation's Rafale and the Eurofighter consortium's Typhoon have been asked to extend their commercial bids. In the process, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin's F-16 IN Super Viper were rejected, along with Russia's MiG-35 and Sweden's Saab JAS-39 Gripen. The MMRCA contract is worth $10 billion, and the diplomatic investment made by bidding nations meant rejections could leave a sour taste.
The salient facts of the process this time round must be noted and cheered. First, it has been transparent, with rejections made on technical grounds. The two MMRCA selected performed the best in trials and were seen to be closest to the Indian Air Force's (IAF) requirements. Second, it was the IAF's technical expertise that determined which contenders stayed on, without political interference. Third, the spectre of scandal in defence procurement that has haunted the UPA government would stop arms purchase at the slightest hint of controversy. As a result, while trials and tenders were falling prey to such fears, the Indian armed forces were being undermined as an institution, blunting our conventional response capability. The IAF itself has seen a sharp decline in squadron numbers. The MMRCA bidding process so far is encouraging, and it should mark a new beginning.
Large-scale military procurement must also consider offsets and indigenisation, access to technology, long-term time and cost optimisation. However, it is dangerous to reduce, or elevate, any military procurement to a purely political decision — as might have been the case if the MoD had chosen Boeing and Lockheed Martin despite the IAF thumbs down. Those who will use the equipment must have the word on what best answers their needs.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
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.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE GREAT LETDOWN
There are parallels in the mandates that Rajiv Gandhi's Congress won in December 1984, and Sonia Gandhi's UPA in May 2009. In both cases an aspirational electorate brought back an incumbent to power on a promise of optimistic change. A fortnight from the second anniversary of UPA 2 you can also begin to see parallels in the pace with which the Congress of 1984 squandered its mandate, and the UPA now.
Rajiv Gandhi was undone by his party's old guard, who he had taken on frontally a bit too early in the day. He had not yet prepared his party, or public opinion, for the break from the past that he articulated so bravely in his speech at the Bombay AICC session (in 1985). When the formidable immune system of entrenched old interests struck back, he did not have the time, support base or firepower to fight back. The move downhill began just as his government entered its third year, and gathered momentum on way to the 1989 elections.
UPA 2 began its decline even before it was two. For one, it had brought along its Bofors from UPA 1, the telecom scam. But to call the telecom scam primarily responsible for UPA 2's predicament would be to oversimplify the case. Because in politics, a scandal or an event can spin so out of control as to destroy a strong, elected government and a popular, credible leader only if the political ground for that has been prepared by, what else, poor politics and leadership.
Rajiv Gandhi's politics started going downhill with his pandering to the Muslim Right on the Shah Bano judgment that alienated moderate Muslims within his own party, liberals among his voters, and gave the Hindu Right a cause. From then to Bofors, and the shilanyas at Ayodhya to please the devout Hindus instead, it was one long series of political blunders with no redemption or recovery. UPA 2's blunders are of a different nature, and a direct result of fundamentally flawed politics.
This government was voted back to power by a resurgent
India making a bold and widely hailed move from the politics of grievance to the politics of aspiration, something this newspaper also underlined on the day after the results in a front-page editorial ('Hands down', IE, May 17, 2009). But it would seem that, once elected, it forgot all about that aspirational young India and slipped back into its own, old, povertarian, everything-is-wrong-where-are-we-headed discourse. Not a step was taken on economic reforms, if anything some were reversed as so many Central ministers, now full of the arrogance of re-election, were back to the old Congress instinct of extortion and rent-seeking. The return of this depredatory governance fed directly into the alienation sparked by the government's inability to take the telecom scam head-on. The others that followed, Commonwealth Games and Adarsh (though the Centre had almost nothing to do with it), only fed that rising anger.
From day one, UPA 2 seemed like it was embarrassed by the very factors that had given its voters such an aspirational belief. It was shy of talking growth, employment generation, modernisation, even national pride. It was shy of even sending a thank-you card of some kind to those who had voted it back to power. In 2009, the UPA won almost every single city in a rapidly urbanising India. Yet, rather than reform urban governance, it sat silently as one urban agency after the other became more corrupt, more whimsical and more cruelly authoritarian, and most in cities under its own governments. Ask anybody in Delhi who has to take an MCD permit to build something or get a certificate from the DDA. Can you even get a birth certificate, a driving licence, a passport in time without paying somebody? You are first not told what you can build, and after you build, the same guys come to demolish it. In Mumbai, no apartment buyer knows how much square-footage he is paying for and what he will get. All cities are so short of school and college seats, and a child is doomed unless her uncle is a big shot who can swing her into a decent school. Dr Singh's government and Sonia's Congress party should have begun to address these issues from day one in their second innings. They did nothing of the sort, and the result is the mainly well-heeled, but angry and humiliated, city folk who are walking around with candles, "mera neta chor hai" tattoos and demanding that their MPs be fed to vultures or dogs, or both. An aspirational society is an impatient society. Even more so when it is so young, and getting younger.
Nobody in the Congress or the UPA has been talking to this India, whether in cities or villages. This has been the quietest, the most shy government in India's history, and nobody can govern this country from the trenches. If the mood at Jantar Mantar is anti-politician, or for an apolitical system, this has been an incredibly apolitical government, which is its own and India's tragedy. Because in a democracy, politicians must speak with people, to sell their ideas, plans, explain their mistakes, promise redress, and so on. But here, Sonia and Rahul rarely, if ever, speak in public. They almost never speak to the media or make an intervention in Parliament and rarer still on behalf of the government. The party behaves as if this government has been outsourced to bureaucrats. The prime minister too speaks rarely and his minders seem to not only draw great comfort from it, but also take pride in it, as if they have a prime minister they need to protect, and hide from public interaction and gaze. If you do not speak to the voters for two full years, they will turn to somebody, to the courts, to high-decibel TV anchors, to Anna Hazare.
Petrified Congressmen are today coming out in self-serving defence of politics and democracy. But their own party set up this government as if politics was India's curse and only what was apolitical was virtuous. How else would you explain the formation of the National Advisory Council (NAC) with a statutorily mandated position, and to which Sonia Gandhi related (in public perception) much more strongly than to her government? In the name of civil society, the NAC was not only given the powers to draft legislation but also to attack the government and its policies relentlessly. That is why the Congress now sounds so hollow when it questions the demand that "civil society" draft the new Lokpal legislation. If Sonia's civil society can do it, why not Anna's? And please stop giving us sanctimonious lectures on Parliament's sovereignty over law-making.
These, the de-politicisation of its own political approach, and a clinical but systematic distancing of the party and its top leadership from its government, are UPA 2's equivalent of Rajiv Gandhi's premature assault on the old guard and the Shah Bano bill. Telecom and other scams have filled the moral space thus vacated to become today's Bofors, and to symbolise popular anger. Howsoever good the results of May 13 for the Congress, they will not reverse this downslide. But they will provide a breather. If Sonia, Manmohan Singh and, most importantly, Rahul still want to reverse the slide, and not write off 2014 as well, they will have to totally reboot their politics. And remember not to repeat the mistakes Rajiv made in his government's second half, though the spectacle the Congress created at the PAC, unfortunately, reminded you so much of Shankaranand's shameful JPC on Bofors.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
ALL ABOUT YOU
I was in Chennai last week, my first visit to the southern metro. To make sure I did not get lost in this strange city, I often switched on the Google Maps software on my phone to pinpoint my location and to search for directions. With just a few seconds of configuration using cellphone towers, I knew where I was. So did Google. And the rest of the world, for I was also logged in to Google's Latitude, which shows the location of users on a map.
Thankfully, my app works only when I switch it on. But if you are using an Apple iPhone or a high-end iPad with 3G, or a smart phone running on Google's Android OS, similar data is being transmitted to company servers all the time. So Apple and Google keep a record of where exactly their users have been, how much time they spend at a location and how frequently they visit certain spots. In most countries, a court order is mandatory for even government agencies to keep such records.
To make matters worse, people using the fancy iPhone and
Android apps unwittingly give away more private information. Apple knows you were in a certain part of a city looking for an Italian restaurant, or worse. You might have followed this up with a tweet or a Facebook post about your experience at the eatery. Thankfully, most companies don't misuse such information. But what if they did? The next time you went to the same part of town, you could get a message saying why not try ABC Italian Restaurant, since you didn't like XYZ last time.
If you think that is bad, the truth is this kind of data retention is comparatively less harmful. Take Facebook, for instance. What started as Mark Zuckerberg's little college website now knows the best-kept secrets of roughly 600 million people. Most of us don't care, but the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California, knows everything about you — who you are married to, or dating, your favourite TV show, political affiliation, even the colour of your underwear, if you were stupid enough to post about it. Anyone who has used the Facebook photo uploader of late knows it can recognise most of your friends, and that too without any human help.
But then just a fraction of Facebook users ends up giving credit card information to the company. No such luck for the 77 million members in Sony's PlayStation network who have to give credit card details along with other personal data. After reports that most of this information was hacked into last week, Sony is running for cover. While the company is working with law-enforcement agencies to catch the culprits, it's also asking users to exercise caution. The only saving grace here could be the fact that most hackers attempt such breaches just for the kick of it, and don't intend to misuse data.
Meanwhile, faced with anger from customers and governments across the world, Apple finally acknowledged that it had made mistakes. CEO Steve Jobs, who has been on medical leave, gave an interview explaining the company's delay in coming up with a response to what the blogs are now calling the "iSpy" controversy. "The first thing we always do when a problem is brought to us is we try to isolate it and find out if it is real. It took us about a week to do an investigation and write a response, which is fairly quick for something this technically complicated," he said. "We haven't been tracking anybody... never have, never will." Google too conceded that it had collected similar location data through its Android phones .
It was up to the Apple website to publish a Q&A explaining that it was only "maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested". The company says all data with it is anonymous and encrypted and it cannot identify the source of this data.
But tech blogger John Grubber knows there's a bug in Apple's technology. He writes in his blog "Daring Fireball": "...historical data should be getting culled but isn't, either due to a bug or, more likely, an oversight, that is, someone wrote the code to cache location data but never wrote code to cull non-recent entries from the cache, so that a database that's meant to serve as a cache
of your recent location data is instead a persistent log of your location history."
Apple is sure to fix the bug with a software update, but it's time we gave a serious thought to how much of us we should put online.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WHEN CORRUPTION IS VIEWED FUZZILY'
We are here, all of us, because like many others in this country we are concerned about the rampant corruption that is hollowing out the institutions of our democracy. Twenty years ago, when the era of "liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation" descended on us, we were told that public sector units and public infrastructure needed to be privatised because they were corrupt and inefficient.
We were told the problem was systemic. Now that nearly everything has been privatised, when our rivers, mountains, forests, minerals, water supply, electricity and communications systems have been sold to private corporations, we find that corruption has grown exponentially, the growth rate of corruption has surpassed everything we could possibly imagine. In scam after scam, the figures that are being siphoned away are completely off the charts. It is not surprising that this has enraged the people of this country. But that anger does not always show signs of being accompanied by clear thinking.
Among the millions of understandably furious people who thronged to Jantar Mantar to support Anna Hazare and his team, corruption was presented as a moral issue, not a political one, or a systemic one — not as a symptom of the disease bu the disease itself. There were no calls to change or dismantle a system that was causing the corruption. Perhaps this was not surprising because many of those middle-class people who flocked to Jantar Mantar and much of the corporate-sponsored media who broadcast the gathering, calling it a "revolution" — India's Tahrir Square — had benefited greatly from the economic reforms that have led to corruption on this scale. (The same media has in the past ignored rallies of hundreds of thousands of poor people who have gathered in Delhi in the past because their demands did not suit the corporate agenda). It was not surprising then, that several corporate CEOs generously donated lakhs of rupees to support the campaign, cellphone companies weighed in with free SMS messages — here was their chance to undo the beating the public image of the corporate sector and corporate media had taken when the 2G scam hit the news.
When corruption is viewed fuzzily, as just a touchy-feely "moral" problem then everybody can happily rally to the cause — fascists, democrats, anarchists, god-squadders, day-trippers, the right, the left and even the deeply corrupt, who are usually the most enthusiastic demonstrators. It's a pot that is easy to make but much easier to break. Anna Hazare threw the first stone at his own pot when he shocked his supporters from the left by rolling Narendra Modi onto centre-stage, in his "Development Chief Minister" clothes. Leaving aside the debate on Modi's extremely dubious achievements in the field of "development" — many of us were left to wonder whether we were being offered a supposedly incorruptible fascist as an alternative to hopelessly corrupt supposed democrats.
I am not against having a strong anti-corruption body, though I would like to be reassured that it in itself does not become an unaccountable, undemocratic institution accruing great powers to itself. However I do not believe that we can fight communal fascism or economic totalitarianism (that has led to us having more than 800 million people in this country living on less than 20 rupees a day) with only legal measures.
As long as we have these economic policies in place, the National Employment Guarantee Act will never be able to do away with hunger and malnutrition, anti-corruption laws will not do away with injustice, and criminal laws will not do away with communal fascism, the twin sibling of economic totalitarianism. They will, at best, be mitigating measures. As the historian Howard Zinn said "the rule of law does not do away with the unequal distribution of wealth and power, but reinforces that inequality with the authority of law. It allocates wealth and power in such complicated and indirect ways as to leave the victim bewildered."
Will the Right to Information Bill or the Jan Lokpal Bill force the government to disclose the secret MoUs with private corporations it has signed in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand for which it is prepared to wage war against its poorest citizens? If they do, then these MoUs will disclose the fact that the government is selling the country's minerals to private corporations for a pittance, a small royalty. It's not corruption. It's completely above board, it's legal plunder which is more scandalous, and has economic, environmental and human costs that will outstrip the 2G scam several times over. If we do get the information, what will we do with it? I do believe that if anyone present at the "revolution" at Jantar Mantar had raised the question of the secret MoUs, the adoring TV coverage and a good proportion of the crowd would have disappeared very quickly.
The lawyer Prashant Bhushan who is on the drafting committee for the Jan Lokpal Bill understands all of this very clearly. In his years as a public interest litigation lawyer he has consistently represented mass movements as well as individuals who have been fighting these policies with their backs to the wall. He is the counsel in the PIL in the 2G scam in which Tata and Reliance, the biggest corporations in the country, along with their allies in the government and the media, have been badly exposed. Yesterday in court he asked why only the paid employees of these corporations were being arrested and not their proprietors. Such a man must be targeted, taken down, right?
The viciousness of the smear campaign against him is proof of the threat he poses to vested interests. I have known Prashant Bhushan for years. First as a comrade and now as a close friend. We may disagree about some things, but I would vouch for his integrity anytime, anywhere. He is acutely aware of his family's social and economic privilege. Even more so of the fact that that most of that privilege is derived from his father to whom is he is very close, but with whom he has major ideological differences. Like many of us who are privileged compared to the majority of the people in this country (some of us by birth, caste, race, gender, and/or by virtue of writing a best-selling novel), Prashant had to decide what to do with that privilege. He chose to use his training as a lawyer to create as much space as possible for those against whom the Powers are arraigned. This is why he has been at the barricades of almost every issue of social justice that is being fought in this country. This is what has been turned against him. And this is why he is being hunted down.
In a filthy battle such as this one, in which facts are made up, none of us can ever be pure enough or righteous enough. None of us can hope to emerge untainted. However, the fight will continue. Retreat is not an option.
Presented at the 'Convention Against Corruption' in New Delhi, April 29
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
INDIA GOES TO TOWNS
SURJIT S BHALLA
It was just five years ago that an expert investment committee, headed by Ratan Tata and set up by the prime minister, came up with a report that said India should aim for increasing the investment rate to the mid-30s over the next decade. Before the ink was dry, India was investing at that rate.
A large part of the demand for new investment was to be in infrastructure, and a just-released report on urbanisation from the ministry of urban development, by an expert group chaired by distinguished economist and policy wonk Isher Ahluwalia, argues that India needs Rs 39 lakh crore investment spread out over 20 years if India is to sustain, and improve, its GDP growth rate of 8 per cent per annum. This translates into an increase in urban infrastructure investment from 0.7 per cent at present to 1.1 per cent of GDP 20 years later. How realistic is this estimate? Or will it suffer the same fate as the Ratan Tata forecast?
Let us place the report, and its demands, in context. This will be the ninth year running that India will grow above 8 per cent per annum (yes, I know, there was global recession in 2008-09 when the growth rate dipped to 6.7 per cent). Yet, many learned scholars keep arguing that India is overheating and should be "proud" to settle into the non-overheating zone at the earliest opportunity. Of course, they never specify what that non-overheating zone is — because that is not the concern. It is inflation, and if inflation is 6 per cent with a growth rate of 6 per cent, well then, we are overheating! But that is to assume that inflation and growth are twins separated at birth. An untenable, and even ridiculous, assumption.
The latest budget places infrastructure investment to be around Rs 12 trillion, or about 13 per cent of the total budget, or about a third of the investment budget. While the definition of infrastructure investments has changed, and will change, a one-third share was last seen in the 1980s. Infrastructure investments in general, and investments in urban areas in particular, are likely to increase much more than that envisioned by the Ahluwalia committee. So on that score, the forecast is likely to be in error, and an under-estimate. And with it the fears that unless this investment was forthcoming, Indian GDP growth of 8 per cent will be in jeopardy.
Besides this unrealistic under-estimate of future urban investments, the report is excellent and spot-on. The most urgent need in India is to face up to the forthcoming urbanisation problem. To date, India has been able to side-step this issue because its rate of urbanisation has been much slower than predicted. Figures just released for China indicate that their degree of urbanisation has increased from 36 per cent in 2000 to 50 per cent today. Admittedly, China is three times as rich as India, but urbanisation has to do with both the level of income and its rate of growth. And with the kind of growth rate India has been experiencing — and this without any economic reforms — one can only conjecture what will happen to urbanisation, and growth, once there is reform renewal.
While I have quibbled with the forecast of the level of urban investments, I must emphasise that the report is brilliant in its dissection of the past, and its recommendations for the future. The future is outlined in eight different areas — water, sanitation, roads etc. But one among several real contributions of the report is in its emphasis on financing.
This is a big, and welcome, departure for Indian policy. It indicates that the report-writers are well aware of the changing world and domestic order. Infrastructure is a public "good" but it does not mean that there has to be a strain on the central budget. Cities will develop, and their development will have to be increasingly self-financed. Hence, the very welcome discussion, and recommendations, about how municipalities (urban local bodies) will have to be developed, strengthened, and given the right to administer and collect "exclusive" taxes. This will involve changing the all-important nature and structure of property taxes in India. The report does not discuss it, but capital gains taxes for property also need a major reworking, and reduction. It is high time our tax administrators realised that both governance and revenue maximisation involve lower tax rates — alternatively, lack of tax collection, bribery, corruption, black-money generation all require high tax rates.
The Ahluwalia report rightly stresses reforms and governance. We have had precious few of these in the last decade, and certainly none since the growth spurt started in 2003-04. Does that mean reforms are not necessary? Just the opposite. Both to sustain this 8 per cent plus growth, and to increase it, reforms such as those suggested will be absolutely necessary.
One area of infrastructure where we have known what to do, as testified by the several committee reports (the latest being the Kirit Parikh 2010 report), is on the pricing of domestic oil products. But these reports have made little difference to the fact that in terms of oil (an important element of infrastructure) the Indian government, and especially the UPA, has followed one of the stupidest policies in the world. So why would the Ahluwalia report not suffer the same fate and why will stupidity not reign supreme? Because, like the slow pace of urbanisation, those days are gone. Governments and those who frame inappropriate policies have no place to hide.
I don't want to end on a pessimistic note — it is not part of my DNA. But what ultimately proves worthwhile in the muddling through, but entertaining and exciting, society of ours, are studies like the infrastructure report. Most questions are discussed, analysed, and suggested paths outlined. If only India were to begin to listen. But it has! And at long last, even the UPA is beginning to recognise reality.
The author is Chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE CIRCUMSTANCE OF POMP
A few days before William and Kate gave us our royal moment, we had already been witness to one in our own backyard, less spectacular and without the public and media frenzy, but replete with ritualistic pomp and circumstance nevertheless. In Jaipur, a 12-year-old boy was honoured with the "raj tilak", or royal coronation, as he ascended the throne vacated by the death of Bhawani Singh, the erstwhile Maharaja of Jaipur. The fact that in today's age, we are still hosting coronations exactly as they were conducted during the height of privy purses and power, with other former royal families in attendance — and obeisance — shows our acknowledgment and enduring obsession with royalty and its ceremonial trappings. That has been clear in the way the London event was covered by every Indian media outlet worth its TRPs, and how life seemed to have paused as we found vicarious escape in a marriage in the House of Windsor.
What gives? This is the same House of Windsor that millions of Indians fought to shake off. Yet, the relationship has endured, albeit under the larger umbrella of the Commonwealth, but without too much rancour and bitterness. There are, of course, historical, political, diplomatic and socio-economic reasons for that, analysed threadbare by now; but it is really our need for a royal fix that seems to have endured.
Royals, whether Indian or foreign, are famous for being famous. Moreover, the bond between our erstwhile royals and the House of Windsor has lasted: Prince Charles comes visiting, as he did in 2010, and he and Camilla are hosted and feted by Amarinder Singh of Patiala and Gaj Singh of Jodhpur. Incidentally, all our former royals still refer to themselves in correspondence and on their letterheads as His Royal Highness. And, for many Indians, England's royals are our royals. Late last year, there was another royal wedding in Europe. The heir to the Swedish throne, crown princess Victoria, married her fitness instructor. The couple were young and attractive, the wedding procession was four miles long and the couple were transported by royal barge instead of royal carriage, yet not one media outlet in India saw fit to cover the event. Our royal allegiance is restricted to the Windsors.
We Indians also love ceremony and rituals and the British royals do pomp and ceremony better and more elaborately than any other. The Indian armed forces still carry on many of those ceremonial traditions. We also love our weddings and band baja baraat was in full display at Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and down the Mall.
There is also the fact that the Windsors have become more human thanks to a series of scandals, divorces, an annus horribilis, tragedy and generally dysfunctional behaviour. The little girl playing with her father in the Oscar-winning The King's Speech is the same person who struggled to respond to Diana's death, and is about to become grandmother-in-law to Kate Middleton.
Indeed, the royal nuptials in London bring back nostalgic memories of another fairytale wedding, Charles and Di. Her own marriage in 1981, its tumultuous aftermath and then her death, transfixed us. Now the elder son, who looks so like his mother, is marrying a commoner. Fairy tales don't get fairier than that. Let's not forget that it was at the Taj Mahal that the first signs of marital discord between his parents became apparent to the world.
Of course, the India connection goes deeper than that and the royal linkages are far more complex. Parts of India are still very feudal; we may celebrate our democracy and our millionaire entrepreneurs and our egalitarian society — but reality is far more complicated than that. The royals may have no legal standing, but, even stripped of their titles, most are still comparatively rich and powerful, and many became members of parliament and even senior cabinet ministers. Morever, they are still treated as superiors by their "subjects" back in their home states. We are still captivated by their aura, mystique and the fabulous lifestyles they led. The Windors are a more permanent throwback to that era.
Ultimately, the royal wedding is a modern fairytale; like the ones we all grew up with, the handsome prince and the beautiful princess. The Friday nuptials may have knocked the IPL off the TV ratings — but what explains the fact that so many IPL teams have a royal connect in their choice of names? We have the Royal Challengers, the Rajasthan Royals, King's XI Punjab and the Chennai Super Kings. That is subject for a larger psycho-analytical study — but, for now, here's the bottomline. Trapped in the midst of scams and scandals and with politicians, the judiciary and even corporate India hit by a major crisis of credibility, a royal wedding is the ideal distraction, a perfect extension to India's enduring connection to family far away.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif created a furore in Pakistan's political circles by suggesting Sindh be divided and Karachi reconfigured as a new province. This was his response to the longstanding debate on the division of Punjab and the creation of a Seraiki state.
On April 25, Daily Times reported: Shahbaz said the PML-N wouldn't oppose the creation of a Seraiki province in Punjab if more provinces were created in Pakistan, including Karachi as a separate province." The PML-N is obviously opposed to the division of Punjab, and since this demand has been repeatedly raised by the PPP, Sharif chose to hit back by suggesting the division of Sindh, which is the PPP's stronghold. His statement elicited vociferous condemnation from PML-N's political opponents, the PPP, MQM and ANP. The protest turned violent as Daily Times reported on April 26: "Activists from nationalist parties on Monday attacked the regional office of PML-N over the statement of Punjab CM." However, as Dawn reported on April 26 Sharif not only retracted his statement but also restated it: "He contradicted reports that he had called for making Karachi a separate province... According to him, he had said that 'the PML-N is not opposed to the creation of Seraiki or Bahawalpur province, but as a national party it would decide the issue... at the party level and that where else in the country new provinces were to be created and whether or not Karachi should also be made a new province.' He regretted an attempt was made... deliberately... to wrongly interpret what he had said... which had hurt him personally."
Batting for ISI
The PPP was put in a spot after opposition leader in National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan questioned the mandate of the ISI chief to visit Washington earlier this month, reported Daily Times on April 26. PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, reported The News on April 28, retorted to Khan's question, giving a clean chit to Pakistan's intelligence apparatus: "'The country's institutions should not be looked at with suspicion... Whatever the intelligence agencies, including the ISI, do is according to the government's instructions and under the government's guidance.' Speaking about the DG ISI's visit to Washington, the PM said Pakistan and the US had multilateral cooperation... for the last 60 years."
Karachi witnessed Taliban-sponsored violence this week. Interestingly, they now targeted the Pakistan navy, which temporarily closed its schools in Karachi to contain the damage.
The News reported on April 27: "Taliban spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihsan called The News from an undisclosed location and said they had targeted the navy in Karachi because it had been protecting US consignments at the Karachi seaport." Barely two days later, another attack took place. Daily Times reported on April 29: "Another bomb ripped through a Pakistan navy bus... in Karachi on Thursday, killing five... and wounding 13... among them seven civilians. It was the third attack on the navy... in the city."
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
ARE PILOTS WORKERS?
With each passing hour, as more Air India flights remain on the ground, it's safe to say the striking pilots will enjoy less and less public sympathy. Apart from putting the flying public to great inconvenience—which is why the Delhi High Court asked the pilots to withdraw their strike and later issued contempt notices when they didn't—the pilots would do well to consider the changed circumstances. At one time, Air India was the only show in town; today, its marketshare is down to 15% in the domestic market, and 25% of the ex-India market. While there is little doubt the strike is inconveniencing passengers, the government can still afford an Air India strike but will be badly affected by a Jet Airways strike. So the pilots' bargaining power is that much less today. There is then the larger question as to whether pilots can be considered to be workmen, and therefore whether they have the right to strike. When the right to strike was first promulgated, this was seen as the only way a largely illiterate and immobile workforce could stand up to managements; none of this is true for well-paid pilots who are well-educated and quite mobile. And since pilots command the aircraft, giving them the right to strike is a bit like saying managers must have the right to strike!
That said, Air India's top brass and more so the civil aviation ministry are very largely to blame for the current state of affairs. For one, when Air India had an equity of R145 crore, what was the government thinking when it got the airline to buy planes worth $11 bn—given that Air India would need to raise revenues 2-3 times just to service the debt, it was always obvious that its future was bleak. Similarly, had the government given Air India the go ahead to transfer half its staff to two new companies (for ground handling and engineering services), the airline's financials wouldn't have been as bad as they are today. To top it all, the aviation ministry decided it wanted to merge Indian Airlines and Air India, and paid little attention to the very serious issue of pay parity between the pilots of the two airlines, and how the Indian Airlines' pilot salaries drop dramatically with the airline reducing their flying hours. Whether the grievance is justified or not, the issue has been simmering for years and the airline's management—and that includes the aviation ministry that constantly indulges in back-seat flying—did nothing to address the problem. Despite this, ministry officials have the temerity to act surprised by the pilots striking work.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
STANDARD AND POOR
While the S&P500 continues to rise to the highest levels since 2008 thanks to excellent corporate results, the news coming out from the US is mixed. While first quarter GDP growth fell to 1.8%, as compared to 3.1% in the previous quarter, the fact that inflation is rising could complicate matters—from a hike of 0.4% in the previous quarter, overall inflation is up to around 1.9% now, and that for personal consumption expenditure is up to 3.8%, its highest level in the last 10 quarters. While much of the hike in inflation is due to the global spurt in commodity prices, especially oil, it lowers the Fed's room for manoeuvre. New applications for unemployment benefits also rose, underlining the fragility of any recovery that is not based on employment rising significantly. Some part of the problem is, no doubt, due to the legislative logjam in the US and is, therefore, transitory—defence expenditure in the quarter fell 11.7% and accentuated the fall in government expenditure. The fall in defence expenditure shaved off around 0.7 percentage points from the quarter's growth.
The larger problem, which doesn't look transitory, is that while private consumption expenditure has slowed, a large part of Q1's growth came from an increase in inventories (change in inventories contributed 0.93 percentage points to overall Q1 growth). A high contribution of inventory accumulation to GDP growth suggests the growth push in the next quarter will be muted to this extent. A Reuters Breakingviews columnist, Martin Hutchinson, points out that the bipartisan December stimulus included a one-year reduction in employee social security contributions, as a result of which around $112 bn extra was put into January pay packets—the reduction in growth in personal spending suggests this never got spent. Curiously, despite the dollar losing value, net exports grew by under 5% as compared to 8.6% in the previous quarter. Given the S&P change in outlook on US debt was a result of no credible plan to reduce government expenditure and debt levels, the US's future outlook looks a bit more cloudy than it did a while back.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
URBAN ROADS, TAKE ME HOME ...
SURJIT S BHALLA
It was just five years ago that an expert investment committee, headed by Ratan Tata and set up by the Prime Minister, came up with a report which said that India should aim for increasing the investment rate to the mid-30s range over the next decade. Before the ink was dry, India was investing at that rate. A large part of the demand for new investment was to be in infrastructure, and a just released report, under the chairmanship of distinguished economist and policy wonk Isher Ahluwalia*, is arguing that India needs R39 lakh crore investment spread out over 20 years if the country is to sustain, and improve, its GDP growth rate of 8% per annum. This translates into an increase in urban infrastructure investment from 0.7% at present to 1.1% of GDP 20 years later. How realistic is this estimate? Or will it suffer the same fate as the Ratan Tata forecast?
Let us place the report, and its demands, in context. This will be the ninth year running that India will grow above 8% per annum (yes, I know, there was global recession in 2008-09 when the growth rate dipped to 6.7%). Yet, many learned scholars keep arguing that India is overheating and should be 'proud' to settle into the non-overheating zone at the earliest opportunity. Of course, they never specify what that non-overheating zone is because that is not the concern. It is inflation, and if inflation is 6% with a growth rate of 6%, well then we are overheating! But that is to assume that inflation and growth are twins separated at birth. An untenable, and even ridiculous, assumption.
The latest Budget places infrastructure investment to be around R12 trillion, or about 13% of the total budget, or about a third of the investment budget. While the definition of infrastructure investments has changed, and will change, a one-third share was last seen in the 1980s. Infrastructure investments in general, and investments in urban areas in particular, are likely to increase much more than that envisioned by the Ahluwalia committee. So, on that score, the forecast is likely to be in error, and an underestimate. And with it the fears that unless this investment was forthcoming, Indian GDP growth of 8% will be in jeopardy.
Besides this unrealistic underestimate of future urban investments, the report is excellent and spot-on. The most urgent need in India is to face up to the forthcoming urbanisation problem. To date, India has been able to side-step this issue because its rate of urbanisation has been much slower than predicted. Figures just released for China indicate that their urbanisation rate has increased from 36% in 2000 to 50% today. Admittedly, China is three times as rich as India, but urbanisation has to do with both the level of income and its rate of growth. And with the kind of growth rate India has been experiencing, and this without any economic reforms, one can only conjecture what will happen to urbanisation, and growth, once there is reform renewal.
While I have quibbled with the forecast of the level of urban investments, I must emphasise that the report is brilliant in its dissection of the past, and its recommendations for the future. The future is outlined, in eight different areas—water, sanitation, roads, etc. But one among several real contributions of the report is in its emphasis on financing. This is a big, and welcome, departure for Indian policy. It indicates that the report writers are well aware of the changing world, and domestic, order. Infrastructure is a public 'good' but it does not mean that there has to be a strain on the central budget. Cities will develop, and their development will have to be increasingly self-financed. Hence, the very welcome discussion, and recommendations, about how municipalities (urban local bodies) will have to be developed, strengthened, and given the right to administer and collect 'exclusive' taxes. This will involve changing the all important nature, and structure, of property taxes in India. The report does not discuss, but capital gains taxes for property also need a major reworking, and reduction. It is high time our tax administrators realised that both governance and revenue maximisation involve lower tax rates—alternatively, lack of tax collection, bribery, corruption, black money generation all require high tax rates.
The Ahluwalia report rightly stresses reforms and governance. We have had precious few of these in the last decade, and certainly none since the growth spurt started in 2003-04. Does that mean reforms are not necessary? Just the opposite—both to sustain this 8%-plus growth, and to increase it, reforms such as those suggested will be absolutely necessary.
One area of infrastructure where we have known what to do, as testified by the several committee reports (the latest being the Kirit Parikh 2010 report), is on the pricing of domestic oil products. But these reports have made little difference to the fact that in terms of oil (an important element of infrastructure), the Indian government, and especially the UPA, has followed one of the stupidest policies in the world. So why would the Ahluwalia report not suffer the same fate and why will stupidity not reign supreme? Because like the slow pace of urbanisation, those days are gone. Governments and inappropriate policymakers have no place to hide.
I don't want to end on a pessimistic note—it is not part of my DNA. But what ultimately proves worthwhile in the muddling thru, but entertaining and exciting, society of ours, are studies like the infrastructure report. Most questions are discussed, analysed, and suggested paths outlined. If only India were to begin to listen. But it is! And at long last, even the UPA is beginning to recognise reality.
* Report on Urban Infrastructure and Services, Chairperson, Isher Ahluwalia, Ministry of Urban Development, March 2011
The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
THE MISSING MILLIONS IN CITIES
YOGINDER K ALAGH
In my SK Dey Centenary Memorial Lecture in 2006, at the National Institute of Rural Development, I had argued that urbanisation in Gujarat was clearly underestimated. There were more than 122 large villages in Gujarat in 2001, which had, according to the 2001 Census, all the characteristics of towns but were not measured as such. The actual growth of urbanisation was around 5% and not half of that. We were right. In Gujarat, urbanisation went up from 37.4% in 2001 to 42.6% in 2011, not in line with official projections at 40.4%. For the country as a whole, we have argued that we are underestimating the needs of 10% of the labour force, which will move in addition to the official estimates from the rural to urban continuum. This number is 40 million people.
I am not quite clear why the rural-urban breakup of the population is not included in the preliminary results declared by the Census for all the states. But Gujarat and Kerala have done so on April 1, 2011. In Gujarat, the urban population was 42.6% of the total population, around 2.57 crore persons. But the projections of the urban population by the Technical Group on Population Projections after the 2001 Census was 2.4 crore and so, for almost a decade, we have made policies ignoring around two million people and their needs in Gujarat. The only other state that has released rural-urban figures is Kerala, which also has a highly decentralised pattern of habitation, as in, and actually more so than, Gujarat. Here, the missing rural-urban continuum is more serious. The projected urban population was 25.4% in 2011, the actual figure is 47.7%. We make such horrendous mistakes in policies on account of an inability to catch major societal trends and make policies in a knowledgeable manner. For the country as a whole, I have argued, in an invited contribution to the Planning Commission's journal Yojana on the Twelfth Plan, that we are underestimating the needs of 10% of the labour force, which will move additionally to the official estimates from rural to the urban continuum. The only other person I know with influence who has argued similarly is the Amul Baby, Rahul Gandhi, who, in an intervention in an IRMA meeting, said that we are ignoring the needs of millions who are moving from villages to towns.
In technical literature and our columns, we have argued that urbanisation in India is being underestimated, and projected that the rural population share will go down to 58% in 2020 and 55% in 2025, compared to the official projection of 68% in 2020 and 64% in 2025. The numbers used in so-called authoritative articles by consulting groups, Plan documents and mandated institutes are wrong for 2011 and 2015.
Rural population in 2020 will be closer to 738 million, out of the total population of 1,273 million. The Eleventh Plan projected the rural labour force as 45.7% by 2016-17, the last year for which they have given projections. The rural workforce will also be much lower than the figure of 404 million estimated for 2020 and similar figures for earlier years, on account of a much lower estimate of urbanisation.
When you grow at 7% in per capita terms, you need a lot of agricultural, rural products and services. The farmer will provide them and move to the markets to sell. Will we develop the market towns, roads, communication links, skills, health facilities, financial products and a lot else with which the farmer will do this or will we leave him (her) to the capricious mercies of the market, a great hand-maiden but a cruel master if the lessons of economic history and our own freedom movement are to be believed? The two very popular ideas that employment in crop production is not falling and urbanisation is not rising fast in India are incorrect.
The period of high growth in India is that of problems and opportunities. This was bound to be so as it was a period of transition in a rural-urban continuum. Change was inevitable and fast and the only question was if it would be benign or of the cruel kind in the early history of the industrial revolution. Millions of farmers, agricultural workers and artisans were moving from smaller villages to larger villages, from larger villages to smaller towns and from there to larger towns. They were doing so for better opportunities and that was good. If we create institutions to support them, the process would be benign, otherwise the transition would inevitably take place but it would be of a cruel kind. The numbers our policymakers use are moving to the bad options.
The author is a former Union minister
That the Public Accounts Committee, which is examining the loss to the exchequer in the 2G spectrum allocation scandal, would split along party lines was expected. But the attempts by members of the ruling United Progressive Alliance to discredit and dump the entire draft PAC report have gone beyond tolerable levels of political partisanship — and now threaten parliamentary procedures and established norms. While some of the concerns about "factual discrepancies" in the report merited consideration, nothing could possibly justify the desperate methods adopted by the ruling coalition members at the PAC meeting. After committee chairman Murli Manohar Joshi had 'adjourned' the meeting, the UPA members elected Congressman Saifuddin Soz to the Chair and organised a 'vote' to reject the draft wholesale. The UPA just about had numbers, after winning over the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which support the government from outside. The 'vote' rejecting the report was carried 11 to none, after Dr. Joshi and other opposition Members of Parliament walked out. But the appropriateness of the vote itself is in question, as Dr. Joshi says he adjourned the meeting seeking time to examine the allegations of discrepancies in the report. The proper course would have been to thoroughly debate the draft report, rectify discrepancies and errors, and then decide on submitting it to the Lok Sabha Speaker. Instead, chaos was engineered at the PAC meeting to avoid any discussion on the inconvenient issues raised by the draft report on the acts of commission and omission by the former Communications Minister A. Raja, and on the failure of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Prime Minister's Office to prevent the defrauding of the exchequer through the manipulation of an already-flawed 'first-come first-served' policy.
Questions about the leak of the draft should not be allowed to divert attention from the work of the PAC, which succeeded in raising key issues in the 2G scam. It is just as well that the document is in the public domain, enabling people to read it and make up their mind on the contentious issues. The UPA, which shamelessly stonewalled demands for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe by pointing to the PAC's work on the same issue, cannot be allowed to undermine the PAC in the name of an ongoing JPC probe. If the 21-member PAC is unable to agree on the report, Dr. Joshi might feel compelled to submit it directly to the Speaker, who will have the final call on its adoption. The ruling coalition members would be well-advised to discuss all the facts and issues brought up by the draft report, rather than seek to use its thin majority in the PAC to politically shield those involved in, or accountable for, India's biggest corruption scandal.
FROM KOMPA TO POLITICAL STAGE
The former kompa musician Michel Martelly has decisively won the Haitian presidential election in a runoff that was delayed after his supporters took to the streets alleging extensive fraud and intimidation in the December 2010 first round. Mr. Martelly apparently came third, but the Organization of American States (OAS) confirmed the allegations, and the purported front-runner, Jude Célestin of the ruling Unity party, was eliminated from the race. In the runoff, preliminary results show that Mr. Martelly has taken close to 68 per cent of the vote to trounce his rival Mirlande Manigat, a law professor. Distancing himself from his provocative stage persona, the new President has started off with a restrained statement of the tasks facing his country, one of the poorest in the world. He has called for political parties to work in harmony. He can expect strong support from the poor, who voted overwhelmingly for him. Haiti's problems are enormous. Nearly 700,000 people displaced by the colossal earthquake in January 2009 still live in camps; large amounts of rubble are yet to be cleared; and people living in rural areas are at risk of contracting cholera, a powerful strain of which has been brought in by U.N. Stabilisation Mission troops.
President Martelly also faces big political challenges. He may have to work with a Unity Prime Minister, as that party is likely to win both the 99-seat Chamber of Deputies and the 30-seat Senate. Even the composition of parliament is uncertain following a disputed Provisional Electoral Council move, which gave 17 seats to Unity by reversing several results. Secondly, Washington has stopped supporting brutal Caribbean dictators, but finds itself unable to stop intervening in the affairs of the region. U.S. government money for Haitian reconstruction has gone overwhelmingly to U.S. contractors — to the tune of 97.5 per cent of nearly $200 million allocated. In addition, Washington put pressure on Haiti and South Africa, where the ex-President Jean-Bertrande Aristide was in exile, to delay his return until after the election. Mr. Aristide, Haiti's first elected President and the victim of a Washington-aided coup in 2004, is now back in Port-au-Prince. He cannot contest the presidency again, but will probably have considerable influence; that could be a problem for Mr. Martelly, whose landslide win is based on a turnout reduced to 23 per cent by a ban on Mr. Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party. It is to be hoped that Mr. Martelly can rise to the challenges and give Haitians the stable democracy they badly need.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
BRICS SET TO OUTSHINE IBSA?
WHEN BRICS SPEAKS, ITS VIEWS ARE BOUND TO RECEIVE MUCH GREATER NOTICE THAN THOSE OF IBSA. IF IBSA DOES NOT BECOME STRONGER, IT WILL BECOME IRRELEVANT.
In international politics, nations form new groupings or compete to join existing ones, sustain them for a while or long, and then abandon them, though seldom closing them formally. Following the recent summit of leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS), it is worth pondering what lies in store for the IBSA Dialogue Forum with India, Brazil and South Africa as its members.
The two groupings
Last April, before the second BRIC summit and the fourth IBSA summit, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stated that BRIC was "still in a nascent stage," whereas IBSA, as "the older grouping," was flourishing well. This April, however, the perception has changed. According to an MEA official, BRICS has "a very good future." He added that South Africa's entry into BRIC, transforming it into BRICS, would not "diminish IBSA in any way." Is that a given or veiled signal that a serious internal debate is now under way to measure the relative utility, both actual and potential, of the two groupings?
Ironically, South Africa, which invested enormous diplomatic capital to secure its entry into BRIC, will host the next IBSA summit in 2011. And India, which has been in the forefront to project IBSA as a "unique" organisation of leading democracies, pluralist societies and emerging economies from three different continents, will host the BRICS summit in 2012.
In terms of key indicators, BRICS will have little difficulty in outshining IBSA. The former accounts for 26 per cent of the world's area, 40 per cent of its population, and 22 per cent of global GDP. Therefore, when BRICS speaks, its views are bound to receive much greater notice than those of IBSA. It also helps that those drafting BRICS declarations are far more concise and self-disciplined than their colleagues in IBSA who still seem to be driven by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)-style urge to be long-winded.
More important, as the Sanya declaration — the outcome document of the recent BRICS summit — demonstrated, five of the largest emerging economies now have "a broad consensus" of views not only on key international economic and financial issues but also on certain global political issues. The need for effective implementation of G-20 decisions, the demand for the reform of financial institutions of global governance — enabling developing countries to enjoy a greater say in them — and monetary reform, including the re-drafting of Special Drawing Rights (SDR), fall in the first category. The idea of a broad-based reserve currency which serves as an alternative to, but not a substitute for, the U.S. dollar would be studied further. The decision in principle to establish payment of credits in local currencies instead of the dollar has been noted widely.
On the political side, three key issues deserve a brief mention. BRICS has voiced support for a comprehensive reform of the U.N., including the Security Council. In this context, Russia and China have underlined the importance they attach to the status of India, Brazil and South Africa in international affairs, committing themselves "to understand and support" the three countries' "aspiration to play a greater role in the U.N."
This is an advance, albeit a modest one. On countering international terrorism, a common position has emerged, which is significant, considering that South Africa has for long nurtured the notion that a blanket condemnation of terrorism should somehow exclude genuine liberation movements.
On the Libyan crisis, however, BRICS has managed to create an ample air of ambivalence. Prior to the Sanya summit, four countries abstained on the U.N. resolution, thereby providing a cover for western intervention, and one (South Africa) supported the resolution. At the summit, however, all five member- states expressed support for avoiding the use of force and ensuring respect for the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a nation. As the South African President has been playing a mediatory role under the African Union mandate, he succeeded in securing support for the AU High-Level Panel Initiative on Libya, although it has not been getting anywhere so far. BRICS is struggling to cater to its numerous constituencies that are in conflict with one another.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the development of BRICS is the focus placed on promoting internal cooperation. Their Foreign Ministers have been meeting regularly since 2006. Three summits in less than two years have provided a fillip to discussions involving Finance Ministers, Agriculture Ministers, National Security Advisors and others including national statistical institutions, business communities and Track- II organisations. BRICS has decided to advance its cooperation "in a gradual and pragmatic manner," making it "inclusive and non-confrontational." The declaration has put intra-BRICS cooperation in three categories, namely existing cooperation, new areas of cooperation such as health and joint research on trade and economic issues, and new proposals for cooperation pertaining to culture, sports, green economy and pharmaceutical industry.
Comparison with IBSA
How does IBSA compare with the dramatic expansion of BRICS? Quite favourably so far, but it could change quickly.
Since the first meeting of its Foreign Ministers in 2003, IBSA has acquired an institutional character as well as considerable dynamism. Journeying through four summits, its member-states have bonded well, and the new leaders in two of them (South Africa and Brazil) have reiterated their commitment to the Dialogue Forum. Of its four principal facets, the Forum has regularly coordinated its positions on international and regional issues; it has been managing diverse development projects in seven Least Developed Countries (LDCs); it has sought to forge mutually beneficial trilateral cooperation through 16 Working Groups in areas ranging from transportation and agriculture to health, taxation and IT; and, above all, it has innovatively developed people-to-people contacts encompassing business, media, women, academics, and parliamentarians.
However, now that BRICS has emerged as a potential competitor to IBSA, the latter needs to re-calibrate its strategy and refine its unique selling proposition. Four suggestions merit consideration here. Articulating views on world issues should now largely be left to BRICS, the more influential grouping. Secondly, IBSA should dramatically raise its profile as a partner of LDCs. Thirdly, intra-IBSA cooperation now needs to move beyond the phase of trans-continental travels, meetings, studies and MoUs to viable and demonstrable projects. Let IBSA establish effective maritime and civil aviation connectivity, develop a liberal visa scheme, and strive to operationalise India-SACU-Mercosur trade arrangements soon. Finally, more substance should be imparted to people-to-people contacts.
In a short span of two years BRICS has travelled "a long distance," as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put it. However, an exercise in fine balancing is desirable. Geopolitical considerations would dictate that India should prevent BRICS from acquiring an anti-U.S. orientation on political issues. Thus, while on key financial and development issues, the IBSA countries may go along with Russia and China, on political and security questions, they would need to strike proximity with Washington and European Union capitals.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna asserted recently that BRICS has emerged as "a major voice" in world affairs. India will be in a better position to shape that voice when it succeeds in strengthening IBSA. If IBSA does not become stronger, it will become irrelevant. As the senior most among IBSA leaders, Dr. Singh bears a special responsibility. MEA can help him by being clinical and courageous.
(The author is a former Indian ambassador.)
EMBATTLED ARAB LEADERS DECIDE IT'S BETTER TO FIGHT THAN QUIT
THE CALCULATION APPEARS TO BE BASED ON THE SHORT-TERM RESULTS OF THE ARAB SPRING.
MICHAEL SLACKMAN AND MONA EL-NAGGAR
Arab leaders facing public revolt have increasingly concluded that it is better to shoot to kill, or at least to arrest and imprison, than to abdicate and flee.
That calculation appears to be based on the short-term results of the Arab Spring. Those who have left, namely Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, face the humiliation of a criminal investigation, a trial and possible imprisonment. Those who have opted to stick with the use of force, like the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have retained power and appear to have leverage to negotiate immunity should they leave, regional analysts said.
"I don't think we're going to see rulers run away, like Mubarak," said Mustafa Alani, an analyst with the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. "We passed this stage. They will not run or abdicate. They will take their chances."
The wave of Arab uprisings, which began with popular protests that quickly ousted entrenched autocrats, has evolved into deadly confrontations in Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, with leaders willing to use sustained lethal force against a public convinced that persistence is the key to victory. It is a face-off, a test of wills, which has left thousands dead and opened a dark chapter in what was initially called the Arab Spring.
Each side has drawn lessons from the early days of the Arab unrest and the popular push for change. The leaders have settled on a formula that consists of three elements: limited concessions; a narrative that blames a third party, like a foreign nation or al-Qaeda; and security forces that are authorised to take any steps necessary, including shooting to kill, to get people off the streets. In Bahrain, officials have tried to recast the narrative altogether by asserting that the protesters started the violence, while the government has imposed what amounts to martial law on a majority of the population.
The next stage
The question surfacing now concerns the next stage of this unpredictable Arab season of protest. Can this repression prevail, and if so, for how long? There is no certainty, and there are competing indicators from moment to moment. Nevertheless, there are some reasons to believe that the leaders who turn to bloodshed may not, ultimately, win out, experts said.
The choice of sustained, violent repression has been most evident in Libya, Yemen and now Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's forces have killed hundreds and his tanks have rolled into civilian neighbourhoods.
Those tactics of fear and force first succeeded in Bahrain, where the monarchy crushed a popular uprising. That was possible in large measure because it is a tiny nation with a small population that is more easily controlled, and because the United States was willing to look the other way to assist an ally. The United States Navy's Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain.
But that same impulse can also be seen with Saudi Arabia, which sent its tanks into Bahrain to help end the revolt there; in the United Arab Emirates, where government critics have been jailed; in Oman, where security forces have crushed protests; and in Jordan, where the police have attacked protesters.
"President Saleh was about to resign, but now he will fight and do everything he can in order to hold on to his seat so that he does not end up in the same position as Mubarak," said Abdel Rahman Barman, a human rights lawyer taking part in the uprising in Yemen.
But, Mr. Barman added, the example of Egypt has also inspired the Arab street to persevere, the second half of the dynamic that for now is defining the second, bloody phase of the season of Arab unrest.
"What the revolution has managed to accomplish in Egypt by putting Mubarak and those around him behind bars has given us even more hope and a stronger drive," Mr. Barman said. "Before," he said, speaking of Mr. Saleh, "we demanded that he leaves. Now, we want him tried for the crimes he committed against the Yemeni people and for his corruption." (Mr. Saleh has signalled a willingness to step down under a transition agreement, but only under certain conditions, including immunity.)
Under public pressure, Egypt's ruling military council detained Mr. Mubarak, who is now in a hospital in Sharm el Sheik and is being investigated for accusations of corruption and for his role in the killing of hundreds of demonstrators. His sons have also been detained and are now being questioned along with the leadership of his former government and party.
That has spooked Arab leaders who now feel that Mr. Mubarak and Tunisia's former President, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, did not hold on long enough, said a high-ranking diplomat from the Persian Gulf region, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to discuss nations other than his own.
Mustapha Kamel el-Sayyid, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo said: "No Arab leader is immune from facing the prospects of Mubarak. If the pharaoh himself is going to stand trial, then the other non-pharaohs are likely to face the same prospects."
In Libya and Yemen, leaders have indicated a willingness to fight on, while also signalling an openness to deal, although critics question their sincerity. In Syria, Mr. Assad has mixed an iron fist with airy promises of reform.
'Need to adapt quickly'
But also in the oil-rich Persian Gulf states, Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Center, warned last week in an essay in The Washington Post that repression ultimately would not work, and that the only way forward was through change. He was writing about the Gulf states, but his point could easily apply to the rest of the region.
"If the ruling families of the gulf want to maintain their legitimacy, they need to adapt quickly to the changing times and enact substantive political reform that reflects their people's aspirations," Mr. Sager wrote. "Time is no longer on their side. If they wait too long, their rule cannot be assured."
But for now, leaders around the region and under the greatest popular pressure do not seem to see it that way. Instead, they have decided to open fire, leading to a deadly standoff.
"It shouldn't happen this way, where there are hundreds or thousands killed," said Shafeeq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University. "People are earning their liberation by their blood."
— © New York Times News Service
BEYOND THE STEREOTYPE
MUSLIM WOMEN FIGHTING AGAINST EXTREMISM FACE PERSONAL ATTACKS AND THREATS OF VIOLENCE. A LOOK AT SOME OF THEM WHO ARE CHALLENGING EXPECTATIONS WITHIN AND OUTSIDE THEIR COMMUNITY.
Tehmina Kazi wears a modest western dress and believes in plurality and diversity within her faith, Islam. For her pains, she has been labelled a *****, admonished for not wearing the hijab and accused, inaccurately, of wearing short skirts by people she has never met, writing online.
When she defended Usama Hasan, the London imam who faced death threats and was suspended from Leyton mosque last month (March) after he said evolution was compatible with Islam and defended women's right to not wear the veil, she had to go to police after receiving threats of her own.
Despite the threats, Kazi, the director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD), remains defiant in her role as one of the small but growing number of British Muslim women openly challenging and combating Islamic extremism. Campaigning against any extremism is not for the faint-hearted, but for Muslim women it requires a special kind of resolve. "It takes a lot more courage to do this if you're a woman because the type of criticism you get is very different," she says, highlighting the personal nature of the abuse. "They always talk about what you wear."
Kazi believes women should be free to wear whatever they choose — it is stereotypes about Muslim women that she aims to confront. BMSD, which, despite not being a women's organisation, has always had female leadership after being founded by columnist Yasmin Alibhai Brown — supports a young Muslim leadership programme, counter-demonstrates against extremist groups, such as Anjem Choudary's Islam4UK, and attempts to get moderate voices heard in debates about Islam. The group emphasises the underutilised weapon of humour in taking the fight to the extremists.
In one video on the BMSD website, an archetypal "angry young Muslim" begins ominously, "I have a message for those who insult Islam," before adding: "Let's agree to disagree." It campaigns against both Islamic extremism and Islamophobia — Kazi cites the example of "the preacher going to the mosque and saying women who wear perfume are adulterers", as well as stereotypes of Muslims that suggests all women are marginalised.
"It's quite patronising. I am a British Muslim woman, and I have never had any problem with my identity," says Sara Khan, who set up Inspire two years ago because she felt there was no organisation helping Muslim women to achieve their potential. "To say Muslim women are oppressed or don't contribute is just so patronising — no community wants to be stereotyped." Khan makes no attempt to hide her frustration as she rails against the wider perception of Muslim women, which, for her, manifests itself in the media preoccupation with the hijab. Khan wore the hijab for 15 years before she tired of the "obsession" surrounding it. Despite Khan's frustration at stereotyping, she is not blind to the fact that not all Muslim women have had the same freedom and opportunities as she has, recognising that there are "Muslim women not allowed to go out of the house".
Khan, who sat on the U.K. Home Office working group tackling extremism and radicalisation, and Inspire are behind an event at City Hall in London for 200 activists, academics and policy-makers called Speaking in God's Name: Re-examining Gender in Islam next month (May), in which religious experts will aim to debunk restrictions conservative Muslims seek to place on women. Khan says it is the first event of its kind. "Let's have a real debate about the role of women," says Khan. "That debate is not happening. You get the same 'No sister, you're not allowed to travel on your own'."
She blames the lack of Islamic literature for female followers and provisions for women at mosques for what she describes as an increasing terrorist threat from women. Citing the student who stabbed the MP Stephen Timms, she says: "It's not surprising Roshonara Chaudhry learned her faith from the internet." Khan argues that the government's much-criticised preventing violent terrorism scheme, now being revamped, suffered from a lack of female involvement.
She makes a compelling case for women to be central in the battle against extremism. "Women shape values in children," she says. Inspire runs workshops to educate mothers in countering al-Qaeda propaganda, arming them with religious texts they can use to rebut the arguments of extremists that their children may hear.
Like Kazi and Khan, Houriya Ahmed, who until last month worked for the Centre for Social Cohesion — a think-tank that issues briefing papers on radicalisation and extremism — has had insults about not wearing the hijab, or as she puts it "not being Muslim enough." But she is less inclined to attribute them to gender, believing anyone who challenges extremists is likely to face abuse.
As she works not for a Muslim organisation but for the CSC, her experiences are different from the other Muslim women interviewed. "I don't want to be seen as a Muslim woman doing this," says Ahmed, who sees her religion as a private matter that is irrelevant to her job.
Other campaigners disagree. Rabia Mirza, who is involved with Cheerleaders Against Everything speaks about how involvement in fighting extremism has strengthened her faith. A disparate group with an anarchic sense of humour, reflected in its title, it has managed to get under the skin of both Islamic extremists and left-wingers. It mounts counter-demonstrations and pickets against extremists groups, and members go on extremist forums to argue their case.
Cheerleaders has informal links with Kazia's BMSD as well as, more controversially, with the English Defence League. Ex-EDL members, who remain committed to challenging extremism but quit the far-right group because of a belief it was indiscriminate in its attacks on Islam, have joined with the Cheerleaders to form an organisation called the Nice Ones. Mirza says the idea is to link with those — "very few" — within the EDL whose goal is genuinely to combat Islamic extremism, rather than just oppose Islam.
However one views such an association, it is unarguable that this type of alliance would be unthinkable to the Muslim groups usually rolled out as constituting the frontline in the fight against extremism. Despite breaking the mould, Mirza accepts that women need the cooperation of people who the extremists can identify with more readily. "If we formed a group of women who are highly liberated, it will annoy them, so we need a middle ground," she says.
"We Muslims need to take a bit of an active role," says Mirza. "We need to educate our women, liberate women and that will lead the way. Every country where they have educated their women, the country has thrived." There is a big gulf in the level of experience of Mirza, who is still at university, and someone like Khan in trying to shake up the way Muslim leaders respond to the issues affecting British Muslims, but they are equally convinced of the need for change.
Khan says she is sick of traditional male-led Muslim organisations failing to come up with solutions, and responding to each Islam-related controversy with the mantra "Islam is a religion of peace." She is working to change the situation and hopes others will join her. "Muslim women are so frustrated with the leadership," she says. "We need the discourse of women — they will bring a whole new dimension to it." But ultimately it is not just the conservative male Muslim leadership that Muslim women want to change their ways. They want society as a whole to see what Muslim women can do if people will only set the stereotypes aside. "There's a perception that Muslim woman are sitting at home, not doing anything," says Khan, "but that's not the case at all."
— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011
ANGER AS BP PLANS TO DRILL AGAIN IN GULF
AMERICAN REGULATOR SAYS NOTHING HAS BEEN DECIDED YET.
TERRY MACALISTER AND SUZANNE GOLDENBERG— © GUARDIAN NEWSPAPERS LIMITED, 2011
Environmentalists have reacted angrily after BP predicted it would be back drilling in the Gulf of Mexico within months despite facing billions in financial penalties over the Deepwater Horizon disaster — and despite balls of tar still washing up on beaches.
The oil giant's finance director, Byron Grote, told City of London analysts: "We expect to be back and actively drilling during the second half of the year."
Such a return would be a major victory for BP — which last summer was threatened by a proposed law to ban the company from the Gulf for up to seven years.
"BP's reckless approach led to the worst oil disaster in American history, but one year later they're off the hook and ready to take more risks," said Phil Radford, director of Greenpeace USA.
"It's a testament to the political influence of these big oil companies that right now Tony Hayward is sailing his luxury yacht rather than facing criminal charges," he added.
BP wants to resume drilling at its Thunderhorse and Atlantis fields, but the American regulator told the Guardian that nothing had been decided yet. "They have not received any shallow or deep water permits," said Melissa Schwartz, spokeswoman for the U.S. government's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
Another regulatory official said privately that BP expressions of confidence were "p****** people off" in the Obama administration and would not influence any decision on new drilling permits. BP has already set aside over $40bn to cover claims and damages over the blowout whose first year anniversary was marked last week by a raft of lawsuits. These were both from and against BP as blame for the disaster in which 11 workers lost their lives continues to be pinned on a variety of parties including rig operator, Transocean, and services company, Halliburton. Meanwhile some environmentalists remain concerned that the damage to the Gulf still runs deep, with large amounts of oil continuing to cause damage.
DUTCH ANIMAL POLICE TO START TRAINING
Dial 112 if you're in trouble. Dial 144 if your dog is.
From October, Dutch police officers will be trained to answer the call, ready to enforce laws protecting pets, livestock and wildlife against abuse, the government announced on April 29. The Netherlands, the first country to elect an animal rights party to Parliament, will begin training 125 police officers next month, who "will be 100 per cent dedicated to tackling animal abuse," said Justice Ministry spokesman Job van de Sande. The recruits will be drawn from the regular police force, already trained to fight armed criminals.
A new special animal emergency number, 144, will also go into effect. Marianne Thieme, leader of the Party for Animals, said last year the national animal protection agency gets some 8,000 reports of abuse each year.
The government said prosecutors will also begin demanding tougher sentences for those convicted of abusing animals.
— AP ***************************************
THE ASIAN AGE
PAC DRAMA SETS A BAD PRECEDENT
The mind-boggling and deeply mortifying events that took place in Parliament's Public Accounts Committee on Thursday have brought down the image of the most important committee of the nation's legislature, further discrediting our MPs in the eyes of ordinary people. It might just make us wonder if there is any point at all
in having such groups of MPs culled from the larger parliamentary chamber. Considerable decline in political ethics and political conduct has come to be noticed across the spectrum in the country in recent years. But even by contemporary standards, what was witnessed in the PAC was a plunge so shameful that it could hardly have been envisaged. A sadder day for our Parliament has not been seen in a long time. We had a justifiable small boast to make — that while at times the proceedings of Parliament get too embarrassing to watch, so vile our elected representatives can become as they proceed to speak on our behalf, the committees of our Parliament are really quite different; these allow politicians of seemingly irreconcilable persuasions to be altogether more thoughtful, more reasonable, and in the end more productive. That little boast is surely now a thing of the past.
It was clear from the beginning that the 2G spectrum allocation issue might excite political passions, but we had faith in the robustness of the process which has held quite well over time. However, PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi gave us a glimpse of undue partisanship from the beginning when he began holding press briefings after each session. Parliamentary committees were able to deliberate an issue with reasonable balance and stick to the merits of a case primarily because they conducted their business away from the public glare. In the event, going public day after day was a clear breach of established norms. The leaking to the media of the preliminary draft of the findings — with the aim of causing acute embarrassment to the government and to the Prime Minister in particular — was a logical extension of the trend Dr Joshi set from the beginning, and can only be called an act of extreme partisanship, indeed considered brinkmanship in an already fraught atmosphere. It was no doubt also silly in the extreme as the document had not been discussed enough to attract consensus. As it turned out, the so-called draft was a minority view and those dissenting from it were the majority. What transpired subsequently was no less disquieting, with the UPA parties and their associates as good as throwing out the chairman and "electing" a new chair from among themselves. It might have been best if were spared the spectacle.
It is clear that a draft that does not enjoy majority support cannot be deemed to have been passed. Dr Joshi would be compounding the miseries for parliamentary process further if he were to seek to present the draft to the Lok Sabha Speaker pretending that it is the finished document. We can only hope that the Speaker would not dignify him by accepting such a piece of paper. But the story cannot end here, of course. Since the draft is already in the public domain and gives the impression of the Prime Minister being placed in a position of extreme vulnerability, along with former finance minister P. Chidambaram, a way needs to be found on an urgent basis — using both the processes of Parliament as well as political wisdom on both sides of the divide — to overcome the current impasse. If our Parliament fails in this endeavour, we cannot have much expectation from its next session. With a joint parliamentary committee also covering the same subject — the 2G scam — the chasm can possibly only get wider.
THE ASIAN AGE
THE POLITICS OF RESPECT
Which is worse — calling one of our finest politicians and a respected elder statesman a mummified corpse, a dead man who has no business opening his mouth? Or saying that the spirited woman leader and challenger to the Communist throne of Bengal ignores funds from Bengaluru to get money from the United States, much like bazaar women
forget smaller clients when they get bigger patrons? Going by the collective shock and horror, the latter comment wins hands down.
What? He called her a prostitute? Do they stop at nothing? Veteran Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader and member of Parliament Anil Basu was promptly pilloried by all concerned, including his own party members. West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee apologised publicly, censured Mr Basu and pulled him out of campaigning. What he had said was uncivilised and unbecoming of a Communist, lamented the mortified chief minister. It was unpardonable.
True. Mr Basu had used shocking language and imagery, suggesting (thanks to the blinding hatred for the US that Communists have) that the US was Mamata Banerjee's "bhaataar" (slang for a woman's keeper) now, so she didn't have to look at smaller homegrown patrons in Bengaluru, Chennai or Andhra Pradesh. Like the women of Sonagachhi (Kolkata's red light district), she had dumped smaller babus for bigger ones.
Now, I hate to break this to our slanderous comrade and gentlefolk horrified by the insult, but moving from smaller to bigger clients is not the business strategy of prostitutes alone. It's common sense. It happens in all professional and business dealings, in all societies and in all times. So Mr Basu's sex-worker imagery was not about the logic of fund-raising — it was about using degrading stereotypes to insult a woman.
This jibe shows how regressively patriarchal even our Communist bastion is. Sex workers can be invoked as an insult in a state that came to power professing to fight for workers' rights and dignity of labour and clung to power for more than three decades with the muscle provided by lowly workers of all kinds. Could the comrade have made similar derogatory allusions to low-caste tanners or to Doms who burn corpses? Perhaps not. But chastity is such a deep need of Indian patriarchy that even a seasoned Communist can snigger at sex workers. They aren't really workers, just fallen women. More than Ms Banerjee, it is prostitutes who have been insulted here.
But the intent was to hit out at the deviant woman who dared to challenge the status quo. And this is not the first time that Ms Banerjee — herself adept at insult — has been attacked with sexist tools. During the Singur agitation, when she was busy taking our breath away with her astounding dramatics, this same Mr Basu had declared that if he had his way he would have dragged her by her hair and plonked her back home instead of allowing her to sit in dharnas. Clearly, for this little caveman in a dhoti, home is where the woman belongs. Not on the streets or in sit-ins. Not in politics.
In fact, the cunning Trinamul Congress chief has been called "brain dead" by the Communists — an accusation so far from the truth that it makes you wonder whether the Communists have completely lost their minds. And when Ms Banerjee first came up with her slogan "Ma, maati, maanush!" (mother, earth, people) some Left leaders had sniggered, "But she isn't a mother — what does she know of motherhood?" In a patriarchal society, the good woman is domesticated and acceptable as a wife, a mother, a daughter-in-law. But if you are an unmarried politician woman — gosh, you have a problem, sister! You don't fit in, you are hugely inadequate.
And it is not always men who point out this inadequacy. Some time ago, the feisty Renuka Chowdhury, then minister for women and child development, had hit out at Mayawati on the Aarushi Talwar murder case. She herself was thinking as a mother, she announced righteously, but Ms Mayawati was not a mother, she could only think as a chief minister. And was therefore wrong, of course. Shortly thereafter, Maneka Gandhi was not allowed to flout rules to meet her son Varun in a Uttar Pradesh jail. Ms Mayawati is not a mother, Ms Gandhi hit back, how could she understand a mother's concerns?
Ages ago, a young Indira Gandhi was called a "goongi gudiya" (a dumb doll) by her respectable opponents. When she grew to become the most powerful Prime Minister India ever had, she was lauded as "the only man in her Cabinet". Patriarchal symbolism plays a vital role in our perception of political leaders.
The wife, widow or daughter-in-law is very readily acceptable, and most of our women leaders play that role beautifully. And those who don't — like the unmarried Ms Mayawati or Ms Banerjee — have many extra battles to fight. One way of sidestepping this is to become the universal mother, like "Amma" Jayalalithaa. But the "Behenji" or the "Didi" can only be stereotyped as a dry, heartless, careerist old maid.
But plugging into derogatory stereotypes has been part of the game of politics. What I find alarming is our refusal to see such insults when they are not included in the high-profile, politicised identity groups. Casteism in poll campaigns can get you jailed. Sexism is appalling and can get you in trouble. But ageism, however mean and hurtful, is acceptable.
Which is why I am shocked at the jibe of Bratya Basu, theatreperson and Trinamul Congress candidate in West Bengal, at Somnath Chatterjee. The former Lok Sabha Speaker, though expelled from the CPI(M) for putting the Indian Constitution before the party during the confidence vote, had generously agreed to canvass for CPI(M) minister Gautam Deb. Quick as a flash, Mr Bratya Basu — the challenger in the minister's constituency, the "intellectual" and first-time politician — attacked the elder statesman, calling him a mummified corpse out of a coffin. Why should anyone listen to him? An Egyptian mummy, he grimaced for effect, why is he talking in Bengali? He should talk in hieroglyphics!
Maybe civil campaigning is indeed the language of the dead. Maybe lumpenised politics does not need informed debate — either on the campaign trail or in Parliament, the highest seat of rowdy ruckus. Our democracy can just ride on vulgar name-calling and derogatory stereotypes. The vulgarisation of politics has bred a new language for a new age of ungracious, uncivil, illiberal politicians. And unless they are checked, this crude lot will breathe their own mean spirit into our wounded democracy.
Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ASIAN AGE
WATCH YOUR WORDS
Because everyone is going to be talking, writing, blogging, tweeting about the biggest TV wedding ever (two billion people watching at last count) I thought I would break away and write about something that has landed British Prime Minister David Cameron in quite a spot this week! So far, post-election, the Premier has been walking
a tightrope between divided public opinion and coalition politics, managing not to tumble down from his high wire act. But strangely for such a seasoned performer, during Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament, he has managed to single-handedly annoy a large swathe of British women. And so he may be pondering over more than what he wore for the wedding, this weekend, perhaps a little peeved about his purported gaffe. Was it really a slip, or was it just a joke gone wrong?
Even Mumsnet, a website on which young UK mothers collectively write and keep in touch with each other, was disapproving of Mr Cameron. And that could be worrying. The website has become a barometer for popular opinion among young women, and from all reports the bloggers were registering their distaste with Mr Cameron casual remark, in Parliament. In his defence, he says, it was meant to be funny. Yet, for many it ended up sounding sexist. Gender discrimination is something the modern British woman takes very seriously and before Mr Cameron could say "Catherine Middleton" he was being back to lampooned as a typical Tory, an image he has desperately tried to overturn.
The supposed "insult" took place during a heated exchange (as often happens during Prime Minister's Questions) over the National Health Service (NHS) reforms. This has been a difficult area for Mr Cameron to negotiate because in his pre-election promises, he had supposedly ring-fenced the NHS. However, the overall budgetary cuts have meant that the NHS is also going to be tinkered with. The proposed reforms also suggest that general practitioners (GPs) be more involved about how the local services are going to be shaped. In essence, it appears a perfectly reasonable proposal and even one which has been allegedly supported by a GP, Howard Stoates, also a former Labour Party member of Parliament. Mr Cameron used his reference to support his argument for NHS reforms, and this worked like a red rag for the Labour Party.
During the noisy war of words, Angela Eagle, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, corrected Mr Cameron about a factual error, and Mr Cameron is supposed to have then said in response "Calm down dear, calm down". The response was swift and acrimonious.
Now for Indian readers, these might come as innocuous words. However, in the context of fraught British gender battles, this phrase appears patronising, and suddenly the whole debate in the media shifted from what Catherine Middleton was going to wear for the wedding to whether the Prime Minister is a closet sexist?
While the Labour front bench was up in arms (and they do have quite a few very vocal women shadow ministers) saying that no modern man would have used those words towards a woman, Downing Street was forced to issue a clarification stating that the words were taken from a "comic" advertisement for insurance a few years ago featuring Michael Winner.
However, to be fair to Mr Cameron, the annoying words do come from the highly-successful commercials, which were undoubtedly also very irritating from all accounts. But they worked very well as an ad campaign pulling in more than a million policies in four years for the insurance advertiser. Perhaps, it had a high recall value because it was so annoying! Certainly enough recall for the Mr Cameron to use the catchphrase "Calm down, dear, calm down" not just once but twice during his Prime Minister's Questions defence. He had used it once before in 2007.
In fact, Mr Winner, the man in centre of the irksome ad campaign (which is no longer on air), is immensely pleased that Mr Cameron used his catch phrase and is wondering whether Britons have lost their sense of humour.
So now opinion is divided whether Mr Cameron was somehow showing his real colours by being "patronising" towards a woman member of the shadow front bench, or was he just genuinely trying to deflect the argument by using humour? In either case, Indian parliamentarians may take heart from the fact that the chamber became so overheated and noisy that the Speaker was forced to ask the members to quieten down, if not calm down.
Whilst Mr Cameron may have just been trying to get a laugh, it is important to remember that women parliamentarians and their supporters need to be vigilant about sexism because they have struggled hard to get their share of respect from their peers. It was not so long ago that they were barely able to register their presence in Parliament and the men even used to snigger when women got up to speak. Things have changed and strong women like Margaret Thatcher and now Harriet Harman from the Labour Party have ensured that men politicos give them equal status. Thus Mr Cameron, perhaps, needs to be more mindful when he speaks.
He should take a leaf about Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's book, who has been unceasingly courteous to his women colleagues. How can we forget that during one of the noisiest and most acrimonious debates over the recent scams, Dr Singh suddenly took the wind out of the Opposition sails by addressing Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj with the words of Allama Iqbal :
Mana ke tere deed ke qabil nahin hun main
Mera shaukh toh dekh, mera intezaar toh dekh….
(I accept that I may not be worthy in your eyes,
But, at least, appreciate my passion, and my patience)
In the midst of the pandemonium, it brought a moment of calm, without Dr Singh asking for it. Perhaps Dr Singh could give a few lessons to Mr Cameron on urdu poetry?
Meanwhile, while the world was betting on all kinds of things about the Will-Kat wedding I was most intrigued by the "balcony kiss". This would have been Catherine's most difficult moment: she has been an intensely private person so far. Thus, without betting on it, I wondered if this would be a diffident peck on the cheek, or a prolonged lip lock? Or would it be a joyous, whole hearted embrace, accompanied by an enormous sense of relief that now she was finally married to the man she had waited for nearly a decade? Given the kind of woman she is, I would have happily placed my bet on the last option.
Kishwar Desai can be contacted at email@example.com
THE ASIAN AGE
JUST A QUIRK, MY DEAR
"Love has its woes
— the river flows.
A lover grieves
— the tree grows leaves
Betrayal is fate
— the planets rotate...
From Song of the Ruined Boys by Bachchoo
Except for the very unfamiliar or the very well-brought-up, none of my email correspondents bother to begin a missive with "Dear Farrukh/Mr Dhondy/f/etc". Some begin by omitting "dear" and using my name or initials, some dispense with all introduction and get straight to their point.
Some don't bother to sign their correspondence. Perhaps they regard emails not as a form of correspondence but rather as a continuing conversation — after all one doesn't begin each sentence of conversation with "My Dear Tehmul/Dinaz or Hormuzd (Err — no, I don't only speak to Parsis, this was just par exemple).
There was a time and place where and when I did pick up the habit of addressing people in a conversation with the prefix "dear". Arriving with some trepidation from India and knocking on the door of my tutor's rooms at Cambridge I heard a voice above the languorous notes of a Chopin nocturne he was playing inviting me in.
"I suppose you had better come in, dear boy."
I didn't quite understand the form of address but soon found it was quite common among the senior members of the university and even among the more supercilious undergraduates. It was a conceit I thought a trifle outrageous, but one which I, subconsciously, very many years later when some calculation in the back of my brain told me I was old enough to condescend, adopted. Not regularly. I threw in the phrase now and then as a distancing device in an interlocution.
I have, I am told, also cultivated the conversational habit of calling men and women "darling" or "sweetheart". Until it's pointed out to me, I don't notice I am doing it. These endearments have two sources: the first is a variation of the "dear boy" phrase and the second is an adoption of working class pub idiom in which people, mostly female, are addressed as "darlin'" or in the north of England where I spent a year as "me dook" — that being their pronunciation of "duck". I have never stooped to calling anybody my duck and I strongly protest that when I use the phrases I admit to there is not a hint of campery about them. No one would mistake my "dear boy" or "I tell you, sweetheart" as anything other than sly linguistic punctuation, a pause in the flow while the brain catches up.
There was, though, an embarrassing moment which ensued from this verbal conceit. A lady professor in Germany called me to conduct a seminar with her post-graduate students. It consisted of several sessions with about 15 students and the professor herself who chaired the proceedings. At one point in my discourse she politely interjected and made a scholastic point with which I thought I disagreed.
"I don't think so, my dear..." I may have said — and there was a sudden hush in the room. The lady professor frowned. I put my views as clearly as I could and she didn't push hers any further. She seemed determinedly silent.
After the seminar, walking to her office, she was distinctly not effusive. I asked her if that went all right. Yes she replied, except she didn't think that calling her "my dear" was appropriate and even though she understood it was a trope of my speech understood by the British, her German students would take it as some form of endearment and that was embarrassing. I said I was sorry and would put it right.
So the next day at the seminar I began very consciously, when answering the student's queries, to address several of them as "my dear" so they would understand that this was more a universal quirk of mine than a particular endearment.
And now just such a phrase has become a matter of public outrage and debate in the UK. Keep in mind that this is the week in which Prince William, the heir but one to the throne gets married, in which the lunatic Islamicists are threatening to disrupt the wedding, the Syrian government is killing its own people and the United Nations is poised for a response from the Europeans and America about how to stop it and a week of not such good news on the economic front.
Parliamentary time and subsequent space in the media were preoccupied with the furore over a phrase. Westminster was debating the National Health Service and plans to reform or change it. Enough substance there to keep a hundred Parliaments engaged for a considerable time. It's a knotty subject and David Cameron, the Prime Minister, was thumping on about his intentions and evasions at the dispatch box when a Labour member of Parliament, one Angela Eagle interrupted him and began to voice her indignation and contempt for his arguments. She was in a battling mood and wouldn't let him get away with the point he was making and insisted on the debating procedure, however disruptive and unparliamentary, on which she had embarked.
"Calm down, dear!" was what Mr Cameron shouted back at her, pointing as he characteristically does, with his open right palm.
All hell broke loose. Ms Eagle and several women on the Labour benches protested as Hecuba must have when Achilles dragged her son's dead body behind his chariot below the walls of Troy. They called Mr Cameron names, taking him to task for his patronisation of women encapsulated, they protested, in the injunction to "calm down" and in the condescending "dear". The bulls of the world would adopt red rags as their communal flag before the linguistic feminists will tolerate being addressed so.
As a Labour spokesman (oops! I meant "spokeswoman") Ms Eagle can and no doubt will doubly redouble strokes upon the government's ill-conceived and even deceptive plans for the National Health Service. As a warrior on the linguistic barricades she will no doubt try and get "dear" banned from parliamentary and perhaps even all other discourse.
Oh dear, oh dear, I suppose it's time I stopped saying "dear boy", my dears!
RESOLVING PARKING PROBLEM
Phenomenal increase in motor vehicles plying on narrow streets of Jammu has become one of the major worries of the citizens as well as the traffic control authorities. There is no control on the number of vehicles especially private cars that should be allowed to ply on city streets or in selected segments of the city taking into account the level of congestion, conditions of roads and streets and the frequency allowed to public transport. Anybody can purchase any number of cars at any time he likes. Congestion of traffic is such that it is difficult as well as hazardous to cross the road unscathed. The question of zebra lines on the streets at points of heavy crossing does not arise and if there are any zebra lines, neither the drivers nor the pedestrians are understanding the culture of foot-walking. There is a strange situation of chaos and confusion in Jammu traffic. The worse is that the government is hardly concerned about traffic woes in the city. There is no major or minor plan for modernization of the winter capital. Over-population, over crowding, violation of civic rules, party politics and larger political interference all coming together have made life difficult and miserable in the city. A couple of years ago, there was a lot of propaganda that the Government had decided to shift the bus stand in the peripheries of the city to relieve it of congestion and traffic jams as the bus stand was located in the heart of the city. But vested interests brought political pressure and got the entire plan scuttled. No attention was paid to the difficulties it caused to ordinary people. And now with the Chief Minister announcing that a multi-storey parking complex would be raised at the place to provide parking space for nearly fifteen hundred buses has sealed the fate of the present site as permanent site for Jammu's main bus stop.
In any case, in given circumstances, it is encouraging that the chief minister has sanctioned 130 crores of rupees for construction of three multi-tier parking structures in the city. This is the right step and should be implemented as early as possible. Jammu has become commercially very important city and the commercial hub of the entire state. In view of large increase in the flow of pilgrims to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, and summer tourists to Kashmir valley, Jammu is bustling with activity and business. The infrastructure of Jammu city should be compatible with the needs, which at the present is not the case. There are other schemes for reducing traffic congestion and these should also be implemented. The Jewel-Bohri-Anand Nagar area is the most congested area of the city and incidentally the Government houses for the ministers and the spacious Circuit house, too, are located in the area. This link is complete bottleneck and traffic jam and electric power cuts are now everyday affair for the vast civil society of this area. Vested interests play a major role in not either widening the link by covering the canal area under pipes or creating flyovers to reduce congestion. Likewise there are also some other congested areas of the city that need to be addressed without delay. Power department seems least concerned in playing its role in easing traffic situation. Electric poles enroute the entire link need to be relocated and so as to make space for free flow of traffic. Change in existing electric phases is necessary to ensure adequate voltage to localities that are densely populated. Some time back it was heard that the central Government and the World Bank had sanctioned funds for modernization of Jammu city. How and where those funds were utilized is not known. In short, the State Government must constitute a technical board of town planners to conduct a study of the city and suggest a comprehensive plan for modernization of this ancient city without losing the heritage sites and symbols. The raising of parking structures as an isolated and disjointed project may not be really helpful at the end of the day.
The country must be laughing in its sleeves on how the most important public institution, namely the Parliament, and its subsidiaries like PAC are trivialized by the elected representatives of the people. To what depths of moral turpitude our law makers can sink is shown by the way the PAC proceedings went. There is a limit to acrimony, and there is a limit to defamation. These members seem to have found themselves free wrestlers in the arena of the PAC where a formal meeting turned into a fish market fracas instead of a rectifying body expected to inject moral and constitutional values to its decisions. The entire exercise seems to have lost the sight of its responsibility towards the electorate and the masses of people of the country whose destiny they are deciding within the precincts of the Parliamentary building. In the first place what was the hurry for the chairman to come out with a report before trying hard for a consensus on the findings even if it meant more time? He knew that implicating the Prime Minister of the country overtly or covertly was a very sensitive issue and should have been dealt with a fair amount of caution and diplomacy. Secondly, of course there was breach of propriety when the report was leaked before its formal release. And the onus of this breach of propriety comes to the doorsteps of the chairman. But at the same time, the UPA members seem to have made it a personal rather than a public affair. Sullying the chairman with slanderous charges akin to personal vendetta is not the way how parliamentarians should behave. The PAC Committee meeting turning into a fish market of sorts has left a very bad impression on the mind of the people. Moreover the UPA members should not have attempted to violate the prescribed norms of conduct of business. How can a group elect a new chairman without going through all formalities? Where was the consent and approval of the Speaker? How come a member who is not from Lok Sabha is elected as new chairman contrary to the established norms? These are all technical issues and should have been adhered to. Well, with all said and done the county would want a very convincing proof of fairness on the part of the PM in handling 2G Spectrum scam case.
MENDING FENCES WITH KAYANI
If last week's report in a London daily, suggesting that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has established a direct line of communication with the Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Pervez Kayani to resolve bilateral issues is true, it could only illustrate the helplessness of the civilian government of Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.
The low-profile General who succeeded the former military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan's Army Chief has made it amply clear that "low profile" or not he is no dummy, very much a man with his own agenda.
He served notice months ago of his ability to ignore "silly" norms like the Army Chief having just one term by granting himself an extension followed by a year's extension to the favoured ISI chief Gen. Pasha. Am I contradicting myself by underscoring the point that Kayani is very much his own man? Look at the number of times he, in his own inoffensive way, has ticked the Americans off. That elements within the US administration are very skeptical of the General is common knowledge although the same US sources may be behind advising India to mend fences with Gen. Kayani, the Army to be more precise.
It is not wholly untrue that even in a democratic Pakistan the Army continues to call the shots, but is that good enough reason for Dr. Manmohan Singh to pick up the phone to ask "Kayanibhai, bahut hua, ab yeh Jhagdha Khatam Karayiye" or for Khayani to respond "Manuji, mein janta hoon aap Pakistan mein hi paida huye thhey par kya karein yeh jihadi aur Taliban saans bhi leney nahin dete".
One would probably have been tempted to accept the suggestion made in the London report but it could have been plausible only if Kayani was just another Pakistani military dictator. See, how close Musharraf was to striking a deal with Manmohan Singh just before he raced into exile. Things cannot be that easy for a weak civilian Government headed by Pakistan's least admired politician, Asif Ali Zardari. True, that the man and his entire government has to spend more time keeping on the right side of the Army, the rest going to outguessing the Muslim League (N) and its leader Mian Nawaz Sharif.
It's no breaking news to be told about back-room channels being used by New Delhi and Islamabad; these have been there even when the two had massed troops on either side of the border. The interesting thing is that the two countries are this time over officially talking in terms of talks. The meeting between the two Prime Ministers in Manali did indeed open up a new (hopefully) chapter in the tortuous course of the off again, on again Indo-Pak dialogue.
Pardon me a digression, what kind of message would we be conveying to the world and the civil society in Pakistan by choosing to talk directly/indirectly to the Army Chief, bypassing the duly elected government. As it is, history tells us that Indo-Pak agreements, a rare phenomenon, have never been achieved via a military dialogue. The only one to have lasted all these years is the Indus Water dispute the resolution of which was completed when Nehru and Liaqat Ali headed the respective governments.
Even the Musharraf plan for Kashmir which had found a large measure of agreement became possible because the then Pakistani military leader realised that the separatists in that State had moved away from Pakistan to 'Azadi'.
The Americans who had hitherto to trod softly on Pakistani military's ties to the fierce Jehadi Haqqani group despite intelligence leaks that the two had worked together in bombing Indian embassy in Kabul. According to Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, it was very well known that the ISI has a longstanding understanding with Haqqani for supporting, funding, training fighters that were killing Americans and killing coalition partners. "And I have sacred obligation to do all I can to make sure that doesn't happen", Mullen said.
The public airing of these and similar facts brought a strong retort from Gen. Kayani. In a statement put out by the military, Kayani defended Pakistan's stance against terrorism in general while acknowledging that the trust deficit between the institutions and the people existed in Pakistan and the US. This is an extract from the many such angry exchanges the US and the Pakistan Army chief have had in recent weeks.
Take this one from Gen. Kayani has said to Adm. Mullen: "I strongly reject negative propaganda of Pakistan not doing enough and Pakistan's Army lacking clarity on the way forward. Pakistan Army's ongoing operations against the militants are a testimony of our national resolve to defeat terrorism." This even as he expressed his country's strong anger over the bomber attacks on targets in Pakistan. The Gen. wanted these stopped forthwith. Not that the Americans or their allies have paid any heed to such challenges. But Pakistan had found another covert way to hurt the US; it turns a blind eye to jihadists and Taliban in cutting of the American supply lines on the only road leading into Afghanistan from Torkhum. Hundreds of trucks laden with supplies are burnt down, forcing the Americans to seek another route through a friendly Central Asian State.
Meanwhile, the Americans are dropping subtle hints that they mean to withdraw from Afghanistan in July this year which begins an end game in that country. That doesn't look good for India's prospects of maintaining influence or keeping the Taliban out. It is interesting to note against this backdrop that Marc Grossman, the successor to the late American pointman in the AFPAK region, Richard Holbrooke is due be in India shortly. The envoy is expected to inform India of the hastened pace of Pak efforts to make up with Afghan Taliban, hopefully with Hamid Karzai's blessings, and the increasing intensity of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan.
And the Afghan President, worried about his own survival, is believed to be tilting Pak's way. Karzai may publicly remain close to this country but the postponement of a Manmohan Singh visit seems intriguing. May be that is why the Americans are thinking in terms of fostering a friendlier relationship between India and Pakistan. Whatever the source of the London report about US having told some Indians that they should directly engage Generals Kayani and Pasha, it does sound a bit credible, however far-fetched it may seem. The Pakistan Army may indeed encourage the civilian government to step up the dialogue with India but only after it has made sure of a take-over as Afghanistan's big brother. It needs no repetition to say that Afghanistan has remained one long obsession with a succession of Pakistan Army Chiefs.
It goes back to the time of partition when a British Officer was commanding the Pak Army, one who wished to "undo" the damage done to Pakistan's cause in Kashmir by his countryman who drew the Radcliffe line, providing a vital link connecting India with the princely State of the Hindu Dogra ruler of the State.
I have spoken to dozens of Pakistani defence experts over the past four decades and this "injustice" sticks out as a sore thumb. Afghanistan from that day onward became "vital" to Pakistan's strategic depth. I don't for a moment believe that Gen. Kayani would be in any hurry to talk to India. His long-term strategy continues to be India, Kashmir-centric if you will. Something tells me that if the civilian Government in Islamabad tried to quicken the pace of bilateral relations it might be sealing its own doom. A long "warm, in frank and friendly" exchange of views between then Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao and Mian Nawaz Sharif in Davos in the 90's was followed by Sharif announcing February 5 as Kashmir day or a Black day-within 24 hours of his touching down at Islamabad. To put his official seal on it he declared the day as a public holiday as well.
LOKPAL AS A PANACEA?
BY ASHOK BHAN
The unsavory debate over the persona on the drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill and the questions about the constitutionality of such a committee has diverted the nation from the core issue of fighting corruption. Are we drifting from the issue of corruption, which has got institutionalized in the system, to redressing ego hassles of a few activists, whose intentions can not be faulted? Is Lokpal a panacea to eradicate corruption from our society?
To have a correct appreciation of the situation it will be worthwhile to understand the mechanics of bribing and kickbacks. There are, broadly speaking, four types of criminal misconduct by public servants at different levels of the executive hierarchy. The first, in which all levels extensively indulge in, is misuse of transport, telephone, frequent flier bonus points earned from Government paid travels, fake medical bills, photocopying personal documents and a wide range of similar official facilities for personal gains. Many employees carry out private business during office hours. In far and remote areas teachers seldom attend the schools. A stage has now reached when this misuse is labeled as 'perks' and no questions are asked. All this can be prevented through internal vigilance and accountability. Civil service conduct rules are never invoked to teach erring public servant a lesson. No one wants to become unpopular by taking a deterrent action. When no action is taken such misconduct never ever gets reflected in the appraisal reports. The muck which should have normally settled down is able to float and go to the top.
The second and the more serious one is the graft for public services. A common citizen is affected by this every day when he is compelled to shell out money to get his legitimate job done from a public servant. This in terms of volume of each transaction may be 'petty corruption' but it adds up to a huge sum as large number of public servants at the lower level are indulging in it at all times and in all parts of the country and to varying degrees in all public utility departments. It is this bribe about which common man talks about and is fed up with. Anna Hazare's fast gave a platform to the vast majority of sufferers of this 'coercive corruption' or 'jaabraana'. Fortunately, the element of coercion in this category of graft induces hatred and victims are willing to take recourse to law when demand for money is made. There are many complainants willing to get the public servant 'trapped' through law enforcement agency. The number of willing whistle blowers swells if the anti-corruption agency enjoys credibility. They do it despite being fully aware of harassment they are likely to encounter during their future visits to the department where a successful 'trap' is laid. They want to teach the public servant a lesson. In Jammu and Kashmir from January 2005 to the end of first half of 2008 the State Vigilance Organization registered 136 trap cases out of a total of 270 FIRs. Revenue department led the field followed by Police, Engineering departments, finance/sales tax/excise, Rural Development, Forest and so on as far as number of traps goes. A series of successful traps create a chain reaction of complaints. Initially the rates of bribe per activity may increase but a prolonged crusade breaks the resolve of corrupt public servants. The investigation agency must ensure that an honest public servant is not harassed and humiliated through a false complaint. The complainant must produce enough evidence of demand of bribe and that there is a cause for paying it before a 'trap' is laid. 'Trap' is the most potent tool to target this 'coercive corruption'. The complainant is protected by section 24 of the Prevention of Corruption Act and he can not be prosecuted for giving bribes.
The third category of corruption prevalent at the middle and top level of bureaucracy includes kickbacks from development projects, social welfare schemes, purchases, recruitments and transfers, to cite a few. Collections made at the lowest level through 'petty corruption' get shared up to the top for retention of a public servant at the 'lucrative post'. As we go up the ladder corruption becomes more and more 'collusive' in nature as the bribe is given as 'shukraana or nazraana'. It is rare to find complainants as both the receiver and the giver share the spoils. The exchanges take place in cozy drawing and bed rooms away from public gauge. Occasionally one comes across a rival to spill the beans or a conscientious insider acting as a whistle blower. The best treatment for this category is to strengthen internal vigilance, make systemic changes for transparency by introducing e-governance in purchases and payments and take legal action for misappropriation, purchases at exorbitant rates and possessing assets disproportionate to known sources of income. The bureaucratic system of checks and balances needs to be restored. Prosecuting alone does not help much in getting rid of the malaise more so because prosecution is a long and time consuming affair in our country and unfortunately criminal justice is 'purchasable'. Drive against corruption has to be made a management function and not a punitive exercise through investigations and prosecution alone. A mix of preventive internal vigilance coupled with deterrent criminal action holds the key.
Let us pause here for a while. An overwhelming majority of cases of corruption have been covered under these three categories. Legal provisions exist and each state and the center have law enforcement machinery of one kind or the other. Then why have we not been able to effectively check corruption of these categories? There are a host of reasons beginning with need for large sums of money by political parties for elections and lack of will of the political executive to fight corruption. Every ruling party patronizes corrupt bureaucrats so that unquestioned free flow of kickbacks is facilitated. The Bureaucracy must be made accountable to the constitution and the law. It must not act as a stooge of a political personality or a party.
There are delays in the criminal justice system and on an average it takes 10-15 years to get a verdict in a corruption case and this is followed by the statutory appeals. Witnesses feel harassed and at some stage walk away in despair. A delayed conviction fails to create deterrence as people have forgotten the case. As the Prime Minister remarked on the Civil Services Day, "people expect swift and exemplary action and rightly so". Why can't we have enough Special Courts to ensure that a trap case is decided in 6 months and other cases in a year or so? And till criminal justice remains 'purchasable' the corrupt will buy it with their money power. Indulging in corruption has to be made a costly affair. Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2006 provides for attachment during investigation and forfeiture on conviction of a property acquired through proceeds of corruption. The UN Convention against Corruption, which India has not ratified yet, also provides for 'freezing' or 'seizure' and eventual 'confiscation' of property derived from proceeds of crime. A hard look needs to be taken at these provisions. The proceeds of corruption must return to the State.
We are yet to take a serious look at 'induced corruption' by the Corporate Houses by inflating the costs of goods and services so that palms of greedy public servants can be greased. For the present, the Prevention of Corruption Act is largely public servant centric with inducer or bribe giver being dealt with for abetment. This is not enough and the inducer must be made a principle accused. The arrest of some top corporate executives in 2G spectrum allocation scam should set the trend for a comprehensive legal provision.
So there is so much to be done to fight corruption of three categories listed earlier. This all is achievable if there is the much elusive political will. Prime Minister has rightly pointed out the growing feeling in the people that our laws, systems and procedures are not effective in dealing with corruption. Once effective checks are in place the upward movement of graft money will get squeezed. The activists spearheading the anti-corruption movement must focus on these areas. The increased public anger must be utilized to put pressure on the Government to introduce reforms so that we can move out of the present state of affairs.
And finally the fourth category of corruption related to policy decisions taken by the political executive and top echelons of bureaucracy which is in public focus at present. There can be no two opinions that the corruption staircase is best cleaned from top downwards. Here not only criminal misconduct but also mal-administration needs to be dealt with and the existing system under the influence of political executive has failed to deliver goods. The Lokpal is definitely the answer. A Lokpal who is independent like the Supreme Court or the EC and does not tread on the powers of other pillars of democracy. A Lokpal who can receive complaints directly, investigate through a designated Agency but leave the trial to a Designated Judge. The selection must be carried out by a Committee headed by the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister can be trusted with defending the territorial integrity of the country why can't we have faith in his judgment to select a Lokpal? The CVC fiasco has made everyone wiser. The elected Chief Executive has the responsibility to lead the country. He must be given power to choose the tools. The Prime Minister can feel the pulse of the people.
(The author is a Retired IPS Officer and former Commissioner of Vigilance of Jammu and Kashmir.)
BOOST FOR INDO-PAK TRADE
MFN STATUS FOR INDIA WILL HELP
India and Pakistan are on their way to expanding trade relations in a big way. Pakistan has ultimately agreed to grant India the much-needed Most Favoured Nation status for purposes of business deals. India gave this facility to Pakistan a few years ago. Pakistan had been unwilling to reciprocate India's gesture on various pretexts, but India continued to press for it.
The Commerce Secretaries of the two countries who met in New Delhi on Thursday discussed the issue closely with the realisation that both countries would be major beneficiaries if India was give the MFN treatment by Pakistan. This means the end of the Pakistani discriminatory regime for trade with India.
There is a massive trade potential between India and Pakistan, but it could not be realised substantially because of Islamabad's unwillingness to accept India's viewpoint on the MFN question. That is why the present trade volume between them is merely $2 billion. It has the potential to go up to over $14 billion soon. Their indirect trade through a third country may get reduced once the Pakistani decision on the MFN status to India is implemented. They have finalised a mechanism to enhance trade in petroleum products, and this means cross-border pipelines and an increased use of rail and road networks.
Growing trade relations between the two may lead to a better political climate in the subcontinent, helping to resolve their disputes in the days to come. There is need to hold more and more trade fairs which will not only increase bilateral trade but will also lead to increased people-to-people contacts, strengthening the peace constituency on both sides of the Indo-Pak divide. This will then reduce the tension between the two countries. Once the two major South Asian nations develop their stake in economic advancement through mutual trading arrangements, the atmosphere of distrust and ill will can become a thing of the past.
LONG ROPE FOR BUILDERS
TOWERS OF BABEL GALORE IN SHIMLA
Shimla, once considered the "Queen of Hills", seems hell-bent to turn into a hi-rise town, its environment and beauty be damned. In the name of development, construction activity is going on even in green areas through the convenient escape route of "special exemption". While the common man would find it difficult to cut even a branch of a tree, colonisers can bend the rules to suit their needs. The end result is that many monstrous eyesores abound.
One of the curious cases is that of the Jakhu aerial ropeway. As if the permission granted to raise an 11-storey, 39.55-metre high structure in the green area, where there has been a blanket ban on construction for a decade, was not enough, the company setting up the ropeway later raised two more storeys, taking the height to 43.92 metres and even proposed to increase it to 46.90 metres. Mercifully, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has halted work on the controversial project, saying that if the court does not intervene, they (government officials) would permit this Tower of Babel to increase in height indiscriminately.
The excuse given by the company was weird. It claimed that the increase in height had been necessitated by the fact that when the initial survey was conducted, there was some error and difference of three metres was not noticed and the height of trees was also miscalculated. Naturally, the court has expressed its shock that a company which proposes to run a ropeway could make such "miscalculations".
Its observation that "officials of the state government seem to be more interested in protecting the interests of Jagson Ropeways rather than the environment of the area" should occasion a serious re-look at the entire gamut of construction activities in the state capital. The "core area" of Shimla is in need of decongestion. Instead, there is an underhand attempt to change the land use from "residential" to "mixed" wherever possible. A similar self-defeating exercise goes on in other hill towns also. Nobody seems to realise that this will sound the death-knell for tourism, to promote which all this commercial activity is being ostensibly allowed. It is necessary to assess whether the towns bursting at the seams are at all in a position to sustain mass tourism.
INDIA'S NEW COACH FLETCHER
NOTHING MUCH TO WRITE HOME ABOUT
The appointment of former Zimbabwe captain Duncan Fletcher as Team India coach has come as a bit of a surprise especially given the fact that he has been out of a regular job for quite a while. But the Board of Control for Cricket in India seems to have a penchant for providing gainful employment to many who are in need, and Fletcher is the newest name on the list.
The surprise indeed lies more in the fact that Fletcher had a lacklustre stint as coach of England, culminating with the World Cup disaster in 2007, after which his relations with the British media made it impossible for them to co-exist.
While the players affiliated to the BCCI are not really in a position to comment negatively about the appointment, at least a couple of former India captains have been very critical of the choice. Kapil Dev has been quite derisive about Fletcher's credentials as a cricketer and stressed that players like Robin Singh or Venkatesh Prasad would have been better choices as coach. Sunil Gavaskar on the other hand thinks that Mohinder Amarnath would have been a better choice. A strange observation, considering that Gavaskar was in the panel which chose Gary Kirsten ahead of Amarnath when the coaching job was up for grabs last.
Fletcher is not known for his flair and eloquence, and according to former England captain Michael Vaughan, never understood how the media works. So his tenure in India isn't likely to be too cordial, especially when it comes to the media. But in terms of profile, Fletcher fits the Indian scheme of things perfectly. He is a behind-the-scene kind of person, something that John Wright and Gary Kirsten understood quickly was the ideal course in India, which Greg Chappell never did. In any case, top cricket teams do not need a coach but a man manager. However, Fletcher's man management skills are uncharted and untested, so one can assume that it will be an interesting tenure, from the media point of view at least.
CHINESE INFLUENCE IN NEPAL
A MAJOR CHALLENGE FOR INDIA
BY S.D. MUNI
For the past couple of years, India has been trying to get its grip over slippery relations with Nepal. Towards that end, former Foreign Secretary and envoy to Nepal Shyam Saran was sent to Kathmandu in August 2010. This was followed by present foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's visit to Nepal in January 2011.
Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna's three-day visit to Nepal in April (19-22) should be seen in continuation of these visits. Though formally Mr. Krishna had to inaugurate a newly built check-post on the Indo-Nepal border in Birgunj, his main mission was two-fold: to express India's growing concerns on the security of its stakes in Nepal and to assess the prospects of faltering peace process and constitution making, for which the deadline is only five weeks ahead - May 28t.
The security of India's interests in Nepal has come under severe pressure; not only due to personal attacks (with stones and shoes) on the Indian Ambassador, but also by defacing of Indian flag, politically inspired breakdowns and disruptions of Indian business establishments, the continuing use of Nepal for the flow of fake currency and terrorists into India and the expanding space of China's strategic presence in the sensitive neighbour. Krishna articulated these concerns strongly and frankly to his Nepali interlocutors and pressed Nepal to move forward on the India-initiated pending proposals of tying up loose ends in this regard, including the conclusion of bilateral Treaties of Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance. Maoists being the principal driving force behind the attacks on The Indian Ambassador and business establishments, Mr Krishna forcefully conveyed India's displeasure while talking to Maoist supremo Prachanda.
Mr Prachanda reassured Mr Krishna that the Maoists valued the importance of constructive engagement with India, but without mincing matters regarding his party's reservations on India's interference in Nepal against the Maoists since 2008, specially during the various rounds of elections For the Prime Minister in 2010.
The prospects of the peace process and constitution making in Nepal are passing through a dismal transition. Failure to accomplish these tasks by the deadline of May 28, may create a highly unstable and chaotic situation in Nepal with unwelcome adversary implications for India. The breakdown of consensus among major political parties and internal fragmentation within these parties on account of ideological differences and competing power ambitions of the key party leaders are the reasons behind the prevailing political stalemate. While the peace process is stuck on the question of integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist armed cadres, constitution making is held up due to unresolved power-sharing among the principal stakeholders and the resulting breakdown of national consensus on critical issues of federalism, nature of the executive and the basic structure of the polity.
Days before Mr Krishna's visit to Kathmandu, indications of a positive turn in Nepal's political situation had emerged. Internal tussle within the Nepali Congress, between its President Sushil Koirala and former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, on the question of Working Committee nominations had been resolved amicably. Similarly, Maoist leader Prachanda had distanced himself from the party's line of "people's revolt" and come out with a new document for speeding up the "peace process" and "constitution making". This was the result of his swing away from his hardline mentor and Vice- Chairman Mohan Baidya, and towards the balanced and moderate ideologue, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai.
Mr Prachanda also realises that realistically, it is fool-hardy to resort to a second "peoples war" in Nepal now.
It may be recalled that the Maoists shift from the "people's war" to democratic mainstreaming during 2005-06 had been led by the Prachanda-Baburam duo. There have also been signs of softening between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists. While Mr Baburam has been openly asking for the Maoists and the Nepali Congress to work together, the Nepali Congress hardliners are also realising that the Maoists demand for the integration of their armed cadres need to be considered carefully.
How can the process of mainstreaming the Maoists be accomplished without proper rehabilitation of their militant cadres? Some in the Nepali Congress are willing to accommodate as much as 6000 of these cadres through the integration in security forces. There is now even a proposal formally advanced by the Nepali Army for integration of militant cadres, and the response of the Maoists to this proposal so far has not been negative.
Mr Krishna in his public pronouncements had pleaded for the completion of the peace process and constitution making. He also underlined the need and significance of political consensus among Nepal's political parties towards that end. The extent to which his parleys with the political leaders focused on this process and will help in advancing it will be known only when political moves of these leaders unfold in Nepal in the weeks to come. Mr Krishna has been assured by the Maoists that they do not have a policy to hurt India's interests in Nepal. There are reasons to believe that the Maoist attacks on Indian diplomats and business establishments have mostly been in reaction to their perception that India wants to keep them on the margins of power-structure in Nepal.
These perceptions were reinforced by the outcome of the visits of Mr Shyam Saran and MsNirupama Rao in the midst of prime ministerial elections.
The Maoists are the largest party in the Constituent Assembly and they think that they should legitimately be accepted to lead any coalition government. They want India to be helpful by remaining at least neutral, if not supportive, to their claims in the process of government formation in Nepal. One does not know if there has been any change in India's stance in this respect. The Maoists should be expected to change their calibrated hostility towards the Indian establishments in Nepal if Mr Krishna has succeeded in impressing upon the Maoists that India indeed wishes them well. But has he?
There have been unmistakable signs of China expanding its presence and influence in Nepal. The latest evidence of this was provided by the visit of a powerful Chinese military delegation to Nepal in March (23-26) under the leadership of the PLA chief, General Chen Bingde. An MoU was signed during his visit offering Chinese assistance of $19.9 mn to Nepal for medical equipment and construction machinery.
Mr Krishna must have explored the extent of growing Chinese influence in Nepal, particularly during his talks with President Ram Baran Yadav, Prime Minister Khanal and Nepal's army chief General Chhatra Man Singh Gurung.
Indian policy makers must accept the hard reality that the assertion of influence by a rising China in Asia, including in India's sensitive neighbourhood, is inevitable and Indian diplomacy has to equip itself strategically, politically and economically to face that reality. In a country like Nepal, it is the deficiencies and failures of Indian diplomacy that will be exploited by an assertive China to its advantage with the help of all those Nepali political forces that feel alienated from India.
The writer is Visiting Research Professor, Institute for South Asian Studies, Singapore
MAID IN INDIA
BY VIVEK ATRAY
Indian cities are witness to a revolution of a very different kind these days. The maids are taking over!Schedules, appointments, wakeup times, meals, birthday parties, vacations, and even weddings are dependant these days on the convenience of the all-important family maid. Make no mistake, she has veto rights of the kind that no Head of State enjoys anywhere in the world.
If the maid of the house says she has a toothache, no food will be cooked in the yuppie household that day. And God-forbid, if the maid decides that she should visit her grandmother for a week, the man of the house may have to take time off from work to help out at home.
These formidable ladies need no training and no tutoring. They are immensely more talented and capable than their employers. They know how to cook, make beds, take messages, iron clothes, and provide beauty-treatment to their lady-bosses.
At birthday parties, maid-power is at its most evident. Since the practice nowadays is to invite only the kids and not the parents, such occasions are witness to large-scale maid re-unions. Sometimes two maids accompany each child and the hosts have to arrange many boxes to cater to these hungry guests.
At a recent party, however, the poor hostess was in a real quandary. What happened was that the maids refused to eat from the 'maid-boxes' and demanded plates and seats like the guests. They did not wait for formal approval from anyone and walked up to the table to dig in to the 'apple-turnovers' and 'blueberry pies'. So compelling was the hunger from within and so large the number of maids that the food on the table vanished in no time.
It is anybody's guess as to who had to eat from the 'maid-boxes' in the end.
My sister-in-law has her priorities in perfect order. She has identified the specialist maid who would chaperon her second baby and has booked her in advance even though the said woman is working elsewhere nowadays.
The only thing that remains to be decided is whether and when she is to have the second baby.
In my own home there is a very old and very imposing looking maid who is like someone out of the history books, but who works more effectively than any maid of the modern era. My wife goes out of her way to look after her, and we all call her 'Mataji'.
I must also confess to being a little afraid of her; so intimidating is she. She bosses me around whenever I'm around and often asks me to move away from the room that she's busy cleaning.
She is quite a born leader, it seems. In fact I hear that she might soon take over as the President of the All India Maids Association. The whole country had better watch out!
FARMING FOR THE MARKET
WITH THE GROWING CONSUMERISM DUE TO AN INCREASE IN DISPOSABLE INCOMES, A HIGHER LEVEL OF EDUCATION, INCREASING URBANISATION AND THE CHANGING TASTES OF THE YOUNGER GENERATION, A CONSUMPTION-ORIENTED MARKET SYSTEM IS BECOMING MORE EFFECTIVE THAN THE ONE DRIVEN BY PRODUCTION
The Green Revolution, which was ushered in the mid-sixties in Punjab, faded away in the early nineties, leaving agriculture to struggle for its mere sustainability. This is apparent from the fast-sliding compound growth rate in this sector from 5.37 per cent in the Sixth Plan to 1.90 per cent in the Ninth Plan and 2.28 per cent in the Tenth Plan period. Without visualising emerging problems, the political, economic and social systems continued to thrive on the past performance.
Apparently, there is little scope for improvement in productivity of food-grain crops due to technology fatigue. The government and policy planners kept high hopes on the research systems without rectifying the policies, particularly in terms of inadequate funding the research and development, lack of initiative for value addition, non-economic use of a huge mass of crop residue, encouraging overuse of most precious resources such as electricity and water and paralysed export infrastructure.
With the taking off of the state economy during the Green Revolution era, there was a strong need for shifting people from agriculture to manufacturing and the service sector. This process demanded a fast growth of these sectors. In Punjab the banking, insurance, communication and trade, tourism, construction and manufacturing sectors did not catch up with the growth of majority of other states. Hence as much as about 33 pe cent of the gross state domestic product of Punjab is still contributed by the slow-growing agriculture sector whereas almost all right thinking states of the country are concentrating more on the secondary and tertiary sectors.
The farm sector is facing serious environmental problems due to the declining water resources, deteriorating soil health, direct human health hazards caused by pesticide residues, air pollution etc. About 30 million tonnes of crop residues are burned every year in Punjab. This calls for immediate attention of its use for livestock, degeneration as humus for soil, making industrial use such as manufacture of cardboard, paper, packing material, energy generation etc.
There exists a vast production potential of various alternative crop and livestock enterprises which can replace rice and wheat crops but their contribution to the overall production is not responding due to lack of processing and other value addition processes, domestic market and export infrastructure. Still on paper, diversification of agriculture is our motto. In the light of this, our planners are unsuccessfully forcing some unviable crops such as soybean, banana etc whereas their roots are refusing to enter the soil. In the attempt at diversification, clear-cut agro-climatic regions should be used as guiding indicators.
The state has south-western districts covering about 7.5 lakh hectares as a clear-cut demarcated cotton belt having brackish underground water. Following a long spell of failure of cotton, the paddy crop infiltrated this area and farmers had to explore deep groundwater by investing in submersible tubewells. Now, the cotton crop is on the recovery path, particularly with the introduction of Bt varieties. Apart from offering diversification possibility of agriculture from rice to cotton on another about two lakh hectares in the state, it has a high potential of employment and value addition in the secondary and tertiary sectors.
The production of fruits, vegetables and various other farm products can be accelerated in the state but lack of processing facilities due to their seasonal production, high carry-over cost and lack of processing attributes are some hindrances. About 9 per cent of the geographical area of the state along the Shivalik hill range having undulating topography, popularly known as Kandi belt, which by default, is more suitable for organic farming of horticultural crops such as fruits, vegetables, spices due to agro-climatic conditions. This could be encouraged through training, developing internal and external inspection system, and encouraging Self Help Groups of farmers. All these examples highlight the role of processing industry in not just processing products but also contributing to R&D for boosting production of their raw materials.
Supply chain management
To ease the situation within agriculture, it is suggested to strive for the Second Green Revolution through value addition. Most of the potential alternative produce is highly perishable and requires special treatment with quick transportation, delicate handling, storage at specific low temperature, processing in different forms, scientific packaging, sound market information and outlook services and development of export infrastructure. Now, the question is that what can be the most suitable agency to carry it out. Incurring such heavy investments is obviously not within the reach of an average farmer who is handicapped by constrains of inadequate resources. A vast majority of farmers' cooperatives have not been successful due to various technical, administrative and social reasons and thus lack initiatives to take up such activities. Autonomous investment is also a remote possibility as the state government has already washed off its hands with the excuse that it is starved of financial resources, obviously due to various measures adopted on different fronts. The initiation of contract farming was an interesting positive step taken by the state government a few years back. This experiment too could not succeed due to a number of obvious reasons, especially inbuilt constraints and over-interference of the government. The buying agencies thrived on trading rather than appropriate value addition processes. Still the only ray of hope is investments by big business houses with backward and forward linkages in spite of certain possibilities of certain exploitative practices.
Consumer is king
The fact remains that our farmer got expertise on production system, which he has nicely demonstrated on the ground. Now with the opening up of the economy, we need to view the things in diametrically opposite perspective. The production system has to be volatile to cater to consumers' requirements. To capture the need of well-to-do sections of society in terms of consumer's taste, product quality, safety, nutrition aspects etc, the essential services are required to be provided, necessitating the opening of retail chain stores in the state. Therefore, to demonstrate the technical and pricing efficiency, organised retailing through horizontal and vertical market linkages, harnessing the scale economies can be a feasible solution. Moreover, with growing consumerism due to an increase in the disposable income, a higher level of education and urbanisation and the changing tastes of the younger generation, a consumption-oriented rather than production-oriented market system is becoming more effective with the passage of time. Let the successful farmers' cooperatives and individual farmers also coordinate and compete within the system. Going a step further, the market view should not be limited only to domestic consumers but also to potential global markets.
Market information is another important dark area which, if cared for prudently, can help in facilitating the process further. Marketing innovations are coming up at a fast rate and sale, which was once effected on the physical display of produce, is now done by samples, by quality description, by grade standards or even by display on the internet. Therefore, a regular monitoring of the domestic and global markets by taking stock of demand, prices, quality requirements and other market forces along with the tariff structure is needed for guidance to farmers and market agencies to facilitate their safe entry. Since small farmers do not have the capacity to develop such market infrastructure, it is for the state to work through the farmers' commission in this direction for some worthwhile performance.
The writer is a former Prof. & Head, Department of Economics & Sociology, PAU, Ludhiana.
RICH CROPS, POOR FARMERS
This year the wheat crop, by and large, is good. Western and Central Uttar Pradesh produces surplus grain like Punjab and Haryana and since the days of the Green Revolution, these have been important centres where rice and wheat are procured for the Central pool.
In the earlier days this worked well for farmers but in the recent years, procurement has become an exercise to torment farmers rather than support them. First, the minimum support price (MSP) is never paid in full.If the price announced for wheat is Rs 1,120 per quintal, as it is this year, the real price that the farmer will get can be anything from Rs 750 to Rs 950 per quintal. Corruption locks farmers in a vice-like grip because they have no storage facilities and must sell their produce immediately after harvest.
The procurement agencies and where relevant, private buyers, know this and turn the screws on the price since they know the farmer has no choice but to sell. Other strategies that are used to press prices down is to tell the farmer that their grain has not been dried sufficiently (whether that is true or not) and will not be lifted. As soon as palms are greased, the grain dries miraculously. Other tricks are to declare the grain too 'light', not fulfilling the standards set by the FCI. The FCI's exacting standards are equally miraculously met once farmers' pockets have become correspondingly lighter.
Often there is an unholy nexus between FCI agents and private companies. The deal is that the procurement agency will reject much of the grain on one pretext or another. Farmers have to travel to procurement centres with their grain, for it to be inspected, weighed and lifted. If they do not have their own bullock carts, they hire these or rent trucks or tractor-trailers to bring their grain to the centre. Every day of delay costs the farmer in rental money. It's like ports charge demurrage charges if you do not lift your goods. Each day the port holds your goods, it charges you a fee. The bullock cart, tractor and truck owners do the same. So if they have to wait till the farmer can negotiate the deal, the cost of hire keeps going up every day.
This eats into the farmer's profit. When the farmer's grain is held up and he is desperate to sell it, private companies step in and buy up the grain at low prices. In this way the back-breaking effort put in by the farmer and the little subsidy he gets on fertiliser and diesel to irrigate his fields goes to benefit private companies. Despite a good harvest the farmer may not make a profit. Sometimes he cannot even recover his cost and in this way he gets poorer and so desperate that he wants to abandon agriculture.
This is not my version. The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) discovered this in its survey in 2007 when almost half the country's farmers said they would abandon farming if they could find another occupation. This should set the alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power. If the farmer does not grow food what will we eat? Import food? But there is nothing available on the international market to buy! Drought in Australia and Russia, floods in New Zealand and turbulent weather everywhere has ensured that guaranteed food surpluses cannot be counted on. The biofuel drive in the US has drawn away the American corn into ethanol production so that wheat is diverted to animal feed and both corn and wheat are now in short supply.
It is not a rocket science to understand that we need to make agriculture work if we as a nation are to get anywhere. Pursuing the dreams of 9 per cent growth while leaving large chunks of India out of the ambit of such growth is fraught with danger as the developments in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are showing us every other week. Internal security, the Prime Minister says, is the country's largest crisis. Fixing agriculture and putting money in the farmers' pocket is a dead-sure way of finding our way out of the crisis of internal security. When will we get that?
The writer is the Chief Editor of the New Delhi-based GeneNews
T N NINAN
Much of the initial comment in the Indian media on the shortlisting of two of the six contenders for a Rs 42,000-crore fighter aircraft has focused (predictably, perhaps) on the elimination of the two American contenders. The US ambassador has made some gratuitous comments: he is "respectful" of the selection process which, he has been assured at the highest level of the government, is "fair and transparent" (so what did he expect?). Mr Roemer's counterparts from Russia and Sweden, whose aircraft offers too have been rejected, have chosen wisely to hold their peace. All of them must have had a good idea of what was coming; it was fairly obvious some time ago that the final choice would be between the French Rafale and the four-country Eurofighter. And so it has turned out to be. Two newspapers in New Delhi have commented editorially that India has lost a chance to forge a stronger relationship with the US; no one here has commented on how it might have done the same with Russia, whose aircraft will be replaced by the new ones. <I>The Wall Street Journal </I>though headlined its report "India snubs US, Russia…". Snubs? As the Godfather would have said, this is not personal, it is strictly business.
So it might be a good idea to look beyond American disappointment (understandable) and pique (avoidable). The important thing is that a decision on the contract for seven squadrons of multi-role combat aircraft will be made before long. The air force is already about 10 squadrons short of its ideal strength of combat aircraft (said to be 39.5 squadrons). Indeed, of the 29 squadrons in service, the perennial problem with spares means that a good number of the aircraft in those squadrons are not airworthy. Given the time line for delivery of the planes that are to be ordered, there has been speculation that another four squadrons may have to be ordered, taking the total order to 11 squadrons.
It is worth noting that the Pakistan air force has been on an expansion and upgradation drive, and has significantly reduced its longstanding force disadvantage vis-à-vis India. Likewise, the Chinese air force has enhanced its capacity for air operations from the Tibetan plateau. Between the two, they now have more fighter aircraft to deploy against India than the size of the air force — for the first time in a quarter century and more.
What is true of the air force applies to the armed forces as a whole. India's defence spending this year will be 1.8 per cent of GDP — the lowest level since the wake-up call that the Chinese gave in 1962. Ten years ago, the defence-GDP ratio was closer to 2.7 per cent. Unless correctives are applied, India's ratio of defence spending to GDP is in danger of slipping to the level of some European countries that face no real security threat, and which in any case have an American security umbrella available.
The problem is not just the failure to spend money, it is also the procurement process — the invariably rocky path to ordering new ordinance. The planned order for light howitzers that can be airlifted to frontline positions has just gone into another tailspin; an order for heavy-lift C-17 Globemasters is stuck because the asking price is much higher than Australia paid. Domestic weapon development projects have made headway but most of them, including the missile programme, have also been subject to massive delays. The end result has to be stated baldly; India's defence readiness has suffered at a time when the country's security environment has unarguably deteriorated.
RIGHT APPROACH, WRONG YARDSTICK
RBI'S UNIQUE FOCUS ON WPI INFLATION IS MISGUIDED EVEN AS DEMAND-DRIVEN FACTORS HAVE BECOME RELATIVELY LESS IMPORTANT
The key issues for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in its upcoming monetary policy review for 2011-12 will likely be dissecting the growth-inflation trade-off, taking a closer look at demand- versus supply-driven factors affecting inflation, and deciding whether to raise the policy rates by 25 or 50 basis points (bps). On the surface, it appears puzzling that wholesale price index (WPI) inflation continues to be higher than expected despite a hefty cumulative increase of 350 bps in policy rates since early 2010 and increasing indications about moderation in growth. However, a little bit of digging reveals that there is no puzzle (more on this later).
In my opinion, the RBI's forecast for GDP growth for 2011-12 will probably be in the 8.0-8.3 per cent range, while the WPI inflation for March 2012 will be pegged in the 5.0-6.0 per cent range. The actual inflation outcome will probably be higher but the RBI is unlikely to announce that just yet and the high base for March 2011 will flatter the year-on-year comparison for WPI in March 2012.
Judging the growth-inflation trade-off accurately is more crucial than ever before, as is analysing the drivers of inflation. The RBI has actually been successful in managing aggregate demand but the supply-side nature of inflation (including higher global commodity prices and the delayed changes in local administered prices) is what is surprising on the upside. My own sense is that demand-side factors have become less important than supply-side factors in contributing to inflation. Growth is already moderating and aggressive rate increases from here on will risk a far greater slowdown than what is needed, especially since monetary measures work with a lag and we have not seen the full impact of the tightening done so far. Car dealers are reporting a slower off-take owing to several factors including higher interest rates, and the investment upturn is weaker than expected. Also, the pace of monetary expansion is not excessive and the current credit growth mainly reflects higher working capital (as input prices have increased) rather than stronger aggregate demand.
There is a lot of noise that real interest rates in India are negative and are contributing to inflation. While it is true that real policy rates (as measured by WPI inflation) in India are negative partly owing to the nature of supply shocks, real lending rates, which matter for aggregate demand, are well into positive territory. The picture also changes if one buys the argument that using WPI in place of an accurate consumer price index (CPI) overstates inflation. Indeed, credit growth would have been a lot higher and economic growth would not be decelerating if real lending rates were very attractive for borrowers to cause a lending boom.
The run-up to the policy review offers a good time to question the RBI's choice of the WPI as a key measure of inflation when the practice throughout the world is to use the CPI. Indeed, it is a mistake to use the WPI as a replacement for the CPI, which is what it has emerged to be for policy purposes and for market participants in India. The distinction between the two has become more important owing to the sharp upturn in global commodity prices that impact input price inflation far more than final goods prices as captured by CPI inflation. The latter is what central banks actually attempt to manage by affecting aggregate demand. Either the central bankers in the rest of the world have got it wrong or the RBI has it upside down and needs to explain the unique tools it has to manage input price changes.
But whatever the compulsions of using WPI as a key metric of inflation, it is a faulty measure for deciding interest rates. Actually, India's unique focus on WPI when global commodity prices are rising probably overestimates the underlying inflationary pressures, even as higher commodity prices will keep inflation higher for longer, essentially a new higher normal for inflation.
Obviously, there is some impact of final consumer demand on input prices but it is unlikely to be 100 per cent of the pass-through of higher input prices that are captured in WPI inflation. Thailand offers a good example (but not the only one) of inflation dynamics in an economy where the output gap has closed. In 2010, inflation measured by the producer price index (PPI) was 9.4 per cent but CPI inflation was only 3.3 per cent. The Bank of Thailand (BoT) focuses on CPI, not PPI. If it focused on input prices like the RBI, the BoT's monetary policy would have been on a totally different – and incorrect – trajectory.
The RBI's characterisation of higher non-food manufactured goods WPI (a crude measure of core input inflation, not core final goods inflation) as reflecting stronger aggregate demand affecting inflation is totally incorrect, in my humble opinion. Indeed, higher global commodity prices and/or upward adjustment in domestic administered fuel prices will result in higher core WPI inflation, even if demand conditions remain unchanged or are weakening!
Should the RBI raise rates by 25 bps or 50 bps on May 3? The most bogus argument for a 50-bp increase is that it will restore the RBI's credibility — not the first time we have heard that. I'd vote for a 25-bp hike accompanied by a hawkish statement that accurately lays more emphasis on inflation now being less affected by demand-side factors owing to the ongoing policy response. The RBI has rightly stayed away from a one-step 50bp hike so far in the current tightening cycle, and it is not necessary to alter that approach this late in the cycle, especially since it meets every six weeks. Also, we do not know how the monsoon is going to play out.
The RBI needs to act but it should not go overboard now even as it attempts to clarify its misconstrued focus on WPI inflation for setting interest rates. Indeed, a risk-reward assessment still favours staying with a 25-bp increase. Financial stability in a topsy-turvy world remains important and we must avoid a repeat of the mid-1990s experience of killing inflation by killing growth.
The author is senior economist at CLSA, Singapore
The views expressed are personal
RATING SOUTH INDIA'S THREE CAPITALS
A whistle-stop five-day tour of three south Indian state capitals (Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad) yielded a variety of impressions but here is my overall verdict: Bangalore is the worst-managed of the three and Hyderabad by far the best.
All that you have heard about Bangalore traffic is true. It can take up to an hour to get to a residential suburb like Koramangala, where many commercial enterprises have also moved, and much longer to Whitefield which is as Gurgaon is to Delhi. The first phase of the Metro in the city centre is due to open soon but it is not for this reason alone that large tracts of road are dug up, potholed or diverted. Planning and maintenance in this once stately, well-preserved and tree-filled city have nosedived. So has its temperate climate. Rabid construction has taken a toll on its cool weather.
Mercifully, some landmarks still thrive, upholding the city's tradition of hospitality. Principally, Koshy's, the famous street corner coffee house that remains an atmospheric shabby-chic meeting point with Prem Koshy, its genial owner, dispensing reasonably-priced food with warm smiles. (Among the off-the-menu delicacies I sampled was a delicately flavoured, piping-hot tender coconut soup.) Bangalore is also the most exuberantly cosmopolitan of the three capitals, buzzing with young professionals. At Indigo, the popular rock music radio station where I was a guest, Assamese RJ Shweta Rao, who has set up radio stations in Mumbai and Dubai, was a marvel in multitasking: pattering for 40 minutes, losing neither a chuckle nor cue, working cell phone texts, laptop and headphones, while dexterously playing hits by chartbuster Adele.
Chennai retains its graceful mix of the old and new, adhering to both civic sense and civility. It has a modernising but manageable aspect: lively, well-written newspapers, excellent journalists, and denizens vigorously engaged in intellectual, political and cultural pursuits. Arriving after polling day, the chief topic of discussion naturally was the expected return of Jayalalithaa, whose shop-soiled image is being given a new polish. Many of her old sins of omission and commission are forgotten or glossed over. Novelist-turned-journalist Vaasanthi's sympathetic new biography of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader is a hit. Topic number two of debate is the ongoing battle for control of The Hindu, the venerable Mahavishnu of Mount Road. Everyone, including my hotel manager, had an opinion, as if it was his personal family feud.
Hyderabad is the southern capital with the greatest sheen; its airport is the best-designed, managed and efficient, far better than Delhi's unwieldy T3 with its hideous carpeting and freaky murals. The freeway to the city is speedy and splendidly landscaped; and though the natural rock forms of Banjara Hills are replaced wall-to-wall by office complexes and shopping malls, some past treasures jostle for attention with Hyderabad's modern skyline.
I visited two of the most talked-about heritage restorations: the 19th century Chowmahalla palace near the Charminar and the Falaknuma, five kilometres south. The first, a former home of the Nizams, is now a large orderly museum open to the public, its gardens, chandeliered marble halls, fountain courts and galleries drawing throngs of visitors. The Falaknuma, an ostentatious European-style home of a prime minister, let to the Taj group on a 60-year lease, has taken 15 years and an investment of Rs 100 crore to create the last word in luxury. Perched on a hill, a giddy blue-and-white confection of decoration, it offers vistas all the way to Golconda fort.
Ranjit Philipose, the hotel's general manager, who has managed Taj properties in London and Boston, took me on a tour. Together with the exacting taste of Nizam's Turkish-born wife, Princess Esra, he has succeeded in recreating a vision of restrained splendour. "I was given two years to create the number one hotel in India and the world. When the Nizam visited this winter he said, "Pehle se behtar hai" (It is better than the original). I took that as my best compliment."
THE SUBLIME AND THE ORDINARY
K NATWAR SINGH
I was fortunate to have had an audience with Sathya Sai Baba on two occasions. The first time was in the winter of 1971, when I was in Bangalore with the prime minister of Poland. Mohan Lal Sukhadia, Karnataka's governor at the time, narrated a few "miracles" of Baba and later arranged for me to go to Whitefield. I returned with the ashes that Baba had conjured. The second time was at a friend's house in New Delhi. I never became a follower, but always admired and respected this holy man who provided solace to so many people all over the world. It is India's genius to give birth to people with exceptional transcendental powers.
Now from the sublime to the mundane. You've got to hand it to the Chinese for practising such a sure-footed foreign policy. In 1997, Hong Kong changed hands. It returned to the mother country after being a British colony for 99 years. Mao Zedong's China could have terminated the lease any time after October 1949, when the People's Republic of China (PRC) was established. Britain was in no position to take on the PRC. Hong Kong figured nearly at the bottom of China's immediate priorities. It never gave up its claim on Hong Kong. Mao and Deng Xiaoping decided to wait so that once the apple was ripe, it fell in Beijing's lap.
No drastic changes have been enacted in Hong Kong in the past 16 years. Capitalism and communism share the same bed. This embrace will continue till 2047. China thinks in terms of centuries, not five-year plans.
Let me provide some historical masala here. In 1962, the United Nation's (UN's) Committee on Decolonisation prepared a list of colonial territories, protectorates, dependencies and trust territories. Since Hong Kong was a British colony, the Committee was within its rights to include Hong Kong in the list. The Chinese delegation objected. It argued that Hong Kong was on a lease to the British, and it was part of China, so the Committee could not, and must not, include it in the list. The UN accepted China's point. Clearly, China plays the waiting game. This also applies to our border dispute. China is in no hurry. The status quo suits that country.
I have given this background to highlight the finesse with which the PRC handles diplomacy. At the end of the BRICS summit in Sanya, a statement was issued which, among other things, mentioned that Brazil, India and South Africa deserved to play a greater role at the UN including the Security Council. The statement was not India-specific. Nor did it refer to permanent membership. Yet, our officialdom went lyrical: "China supports India." To put it mildly, this reaction was immature and misplaced. India will become a permanent member only when the five permanent members agree on a package before the UN charter is amended to enlarge the Security Council. The sensible thing would be to practise dignified restraint and avoid exuberance.
A few weeks ago, I asked in this column: Does India have an Arab policy? So far it appears that it does not. Has the ministry of external affairs (MEA) deplored, if not condemned, the brutality that Presidents Bashar Assad and Ali Abdullah Saleh continue to inflict on the people. Jawaharlal Nehru had unambiguously declared that India would not sit quiet when freedom and liberty were endangered. Who is minding the MEA diplomatic shop when the prime minister is on his all-too-frequent jaunts. Is it S M Krishna?
The level of the national political dialogue is going down. Unseemly name calling, verbal overkill and unbridled point-scoring, at a time when vital issues are at stake, are most lamentable. Anna Hazare is the latest whipping boy of one or two of the Congress "worthies", who persist in their folly even after the Congress president has praised, not denigrated, Mr Hazare. Efforts are afoot to block the horizon of civil and social societies. It's time to put an end to the odour emanating from certain political dens.
Indira Gandhi is often presented as a solemn and severe person, and is rarely given the credit for her sense of humour. Her information adviser for 16 years, the late Sharada Prasad, had an impressive stock of jokes and amusing stories.
A MATTER OF HISTORY
A fact is like a sack — it won't stand till you've put something into it."
– Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936): Six Characters in Search of an Author
Every journalist knows today that the most effective way to influence opinion is by the selection and arrangement of facts. So does a historian looking back into the facts of history. So we must study the historian before we study the facts because his selection might determine what we might believe happened in history. Bernard Lewis, the prolific Princeton Orientalist, who is best known as the Middle East (West Asia and North Africa) specialist in America, has come with Faith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East (OUP, America, $24.95) — a follow-up to his earlier work, What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle East Response (2002), which coincided beautifully with the September 11 attacks. As he explained in his preface, the book was related to the attacks, "explaining not what happened and what followed, but what went wrong — the longer sequence and larger pattern of events, ideas, and attitudes that preceded and in some measure produced them".
Mr Lewis does much the same here with a focus on the failure of Muslims to adapt their religion and tradition to present requirements, unlike their age-old Christian rivals who embraced modernity in its entirety. In this book, he has recycled his articles and lectures that feature "the clash of civilisations" between seemingly "incompatible entities" called Islam and the "West". What Mr Lewis tells his audiences is this. Islam, conflated with the Arab-Muslim world, has no functioning democracy or successful industrial economies. Besides, Islam is not just a religion "but a complete system of identity, loyalty, and authority that provides Muslims with the most appealing and convincing answers to their problems".
In the Western world, he says, the basic unit of human organisation is the nation which is subdivided in various ways, one of which is religion. Muslims, however, he says, tend to see not a nation subdivided into religious groups, but a religion subdivided into nations. There were historical reasons for this, one of which is that most of the nation states that make up the modern Middle East were relatively new creations, left over from British and French imperialism that followed the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. As a historian, Mr Lewis has drawn heavily from history to explain why the two cannot meet. But you need to read the nitty-gritty of his arguments and decide which are plausible.
What is central to his argument is this statement on democracy in the Middle East: "What is entirely lacking in the Middle Eastern political tradition is representation of what goes with it — the idea that people elect others to represent them, that these others meet in some sort of corporate body, and that the corporate body deliberates, conducts discussions, and most important of all, reaches decisions that have binding force… In Roman law and in most of the European systems derived from it or influenced by it, there is such a thing as a legal person, a corporation, an abstraction that nevertheless functions as a legal person."
It is this absence, which he says is derived from Islamic Sharia law that has no concept of a legal personality, that goes to the heart of the "democratic deficit" of many Middle Eastern politics, where family, tribe or sects tend to subvert the authority of public institutions at the expense of civil society. Thus, real power gravitates towards the armed forces guided by the exigencies of military logic rather than the ebb and flow of democratic politics.
In the long run, forces that brought down the Mubarak regime and shook others in the region would have come to grips with the power of the military with its networks of properties and other vested interests. Ever since the Anglo-French stranglehold was weakened, the institutions of civil society have been corroded by the top-down military-industrial complex that has left little space for democratic structures. Mr Lewis rightly argues that democracy can only flourish if institutions that are accountable to civil society are allowed to develop; their absence in Muslim and Middle East societies has led to the present crisis. But, Tunisia, Egypt and other countries in the region have demonstrated that it is the internal forces, facilitated by globalised information technologies, that can bring about any meaningful change.
Mr Lewis, however, misses one important factor that has shaped the Middle East. This is the unique longevity and intensity of the western imperial grip on the region over the past century. 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 British protectorates. Formal decolonisation was accompanied by virtually uninterrupted sequence of imperial wars and interventions in the post-colonial period. It is this colonial experience that has shaped these societies and to a large extent stifled the growth of democratic institutions.
MAN BEHIND THE UNIFORM
DESPITE HIS LACK OF INTEREST IN POLITICS KAYANI IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MAN IN PAKISTAN TODAY
The denial earlier this week that the Indian prime minister had used the back channel to contact Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani ahead of the match at Mohali had Pakistanis puzzled. Of all the army chiefs Pakistan has had, they said General Kayani is the least interested in politics. Why would anyone want a back channel with him when he has been so open, they asked.
Kayani meets a select group of journalists for lunch every month. At one such meeting, he was asked what his (the Pakistan army's) view was on talks with India. He said quite clearly: "We will go along with the government on this." When the Malakand and FATA operations – where the army was trying to militarily overcome Pakistan's own people – were undertaken, Kayani got the director general military operations (DGMO) to brief Parliament and got elected representatives to suggest what should be done next. "There is no reason for the army not to be on board on India. If he'd wanted a coup, he would have done one by now," commented a retired Pakistani General about Kayani.
Kayani has recently been given another three years in the job, in itself unprecedented. Three years is plenty of time to improve his current golf handicap (average, at 18), and to try giving up smoking (he's a chain-smoker and though he succeeded in kicking the habit once, he restarted when he was DGMO and Operation Parakram was on).
So here are some must-knows about Kayani.
A reserved man, Kayani has a reputation of talking little but getting a lot done. He has very few friends but if he shares anything he shares it with these men. His dearest friends are Defence Secretary, Lt General (retd) Syed Athar Ali who took over in November 2008; and Lt General (retd) Imtiaz Hussain who heads the Army Welfare Trust. Both are infantrymen who have trained at the Command and Staff College, Quetta with Kayani in his salad days. If anyone knows what is going on in Kayani's head, it is these two.
Kayani is an infantryman, the son of an army non-commissioned officer. He received his commission in the Pakistani army in 1971 in the prized Baloch Regiment. His father died when he was training at the military academy. The task of supporting his family – he was the oldest of four brothers – fell on him.
In 2002, he was appointed commander of the key Rawalpindi Corps. Why is this key? Since theoretically, while the army is fighting crucial battles in Swat and Balochistan, it is Rawalpindi that is the centre of political – and strategic – action.
In 2003, then President Pervez Musharraf gave Kayani charge of investigating two assassination attempts on him. All intelligence agencies in the country were tasked to work with him. In a few months, Kayani had unravelled the two plots and arrested many culprits, chiefly from the lower ranks in the Pakistan Air Force. On this basis, in 2004 he was promoted to head the ISI. Musharraf promoted only two Generals to 4-star: Kayani and General Tariq Majid, now retired, who became chairman joint chiefs of staff committee.
After General Musharraf shrugged off his uniform, Kayani gave no indication of wanting to wear a civilian hat. In fact, he likened coups to temporary bypasses that are created when a bridge collapses on democracy's highway. After the bridge is repaired, he said to a Pakistani newspaper, there's no longer need for the detour. Kayani is the most important man in Pakistan today: not for what he does, but for what he is unlikely to do — hobble the working of the civilian government. You could argue that this is unnecessary because everything the government does, he knows about. But the difference between him and General Musharraf is: the element of unvaunted ambition is missing here. Kayani has been correct to the point that General Musharraf has complained to friends that the new chief has not spoken to him even once after Musharraf left the country.
Kayani's favourite general is the chief of general staff — Lt General Waheed Arshad — from the Armoured Corps. He is the de facto number two in the Pakistan army, which has no vice chief of army Staff. Arshad was made chief of general staff without having commanded a corps. Three generals who had worked with him in the ISI are now his most trusted Corps Commander — General Asif Yaseen Malik in Peshawar; General Rashad Mehmood in Lahore from his own Baloch Regiment; and Lt General Mohammad Zahirul Islam in Karachi. So the ISI is very much in the Pakistan decision-making loop, but legitimately so. Rawalpindi is occupied by Lt General Khalid Nawaz Janjua, also from the Baloch Regiment.
In other words, there is no danger of a coup from within the army. The chief of army staff is a man immune to the seduction of civilian and political power. And what is more, he is in the saddle for at least another three years. So the Pakistan army, as much for India as for Pakistan, poses no danger to peace. For the moment.
A KEEN EYE ON HEALTHCARE
INNOVATIONS BY START-UPS IN EYE DIAGNOSTICS MAY HELP DETECT AILMENTS MUCH BEFORE THE FIRST SYMPTOMS APPEAR
JYOTI PANDE LAVAKARE
For someone who plays so little sport, I've sat across from a surprisingly large number of sports physicians, especially while living in California — it's the standing joke in my family. However, the tables were turned recently, when a skiing accident finally caught up with the real sportsperson in our house, and I found myself sitting outside the operation theatre in an Indian hospital, waiting for news about a finger surgery under general anaesthesia.
What struck me was the extreme makeover private hospitals have had in the less than half decade that I've been away from India. Between the gleaming granite interiors, cool cafés and smartly turned out staff, I fully expected a welcome drink – antibiotic-laced, no doubt – and a cold towel, while registering my patient.
It's truly amazing how far behind these hotel-like hospitals have left their state-run counterparts. My last visit to a government hospital left me feeling sick to the stomach at the stench and filth in the corridors — though I was still impressed with the quality of its overworked doctors. It's the sheer numbers that makes it all unmanageable. Or is it?
If populous countries like India focused aggressively on preventive healthcare, most of which can easily be done off-site, state hospitals wouldn't get so overloaded. Most patients waiting at state-run hospitals come from satellite towns and rural areas, usually in advanced stages of a disease, by which time intense treatment becomes inevitable, and both costs and mortality are higher. What if these millions could be caught at beginning stages before the first symptoms manifest and much before the disease has proliferated — without overworking existing doctors?
This is exactly what a start-up called Forus Health Pvt Ltd is trying to do. Forus, founded last year, focuses on the preventive healthcare space. Its first product – a pre-screening optical device called 3nethra – can detect up to five common eye problems non-invasively even before first symptoms appear. Without a doctor behind the controls.
"India has 25 per cent of the entire world's blind population," Dr Shyam Vasudeva Rao, president and CTO of Forus Health, told me in Bangalore earlier this month. "Over 80 per cent of that is easily preventable." If that isn't shocking, Rao's statistics are relentless. "Diabetic retinopathy, cataract, glaucoma, cornea and refraction problems constitute 90 per cent of all blindness. Our ophthalmologist to patient ratio is approximately 1: 60,000. This is much worse in our villages — because of which only 10 per cent of people at various stages of blindness are screened and treated today."
India's entrepreneurial eco-system is coming alive with start-ups like Forus in the healthcare space – curative, preventive, palliative or as part of the new "wellness" industry – and technology is mutating existing models. These start-ups are devising innovative products and ideas aimed at democratising healthcare and making it more affordable. Hospitals are testing telescreening and remote diagnosis as viable options, and if successful, these could end up transforming the existing medical terrain.
Such improvisations help funnel patients to the required specialists, making treatment more effective, detecting diseases before they get critical thus taking some pressure off hospitals. These and hundreds of new ideas are stirring up some serious action in the medical field — eye diagnostics is one.
The World Health Organisation has launched a global initiative to eliminate avoidable blindness, called Vision 2020 — The Right to Sight. According to WHO estimates, 284 million people globally are visually impaired, 90 per cent of these are from developing countries — imagine the economic burden. The Indian government is participating in Vision 2020 — which means devices like 3nethra, NetraScan and others can become important tools in detecting early-stage impairment. NetraScan, a hand-held optical prototype is currently being incubated by Remidio, another Bangalore product design and development company, which plans clinical trials in its next stage of development.
"3Nethra does retina and cornea imaging, refraction index measurement and intelligent image processing to classify whether the patient needs to visit an eye doctor or just a optics shop. If an eye doctor — a diabetic retina specialist, glaucoma specialist or cataract surgeon?" It can also catch premature birth infant blindness, another large statistic, Dr Rao said. "All this can be done without pupil dilation or local anaesthesia, making it easy and safe to use. Plus its tele-medicine-enabled, making it best-suited for remote diagnostics."
Forus is focusing on the low-cost, high-volume zone to ultimately move patients out of hospitals to health kiosks and camps, which also increases rural outreach.
"These sorts of devices can be very useful for community work — as long as they stand the test of time," Dr Hem K Tewari, former chief of the Dr R P Centre for Opthalmic Sciences, said after seeing the product at an opthalmological conference a couple of weeks ago.
And it's not just the poor who benefit from eye examinations. A routine eye check-up can detect serious health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, even cancer, in addition to glaucoma and cataract. "Opportunistic screening in a diabetologist's office – just like a blood test – can easily prevent diabetic retinopathy," and 3nethra has a strong price advantage, Dr R Kim, chief medical officer of Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai, said. Aravind, the world's largest eye-care provider, has bought two machines from Forus last month and is currently test-using them to analyse the clarity and quality of its digital images compared to existing pre-screeners. Its USP is that anyone can be trained to operate it — Forus suggests undergraduates from the local population since local skilling also provides rural jobs while freeing up doctors for more specialised functions.
This is just one area in the medical space where innovation is making inroads — there are several others. Whether or not these ideas take off, one thing is clear — entrepreneurship has seeped into India's medical healthcare space and is here to stay.
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PULSE OF THE NATION
The critical state of India's food security is only getting worse each year. Besides, the cost of food items is rapidly increasing beyond affordability to a majority of people. Added to these woes are the short supply of pulses and edible oils that the central government is forced to import.
Pulses play a critical role in the Indian diet because large sections of people are vegetarians. Proteins play a key role in the human diet in that it is the body building nutrient that develops muscles and is responsible for body strength, endurance and productivity at the workplace.
It is established that a human body requires a daily intake of about 50 grams of protein. Whereas people in developed countries and most developing countries have a satisfactory protein intake, India's per capita daily intake is only about 10 grams, endangering the health and work performance of people.
Proteins are amino acids and out of the 22 amino acids required in the human diet, the body supplies 14 of these. The remaining eight have to come from the food we eat. If all the eight amino acids are present in a single food item, it is called a complete protein food.
Whereas all proteins from animal source are complete proteins, it is easy to satisfy the dietary protein requirement of non-vegetarians. However, the main sources of protein for vegetarians are leguminous plants to which pulses belong. In general, pulses have lower concentrations of protein than animal sources. Besides, none of the pulses are complete proteins, except soybeans. Therefore, combinations of two or more pulses are needed in a vegetarian diet. Dairy products that are complete proteins may also be used to supplement the pulse proteins in vegetarian diets.
Having emphasised the important role that pulses play in the human diet, it is now our responsibility to increase its availability indigenously. The commonly held belief that without new high-yielding varieties, the country will have to continue import of pulses and edible oils to meet its requirements is not true.
The possibility of improving productivity per acre two to three times using existing varieties is demonstrated time and again in grower fields in India. However, it is not done through just following present crop production practices but through the adoption of entirely new but simple and farmer-friendly technologies and tools presently not available to Indian farmers.
The underlying problem of Indian agriculture that threatens the food security of the country is the extremely low productivity of crops per acre. For example, rice productivity is only a third achieved elsewhere. Cotton productivity is only a sixth of yields in developed countries. The cases of all other crops are no different. In order for us to progress, our mindset on the following two factors needs to be changed:
· It is not the farmer who makes the food. He is only a facilitator. Food is actually made by plants. Therefore, it is important to understand the requirements of plants and supply them without restrictions in order for plants to deliver food. Since plants do not talk, their needs are understood through research and experimentation.
The current policy of pampering farmers with subsidies will get us nowhere when it comes to achieving crop productivity improvements. This is well understood not only in developed countries, but also in developing African countries like Malawi, where from a basket case of poverty, malnutrition and food shortage, crop productivity improvements are made to the point where the country now exports surplus food to neighbouring poor countries.
The lesson we will have to learn is that instead of subsidising food for people, plants need subsidised food such as fertilisers and other inputs in order for them to produce the food for us to achieve food security.
· The mindset that breeding is the solution to all our maladies has to change. Nurturing plants is several times more important in crop productivity improvement than hybrid seeds per se. A hybrid variety will not produce if planted in a non-fertile beach soil. But will produce several times more if planted in fertile soil.
Brazil has learnt this lesson several years ago and completely stopped financing breeding for new varieties. Instead, it scouts around the world and selects promising varieties for testing their adaptability under Brazilian climatic conditions and then provides funding just for that. They have taken stem cuttings of black pepper varieties from Kerala in India and spent money and effort on crop production practices. Now their pepper yield is 1,500 kg per acre compared to India's average of a mere 350 kg an acre, the lowest among pepper producing countries.
India has about 50 million acres of irrigated land and is second only to the US with 60 million acres. In the US, it is possible to take only one crop per year due to weather constraints. However, India has the potential to take three crops per year, provided we learn how to sustain the fertility of our soils. This will be equal to 150 million acres of irrigated land. At present, our system of monitoring soil fertility and maintaining it is flawed and needs urgent attention.
The author is Director, California Agriculture Consulting Service, USA.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE RBI IS RIGHT TO PROPOSE DEREGULATION OF SAVINGS RATES BUT HAS TO TIME IT RIGHT
The Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) 'Discussion Paper' on deregulating the interest rate paid by banks on savings deposits should more correctly have been called 'Position Paper'! While setting out the pros and cons of deregulation, there's no mistaking that the Bank's preference is to deregulate. Thus, it quotes with approval the recent experience of Hong Kong, where interest rate deregulation increased the efficacy of monetary policy by improving the correlation between retail bank deposit rates and market interest rates. It also points out that savings rates are not regulated in developed markets (though there are usually strict limits on the number of transactions permitted). To the extent the savings bank (SB) deposits interest rate is the only regulated rate and has remained unchanged at 3.5 % since March 1, 2003 even as the RBI's policy rates have varied, there is no doubt the former too should be determined by market forces. Savings deposits account for about 13% of financial savings of the household sector; so the Bank is entirely right that deregulation will improve monetary transmission (in the present Indian context raise both real and nominal rates) and encourage product innovation.
The debate, therefore, is not about the need to deregulate; it is, rather, about the timing. It is here that the RBI's confidence regarding the limited downside to deregulation could be overdone. SB deposits account for 22% of total deposits of scheduled commercial banks. Deregulating the SB interest rate could enhance asset-liability mismatches, as banks treat a large part of these deposits as 'core' deposits and use them to make long-term loans. The share of term loans increased over 2000-09 even as the share of term deposits came down, suggesting maturity mismatches have increased. The other consequences of deregulation, more competition and volatility are less worrisome. More competition is good and volatility is part of the game. As banking sector regulator, if the RBI feels the fallout in terms of maturity mismatches will not derail banks, it should go ahead. But not unless it is very sure! Else, it should bide its time for now.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NOT BY COMMITTEE
PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES SHOULD STICK TO ASSESSMENT AND EVALUATION
What the fiasco over the Public Accounts Committee's report on the spectrum scam shows is that parliamentary committees should stick to evaluation and assessment, leaving investigation to professional agencies equipped to perform the task. The PAC report has gone into limbo, with the majority rejecting the draft prepared by the chairman and, further, alleging bad faith and worse in the drafting of the report. Quite clearly, both the finding of the report and its rejection depended on partisan views on the government rather than substantive merit. While finding fault with telecom minister Kapil Sibal for questioning the finding of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the draft report plumps for a figure of loss from the spectrum scam that is . 14,000 crore higher than the upper limit of the CAG's range for estimated loss, . 57,000-1,76,000 crore. So, the CAG is not infallible, after all. The PAC is not losing its way over controversy on ministerial probity and loss to the exchequer for the first time. During the BJPled NDA government as well, the PAC had come out with a draft report on the so-called coffin scam, relating to the import of caskets to carry the bodies of soldiers who died in the Kargil battle, allegedly at inflated prices. Then, it had been the turn of the BJP and the allies to reject the report and push the report into limbo. Given this track record, it is not difficult to imagine what would be the fate of the Joint Parliamentary Committee that has been constituted to go into the spectrum scam. Since the JPC is headed by a Congress member of the House, it would be up to the BJP and other Opposition members to reject the draft presented by the chairman and create a ruckus.
The focus of our hon'ble MPs should be on rational policy to boost the spread of telecom, specifically high-speed data connectivity of which voice is but one functionality, across the length and breadth of the country. Whether X, Y and Z or A, B and C get to deliver those services matters a lot to the community of operators, not so much to consumers. MPs should leave corporate battles and investigations alone, and focus on productive policy.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ALL IN A NAME
IF ANNE HATHAWAY MOVES BERKSHIRE STOCKS, LET'S NAME COMPANIES RAJNIKANTH
The islanders of New Hebrides, not having met outsiders for centuries, developed a consistent belief system. One of the pillars of this system was that body lice produce good health. It was blindingly apparent: healthy folks harboured lice. The few sick ones didn't. Ergo, lice made people healthier. Confounded by this belief, anthropologists were forced to, well, scratch a little deeper and what they found was this: almost all healthy New Hebridians were infected by lice, which they were loath to remove because of their strong beliefs. But when people fell ill, sometimes as a result of harbouring the pests, their temperatures rose and the lice deserted their hosts. Thus, an apparently indisputable belief fell apart under closer scrutiny.
Something similar is happening with the stocks of Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company of billionaire Warren Buffett. Whenever actress Anne Hathaway — star of films like T h e D e v il W e a r s P r a d aand B r i d e W a r s— is in the news, Berkshire Hathaway shares move up. In January 2009, the day B r i d e W a r s opened, the Berkshire stock jumped more than 2.6%; in February the next year, when V ale n t i n e's D a yopened, Berkshire went up more than 1% and in November the same year, when L o v e a n d O t h e r D r u g s opened, Berkshire responded with a 1.6% uptick. There have been other instances, including the day Hathaway (Anne, not Berkshire) was announced as the host of the 2010 Oscars, which correlate with jumps in Berkshire. Is this just lice and good health? Or are automatic algorithmic trade software, which search for buzzwords in the news to make trades, to blame? In any case, why don't we have Bollywood stars named Bajaj Auto or TCS? And why aren't more companies called Rajnikanth or Katrina Kaif?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DO NOT MERGE SBI SUBSIDIARIES
THE SINGLE BANKING BEHEMOTH WILL DEFEAT THE CAUSES OF COMPETITION AND INCLUSIVE BANKING
CEO, GMR VARALAKSHMI FOUNDATION
There have been many signals that in the government's opinion, India needs more banks. That is why, following the finance minister's announcement in the 2010-11 Budget, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) put out a discussion paper in August inviting views on whether banking licences should be issued to industrial houses, and also whether non-banking finance companies should be allowed to convert themselves into banks or to promote banks. There have also been calls in the government circles for more banks in the rural sector. Last week, deputy governor of RBI, Shyamala Gopinath, had observed: "Despite 40 years of nationalisation of banks, over 50% of the country's population is without a bank account!" Well, the need of the hour does seem like more banks; not less.
Currently, India has 89 scheduled commercial banks— 27 public sector banks, 31 private banks, and 31 foreign banks. Together they account for about 53,000 branches and 17,000 ATMs. Of course, in addition, there are the regional rural banks, local area banks, urban cooperative banks, state coop banks and district central coop banks. However, their role is at best marginal.
So then, what do we mean by the need for more banks? Do we mean more branches, or more banks — as in distinct legal entities? In all probability, we must mean a bit of both. This is because it is only when we have more banks, that in the aggregate we may have more branches; it is only when we have more banks that we will have more competition; it is only when we have more competition that we will have a greater range of products and services and a better quality of both; it is only under these conditions of healthy competition that the customers may more likely get a fair deal at the hands of the banking sector. Imagine the plight of customer service if most of the branches were controlled by a small number of banks.
It is in this context that State Bank of India's earlier merger of its subsidiary State Bank of Indore and its current announcement of intended merger of two more of its 100%-owned subsidiaries — State Bank of Patiala and State Bank of Hyderabad — is disturbing. The report also states that the remaining five subsidiaries too may be in the queue; to be merged sooner rather than later. At a time when government's stated intent is to increase the number of banks, for its own largest bank to move towards becoming a monolith by merging all its subsidiaries seems to make little sense.
Worldwide, research indicates that the value of the single merged entity is almost always lower than the sum of the values of the individual entities that entered the merger. The reason for this loss in value is usually inherent to the loss of competition, which makes the merged entity more sluggish and more complacent. For example, in the last 12 months, there were any number of occasions when the fixed deposit rates offered by the State Bank of Travancore, a profit-making entity, was better than the rates offered by the parent. It is this kind of competitiveness that works in favour of the customers and hence the sector as a whole. Consolidating all the subsidiaries under a single umbrella is bound to make the bank less attractive for the public and investors alike, because it increases the distance between the top management and the field of action, namely the marketplace.
Of course, SBI is a competent bank and it may be that the management knows what it is doing, which may be to pave the way for the management to preside over a world-sized bank. Nor is there anything wrong with such ambition, if it is also in the best interests of the owners and the customers whom the bank is supposed to serve.
The recent financial crisis proved that being very big is not necessarily very good for the health of financial institutions. Nor is size an insurance against risk of non-performance. On the other hand, size is anti-competition. Size is anti-market and pro-monopoly and pro-oligopoly. Size is too many eggs in one basket. In fact, what we need in India is the reverse. In the spirit of diversification of risk, no bank should be allowed to grow too big. Leave alone merging the subsidiaries, SBI should ideally be demerged into, say four large, but agile Davids instead of a lumbering Goliath. Even the size of a single bank, private or public, ought to be capped, so that once they hit a certain size, they are required to demerge into two smaller banks, each nimble enough to grow dynamically all over again. Mergers may make sense only when a very weak bank is taken over by a stronger one in order to give the former another lease of life. One often wonders how banks get away forcing their borrowers to variable interest rates, while simultaneously pushing their depositors to a fixed rate on the FDs. Is the situation symmetric and fair to the customers? Are the customers entitled to a choice? One would expect that such imperfections are more likely to be corrected with more banks in the system rather than less.
SBI is bound to justify its decision based on the recommendation of this or that consulting firm. But then, consulting firms are known to 'create their value' by alternatively recommending firms to diversify or concentrate; to merge or demerge; to manufacture or outsource; to shorten or widen their span of control; in short, the reverse of what the firms may be doing, for they can hardly expect to be paid a big fee for recommending continuation of the status quo!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE DOHA ROUND'S PREMATURE OBITUARY
The Doha Round, the first multilateral trade negotiation conducted under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, is at a critical stage. Now in their 10th year, with much negotiated, the talks need a final political nudge, lest Doha — and hence the WTO — disappear from the world's radar screen.
Indeed, the danger is already real: when I was in Geneva a year ago and staying at the upscale Mandarin Oriental, I asked the concierge how far away the WTO was. He looked at me and asked: "Is the World Trade Organization a travel agency?" The threat of irrelevance is understood by leading statesmen, who have committed themselves to putting their shoulders to the wheel. British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have unequivocally endorsed the recommendation of the High-level Expert Group on Trade, which Peter Sutherland and I co-chair, that we ought to abandon the Doha Round if it is not concluded by the end of this year.
Our idea was that, just as the prospect of an imminent hanging concentrates the mind, the deadline and prospective death of the Doha Round would galvanise the world's statesmen behind completing the last-mile of the marathon. (The analogy is all the more appropriate, given that WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, who has brilliantly kept the process going, is a marathon runner.)
But even as these efforts are gathering momentum, Financial Times, which used to be a staunch supporter of multilateral free trade, dropped a cluster bomb on Doha, even congratulating itself that, in 2008 (when a ministerial meeting failed to reach closure), it "argued that leaders should admit the negotiations were dead." But if sceptics forget Mark Twain's famous response to a mistaken obituary —"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" — were the negotiators who have continued to work since then akin to Gogol's "dead souls?"
FT recommends working out a Plan B here and now, which would sabotage the political efforts to conclude the Doha Round. Despite rhetorical bromides about requiring "ministers to unlearn ingrained habits and focus on substance, not rhetoric," and about "business associations engaging with the granular detail of what companies want", this proposed Plan B would strengthen the bilateral and regional trade initiatives that have diverted energy and attention from Doha and the WTO. The irony here is that the proliferation of such preferential trade agreements (PTAs) is usually justified by pointing to the lack of progress in concluding the Doha talks. Never have cause and effect been so dramatically reversed in arguments over trade policy.
It has become increasingly obvious that such PTAs are what I call "termites in the trading system". Indeed, evidence is mounting that they foster harmful trade diversion by increasing discrimination against non-members through differential use of anti-dumping actions. Thus, recent work by economists Tom Prusa and Robert Teh has produced convincing evidence that antidumping filings decrease by 33-55% within a PTA, whereas such filings increase against non-members by 10-30%.
More importantly, PTAs are used by hegemonic powers to foist on weaker trading partners demands unrelated to trade but desired by domestic lobbies, at times in a markedly asymmetric way. Thus, Peru saw its labour legislation virtually rewritten by United States Congressmen indebted to American unions before the US-Peru PTA was concluded. Similarly, Claude Barfield has documented how Colombia has been intimidated into making it acrime (with prison terms of up to five years) to engage in acts that "undermine the right to organise and bargain collectively". Colombia must also pass a law dictating prison terms for anyone who "offers a collective pact to non-union workers that is superior to terms for union workers". Will the US administration start filing criminal charges against the governor of Wisconsin and the many other Republican leaders who are doing precisely what the Colombian government is being bullied into not doing?
Such overreach is typical of what goes on in hegemon-led PTAs, unlike at the WTO, where stronger countries like India and Brazil cannot be so intimidated. The danger is that overreach will lead civil society and voters in democratic developing countries to react against self-serving displays of hegemonic might by jettisoning free trade itself, on the assumption that such openness is little more than neocolonialism.
(Jagdish Bhagwati is Professor of Economics and Law at Columbia University) ©Project Syndicate, 2011
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
POLITICAL FUNDING: NEED VS GREED
C P BHAMBHRI
Democratic legitimacy of elected political representatives seems to be eroded to the extent that a person of the status of the Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi, on the basis of his latest experience of recent state assembly elections, made a public statement on April 12 that 'there is large-scale electoral corruption. The role of criminals and money power is rampant.' Indeed, the democratic electoral process has been completely polluted by political parties and their leaders who are prepared to adopt every conceivable corrupt practice to win elections.
In spite of strict vigilance exercised by the EC on unfair and criminal activities indulged in by the parties and contesting candidates during the elections, these malpractices have not come to an end. Hence, there is an urgent need for addressing this problem and an important step in this direction is to examine the institutional mechanisms which have been created by democratic countries in the industrialcapitalist West for not only checking but even eliminating the practices which pollute and delegitimise democratic elections.
The late 18th and 19th century history of elections in the US and England shows that the offices of elective representative assemblies, Parliament or Congress were 'bought' by rich sections of nobility, the aristocracy or, in the case of the US, the owners of large landed estates and slave labour. This system of purchase of elective offices by wealthy people was described as 'pocket-borough' in England where money was openly offered and accepted for electing a representative and American historians have described the early phase of their democracy as being controlled by 'robber barons' who had wealth and slaves. A very prestigious publication, Money in Politics Handbook, enlightens the practices which have been adopted by various democratic countries to ensure the elimination of unaccounted money spent by individual candidates or parties to influence voters by purchasing votes.
The first important step in making politics clean is that every individual candidate for any elective office should 'disclose' the source of donations received by him for participating in the elections. Laws have been passed in some democratic countries to bind every candidate to 'disclose' his sources of funds for elections. The justification for disclosure laws was summed up by the Prime Minister of Thailand as 'corrupt people fear information. What the government knows, the people should know'. This led USAID to sponsor a survey conducted by the International Foundation of Election Systems with a purpose to find the status of 'Disclosure Laws' in 118 countries. North America and Europe, which began their democratic journey with complete corruption in their electoral process, have achieved 80-100% compliance of the Public Disclosure Report by candidates.
Further, donations are collected not only by individual candidate but also political parties and the task will be half-done if candidates, and not parties, are put under legal obligation for public disclosure of their income and expenses and also names of donors of parties. Political parties in a democracy are a public institution and many countries have stringent laws for auditing the accounts of parties and individual candidates. For example, Western Australia has a comprehensive law of 'Offences under the Electoral Act, 1907, or 'Offences under the Electoral (Political Finance) Regulations 1996' and neither candidates nor parties can evade these laws except if they are prepared to face stringent punishment amounting to hefty fines or imprisonment. Why cannot India frame laws for disclosure of political finance and why cannot election activity, including sources of donation, be made transparent? The source of corruption in elections is the 'secrecy' practiced by every party and leader about the sources of their funds for elections. It is a well-known fact that every party has a 'loyal and faithful' fund collector who is accountable only to the supreme leader or dynasty-based regional bosses. India has taken an important first step that candidates contesting elections have to declare their personal financial and property interests, but this is not enough because every candidate or party gets funds from private promoters for elections.
Parliament should create a separate constitutional autonomous authority of an auditor-general to ensure disclosure of the sources of funds which are invested during the elections. The system of election petitions has completely failed to check the rot in Indian polity and the credibility of democraticallyelected representatives can be restored by appointing an ombudsman for acting as a watchdog of the parties. Unfortunately, in India, need and greed for funds has become interchangeable and this has polluted and corrupted the electoral system. It's time to change that
International experience in deregulating savings rates has been encouraging and bolsters the case for freeing these rates sooner than later.
Deregulation of interest rates on savings deposits is an idea whose time has come. For eight years now, interest rates on savings bank deposits have remained capped at 3.5 per cent a year. Given that nearly a quarter of the deposits in the banking system come under this category, bank margins gained considerable stability from this 'cost control' measure, though it was not very fair to bank customers. Given the high levels of inflation over the past few years, real rates of interest for such customers have often been in the negative. The Reserve Bank of India's discussion paper on the subject signals the direction of change. A year ago, the RBI had asked banks to calculate savings bank interest rates on a daily basis rather than on the minimum balance in a month, though this was pushed through only after overcoming resistance from banks entrenched in their ways.
Banks were allowed to offer lower rates on savings accounts because customers could withdraw their balances any time and put through a relatively high number of transactions. However, studies show that customers tend to use these accounts more for savings than for transactions. Only, it is not clear how long they keep their 'savings portions' in these balances. And banks, recognising this behaviour, have treated a substantial part of such savings balances as 'core deposits' for long-term lending and to account for asset-liability matches. Deregulation of the savings rate will foster competition among banks, pushing up interest rates and enabling product innovations to benefit depositors. New banks may certainly benefit as they can afford to offer their savings bank customers rates that are a tad higher rather than pay the much higher market rates prevailing for wholesale deposits. Yes, banks will find their interest expenses moving up and their margins coming under a bit of pressure in the short run, when rates are freed. But, as the discussion paper points out, fears of unhealthy competition in setting savings bank rates are perhaps exaggerated. Going by the experience of decontrol of term deposit rates, there may be a hiccup or two down the line, but nothing more serious.
Savings rate deregulation will remove one of the last vestiges of administrative control on interest rates. As the regulator admits, this will also help improve policy transmission mechanism. International experience in this regard has been encouraging and can only bolster the case for freeing these rates sooner than later. Of course, no deregulation is an unmitigated blessing. Savers, especially pensioners, who lock up a large part of their savings in such accounts, may look back wistfully at an era when they got an assured return. For rates that go up can also come down when banks have enough money on their hands. It is up to banks to bring in innovations while minimising the disruptions, so that customers get a fair deal.
PLANES, REACTORS AND DIPLOMACY
AMERICA'S FOREIGN POLICY TILT TOWARDS INDIA WILL BE DISAPPOINTED BY INDIA'S REJECTION OF THEIR MILITARY AIRCRAFT BIDS
By a strange coincidence, the United States Ambassador to India announced his resignation within hours of a decision by the Government of India, that two American companies had been rejected as suppliers for fighter jets.
Officially the two events have no linkage, but you can't help thinking that American disappointment is being conveyed by the top diplomat. American diplomacy has always sought to further their commercial interests. Even though India's decision was based purely on technical merit, it is obvious that India will pay a price, and the relationship will cool down further.
The Indo-US relationship came out of deep freeze in 2006 when President Bush declared that he was going to sign a nuclear deal with India. This was after a thirty-year boycott, which was like nuclear apartheid, under which India had been isolated, and denied any nuclear technology and fuel (uranium).
India never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) since it gave unfair exemption to the Big Five, i.e. the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Hence India's nuclear progress, including the test blasts of 1974 and 1998 was homegrown, and the tests themselves did not violate any international law. The American embrace of 2006 was welcomed by India, and Bush was more popular here and than even in his own country.
The entire NPT club was persuaded (some grudgingly) to accord India a special status, an exempt country, who could access reactor technology and uranium even without signing NPT. Our Prime Minister even risked a Parliament vote which might have toppled his own government, to ratify the Indo-US nuclear agreement. Even President Bush risked alienating his nuclear establishment, who had been instinctively anti-India all these years. So was there any quid pro quo?
The skeptics said yes. The US wanted to use Indian friendship to "contain" China. It was also looking to tap into India's huge upcoming market for nuclear energy, aerospace and defence – three areas with special American expertise. Hence notwithstanding official denials, this bonhomie was not without commercial considerations.
India has emerged as one of the largest arms purchasers in the world, with a prospective market size worth 100 billion dollars in the next ten years. We don't have a big enough domestic production capacity to produce sophisticated guns and planes. Hence we import. Traditionally we have depended mostly on the erstwhile Soviet Union, and now Russia for arms and ammunition. But now we wish to diversify. We have bought the Bofors guns from Sweden, which proved to be a boon during Kargil.
In the coming years India will buy 126 fighters called the medium multi role combat aircraft (MMRCA), worth 11 billion dollars. The initial list of contender suppliers included the Americans (Lockheed and Boeing), Russians (Mig), Swedes (Saab Gripen), French (Dassault), and a European consortium (Eurofighter). Now on technical grounds, only the last two remain, and the rest have been rejected. Boeing and Lockheed have lost on technical grounds, and also because they weren't offering their latest topof-line fighter jet models. The U.S. also had a lot of conditions on end-use scrutiny and monitoring, which India does not like.
America's love of India is really being tested. Their nuclear reactor companies watched with dismay when it was the French (Areva) who were tasting early fruits (Jaitapur) of the Indo-US nuclear deal. They were also dismayed when India's domestic nuclear liability law made it tougher to operate here. Now comes the rejection of Lockheed and Boeing. Air India's order of fifty Boeing aircrafts is also being questioned by CAG. Hawks in Washington weren't happy when we abstained from voting against Iran. Their President has been pushing for anti-outsourcing legislation, which can hurt India. How do we now make up to the Yankees?
RESULT OF EXECUTIVE INEPTITUDE
ONLY half-right was P Chidambaram when questioning the tendency of some judges to think there was a judicial solution to all problems. The half-wrong part was a reluctance to accept that judicial overreach ~ no, he did not use that term ~ was actually the consequence of executive ineptitude. A vacuum had to be filled, and under the prevailing circumstances the judiciary seems to do that best. A stark reminder of how strong that sentiment runs comes from the organisation headed by the very person Chidambaram backs to turn around what he slams as the worst-governed state in the nation. Rather than proceed through normal channels, in this case, the home ministry, the Railways have sought the assistance of the apex court in establishing an agency empowered to deal with situations like the blocking of tracks by agitators. While that plea was obviously made in the wake of court orders ending the highly disruptive "rail-roko" protests on tracks in UP, Haryana and Rajasthan in some proximity to the Capital to press a demand for reservations for the Jat community, it also indicates a lack of confidence in the home ministry taking a lead in finding a way out. With the executive ever playing politics, and refraining from tackling law-and-problems firmly and decisively (why should the central paramilitary or army have to counter home-grown insurgency?), the judiciary has truly became the sole source of succour. And not just in regard to a breakdown of law and order ~ the range of public interest litigation testifies to the public's lack of faith in the administration.
It could, of course, be contended that law and order is a state subject and hence Chidambaram is not to be faulted ~ though far from impressive is the police or safety situation in the Capital over which North Block presides. But that line raises the question of whether the Centre's writ runs only where it exercises control? Is it not required to show the way, lead the states, pull up the laggards? And, more positively, to inspire? That is what leadership is all about: commanding the respect and stature to carry others along with you. Such "presence", however, will never be acquired when ministers holding key portfolios at the Centre descend to the gutters to scrape up votes in elections to state legislatures.
MAHARASHTRA LIBERATES THE BAMBOO TRADE
THE subaltern has won a critical victory ~ and without the spillage of blood ~ in Maharashtra's Maoist village of Gadchiroli. The tribals have won a 30-year battle to grow, harvest and sell bamboo, indeed acquire control over part of the resources in the jungles where they live. Wednesday's transfer by the state's forest department of the cultivation and trading rights over bamboo to the Gondi tribe signals a watershed development in what social historians must record as a fruitful phase of the subaltern struggle. As much has been acknowledged by the Union minister of environment and forests, who along with chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was present at the ceremony to hand over the permits. "This is a historic day. Bamboo has been liberated from government control." Jairam Ramesh's realistic statement stands out in refreshing contrast to P Chidambaram's off-the-cuff reference to tribals ~ "They live in the jungles." The liberation of the Red Corridor may be a long way away, if at all; but the transfer of a segment of forest rights to Gadchiroli's predominantly Gondi tribals is doubtless a major forward movement. Lekha-Mendha may be an obscure village on the map of Maharashtra; it now ranks as the first village in the country where the tribals have won their rights over bamboo, a profitable cash crop. That they have acquired control over the sale of a major forest produce is testament to the assistance that has been extended by the Maharashtra government and without renewed confrontation. It is above all an expression of meaningful rehabilitation under the Forest Rights Act, one that stands out in contrast to the fiasco over such packages in Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
The striking feature of the handover is that bamboo has eventually been placed in the category of grass and not timber. This is concordant with the perception of taxonomists and botanists. For decades, this had been a thorny issue in negotiations between the State and tribals; both the Centre and the states have classified bamboo as a tree and, therefore, not a minor forest produce. Happily, Maharashtra's forest department has modified its stand in favour of the tribals and on the prodding, as it now turns out, of Mr Ramesh. "We can change the law, the rules, but it's time we changed our mindset." That mindset was changed in Lekha-Mendha on Wednesday; the re-classification gives the tribal total control over the sale of bamboo or "green gold" in terms of market value.
GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
THE HAMAS-FATAH UNITY AGREEMENT
Apart from the change of guard in Egypt and Tunisia, the Arab Spring has yielded another momentous development ~ Thursday's unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas. The two warring factions in Palestine have agreed to set up a transitional government and hold elections. As was only to be expected, the political reconciliation has promptly been trashed by Israel on the rather unconvincing plea that both factions face the risk of popular revolts as in Egypt and Syria. Hence the anxiety to weave a patchwork quilt. We do not know the compulsions just yet; they would be clear only as developments unfold. What we do know is that with Hosni Mubarak and his deputy, Omar Suleiman, no longer in the vanguard, the understanding that has even taken Washington by surprise was a remarkably smooth political engagement. It was relatively easy for the present Egyptian authorities to broker a deal in Cairo. While the long-term implications are as yet fogbound, the reconciliation is indubitably a forward movement in West Asia's geo-politics. The patch-up will undercut the standard Israeli argument that since the Palestinians are a house divided, there is no credible partner for peace. Logically, the deal ought to buttress the Palestinian pitch in the UN General Assembly for recognition of a Palestinian state in accord with the 1967 boundaries. It is an open question though whether the agreement will help Hamas to establish control over both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as feared by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Arab world is in ferment; paradoxically the dangers have also yielded opportunities that can hopefully be showcased in a unity government. The response of the comity of nations will be crucial in the scheme of things, pre-eminently the degree of realism that was manifest on Thursday. However, a range of thorny issues remain to be settled: crucially the composition of the interim government; whether Salam Fayyad will cease to be the Prime Minister of Palestine not least because he has enemies both within Hamas and Fatah; and the role of Hamas in the PLO, the negotiating authority with Israel. Give peace a chance. Let scepticism be kept on hold for now in Washington and the capitals of the European Union. And also, of course, let the belligerence of Israel be kept in check.
NO LAW, NO ORDER~II
DECLINE OF POLITICAL CULTURE MUST BE STEMMED
BY BIBEKANANDA RAY
Terror and mayhem peaked in the early Eighties. According to Central intelligence figures, there have been 40,000 political murders in West Bengal since June 1977 when the Left Front came to power. Going by other estimates, the count is 55408. Chronologically, the major incidents under the United Front and the Left Front are the Sain bari killings in Burdwan in 1970, the economic blockade and police firing on the settlers in Marichjhanpi, the death of 17 Anand Margis on Bijon Setu and Bondel Gate in south Kolkata on 30 April 1982, the terror in Keshpur, Garbeta, Bhaja Chauli, Chhoto Angaria, and Chamkaitala in Midnapore. Eleven farm labourers were killed in Nanoor in Birbhum. More recently, villagers have been killed in firing by armed cadres and the police in Nandigram and Netai. Besides, there was the notorious incident of rape in Bantala. A Unicef employee was a victim.
There have been several incidents of mayhem that stunned India and the rest of the world. The first occurred soon after the CPI-M took over in June 1977. East Pakistani refugees, who were settled during Dr BC Roy's dispensation at Dandakaranya in Madhya Pradesh, were languishing in inhospitable conditions. They had been told by some Left leaders that if the CPI-M came to power, they would be rehabilitated in West Bengal. Lured by this assurance, the refugees left their colonies en masse after the Left Front came to power and reached Basirhat, from where they left for Marichjhanpi. Jyoti Basu, then the Chief Minister, was alarmed over this influx and ordered the police to get the islands vacated. When the settlers did not leave the islands willingly, the police stopped the supply of food and water. The refugees were forced to return to the mainland, utterly famished and shattered.
The second major disaster for the government occurred in Chhoto Angaria in West Midnapore district. On 4 January 2001, eleven Trinamul workers were holding a meeting in a local club. Suddenly, the door was bolted from outside and the straw-thatched hut was set on fire, killing everybody inside. People in the nearby villages ~ Chamkaitala, Uttarbil, Reuri and Upajjaba ~ fled their homes out of fear. A CBI enquiry was ordered by Calcutta High Court and the accused were identified. However, the police did not arrest them, although two of the suspects, Tapan Ghosh and Sukur Ali, who were 'absconding' according to police records, were often seen in the area.
Six years after the incident, they were arrested at Egra on 14 March 2007, while they were fleeing from Nandigram in a jeep after helping the party cadres assault villagers, including women. The CBI case fell through, as no villager dared to turn up as witness.
The violence in Singur in Hooghly in December 2006 and Nandigram in East Midnapore on 14 March 2007 have been well-documented and are too recent to need recall. They mark the turning points in the CPI-M's political fortunes. The Chief Minister makes and admits mistakes, but does not learn from them or prevent their recurrence. The police/cadre reprisal in Nandigram took place in two phases ~ March and November 2007.
The most recent disaster occurred at Netai in Lalgarh (West Midnapore). On 7 January this year, a large number of villagers thronged the house of a local CPI-M leader to protest against the forcible induction of their children for arms training. The armed cadres, who had been holed up inside the house for months, fired at the crowd. Seven people died on the spot and many more were injured. A CBI enquiry, ordered by Calcutta High Court, noted that 21 party activists were involved in the incident. It was planned at a higher level. The mayhem at Netai has turned out to be the flashpoint in the joint offensive against Maoists in Junglemahal. It bears recall that there was a counter-mobilisation by tribals after they were attacked by the police in the wake of the landmine blast along the Chief Minister's convoy in March 2008. The CPI-M was anxious to clear the area of Trinamul supporters and ensure victory of Left candidates from the 41 Assembly constituencies in the district. Hence the setting up of camps for armed cadres.
Over the years, the CPI-M has got rid of some of its activists as well. The killers of the party's local leader, Phalguni Mukherjee, in Mangalkote on 15 June 2009 belonged to, or were hired by, the party. The involvement of the party is not ruled out in the deaths of Sudin Choudhury, a treasurer, Dr Sailen Das, a doctor and chairman of Dum Dum municipality, Akhilesh Sharma who protested against cadres' involvement in the trafficking of women and the mysterious disappearance of Manisha Mukherjee, Calcutta University's Deputy Controller of Examinations in 1994. She was then in her late 30s and had served as an aide to a top state CPI-M leader. According to Intelligence reports, she had protested against the party's directive to manipulate the university's results. As Vice-Chancellor, Santosh Bhattacharya had infuriated Jyoti Basu for his book. In her book, When The Pendulum Stops, Kalyani Choudhury, a retired IAS officer, has narrated how senior bureaucrats were subdued and marginalised by the Left Front ministers.
The fact of the matter is that most of the incidents of political violence over the past 34 years could have been avoided if the party and government were more restrained. The Chief Minister has on occasion appealed to the cadres to apologise to the people ~ with folded palms and bended knees ~ for their sins of omission and commission. This is akin to an accused pleading to the judge to release him and and give him a chance to correct himself. The CPI-M cannot abjure terror and mayhem just as a leopard cannot change its spots.
If a non-Left government takes over in May, it should set up a tribunal to investigate the political killings over the past 34 years. The decline of West Bengal's political culture needs to stemmed and a measure of sense and sensibility restored.
'KILL GRAFT BEFORE LETTING STATE FUND POLLS'
Prof Trilochan Sastry is the founder-member of National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) which won a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court that made it compulsory for candidates to declare their financial, criminal and educational background at the time of elections.
An alumnus of distinguished institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, Prof Sastry taught for several years at IIM, Ahmedabad, before moving to IIM, Bangalore. He is currently dean (academics) at IIM, Bangalore. He has taught in other universities in India as well as in Japan, Hong Kong and the USA and has published a number of academic papers in Indian and international journals.
He spoke to RANJEET S JAMWAL about the role of money in elections, measures of deterrence and new trends in India.
Large amounts of money have been seized during the ongoing Assembly elections. How do you see it?
I think it's a very good thing (seizure of money). First, we should congratulate the Election Commission for the job. Secondly, the basic problem with the kind of democracy practised in India is that voters can be bought. We need a whole set of measures to correct this, including changes in law and more strict vigilance and monitoring. Voters also need to be told that they should not accept money as it gives them nothing else but bad governance.
Do you see elections as playing a role in breeding corruption?
Yes, there is definitely a very strong connection between the two. At least one chief minister is on record saying that election expenses are at the root of corruption. In this era of competitive politics, candidates feel that they need to spend more and more to win an election and once they win they have to recover the costs. And, to do that, they indulge in corruption and perpetuate it because elected candidates also set aside money for contesting the next election.
Is it proper for business houses to donate to political parties?
This is a complex issue. If businessmen or corporates donate money to political parties in an open and transparent manner, there is no problem. But if it is not done in an open and transparent manner, it would not be wrong to conclude that corruption is involved. Several other leading democracies are also facing this problem and there is no single solution. Lot of transparency is required with regard to election funding and it should be made very clear who is funding whom and what's the amount involved. Also, there should be a ceiling on donations. Lastly, there should be penalties. We are a soft state in this regard. Despite scams galore, we see very few people going to jail. Penal action should be swift and appropriate.
Is state funding of elections a solution?
The current Chief Election Commissioner has gone on record to say that his fellow commissioners and himself are opposed to this. The opinion on this is divided. Our position in the Association of Democratic Reforms and the National Election Watch is that first we need to put in place the necessary laws to root out corruption and then go for state funding of elections. Otherwise, without deterrents, candidates will carry on with wrongdoing despite receiving state funding to contest elections. So, we need to cleanse the system first and then think about state funding.
It is because of the important role that money plays in elections that political parties give preference to millionaires as candidates?
There is nothing wrong in being a millionaire if the money is earned through honest and legal means. But by selecting millionaires, millions in this country are not represented adequately. Many reports put the number of people living below the poverty line in India at between 300 and 700 billion. How well is this segment represented in Parliament? If a large number of MPs are millionaires, this spawns a crisis of equitable representation.
Have you witnessed any new trend in these Assembly elections?
We have been getting reports about some voters who actually started returning money that had been offered/paid to purchase their votes.
What do you think is the reason?
It happened because of a combination of factors. Some civil society groups such as National Election Watch have been working with voters in Tamil Nadu. They are telling voters that selling a vote is like selling one's dignity. Second, people have started realising that one may get Rs 1,000, 2,000 or 5,000 for every vote cast but it doesn't really help in the long run without good roads, water or electricity and teachers who come regularly to schools.
Accepting bribe translates into bad governance because the candidate who is buying a vote is clearly not interested in acting as a people's representative in the true sense of the word. We are trying to generate awareness here.
The world is changing very fast because of cellphones and the Internet. The younger generation is thinking things through. It is my hunch that we will see many positive developments with regard to voter responsiveness and responsibility in the next 10 to 15 years. Increasing awareness will dig out more dirt regarding corruption in public life. And, we as a nation should have the fortitude to weather it. It's a positive sign, actually.
Have you noticed anything new in West Bengal?
I think 85 per cent polling in the second phase of election is fantastic news. It shows people are expressing themselves much more strongly than they had done in the past.
The standard of education in Bengal has fallen. In 2001, Bengal's position was 18th but in 2011, it has come down to 20th.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at an election rally in West Bengal
The Prime Minister is a respected person. He had received his MA degree from my late father. It hurts me to find him denigrating Bengal's education system. Actually, somebody must have written the speech for him and he was made to read it out. It really hurts when our respected Prime Minister makes such utterances.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker Mr Somnath Chatterjee
People want to take a breath of fresh air by crushing the corrupt and inefficient government.
Union finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee on the third phase of Bengal election
Bengal is the worst-governed state and I had repeatedly brought this to the notice of the chief minister in my famous correspondence with him. Now change is coming to West Bengal.
Union home minister Mr P Chidambaram
Chidambaram has come from Delhi to heal us, but I say, Doctor babu, heal yourself. We know how to heal ourselves.
West Bengal chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
The third phase will decide who forms the government. The CPI-M, with the help of some policemen, resorted to rigging the poll at Jadavpur constituency to bail Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee out. Rigging took place in several polling stations. We have already lodged a complaint with the Election Commission.
Trinamul Congress chief Miss Mamata Banerjee after the third phase of polling in West Bengal
It was (Suresh) Kalmadi's role as chief of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee's executive board that led to his arrest. A Swiss firm was paid more than thrice the amount of Rs 46 crore sought by the only other bidder, MSL of Spain.
CBI spokesperson Ms Dharini Mishra
The committee wonders if it is not the duty of the PMO or the Cabinet secretariat to enforce Cabinet decisions in letter and spirit.
From the Public Accounts Committee report
The news of the death of Sai Baba of Puttaparthi has greatly pained me. He was a spiritual person whom millions followed. His life inspired people in this country. At this sad hour, I express my deep condolences to his followers.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi
We lost but we expected our supporters to understand our situation and support us, not throw stones at us.
Mohun Bagan skipper Ishfaq Ahmed
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY AND REBIRTH
At 14.46 on 11 March, 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 11 March, 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 (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 National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) 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 organizations 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 Daiichi 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.
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!
The writer is the Prime Minister of Japan
It wouldn't have mattered a tinker's damn if Murli Manohar Joshi had made only himself look ridiculous over the public accounts committee. What is truly regrettable is that he has by his behaviour made the PAC and, by association, Parliament look ludicrous. What is evident from the unnecessary controversy over the PAC's draft report on 2G spectrum allocations is that Mr Joshi, as chairman of the PAC, was more interested in making a political point than in arriving at the truth. He tried to make the PAC into a partisan body. Mr Joshi was too keen to name the prime minister and his office in the draft, and the majority of the committee members were not in agreement with this. In response to the majority opinion, Mr Joshi walked out in a huff. This bizarre situation suggests that Mr Joshi, as the chairman of the PAC, did not work to ensure unanimity within the committee. Rather, he worked overtime to create a division. This has reduced the credibility of the PAC.
It is worth noting here that Mr Joshi has from the beginning preferred confrontation to consensus. In fact, his first battle was with his own party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was at that time trying to force the government to a joint parliamentary committee. But Mr Joshi, perhaps to further his own agenda, wanted the PAC to take up the 2G issue. The BJP rightly saw this as a division of energy and Mr Joshi had to climb down and accept the need for a JPC. This, however, was only gesture since what he really wanted was to have the PAC investigate the 2G allocations and submit its report before his term as its chairman came to an end. It would be no exaggeration to infer that Mr Joshi's ego took precedence over his responsibilities as the chairman of the PAC. This is the main reason why he now has fallen flat on his face. His behaviour only furthers the general perception that parliamentarians, even senior ones like Mr Joshi, pay scant attention to their public duties and are more concerned with self-aggrandizement.
Parliamentary committees, like the PAC and the JPC, are important elements of the democratic process since they are designed to serve as checks and balances within the system. Their abuse in recent times cannot take away from their original purpose. Reports submitted by such committees to Parliament are supposed to represent a factual account on the basis of the available evidence. A controversy like the one that has come in the wake of the comptroller and auditor general's draft report shows up the committee in an exceptionally lurid light. It reveals that parliamentarians, instead of trying to establish the truth, are more keen to pursue their narrow political interests. This erodes trust in democratic institutions. This is where Mr Joshi has done a great disservice to Parliament — the institution that has nurtured him and to which members of his constituency sent him as a representative.
WHEN ALL ROADS ARE TAKEN
CAN A NEW BROOM SWEEP AWAY THE INDOLENCE THAT GRIPS THE STATE? SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
A shepherd lad who fancies himself a poet in O. Henry's story, "Roads of Destiny", leaves home late one night after quarrelling with his fiancée "to seek fame and honour in the great world outside". David Mignot excitedly anticipates the day when his poems "are on every man's tongue".
Halfway through the election, West Bengal is already exhilarated like Mignot at the prospect of the change surveys and the media proclaim is inevitable. The new broom that is expected to sweep Writers' Buildings on May 13 will sweep away a Rs 1,92,000-crore debt and, with it, all those cracks about outsourcing the state that were once made about Lalu Prasad's Bihar. Eager lenders will save the new government from defaulting on salaries, interest payments and subsidies that eat up 85 per cent of receipts. If borrowing jumped up by 167 per cent when the only collateral Bengal could offer was the past, the sky's the limit now that the "better and brighter tomorrow" the Trinamul Congress promises can be mortgaged.
We are old hands at financial juggling. Asim Dasgupta may be stolidly convinced that three minus three must be zero but his book-keeping reflects his boss's more adventurous arithmetic in which "two and two does not always add up to four, sometimes it can be three, sometimes five". When the nawabs of Murshidabad received visitors in state, the current Jagat Seth ("Banker of the World", the title bestowed on a family of Rajasthani jewellers and gem traders) waited in the wings to take back the crown and other royal ornaments pawned to him. They were lent to the rightful owner only for the occasion. No doubt the accommodation meant a premium on interest which compounded Murshidabad's bankruptcy.
That stranglehold extended to Calcutta whose splendour was as deceptive as Murshidabad's. Bengalis inhabited the city but it wasn't a Bengali city. Those well-loved sobriquets, 'City of Palaces' and 'Second City' (after London), excluded the smelly Indian quarter. With that alien provenance in mind, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, undivided Bengal's chief minister, declared in 1946/47 that "Calcutta and its environments (were) built up largely by the resources of foreigners". It was "inhabited by people from other provinces" without "roots in the soil". They had come "to earn their livelihood". It could be called "exploitation".
Since making money is the source of civic vitality, several questions must be asked as West Bengal stands on the cusp of change. First, will the prospective new rulers offer as generous opportunities as the Left Front did, at least to its chosen few? Second, can money-making by a few be directed also to benefit the many? Finally, will Trinamul attract productive industry? Jagat Seth added no value. Neither do his heirs and successors so long as they acquire assets (thriving British companies instead of the nawab's jewels) only to strip them to make a fast buck. West Bengal's salvation can lie only in permanent investment that adds to capital growth, generates revenue for further investment, creates jobs and boosts exports. Suhrawardy believed in 1947 that American capital was "waiting on the door-step". Marwari capital will do just as well if it's productively deployed under the guidance of state authorities who demand more than a cut for the party in power.
This is not hope's first outburst. The legislative assembly building and grounds exploded in disciplined exuberance the day that the United Front dislodged the Congress from office for the first time in 1967. But the pleasure and promise lasted just nine months. Ten years later a visibly overjoyed Basu sat in his dusty flat like a chieftain receiving tribute as Burrabazar snaked up the narrow stairs bearing trays of sweets, flowers and gifts. Since he had been talking on the stump of bypassing the established hierarchy to set up direct links between the government in Calcutta and the people, I told him (having just visited Sri Lanka) that Sirimavo Bandaranaike had appointed a ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party member as political officer in each district and dealt with problems only through him.
The barrister in West Bengal's chief minister-elect was horrified at this breach of propriety. "That will mean duplication!" he exclaimed. "It will cause confusion!" How then would he redeem his campaign promise? Giving his electoral commitment serious thought for possibly the first time, Basu came up with mahila samitis as a safe conduit. He had probably picked up the knack of making promises lightly from Prafulla Sen who, as he records, "suddenly announced" a few days before the 1967 voting "that 3,000 primary schools would be opened in the state immediately and 10,000 teachers would get employment".
Political chicanery is only half the reason for Bengal's troubles, and not necessarily the bigger half. A minister from one of the ruling coalition's smaller partners and therefore with scores to settle had no compunction about saying out loud that the more than Rs 100 crore sanctioned for Aila victims had not been distributed because of partisan politics and administrative negligence. One would like to think that Left Front, especially Marxist, supporters will not be penalized too much under the Trinamul sun, but can anything be done about the indifference and arrogance that has eaten into the marrow of West Bengal's bureaucratic bones? Jawaharlal Nehru was right to regard not scrapping the administration his "greatest failure". But he was wrong to condemn the colonial bureaucracy. Paternalistic they might have been, but the Founders and the Guardians were knowledgeable, caring, hard-working and honest.
Mamata Banerjee may be disappointed in her pursuit of good governance if she expects bureaucrats who led the descent into hell to pioneer the ascent to a new elysium. The plea that they were only obeying their political masters exposes pusillanimity; if they acted on conviction, has retirement on handsome pensions changed their faith? I recall a post-Emergency post-mortem self-righteously attacking Indira Gandhi's minions for ordering All India Radio and Doordarshan to project this and that. There was shocked silence when I asked why station directors filled the rest of the time at their disposal with deadly dull programmes that put people to sleep. It's the same with the civil service. The worst that can be said of most members is that they did — and do — little save lap up the glory of being civil servants. Central, state and public sector employees in West Bengal are like that only, as the saying goes.
The pledge to "scientifically create a land map for every district" makes one wonder when Ms Banerjee last saw a junior land revenue officer's records. The 'clear identification' of agricultural and industrial land will have to be bracketed with Sen's announcement on schools and Basu's on new conduits unless Trinamul's legislative majority and muscle power enable it to push through pragmatic decisions. That's when her regime will be pitted against the Left Front's residual legislative strength and formidable muscle power. The admission that she will "need some time to study the situation" before starting to "rejuvenate Bengal" is a gross understatement.
Yet, her artless aspirations cause delight. World-weary sophisticates might ridicule her wish to make Calcutta look like London but there's refreshing candour in her election manifesto's references to Kew Gardens, Switzerland and cruises on the Nile, Seine, Thames and Hudson rivers. It fits in with her simple joy at "elite people, society ladies, intellectuals, writers, filmmakers, artists" flocking to see her. It also indicates she understands and is not ashamed to acknowledge mundane social hankerings. But can a new broom sweep away the indolence that grips all public (and many in the private sector too) servants in the state from top to bottom?
Having left home, David Mignot had the choice of three roads. He took each in turn and each time was slain by a ball from the pistol of Monseigneur, the Marquis de Beaupertuys, without his poetic genius being fulfilled.
'THE CONGRESS MPS' BEHAVIOUR IS AN INSULT TO DEMOCRACY.'
Prime minister Manmohan Singh's solemn assurance to the nation that his government was ready for a transparent investigation into the 2G spectrum scandal and that "no guilty person would be spared," is beginning to sound hollow when one looks at the Congress MPs' behaviour at the sittings of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Initially, the UPA government was very much in favour of the PAC inquiring into the 2G scam. But once parliament forced the government to constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), the Congress changed its stand abruptly and wanted PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi to drop the matter altogether. In the last few days, the Congress and the DMK members not only disrupted the functioning of the PAC and prevented senior government officials from deposing before it, but on Thursday, took the unprecedented step of 'ousting' Joshi from PAC chairmanship with the help of SP and BSP MPs and 'electing' Saifuddin Soz as the new chairman.
Joshi perhaps anticipated the ruling click's hostility to any adverse comments from the PAC and the draft report on 2G scam was leaked to the media. Whoever might have been behind the leak, Joshi will have to take the blame for the breach of protocol of first submitting the report to the Speaker and placing it before parliament. But, this lapse apart, there is no denying that the report lays bare the shenanigans which went into scandalous allocation of 2G spectrum to a select few companies which caused the loss of thousands of crores of rupees to the exchequer. The report directly puts the blame on the prime minister and his office and then finance minister P Chidambaram for failing to prevent then telecom minister R Raja from concluding extremely dubious deals, despite having sufficient warnings about the organised loot happening under their very noses. The report points out that five days after the deals were signed, Chidambaram wrote a note on January 15, 2008, acknowledging that spectrum is a scarce resource and its price should be based on its scarcity value, but went on to suggest that "the matter be treated as closed."
The removal of Joshi as PAC chairman — the first of its kind in the last 62 years — shows the utter contempt the UPA government has for parliamentary democracy. Now it is up to the Speaker to intervene and restore PAC's credibility. If the UPA government thinks that it can bulldoze its way on the scam, it will be sadly mistaken.
'THE AGITATING PILOTS WON'T GET PUBLIC SYMPATHY.'
The agony of passengers of Air India (AI) never seems to end, be it snap strike by the employees, technical snags leading to sudden cancellation of flights, etc. The latest agitation by the pilots who were originally with Indian Airlines — prior to its merger with AI in 2007 — is turning out to be the worst the airline has faced in recent times. Friday being the third day of the strike saw just about 50 flights being operated out of 320 flights which the state-run carriers daily flies. More and more pilots are joining the strike, called by the Indian Commercial Pilots' Association (ICPA), with executive pilots showing their solidarity with the striking cockpit crew.
Harried travellers will certainly have no sympathy for the agitating pilots who struck work just when the holiday season was set to begin. One will certainly sympathise with the passengers whose travel plans have been disrupted. However, this strike has many angles to it beginning with the merger of the IA and AI. It was a merger that never was and after four years, there is hardly any integrity in many areas. The strike by the erstwhile IA pilots shows that the cultures of the two airlines have not merged They want pay parity with their colleagues in AI. While AI pilots are paid on hourly basis, the former IA pilots — who mostly fly on domestic routes — have fixed salaries which they say is far lower than those of their AI colleagues. The flippant management has failed to address the issue all these years. It set up a committee headed by a former supreme court judge to deal with the issue only recently.
The new dimension to the strike is the refusal by the pilots to even heed to the court orders. They have defied the Delhi high court stay order on the strike by continuing their agitation prompting the court to launch the contempt proceedings against them. It is startling to learn that the pilots have the courage to defy the court orders which is certainly not the right approach to adopt. At the same time, it is incumbent upon the management of the airline — which uses taxpayers' money — to hold talks with the pilots right away and not insist on them to first end the strike.
BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
In the West, they failed to create independent entities other than government to hold the society together.
Power corrupts. Corruption from times immemorial is imprinted deep in the minds of our people. There is nothing new in the corruption of our present politicians. Question is how did our civilisation manage to survive for 5,000 years despite such corruption?
The key, it seems to me, lay in the invigoration of multiple entities that were independent of the government. The king was not the anchor of the society in our tradition. He was accountable to the religious and professional organisations. No single institution was supreme. These other organisations used to exercise control over a tyrannical king.
The Puranas narrate story of King Vena. At one time there was anarchy in the society. There was no king. The people appointed Vena as king to establish rule of law. But Vena became a tyrant. Then the Brahmins killed him. The Brahmins were able to do this because their existence and power was independent of the king. There existed other independent entities as well.
Many of these exist today as well. First, there is entity of the village. People of a village or an area spontaneously get together and feel affinity with each other. People of Rajasthan and certain other areas, for example, have made their associations in Delhi. They meet occasionally. They can act collectively in times of need. Second, there is the religious entity. We have devotees that are connected with Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Christian religious leaders. Third, there are professional organisations. Workers have their trade unions, farmers and businessmen have their organisations, lawyers have their Bar Council, and so on.
Fourth, there is kinship or extended family or gotra. All persons of an extended family may collectively protect a member of their group from excesses by the politicians. Fifth, there are caste groups like those of Gurjars, Jats, SCs and OBCs. Sixth, there are political parties in opposition. Unlike the Lokpal, all these entities are independent of the government or the ruling politicians. These are not structurally dependent upon the politician for their existence. They can stand up to the tyranny of the politician if the need arises.
Baba Ramdev will not lose his entourage if he stands up to the state. The government cannot succeed even in banning his outfit. Such outfits quickly regroup in another name if banned. Indira Gandhi banned the RSS during the Emergency but could not kill its existence. The present government has banned SIMI to no avail. The independent existence of these entities enables them to stand up to the tyranny of the government.
This is the secret of continued existence of the Indian civilisation for more than five millennia. Decadence of the government, such as that of Ravana or Kamsa, did not lead to the collapse of the society. People regrouped under the banner of these independent entities and survived.
Primacy of govts
The western society does not recognise any entity other than the state — almost. Only the Church gets one-half the recognition. It too has accepted the suzerainty of the government. The western civilisation is wholly revolving around the government. It collapses if the government becomes corrupt. Greece and Rome collapsed under the weight of such tyrants. They failed to create other independent entities that would hold the society together in event of a degeneration of the government. This is why the British and American societies are in decline today. They do not have independent entities that could control the materialism and consumerism being promoted by the government.
Our constitutional forefathers made a critical mistake. They were taken aback by the decadence of the caste system and rightly tried to eliminate it. But they eliminated all other independent entities in the same sweep. Our constitution gives no recognition to entities made around the village, region, religion and kinship. Only professional organisations and political parties have got one-half existence. I say one-half because they are bound by the law made by the government.
After having eliminated the independent entities like those of kinship and religion, we are now thinking that subordinate institutions like that of the Lokpal, Lokayukta, courts, CBI or Comptroller and Auditor General will control the government! Having removed the policeman from the street crossing, we are thinking that the conductor will control the errant bus driver. We are forgetting that an independent entity alone can control the government. I believe this to be impossible. These institutions are headed by individuals appointed by the politicians. Why would they appoint a person who would check their own excesses? To expect one arm of the corrupt government to check corruption of another arm of the same government is like expecting a thief to control theft by another thief.
All are equal before the law, it is said. However, only a façade of equality can be created between the bully and the lame. It is like telling them that they have equal right to pluck fruits from the tree. Obviously the bully will get the fruit and the lame will get only the leftovers. The poor cannot, therefore, be protected by law.
It is my experience that the law intervenes in favour of the poor only when there is a higher authority that is so interested. The law, for example, can ensure that the poor get jobs under MNREGA because the politicians so desire. Only other entities that exist independent of government patronage can protect the people from tyranny of the government. We must invigorate and strengthen these multiple independent entities. That alone will help control tyranny of the government.
FRIENDSHIP OF MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
'How long have we known each other?' asked the Jhabwalas who were on their annual visit to Delhi.
They had lived in Delhi for many years. Their three daughters were born here. He was an architect. She a novelist. All her novels were based on middle class people. Her best known novel 'Heat and Dust' won her the Booker Prize. Most of her novels were made into films by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. Ismail died in his early 50s. It broke Ruth's heart.
Then suddenly, for reasons unknown to me, they decided to migrate to the United States and set up home in New York. Their eldest daughter Renana decided to stay in India to work for Ela Bhatt's Sewa and shifted to Ahmedabad. She married Harish Khare who had worked for 'The Hindustan Times' and 'The Hindu' and is today media adviser of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. So the Jhabs come on an annual visit to see her as well as other friends they had. At one time their friends included Nirad Chaudhry and his wife Mehra Masani, myself and my wife. All are gone, only I remain.
So they make it a point to spend an evening with me, take my daughter Mala Dayal and grand daughter Naina Dayal out for dinner at the India International Centre.
I repeated my question: "How long have we known each other?" Jhab waived his hands to indicate he had no idea. Ruth had no doubt and replied: "51 years".
So I calculated we had known each other for over half-a-century. I know Ruth has a strong sense of her Jewish identity and I asked her: "Are you religious?"
She replied, "Not really."
"Do you believe in God?"
"I am not sure," she replied evasively.
"What happened to us when we die?"
Jhab gave me the zoroastrian belief in that being a Chinwat pul — a half way bridge where a dead person good or bad are sorted out and he or she is sent to heaven or hell. It was evident that neither of them subscribed to it. But when they left Ruth stopped and kissed the Mazooza on my door.
Becoming rich overnight
Why not become rich overnight
And lead a life, lavish and bright
For which there are
For instance, on paper build a colony
Or flout a fake company
And run away with the needy and greedy peoples' money
And like Bacha, the A Raja aide
Be in murder or suicide paid
Ours is a free country
So it is a great opportunity
To use scam or bribery
And climb atop the fortune's tree
It is time that the swindlers of the country unite
And for their statues in Sansad Bhavan fight
For, they are God's chosen
And the builders of a great
(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)
A nice, calm and respectable lady went into the pharmacy, walked up to the pharmacist, looked straight into his eyes and said, "I would like to buy some cyanide."
The pharmacist asked, "Why in the world do you need cyanide?". She replied, "I need it to poison my husband." The pharmacist's eyes got big and he exclaimed, "Lord have mercy! I can't give you cyanide to kill your husband. That is against the law! I'll lose my license! They'll throw both of us in jail! All kinds of bad things will happen."
"Absolutely not! You cannot have any cyanide!"
The lady reached into her purse and pulled out a picture of her husband in bed with the pharmacist's wife.
The pharmacist looked at the picture and replied, "Well now, that's different. You didn't tell me you had a prescription."
(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi) IHT
IN RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
A BIT OF OLD WORLD CHARM
BY VATSALA VEDANTAM
D V Gundappa would ask him what he was taught in the class.
He was the eldest son of the family. When he was five, his parents sent him away to Bangalore to be educated. He stayed with an aunt in Shankarapuram, and attended a nearby primary school. As he described in later years, he unknowingly moved in the company of giants. Every morning, he would pass by D V Gundappa's house. The poet would peep through the jasmnine bush where he was collecting flowers for his puja, and ask him what they taught him in class. The young boy little realised he was talking to one of the greatest philosopher-poets of our times.
He had a teen aged cousin who was romantically inclined. He would give him love letters to be surreptitiously passed on to T P Kailasam's daughter. After school, he would make his way to Chamarajpet, and wait outside the 'White House' where the well-known dramatist lived. At the first opportunity, he would slip the love note inside. It never occurred to him to ask why she never replied those secret missives! It was only years later that he realised he had stepped into sacred territory. High school and college passed by with more encounters — this time with literary giants.
An engineering job in All India Radio and later in the Films Division gave ample opportunities to meet celebrities of another kind. He managed the sound system for the live peformances of artists, musicians, theatre personalites.Whether it was M S Subbulakshmi, Mehli Mehta or Rosselini, he had a brush with superstars of a different kind now. At age 93, he related his interesting interaction with them with amazing accuracy.
"Why don't you write about them?" I asked.
He did. And published them too. His piece on Zubin Mehta reached that maestro through friends and elicited a warm response that thrilled him. Although age had caught up with him and disabled him of late, he carried on with aplomb. I marvelled at his ingenuity in dealing with his infirmities. A walking stick became a style statement. A walker was turned into a multipurpose device with reading glasses, magnifier and torchlite on one side; a mobile phone and hearing devices on the other. A makeshift tray designed by himself that doubled up as a writing table in the middle. His medicines, a water bottle and even sugar candy in case glucose levels dipped completed the picture! Always dressed with meticulous care, he refused to compromise on matters big or small.
Fastidious about his surroundings, preserving and recycling everything he saw, he still wrote on post cards and spoke in chaste, grammatical language — whether it was English or Kannada. Eloquent in conversation and elegant in appearance, even his fine handwriting spoke volumes about his personality. When he died last week, I felt we had lost a small piece of a bygone era.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
DITHERING ON REDISTRICTING
Very quietly — with a lot of the usual stupid Legislature tricks — New York State lawmakers are conspiring to keep their jobs for life.
Not that long ago, we were optimistic that New York would finally have an independent commission to draw legislative districts, rather than leaving it up to party hacks who almost invariably draw them so that incumbents are re-elected term after wasted term. It has worked so well that legislators usually leave office only on their own, when they die, retire or go to jail.
This year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a good redistricting bill, which was then introduced by the speaker of the Assembly himself, Sheldon Silver. Republican senators vowed to pass a sensible redistricting plan, and politicians jumped on the bandwagon of reform. Unfortunately, that was as far as it went.
Despite Mr. Silver's promises of support for this redistricting commission, his bill languishes in the Governmental Operations Committee. More than 90 of 150 members of the Assembly have signed on as co-sponsors, but they have to have the bill on the floor to vote on it. Mr. Silver need only snap his fingers to make that possible. Until he does, he and the other Democrats in the majority are to blame for the gerrymandering to come.
The State Senate is even worse. The Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos, has apparently decided he and his Republican majority can weather almost any criticism if it means they stay in power. Instead of passing the governor's bill, they passed a phony bill that would delay any independent redistricting until 2022. To see how Republicans did it last time, look at District 51 or Martin Golden's patchwork district in Brooklyn. Both were designed to include every possible Republican household.
(Democratic senators are no better. When they were in the majority, they did nothing about redistricting.)
As for the governor, it would be nice to see him put some muscle behind his rhetoric. Mr. Cuomo should make it clear to stubborn legislators that he will veto suspicious maps (the districts must be drawn by the Legislature for Congressional and legislative elections in 2012).
If he refuses to sign, mapmaking will go to the courts. They would almost certainly draw districts more fairly than the Legislature, but given the timing, it's not likely they would do anything drastic and there would still be no independent commission.
Mr. Cuomo should set up his own independent group to draw the best and fairest possible maps — with lots of public debate. He could then submit those district lines to the Legislature — or to the courts as a better alternative.
Edward Koch, the former mayor, has, at age 86, decided to make plenty of noise about this crucial issue. Last year, he got most legislators to sign pledges before the election to support an independent commission. This year, he has sent out 100,000 robocalls to voters in 41 legislative districts, accusing each incumbent of acting in a "dishonorable" way.
Mr. Koch now needs to be ready to focus on Speaker Silver and Governor Cuomo. The practice of allowing legislators to draw their own districts is a basic reason that Albany's government is a national disgrace.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
NOT A POLITICAL TOOL
The United Nations' World Food Program is warning that without more international help, six million people in North Korea — one quarter of the population — may be at serious risk of malnutrition or starvation. A harsh winter, severe flooding and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease have once again slashed domestic food production, and rising food prices have made imports more costly.
As it stands now, that help is unlikely to arrive. The United States, traditionally one of the largest donors of food aid to North Korea, has decided to follow the lead of its ally South Korea and refuse any additional help. European donors also are hesitating.
American officials question whether the situation is that dire and say they need to do their own assessment. But it is unclear when or even if they will conduct one. If the United Nations' assessment is anywhere close to the truth, the consequences will be disastrous.
There are many reasons to despise the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, and his henchmen. They live in luxury while ordinary citizens barely subsist. The regime is barreling ahead with a nuclear weapons program and looking for any chance to sell weapons to other dangerous states. Last year 46 South Korean sailors died after the North sank a South Korean warship. Two soldiers and two civilians died when the North shelled a South Korean island.
We certainly understand Seoul's fury. But President Lee Myung-bak's vow that the North will not receive any more food aid until it apologizes will only guarantee more suffering for the North's people. We see no reason at all why President Obama would make the same mistake.
Pyongyang has an undeniable history of diverting some food aid to the military and the elite. But veteran aid workers say a monitoring system agreed to and put into effect by the United States and North Korea in 2008-9 would prevent significant diversion. The administration should insist that the system be part of any contribution.
To a great degree, food shortages are the direct result of the government's disastrous economic policies and there should certainly be frank talks with the North about the need for economic reforms.
Still, standing aside cannot be an option. A famine in the 1990s is believed to have killed nearly one million North Koreans. No matter how much the world despises the regime, that can't be allowed to happen again.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
CO-VICTIMS AGAINST THE DEATH PENALTY
As the country has increasingly turned against capital punishment as barbaric and horrifyingly prone to legal abuses, defenders are pointing to the emotional needs of the families of murder victims — "co-victims" to those who study crime — as justification. Many family members, however, have said they want no part of that.
When New Jersey abolished the death penalty in 2007 and New Mexico did in 2009, each did so with the support of co-victims. In Connecticut, the Legislature's joint Judiciary Committee has now approved a bill that would repeal that state's death penalty, again with the support of victims' families.
The family members say that rather than providing emotional closure, the long appeals process in death penalty cases is actually prolonging their suffering. They also say it wastes money and unjustifiably elevates some murders above others in importance. In an open letter to the Connecticut Legislature, relatives of murder victims — 76 parents, children and others — wrote that "the death penalty, rather than preventing violence, only perpetuates it and inflicts further pain on survivors."
Their arguments were a moving and effective part of the effort that led to the committee's repeal vote. Now Connecticut's leaders need to bring these arguments to a wider state audience. A March opinion poll in Connecticut showed that 48 percent of residents favored the death penalty over life without parole, up from 37 percent in 2005.
The increase is not surprising, since news in the state has been dominated by the trials of the murderers in the 2007 home invasion killings in Cheshire. Dr. William Petit Jr., who lost his wife and two children, is an outspoken advocate for the death penalty, arguing that vicious killers should pay with their lives.
We do not minimize the suffering of family members, wherever they stand on the issue. But the facts are undeniable. The death penalty does not deter crime and the long history of legal abuses is well documented. Connecticut's full Legislature should pass the repeal bill and Gov. Dannel Malloy should sign it into law.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
LEARNING TO BE A 'COUNTRY BOY'
At the age of 6, Benjamin Nwachukwu left his home in the South Bronx and took a bus to New Hampshire, to a place, he thought, called Friendly Town. He would later learn that the town was Bradford and Friendly Town was the name of the Fresh Air Fund program that sponsored his trip. But the term would prove fitting.
Mr. Nwachukwu, now 24, met the Rodd family in Bradford and spent six summers with them, learning to swim, ride a bike and fish. "I became a country boy," he said. The Rodds also sent Mr. Nwachukwu to soccer, baseball and performing arts camps, and when it came time to go to high school, they helped him apply to the prestigious St. Paul's School. He received a scholarship and graduated from St. Paul's and from the College of the Holy Cross after that.
Now an analyst at the Interaudi Bank in Manhattan, where he is "becoming a city guy," Mr. Nwachukwu says the Rodds "opened so many doors" for him that "saying thank you isn't enough."
The Fresh Air Fund hopes to reach 10,000 New York City children this year. Half will stay with host families, 3,000 will go to Fresh Air Fund camps, and 2,000 will take part in year-round programs. A two-week stay costs the fund almost $1,000; a session at camp about $1,600. All these programs are available only to city children whose families cannot afford such trips on their own. The fund hopes to raise $11.3 million by the end of September.
Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the Fresh Air Fund, 633 Third Avenue, 14th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10017, or made online atfreshair.org. Families who wish to be hosts can write to the same address, fill out a host inquiry online or call (800) 367-0003.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
WHAT THE WIND CARRIED AWAY
BY JAMES BRAZIEL
DEBRIS is everywhere in Birmingham. Tar paper, insulation, gnarled bits of metal, crumpled siding, plastic, splintered wood — some brought by the wind all the way from Tuscaloosa, 60 miles southwest of here.
My real estate agent, who is in Oneonta, a town northeast of Birmingham, found homework papers in his yard from a schoolhouse near Tuscaloosa.
We're 100 miles from there, he told me.
When I think of tornadoes, I think of the winds, how ruthlessly they break apart our homes, get at what's inside, what we touch and think we have hold of, scattering it across the sky, 60 miles, 100 miles, until it floats down like harmless snow, rain, shooting stars unrecognizable to the ones who find it.
It's been a hard spring here, despite the beauty of the flowering landscape. Every few days cool and warm fronts come together, dance around each other until they swirl and spawn tornadoes. Wednesday morning we could already tell it would happen again, and all day we waited to see if we would be hit.
Schools were closed and around us, the wind rushed, then dropped, pulling the air out of our lungs to make a storm somewhere. The weather reports told us the tornadoes would appear at any moment out of Mississippi. Then we heard there was a tornado in Tuscaloosa, a mile wide and headed straight for downtown Birmingham.
I live in a suburb on the south side of Birmingham called Homewood, and while I waited to hear more I sat on my apartment porch watching debris fall into the swimming pool in the courtyard. Other people would go out on their porches, stare at the sky until the lightning started striking blue and purple. Then they'd hurry back in.
We all had our TVs on. One of the weathermen was following the storm up Interstate 59 toward us. No thin funnel this time; instead, it looked as if the whole sky had simply sunk to the earth. Watching breaking local news on TV has a surreal, calming effect, as if you're watching a movie that must be happening far away, recorded at an earlier time, no matter what the weather outside tells you.
The twister veered just north, clipping Birmingham and sparing most of us. Unless you happened to be in the leafy old working-class neighborhood of Pratt City, off Interstate 59, last hit by a twister in 1998. In Pratt City, those mighty trees that have held against so much else finally broke. Some are entangled in power lines. Some crashed through roofs; some are angled precariously on rooftops like broken arms.
After the storm I drove up to Pratt City. Everyone is out — the neighbors, the police, the Red Cross, firemen, people from all over the city — walking around, looking at the unbelievable damage. Whole buildings gone. One entire neighborhood off Avenue W gone.
Around us are piles of wood and so much wire — thick cables draped over dented cars, wrapped into lassos on street corners. We see tar paper trapped in chain-link fences, smell gas seeping from broken pipes. Tin and plastic hang on to the last ends of branches of fallen oaks and sycamores, full of paper but stripped of leaves.
A girl lies atop a set of bureau drawers in the center of the rubble. She fidgets, tries to sleep, telling us that even in all this destruction, some things are left whole.
But this one house, you can see clear through it: all the glass gone from the windows in front, and the front door open, creaking a little, the back of a sofa with clothes slung over, and beyond the sofa, the far wall ripped clean off, leaving a view of hills and the broken roofs of other houses.
Willie Carter lived through it. He said he was in his hallway, looked outside and saw white, then started running to the back. A loud rumble followed him. Then all the windows in his house popped one after another, and he dived for his iron bathtub. It started moving, scraping across the floor.
If that bathtub had gone up in the air, he said, he would've jumped out. But it didn't. Somehow the tub wound up outside as the walls fell apart, and there he stayed, cocooned, until it all passed. His house is gone now, leaving him as testament. As soon as he could, he squeezed out from the boards around him and went to help others. And helping others is what it's all about now.
Tornadoes are all luck or all fate, depending on what you believe. And it's hard to walk into this beautiful sunshine, the wind bringing cool air that keeps the mugginess away, knowing so many people are hurting, that hundreds have died. A student of mine, Ashley Jones, said tornadoes seem like a distant myth, and she's lived here all her life. And if you were not in Pratt City, if you did not see where all the debris had come from, you would be left with only those tiniest of pieces, wondering what happened and how fast and how far, if next time it would be something of yours.
James Braziel, an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is the author of the novel "Snakeskin Road."
THE NEWYORK TIMES
SILLINESS AND SLEIGHT OF HAND
BY CHARLES M. BLOW
President Obama buckled.
On Wednesday, he released his long-form birth certificate, but not without chiding the media and his detractors for their "silliness" in forcing the issue.
No sooner had he released it than Donald Quixote was off to his next windmill: the president's college grades.
Donald Trump is still playing to suspicions of President Obama. And it's no longer theoretical. It's theological. For the detractors, truth is no longer dependent on proof because it's rooted in faith: faith that American exceptionalism was never truly meant to cover hyphenated Americans; faith in 400 years of cemented assumptions about the character and capacity of the American Negro; and faith that if the president doesn't hew to those assumptions then he must be alien by both birth and faith.
This is how the moneyed interests — of whom Trump is one — want it. That is how sleight of hand works: distract and deceive. They need this distraction now more than ever because the right's flimsy fiscal argument — that if we allow fat cats to gorge, crumbs will surely fall — is losing traction.
It's losing traction with voters as the Supreme Court continues its crusade to put corporate interests above those of citizens. Just Wednesday, it ruled that there is a way for businesses to keep consumers claiming fraud from banding together in a single class-action lawsuit.
It's losing traction among workers. Gallup reported this week that a majority of Americans worry that they won't have enough money in retirement. And that worry is well founded. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute's annual Retirement Confidence Survey released last month, 56 percent of American workers said they have less than $25,000 in retirement savings and investments. Twenty-nine percent of those said they have less than $1,000. At the same time, the average Wall Street cash bonus in 2010 was nearly $130,000, andthe Republican budget proposed by Representative Paul Ryan seeks to dismantle Medicare and lower taxes on the wealthy.
It's losing traction among young people as it was reported last week that the unemployment rate for workers ages 16 to 24 reached a record high last year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Meanwhile, last summer, student loan debt exceeded total credit card debt for the first time, and the Republican budget seeks to slash Pell grants.
It's losing traction with families as the national average price of a gallon of gas is nearing $4, while oil companies are reaping record profits while taking billions of dollars in government subsidies.
(There's something immoral about giving handouts to entrenched corporate interests with armies of lobbyists while seeking to cut those to hungry children, struggling families and frail seniors.)
It all loses traction as more Americans begin to see the far right for what it truly is: a gang of bandits willing to sacrifice the poor and working classes to further extend the American aristocracy — shadowy figures who creep through the night, shaking every sock for every nickel and scraping their silver spoons across the bottom of every pot.
In fact, Gallup reported on Thursday that unfavorable views of the Tea Party, which was cheered and championed by billionaires and business interests, had jumped to 47 percent this month, a new high, while last week it reported that approval of Congress among Republicans and independents had dropped to a depressing 15 percent.
So the right needs to backfill its shaky fiscal reasoning with political segregationist rhetoric — amplifying a
separation of the "us" from the "other."
State Senator Jake Knotts of South Carolina last year called President Obama — along with the state's governor Nikki Haley, who is Indian-American and a Republican — a disparaging slur. When pressured to resign, he refused, proclaiming that: "If all of us rednecks leave the Republican Party, the party would have one hell of a void." Do tell.
This is not to say that all Republicans are tolerant of this behavior. Far from it. But the party has taken the strategic position that in some cases its politically advantageous to allow demagogues and xenophobes, sectarians and homophobes to not only see the party as a sanctuary but as a place to rise to its top.
In the last several months, Republican state lawmakers and party officials have said the most reprehensible things about Hispanics, gays and blacks.
State Representative John Yates of Georgia compared the state's threat from illegal immigrants to the threat from Hitler in World War II and suggested that border agents should be allowed to "shoot to kill." State Representative Curry Todd of Tennessee compared pregnant illegal immigrants to multiplying rats.
State Representative Larry Brown of North Carolina suggested cutting off financing used to treat people with H.I.V. and AIDS because they are "living in perverted lifestyles." Brown also drew criticism in October for an e-mail he sent to fellow Republicans in which he used disparaging terms about gays.
And David Bartholomew had to resign as the Virginia Beach Republican Party chairman after forwarding an e-mail that joked about someone taking his "dog" to the welfare office and saying: "My Dog is black, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English" and has no clue "who his Daddy is."
In 1965, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described how the strategy of separating people with common financial interests by agitating their racial differences was used against the populist movement at the turn of the century, explaining that "the Southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow."
He continued that Jim Crow was "a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man." He called this "their last outpost of psychological oblivion."
But the right, with a new boost of energy from Trump, is reaching for new frontiers. The language and methodology are different, but the goal is the same: to deny, invalidate and subjugate, to distract from real issues with false divisions.
Trump is helping the right shape new weapons from old hatreds, forming shivs from shackles, all the while patting himself on the back and promoting his brand.
But his point of pride is the right's mark of shame.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
INTRODUCING THE THINGS OF SPRING
BY GAIL COLLINS
Springtime Progress Report: Early this year, we learned that Utah was considering a bill to name a Browning pistol its official state firearm. Meanwhile in Washington, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey was pushing for a bill that would make it more difficult to sell guns to people on the terror watch list. I am excited to report that one of these pieces of legislation finally has been passed into law.
Yes! Utah now has an official state gun. It beat out Arizona, which this week bestowed its honor on the Colt Single-Action Army pistol.
Lautenberg's bill, meanwhile, has gone nowhere whatsoever. It would require that gun purchases by people on the terror watch list be vetted by the attorney general's office to make sure that arming the individual in question would not pose a danger to homeland security. Opponents point out that the terror watch list is not always reliable, and the bill might therefore force innocent Americans to go through an entire additional step while purchasing armaments and explosives.
"It's taking a little bit of a back seat," the senator conceded. "But we're on it." Like all advocates of sensible gun regulation, he has, by necessity, developed an incredibly optimistic outlook.
Speaking of the sunny side, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is happy to report that so far this year, no state has passed a law prohibiting colleges from banning guns on campus. This is pretty notable, since failure to require that institutions of higher learning be gun-friendly is the only thing that stands between some states and a perfect 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association. "It's failed 51 straight times in 21 states," said Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign.
Actually, it did pass in Arizona recently, although it was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. We have had cause to make fun of Governor Brewer in the past, sometimes for matters as trivial as making up stories about illegal immigrants leaving piles of severed heads in the desert. However, this woman has had a heck of a lot of crazy legislation to plow through. Besides the "campus carry" bill, she nixed a "birther" bill aimed at knocking President Obama off the next state presidential ballot. So, really, even though Brewer did sign the bill making the Colt pistol Arizona's state gun, you cannot say she had a bad April.
The Colt bill, which had originally failed during the Arizona Legislature's rush to adjournment, was resuscitated and passed in the wee small hours of the morning just before everybody left town. You'd have thought this would be a hard sell, what with the memory of the Tucson massacre so fresh, not to mention the fact that, as a lawmaker of Navajo descent pointed out, the Colt's role in winning the West has somewhat less pleasant connotations to Arizona's American Indian population.
However, in the end, the majority conceded to the logic of people like Senator Steve Smith, one of the sponsors. "One would argue the white men themselves were instrumental weapons of mass destruction against the Native Americans. Should we not honor any white people?" he demanded.
What with all this excitement, the lawmakers did not have enough time to make a miniscule change in state law that would have allowed 20,000 residents to get extended unemployment benefits, which would have been paid for entirely by federal funds. The state has a 9.5 percent unemployment rate.
But, you know, they had the official state gun thing to work out. "It wasn't their priority," said the House minority whip, Anna Tovar.
Besides deliberately ignoring the long-term unemployed and caving in to lobbying by the gunmakers, I'm sorry to say that Arizona also gave the whole state thing-naming tradition a bad name.
I have always been a big fan of official state rocks and birds and flowers, in part because selecting them really does tend to distract legislatures from other more alarming activity. Also, the nominations usually come from groups of schoolchildren, who then get to watch democracy in action as the contenders for state fern or state song go head to head in a battle down to the wire. Many years ago, I was privileged to watch a fight over the official state mammal of Connecticut, in which the whale beat out the deer, to the edification of all homeowners who have never once woken up to discover that overnight, a whale had eaten their tulips.
But it's pretty creepy to imagine a bunch of third graders debating the merits of potential state guns. There are plenty of other routes to go here. I believe New York is working on a state dog. Neither Arizona or Utah has a state dog, although I was impressed to note that Utah has both an official state vegetable (Spanish sweet onion) and an official state historic vegetable (sugar beet).
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
MARCH OF ANATOLIA AGAINST THE PLUNDER OF NATURE, CULTURE, CITIES
Watch wild capitalism finally reach our shores. I am talking about a vastly deregulated economy based on consumption, waste and easy benefits, in which just a handful of men take the decisions. The well-named "Crazy Project" launched by the prime minister is the perfect example of this state of affairs. Thank God, civic reactions, awareness and awareness against the attack are building up every day. The Great March of Anatolia means millions of steps in this direction. And naturally, politicians as the main perpetrators behind this nightmare are left off the track. The plunder is not an issue in the election campaign.
The march began from seven different directions on April 2. The Thrace convoy setting out from the province of Edirne, the northwest tip of the country will reach Istanbul on Monday and will hit the road during the week. A press communique will be read in front of Istanbul's Galatasaray High School at 10 a.m. For those who are interested in joining the march, visit vermeyoz.net. Convoys will converge in Ankara around May 21. The march has 14 wide-ranging demands against the environmental and cultural plunder. Once in Ankara, tents will be set up in front of Parliament and will remain there until the demands are heard. The plunder now causes international concerns and reactions are getting organized in front of Turkish representations abroad.
The model for development that treats nature as a commodity must be abandoned, "Mother Nature's right to live" must be protected by the new constitution. Based on the principle that "individuals should be able to feed themselves in the lands they were born," arrangements that prevent migration of rural populations to large cities and support traditional lifestyles must be implemented. All hydroelectric power plants and dams projects that threaten our rural livelihoods, our cultural heritage and biological diversity and that are motivated by a thirst for profit must be stopped. Work must start immediately to recover our natural habitats from the destructive effects of such practices so far.
The draft of the 2B Act, which paves the way for wiping out of our forests, must be canceled immediately, and legislative action to privatize forests must be stopped. Mining practices that disregard protected areas, agricultural lands or living beings must be stopped; all permissions given without any consideration of the consequences of these practices on our ecosystems must be canceled. Erroneous agricultural policies that result in soils becoming infertile, driving rural populations to poverty as their main source of agricultural income and excessive use of water resources must be abandoned. All agricultural practices must take the balance of nature into account and "the right crop in the right place" principle must be adopted. The use of hybrid seeds, crops with genetically modified organisms and any chemicals in agriculture, which are threats to all living beings, must be stopped. Projects threatening our cultural heritage, such as in Hasankeyf, which we have inherited from civilizations that lived on these lands before us, must be stopped immediately. These historical sites do not belong only to us, but to all humanity; therefore they must be protected with care and projects to preserve them for future generations must start immediately.
Highway, bridge and mass housing projects planned without consideration of their social and ecologic costs that will result in larger waves of migration to the cities, must be stopped. Rail transport that has a lower carbon footprint must be developed and expanded. Investments for thermal and nuclear power plants, which a new one is added to existing ones everyday and which are indisputably harmful to nature, must be stopped immediately. Environmental Impact Assessment reports prepared by private consulting firms that are financed by power companies that cause damages to nature, with the permission of the Ministry of Forestry and Environment, and Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, which allow this to happen, must be cancelled immediately. Any project disregarding the delicate balance of nature, the conscience of the general public, the expertise of nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, and decisions of local habitants must not be approved. The current Environment and Biodiversity Protection Act that allows commercial investments in all protected areas must be withdrawn and the Renewable Energy Act must be cancelled immediately.
The status of existing protected areas must be raised and key natural sites must be declared as protected areas for the preservation of biodiversity. "The Polluter pays" principle and its practice that allows private companies and public sector to destroy nature must be abandoned; legal arrangements must be made to give severe penalties to those who harm nature.
The organizational and administrative structure that congregates the State Hydraulic Works, or DSI, as an executive body with its investments that interfere with the balance of nature and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, which is responsible for the protection of environment must be changed immediately. Instead of defending private companies, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry must fulfill its actual duty, which is to protect the environment.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
BASHAR AL-ASSAD NULLIFIES DECADE OLD TURKISH EFFORTS TO NORMALIZE SYRIA
Turkey's policy toward Syria until the 1990s had been one of appeasement, in the face of Damascus open support to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Syrian authorities openly lied to the faces of their counterparts each time they denied the existence of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan on their territories.
Then the Turkish government decided to place engagement with that of confrontation. Main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, deputy Onur Öymen, who used to be the undersecretary for the Foreign Ministry, was behind this policy shift. After warnings made through conventional diplomatic channels, Turkey escalated the tension and ended up by giving the clear message that war would be an option on the table if Syria continued its policy of providing a safe heaven to the PKK.
Once Öcalan was gone, nothing stood in the way to improving relations between the two neighbors.
Bashar al-Assad's ascent to power following the death of his father gave hope to the Turkey that engagement with Syria could bear fruit in a shorter time than expected.
The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has given a big impetus to fast-developing relations. This was done despite strong U.S. objection. If you set aside the AKP's ideological affinity to the Arab world, one of the main motivations behind Turkey's policy was to pull Syria away from the orbit of Iran and give it an exit strategy from being considered by the Western world as one of the countries that support terrorism in order to survive, especially against Israel.
"By normalizing relations with Turkey, you can also normalize your relations with the Western world. We can show together that you can become a responsible member of the international community," was the message sent to the young al-Assad. He and his wife spent their vacations in Turkey, Erdoğan paid several visits to Damascus where he said Turks and Arabs are like meat and bone, visas were lifted. Turkey tried to mediate between Israel and Syria. All this was done to make Syria gain more self-confidence and break its feeling of living in a hostile environment
But it takes two to tango. Al-Assad has nullified Turkey's decades old efforts with his bloody performance of just a few days.
From the early days of the general turmoil sweeping the region, Turkey has been advising al-Assad to quickly endorse the necessary reforms. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent a special envoy, the head of National Intelligence Agency to convey his messages, something he has not done in the case of Egypt or Libya.
That visit was then followed by that of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Each time the message was clear, "Don't wait for the reforms!"
"Actually the regime seemed quite prepared for the reforms. They had already scrutinized Turkey's political party laws, getting all the information from the Internet. Apparently they had also examined Turkey's transition from emergency law to normalcy," said a Turkish official familiar with the talks with Syria.
Al-Assad has been a big disappointment for Turkey.
Still, in contrast to Egypt and Libya where the dictators had not passed their rule to their younger family members, Turkey would like to see a transition to a more democratic regime under the leadership of al-Assad. Erdoğan openly called on Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Moammar Gadhafi of Libya to cede power. Most probably the delegation that will go to Syria will not do so. It will probably ask al-Assad to immediately end resorting to violence and come up with a road map for an orderly transition. Obviously it will also warn that a course of action contrary to the one proposed might have al-Assad see an end like Mubarak or Gadhafi.
It seems that the Turkish government believes that a chaos is likely to erupt following the immediate departure of al-Assad and that might have serious consequences setting fire in the region starting from Lebanon.
Al-Assad surprised all who thought he would take the steps for a more open regime. Now Ankara wants to be pleasantly surprised and see al-Assad listen to its advice and end the rule of the Nusayri minority for a regime that encompasses the Sunni majority, in a transition that will avoid sectarian violence.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
ATATÜRK YOUTH AT WORK
In Turkey, we keep discussing the most current of the current affairs – such as the prime minister's "crazy project," the opposition's effort for renewal, or the mess on university exams. But it would also be helpful to stop for a minute, take a breath, and remember where we are coming from.
I had a sobering experience about that a few weeks ago, when I wrote a piece in Turkish titled, "The Address to the Youth should be abandoned as well." The "address" to which I was referring was from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. It is a 1933 text presented in every textbook and classroom wall, and is memorized by all students.
The reason why I thought the text should be abandoned was its content. There is simply no mention of democratic values in Atatürk's address, I explained, such as liberty, rule of law, tolerance, or respect to diversity. There are rather a bunch of illiberal themes.
First of all, I noted, the address begins by saying: "O the Turkish Youth, your first duty is to preserve Turkish Independence and the Turkish Republic forever. This is the only basis of your future and your existence."
The problem here, as I explained, is an authoritarian mentality that defines the "first duty" of every Turkish citizen. In a free country, though, citizens should be able to decide that for themselves. They can perhaps be really that patriotic, or see their "first duty" in serving their religion or their philosophy. "They can even think that taking care of street cats is the most honorable thing to do," I noted. It is our right to identify the meaning of our lives, not Atatürk's.
Yet that was the least of the problems in Atatürk's Address to the Youth. The rest of the text tells Turkish youngsters that their country might be attacked anytime by "enemies from within and without." It also warns that "those who are in power" might be the collaborators of the imperialists who want to enslave the Turkish nation. Then it tells the "Turkish youth" to act against those in power by all means necessary.
"This is the root of the mentality that defines certain social segments in Turkey as internal enemies," I said in my piece. "It also gives a blank check to those Kemalists who want to topple elected governments via military coups."
Finally, I noted, the bottom line of the address is pretty disturbing: "The power you need," it says to the Turkish Youth, "is in the noble blood in your veins." This concept of a "noble blood," which reflects the biological racism of the 1930s, I argued, does not fit into the democratic definition of the citizenship we need.
Now, I don't know how these arguments sound to you, but they sounded quite maddening to thousands of readers. The website for which I wrote this piece received more than three hundred comments in two days, most of which were furious. I got blamed for insulting Atatürk, insulting the Turkish nation, helping the "enemies without," and being one of the "enemies within." Dozens of commentators passionately argued that "traitors" like me should be put in prison, or simply be executed. I also got emails threatening me and reminding me that "your days are numbered."
Elephant in the room
In the eyes of these hard-core Kemalists, I was the very confirmation of Atatürk's warning on "internal enemies." In my eyes, they were the very confirmation of what I have been arguing: Kemalist indoctrination has bred a quite intolerant and aggressive nationalism in this country. Its apparatchiks, who proudly call themselves "the Atatürk Youth," are relics from the fascist age of Europe, which heavily influenced the make up of the Kemalist ideology. (Just translate "the Atatürk Youth" into German, and see what it recalls.) And the elders of the same ideology keep on being the main obstacles to democratization in Turkey.
This is the elephant in the Turkish room, which not everybody wants to name. Even some among us who speak about the need for democratization do not get the problem right. Many on the left, for example, get it totally wrong. They see the problem as "Turkey's entry to the NATO, and the subsequent Gladio organization." Then they obsess about the "deep state." But Turkey's entry into the NATO, and the free world in general, actually helped the situation at home, by forcing the Kemalist single-party regime to accept free and fair elections. And while the "deep state" is indeed criminal, its ideology on the surface is tyrannical enough to lead to those crimes.
Even some of the liberals who see Turkey's main problem as "military tutelage" get it wrong. Yes, our military has been an arrogant and condescending institution, but they are just one of the several tools of the Kemalist authoritarianism that is at the core of the republic. The way out is not just "civilian control," which is a step forward, but a new political structure, and in fact a political culture, which will cherish liberty and pluralism – values that we can find in neither the Address to the Youth nor any other Kemalist credo
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CAN THE ARAB AWAKENING BE A POSITIVE BLACK SWAN FOR TURKEY?
The fire of the Arab awakening is now catching up with the Syrian youth. The streets of Arab countries, following a long period of oppression, are continuing to vent their anger until they attain freedom or the cold kiss of death.
All the while, schools of realism or idealism; conspiracy theorists or balance of power advocates are getting tired of being unable to diagnose exactly what is taking place in the greater Middle East.
It is indeed a transition process that the region is going through, and like any other monumental transition period, it is impossible for others to predict what the end product will be.
I think the "Black Swan" analogy could be a good way to describe the current upheavals. Black Swan, a metaphor that encompasses the concept of the rare occurrence of an event, nevertheless shapes the history by its immense magnitude. According to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who is the author of a book called "the Black Swan, the Impact of the Highly Improbable," in 2007, such extreme outliers can also have positive and negative effects and one can take various precautions to increase its odds to effect positive impacts in the end.
Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, particularly in terms of its policy toward the Libyan uprising, appeared to be focusing on short-term gains and holding onto its valuable political and economic interests that were mostly created after long years of pro-active diplomacy. In other words, Turkey adapted a "head in the sand" approach as the most-recent status-quo power in the region, constantly remaining focused on its own lucrative investments due to its own powerful business lobby, and did not have a whole lot of reasons to be excited over a regime change.
Now it appears that Syria is also becoming the next significant case for Ankara. The Bashar al-Assad regime, day by day, proves to be incapable of reform; targeting its own people with bullets to kill, it is losing its legitimacy in the eyes of its own people and international community, rapidly.
Turkey, who has received a lot of criticism from the Arab pundits, regional experts and of course the Libyan opposition for its Libya policy, has a lot to prove in the Syrian case by putting every meaningful pressure on al-Assad.
The U.S. acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen, concluded a visit this week to press Ankara to do more to isolate Iranian and Moammar Gadhafi; soon the discussions will restart, however, about the best way to isolate the al-Assad regime.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's proactive foreign policies were widely seen as a success in preceding years, i.e. in the old Arab world. Those policies were based mainly on Realpolitik while maximizing the usage of its soft power elements (economic and cultural) to increase Turkey's influence.
The problem now is that Turkey, having made significant progress to improve its ties with various leaders (most if not all dictators) in the Middle East in recent years, feels the heat again to make another immense transition to this time correspond with the Arab street. In reality, Erdoğan proved that he could do that skillfully during the Gaza War against Israel.
There is no question in anybody's mind that Ankara has been courting a regional leadership role, and one of the tasks it zeroes to undertake advocacy of the Muslim world into the West. Alas, that advocacy job description has just changed fundamentally since the upheavals began. Now any leader candidate must demonstrate to the Arab youth, not Arab leaders, that it is in very much in the sync with their universal demands.
Turkey's main opposition party, Republican People Party, or CHP, has not been very instrumental when it comes to nudging the AKP to be more courageous supporting "seeming" underdogs in the Middle East. It is true that the general elections in Turkey will not be won over foreign policy arguments, but the CHP, which would like to present itself as a viable alternative, still has to reveal what future it imagines while we are before the mother of all revolutions in the region.
It is also time for Ankara to stop being delusional to think either Gadhafi or al-Assad can survive at the end of this transition. Instead, it is time for Ankara to create its own "positive black swan," and align itself with those who want change, not cling to the status-quo.
When the future looks back on today to see which countries were there to support the big fight for freedom, the citizens of Turkey deserve to be recorded on the right side of the history.
Merve Kavakçı's harsh remarks toward Erdoğan
Merve Kavakçı İslam, a Turkish politician who was elected as a Virtue Party deputy for Istanbul in 1999, was consequently prevented from taking her parliamentary oath because of her hijab, joined a discussion at the Seta-DC this week. Kavakçı offered her comments over Dilek Cindoğlu's study, titled "headscarf ban and discrimination" in Turkey, which was sponsored by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or TESEV.
According to the study, the ban is still very much alive and discriminating against headscarved women in the Turkish labor force, preventing them from getting hired or promoted often. The study also shows that those companies that work with various governmental and military bodies are particularly unwilling to hire women with headscarves.
Apart from the discussion, Kavakçı was also asked about her opinion over the AKP's candidate list. Kavakçı stated clearly that she was neither satisfied with the list nor the performance of the AKP as a whole in regard to advancing the cause of headscarved women.
Kavakçı also argued that the AKP was "getting something in return" while ignoring the demands of 69 percent of total women population who have headscarves.
What is it exactly that the AKP is getting in return, I pressed Kavakçı. She stated that "there is a new, novel, developing practicing Muslim bourgeoisie and some argue that it is [preferable] to let economically well-established practicing Muslim enterprises [succeed] at the expense of [of the headscarf issue]."
Kavakçı, even though was very clear and sharp while criticizing Erdoğan's performance over the issue, made vague statements to imply that some well-established conservative and pious companies are being allowed to vie with the largest conglomerates in Turkey in return for forgetting the issues of headscarved women.
Why did Erdoğan really not put forward headscarved women on the candidate list? Is Kavakçı right?
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
PARTIES' ENERGY VISION
Greenpeace has examined election manifestos of political parties in order to highlight the different energy visions.
Energy visions of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, take up only one page in each manifesto.
As you see, visions are so very limited and not original enough.
All three parties are talking about low-cost energy and energy supply security.
If you as a person living in a country dependent on external sources by 65 percent are looking for a trace of how this could be achieved, you have a fat chance.
All three keep saying nuclear energy plants will be built.
As the AKP said, "Nuclear energy power plants will be built by taking necessary preventive security and environmental measures," the CHP stresses, "Utmost security criteria will be considered and we will bring technology transfers with a focus on new generation reactors to the agenda."
Meanwhile, the MHP said, "Our prior goal is to have nuclear energy production technology."
Other than that the only difference could be the CHP's popular vote suggestion.
"Renewable energy sources," which are to considerably lower external dependency, is being slurred over with a few sentences.
A critical trump card
"Renewable energy," however, is a key trump card for Turkey although the Energy Ministry often ignores it.
I met with March Muller this week during a luncheon of the Swiss General Consulate in Istanbul. He is on a world tour in a car working with solar and wind energy.
Arriving in Turkey via South America the 28-year-old Muller mounted solar panels in the back of his car and plans to drive 40,000 kilometers with the help of wind energy.
Since he is an energy systems engineer, Muller designed the car on his own.
There were leading figures of "renewable energy" in Turkey, both from private sector and academic circles, among the crowd listening to the adventure of Muller that day.
Muller tries to determine "renewable energy" policies and strategies of each country he travels through.
He takes notes to publish them in a future book.
One of the guests was Professor Tanay Sıdkı Uyar of Marmara University.
Uyar is the vice president of the World Wind Energy Association, or WWEA, and Europe Renewable Energy Association.
He is preparing for "International 100% Renewable Energy Conference" to be held in Istanbul on Oct. 6-8.
Uyar designed the first wind map of Turkey as he was working in the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBİTAK.
He says we are a country with incredible wind power potential.
"Our wind power potential in Turkey is twice more than our total electric consumption," Uyar said.
"We have resources, technology and low cost, but somehow officials do not take action in this direction," he added.
Today, Turkey produces 1,600 MW of wind energy.
However, wind power capacity as high as 83,000 MW, according to the professor.
Figures he gave on effective energy use are also interesting.
Uyar argued houses in Turkey consumes six times more energy than those in Europe.
By listening to Uyar only, one can see how weak the energy visions of political parties running for the June 12 general elections are.
Am I, as a citizen of a country where energy consumption will increase more than the world average by 2020, not entitled to expect more from the energy policies of the parties?
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
MORE THAN JUST A ROYAL WEDDING
When I received an invitation some time ago from the British ambassadorial couple, Roshan and David Norman Reddaway, requesting me and my wife Aydan to join a "Royal wedding buffet lunch" to be held on April 29, I did not question how it happened that at this age, in a country considered to be a cradle of democratic governance that there was still royalty, a royal family and overwhelming popular support from Britons for the institution.
Sitting next to Canadian Ambassador Mark E. Bailey – and indeed provoked by the ambassador – rather than enjoying the delicious food and wine and watch the royal wedding procession broadcast live from London, I started counting how many countries still maintain royalties in some capacity. Indeed, quite a many countries still have royal families: Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, the Gulf countries, Thailand and the list continues.
While watching the pictures of romance, splendor, magnificence, grandeur and lending an ear to ladies at the lunch table exchanging envious comments about the wedding gown of Kate Middleton – who has become the Duchess of Cambridge – I found myself discussing with some other guests whether we were indeed witnessing an event expected to revitalize the British monarchy.
In a country which so demonized its own royal family and imperial past – thank God there is, so far, no serious bid by any serious political players to reintroduce royalty – watching the British public show so much affection to the royal family and in particular to the royal wedding, while also seeing no particularly anti-monarchist protests, is quite interesting.
The Ottoman palace, unfortunately, despite all repeated efforts, particularly in its last 150 years or so, failed in turning the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-linguistic gigantic empire into a constitutional monarchy or monarchic-democracy and thus failed in preventing the disintegration of the empire and sustaining its own future. In a way, the Balkan defeat of the early last century that dealt the Turkish mentality a great trauma and to a great extend gave way to the rise of "nation-building" obsession of the early republican period was also perhaps the reason why irrespective of the success of the "National Army" [Kuvva-i Milli] uprising in Anatolia – that is the War of Liberation led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the Ottoman royalty was no longer the glue keeping the nation and the territory together. Perhaps that is why in Turkey while occasionally some insignificant efforts to bring back royalty was seen and though for a long period it was subjected to exile and a systematic demonization campaign, the royal family itself remained loyal to the republic.
What would happen if the current Chief Executive aspires to reintroduce royalty and declare his family as the new royal family? I want to believe that Turkey will not buy such an oddity though history testifies to the bitter reality of many dictators coming with public vote.
The United Kingdom, however, has been the sole country which for the past 300 years or so managed to successfully integrate democracy and royalty, though in this the period powers of the elected parliament and the elected government constantly increased at the expense of the powers of the Buckingham Palace, eventually turning the royalty into a symbol of integrity of the state and the territory and more.
The wedding ceremony of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, or Prince William and Kate, was of course more than a wedding for the British citizens and millions of people watching the glamorous event on their TV screens all around the globe. For some it was all about the dress, the wedding gown of Kate, which with great success was kept a secret until the wedding ceremony. For most, however, in the gentlemanly behavior of William and elegance of Kate there was a declaration of the British royalty as to its determination to survive the test of time, despite all probable challenges.
And, obviously, on the face of Prince William and Kate, there was a reflection of the beloved Diana of the world, the princess of modern times, Lady Diana…
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TOP CHARACTERISTICS OF TURKISH EXECUTIVES
Foreign executives often ask me about the main characteristics of Turkish executives. If we generalize their behaviors, they are flexible, emotional and relationship-oriented. If you acknowledge these and build your relations accordingly, you can achieve great results. On the other hand, ignoring them can cost you time, money and in some cases your face.
Imagine you are a kid where they constantly construct buildings, roads and airports. Changing macro-economic factors such as high inflation and devaluation is a daily activity so is taking individual positions against them. Even the kid who sells simit (Turkish bagels) on the street buys and sells hard currency to protect his money. Political instability and short-term coalitions are considered the norm to run the government. Rules and regulations also change on regular basis. What would you do when you grow up and start running a business? I bet you would not start with a five-year plan and stick to it within this environment. You have to be flexible and able to respond to external changes in order to survive.
Today, Turkey is quite far away from the above picture, but this is the environment in which your local executives grew up. The good thing about this behavior is that you can call a meeting tomorrow and tell them you have decided to change north to south, east to west. They will ask for a couple days to adapt and then carry on with the new system. The difficult part is to manage their frustrations when they get squeezed between the decision-making process of your headquarters and the local changes that demand immediate responses to win the game.
Though on different levels, all southern Europeans are emotional. It is genetically so. They do not approve or disapprove, but love and hate. Nothing is only business. People leave big deals on the table because they cannot get along. Managing emotional people requires a different skill set. You have to stay cool, but show empathy at the same time when people get carried away and start dramatizing. Your client can call your margin offer an insult. Your subordinate can get mad and create a scene when he is not promoted. On the other hand some people can work with you for months without getting a decent return just for you or your company's sake if they are emotionally attached. They never forget when you extend a helping hand. It is very good to be very open. If you have to deliver bad news, you better do that during one-on-one meetings.
In an emerging market you can lose a lot when conditions change. Only your friends and network can put you back up. You become friends first and then make business. Things might change from norms to rents depending on who you know. That's why when you ask about someone, they always say "he/she is a good friend." That's why they greet half of the tables in a restaurant. This is why being part of a football club management or getting affiliated with a political party is much more important.
If you are from Northern Europe or North America, that means you are coming from a culture that is more rigid than flexible, neutral than emotional, rule-oriented than relationship-oriented. Therefore it will be more difficult for you to understand the local dynamics compared with someone from South America or southern Europe, Asia or Africa. As it will not be a onetime event, developing a new reconciling behavior pattern is important. In order to do that, you have to accept the differences and show respect to local perspectives. At the end of the day everything grows on a reason, sometimes it just cannot be yours.
* Zafer Parlar is the founder of istventures (www.istventures.com), which supports international companies in their market entries and development in Turkey, as well as Turkish companies in their local operations and international expansion plans. email@example.com
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A BIRD'S EYE VIEW - CIVILIZATION - ONE FOR ALL, ALL FOR ONE
The president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, gave an interesting interview to TV5 about two weeks ago in which he was asked questions concerning the European Union.
It was the first time that we birds had seen him give an interview and we were quite impressed by his ability to avoid answering difficult questions by saying that as president of the European Council he cannot reply to such and such a question since it concerns the EU as such, etc. He also was able to answer in a good way other questions. He made, however, one big mistake according to us, which we will mention further on.
On the issue of the Greek crisis, he stressed that he was against the restructuring of the Greek debt since the disadvantages of a restructuring are greater than the advantages. He reminded all that as finance minister of Belgium he was able to reduce the debt of his country in six years without restructuring. He also said what Greece needed was more time to reduce its debt and that is what should be given to that country. He commended the George Papandreou government for having done more in one year than Belgium did in three years to reduce its debt. On Turkey he was very diplomatic, stressing the size of the country and its implications for the EU.
He was very talkative about the situation in North Africa and rejected accusations that the EU had acted slowly in the case of Libya. He reminded us of previous cases, like Iraq where it took much longer for the EU to act and that there was an improvement in comparison to the past. He also stressed as important the fact that the Arab countries were accepting the Western notion of democracy, something that the Latin and South American countries have also done. He reminded us that in the 1970s most of the countries in that area were military dictatorships. He concluded by saying that there exists one civilization, one earth with many cultures and that they should all be respected.
As we interpreted that sentence, we think he implied Western civilization. If that is the case, then he made a serious mistake. On our planet we have many civilizations. China, the Western one, India, Africa and why not the indigenous populations of the planet? Different cultures also exist, yes. But we cannot agree that we have reached such a level of human development to say that we have only one civilization today. If so, why do we have the Alliance of Civilizations, the United Nations initiative to bring our civilizations closer together? And to imply that the one existing civilization is a Western one is an indication that the EU is alienating itself from the rest of humanity. And it will have to pay the consequences for such erroneous thinking. We are just keeping our wings crossed that the people of the EU will be exempted from these consequences.
Ponder our thoughts, dear humans, for your benefit.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
CAPTAIN ALI, CEMILE AND RAPE
Captain Ali was drunk as usual. He barged into the house of his ex-wife.
The children were at school and little Osman was playing outside.
Ali beat his ex-wife Cemile and then raped her.
Osman came in, found his mother wounded and lying on the floor.
The next day, the rape scene drove even the fanatics of the TV series "Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman ki" (How fast time flies) to the edge, it's been said.
* * *
That's fine, but how about thousands backing this "fictitious" figure Cemile but not supporting the "real" figure Ayşe Paşalı, who was beaten to death by her husband after he raped her?
Is this laziness?
Or is it feeling safe enough to lash out at "Captain Ali," while having snacks in front of the television instead of protesting real domestic violence cases in court?
Or is it the misperception that "there is no violence in real life, this is just a film"?
* * *
Some of the outraged audience got up and said, "We are raising a maniac generation because of these series."
The chicken-and-the-egg story…
Violence does not grow out of TV series, but it is the other way around.
Violence against women existed long before "How fast time flies," even before television, way before the invention of electricity.
The scriptwriter only exposed what is going on inside households.
Should he be criticized for writing this?
If this is the way to look into things, it is impossible to film drug addicts, terrorism or incest.
* * *
We are trying to stone the mirror [instead of seeing the image inside].
Women are focusing their anger on Captain Ali instead of the grim-faced father at home, or bullying husband of the next-door neighbor, or the teachers at school who love to beat up children.
As Cemile weeps they weep too for they are wounded.
Audience members wrote in comments, "Don't go too far, keep the balance."
That's fine, too. But who is to do such fine-tuning?
Is it the Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK?
Is it opinion polls?
Is it the television station?
None of these is entitled to do so.
The ultimate action from RTÜK would be to enforce an age limit and include a warning for children. As the State Ministry for Family does, the board could go for a bargain like, "I will give you support if you talk about women's rights and show a way of solution."
Besides, the series has created a very strong woman character with Cemile, as the addicts know very well.
* * *
Actually, as one of them, I have been thinking that the threshold for pain has been exceeded, though forcefully, for some time.
The depiction of Turkey's recent history that made the series more pleasant has been totally pushed aside, the social background has been ignored and the series has turned into nothing but weeping sections, I believe.
However, I was not disturbed by the rape scene.
It was realistic and not commercialized like it was in another series called "Fatmagül'ün Suçu Ne?" (What's Fatmagül's crime?)
Think of it this way:
Which scriptwriter can imagine four youths hanging themselves after the death of their mother and write about this?
(The author refers to the suicide of four youngsters during the weekend following the death of their mother.)
No scriptwriter can get into a race with the cruelty of real life.
This is the remedy that needs to be found, not the tellers of stories.
I. THE NEWS
India will have to wait a little longer to get the "most favoured nation" (MFN) status from Islamabad, and New Delhi will take time removing the non-tariff barriers which fetter the growth of Pakistani exports in the Indian market. No one expected any dramatic announcements following the April 27-28 Pakistan-India secretary-level talks on trade that remained suspended for more than two years in the wake of the Mumbai 2008 carnage. After the bitter deadlock on the issue of terrorism, it is not just natural but also in line with diplomatic norms that the two countries tread slowly and carefully toward the goal of normalising relations at the start of a reengagement process. The foremost challenge is that of building trust. This can only be done through a slow and delicate process that starts with setting down rules of engagement, restating previously stated positions and deciding upon a roadmap for removing obstacles, issues and irritants bedevilling relations between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours.
If judged by this parameter, the two-day trade talks have not ended in failure but have achieved more than we could previously have expected. The first piece of good news is that the two sides have agreed in principle to remove restrictions on cross-border trade and to achieve this, they have decided to put in place an institutional framework. That's what we can call setting the goal right. The second piece of good news is that Pakistan has decided to move to the "negative list" from the existing "positive list" of 1,946 items which could be imported from India. This should be seen as a first step toward granting MFN status to India, which has been a long-standing demand of, not just New Delhi, but also of a big section of the Pakistani business community and economic experts. On the issue of non-tariff barriers, which block an increase of Pakistani exports to India despite the fact that the country enjoys MFN status by India, the Indian delegation has assured Pakistan of "corrective measures". The decisions, including expansion of trade through the Wahgah-Attari land route, easing and harmonising customs operations, allowing investments, facilitating bank operations and prospects of initiating trade of petroleum products and electricity – are all steps in the right direction.
Despite all the mistrust and a history of acrimony between the two countries, trade and economic ties are one front where quick gains remain possible. Public opinion as well as most interest groups – both in Pakistan and India – support greater economic and trade cooperation which offers a win-win situation for all. It is time for the leadership of the two countries to seize the moment and aggressively push for building bridges of trust and mutual self-interest through trade cooperation, which in turn may work as a catalyst for peace and prosperity in the entire region. The small steps taken in the trade talks appear to be a perfect new beginning to the process of reengagement. They offer hope and promise bigger gains in the future.
I. THE NEWS
Investigators looking into the successive attacks on Pakistan Navy buses in Karachi believe that they have come as a result of an extremely dangerous link-up between the Balochistan Liberation Front of Brahamdagh Bugti and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. If this development has indeed taken place, it unveils all kinds of new perils into which we could tumble as we attempt to combat militancy. The investigators seem to have based their theory on the fact that road-side bombs were used to target the vehicles rather than the suicide bombers most often used by the Taliban. There have also been claims from both organisations of having carried out the attacks. It is thought that a similar attempt to target a military officer in Karachi may have taken place as long ago as in 2004 by the BLF. The Taliban and the BLF are both lined up against the state. The reasons for their hostility to it and those who represent it are very different. In many ways, the Baloch nationalist organisations and the Taliban are ideological enemies who stand on opposite sides of the divide as far as their beliefs go. The nationalists have traditionally been opposed to extreme religious views and to forces such as the Taliban. Their views lean more towards the left and the liberal.
However, despite these realities it is not impossible for some kind of alliance to have been forged for opportunistic reasons, especially against those who wear military uniforms. Both groups have no sympathy for such persons, even though those who died in Karachi and elsewhere are in no way responsible for devising the policies that these groups oppose. It is also a fact that Brahamdagh in particular, has broken away from mainstream Baloch nationalists and formed unwise fronts of his own – perhaps, even combining his efforts with those of the Taliban? At present, these reports cannot be considered wholly accurate. But this much is clear – if unity is growing between militant organisations of different kinds in the country, it poses immense dangers and adds greatly to the threats we face as an already troubled country.
MUKHTARAN MAI: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY
As the author of a 2006 book on the Mukhtaran Mai case and a former Islamabad-based Western female news correspondent, I must raise a voice of dissent amidst the shrill reaction to the Supreme Court's acquittal of 13 of 14 men accused in Mukhtaran Mai's case.
In 2005-2006, after many months painstakingly poring through every police statement, medical record, witness testimony, and cross-examination transcript in this case, coupled with multiple visits to Mirwala, Jatoi and Dera Ghazi Khan for extensive interviews with members of both sides of this case, I reached the same conclusion as the Supreme Court has in 2011. The Lahore High Court reached the same conclusion in 2005. Indeed, I would challenge anyone who has the opportunity to pore through all such records and interview members and associates of all sides in this case to come up with any conclusion other than that 13 of the 14 accused are innocent.
May I stress that fundamental to that conclusion (shared by myself, the Supreme Court and the Lahore High Court) is that Ms Mai is indeed a victim of a heinous crime. The question is: of what? The Supreme Court and Lahore High Court find that Ms Mai is a victim of rape, hence their maintenance of Abdul Khaliq's conviction for rape.
It is my belief that Ms Mai is a victim of two heinous crimes here. One is sexual assault: the kind of sexual assault experienced by women forced to marry against their will, and by women handed over by their men folk as compensatory chattel to settle a feud.
Which leads me to what I believe is the paramount crime here: Vani. Under current laws, Ms Mai's men folk would be convicted for handing her over to the Mastoi family to atone for her teenage brother's alleged misbehaviour with a teenage Mastoi girl. The tradition of handing women over to atone for their male relatives' wrongdoing, known also as Swara, was outlawed by the Pakistan government in January 2005.
The police and court records shows that both the prosecution and the Mastoi family agree that it was Ms Mai's men folk who presented her to the Mastoi family after many hours negotiating, via a local cleric, to resolve a feud. The feud had erupted earlier that day when Mukhtaran's brother Shakoor was seen with the Mastoi girl Salma in the sugarcane field between the two families' homes.
The prosecution's version of what happened next is well-known. There is also a little-credited defence version; the other side of the story. For what it's worth, the defence version fits the pattern of many a feud and its resolution in rural Punjab and Sindh: to settle the feud, the perpetrator's family hands over a female to the victim's family to be married off to one of their men.
I have met the women of the Mastoi family and heard their vivid accounts of what happened that night. They showed me the shoddy room in their home where, they say, they saw Abdul Khaliq bring Mukhtaran Mai to spend the night with him after a 'sharai nikah', an on-the-spot marriage without a certificate. For what it's worth, they recall Ms Mai being thrown out one or more days later and sent back to her family, in a state of disgrace.
What happened to Ms Mai was outrageous, unsolicited, and must be punished. But the evidence, cross-referenced with my own protracted field research and interviews, suggests that what happened is considerably different from what is alleged by the prosecution.
I would beseech anyone who is concerned with justice and human rights to examine this case in real detail, retrace its genesis and comb through the records, and ask themselves whether a dangerous miscarriage of justice lies beneath the famous Mukhtaran Mai story.
I urge the detractors of the Supreme Court's brave decision to objectively examine whether the 13 acquitted men, who have each spent between six and nine years in jail despite earlier acquittals, have been wrongly accused and imprisoned.
Perhaps the most obvious wrongful imprisonment is of the eight men accused of being part of an alleged panchayat. These men, who lived 3.5 hours travel from Ms Mai's village on the other side of the Indus, were acquitted in the original 2002 trial for want of evidence. It is worth reading what the original trial judge had to say about how those men came to be arrested and why he released them without charge. This is the same judge who convicted four others of gang-rape and two of aiding and abetment. Astonishingly, these eight acquitted men were re-arrested two and a half years later in reaction to the storms of outrage that followed the Lahore High Court's 2005 acquittal of five out of six convicted men. They have been in jail for the six years since 2005, without charge. Where are the human rights advocates standing up for them?
Apart from a wealth of inconsistencies in statements to police and witness testimonies, the paucity of evidence affects many celebrated aspects of the prosecution story. The allegation that Shakoor was molested by three Mastoi males is pure fabrication and easily revealed as such on any study of the case. The claim of Ms Mai being paraded naked before hordes of people was thrown out in the original 2002 trial, yet nevertheless has embedded itself in many re-tellings by media and rights groups. The presentation of the Mastoi tribe as wealthier and more powerful than Ms Mai's clan was discounted in the original 2002 trial, when police admitted under cross-examination that Ms Mai's family owned more land and had more powerful connections than the Mastoi family, well before this story began.
It is also my belief that Ms Mai is a victim of characters around her who have used her, her family, the local police and courts for their own purposes. Talk to any lawyer in southern Punjab and they will tell you how often false cases are filed between enemies. It's my belief that Ms Mai was shamefully taken advantage of and had little control over events once the charges, filed not by her or her family but by two unrelated men, went public.
The charge of gang-rape was brought to the police by the cleric Abdul Razzaq and a local journalist-cum-rights monitor who had heard rumours after Razzaq made claims in a Friday sermon. Ms Mai was not involved in the lodging of charges. Some hours later, she was hauled into the police station unceremoniously in the back of a police truck. There she found a statement already written by the cleric in her name. She was told to attest it with a thumbprint. As is well-known, at that time she could neither read the statement, nor write her name. How was she to know what she was attesting with her thumb?
The next day the charge was in a local newspaper, the following day in national and international press, and just three days later Ms Mai had a cheque for 500,000 rupees in her hand from President Pervez Musharraf. No investigation had taken place, and Ms Mai was already both an international heroine and wealthier than any illiterate villager from a wretched Indus backwater could have ever dreamed.
The writer is a former AFP news editor
I. THE NEWS
DR FARZANA BARI
The Supreme Court's judgement in the case of Mukhtaran Mai, acquitting all the accused with the exception of one, raises serious concerns about the ability of the legal system to dispense justice to victims of sexual violence in Pakistan. In the split judgement, two judges out of the three dismissed Mukhtaran Mai's appeal on the grounds that they did not find sufficient evidence to establish that gang-rape had been committed. However, basing his views on the same evidence, the dissenting judge recommended ten years' imprisonment to five others accused of gang-rape. This shows that the judgement was not purely a technical matter of the law and evidence; it was also an issue of mindsets.
A reading of the detailed judgment will show how the larger cultural context of the crime was almost completely ignored. The delay in the registration of the FIR proved to be fatal to the prosecution's case and it appears that due weight was not given to the testimony of the victim of the rape.
In the case of Mukhtaran Mai's brother, Shakoor, where the accused were convicted of sodomy, the judges argued that culturally it was not possible for the accused to endanger the virtue of their sister by detaining her in a room with Shakoor to save themselves from the accusation of sodomy. This indicates a failure to see the gender realities of our society, where women are bought and sold like cattle by male members of their families. They are bartered and exchanged in the name of local traditions of valvar and vani to settle disputes among men. Whereas justice is blindfolded in order for it to be as impartial as possible, it should not be blind. And it is imperative that justice is seen to be carried out as well.
The judgment is the continuity of a judicial culture where rapists were given impunity under the Hudood Ordinance of 1979, under which four male Muslim witnesses were required before a Hud punishment could be handed down in rape cases. This patriarchal bias is clearly reflected in the lack of conviction in rape cases despite the Women's Protection Act (2006) that removed the crime of rape from the Hudood Ordinance and put it back into the Pakistan Penal Code.
The judgement also encourages the panachyat system which undermines a long-standing demand of women's rights groups to do away with all parallel judicial systems.
There are those who are dubbing the response of women's rights activists to this judgment as emotional, and generously advising them not to blame the judges as they are neutral and objective and make judgements purely on the basis of evidence and merit. Let me say to them that there is no such thing as absolute impartiality in this world: absolute impartiality is humanly impossible. We all understand our "objective realities" through our own subjectivities. Personal experiences, value systems and how we view the world play an important role in determining what we choose to see. The personal experiences and value systems of judges often colour their judgements. That is why judicial systems the world over have, in relative terms, failed to dispense justice to those who belong to the underprivileged or minority sections of society
he judgment highlights the serious flaws in our law as well as in our criminal justice system that is most obviously not geared to dispensing justice to women victims of sexual violence. Inefficiency of investigation due to corruption, use of political influence, lack of access to modern technology such as DNA-testing labs, and inability of the prosecution to gather sufficient evidence are some of the serious institutional issues that the Mukhtaran Mai case has brought to the fore. However, why does Mukhtaran Mai, the victim, have to pay for the inefficiency of the criminal justice system?
The disappointment expressed by human rights activists and civil society organisations on the judgment is not an emotional response as it is portrayed by many male writers. Women are concerned about the serious ramifications of this decision on the fate of victims of violence in this country. The case did not pertain to an individual alone, it was a test case and had wider social ramifications.
The judgement handed down in this case has set a precedent and will be binding on the lower courts. Why did the judges rely merely on the counsels of the complainants and defendants? Why did they not set up an amicus curie to get a wide range of opinions from the legal fraternity, gender experts and human-rights activists? When the judiciary can take this course in the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, where ten legal experts are engaged-in a mere political stunt which will not to have any implication for the wider society--why was this not done in the case of Mukhtaran Mai which affects the living, the women of Pakistan?
It is important that we radically revamp our criminal justice system. Judicial reform should be initiated with a priority in making a change in the Evidence Act. To change the patriarchal culture in the judiciary, women judges should be promoted to the higher judiciary.
Our judicial system not only failed Mukhtaran Mai but also the women of Pakistan. However, the people will continue to celebrate Mukhtaran Mai's defiance and courage. With the tremendous respect she enjoys, Mukhtaran Mai is an emerging popular leader in southern Punjab, where she is seen as a messiah by the oppressed, the under-privileged, and victims of injustices and violence.
The writer is director of the Centre of Excellence in Gender Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
MANDATE TO REGULATE
DR SANIA NISHTAR
As one of the key instruments of governance, regulatory functions have increasingly been in the spotlight, subsequent to the 18th constitutional amendment.
Regulation can take many forms but in the current context it refers to interventions initiated by the government to correct market failure, or the use of state power to impose constraints on organisations and individuals through a range of instruments issued by the government or non-governmental bodies to which the government has delegated regulatory powers. Amongst the things that can be regulated, price, quality, and numbers are the most salient.
The mandate to regulate is sometimes the basis of tenuous relationship between a federation and its federating units and can lead to unnecessary turf rivalries between different levels of government. Such problems could emerge in Pakistan as provinces discover their newfound regulatory prerogatives after the 18th Amendment. With calls for new provinces whipping up, the ramifications of this trend could be immense.
The recent controversy over devolving the Higher Education Commission helps to illustrate this point. Amongst other things, the HEC is also a regulatory agency, prescribing standards and ensuring compliance. Proponents of devolving HEC opine that education is a provincial subject whilst those that argue for its national role bring to bear its regulatory function as a justification for its existence at the federal level – a role, which the Implementation Commission has now accepted and is working towards retaining. Drug regulation is another example, which is a federal subject in most countries of the world – in fact regional regulatory models are coming up, evident in arrangements in the European Union, Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Latin America.
The question of regulatory prerogatives has many dimensions – questions about national roles in subjects that have been devolved and the much bigger debate about defining national roles in federating systems in a globalised world where there is need for uniformity of standards.
Federating systems in the developing world usually centralise normative aspects of regulation and tend to devolve implementing arrangements. The former is done to maintain uniformity and obviate duplication.
Those that drafted the 18th Amendment were cognisant of the importance of a federal role in regulation and hence an entry was introduced in Part II of the Federal Legislative List "All regulatory authorities established under a federal law". However, there are questions centred on the validity of creating a regulatory authority to regulate a subject, which has been devolved by the 18th Amendment. This is illustrated in a question, which has arisen in the Sindh High Court with filing of a case against the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority, which was created in exercise of the powers under a federal law – the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Act, 1996. The federal authority prescribes standards in an area - sugar – which, as an agricultural produce, is a provincial subject. The question relating to the validity of federal regulation in a devolved subject is also relevant to drug regulation – Entry 20 "drugs and medicines" was part of the omitted Concurrent Legislative List.
In view of this ambiguity, various views are being mooted to establish a constitutional justification for retaining a federal regulatory role in the post 18th Amendment scenario. One view refers to Article 270AA(6) of the 18th Amendment, which saves all laws with respect to the omitted CLL, enacted prior to the 18th Amendment. These laws continue to remain in force until altered, repealed or amended by the 'competent authority'. However, this notion is subject to several concerns. First is the question of sub-constitutional vs the constitutional law, with the latter being supreme. Also, the expressions 'saved' and 'competent authority' have legal connotations in Article 270AAA. While laws have been saved, there are questions about who the 'competent authority' is with reference to the power to amend laws. Provincial assemblies and not parliament may now be the competent authorities in the given context.
Secondly, experts are also drawing on the example of the USA, where the power to regulate can be exercised by virtue of the federal subject of interstate commerce. An analogy is being drawn with the prerogative in inter-provincial commerce and federal powers by virtue of Article 151 read with Entry 6 of Part II of the FLL. However, other experts are of the opinion that on a textual analysis, Article 151 does not seem to cover 'regulation', as understood in the present context.
The third potential mechanism may be to have any draft law to create a federal regulatory authority approved by the Council of Common Interests (CCI) prior to promulgation by parliament. Subsequent to enactment, such regulatory authority would be subject to supervision and control of the CCI at which the four chief ministers and the federal government are represented. Based on this, it could be argued that through the forum of CCI, the provinces have acquiesced in the federal government, regulation of an otherwise devolved subject. However, one key weakness in this approach is the counter argument that the chief ministers, whilst participating in the CCI, do not directly represent or are synonymous with the provincial assemblies to which the 'legislative authority' in respect of the relevant subjects has been devolved and hence, on a strict interpretation, do not possess the authority and power to empower parliament to enact a law which is the constitutional prerogative of the provincial assemblies. Such approach could also be criticised as a circumvention of the mechanism expressly provided in Article 144.
In sum, therefore, all the constitutional mechanisms being cited as the basis for retaining regulation at the federal level are fraught with some degree of uncertainty. Article 144 is the only valid and non-controversial mechanism in the constitution, which can grant a regulatory mandate to the federal level. It is now imperative that provincial assemblies recognise the imperative and grant the federation a mandate related to regulation, where necessary. The federal government must, in turn, reform its own ability to regulate – its track record is less than desirable. The provinces will still continue to play a role in regulation in such an arrangement through policy oversight enabled through the CCI.
The political and constitutional imperative of political autonomy is well appreciated. Within that context, the 18th Amendment is an important game-changing intervention. However, it is inevitable that many questions will arise in the wake of such a major transformation. The question related to regulatory prerogatives is just one of them. It is critical to carefully think through these questions so that progress towards the premise enshrined within the 18th Amendment can be sustained.
The writer is the founding president of the NGO thinktank, Heartfile.
I. THE NEWS
END-GAME IN AFGHANISTAN
Why this region descended into bloodshed after 9/11 and how the US, Pakistan, and Afghanistan failed to make headway against ragtag militants? Deep reflection has brought me to one answer; faltering unity amongst allies. The militants put their ideological, sectarian, and linguistic differences behind them and rallied round commonalities; but their opponents, especially the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan, were playing games with each other.
The US maintained an untrustworthy relationship with Pakistan, and in return got the same treatment from its ally. It never felt like trusting the Karzai-led Kabul government. Pak-Afghan relations remained tense too. Pakistan accused Kabul of ingratitude and being a pawn in the hands of Pakistan's enemies, while Kabul accused Pakistan of a double game. Many sane voices who are directly affected by this war have constantly been stressing the need to push the US out of the Pak-Afghan equation and find a local solution to the conflict. But Musharraf did not listen and Karzai could take no such a risk. Basically Musharraf never respected Karzai. He thought that Karzai would be won over to our side if Uncle Sam was happy with him. Karzai also took the same rout and placed all complaints against Pakistan at Washington's door.
In 2003 I gifted Karzai a book The Imperial Hubris by a US writer with a message that read "for president Karzai with best wishes and longing that he might read this book to understand the US designs and establish direct relations with Pakistan." The book contains a chronology of US blunders in Afghan land and its designs. During discussions on the book, I reminded Karzai that Pakistan and Afghanistan are deeply interdependent. The foreign invaders in the region would leave it sooner than later. Therefore Pakistan and Afghanistan should stop playing with each other and establish good relations. Instead of bringing Pakistan and Afghanistan closer, the US incites fighting between us because that would serve its purposes. Why don't Kabul and Islamabad follow the shortest route of Torkham instead of the longest route through Washington?
Karzai swore that he considered Pakistan his second home and gives utmost importance to Islamabad, but genuinely complained against the media here which calls him names like "mayor of Kabul" and holds him responsible for regional conspiracies against this country. He also felt insulted by Musharraf and the Pakistani establishment, who considered him the Karzai of the Cold War era who was living in Pakistan.
Pakistanis and Afghans, especially Pakhtuns on both sides of the border, have suffered tremendously in this regional conflict. However, after so many years of blames and counter-blames, Karzai and Pakistanis have come to the point that the US would never help them solve their mutual problems and therefore should be expelled from the equation between their two countries. First the US tried to hold Pakistan responsible for its failure in Afghanistan and then did the same thing to Karzai. The previous Afghan presidential election brought Karzai and Pakistan closer; Karzai was emboldened to stand up to the US once he found Pakistan on his side. He waited for a few months to observe Obama's Afghan policies which undoubtedly are as ambiguous as Bush's. He convened a Loya Jirga to get mandate for reconciliation with the Taliban. The US was not happy with this development, but found it impossible to oppose the decision of the constitutionally most powerful Loya Jirga. Intelligently, Karzai appointed a Tajik, Ustad Burhanuddin Rabbani, as head of the Reconciliation Council. The Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami have contacted each other many times over the past few months. Karzai had been insisting that Pakistan and Afghanistan should constitute a joint "reconciliation commission," but initially Pakistanis did not respond positively. However, Karzai continued with measures to reassure Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the US contempt for both countries crossed the limits pushing them to establish the joint "reconciliation commission" on April 16. Both countries had agreed in principle a few months back to establish the commission, but Karzai wanted that the Pakistani military leadership and the ISI should also be taken onboard. After the ISI chief's visits to the US and Turkey, Pakistan accepted the establishment of the commission. When the DG ISI, the COAS and the prime minister of Pakistan visited Kabul the commission had already been established. However, it was still undecided whether the foreign ministers would head the commission.
However, Kabul insisted that the chief executives of both countries should head the commission. Pakistan accepted this demand moments before the announcement of the commission. Keeping in view the background, it is safe to state that this commission is the most important development in the context of problems and a right step to solve the conflict.
This time I did not find the opportunity to meet Karzai or his ministers and officials because of the high profile guests from Pakistan. Karzai, like most of us who supported the idea of a joint effort to find solution of the problems, was very happy. However, I thought that important hurdles are yet to be crossed; it is yet to be seen whether Pakistan and Afghanistan become real friends are repeat the past mistakes of playing with each other. Similarly, how much the US is going to support the process and how long the two hold against US wishes and dictates. What would be response of the Taliban and how Al-Qaeda reacts has yet to be known. Most importantly, whether India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey Russia and the US support the initiative or scuttle it through machinations. Also how the bad designs of some these countries are defeated?
The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem. email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
OUR SICKLY DEMOCRACY
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
In the absence of a functional democracy rooted in constitutionalism and rule of law, is it surprising that civilian control of the military remains elusive in Pakistan? "The wonder... is not why the military rebels against its civilian masters, but why it ever obeys them," asserted Samuel Finer in his seminal work 'The man on the horseback'. Students of civil-military relations continue to squabble over the allocation of blame to adventurist khakis and non-performing civilian regimes for the breakdown of democracy. Whether one believes that an over-bloated military keeps democracy weak and dysfunctional by design to guard its turf and create opportunities to assume greater control of the state, or that corrupt and ineffectual political regimes create a vacuum that the khakis are forced to fill, there is agreement that a dysfunctional civilian government partly explains military intervention.
Last week, speaking to officers of Quetta Staff College, the Chief Justice of Pakistan reminded khakis that the principle of civilian control of the military was firmly rooted in the Constitution. He candidly recounted our past for their benefit: 'The history of Pakistan reflects a recurring conflict between underdeveloped a political system and a well-organised army. When there are political crises, we have witnessed military intervention followed by military rule. Thus, there emerged a vicious circle of brief political dispensation followed by prolonged military rule. This state of affairs brought many setbacks and hampered the process of evolution of constitutionalism and the democratic system of governance.' He also reiterated the concept of equality before law by reminding the officers that, "the soldier and the citizen stand alike under law...both must obey the command of Constitution and show obedience to its mandate."
The khakis must not view the Constitution as a useless scripture. It would do this country a whole lot of good if they revisited their sociology and made allegiance to our fundamental law a part of their conception of professionalism. But there has never been much dispute about what the military ought to do from a constitutional perspective. Yet one bleeding heart dictator after another has told us that the skies are about to cave in and if the generals don't follow their self-assumed obligation (in conflict with dictates of law) to step in and save the nation, we are all doomed. We blame judges for abetting dictators and conjuring up legal fiction for the purpose, as we should. But even if they were to abide by their oath to protect the Constitution and go down fighting, as they must, would it prevent military interference in politics?
This is no apology for the loathsome doctrine of necessity. But will generals suddenly see the light, start taking their oath of allegiance to the Constitution seriously and yield to civilian control? Notwithstanding whether one lays the blame for military takeovers on power-hungry generals or a blundering political elite, the opportunity to intervene in politics will not dry up unless a democratic system of governance delivers, political parties emerge as representative institutions, politics is focused on policy-making and not power grab alone, and political culture accommodates integrity, dissent and merit. We can continue to cry conspiracy, but so long as dividends of democracy do not trickle down to the ordinary citizen, the polity will remain vulnerable to generals lurking in the shadows.
Pakistan: Beyond the 'Crisis State' edited by Dr Maleeha Lodhi and recently published is recommended reading for anyone interested in finding solutions to the myriad problems confronting us as a nation-state. It addresses the whole gamut of issues holding up our potential ranging from myopic ideology, skewed foreign policy, tenuous economy and civil-military imbalance to the crisis of energy and education. Given that the contributors are not foreigners, the analysis, critique, solutions, frustrations and hope that it presents are indigenous. Members of our elites (especially political elites) who view themselves as agents of progression and change would do well to read the book and especially the chapter authored by Dr Lodhi.
Undemocratic party structures, a feudal-tribal culture, and politics of patronage as opposed to policy are three of the main weaknesses identified by Dr Lodhi that create a disconnect between civilian governance and public service. Presently, there is no separation between a political party as an institution and its top leadership. In the absence of institutional autonomy or shared decision-making, the policies of the party are essentially the whims of its leader. The barriers to entry and upward progression within parties prevent them from grooming leaders and nurturing the talent, ideas and expertise required to run a government.
The institutional deficiencies are compounded by the power elites' 'feudal-tribal' style of conducting politics that fuels sycophancy and shuns dissent, and is described by Dr Lodhi as, "personalised, based on 'primordial' social hierarchies, characterised by patronage seeking activity and preoccupied with protecting and promoting their economic interests and privileged status." Such autocratic party structure and political culture directs the focus of politics toward acquiring the spoils of office to reward 'clients' and buttress traditional networks of patronage and political support, as opposed to seeking public office to implement policies and improve the system of governance for the benefit of all citizens.
We saw Benazir Bhutto gift her father's party to her son through a will. We see Shahbaz Sharif's son being treated as heir apparent of the PML-N. We witness Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, Asfandyar Wali, Fazalur Rehman, Altaf Hussain and the Chaudharies lord over their respective parties on an everyday basis. There is no room for dissent within political parties. Be it Aitzaz Ahsan, Shah Memood Qureshi or Safdar Abbasi of the PPP or Javed Hashmi of the PML-N, any independent thinking amounts to disloyalty, attracts the ire of the party leader and clips the dissenter's role within the party.
Javed Hashmi exhibited tremendous character when he expressed shame for supporting a dictator two and half decades back. He showed remarkable courage when he called upon the Sharifs to assume responsibility for past choices and actions. Would Nawaz Sharif not emerge as a bigger man if he took Javed Hashmi's advice and apologised to the nation for being a part of the Zia regime? And do members of the PPP who celebrated Mr Hashmi's speech in the National Assembly not see the hypocrisy in their perfect ease with Asif Zardari treating the PPP as his personal fief?
Do they not realise that given the ideology, manifesto and political program of the PPP, their party has nothing in common with the PML-Q, except the shared desire of their respective leaders to distribute the spoils of office amongst themselves and their cronies?
Democracy is more than a process. Its pith and substance is a system of governance that protects and serves the interests of ordinary citizens, regardless of their political preferences. It is in upholding the substance of democracy that ineffectual civilian governments falter and as a consequence cede political space to generals. While uninterrupted political process is imperative to realise the dividends of democracy, public support for such continuity cannot be fostered by a ruling political elite visibly unresponsive to public needs.
The message of hope springing out of Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State is the inevitability of change being ushered in by a growing, informed and assertive middle class together with a free and vocal media. Pakistan is not ready to suffer another khaki saviour. But neither is it willing to put up indefinitely with autocratic civilian regimes engaged in a transactional relationship with ordinary people, reducing them to petty clients. Business, as usual, is no longer sustainable. Political parties can either become vehicles for change or get wiped away as agents of the status quo.
I. THE NEWS
GEN BETRAY-US TO ICON PETRAEUS
Bad news for our anchors and their guests back home. Once more they will have to deal with the name "Petraeus" now that he moves centre stage as the CIA chief. The name, admittedly, is a tongue-twister or, shall we say, tongue-in-cheek? In September of 2007, I "shadowed" Gen David Petraeus during his congressional hearings in Washington DC. As the architect of the Iraq surge, he was commanding the US forces there. He had convinced the Bush administration that for the final "surge" on Iraq he needed more troops on ground. MoveOn.org, a political NGO funded by billionaire George Soros, reacted sharply. It took out a full-page ad in The New York Times with his mug shot headlined "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?"
The nickname "Betray-us" stuck. Leading Democrats in the Senate and the House openly castigated President George W Bush's favourite general. Their catcalls of "Gen Betray-us" reverberated throughout Capitol Hill, sending shockwaves to the horrified Bush administration. The Republicans hit back by calling their most successful general "King David."
The chatter in the US media is different today. Petraeus, 58, is being called the "most iconic battle commander of his generation." Military analysts credit him with great success when he says: "America can successfully wage war against elusive enemies." After all, he's the "Professor of War" whose Counterinsurgency Doctrine has paid rich dividends in Iraq.
What, then, is Counterinsurgency? Simply stated, it is "Political and military strategy or action intended to oppose and forcefully suppress insurgency." (Get ready for more drone attacks, Gen Pasha, and even boots on the ground when Petraeus takes over as the chief spy!)
Many believe that because Petraeus was a threat to President Obama as a presidential candidate next year, his chances have been sealed by his being shut off to CIA despite the general's telling Vanity Fair: "I'm not running for president."
The heavily decorated general has spent more than 30 years in the army. Jack Keane, a retired four-star general says Petraeus should have been made chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after Admiral Mike Mullen's retirement. Having "turned around two wars, I think it is outrageous that he wasn't offered that position."
Remember another joint chiefs of staff, Gen Colin Powell? He toyed with the idea of challenging Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential election. Then, in 2004, there was Gen Wesley Clark, a regular on CNN, who too dreamed of the White House. Obama doesn't want Petraeus getting the same ideas!
So how will the new CIA chief interact with Pakistan? Well, when Petraeus was commanding Iraq and Afghanistan some years ago, he told a Senate panel that militants in Pakistan "could literally take down their state" if left unchallenged. His views may remain unchanged.
Our military strategists back at the GHQ, meanwhile, are not sitting idle. They have tried pre-empting the CIA pressure by making PM Gilani hand carry a top-secret dossier for Karzai in Kabul. The Afghans have leaked the contents to America. "Look East, not West" is the message Gilani supposedly conveyed. "Look to China; not America."
Petraeus, whose Princeton doctoral thesis was on the Vietnam War and the US use of superior technology and firepower, has perhaps checkmated the Pakistani move by getting his man to be his "eyes and ears" in Kabul. Ryan Crocker, the shrewdly suave diplomat who served in Pakistan before joining Petraeus in Baghdad as the ambassador will keep a close watch on the slippery Karzai government.
"Results, boy results," is what Petraeus demands from his team. These are the words he heard from his Dutch dad while growing up.
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email: anjumniaz @rocketmail.com
NATION SHARES RESOLVE OF NAVAL CHIEF
AS terrorist struck another naval bus on Thursday, third in the row, Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Noman Bashir has expressed his unwavering resolve to fight out the menace of terrorism. In a statement, he strongly condemned the cowardly act and said the nation would not be deterred by nefarious designs of the terrorists. The successive attacks on buses of Pakistan Navy in Karachi have sent shock-waves not only among naval personnel throughout the country but also the entire nation that has condemned such dastardly acts with one voice.
It is quite evident that those who target defenders of Pakistan are surely enemies of the state and their objective understandably is to destabilize the country. Terrorists have been targeting personnel and symbols of Pakistan Army, PAF and law enforcing agencies but attacks on Pakistan Navy are intriguing and raise many questions about those behind them and their real designs. There are reasons to believe that PN is being attacked as part of the plan to pressurize and convince Pakistan about the need to expand the war on terror and this aspect should also be looked into by investigators. Though a so-called spokesman has reportedly phoned Reuter and owned responsibility of the attacks on behalf of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) but veracity of such claims cannot be established in the given situation. The claim also sounds hollow because Pakistan Navy, in no way, is involved in the on-going war on terror and perhaps its only fault is that it is safeguarding effectively maritime boundaries of Pakistan. Although PN is comparatively small and has suffered because of lack of resources but it is because of its professional and visionary leadership and hardworking and committed force that it has become a force to be reckoned with in the navies of the world. The way the Pakistan Navy is securing the country's strategic and economic interests despite various odds is highly appreciated by each and every Pakistani and therefore, the entire nation is solidly behind it in this hour of trial. We would especially place on record the untiring efforts of the incumbent CNS Admiral Noman Bashir for making naval defence impregnable and inspiring confidence among his personnel. The CNS, who is a known and respected figure in the navies of the region, has done well by coming out with a morale boosting statement and the entire nation is sure that under his command Pakistan Navy is fully geared to foil designs of the enemy and meet challenges to the security of the country.
PPP-PML(Q) BURY HATCHET, RIGHTLY
THE ruling PPP and the opposition PML(Q) were in covert and overt negotiations for the last several weeks exploring possibilities of forging an alliance and now it is almost certain that they would become coalition partner any time. Their talks reportedly culminated into tangible understanding on Thursday when President Asif Ali Zardari hosted a dinner in honour of PML(Q) leader Ch. Shujaat Hussain where details of the deal were finalized by the two sides. It is often stated that there are no permanent friends and foes in politics and accommodation and adjustment are made as per requirements of the circumstances.
This is indeed beauty of the democracy that differences are bridged through negotiations with the spirit of give and take for a greater cause. Until sometime back no one gave serious consideration to the possibility of an alliance between PPP and PML(Q), which were not only poles apart ideologically but were also staunch rivals politically as well with leaders of the two parties hurling serious allegations against each other. Chaudharies of Gujrat have always blamed Murtaza Bhutto-led notorious Al-Zulfiqar organization for the murder of Ch. Zahoor Ilahi, a family icon and a political stalwart. And the PPP had been dubbing 'Q' as "Qatil (murderer) League" and even name of Ch. Parvez Ilahi was included in the FIR of BB assassination case. In this backdrop, it required great courage, vision and far-sightedness to bury the hatchet and make a new beginning and we are glad that the two parties did the same for the sake of national interests. No single party can address effectively the kind of challenges and problems confronting Pakistan and there is, therefore, dire need to forget bitterness of the past and work together to take the country out of the troubled waters. Incidentally, PML(Q) has in its folds some of the most serious and experienced people who can contribute a lot towards improvement of governance and we hope joining of the Government by the party would definitely bring about a visible change in this regard. We hope that the two parties would not only further promote the cause of conciliation especially in Balochistan but also concentrate on resolution of the economic challenges that have so far remain neglected.
KASHMIR STANDS FURTHER MARGINALIZED
THE most striking outcome of the two day parleys of commerce secretaries of Pakistan and India is willingness on the part of former to put the political issues like Kashmir aside and offer grant of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to the latter, linking it only with the removal of non-tariff barriers by New Delhi. Pakistan has also agreed to negotiate a bilateral preferential treaty by reducing customs duties on products of export interest of both the countries.
This is by all means a great success for India and a setback to Pakistan's long term interests – both political and economic – and history will not forgive the present regime for deviating fundamentally from the country's principled position on the related issues. We have been maintaining in these columns that there was nothing wrong in having trade with India if it is commercially viable. This is particularly so when countries of other regions given preference to regional trade, which is mutually beneficial for the states because of proximity and other factors. However, in Pakistan-India context, this standard cannot be applied in totality because of hegemonic attitude of India and its stubborn resistance to all efforts towards resolution of the core political issues that are marring development of normal economic and commercial ties. Pakistan cannot afford to have normal economic relations with India until resolution of the Kashmir issue and that is why Islamabad has all along maintained that there should be progress in tandem on all issues on the table. Though departure of the present Government from the principled position of the country on the issue would transmit wrong signal across the LoC but we are sure that the legitimate indigenous struggle of the Kashmiri people has gained the necessary strength to move ahead towards logical conclusion. No one can defeat a movement in which even children and women are fully resolved to shed their blood.
NEWS & VIEWS
Whether it was the decision to enter into defence pacts with the West; becoming frontline state during Afghan jihad or joining the war on terror with the US, our civil and military bureaucracy and inept political eminences in the past have had the penchant for self-inflicted affliction. During 1965 and 1971 wars with India, the uselessness of the defence pacts had become obvious, yet our leaders did not abandon the policy of putting all eggs in one basket. Now they have also bought some of our anchorpersons, analysts and 'brilliant' panelists, who advise Pakistan to obey the super power, even if it is against our national interest. It is well thought out policy that WikiLeaks disclosures are made whenever they wish to put Pakistan on the mat. According to recent WikiLeaks' leaks, the US authorities described Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency as a terrorist organization. The leaked documents distributed by WikiLeaks website stated that "the US saw the ISI as a threat at par with al-Qaeda and the Taliban". Can these 'eminences' understand that the US after facing defeat in Afghanistan is planning to make Pakistan a whipping boy? And god forbid if anything happens to Pakistan, they all stand to lose.
On our home front, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan's tirade against the ISI for intervening in politics provided further 'ammunition' to America's arsenal. It is of course duty of the politicians, writers, analysts and media to criticize and even condemn when pillars of the state and/or institutions transgress their limits and encroach upon other's domains. Some media men while flaunting their independence are carried away by the newly found freedom of speech, and wittingly or unwittingly act in a manner that brings ignominy to the country and its national institutions. We do not hold brief for the military or intelligence agencies, but to accuse the military or agencies of supporting some political parties without any evidence is downright vulgar. Anyhow, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday categorically stated that the country's intelligence agencies were subservient to the government and act under government's instructions and guidance. Speaking in the National Assembly, the prime minister said the country's institutions should not be looked at with suspicion, adding, whatever the intelligence agencies including ISI do it is on the government's instructions.
It has to be mentioned that after 2008 elections the PPP-led government had tried to bring the ISI under ministry of interior on the behest of Pentagon or US administration to make it ineffective. For some weeks now Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of PML-N has started a smearing campaign against the ISI, not realizing that the agency is trying to identify the CIA and Blackwater operatives roaming around the cities of Pakistan. Anyhow, Chaudhry Nisar is once again playing hawk; but the PML-N is likely to lose the support of the people, as it already stands isolated whereby there is hardly a political party of substance that stands with it. According to reports, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was the one who had advised Mian Nawaz Sharif to act tough with civil and military bureaucracy. Of course, Mian Nawaz Sharif got rid of a President, two army chiefs and one chief justice, but ultimately wasted 10 years of his prime life in exile. The timing of Chaudhry Nisar Ali's tirade against the ISI is also wrong when the US has already opened the front with the ISI especially after the Raymond Davis case. Anyhow, the people of Pakistan are angry over the insults being inflicted on this nation by the Americans so blithely.
One is astonished to hear some anchor persons on Pakistani channels saying that "America has a point when it says that Pakistan is only conducting military operation on the militants that pose threat to Pakistan but turns a blind to the Haqqani network holed in North Waziristan". Any patriotic Pakistan would argue that when America and India, who have no borders with Afghanistan, wish to protect their strategic interests in Afghanistan, what is wrong for Pakistan to desire a friendly government next door, which is logical and reasonable. Pakistan, indeed, has genuine concern, as Afghanistan was the only country that had voted against Pakistan's membership in United Nations in 1947, and except for a brief period of Taliban era, the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan remained strained. Yet our pseudo-intellectuals smirk and insinuate Pakistan for finding strategic depth in Afghanistan, which has never been an official policy. Of course, some defence analysts have been using the term but not to convey that Pakistan should maneuver to have a govt of its choice in Afghanistan.
There are indeed patriotic elements in Pakistani print and electronic media who are aware of their national responsibility, and they do not project our enemies' point of view. But there are others who are chivalrous and obstreperous as a result of the newfound media freedom. Pseudo-intellectuals and a few politicians also continue to spread despondency in a bid to prove that Pakistan is a failed state, at a time when India is trying to get Pakistan the stigma of a state supporting and promoting terrorism. However, it is only the urban-centric anchorpersons and their 'brilliant' panelists that remain preoccupied with proving each and every act of the government, military and intelligence agencies wrong. During their TV programmes, they take bleeper from Indian journalists who support their government on every count, but our 'intelligentsia' does not feel qualms over denigrating Pakistan. These anchorpersons and analysts often badmouth the military while discussing Martial Laws of the past, though elected governments, civilian and military dictators were responsible in equal measure for having brought the country to the present pass. There is a perception that elements at the social pyramid - the educated class, pseudo-intellectuals, or intelligentsia both Mandarins and Resistantes - have not performed their rightful duty of providing adequate leads to the overwhelming illiterate and immensely religious hoi polloi.
However, the irresponsible minority needs strong sanctions from within the media to protect the good name and integrity of those who act responsibly. Media in the past had played prodigious role during Pakistan movement in uniting the Muslims of the subcontinent. And it was because of this unity that Muslims of the undivided India were able to carve out a separate homeland under the leadership of Quaid-i-Azam. During 1965 war also, the media had made a commendable contribution towards uniting the nation and boosting the morale of the armed forces.
The result was that Pakistan could resist and repulse attack by India - much larger in size and having enormous resources. At this point in time when Pakistan is confronting challenges to its internal and external security, Pakistani media men should rise to the occasion and play their role to counter hostile Indian and western propaganda and protect national interests. It is not being suggested that they should become embedded journalists and hold brief for the government, military or intelligence agencies, but should act in a responsible manner, which is emblematic of patriotism.
OF STATISTICS; OR A FISHY TALE!
Most tales one comes across these days are fishy. Some, to be sure, are more fishy than others, but fishy nevertheless. One was looking through the archives of the past few years when one came across a fishy tale of immense proportions revealed by the New York Times and emanating from China of all places. One craves the indulgence of the gentle reader to go over some of the details. The tale, then, goes something like this. It appears that for years on end marine scientists had been raising the alarm that far too much fish was being caught from the world's oceans and calling for drastic measures to curb "wide-spread over-fishing". The reported global yield of marine fisheries continued to rise during the decade of 1990s, mainly due to the statistics provided by China. According to the New York Times, evidence surfacing in the 2000s revealed that there had been "substantial over-reporting" during the 1990s mainly by China.
What happened was that, under the communist system of matching result with plan, the same set of bureaucrats was responsible for not only counting the catch but also meeting targets to increase it. So, in typical bureaucratic fashion, they took the easy way out by simply exaggerating the count to meet their allotted goals. As a result, instead of rising by an average of 330,000 tonnes per year since 1988 as recorded in United Nations data, the world catch has actually been declining by an average of 360,000 tonnes per year!
Marine experts expressed the opinion that the findings of the study published in the journal Nature that led to these conclusions have major implications for world food supplies and for the contentious battles to cut back on oversized fishing fleets. The authors of the study note that the greatest impact of the finding that catch statistics have been inflated may be to engender complacency about the state of the world's marine stock and about "over-fishing".
So much for the fishy statistics! Now for the wider implications! Statistics, as is well known, is big business in today's world beset with figures. All the world's plans and strategies have been, and are, based essentially on statistical data. And who supplies this data? They are none other than the petty bureaucrats who are well aware of the powers of their super-pens. One decimal point this way or that can change the fate of the world. Genuine mistakes aside, a deliberate slip of the mighty pen can create nothing less than havoc.
Nature's study of the world's fisheries should now provide the incentive to carry out studies in other vital fields too where faulty statistics, whether willful or accidental, may have resulted in mischief. It should also lead to the obvious conclusion that over reliance on statistical data can prove fatal. If only the international data processing agencies were to look with a wee bit of suspicion at the statistical figures supplied to them, they might discover to their surprise that all that glitters is not gold or even its nearest replica for that matter.
Putting the matter of fisheries aside, one could perhaps turn to a wider canvas and take a closer look at the sorcery of statistics. Statisticians, whose forte lies in juggling with figures, often tend to forget that that figures alone – however impressive – cannot stand on their own. Figures are like the bones of a skeleton that need not only to be fleshed out with facts but also interpreted with circumspection as well as a sense of realism to project the true picture. This latter, regrettably is much too often lacking.
Statistics can be used to prove anything and everything. Figures – taken on their own - can be devastatingly misleading. So-called technical experts have invariably had the regrettable tendency to take undue advantage of the obscure tools of their trade to throw the layman off the right track. Give the statistician (and his cousin once removed – the economist) enough latitude and the two of them between them would weave the rosy web of well-stacked figures to boggle the simple minds of the unsuspecting common folk. We, in the Land of the Pure have spent the better part of our lives being led up the garden path by our economic planners with the help of a web of statistics. Even when the statistics are proffered as proof of the country well on the way to emulate the Asian tigers, the man in the street is left to ponder where his next meal is going to come from. Man cannot live by statistics alone. No wonder, then, that over the ages right-thinking people have invariably looked at statistics and statisticians with a generous measure of suspicion.
If one cares to take a closer look, one finds that modern civilization and all else connected with it are based more on figures and less on facts. As the Chinese fish saga shows, many, if not most, of these figures may be 'doctored' one way or the other. Let us take a recent example. Now that everybody and his uncle have been celebrating the "World Population Day", has a thought been given to what havoc the statisticians may have played with the world population figures? How can one possibly be certain that the population figures put out by a particular government are what they are purported to be? Chances are that the figures may have been subjected to juggling and that too on a massive scale.
Not too very long ago, one had come across a news item relating to the shady exploits of two individuals who were apprehended when trying to sell a quantity of uranium on the black market. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, several similar instances have come to light. All these are cases of juggled statistics in one form or the other. The whole rigmarole of statistics smells fishy, as they say. It is hardly for us lesser mortals to challenge that!
STATE OF EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN
HUSSAIN MOHI-UD-DIN QADRI
Pakistan's education system has failed to equip the youth with the skills necessary for the development of a modern state, society and economy. The government-run schools and colleges educate the vast majority of children. But their performance compared to the private sector educational institutions is rather poor. Since education is a provincial subject after the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, it is yet to be seen whether the provinces have the capacity and necessary resources to manage education in a satisfactory manner. A quick look at the state of education is in order here below: Pakistan is falling significantly short of its constitutional obligation to provide universal primary education. And while the demand for education remains high, poorer families will only send their children to a school system that is relevant to their everyday lives and economic necessities. The failure of the public school system to deliver such education is contributing to the madaris boom as it is to school dropout rates, child labor, delinquency and Crim.
Public school students are restricted to an outdated syllabus and are unable to compete in an increasingly competitive job market against the products of upper class private schools that teach in English, follow a different curriculum and have a fee structure that is unaffordable to most families. The involvement of politics in the education sector created a lot of problems due to the injection of political appointments. This further damaged public education. Many educators, once ensconced as full time civil servants, rise through the system despite having little if any interest and experience in teaching. The widespread phenomenon of non-functional, even non- existent "ghost" schools and teachers that exist only on paper but eat into a limited budget is an indication of the level of corruption in this sector. Provincial education departments have insufficient resources and personnel to monitor effectively and clamp down on rampant bribery and manipulation at the local level.
The public school system's deteriorating infrastructure, falling educational on Pakistan's poor, thus widening the linguistic, social and economic divisions between the privileged and underprivileged and increasing ethnic and religious alienation that has led to violent protests. Far from curtailing extremism, the public school system risks provoking an upsurge of violence if its problems are not quickly and comprehensively addressed.
Private Education Sector is totally commercial-based and the educationists emphasize on the maximizing of profit instead of educating the nation. That's why the whole private school system, colleges and universities are far away from the reach of general public. As a result, today nearly 50 million Pakistanis, half the adult population, cannot even read or write. Female literacy rate is approximately 42 percent which is much lower than male literacy; approximately 65 percent. This disparity is more pronounced in rural areas, where only 31 percent of women are claimed to be literate. We may easily find that some of the major factors that keep children uneducated are limited access to education, teacher absenteeism, low quality of education, poverty, corporal punishment and a high student-to- teacher ratio.
Pakistan's literacy rate is substantially lower than that of many developing nations; only about a fourth of all adults are literate. A significant percentage of those who are literate, however, have not had any formal education. Educational levels for women are much lower than those for men. The share of females in educational levels progressively diminishes above the primary school level. Presently, access to school education is inadequate and there are also gender and rural-urban imbalances, both in the availability and quality of education.
Education remains inequitably distributed among the various regions and income groups in the country. Literacy and participation rates are lower than those of other countries with similar levels of economic development. The target of minimum essential requirement for quality education has not yet been achieved. There are shortages of trained and qualified teachers, especially females. Educational Institutions also lack proper physical infrastructure, and on the other hand some are sub-optimally utilized. Teachers lack training, dedication, motivation and interest in their profession. Curricula, too, are mostly non-relevant to the present day requirements. I would suggest a public-private collaboration to improve the standard of education in the country in addition to making education accessible to people belonging to far flung areas. This collaboration would not only bring in uniformity of structures, curriculum and affordability of fees but also generate enough incomes for both sectors.
At present, the Technical-Vocational Education (TVE) facilities are highly inadequate and there is a dire need to broaden the base of TVE. In order to implement the concept of integration of skill development with the general stream of education, technical stream should be introduced at secondary school level, parallel to science and arts group. To implement this concept, the following steps may be taken:
Introduction of Technical stream in existing high schools. Establishment of Model Technical High Schools. Translation of Technical Syllabus in Native (Urdu) Language. In order to improve the education situation in the country a comprehensive educational revolution is required. We have to analyze the current education system in detail and should address the problems in very adequate, progressive and professional manner.
Education budget may be increased to 3 fold immediately. It should be targeted to be 6% of GNP till 2011. New educational institutions should be launched at all of the primary, secondary and higher education levels. Private sector should also be encouraged to Invest in the education field.
Education structure needs to be up-graded and redesigned according to the needs, and requirements of the nation and the country.
ECONOMIC DILEMMA OF PAKISTAN
SHAUKAT MASOOD ZAFAR
Pakistan is today facing the most critical problems of its history. Economy is terrible, law & order is deteriorating, shortage of water, electricity and other necessities are clearly vanishing. The number of unemployed youth is rising at an alarming rate in the country. The country is facing a complex multi-dimensional governance crisis. Corruption and the bad governance is order of the day. In fact, corruption has emerged as a big issue in Pakistan since the restoration of "democracy" in 1988.
It is the fourth in series of the governments of Pakistan People's Party in center. Whenever PPP came into power it took over without any preparedness to perform the task diligently. It always proved to be unaware how to run the affairs of the country and ruled the country only on the basis of hollow slogans, "accommodating" party loyalists, and pleasing the top leadership. Most of the party loyalists so "accommodated" are not academically qualified to such levels as to hold any important position in the government. When the party comes into power, it has only those poorly educated or not educated at all to run the affairs of the government. In doing so all norms of fairness, honesty, morality, ethics, responsibility and competency were each time regarded as hurdles and were trampled under the feet. Matters have grown worse this time. The state is now malfunctioning. The present government's slide into gross political mismanagement, corruption and indifference is deteriorating its relations with the ordinary people. This seems to be the most incompetent government of all time. It is obvious that the People's Party hasn't learnt any lessons from its previous experiences. The lack of governance and the ineptness can be seen in every sphere of government institutions but no step has been ever taken to improve the situation. Merit and competency is always ignored in all the appointments including heads of autonomous bodies.
Corruption, which has acquired the status of a continental emergency in Pakistan, is considered to be the root cause of poverty, illiteracy, terrorism, shortage of electricity, food etc and lack of good governance, but who cares specially when it relates to the already unfortunate nation like Pakistan. Good Governance flourish in a necessarily corruption free situation. Pakistan is unfortunately way down on the ladder on this account.
According to Shaukat Tareen (ex-Finance Minister), leakages merely in FBR stands between Rs500 billion to Rs750 billion per year. Pakistan loses around Rs600 billion per year due to corruption in tax collection alone whereas irregularities in direct tax stands around Rs150-200 billion per annum. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is another example where a prime national institution is facing financial and administrative collapse. PIA suffered a loss of Rs 13 billion in the year 2007 that rose dramatically to Rs 40 billion in the year that ended in December 2008. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the national cricket team are facing serious allegations of match fixing and corruption. The National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) is another national institution facing doubts about its health and deals concerning government linked individuals, companies and projects.
Energy resources have depleted! Whatever resources are available are simply too expensive to buy or already acquired by countries which had planned and acted long time ago. Delayed efforts in the exploration sector have not been able to find sufficient amounts of energy resources. Airplanes, trains, cars, motorbikes, buses and trucks, all modes of transportation are coming to a stand still. Many industries have closed due to insufficient power supply. Price of oil has gone above the ceiling. At domestic level, alternate methods like solar, biogas and other methods are being tried for mere survival. A whopping Rs 21 billion worth rental power projects have already run into controversy because of the government's mysterious inability to fully utilize the already-installed electricity generation capacity in Pakistan and arm twisting of other Pakistani banks to finance the shady scheme. Senator Tariq Azeem of Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) has disclosed that the government was getting old submarine technology from France while the country had already that technology. The Port Qasim Authority (PQA) is a prime example of influence peddling by politically-linked people in getting posted to lucrative positions. Secretary Finance and Revenue said. "We have put a subsidy of Rs 22 billion in federal budget 2011 to finance pay and pension of employees, fuel, repair of locomotive and rail tracks." he said. But government is facing serious budgetary constraints; therefore it is not possible to finance it through budget. However, commercial loan would help make 150 locomotives operational. Government decisions, in total disregard to merit, fair play and transparency, based on personal monetary gains for a few individuals in the government have grossly compounded the economic miseries of Pakistan and turned several government organizations into insolvent corporate entities, according to an investigation during which dozens of well-placed and informed sources in the government and corporate sectors were interviewed. Positioning of several handpicked corrupt and incompetent officials in key appointments at the government-run companies, in many cases without an active approval of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, has left a trail of incredible cases of corruption never witnessed before. Power vacuum on the streets of Islamabad is visible. Sovereignty and Freedom seem like fabled tales of the past.
SNUBBING THE FALLEN..!
VIEWS FROM ABROAD
"..Nithyananda snubbed at Puttaparthi: Late Sathya Sai Baba's family members ignored Swami Nithyanand's presence and made efforts to see that he wasn't allowed into the Sai Kulwanth Hall through the VVIP entrance…" Mid-Day, 27th April
Poor Swami Nithyanand, looks like he hasn't been forgiven for getting caught in a video portraying his dalliance with a film actress, though somehow I feel that if Sai Baba had been alive he with his known compassion and wisdom would not have been so harsh to the swami, treating him like an outcaste.
A teenager came back from church one day very angry, "Why the long face son?" asked his mother. "I'm not going to church anymore ma," said the boy, "Do you know who I saw there? I saw Uncle Kumar, who I know is having an affair with his secretary, I saw Mr Bernard who was caught by the police for embezzling his company funds, and so many people ma, who are bad and wicked!" His mother smiled and said, "That's why they go to church son, because they know they are bad and wicked and they need God to make them good again!"
Many years ago I had written a play in which an unmarried couple, with the girl six months pregnant, try to gain membership in a church and how the church members refuse, because the girl was pregnant, though unmarried. I had tried to show in the play that God refuses nobody, but it was we who stop others with our holier than thou attitudes.
Another time I served on the board of a ministry, which did social and religious work among prisoners in jails, telling them that whatever their crime, we could help them and God would also forgive them if they had a change of heart and repented for their act. One day while sitting for a meeting, we found a letter asking for help for a job from someone who would soon leave prison after serving his time.
"What is his crime?" asked the Chairman of the Prison ministry. "Rape!" I said. "Then throw the application into the waste paper basket!" said the chairman looking at the others with a smirk, "we don't help rapists!" "Then who do you help?" I asked, picking the application from the ground, "Is it our job to judge, after God has forgiven?" Last month I met an alcoholic who had completely given up drinking, "What was it that actually made you change?" I asked him.
"You friends!" he said, "I couldn't understand why you all were so concerned about me, I felt I was the worst fellow alive, and even as I drank and drank, you all would call and talk to me, visit me, making me feel that maybe I wasn't as bad as I thought I was!"
Yes dear friend, that is what we need to do to those who have slipped or fallen, make them start believing in themselves again, forgive them just like their God has forgiven them, and give them a helping hand, not a kick back into the wayside where they have fallen! Then and only then will there be a parivarthan (transformation) in their lives..!
TIME IS RIGHT TO BANK THE BOOM
IMF SUPPORT FOR SOVEREIGN WEALTH FUND SHOULD BE WELCOME.
Incongruous as it might seem, despite a federal budget deeply in deficit and a significant accumulated government debt, now is a very good time to discuss how Australia should manage its wealth. So while Australians brace for budget cuts from state and federal governments, the International Monetary Fund has added its substantial voice to calls for our nation to establish a sovereign wealth fund. This is a proposal The Australian has strongly supported because we believe it is imperative for the country to lock in the gains of the resources boom for the long term.
The ongoing mining boom and, for now at least, the high Australian dollar are set to deliver bountiful rewards over the coming decade. The numbers involved both now and in future expansions are so large they are difficult for most of us to comprehend. Already the world's largest exporter of coal (more than 300 million tonnes) and third largest of iron ore (more than 400 million tonnes), our growth is gaining increased momentum. This year more than $50 billion is being invested in new and expanded mining developments and next year this will double to around $100bn. These investments will dramatically boost our export volumes and income, producing enormous wealth for our nation by creating jobs, directly and indirectly, and by boosting a range of tax revenues.
The volumes and prices are being sustained by a once in a lifetime economic leap forward in China and other Asian nations. It promises to be a source of immense enthusiasm, innovation and opportunity for us but it won't last forever. That is why a sovereign wealth fund has been suggested by the IMF, business leaders and opposition frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull. We have also learned that Treasury has been evaluating various options for such a fund.
While Wayne Swan will be focused on reining in his deficit, returning the budget to surplus and then starting the hard work of repaying the debt, now is the time to bed down a sovereign wealth plan.
This is not to discount the Treasurer's preferred plan of helping Australian taxpayers increase their own wealth funds through increased superannuation. That is sensible.
But there is room also to consider what amounts to a super fund for our nation which will help iron-out the booms and busts, and stand us in good stead for the future.
BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID
REVELATIONS about the NBN show lack of due diligence.
When a government sets about spending more money on one project than has ever been spent before, the least taxpayers should expect is a bit of due diligence. The latest revelations about the National Broadband Network must elevate taxpayers' concerns about this project to alarming levels. It is astonishing that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and his department could recruit two senior businessmen from the French communications giant Alcatel-Lucent without the most cursory check to reveal the company was subject to a bribery and corruption investigation by US authorities. Even more unbelievable is that the men, NBN Co executive chairman Mike Quigley and chief financial officer Jean-Pascal Beaufret, accepted their roles without thinking to disclose the matter. Mr Quigley and Mr Beaufret are overseeing the allocation and administration of more than $36 billion of public funds and they are being handsomely rewarded for their efforts -- Mr Quigley received $1.8 million last year and Mr Beaufret's salary is unknown. They have now revealed they were not interviewed in the investigations and had no involvement in the matters that led to Alcatel-Lucent being fined $US137m, but given they were senior officers at the corporation during some of the period the alleged offences took place, the investigation must have been of relevance to those making NBN appointments. Especially given the US authorities noted a lack of "sufficient internal controls" at Alcatel-Lucent.
The Australian would expect a government that had been responsible for the management shambles of the home insulation and BER programs would have learned a lesson or two. The planned NBN expenditure dwarfs these projects and already there are significant concerns of a cost blowout. Yet the NBN was commissioned without a cost-benefit analysis, is already running into significant implementation problems and now we learn there was not so much as a Google search to find out about serious investigations relevant to its most significant recruits. We don't suggest any impropriety by these men but we are deeply concerned at continuing revelations detailing a lack of proper government oversight of this project.
As the horror movie promotions say: Be afraid, be very afraid.
REAL COMPASSION IS ABOUT ENCOURAGING EMPLOYMENT
MISSION Australia has helped the disadvantaged since 1859.
Unlike many leaders in the welfare sector whose rapacious demands for ever-larger handouts fail to address the real problems of their clients, Mission Australia chief executive Toby Hall hit the nail on the head when he said the sector should be helping people move off unemployment benefits. Mr Hall was speaking with the voice of experience. In providing practical, compassionate support to more than 300,000 disadvantaged Australians every year, including tens of thousands of the long-term unemployed, Mission Australia staff understand that the best form of welfare is a job.
There is no doubting the state's obligation to help people whose physical and mental disabilities prevent them from working. But the Disability Support Pension, currently $200 a fortnight more than unemployment benefits, has been an inordinate growth area of the budget in recent years. It consumes $13 billion of taxpayers' revenue, with the number of recipients increasing by 43 per cent from 1997 to 2009. On top of the DSP, family benefits and supplements can boost the income of a disability pensioner with two children to about $1240 per fortnight.
As Mr Hall pointed out, about half of the 800,000 DSP recipients should be working. Temporary back problems, stress-related illnesses and other curable conditions are no reason for permanent idleness. Such malaise is bad for individuals and their families. It erodes the confidence of people of working age to be self-supporting, stifles initiative and entrenches dependency. It is bad for the budget bottom line and bad for the wider economy where productivity is impeded by skills shortages. For these reasons, lobbyists such as the Australian Council of Social Service are doing the unemployed and the nation no favours in opposing reform and maintaining the patronising stance that many welfare recipients are incapable of working and paying their way.
In contrast, Mission Australia has a distinguished history of respecting and assisting disadvantaged Australians. As head of research and social policy for the organisation, Anne Hampshire's research consistently confirmed the folly and expense of juvenile detention as opposed to more constructive options such as rehabilitation.
And 11 years ago, the McClure Report, produced by a group chaired by a former Mission Australia chief executive, Patrick McClure, was central to the Howard government advancing its policy of "mutual obligation". It encouraged the government to ensure that single parents receiving welfare undertook job training or employment once their children reached school age.
The Howard government also tightened the criteria for the DSP, but the system remains in urgent need of reform. As Julia Gillard has said, for such reform to be effective, the government will need to provide better employment training. Ms Gillard and Wayne Swan will also need strong determination to resist pressure from those who support the status quo. The fact that the DSP is substantially higher than the unemployment benefit is a real disincentive for individuals to take a job and find themselves on lower benefits if the job fails. The responsible, compassionate approach of Mr Hall is welcome leadership in a sector in need of fresh ideas.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
A SWELL PARTY, BUT WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
THE wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton - henceforth to be called Catherine, if the palace has its way - was planned as a grand occasion. Understandably. Nobody does pageantry better than the British, and seldom have they needed a heart-warming diversion more than they do just now. After the global financial crisis they are facing the harshest economic austerity measures they have experienced since World War II. Only curmudgeons would begrudge them - and the hundreds of millions around the world watching on television - this spectacular party.
The royal family, too, needed a morale booster. Living under the long, dark shadow cast by the messy failure of the marriage of the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, and the early, shocking death of his wife, Diana, embarrassed by the indiscretions of some of its other members, and hounded by tabloid media, the royals required something special to burnish a tainted image. William and Kate, an attractive, apparently level-headed couple, seem ideally suited for the job.
Mind you, they will have their work cut out. When it comes to public relations, the royal family, or its establishment advisers, have a talent for getting it wrong. The heavy-handed decision to pressure the BBC to force the ABC to abandon a planned "alternative" royal wedding commentary by the Chaser team is such a case. The family not only lurched into censorship but, by making a goose of itself, made whatever irreverent send-up the Chaser boys were plotting quite unnecessary.
But that is a side issue. As the trampled bunting is swept from London's streets, the real question is whether the enthusiasm generated by yesterday's hoopla was just a flash in the royal pan. Or can this marriage, as monarchists hope, revitalise the institution of the monarchy and deliver a fatal blow to the republican cause, in Australia and Britain? After all, opinion polls suggest public support for that cause is declining.
There are other reasons for monarchist optimism. Prince William, second in line to the throne behind his father, Prince Charles, and his bride may indeed inject a shot of contemporary relevance into the house of Windsor. In some respects they are a thoroughly modern couple, a break from stuffy, exclusive tradition. She is no girlish, high-bred debutante but a 29-year-old commoner, daughter of self-made, albeit wealthy, parents. Both are university graduates. They lived together before they wed.
The best guess about what will happen next in the royal saga is: probably nothing much in the short term. Given that avowed republican politicians, including the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, are too preoccupied with more immediate problems to address the issue, the former prime minister John Howard may well prove right in his assertion that there will be no Australian republic while Elizabeth II continues to reign. But for monarchists there's the rub. The Queen comes from long-lived stock, and is apparently not attracted to the idea of abdicating in favour of her son. But she is 85. Sooner or later death or disability must strike her down.
When that happens, and after proper mourning for a much loved and dedicated woman, the republican debate will erupt again - particularly if the incurably uncharismatic Prince Charles, he of the doleful countenance and sometimes eccentric views, does succeed to the throne. The anomalies inherent in the monarchical system will then become more glaringly evident.
One is the lunacy that Australians still owe allegiance to a foreign king or queen who lives on the other side of the world and pays us only rare, fleeting visits, waving graciously. Another, in a nation priding itself on egalitarian values, is that the monarchy is hereditary. Worse, under the 1701 British Act of Settlement, the crown passes down according to arcane rules that discriminate on gender and religious grounds.
Under the law of male primogeniture, if yesterday's royal newlyweds produce a daughter or two, and then a son, the son will have precedence in the line of succession. Similarly unacceptable in a multi-religious country, the monarch must be a Protestant. If William or his wife converted to Catholicism, he would forgo any claim to the throne.
True, even if these anachronisms were discarded, it would still be hard to achieve national consensus on how to elect or select a head of state - a difficulty brilliantly exploited by Howard in frustrating the previous republican push here. But however charming the new royal couple may be, the issue cannot be dodged indefinitely.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
PM STRIKES RIGHT BALANCE ON CHINA
JULIA Gillard has worked hard this week to dispel one of the lingering doubts over her stewardship of Australia - that she lacks ''passion'' for foreign policy. The damage was self-inflicted, stemming from a careless comment she made during a television interview last year soon after forming government. The question mark over her interest in Australia's place in the world has become an albatross for the Prime Minister. On her tour of north Asia, Ms Gillard demonstrated that when the situation requires, she can advocate for Australia. How effective her diplomacy will prove is yet to be seen.
China is the most important test. The country of 1.3 billion people is already the world's second-largest economy. Should International Monetary Fund forecasts be accurate, China could overtake the United States as the premier market in as little as five years. China's growth, nothing short of astonishing over the past two decades, will likely provide great wealth to Australia as the major supplier of China's mineral needs. But such benefits are far from guaranteed.
Astute diplomacy is needed to manage Australia's relationship with China. The lure of economic wealth must never blind Australia's leaders - both political and commercial - to the authoritarian nature of the country's political system. The harsh crackdown on dissenting voices in China over recent weeks, in an apparent effort to curb any local repeat of the revolutionary fever sweeping the Middle East, is a depressing reminder of Beijing's inability to balance economic success with personal freedoms. Ms Gillard was right to raise Australia's concern over China's human rights record with the communist leadership.
The response was also sadly predicable. As shown in leaked US diplomatic cables published by The Age this week, China stubbornly refuses to acknowledge any mistakes in its treatment of political dissidents, ethnic minorities or religious groups. Australia's human rights dialogue with China often turned into a shouting match. It is no surprise that Ms Gillard was not able to secure in her meetings with Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao more than an oblique promise that China is not taking a backwards step on human rights issues. Australia must register its concern - but this is not a relationship of equals.
Australia's growing dependence on China for its economic wellbeing will also test Canberra's close ties to Washington. China is growing more assertive in the Asia-Pacific region, bumping into the traditional US sphere of influence built around its alliances with Australia, Japan and South Korea. The potential for conflict is most acute around flashpoints such as Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula, but could manifest in unpredictable ways, as happened following a collision last year between a Chinese fishing vessel and a Japanese coastguard ship.
Ms Gillard adopted a cautious tone in China, a contrast with her effusive and emotional embrace of the US during her recent trip to Washington. Australia has alliance obligations with the US and this is well recognised in China. But this should not be allowed to present Australia as hostile towards Beijing.
ROYAL WEDDING: A PECULIARLY BRITISH DAY
It was a fun day – but the role of the crown in our democracy is as problematic as it was before
Only a churl would deny that the crowds in London and the wider world have just witnessed a sumptuous, spectacular – and very peculiarly British – day. An undeniably affecting wedding between two people who seem nicely primed for their shared future – though who can really say, after last time? An imperishable setting for the ceremonials. Rolling music, sonorous phrases and moments of piercing solemnity. Some great clothes. A post-wedding parade for the ages down leafy avenues. Large and delighted crowds. Huge international interest. Waves of genuine goodwill and enjoyment. And the rain and the rioters both held off.
The cheers and tears of the long-heralded day were not insignificant. But too much should not be read into them. The day was a one-off. It lacked wider significance. The wedding was not a looking-glass event, reflecting the infantilisation of a subject nation. It was a well-managed show on which the curtain rose and then fell. The circus came and went. It did not change anything. Britain is not now a happier or a safer, a more purposive or a less unequal place than it was before Prince William placed the ring on his bride's finger. Yes, we wish them happiness ever after. Yes, it was a fun day. But the questions, both sweeping and specific, which surround the monarchy and the royal family are no closer to being resolved. The place of the crown in our laws, our established faith, our economy and, above all, our democracy is as problematic and as discordant today as before. No Catholic may wear the crown. No daughter, however old, of William and Catherine can inherit before any son, however young. It is all as silly – and as wrong – now as it was before. At the very least, it all needs to change and the changes need to be nailed down before a more wilful and destructive monarch than the present Queen sits on the throne.
There was, all the same, an unmistakable descant to yesterday's cheerfully celebratory spectacular. This was not 1981. It was a recession wedding, not an extravaganza. The difference, though slight in some ways, was there in a palpable touch of austerity in the proceedings. In the choice of the smaller abbey rather than the grandeur of St Paul's. In a beautifully judged wedding dress that, nevertheless, did not seek to outdo and overtrump the frocks and trains of the past. In crowds that, while indisputably large and clearly happy, were neither endlessly stretching nor vicariously hysterical in the way that they may once have been – a disjunction much remarked on by foreign, especially American, journalists who wanted collective drooling to match their own. True, away from the pomp, the country more or less shut down for a couple of hours yesterday. But then life resumed more or less untouched, as it does after a cup final. Shops resumed business. Streets soon reopened. The tumult and the shouting died after a late lunch. The captains and the kings departed in mid-afternoon. And soon there was only Wallace and Gromit to watch on TV.
Britain in 2011 is simply not the same country that it was when this kind of royal event first took on its modern shape a century ago. No empire, of course. Far less military might. No longer the workshop of the world or the monarch of the seas. Freer from hierarchy and convention than before, though. Above all, Britain no longer sees itself reflected or validated in events like yesterday's, enjoyable and splendidly done though it was. Even the enchantment comes on sale or return these days. This is a country where the economy grew by just 0.5% in the first quarter and declined by that amount in the quarter before. That does not mean this should have been or was a hair-shirt royal wedding. But it does mean there is a pretty sensitive market in what the royal firm have to offer. Judge it right – and they mostly did so this time – and we buy. Get it wrong, and we may one day look elsewhere.
NORTHERN IRELAND: SO NEAR YET SO FAR
In spite of Real IRA efforts, this is proving to be one of the most 'bread and butter' elections in modern Ulster history
The Real IRA's threat, made at an Easter Rising commemoration in Derry on Monday, to carry out further "executions" of police officers after the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh this month may lead the unwary to think that nothing has really changed in Northern Ireland. That is, of course, what those who are addicted to republican violence want people to think. But the death this week of William Craig is a reminder of what a false claim it is.
No one who read Mr Craig's obituary can be in much doubt that he was a politician from a departed and unlamented epoch. It was he, as Stormont home affairs minister, whose sectarian ban of a civil rights march in Derry in 1968 triggered some of the earliest significant violence of the renewed Troubles. Four years later, having helped to drive two unionist leaders from power for being too ready to compromise with nationalists, Mr Craig and his Ulster Vanguard brought the politics of neo-nazism, though spiced with a touch of PG Wodehouse's Roderick Spode, back to Ireland, with Mr Craig inspecting lines of thousands of masked supporters and vowing to "liquidate the enemy".
Next Thursday, Northern Ireland voters are set to do something Mr Craig spent his career determined to prevent. This is the fourth Northern Ireland power-sharing assembly election, and the first to take place following a full term of devolved government. It seems likely to produce another term of once-improbable joint loyalist DUP and republican Sinn Féin government, with the two parties again consolidating their electoral holds on their respective communities. If the DUP's Peter Robinson becomes first minister again, as seems probable, the passing of the Craig era will be underscored. It was a young Mr Robinson who ended Mr Craig's career as a Westminster MP back in 1979.
In spite of Real IRA efforts, this is proving to be one of the most "bread and butter" elections in modern Ulster history. Many say it is simply boring – a compliment of sorts. The border now rates only a single line in the DUP manifesto, yet the community divide still defines Northern Irish politics. Next week's election is, as usual, two parallel elections. Peace has brought no electoral thawing. Green bread and butter confronts orange bread and butter.
Nevertheless, according to a fascinating survey this week, many voters in Belfast and Derry have views that are closer to parties on the other side of the sectarian divide than to those on their "own" side. Most reacted with horror to the findings and pledged to stay in their own traditions. One day, perhaps, social class may become the new Ulster divide. But not this year. Much has changed. But the boundaries beloved of Mr Craig and the Real IRA still matter.
UNTHINKABLE? AN AMBEDKAR MEMORIAL
Born 'untouchable', he fought for freedom and emancipation of all castes and helped to draft the constitution of India
Among the most tiresome of all observations made about the royal wedding was that it represented some kind of triumph of social mobility. The new Duchess of Cambridge is the great-great-granddaughter of a coalminer, runs this story, and her mother worked as an air hostess. Never mind that she also went to Marlborough College. Such cant brings to mind a more potent example of social mobility – and of that mobility being put to significant purpose. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born in 1891, an untouchable in an India run by the British – that is to say a subaltern twice over, subjugated by an imperial government and by high-caste Indians. He died in 1956, with doctorates from Columbia University and the LSE. Most importantly, he will be remembered as the emancipator of other untouchables and the jurist in charge of drafting the constitution of the Indian republic. Ambedkar fought for a free India, and for the freedom of all castes within that state. He sought advancement not just for himself, nor for those like him, but also for Brahmins, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists. His time at the bar in London and at the LSE, but most of all his sterling example, surely make him more than deserving of public memorial here. "How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life?" asked Ambedkar. "If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril." His message, intended for 20th-century India, is just as relevant for 21st-century Britain.
THE JAPAN TIMES
LEARNING FROM TRAIN TRAGEDY
Six years have passed since the April 25, 2005, train crash on West Japan Railway (JR West) Co.'s Fukuchiyama Line in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, in which 106 passengers and the driver were killed, and 562 others were injured. In the ensuing years, people have been asking why the accident occurred and how a recurrence of such a tragedy can be prevented.
On April 15, a Japan Transport Safety Board team, consisting of five experts and seven accident survivors and bereaved family members, made a proposal to establish an investigation system that would contribute to improving the safety of public transportation. Wide public discussions should be held on the proposal, which contains very reasonable points.
In a related move, on April 25, JR West and 4.25 Network, a group of family members of the victims, issued a report on their investigation of the accident, which unearthed problems with JR West. The company should make the best use of the findings to enhance the safety of its train operations.
The most important point in the JTSB team's proposal is a call to sever the board's own accident investigation from the investigation of criminal negligence. At present, the entire content of a report on an accident written by the JTSB is submitted to the police and is used as evidence in a criminal trial. Under this system, there is a strong possibility that employees and officials of a company that has become the target of the JTSB's investigation will refrain from telling the whole truth about an accident, fearing that what they say may be used as evidence against them in a trial. This would make it difficult to recommend and take proper measures to prevent a similar accident from occurring in the future.
The JTSB's team proposed that the board should only submit reports on concrete facts related to an accident to the police and should not submit such things as the boards' analysis and assessment of an accident and testimonies by individuals.
The proposal follows the prevalent thinking in the international community that an independent commission or board's investigation into an accident should be aimed at preventing the recurrence of a similar mishap, not at punishing people involved in an accident. The proposal includes compelling a company involved in an accident to take part in the JTSB's investigation with the goal to use its knowledge and expertise to look into not only the direct cause of an accident but also any organizational problems in the company that may have led to an accident. The proposal also calls on the JTSB to reflect what accident victims have "noticed" in the board's investigation.
The team also proposed that not only employees directly involved in an accident but also the company that employs them should face criminal punishment. Behind the team's proposal is the idea that such factors as a company's safety equipment, inadequate training, and its culture and pressure on employees could lead to an accident.
This proposal is reasonable and is a correct response to criticism that the June 2007 report by the then Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission only focused on physical factors that caused the accident. In the scene of the Amagasaki accident, JR West reduced the radius of the curve from 600 meters to 304 meters in December 1996. The train entered the curve, which has a speed limit of 70 kph, at more than 110 kph.
Immediately after the accident, it was suspected that the driver increased the train's speed to make up for a delay that he had caused. It was also pointed out that JR West's "education" of employees who commit errors that lead to delays was so harsh that it led the driver to speed in an attempt to make up time.
In their investigation, JR West and 4.25 Network group delved into the psychology of the driver and factors behind his mental state, and whether JR West's education of an employee who makes a mistake is appropriate. In the report by JR West and the group, JR West did not rule out the possibility that its tight train schedule caused the driver to feel pressured to keep to the strict timetable. JR West president Takayuki Sasaki has said that his company will study the relationship between the train schedule and the driver's mistakes.
This is a step in the right direction by JR West. A survey of JR West drivers by the JTSB team found that about 90 percent felt that the train schedule in question was too tight. In the report, JR West admitted that it had lacked a system to predict potential risks, and that it also lacked the environment in which mistakes could be properly reported to management and the operation control section. It also admitted that it did not have a system to study and understand the importance of human factors in train operations.
To improve safety, JR West must take concrete actions to correct the problematic points disclosed by the report.
THE JAPAN TIMES
THE END OF MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION?
By SERGEI KARAGANOV
MOSCOW — Two years ago in Prague, U.S. President Barack Obama put forward his visionary idea of a world free of nuclear weapons. A year ago, a new strategic arms treaty between Russia and the United States was signed in the same city. Now the wave of support for a full ban on nuclear weapons is being transformed into a debate about nuclear deterrence. Indeed, the four American strategists who first called for "nuclear zero" — Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn — have partly backtracked, and are now calling for an end to the doctrine of "mutual assured destruction."
Unfortunately, their suggestions for accomplishing this are unclear. Their only concrete proposal is asymmetrical cuts of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia and the U.S. But tactical weapons are not a serious threat. Moreover, Russia is not interested in reducing this part of its nuclear arsenal significantly. It needs such weapons to compensate psychologically for NATO's preponderance in conventional forces. More importantly, Russia considers these weapons insurance against the possibility of Chinese conventional superiority.
I doubt the need to dispense with deterrence. After all, it worked successfully for decades: the unprecedented geostrategic, military, and ideological confrontation of the Cold War never escalated into head-to-head warfare. The existence of nuclear weapons also curbed the conventional arms race.
The most important function of nuclear weapons during the Cold War — though little spoken of at the time — proved to be "self-deterrence." Of course, each side considered itself peaceful, and would not admit that it, too, had to be deterred. But the danger that any conflict could escalate into a nuclear confrontation prevented reckless and dangerous behavior on both sides on more than one occasion.
With communism's collapse and Russia temporarily disabled, self-deterrence softened, and the U.S. ran off the rails as the global hyper-power. It behaved in ways that would have been unthinkable before — for example, its attacks on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The latter two wars have been politically self-defeating for the U.S., in addition to costing it trillions of dollars. America is no less militarily powerful nowadays than previously, but it does not look so strong to the wider world.
Nuclear deterrence and "mutually assured destruction" would be passé only if we assumed that we — people, countries, and humankind at large — had become so ideal and humane that we no longer needed self-deterrence. But, unfortunately, we are not such people, and nuclear weapons have played — and continue to play — a civilizing role in international relations: their use would be so horrible that we tailor our behavior accordingly. As a result, we have little fear of World War III nowadays, even though unprecedentedly rapid changes in the global balance of power are creating classic conditions for unleashing it.
After all, the mere possession of nuclear weapons, even if aimed at each other, does not turn countries into enemies. Russian and Chinese strategists assume that part of their countries' nuclear potential may be targeted at the other side. But this does not spoil their bilateral relations; on the contrary, it improves them. Russia, with its formal nuclear superiority, has no serious fears regarding China's military buildup.
In this sense, nuclear weapons facilitate normal international relations, just like a good fence makes good neighbors. Russia and the U.S. must seek to build relations such as now exist between Russia and China, Russia and France, or the U.S., France, and the United Kingdom.
Limited arms reductions might be useful for improving relations. But arms-control talks are built upon the concept of the balance of forces, which is a sure recipe for reviving confrontational and militaristic thinking. The talks on pan-European missile-defense cooperation might come in handy. While missile defense is most likely unnecessary, given the absence of any serious threat, the Obama administration and other American realists — who are aware of the impossibility and uselessness of creating a multi-layered antiballistic missile (ABM) system — need such talks. They must at least pretend that they intend to build it, in order to appease America's powerful nuclear "isolationists," who long for the past age of U.S. strategic invulnerability.
Talk about creating regional, cooperative ABM systems might be helpful in preventing the development of long-range missiles by Europe's neighbors. It might also help Russia and the U.S. overcome their old habit of viewing each other as enemies.
But what is really needed is cooperation where it counts the most: containing instability in the Mideast, ensuring that Afghanistan does not turn into a regional cancer, and preventing a chain reaction of nuclear proliferation in the region.
So far, only the U.S. and Russia — with the assistance, one hopes, of China, India, and the European Union — can hope to address these problems more or less effectively. They can offer security guarantees to responsible countries in the region. Sooner or later, peace will have to be imposed upon the Israelis and the Palestinians, who seem incapable of reaching a settlement on their own.
Similarly, Russia and the U.S. need cooperation, not farcical rivalry, in developing new sea routes and possible energy deposits in the Arctic, and in interacting with China and other Asia-Pacific countries in joint development of the resource potential of Siberia and Russia's Far East. Russia will not be able to develop the region on its own. And developing it with China alone could prove to be a dangerous strategy.
But if the two countries fail to overcome their bad old habits of mutual suspicion, their remaining nuclear arsenals will continue to serve deterrence and self-deterrence. As long as we remain unable to make ourselves think and act in a civilized way, we must ensure that we do not become barbaric.
Sergei Karaganov is dean of the School of World Economics and International Affairs, National Research University-Higher School of Economics.
© 2011 Project Syndicate
cope with the triple crises.
Mr. Kan should not forget that the possibility is now before him that if the opposition parties submit a no-confidence vote, some DPJ members will join them.
THE JAPAN TIMES
NO TIME FOR POLITICAL GAMES AS JAPAN TRIES TO RISE AGAIN
BY KEVIN RAFFERTY
Special to The Japan Times
Hong Kong — Japanese people who have been hit by the triple disasters of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident have been — rightly — praised worldwide for their courage and resilience. In many other places, even one such disaster would have triggered widespread looting if not rioting.
But too many sympathizers have made the blithe assumption that all will be well with Japan, that this resilience, sense of togetherness and fighting spirit will pull the country through this disaster, as it has done through so many other crises since World War II. This is dangerous, the language that turkeys gobble before Thanksgiving: We have been OK before, so we will survive again. Before the earthquake, Japan stood perilously close to several economic and political fault lines: failure to respond adequately to the disasters could push it over the edge.
Postwar Japan was aided by the very devastation of defeat plus a helping hand from the American occupiers and from the canny politics of Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who let the Americans provide the defense umbrella, so that Japan could concentrate on the economy. To be provocative, a more worrying comparison is the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, which killed 120,000 people, and the subsequent political squabbling and uncertain global economic conditions that led to the rise of militarism and war.
Physical and economic damage after the March 11 disasters has been more severe and longer lasting than most experts predicted. The original expectation was that economically at least Japan would dust itself down and get on with life.
But six weeks later, the big motor companies are only just announcing plans to get back to half-time working and don't expect to be at full capacity until at least October because of power cuts and damage to parts suppliers. Global supply chains have been interrupted and companies like Apple, Ericsson and General Motors have suffered shortages of supplies from Japan. Inside Japan, beer, yogurt and bottled water are in short supply, and tourism has taken a major hit.
The OECD in its report issued on April 21 forecast that Japan's growth this year will fall to 0.8 percent before rebounding to 2.3 percent next year, thanks to the boost from reconstruction spending. It is correct to expect reconstruction to help the economy, and one economist suggested that if constructive spending on repairing the earthquake and tsunami damage replaces regular wasteful public spending, this would be a powerful positive boost.
But few economists have grappled with the issue of whether the disasters may trigger a shift in the economic axes. Will Toyota, Nissan, Sharp and other big manufacturers permanently shift production from Japan or radically rethink their "just-in-time" delivery schedules fearing being vulnerable and left stranded again? Will Apple and other international manufacturers respond to the competitive clamor from South Korea and Taiwan and rethink Japan's place in their global production chain?
There has also been little analysis of the longer-term damage that the earthquake caused to power supplies not just to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), owner of Fukushima and the major energy supplier for the damaged region and as far away as Tokyo, had production capacity of 64.5 million kilowatts before the earthquake, but was reduced to 31 million kW after it.
By bringing back retired thermal plants and other devices, Tepco hopes to get capacity up to 46.5 million kW by the end of July, but this still promises a long and sweaty summer for the capital region and its manufacturers and households.
Long after the summer there will still be the vexed question of how to replace the lost capacity, whether to continue with nuclear power, 30 percent of Japan's energy before the disaster and planned to rise to 40 percent, or whether to risk a potentially expensive push for conventional energy.
There is the question of how to pay for the disasters, with costs climbing north of $300 billion. Even though Japan has the highest debts to GDP in the world, more than twice its GDP, most of these debts are owed to its own citizens. Officials are optimistic that the tipping point, when Japanese will refuse to accept low interest rates for lending to the government, has not yet been reached.
The government is thinking of post-quake reconstruction bonds separate from normal borrowings to be paid with fresh taxes, some ministers have suggested by raising the consumption tax from 5 percent to 8 percent. Oddly, opinion polls say 60 percent of the public is in favor of higher taxes to pay for the disasters, but opportunistic turkey-politicians of all opposition parties are lining up to oppose consumption tax increases.
It is a sign that the normal game of parliamentary politicking has resumed as if there had been no earthquake and tsunami, and this is the most worrying sign of all. It would be possible justify either an immediate tax increase or a promise to hold off tax increases until say 2015, provided that there was a credible plan of action embracing political, administrative and economic initiatives for the short, medium and long term.
Long term this would aim ambitiously for Japan's renaissance, including, as the ever-thoughtful Robert Alan Feldman of Morgan Stanley has suggested, radical policies for energy, food and agriculture, health, pensions and social security, administrative reform, productivity and population.
Given threats to Japan's place in the global economy, it should also review education, science, as well as foreign and defense policy in re-examining the country's role in Asia and the world.
But there is no sign of a reconstruction plan or even ideas for one. Instead, Japan's political turkeys are gobbling in the parliamentary backyard about how long Prime Minister Naoto Kan can cling to power. Sadly, there is no one else with greater stature, higher principles, better imagination or superior political skills waiting in the wings, just a barnyard of turkeys. What a way to reward the resilience of the disaster victims.
Kevin Rafferty is author of "Inside Japan's Power Houses."
MAY DAY: SOME MEDITATION FOR WORKERS
The heights reached by great people, not only reached but reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight; but they while their colleagues slept were toiling upward in the night. The symbolism and the heights referred to in these words of wisdom by a poet are not the personal gain or glory, power popularity or prestige that party politicians especially desire, but high principles of living and noble values like selfless sacrificial service to people.
For May Day tomorrow it might be wise for workers to allow a paradigm shift or change of perception to take place and meditate more on their responsibilities than on their rights because the reality is that for most political leaders, workers rights are more like rites. It is an everlasting and undeniable truth that rights are linked to responsibilities. To the extent we fulfil our responsibility to that extent we are entitled to our rights and our needs will be met. The opposite is also true. To the extent we fail in our responsibilities, to that extent we forfeit our rights. Focusing on our responsibilities, workers on this May Day weekend need to reflect on how committed dedicated and honest we are in whatever work we do. Competence and commitment are both vital. Without one or the other the worker will be half baked or half hearted and of little use to himself, herself or to others. Whatever we do, we need to do it well giving our heart and mind to it, then there will be fulfillment for the worker and the expectation of the employer will also be fulfilled. In sincerely doing the duty that we are called upon to do, we need to keep in mind some noble values to reach this goal. As Kipling said in his famous poem, we need to keep our heads above our shoulders while others are losing theirs and blaming it on us. Acting sincerely according to our conscience in the work we do, we need to trust ourselves when others doubt us and more importantly make allowance for their doubting too.
More wisdom for sincere and sacrificial work comes from poets like Robert Lewis Stephenson who tell us that in addition to patience we need perseverance. We need to drive the nail aright and hit it on the head. We need to strike it with all our might while the iron is red. When we have work to do, we need to do it with a will for those who reach the top must first climb the hill. Though we stumble often we need not be downcast because when we try and try again, we will win at last.
As for the party political leaders and the employers big or small, they need to be aware of the fate that befalls those who use, abuse or manipulate workers as tools to achieve their selfish objectives. Party political leaders and employers who underpay and ill treat workers need to be aware that their self-centerdness, selfishness and overpowering desire for self-interest will eventually land them in one hell of a mess.
THE OPPOSITION'S DILEMMA IN HANDLING THE UN PANEL ISSUE
To challenge or to cooperate, what is the Government going to do with the report published by the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General (UNSG) to advise him on the accountability issues during the last stage of the war against the LTTE? Is it going to challenge any follow up moves by the UNSG or any other UN body or does it have any other means to defend itself?
The rhetoric by the ministers at press conferences and public meetings does not seem to serve the purpose of defending the government, since UN can bulldoze through any move by the Government. Those rhetorical remarks would be useful only for the domestic consumption.
The challenges and the rejections in respect of the Panel report by the leaders of the Government have to be treated as mere rhetoric since those who cried foul and threw challenges in a much bigger way earlier when the Panel was appointed meekly submitted when President Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to invite the Panel members to visit the country in September last year.
Also there are reports that a delegation consisted of Attorney General Mohan Peiris, External Affairs Ministry Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe, Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative at the UN Dr. Palitha Kohona and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva who was practically in the battle field during the contentious last days of the war had met the Panel members in New York on February 22.
It is not clear as to why the Government missed two opportunities to present its version on the issues in question by its rejection of the Panel and its report. It could have given its version on the allegations in the Panel against the armed forces by meeting the Panel members, before they compiled the report. That could have prevented the publication of an unchallenged report.
Government could also have presented its side of the story even after the preparation of the report, but before its publication, as suggested by the UNSG. Then the report would have been published along with the Government's counter version. Some ministers now argue that the "chapter is closed" as the UN had said that "establishment of an international investigation mechanism will require host country consent or a decision from Member States through an appropriate intergovernmental forum." However, does it mean that there is an assurance that there wouldn't be an international probe? Or how can the Government get such an assurance?
The Opposition, on the other hand, is too in a dilemma facing the situation in the light of the allegation of human rights violations and war crimes against the Government. In a sense, they are attempting to "light the cigar while the other's beard is on fire" as the Sinhala saying goes. UNP Co-Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa had said that Government has to release jailed former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka to defeat the Panel report. UNP had said that it would be willing to extend its maximum cooperation to the government to deal with international pressure if the government made a determined effort to restore democracy and repeal the draconian laws used by the state to stifle dissent.
The UNP and the JVP seem to attempt to get the suppressions on their political activities by the ruling party eased, using the difficult situation that the Government is in after the appointment of the Panel. However, the insinuation of violation of human rights in their argument itself runs counter to their protest against the Panel report and their implied position that they want to defend the government from the allegation of war crimes by the panel report.
If a government violates human rights of the democratic political parties when they are engaged in ordinary electoral activities and constitutionally accepted protests, as the Opposition parties claim, how would have the same government acted in a brutal war front, one may argue. However, the Opposition parties do not contend to that effect either. They too openly claim that no human rights violations or war crimes were committed by the armed forces during the war against the LTTE, while lashing out the Government for violating their rights and the rights of the IDPs and the Tamil voters.
Ironically, even the JVP, that had faced two brutal state crackdowns in which tens of thousands of its members including it founder leader Rohana Wijeweera perished, argues in favour of the armed forces that fought the LTTE. However, the same party blames the Government now for running a military rule in Jaffna after the war, which the government had vehemently denied.
It seems that both the ruling party and the Opposition are concerned over party politics, and not the national interest.
THE CRISSCROSS OVER LIBYA
Libya is now haunting the West. The NATO's bomb-and-fly away strategy seems to have backfired, as there are no signs of Tripolis early fall.
The embattled leader Col Muammar Gaddafi, who had earlier hinted at bowing down for talks with the rebels, is now dictating more and more terms. This chaos would not have occurred had the Western powers and the United States not indulged in a kneejerk reaction while opting for a military solution over Libya. The British and French obsession to make Gaddafi kneel down has cost the entire region peace and stability. Besides, the oil-exporting country's socio-economic infrastructure has been destroyed beyond recognition. This is in addition to the human exodus that has been rendered displaced and dispossessed.
The persisting military deadlock over Libya is quite problematic. The widening rift between NATO and the US is now no more over attaining a military solution, rather it's on whether to make Gaddafi survive or not. The European powers' contention that their action is not intended for a regime change is untenable. The brutal manner in which civil and governmental installations were hit by NATO sorties, and especially the bombardment of Gaddafi's palace goes on to suggest the obvious. This discord in strategy over Libya is bound to multiply the grievances of the people and keep the country bogged down with the irritants of aggression and civil commotion.
It's high time the African Union and many of the regional members in the Middle East to resort back to addressing the issue in its political context, and immediately broker a dialogue between warring factions. What is really worrisome is the United Nations' mandate to protect the civilians has been thrown to the wind, and targets are now increasingly being chosen in an un-mindful manner. The rising number of casualties that the rebels themselves have faced is a case in point. Though a realistic solution can only be achieved with the exit of Gaddafi, the route to it inadvertently lies in talking it out with the dictator. This is why Russia and the African Union, who have time and again expressed their willingness to mediate, should rise to the occasion and spell out a strategy for defusing the volatility in and around North Africa. One hopes the AU-led talks with the Libyan opposition in Addis Ababa can harness ground for a broader interaction and resolution of the dispute at hand. Khaleej Times
ALL WE TAMILS WANT IS TO LIVE AS EQUAL CITIZENS IN PEACE
An open letter to TNA Leader
Mr. Sambanthan's recent statements disturbed me hence this letter; he is once again stirring up trouble for us who have chosen to live here and in Colombo. Sambanthan has pitched the very same positions as before the war; my understanding is that the war was fought to win for the Tamil people a separate State as the Sinhala people had never conceded anything to us after they grabbed it all with the Sinhala Only Act of 1956. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution was of course a part of the Indo-Lanka Agreement to settle the conflict, Unfortunately it was not implemented because of the war and also because the Sinhala majority government claimed that it was imposed by the Indians on what was a unitary state and that it was a stepping stone to Federalism and then to a Confederacy and finally to a separate state. The whole situation itself came about as a result of the Sinhala people refusing to concede to us equal rights as citizens of our country which is as much ours as it is theirs. It took a war to decide one part of the issue namely that we cannot win our demands through war we the Tamil people have suffered enough we wish to win our just rights by peaceful means and to be left alone to live our lives as equal citizens in peace and security.
But the TNA is demanding that the 13th Amendment which all politicians in the South have virtually rejected in its present form, be implemented fully. My inquiries reveal that the objection to Police powers being devolved is because the interference the police faces already with the politicians. My own people dread the day that a certain Tamil politician becomes Chief Minister in a Provincial Council with Police powers. I too agree that the Police must be under a national Commission headed by three retired Supreme Court Judges; we must have an absolutely independent Police Commission and there must be the other five Commissions as was envisaged in the now defunct 17th Amendment. To have such Commissions may be considered a nuisance by the President but it is most definitely in his own long term interest. Every Commission would also surely have at least two of his nominees who would also safeguard his interests which as a matter of fact should coincide with the national interest.
As for those who never condemned the LTTE for their terrorist attacks or when they killed our own people (including relatives of mine, all Vellalas killed by the Karavas). Do they condemn the killing of Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran, or Neelan Tiruchelvam, they also killed members of other Tamil groups. Did Mr. Sambanthan ever condemn a single terrorist act of the LTTE? NO. Did he ask the LTTE to release our brethren they were holding as a human shield towards the end of the war? And the last straw is him endorsing the Report of Ban ki- moon's panel.
Quite natural it is for people in the West and their governments to have sympathy for the underdog whom they perceive as having been discriminated against. If the government truly wishes to put this horrific chapter in our history behind us, the government should reach out to us the Tamil people in a meaningful way and empower the people to enable us to have a say in our destiny both at the level of the village, the Division, District and Province and most of all at the Center where at least ten Ministries in a Cabinet of Thirty should be reserved for the minorities. All the communities of this country would then be able to say with one voice that we are all Sri Lankans and that we are one Nation.
We Tamils have suffered enough during the past decades, because of this problem — all we want is to live as equal citizens in peace with equal opportunities in this our country. T. KANDIAHs
LEGITIMACY OF THE PANEL WAS QUESTIONABLE
The Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka carefully and comprehensively examined the contents of the UNSG Report submitted to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki - moon on April 12 2011.
At the outset, when the so-called Advisory Panel was appointed in June 2010, the Communist Party through its Political Resolution adopted at its 19th National Congress held in August, 2010 registered its opposition to the appointment of the said Panel. It also warned the people and the Government to "refrain from over-reacting and also not to fall prey to the provocative tactics of the Western Powers, in dealing with matters relating to international affairs". To the Communist Party, the legitimacy of the panel was questionable.
The Communist Party of Sri Lanka also took up the position that even though moves on the part of certain Western Powers, soon after the defeat of the LTTE, to adopt a resolution in UN bodies against Sri Lanka were aborted, they would still continue with their political agenda with charges of war crimes against Sri Lanka.
The Communist Party was well aware of the fact that these moves were motivated and dictated by their global strategies and geo-political interests and not by humanitarian considerations or through compassion or love for the Tamil people.
In this connection, the Communist Party wishes to recall how in the last phase of the conflict, attempts were made by those forces to intervene or mediate in order to prevent a total defeat of the LTTE. It was the considered view of the Communist Party that these forces frustrated by their failure to intervene would pursue their political agenda to destabilize Sri Lanka or effect a regime change in Sri Lanka. This has been proved by their undignified behavior since the defeat of the LTTE, and in particular during the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections.
As regards the contents of the so-called Advisory Report or Moon report, they are based on unsubstantiated evidence, manufactured stories, rumours, information fed by pro LTTE NGOO and INGOO, exaggerations, imaginations etc. As such, grave charges framed against a Sovereign country by an unauthorized external panel do not deserve to be even entertained by an authoritative body of the UN.
The illegitimate Advisory Panel, has mischievously but cleverly overlooked the historical background of the four Eelaam Wars from 1983 — 2009, failures of peace processes, nature and strategies of LTTE terrorists and their despicable record of killings and destructions, and untold suffering caused to the people for three decades.
The Panel has safely discarded the undeniable fact that the security forces bravely secured the lives of nearly three hundred thousand civilians trapped up in Mullaitivu who were used by the LTTE as human shield. The enormous rehabilitation and resettlement work done in the aftermath of the conflict or the present ground realities of the war-stricken areas has been completely ignored in their assessment of the post-war situation. The fact that over 7,000 former LTTE cadres apprehended have already been released after rehabilitation has been treated totally irrelevant. The absence of terrorist activities since the defeat of the LTTE demonstrates the stark fact that the source of violence had been them.
The so-called Advisory Panel Report has in effect only re-opened the old wounds and hindered the process of reconciliation under way. It seeks to cause further divisions within the Sri Lankan community once again. It tends to provoke people and push them again towards confrontation arid violence. It strengthens the forces of chauvinism. It has given a moral boost-up to the LTTE Diaspora as evident from their own responses to the Report. Releasing an unauthorized report without the expressed sanction by an authoritative body of the UN with grave charges against a sovereign country has only contributed to the escalation of tension in the country and in the region. In this regard, the Communist Party condemns the irresponsible and undignified role of the UN Secretary General.
The Communist Party calls upon the peace loving Tamil people not to allow themselves to be exploited by the Western Powers or to be carried away by illusions created by them whose sole objective is to strengthen their global strategies and secure their geo-political interests.
Senior Minister DEW
Communist Party of
DOMESTIC DOCUMENT, NOT A UN DOCUMENT
The Mahajana Eksath Peramuna is of the considered view that the so called advisory document of the so called expert panel comprising 'of three persons is wholly substantially and entirely is a result of personal exercise on the part of Mr Ban Ki-moon -Secretary General of United Nations.
This document which is otherwise known as the advice of aforesaid panel of experts is personal to Mr. Ban Ki-moon. It is in no way related to the United Nations. Any attempt to give this advice a UN flavour is both mischievous and derogatory of the UN itself. It is inconceivable that a person of Mr. Ban Ki-moon's standing could have condescended himself to releasing the document by publicizing it through his office.
Mahajana Eksath Peramuna roundly condemns this document and heats it with the contempt that it deserves. The advisory document which has now been published is false and malicious, and suggestive of a treacherous exercise of the part of divisive LTTE fellow travelers. The utterances of some of these fellow travelers in USA few days prior to this necessarily lead to the inference that they have obtained foreknowledge of this so called report.
Ban Ki-moon has deliberately suppressed one important fact namely that pursuant to the terrorist attack 9/11 on twin towers that the United Nations passed a resolution giving mandate for the elimination of terrorism by all member countries. Sri Lanka successfully carried the humanitarian effort in (2009) defeating barbaric LTTE terrorism which had also been banned in many countries.
In the final stages of the humanitarian efforts there was a mass exodus of escapees (nearly 300,000) from LTTE brutality, unprecedented in hitherto recoded history. They were provided with all facilities and protection by the Government of Sri Lanka speedily to establish them once again in their livelihoods. This laudable humanitarian exercise has been given a malicious and perverted twist in this document.
Furthermore behind the façade of this so called document there appears a sinister move to fault our Head of State our President in an International Forum.
This written advice is neither apart of UN deliberations nor a product of any specialized committee of the UN. It is very pertinent at this juncture to recall the memory of Mr. Ban Ki-moon to the fact that the United Nations Committee on Human Rights in Geneva had unequivocally rejected a resolution that was moved against Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the successful conclusion of the humanitarian efforts in Sri Lanka.Be that as it may the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna deplores any move overtly or covertly in monkeying with the Sovereignty of Sri Lanka. In the ultimate analysis this exercise lays bare the attempt to reintroduce western hegemony and imperialist control over emerging sovereign nations which has thrown away shackles of colonialism and rejected imperialist overtures.
Having defeated the brutal treacherous divisive LTTE terrorist and fellow travelers President Mahinda Rajapaksa with assistance of all democratic and patriotic forces ushered-in an era of peace, ensured the right to liberty and right to life of all communities - inclusive Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burghers and Malays. And presently is consolidating this position by reconciliation, reconstruction and development, in all fronts for lasting peace and amity among all sections of the country.
MEP is of the view that the very act of publicizing a copy of the personal advice given to Mr. Ban Ki-moon by his handpicked panel, which is a domestic exercise of three persons, is undoubtedly mischievous. This is mad with a view to promoting distrust, misunderstanding, disharmony, discredit and checkmate all development efforts carried out in good faith in furtherance of the commitments of the Government of Sri Lanka.
Mr. Ban Ki-moon has conveniently forgotten some very important facts. The humanitarian mission in Sri Lanka to rid the country of the scourge of terrorism was overwhelmingly endorsed at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
This document is been used as a sinister devise of preempting the outcome of the LLRC which has been sitting in all parts of the country and the report of which is awaited at the conclusion of its mandate.
Mahajana Eksath Peramuna has taken a consistent stand in altering the country and the people of inroads to our sovereignty, liberty, territorial integrity and unitary state of Sri Lanka.
MEP Central Committee stands to resist any attempt on our Head of State President Mahinda Rajapaksa and attempts to infringe on the sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and unitary state of Sri Lanka together with, the People of Sri Lanka, and friendly nations.
Mahajana Eksath Peramuna
PLANTERS ASSOCIATION REPLIES
Following is a statement sent by the Planters Association and Employers Federation in reply to the article 'Family Based Wage System Deceives the Plantation Community,' by Rev. Fr. S. Guy de Fontgalland, published in the Daily Mirror on April 08 and 09.
The writer of the article says the family is the unit of wage determination in the estate sector. The Planters Association (PA) would like to clarify that this is no longer the case today. Workers are treated as individual employees. However, due to historical associations plantation workers reside in their place of employment and more than one member of a family may work in an estate. Due to this residential system, the plantation industry is the only industry in Sri Lanka, and perhaps the world, that assures employment for children of employees.
The PA and EFC would like to clarify that delays in wage negotiations are due to unavoidable circumstances. In 2009, the delay was due to the global recession that caused tea prices to crash 50 per cent below cost of production, making the situation unsuitable for wage negotiations.
The writer infers that pay slips of workers are complex and inaccurate. The PA would like to place on record that today, pay slips used by Regional Plantation Company (RPC) estates contain detailed information in the preferred language of the employee. All deductions, other than the mandatory and statutory deductions, are made on the explicit, written requests of employees with approval from the Assistant Commissioner of Labour.
The PA would like to clarify that there are only two categories of workers in plantations - casual and registered workers. Both categories are treated equally on statutory benefits. Most of the contract work on estates is done by the resident registered, or casual workers.
The PA would like to establish that no person is forced to work in any RPC estate in this day and age. Through the norm work system, it is possible for RPC estates to adjust the plucking requirement and workload of employees to minimise extreme income fluctuations. The PA can also produce data to show that all RPCs have offered more than 300 days of work per year. However, in most cases, workers do not report to work. The average work attendance is around 60% in the sector.
While claiming exploitation by plantation companies, the writer does not mention that many persons living in RPC estates actually work outside - in neighbouring towns, in Colombo and even go abroad for work - while enjoying the benefit of land and housing provided within the estate, at the cost of the estate. Only 25% of the plantation community work on their estates. However, plantation companies support the maintenance of essential facilities for 75% of the population that do not work in their estates.
The article notes that the public sector has a monthly minimum wage of Rs.16 980 and more than 40 statutory holidays. The PA would like to point out that each plantation worker has the opportunity of earning a minimum of Rs. 11,193 per month, with EPF, if they work 25 days per month. In fact, most pluckers earn much more due to incentives for plucking above the norm. Estates have reported some pluckers receiving as much as Rs. 40,000 in some months and others receiving double the minimum wage for the month. Therefore, plantation workers are not the lowest paid in the country.
In setting wages, plantation companies have to consider the capacity of the industry to pay. RPCs cannot expect the government to bail them out in times of crisis and must generate sufficient revenues to maintain employees and to invest in the industry, to ensure sustainable livelihoods. It should be noted that even during the biggest crisis in the 140 year old plantation industry's history, experienced during the global recession in 2008/9, not a single worker was laid off by plantation companies. This is despite the large losses incurred by the companies.
The PA is confident that the plantation industry will continue to retain its sustainability focus into the future, while ensuring fair wages for its workforce.
GULF DAILY NEWS
MEDIA MOVES THE MASSES
BY PAUL BALLES
WHEN Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media was published in 1964, it provoked rave reviews and infuriated rage.
W Terence Gordon noted: "In the 1960s McLuhan's theories aroused both wrath and admiration. Today few would dispute that mass media have indeed decentralised modern living and turned the world into a global village."
According to McLuhan, a medium is any extension of ourselves. A hammer extends our arm and the wheel extends our legs and feet. Each enables us to do more than our bodies could do on their own.
Similarly, the medium of language extends our thoughts from within our mind to others.
"It is only too typical," wrote McLuhan, "that the 'content' of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium."
The invention of the Gutenberg Press changed the scale of information available to the world.
Books became available to the masses. In the following years, literacy jumped from almost zero as many learned to read and then write.
That led to the ability to write letters, meaning those who could write no longer had to depend on travel and personal visits to communicate.
It's not the content or use of the print media, but the change in inter-personal dynamics that innovation brings with it.
Consider other innovations in media and their effect.
Mark Federman observes: "A theatrical production is not the musical or the play being produced, but perhaps the change in tourism that the production may encourage.
"In the case of a specific theatrical production, its message may be a change in attitude or action on the part of the audience that results from the medium of the play itself, which is quite distinct from the medium of theatrical production in general.
"Similarly, the messages of a newscast are not the news stories themselves, but a change in the public attitude towards crime, or the creation of a climate of fear. A McLuhan message always tells us to look beyond the obvious."
The advent of reporting and writing for newspapers and magazines made news and ideas more widely available than did the printing of books.
At the time these changes were taking place, few people looked ahead and anticipated how the new media would change the way people lived and learned.
Hindsight reveals that the introduction of TV had even broader than anticipated consequences on the way we live.
Suddenly, we were watching the world go by instead of reading about it and imagining its appearance.
The Internet seduced millions away from hours in front of TV screens to computers, from programmes fed by TV networks to personally chosen information sources and time spent online.
But before we could catch our breath from the Internet's web of information sources, we are now experiencing the incredible effects of social networking.
Television is no contest for Twitter and Facebook, which do not come under the same levels of control as mainstream media.
Social media has also reduced the time people give to old reading habits.
Meanwhile, we now have no time for long political rants. Election campaigns are now organised and promoted through social networks.
People are no longer passive viewers, but have become broadcasters by uploading their own images and videos to get their message to the online world.
The irony is that recognised TV networks now find themselves playing catch-up and when they do carry the story, they often do so badly.
U.S. RETHINKS STRATEGY: WAR AS OPPORTUNITY IN LIBYA
BY RAMZY BAROUD
The brutality of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and his refusal to concede power, is costing Libya much more than innocent lives. The country is now also facing a possible loss of future independence and sovereignty. From its early days, the Libyan revolt seemed to take a difference course than those of other Arab countries. It represented a window of opportunity for the United States and its western allies to reposition themselves, slowly but surely, around a conflict that promised grueling and bloodier times ahead.
A visit by Republican Senator John McCain to Benghazi on April 22, was described by a CNN online report as "a major morale boast" for the Libyan rebels. His arrival followed a U.S. decision to deploy predator drones to Libya, thus promising a greater American role in the war. According to McCain, drones are not enough, and more will be needed to break the "significant degree of stalemate." He described Benghazi as a "powerful and hopeful example of what a free Libya can be."
A small crowd chanted as the U.S. senator met with members of the Transitional National Council: "Thank you John McCain! Thank you Obama…Thank you America! We need freedom! Gaddafi go away," according to the same report.
This decidedly American push has already inspired many neoconservative ideologues who unfailingly endorse war against any Arab or Muslim country that fail to tow their line. A major hub for U.S. intervention -- most often in support of Israeli interests -- is the American Enterprise Institute, credited for introducing many suspicious characters to Iraq following the ousting of Saddam Hussein. AEI scholar Michael Rubin said that the visit by McCain "brings more limelight to the rebels." But Rubin wants even more than this. "If McCain can meet the people for whom we are fighting, why not Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Why not Vice President Joe Biden?"
There are many indications to suggest that the U.S. is upgrading its involvement in the Libyan war, following a brief period of political and military vacillation. Much talk of a pending stalemate in the unfair fight between poorly armed rebels and Gaddafi's forces preceded the actual standoff on the ground. With no meaningful Arab action, and NATO's choosy military involvement proving to be largely ineffective, the U.S. is now being urged to 'do something.'
'Doing something' is, of course, a difficult endeavor in a highly volatile political season in Washington. As miscalculations can be decisive factors in winning or losing elections, the Obama Administration is trying to play its cards right, moving towards more tangible involvement in Libya, but with much caution. What is clear, however, is that the involvement will be more visible than before.
McCain's visit is significant, not just because of his political seniority, but also owing to his former 'war hero' status. In Washington, military men are more trusted than politicians. As he ushered in greater American involvement in Libya, Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was contributing to the built up of rhetoric from Baghdad. The situation in Libya is "certainly moving towards a stalemate," he told US troops during a visit. "Gaddafi's gotta go…(and coalition actions)…are going to continue to put the squeeze on him until he's gone," he said, according to Reuters (Washington Post, April 22).
Gaddafi's brutal treatment of civilians made their protection a top priority for the country's rebels. Benghazi-based rebel-spokesman, Abdul Hafidh Ghoda, told Aljazeera: "There's no doubt that (the U.S. decision to send unmanned drones) will help protect civilians, and we welcome that step from the American administration."
But since the destruction of "somewhere between 30 and 40 percent" of Gaddafi's ground forces (according to Mullen's estimation) achieved very little by way of protecting civilians, more steps are expected from the Obama Administration.
Now we are witnessing a jubilant return of previously muted calls for interventionism and regime change in favor of U.S.-style democracy. While Libya may not have specifically fallen under the Washington radar, it now presents an opportunity too good to miss.
This realization might challenge President Obama and force him to revise an earlier claim that the U.S.'s goal was not regime change in Libya. In a televised speech on March 29, Obama said, "If we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground to accomplish that mission or risk killing many civilians from the air."
But yet again, a stalemate might end up splintering Libya itself. The U.S. and its allies would either accept a divided Libya -- and exploit this division whenever possible -- or raise their involvement to break the deadlock. If they opted for the latter, there is already much rhetoric to support an upgrade in the military mission. "Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye (to) atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different, and as president I refuse to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action," Obama said.
A U.S. victory over Gaddafi may be seen as an opportunity to boost Obama's faltering reputation just in time for the 2012 presidential elections. But history has repeatedly shown the high cost of political and military arrogance. Obama himself admitted that in Iraq, "regime change…took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly $1 trillion. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya."
Since the military plunder in Iraq, the U.S. has resorted to softer and increasingly clandestine methods to destabilize 'unfriendly' countries. Recent WikiLeaks revelations show that Syria was always positioned as one of these targets. Libya seemed too stable and somewhat too distant from recent U.S. foreign policy estimations. However, the ongoing violence in the country, and fear of the long-term repercussions of a military stalemate, could change all of that.
In Washington, mood swings occur too quickly and too often. Political opportunists know well how to turn a challenge into an opportunity, and an opportunity into an all-out war.
- Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com
THE AFRICAN 'STAR WARS'
BY PEPE ESCOBAR
From energy wars to water wars, the 21st century will be determined by a fierce battle for the world's remaining natural resources. The chessboard is global. The stakes are tremendous. Most battles will be invisible. All will be crucial.
In resource-rich Africa, a complex subplot of the New Great Game in Eurasia is already in effect. It's all about three major intertwined developments:
1) The coming of age of the African Union (AU) in the early 2000s.
2) China's investment offensive in Africa throughout the 2000s.
3) The onset of the Pentagon's African Command (Africom) in 2007.
Beijing clearly sees that the Anglo-French-American bombing of Libya -- apart from its myriad geopolitical implications -- has risked billions of dollars in Chinese investments, not to mention forcing the (smooth) evacuation of more than 35,000 Chinese working across the country.
And crucially, depending on the outcome -- as in renegotiated energy contracts by a pliable, pro-Western government -- it may also seriously jeopardize Chinese oil imports (3 percent of total Chinese imports in 2010).
No wonder the China Military, a People's Liberation Army (PLA) newspaper, as well as sectors in academia, are now openly arguing that China needs to drop Deng Xiaoping's "low-profile" policy and bet on a sprawling armed forces to defend its strategic interests worldwide (these assets already total over $1.2 trillion).
Now compare it with a close examination of Africom's strategy, which reveals as the proverbial hidden agenda the energy angle and a determined push to isolate China from northern Africa.
One report titled "China's New Security Strategy in Africa" actually betrays the Pentagon's fear of the PLA eventually sending troops to Africa to protect Chinese interests.
It won't happen in Libya. It's not about to happen in Sudan. But further on down the road, all bets are off.
Meddle is our middle name
The Pentagon has in fact been meddling in Africa's affairs for more than half a century. According to a 2010 U.S. Congressional Research Service study, this happened no less than 46 times before the current Libya civil war.
Among other exploits, the Pentagon invested in a botched large-scale invasion of Somalia and backed the infamous, genocide-related Rwanda regime.
The Bill Clinton administration raised hell in Liberia, Gabon, Congo and Sierra Leone, bombed Sudan, and sent "advisers" to Ethiopia to back dodgy clients grabbing a piece of Somalia (by the way, Somalia has been at war for 20 years).
The September 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS), conceived by the Bush administration, is explicit; Africa is a "strategic priority in fighting terrorism".
Yet, the never-say-die "war on terror" is a sideshow in the Pentagon's vast militarization agenda, which favors client regimes, setting up military bases, and training of mercenaries -- "cooperative partnerships" in Pentagon newspeak.
Africom has some sort of military "partnership" -- bilateral agreements -- with most of Africa's 53 countries, not to mention fuzzy multilateral schemes such as West African Standby Force and Africa Partnership Station.
American warships have dropped by virtually every African nation except for those bordering the Mediterranean.
The exceptions: Ivory Coast, Sudan, Eritrea and Libya. Ivory Coast is now in the bag. So is South Sudan. Libya may be next. The only ones left to be incorporated to Africom will be Eritrea and Zimbabwe.
Africom's reputation has not been exactly sterling -- as the Tunisian and Egyptian chapters of the great 2011 Arab Revolt caught it totally by surprise. These "partners", after all, were essential for surveillance of the southern Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
Libya for its part presented juicy possibilities: an easily demonized dictator; a pliable post-Gaddafi puppet regime; a crucial military base for Africom; loads of excellent cheap oil; and the possibility of throwing China out of Libya.
Under the Obama administration, Africom thus started its first African war. In the words of its commander, General Carter Ham, "we completed a complex, short-notice, operational mission in Libya and… transferred that mission to NATO."
And that leads us to the next step. Africom will share all its African "assets" with NATO. Africom and NATO are in fact one -- the Pentagon is a many-headed hydra after all.
Beijing for its part sees right through it; the Mediterranean as a NATO lake (neocolonialism is back especially, via France and Britain); Africa militarized by Africom; and Chinese interests at high risk.
The lure of ChinAfrica
One of the last crucial stages of globalization -- what we may call "ChinAfrica" -- established itself almost in silence and invisibility, at least for Western eyes.
In the past decade, Africa became China's new Far West. The epic tale of masses of Chinese workers and entrepreneurs discovering big empty virgin spaces, and wild mixed emotions from exoticism to rejection, racism to outright adventure, grips anyone's imagination.
Individual Chinese have pierced the collective unconscious of Africa, they have made Africans dream -- while China the great power proved it could conjure miracles far away from its shores.
For Africa, this "opposites attract" syndrome was a great boost after the 1960s decolonization -- and the horrid mess that followed it.
China repaved roads and railroads, built dams in Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia, equipped the whole of Africa with fiber optics, opened hospitals and orphanages, and -- just before Tahrir Square -- was about to aid Egypt to relaunch its civilian nuclear program.
The white man in Africa has been, most of the time, arrogant and condescending. The Chinese, humble, courageous, efficient and discreet.
China will soon become Africa's largest trading partner -- ahead of France and the UK -- and its top source of foreign investment. It's telling that the best the West could come up with to counteract this geopolitical earthquake was to go the militarized way.
The external Chinese model of trade, aid and investment -- not to mention the internal Chinese model of large-scale, state-led investments in infrastructure -- made Africa forget about the West while boosting the strategic importance of Africa in the global economy.
Why would an African government rely on the ideology-based "adjustments" of IMF and the World Bank when China attaches no political conditions and respects sovereignty -- for Beijing, the most important principle of international law? On top of it, China carries no colonial historical baggage in Africa.
Essentially, large swathes of Africa have rejected the West's trademark shock therapy, and embraced China.
Western elites, predictably, were not amused. Beijing now clearly sees that in the wider context of the New Great Game in Eurasia, the Pentagon has now positioned itself to conduct a remixed Cold War with China all across Africa -- using every trick in the book from obscure "partnerships" to engineered chaos.
The leadership in Beijing is silently observing the waters. For the moment, the Little Helmsman Deng's "crossing the river while feeling the stones" holds.
The Pentagon better wise up. The best Beijing may offer is to help Africa to fulfill its destiny. In the eyes of Africans themselves, that certainly beats any Tomahawk.
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times (www.atimes.com). His latest book is Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Source: The Al Jazeera)
Photo: (L-R) CIA Director Leon Panetta speaks as Army General David Petraeus and Marine General John Allen listen during an event to announce national security personnel changes at the East Room of the White House on April 28, 2011 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama has tapped current Panetta to succeed Robert Gates as the next Secretary of Defense, General David Petraeus to be the next CIA Director. (Getty Images)
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