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month may 14, edition 000832, 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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- TAMASHA AS POLITICS
- A WISE VERDICT
- REALITIES OF GEOPOLITICS - PREMEN ADDY
- 'RED FORT' IS BREACHED - ARINDAM CHAUDHURI
- MUMBAI MUSINGS - ANURADHA DUTT
- CONGRESS REMAINS PRECARIOUS - KALYANI SHANKAR
- 1982 revolt reverberates in Syria
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- RING OUT THE OLD
- ASIAN POWER PLAY, POST-OSAMA - NAYAN CHANDA
- THE MIGHTY ARE FALLEN - MAHESH RANGARAJAN
- IT WILL EASE THE TAXPAYER'S BURDEN
- MOTHER OF PARLIAMENTS NOT A THEME PARK - DEEP K DATTA-RAY
- THOSE SMALLER BIG PLAYERS
- NEW RULES FOR A VERY OLD GAME - ASHOK MALIK
- TURN, TURN, TURN - MUKUL KESAVAN
- THERE'S SOMEONE LISTENING - NAMITA BHANDARE
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- A FISTFUL OF HOPE
- HISTORIC FRIDAY
- KABUL CORRECTIVE
- JANTAR, CHHU MANTAR - SHEKHAR GUPTA
- THE DIE IS CAST - PRANABDHALSAMANTA
- MANDATE FOR THE FUTURE - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
- BREAKING OUT OF THE RED COCOON - MIHIR S SHARMA
- WHO NEEDS THE OTHER MORE, THE CONGRESS OR THE DMK? - COMI KAPOOR
- THE DAY AFTER - RUCHIKA TALWAR
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- CORRUPTION, COMPLACENCY
- BELIEVE THE IIP IF YOU WILL
- AFTER THE POLL, THE INEVITABLE TOLL - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- FROM RABBLE-ROUSER TO GIANT KILLER - SUDIPTA DATTA
- JUST DESSERTS IN TAMIL NADU
- A CASE FOR RESTRAINT AND MODERATION - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
- SHADOWY COURIERS WERE OSAMA'S STRENGTH, UNTIL ONE GAVE HIM AWAY - KATYAYANI MURTI
- MARGINAL-ISED IN KADAPA - P. SAINATH
- BIN LADEN WIDOWS QUIZZED BY U.S. AGENTS
THE ASIAN AGE
- LEFT'S DEFEAT EPIC, BREATHER FOR CONG
- WARNING BELLS - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
- MAMATA PAINTS BENGAL GREEN - ANTARA DEV SEN
- HITLER IN ABBOTTABAD - FARRUKH DHONDY
- J&K ON UPSC MAP
- ANTI-ADULTERATION DRIVE
- AL-QAEDA WILL NOT GO AWAY EASILY - BY ML KOTRU
- SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE THROUGH WATERSHED MANAGEMENT - BY PROF. (DR.) R. D. GUPTA
- STRATEGIC AUTONOMY - BY KANWAR SIBAL
- STEAMROLLER VICTORIES
- THE BJP DRAMA IN PUNJAB
- ECONOMIC WOES OF THE US - BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
- WITH LOVE TO SHAAM - BY VINOD PRAKASH GUPTA
- THE SOLDIER AS A DIPLOMAT - AIR MARSHAL R.S. BEDI (RETD)
- DEMOCRACY AND REPUBLIC - T N NINAN
- FINANCIAL MARKET BEHAVIOUR - PARTHASARATHI SHOME
- WHY PROPERTY IS HOT, AND DIRTY - SUNIL SETHI
- THE TERROR TRAIL - K NATWAR SINGH
- IS PAKISTAN ON THE BRINK? - V V
- GEHLOT NEEDS A MAKEOVER - ADITI PHADNIS
- THE MESSAGE FROM KABUL - SHANTHIE MARIET D'SOUZA
- A VOTE WITH A PUNCH
- MONEY CAN'T BUY YOU VOTES - M. R. SUBRAMANI
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- NOW, GO GOVERN
- INDUSTRY DECELERATES
- BLOOMING REVOLUTION
- LEADING INDIA TO A NEW WAY
- 'ARAB WORLD HAS JETTISONED BIN LADENISM'
- ULLEKH N P
- GO THREE-TRACK ON PAKISTAN - RAJIV JAYARAM
- LEFT ROUT AT KALIGHAT
- THE VERDICTS…
- HUMILIATION IN ANDHRA
- WATERSHED ELECTION - BY RAVINDRA KUMAR
- WOMEN OF THE MOMENT - SEEMA MUSTAFA
- GRAPES OF WRATH - ML KOTRU
- ON RECORD
- MAKING HISTORY
- FIRST PURGE, THEN CHANGE
- AFTER VICTORY WHAT? SOME AGENDA FOR DIDI
- BUT WHAT ABOUT LAND?
- ON BEING A SARDARJI - KHUSHWANT SINGH
- LEFT OUT
- HEED THE ORDER
- JAPAN'S CRISIS - RAJARAM PANDA
THE NEWYORK TIMES
- ONE YEAR AND MANY BILLIONS LATER
- THE ENSIGN INVESTIGATION, TO BE CONTINUED
- PAKISTAN AFTER BIN LADEN
- A TRUE FINNISH SPRING - BY ANU PARTANEN
- H.I.V. S O S - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
- VOLUNTEERS AND VICTIMS - BY JIA TOLENTINO
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- TOGETHER AGAINST MURDERS OF WOMEN - GİLA BENMAYOR
- HUMBLE ADVICE TO EUROPEAN WOMEN ACTIVITS - BARÇIN YİNANÇ
- A MERGER AND ACQUISITION IN THE BUSINESS OF TERROR - DAVID JUDSON
- JUST STOP KILLING YOUR PEOPLE, MR ASSAD - MUSTAFA AKYOL
- ON GROWTH AND GROWTH DISORDER - CENGİZ AKTAR
- THE CORRIDOR - LOCAL LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM VIDEO TAPE POLITICS - GÖKSEL BOZKURT
- ANKARA CATCHES UP WITH THE DAY, IT IS TIME FOR TOMORROW - İLHAN TANIR
- IF THE BALD MAN HAS CREAM TO HELP HAIR GROW - YUSUF KANLI
- WATER WARS
- THE TALIBAN'S REVENGE
- WAKE UP AND DUMP PETTY POLITICS - ZAFAR HILALY
- SELF-DEFEATING INTERESTS - SALEEM SAFI
- THE DEVOLUTION DISASTER - MALIK AMIN ASLAM KHAN
- TO RUSSIA, WITH FRIENDSHIP - TAYYAB SIDDIQUI
- FACELIFT OR OVERHAUL? - BABAR SATTAR
- MEMO FROM USA - ANJUM NIAZ
- DCC'S STRONG CONDEMNATION OF US RAID
- SPIRIT OF LHC VERDICT
- TURN USC MORE POOR FRIENDLY
- PML-N'S DEMAND FOR A JUDICIAL COMMISSION - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- SOME STRAY THOUGHTS ON OSAMA'S END - SAEED QURESHI
- OPERATION GERONIMO & ABBOTTABAD FIASCO - AYAZ AHMED KHAN
- WRITING NEW NARRATIVES - TAHIR MEHMOOD
- ABBOTT DANCES TO HIS OWN TUNE
- A NOT-SO-BIG VISION FOR AUSTRALIA
- OVERLAND FACES QUIZ AND SEARCH. ANYTHING TO HIDE?
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- IS IT OUR BANK, YOUR BANK OR THEIR BANK?
- TONY ABBOTT'S BUMPER-STICKER CAMPAIGN
- DRIVE LIKE THE WIND, BULLSEYE
- PAKISTAN: MARRIAGE OF INCONVENIENCE
- LORDS REFORM: NOVELTY POLITICS
- UNTHINKABLE? FLASHMAN AND THE PRIME MINISTER
THE JAKARTA POST
- GOOD IS NOT ENOUGH
- INDONESIAN VS US EDUCATION SYSTEMS - MARSHA SUGANA
- DEALING WITH FRICTION, GAINING FROM ACFTA - HANK LIM AND SIMON TAY
- EXCEEDING ALL EXPECTATIONS - JULIAN ALDRIN PASHA
- WALK THE TALK, PRACTISE WHAT YOU PREACH
- TAMIL PSYCHE: AFTER TWO YEARS SINCE THE END OF THE WAR
- WILL FINANCE GET THE MESSAGE?
- DARUSMAN'S FALSE AND HIGHLY BIASED REPORT - BY JAYANTHA GUNASEKERA
- THE BURDEN OF VICTORY
GULF DAILY NEWS
- VILLAGE IDIOTS - BY PAUL BALLES
TAMASHA AS POLITICS
DESPERATE CONGRESS SEEKS DRAMATIC HEADLINES
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's cheerleaders and admirers are welcome to believe that his 'daring' caper on Wednesday when he sneaked into the village that has witnessed bloody violence during the ongoing farmers agitation against land acquisition in Greater Noida was a political masterstroke. But the reality is that it was a frightfully silly thing to do, not the least because Mr Gandhi violated, though not for the first time, the security norms he is supposed — and expected — to scrupulously follow. Like other members of the Congress's first family, Mr Gandhi is provided with round-the-clock security cover by the elite SPG; we must, therefore, presume that the nature of threat he faces is extremely serious and not to be trifled with. It is as much the State's duty to ensure his safety and security as it is his responsibility not to place himself in a situation that can be considered even remotely life-threatening or provide malcontents on the hunt for a high profile target the opportunity they are looking for. Mr Gandhi cannot seek shelter behind the claim that, as a politician and a citizen, he is free to choose where to go, how to go and when to go. That's not how it works for those who are under the highest possible security cover at par with that provided to the Prime Minister of India. He cannot just drive into a village and decide to camp there for the night or jump into a commuter train for a joyride without informing local authorities and giving them adequate time to make appropriate security arrangements. Yet this is precisely what he has been doing and since he has shown no signs of curbing his enthusiasm for television-friendly adventures despite State Governments, especially the Government of Uttar Pradesh, lodging several protests with the Ministry of Home Affairs, two assumptions can be safely made. First, nobody in the Union Government has the gumption to tell Mr Gandhi that he cannot continue to throw caution to the wind. Second, Mr Gandhi has been told to be careful and stick to the security regime prescribed by the Blue Book but he just doesn't care.
Whatever the truth, it is a shame that those who are expected to know better should behave in such a reckless manner. Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, who is the chosen minder of Mr Gandhi, should have advised his ward against the theatrical 'dharna' staged by him in the violence-hit Greater Noida village to demonstrate his solidarity with the agitating farmers. That he did not do so is as much a comment on what critics would call Mr Singh's increasing insanity as reflected in his constant rant on every contentious issue as on the Congress's desperation to mark presence and grab headlines any which way. This is not politics, not even cynical politics of crass opportunism, but cheap tamasha. More than anybody else, it is Mr Singh who is to blame for such juvenile antics with potentially dangerous consequences to which Mr Gandhi is being exposed while leaving local authorities clueless. In sharp contrast, it must said, Ms Mayawati has dealt with the situation with remarkable maturity. Perhaps the time has come for State Governments to force the Home Ministry into reading out the riot act to Mr Gandhi. If that fails, let the Congress be held responsible for such irresponsible deeds of its leaders.
A WISE VERDICT
AND A LESSON FOR JHOLAWALLAHS
The Supreme Court's verdict regarding the Omkareshwar Dam that has effectively settled all disputes relating to the relief and rehabilitation measures undertaken by the Government of Madhya Pradesh for those ousted by the aforementioned project must be welcomed wholeheartedly. On Wednesday, the apex court decided not to meddle with the compensation packages that had been allotted to the oustees of the Omkareshwar Project by the State Government under the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy. In the process, it set aside an earlier decision by the Madhya Pradesh High Court that entitled oustees who had already been compensated for their land (that the State had acquired for the project) to claim additional compensatory land. Based on this High Court order of February 21, 2008, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, led by social activist Medha Patkar, had argued that even the adult sons and unmarried daughters of the oustees should receive similar benefits! Thankfully a three-judge Bench saw through the folly of such an argument and decided instead that the children of oustees are "not entitled" to any more land as it was not part of the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy. The Judges also clarified that "the oustees who have already accepted compensation... cannot claim the land." The apex court's decision provides a major boost to the Government of Madhya Pradesh which has been struggling to carry out development work in the villages that it had already acquired for the project, thanks to the antics of so called social activists such as Medha Patkar. The verdict also clears the path for additional land acquisition for the project. Most importantly, it significantly reduces the State's financial burden. In other words, the Supreme Court decision has served to clear some of the biggest roadblocks that have up until now continued to obstruct the way of development in the State.
Let there be no doubt that the Omkareshwar Project, and indeed similar such projects across the country, are desperately needed for the overall growth and development of the nation. Of course there is no denying that in the process of setting up such projects, some people lose their ancestral home while others their traditional means of livelihood and sometimes, an entire village might have to be uprooted. But as long as these people receive fair compensation for their loss, we must accept the rest as the price we must all pay for development. Take the Omkareshwar Project for example: It includes a dam, a powerhouse with an installed capacity of 520 MW and a canal system for irrigating 1.47 lakh hectares of land. Essentially, the project will provide hydel power, electricity and an extensive irrigation. As a nation, we simply cannot afford to turn our back on such projects.
REALITIES OF GEOPOLITICS
The Pakistani street rages against the American infidel, but this stems from impotence. The country would be lost without American aid that keeps it afloat.
Osama bin Laden lived and died by the sword, the Monster perishing at the hands of its American Dr Frankenstein. US Navy SEALs shot him dead in his mansion hideout in the Pakistan garrison of Abbottabad within a stone's throw of the country's prestigious military training academy.
The irresistible force had prevailed over the elusive quarry. It will now be up to Hollywood to provide the script, select the actors and market the product for screens across the globe. There are fistfuls of dollars to be made as Rambo, like his previous incarnation, Zorro, rides again. The narrative, in keeping with the package, will be a manifestation of soft power with hard power lurking menacingly in the background.
America, for whom Osama bin Laden was once a heroic cold war jihadist, reduced him to a corpse to be fed to the denizens of the Arabian Sea. It was payback time for the humiliation and pain of 9/11.
The anger sweeping America at perceived Pakistani perfidy is broad and deep. Television anchors, radio talk show hosts and their guests join the print media in ritual excoriation of the country's Pakistani ally. The same is true of Britain. The Times Parliamentary sketch writer, Ann Treneman, was scornfully dismissive of Prime Minister David Cameron's prevarications on Pakistan in the Commons. However, scribes given to denouncing Islamabad's double-tongued tactics were equally convinced that the West's support for Pakistan was a vital Western interest. Senior US Senators Kerry and Lugar are similarly persuaded of Pakistan's continuing importance as a strategic ally, however fraught the present state of US-Pakistan relations.
The Pakistani street rages and fulminates against the American infidel, but this stems from impotence. The country's governing military-political-bureaucratic nexus would be lost without the infusions of financial aid that keep the nation afloat, and is the primary source of their own self-enrichment. The marriage is set to continue regardless.
Pakistani interests in Afghanistan, say dissembling Anglo-American advocates, must be secured against Indian influence. A retired Pakistan-born Anglican bishop Michael Nazir Ali, in an article in The Times, writes of the need to force India to the negotiating table on Kashmir since this was no longer a bilateral issue but a matter of international concern. The self-effacing spirit of Indian diplomacy is a facilitator to casual insolence. India should not be afraid of its own shadow, warned VP Menon, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's close aide many moons ago. Mr Mukul Deva appeared to rediscover this no-nonsense approach in his TV presentation on Indian security and best practice — which is to exercise restraint when the occasion demanded but to be boldly resolute in the application of force in the national interest. It is more effective to be respected than liked since statecraft is not about popularity stakes in the hand-wringing, breast-beating fraternity.
It carries the scent of Munich 1938 when Britain and France connived in the surrender of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany, calculating, no doubt, that Hitler would turn his legions in Russia's direction. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Far from Pakistan-controlling-Pakistan, Pashtun nationalists including the Taliban may undo the sanctity of the Durand Line and reclaim Afghanistan's pre-British territory to the Attock, which is now part of Pakistan.
The ebb and flow of imperial need drives US policy worldwide. Today's favoured client may become tomorrow's implacable foe. Osama bin Laden orbited this karmic cycle, as did Saddam Hussein and Panama's General Noriega. Saddam helped the CIA hunt down Iraqi communists and eliminate them. His armies engaged in a bloody conflict with Iran with much encouragement from his American handlers.
But the Iraqi dictator got above himself by invading oil-rich Kuwait prior to which he had expressed an interest in making his country's reserve currency the Euro instead of the US dollar. He was soon brought to heel and executed, the ghoulish preliminaries to his hanging duly televised for international consumption. Muammar Gaddafi tried to drum up support for an Arab-African economic coalition based on the gold dinar as replacement for the American dollar. That Iraq and Libya are oil-rich states compound their problems. As banana producers their troubles might have been less potent.
International politics refract Lord Wellesley's system of Subsidiary Alliances with Indian powers, at the close of the 18th century, in pursuit of British supremacy in the Subcontinent, while Lord Dalhousie's Doctrine of Lapse, half a century later, when local clients were replaced by British representatives in an enforced arrangement, was redolent of the Sicilian mafia. Today, human rights and democracy are for breast-fed infants. Time to get real. The Arab Awakening in Egypt has recorded the burning of two Christian Coptic churches in Cairo. As in US-liberated, Iraq it is back to basics.
May 9 marked the 66th anniversary of the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany, the most complete victory in the greatest war ever fought on planet earth. One was privileged to watch the celebrations in Moscow on Russian TV and hear Prof Geoffrey Roberts' assessment of Joseph Stalin's leadership, without which, he averred (along with others before him like Averell Harriman, President Franklin Roosevelt's wartime envoy to the USSR), that the Soviets would surely have collapsed, with the entire world fair game for Nazi barbarism.
"...the guts of the German army have been largely torn out by Russian valour and generalship. The people of all the Russias have been fortunate in finding in their supreme ordeal of agony a warrior leader, Marshal Stalin, whose authority enabled him to combine and control the movements of armies numbered by many millions upon a front of nearly 2,000 miles" said Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, in a memorable eulogy to Parliament in 1944.
AJP Taylor, the eminent English historian, wrote: "Every line of policy ran, had to run, through Stalin's study. Stalin alone made every great decision throughout the war and many of the small ones, too.... Simply from the physical point of view, it is amazing that one man could have accomplished the things he did. Unlike any other commander ever known, Stalin literally ran every front himself."
His warts like Oliver Cromwell's — cruelty and ruthless repression — have disfigured his historical image, but as Shakespeare said of Julius Caesar, "he bestrode the narrow world/Like a Colossus...".
It is time India held a "Russia Day" to commemorate the heroism of a much valued strategic partner. It will educate Indian youth and their elders to better understand contemporary realities.
'RED FORT' IS BREACHED
During three decades of their rule, Marxists in Bengal did everything that was non-Marxist. People of Bengal, keeping aside their Communist instinct, have voted for paribartan once again with a lot of hope and faith. Still it's not the end of the road for the CPI(M) as they are supposed to play a strong Opposition by not allowing the ruling party to become complacent
A huge and significant chapter in Indian politics would have come to an end today. Yes, I am talking about the rule of CPI(M) in West Bengal. As far as all exit polls are concerned — except for those by some ludicrous pro-CPI(M) channels — it's Ms Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress which is all set to sweep the poll in Bengal. In fact, if the leading channel is to be believed, then the current Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is expected to lose too. So I think I can safely say it's the end of the CPI(M) in Bengal. Or should I say the end of Stalinism in Bengal?
Well, the truth is that it is with a feeling of great betrayal that I write this article. All Bengalis have a Communist instinct hidden somewhere inside. It's in our culture. The more you read Bengali literature, the more you feel for those marginalised in the society; the more you feel for them, the more communism appeals to you. And Bengal's greatest pride, Rabindranath Tagore's thoughts on village employment, self-reliance and actual work at Shanti Niketan, all have a huge similarity with the Marxist thought process, apart from Tagore's poems and writings oozing with feelings for the downtrodden.
So if you are a Bengali, Marxist thoughts have a natural appeal. It's thanks to this appeal that CPI(M) came to power more than three decades back. That was historic in many ways. It was virtually the first time a Communist party came to power through a democratic process in such a big manner. In a lot of ways, the people of Bengal had come out and voted for paribartan with a lot of hope and faith. And the truth is that they delivered and worked with a lot of sincerity in the first 10 years of their now infamous rule. It is after the first decade that the great betrayal of Bengal started. The last 24 years undid everything. Rigging, killing, muscle power, police manipulation, dictatorship at the grassroots level, name a shame that dictatorships all over the world have done and CPI(M) did that and worse to stay in power. In the name of Marxism, everything that was non-Marxist was done; and the poor who are at the centre of Marxist thinking were the people being terrorised and exploited the most.
It is that precise reason why despite my and our magazines' very open leanings towards socialistic thoughts, as a magazine we were the first and perhaps the only one to take an aggressive and bold stance against the CPI(M) rule in Bengal. We called the rule Stalinist — at the cost of going through endless trouble, especially when the UPA Government was dependent on CPI(M), and CPI(M) could pull strings in all of Union Government's harassment departments — and we put Bengal and its fascist face on our magazine's cover time and time again over the last four-and-a-half years. We did this because we genuinely believed that while Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav and the likes were being branded as hooligans of Indian politics, the reality was that the so-called bhadraloks of Bengal politics were the real inhuman rodents who were ruling Bengal for over two decades by muscle power and rigging alone.
Village after village, families were being broken down due to party politics, and rigging was being arranged scientifically; the local police was being used to spread fear and informal torture houses were set up in the close vicinity to police stations to keep a tight leash on those who dared to speak out against the ruling mafia. The rule of muscle was systematised like no other State of India had ever seen, since CPI(M) is a cadre-based party. Democracy and all its virtues were issues that the leaders didn't give two hoots about while they wore white dhotis, read literature, appreciated plays and promoted art and culture. It's only perhaps fittingly ironic that it's the literary brigade that formed a group, put up hoardings all around Calcutta and Bengal asking for paribortan — change — and came out openly in support of the fearlessly committed lady who is creating history — Ms Mamata Banerjee. With her total commitment to freeing Bengal of the Stalinist rule, she went from village to village of Bengal tirelessly to make the 'change' possible and create this historical moment in Indian politics. After crusading for this moment, we sure are celebrating. Yet, I am very sure it's not the end of the road for CPI(M) in Bengal.
This is the beginning of their training period in the art of appreciating the process of democracy and learning to abide by laws and respecting the people in a democracy. Five to 10 years in the Opposition is the least punishment they deserve and a must. However, the need for them to provide a strong Opposition party is a must, since there are widespread fears that the Trinamool Congress — which out of lack of any choice, had to take the support of muscle power to come to power — might just end up continuing the same. And even if it does not, it's important in a democracy that there is a strong Opposition party which doesn't let the ruling party become complacent.
More importantly, once the CPI(M) in Bengal learns to become democratic like CPI(M) in Kerala and Tripura, they might again remember the act of doing good for the poorest of poor, something that never fails to keep a party in power in an impoverished nation like India. But till they get their lessons over the next five to 10 years in the Opposition, here is wishing a great future to Ms Mamata Banerjee, arguably the most fearless, honest and committed leader in India today. Hope she never forgets the poor, doesn't let her party leaders become dishonest and corrupt, and above all never allows them to bring back another reign of terror in Bengal. People of Bengal deserve peace now after two decades of a virtually non-reported (in national media) reign of terror.
Before I end, I must say hats-off to Mr SY Quraishi, our current chief election commissioner. He is not too loud, but what a man he is to have made a real rigging-free election possible in Bengal. This was the support that people of Bengal and Ms Mamata needed so that those huge numbers could come out freely to vote for paribartan. It's the end of the Marxism in Bengal. Long live paribartan!
-- The writer is a management guru and editor, The Sunday Indian.
State testifies to the fact that great cities grow around loci of power
Going back, revisiting places, associated with a significant period of one's life, is an edifying experience. It could be weighed down by sadness, or alleviated by happy memories. Revisiting a city such as Mumbai is more likely to evoke a sense of hope, sheer joie de vivre. It may be more run down than before; longer, too, stretching on interminably through suburban outshoots; and more congested and ridden with slums. A great, sprawling metropolis, linear in growth, at once plebeian and sophisticated, Mumbai testifies to the fact that great cities, as much as empires, grow around loci of power. Bombay became Mumbai in November 1995 after the Shiv Sena changed its name. The party, which had won the state elections, chose to reinforce Marathi roots, culture and language by restoring an older name of the city, deriving from goddess Mumba. The combination of 'Mumba' and 'ai' (mother in Marathi) became Mumbai.
The change in name was also a way to pay tribute to the city's presiding deity, who, legend recounts, vanquished a demon called Mumbarka in the remote past. The goddess consequently came to be known as Mumba Devi. The story approximates to other goddess legends, with Durga deriving her name from the demonic Durg, whom she vanquished in a great battle; and the name Chamunda being used for Devi after she killed the demons Chanda and Munda. Interestingly, just as Mumba Devi is believed to preside over Mumbai, goddess Kali guards over Kolkata, which, in historical annals, was Kalishetra, territory of Kali, long before Job Charnock set foot in the villages of Kalikata, Sutanuti and Gobindabur on the banks of the Hooghly, and the British bought them in 1690 to set up a trading post. Similarly, Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, was also a place of power, the fabled Dhakeshwari Devi temple harbouring a sacred portion of one among Sati's 51 body parts, scattered throughout the Indian subcontinent. Wherever a portion fell became hallowed.
These three cities, with ancient origins, proved crucial to the expansion of British trade and power. The Portuguese first took possession of the islands that comprise Mumbai but in 1661, gifted them to the English King Charles II, as part of the dowry given to him for marrying Catherine de Braganza, sister of the Portuguese monarch. King Charles II leased them to the East India Company in 1668. The company turned them into a great trading post, and fortified the place. This laid the foundation of modern Bombay. In the course of time, Parsi, Sindhi, Gujarati and Marwari merchants and businessmen came to settle here. By the 20th century, Mumbai was one of the great commercial centres of the world, as much as the centre of the Indian film and glamour industry.
In 1960, after the formation of Maharashtra, Mumbai became the capital of the State. The huge influx of migrants from other parts — the Hindi belt, regions south of the Vindhyas, Bengal and elsewhere — has not ceased. The surge in Marathi parochialism is ascribed to the perceived swamping of natives by outsiders. Yet, all the Shiv Sena's muscle-flexing and insular rhetoric has not really changed the city's cosmopolitan character. Up-scale neighbourhoods remain westernised. The names Cuffe Parade, Kemp's Corner, Fort, Warden Road, Churchgate, Flora Fountain, Victoria Terminus, Crawford Market indicate Mumbai's colonial past. It would be silly to disown it. Other names — Ghatkopar, Goregaon, Nagpada, Chembur, Nariman Point, Juhu, Dharavi, Borivili, Andheri, Dadar, Vasai, Bhuleshwar — in their sweep encompass the Mumbai, of migrants, showbiz people, traders, businessmen, strugglers, et al. The city's vast underbelly contains criminals, pimps, prostitutes, fixers and lotos-eaters.
Bhuleshwar, a maze of congested lanes, currently houses the Mumba Devi shrine, which was originally elsewhere. This is also the place where the Ambanis lived, before they moved out to sophisticated locations. The area marked the beginning of their tremendous journey. Television news channels now unerringly air footage of tycoons and film stars flocking to Siddhi Vinayak Ganesh temple, a more recent evolute than the goddess shrine. Sports stars, tycoons, cine stars and politicos walking bare-foot to Siddhi Vinayak is big news. There are other places of power, less in the public eye.
The circumstances of return, a re-visit, determine one's reaction. Sometimes, the second visit to a place is better than the first one, as the poet Wordsworth realised in Yarrow re-visited. The disenchantment felt by the poet on first seeing the river Yarrow is mirrored in Yarrow Visited, written 17 years before in 1814. His state of mind was then projected into his impression of the river. "And is this Yarrow?/ — this the stream/Of which my fancy cherish'd", he wondered sadly. The re-appraisal of Yarrow, after the passage of time, when he was older, is more congenial. And, there is Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, a book that poignantly portrays the passing of an era as the protagonist, an artist, revisits an aristocratic estate in Britain, now used as a military base, during World War II. The erstwhile residents, once his friends, are all gone, some dead, and it is faith alone that burns bright as a flame in the family chapel.
As Mumbai, the city's past meshes with its present. It is old but alive. But a traditional belief affirms that if the presiding deity withdraws her protection, the city will be devoured by the sea.
CONGRESS REMAINS PRECARIOUS
Irrespective of the Assembly poll results in five States, the widely anticipated victory of Jaganmohan Reddy from the Kadapa Lok Sabha by-election in Andhra Pradesh may rewind old troubles for the Congress
Once the Assembly Poll results are announced, Andhra Pradesh should brace itself for some troublesome days ahead as it is likely to face political instability and law and orders problems emanating mostly from the revival of the Telangana issue. Additionally, if Mr Jaganmohan Reddy and his mother Rajyalakshmi are voted to power, the duo would probably prove to be a political nuisance for the Congress.
The Telangana issue, however, remains the main source of concern as the various stakeholders are getting ready to revive the agitation immediately. They had pushed the issue to the backburner after New Delhi had announced that it would take up the matter only after the polls. Consequently, the agitation had been put off for the time being but now it is all set to be brought back under the limelight.
Already, five months have passed since the Sri Krishna Commission submitted its report, which included six different solutions, to the Centre. After the report was received, the Union Minister for Home Affairs had convened one single all-party meeting wherein he distributed copies of the report to all participants. After that, there was no second meeting and even the political parties were not interested in attending another one because they had decided where they stand on the issue. Clearly, it is now time for the Union Government to focus its attention on the Telangana issue.
But this might be easier said than done for the Congress remains divided on the issue. The party leadership had requested its MPs and MLAs to restrain themselves until after the Assembly polls but they are all getting restless now. Overall it seems like the Union Government favours a united State of Andhra Pradesh but is willing to confer some sort of special status on the Telangana region. However for that to happen, Congress legislators need to come to a consensus regarding the issue but seems too seems like a long shot since the members are towing the regional line regarding whether they are for or against a separate State for Telangana.
The threat of political instability also looms large as the legislators may withdraw their support to the fragile Kiran Reddy-led Government, if their demands on the issue are ignored. Worse still, the law and order situation in the State may go out of control with escalating levels of violence if Mr Kiran Reddy does not undertake effective measures and instead functions merely as a dummy of the Union Government.
Stung by the success of the 'Telangana nagara' convened by TDP Telangana Forum Convener Nagam Janardhan Reddy, the TRS has put its plans for the next phase of the agitation in top gear. Towards that end, TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao has convened a meeting of the party State executive to intensify their struggle for a separate state of Telangana from May 15.
Let there be no doubt that once the agitation is revived it will be under nobody's control. Other mischievous elements may also jump into the fray to make matters worse. Thankfully, the Centre is planning to have additional security forces in the State even after their poll duties come to an end. However, there must be an acknowledgement of the fact that this is a very serious problem and the use of brute force alone will not help. There has to be a multi pronged effort that will also address the political aspects of the Telangana issue especially since problems of that nature are expected to create trouble for the Congress in the days ahead.
For example: The Kadappa Lok Sabha constituency and the Pulivendla Assembly constituency, which went to by-elections due the resignation of Mr Jaganmohan Reddy and his mother Rajya Lakshmi, have been loyal to the YSR family for decades now — first it was YSR himself, then his brother Vivekananda Reddy and finally his son Jaganmohan Reddy has now voted to power by that electorate.
However after Mr Jaganmohan Reddy left the Congress, both he and the party have been fighting for YSR's legacy. Of course, Mr Jaganmohan Reddy already has access to his father's monetary legacy but must now claim his political legacy to well establish himself in State politics. He has five MLAs openly supporting him in his campaign and another 30 Congress MLAs supporting him clandestinely.
The Congress high command is yet to figure out how best to deal with the five MLAs, who rebelled against the bye-elections. As for Mr Jaganmohan Reddy, he is in no hurry to destabilise the Kiran Reddy led-Government but can easily become a nuisance for the Congress in the Assembly. The Congress may have the support of Mr Chiranjeevi and his Praja Rajyam party but still its position remains precarious.
1982 revolt reverberates in Syria
To curb the echo of earlier uprising in the central city of Hama, Syrian Army cracks down brutally on the regime opponents, says Bassem Mroue
Syrian soldiers and tanks executing a nationwide crackdown on regime opponents surrounded the city of Hama on Thursday, which President Bashar al-Assad's father laid waste to in 1982 to stamp out an earlier uprising, an activist said. Forces also used clubs to disperse 2,000 demonstrators on a northern university campus.
Mr Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, is trying to crush an uprising that exploded nearly two months ago and is now posing the gravest threat to his family's 40-year ruling dynasty. The level of violence is intensifying as forces move into more volatile areas, and the United States called the crackdown "barbaric".
Human rights activist Mustafa Osso said troops backed by tanks have deployed around the central city of Hama, known for the bloody 1982 revolt crushed by the regime, and security forces were detaining people.
In another echo of that earlier uprising, the Syrian Army shelled residential areas in central and southern Syria on Wednesday, killing 18 people, a human rights group said.
The shelling of neighbourhoods evoked memories of Mr Assad's father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, whose most notorious act was shelling Hama in 1982.
He leveled the city to crush a Sunni uprising there, killing 10,000 to 25,000 people, according to Amnesty International estimates. Conflicting figures exist and Syria has made no official estimate.
Other activists said security forces used clubs to disperse about 2,000 demonstrators late Wednesday at the university campus in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.
The intensifying military operation and arrest raids seemed to be an effort to pre-empt another day of expected protests throughout the country on Friday.
More than 750 people have been killed and thousands detained since the uprising against President Assad's autocratic rule began in mid-March. The revolt was touched off by the arrest of teenagers, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall.
Syria's private Al-Watannewspaper reported Thursday that Mr Assad met for four hours with a delegation of Sunni clerics from Hama. It said the clerics asked the President to solve some problems pending since 1982, such as people who have been living in exile since then.
"President Assad accepted to study the case as long as it includes people who are known to be loyal to the nation," the paper said.
Since the uprising began, authorities have been making announcements about reforms on Thursdays in an attempt to head off protests on Friday, the main day for demonstrations in the Arab world.
This week was no different: The state-run news agency, SANA, said Prime Minister Adel Safar introduced a new programme to employ 10,000 university graduates annually at Government institutions.
Unemployment in Syria stands at about 20 per cent.
Mr Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Thursday that arrests are continuing throughout the country before expected protests on Friday.
"Authorities are detaining any person who might demonstrate," he said. In the northern city of Deir el-Zor, authorities placed cameras inside and outside the Osman bin Afan mosque, where many worshippers were demonstrating after the Friday prayers, he said.
Mr Abdul-Rahman added that many former detainees were forced to sign documents reading that they were not subjected to torture and that they will not take part in future 'riots'.
Mr Assad is determined to crush the uprising despite international pressure and sanctions from Europe and the United States.
In Washington, White House Press secretary Jay Carney condemned the violence. "The Syrian Government continues to follow the lead of its Iranian ally in resorting to brute force and flagrant violations of human rights and suppressing peaceful protests," he said, "and history is not on the side of this kind of action".
State Department spokesman Mark Toner called the Syrian attacks "barbaric", adding, "We don't throw the word 'barbaric' around here very often."
Officials in the Obama Administration, which had sought to engage Syria after it was shunned under former President George W Bush, said Tuesday the US is edging closer to calling for an end to the long rule of the Assad family.
The officials said the first step would be to say for the first time that Mr Assad has forfeited his legitimacy to rule, a major policy shift.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The assembly poll results in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam not only mark important developments for those states, but also represent vital trends for national politics. The most significant of these has to be Bengal. That the 34-year-old Left Front government was decimated by a Trinamool tsunami is reflective of the popular craving for change in the state.
The massive mandate handed to the Trinamool-Congress alliance is a strong comment on leftist politics in Bengal, based on a bhadralok gentry that claims to represent the poor and underprivileged. The culture of patronage stifling the state's public institutions and economy also ate into the Left's elaborately constructed support base. In the end it was toppled by a woman clad in crumpled sari and chappals for whom the state's patrician elite were used to expressing barely concealed contempt. The underlying message? The underprivileged won't be satisfied with commiseration for their lot anymore, instead they want a hand up. With concerns of post-poll violence, maintaining law and order will be Mamata's first test. The next five years may be her life's biggest challenge.
Equally significant is Tamil Nadu, where the voter handed a massive sweep to J Jayalalithaa's AIADMK. The clear message is that old-style politics - where nepotism and corruption can be covered up by appealing to caste and community interest or by handing out freebies come election time - no longer appeals to today's voter. If the DMK and its ally Congress have been reduced to a mere 30-odd seats in a 234-seat assembly, that's because corruption was a major issue with voters in the backdrop of the 2G scam embroiling the DMK first family.
That anti-incumbency cannot be trotted out as a rote formula to explain the Tamil Nadu results is demonstrated by Assam, where Tarun Gogoi is all set to commence his third stint as chief minister. Instead of playing to sectional interests Gogoi has worked on an agenda of development and embarked on peace talks with insurgent groups such as the Ulfa. The twin strategy has paid handsome dividends for him and the Congress.
In contrast to other states, the battle for Kerala was close. But in the end the opposition Congress-led UDF coalition was able to clinch a wafer-thin majority, edging out the LDF. V S Achuthanandan's clean image and personal crusade against corruption did resonate with a significant section of the electorate, but the message was muddied by infighting within the CPM leadership. The loss of both Kerala and Bengal bastions should make the Left reconsider obsolete ideological formulae, on pain of extinction. Nor is there cause for complacency on the part of either the Congress or the BJP. Both parties need to pay attention to what voters want, not simply assume that cynical political fixers have all the answers on how to win elections.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
ASIAN POWER PLAY, POST-OSAMA
The early morning American raid on Abbottabad on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden may also herald the rise of China as a South-West Asian power. With US-Pakistan relations on a knife's edge and Afghanistan facing the impending withdrawal of US forces, doors have opened for a rich and powerful China to step up its presence as a regional hegemon. The latest developments follow a historical pattern in Asia, in which rising tensions between the West and an Asian nation offer China new opportunities to advance its influence.
While some angry voices in the West are calling for a suspension of US aid to Pakistan, the first - and so far only - public support for Islamabad has come from Beijing. After first expressing satisfaction at bin Laden's demise, China pivoted swiftly to laud Pakistan for its "vigorous" efforts to fight terrorism - as if Osama's seven years' presence just outside Islamabad was inconsequential.
In a striking formulation, the Chinese foreign ministry even praised Pakistan's ambiguous record of fighting some and fostering other terrorist groups. China hailed Pakistan's anti-terror strategies "based on its own domestic situation". Translation: it is understandable if Islamabad turns a blind eye or even supports anti-India militant groups for domestic political reasons. (Although unstated, China also appreciates how discriminating Pakistan has been in its support for foreign jihadis flocked to Pakistan for training and Islamic education. In the 1990s, Pakistan ruthlessly suppressed dissident Uighurs of China's troubled Xinjiang province, who enrolled for training by the Taliban.)
As the clamour rises in Washington to punish Islamabad for its seeming act of betrayal, Pakistani leaders are getting ready to visit China, where they are sure to receive unqualified support. Pakistan's prime minister, who has called China an inspiration for his country, has extolled China's friendship as being "taller than the Himalayas and deeper than the oceans". The Pakistani visit repeats a past pattern in which China has played the role of a steadfast big brother to a younger brother in distress.
With nearly $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves and a burgeoning armed forces, China presents a reliable counterweight to the intensified pressure from an angry US. Even if Washington papers over the current rift, which seems likely, the latest episode will surely deepen China's presence and influence in the region as the US starts to draw down from Afghanistan in 2012.
Indeed, two weeks before the bin Laden raid, Pakistani leaders visited Kabul to give Afghan President Hamid Karzai advice on the coming new era. Abandon the untrustworthy Americans, they said, urging Afghanistan to embrace China as the economic powerhouse and reliable regional military power. Afghan officials told New Delhi how stunned they were by this unsolicited advice. Whether Karzai, who was recently given a lavish reception in Beijing, heeds Pakistan's suggestion remains to be seen. But the deep chasm with the US created by the killing of Osama on Pakistani soil opens up a new chapter of Sino-Pakistani relations.
China's rise in Asia has in fact faithfully tracked the eruption of tensions between the US (and even the Soviet Union) and its erstwhile partners. China has long claimed islands of the South China Sea, but only launched its first attack to capture the Paracels from South Vietnam in 1974 when Washington signalled its disinterest in defending its ally. The next attack on the communist Vietnam-occupied Spratly Islands came when a weak Soviet Union was unwilling to come to its treaty ally's defence.
The violent suppression of pro-democracy forces in Burma in 1988 and the subsequent isolation of the country opened the door for China to emerge as the junta's most influential backer. China made further advances in the South China Sea when it took over the Philippines-claimed Mischief Reef in 1995 - three years after Manila stopped hosting US military bases in the country. The 1997 coup in Phnom Penh, which brought condemnation of the Hun Sen regime, saw China once again step in with economic and military aid. As a result, it now counts Cambodia as a close ally.
The growing rift between Pakistan and the US appears to mark the latest in a succession of zero-sum Asian power plays, in which China gains influence when the West loses interest.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE MIGHTY ARE FALLEN
"How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle/ O Jonathan thou wast slain in thine high places."
The biblical adage was especially apt as two of India's most populous states saw electoral waves that did more than unseat incumbent governments. They brushed aside the Left Front in West Bengal and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, reducing their dreams to dust. One has to rethink the fundamentals of its ideology, the other ponder the perils of putting kin and clan in charge of party.
In a sense, it is these two states that will hold the key to the Big Picture of Indian politics and how it might or might not change in the weeks and months up ahead. Kerala was true to form, turning out the alliance in power though by the most slender of margins. Assam saw the Congress win a third term in office, a rare achievement in an age when anti-incumbency is part of the political lexicon. Each matters but for highly specific local factors, the minutae of community and region helping the Congress-led alliance and the fragmented opposition a godsend to Tarun Gogoi.
But West Bengal matters. Partly for reason of its history. Long a fertile seed bed for radical ideas about society and culture as much as economics or politics. But more than any attribute of its history, it has, since 1977, been the bedrock of the Left parties in Indian politics. First under Jyoti Basu and Promode Dasgupta and then Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Anil Biswas, the mix of government and party kept the Left Front in power for just short of three and a half decades.
Yet, for a party that was a critic of economic reform, it is ironical that it was Nandigram and Singur that proved its undoing. More than the specific violence at either site, they became a symbol taken over, after some initial hesitation, by Mamata. Her slogan of 'Maa, Maati, Manush' or mother, land and people, had echoes of the left-wing politics of the Sixties. But she found fresh appeal among underclass groups who had not looked beyond the hammer and sickle since 1977.
The numbers tell it all. In 2009, the gap in votes between the alliances was 1%, but Mamata and Congress were in the lead. The Left led in barely 99 assem-bly segments. The CPM is now reduced to the 40-seat mark, while the Trinamool has 180-plus seats on its own.
This will call for serious introspection on the part of the CPM, a task easier said than done. Its greatest asset has been that it exited power just as it came to it: via the ballot box. Yet, its outlook and programme are yet to grapple with the post-Cold War world. It remains a rare party in a democracy that lionises Stalin, and welcomed the military coup against Gorbachev. While it was the fashion to label Buddhadeb as Bengal's answer to the reformist Deng Xiaoping, the fact is it has not undergone a deeper process of introspection and debate about the new issues of the present milieu. Nowhere was this as evident as in the constant reference to Singur as a 'mistake', for it was surely far more than just that.
If ideological rethinking may be the order of the day after the West Bengal results, the turnaround in Tamil Nadu was no less stunning. Since 1989, voters have given ruling parties the thumbs down. But not even in the wave after Rajiv Gandhi's tragic assassination in 1991 was the DMK in the doldrums the way it is today.
It has been quite a fall for a chief minister who first held office in 1969, when Nixon was president of the US, Mao chairman of the Communist Party of China and a young premier Indira Gandhi was grappling with the Syndicate. But Karunanidhi's party is now reduced to only 23 MLAs in an assembly of 234, falling to third spot behind Vijaykanth's new party, the DMDK. Karunanidhi has been CM on five occasions but time seems to be running out not only for him but his party as well. Revival looks difficult given the multiple divisions within his own family and clan.
The seeds of decline were probably sown in 2009 when key family members were given even more prominent positions in the party than before. His daughter Kanimozhi as Rajya Sabha MP and son MK Azhagiri as Lok Sabha MP and Union Minister joined his son and heir apparent MK Stalin as key decision-makers. The 2G scam has rocked the country over the last many months but for voters back in Tamil Nadu, it was only the tip of the iceberg as the family's writ extended over large sectors of public life.
No wonder J Jayalalithaa made it a choice not only between lineage and democracy but between rule for one family and rule by and of the people of the state. Her call for 'a struggle to save Tamil Nadu' struck a chord. Not only was the turnout an impressive and unprecedented 78%, the number of women who actually voted was more than the men who did so.
The rest is history. Both in Kolkata and Chennai the voters punished the rulers. Arrogance of power paved the way for change. The new rulers should take note. The ballot that empowers today can disempower tomorrow.
The writer is an historian and a political commentator.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IT WILL EASE THE TAXPAYER'S BURDEN
England is not only a country of traditions, it also knows how to cash in on them entrepreneurially. British royalty, for example, is a magnet for tourism. If Britain's monarchy can be used to entice tourists, why not its democracy as well? Few places sum up the British sense of tradition better than its lower house of parliament, the House of Commons - from its corridors of power to the 11th century Westminster Hall, part of the royal Palace of Westminster. Now, a suggestion by the House of Commons administration committee aims to leverage that tradition by doing something distinctly entrepreneurial - opening up the House to tourists when it is not in session, setting up souvenir shops on the estate, allowing greater access to journalists and their guests and hiring out Westminster Hall for weddings and corporate events. The suggestion is likely to cause heartburn among those of a conservative bent, of course. But viewed objectively, it makes eminent sense.
Britain, like much of Europe, is in dire financial straits at the moment. It is a situation that is unlikely to improve any time soon. In such circumstances, the government must be seen to lead the way in economising as well as creative financial management. This would be a prime example of exactly that, utilising its assets of real estate and historical importance to generate revenue. And crucially, this revenue would help the legislature pay for itself, halving the 5.7 million pounds annual public subsidy that is needed just to keep the Commons' catering and retail services running. Easing the taxpayer's burden can only be to the good.
As for those who cavil about tradition and dignity, governments have a propensity to take themselves far too seriously. They are representatives of the people, no more. If such a move demystifies government and reduces the distance between the people and their representatives, so much the better.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
MOTHER OF PARLIAMENTS NOT A THEME PARK
DEEP K DATTA-RAY
The proposal to hire out the mother of parliaments stands on the twin pillars of generating revenue and widening public access. But it takes no account of the costs in terms of tradition and undermines a finely-tuned balance between it and revenue generation. Combined, it makes for recommendations that are fundamentally misconceived.
It's not that the Palace of Westminster is cloistered, cut off from the public. The buildings are one of London's top tourist attractions. Not only are visitors welcomed inside, but they can see the legislative process in action from the Strangers Gallery in the House of Commons. Parliament therefore already is accessible and not just to tourists. Private people have long been getting married there. Of course, none of this is for free, which undermines the notion parliament is ignorant of tourism's potential.
Tourists flock to parliament because of a careful balancing act. Not only are the buildings majestic but they pulse with history. The palace is the oldest parliament in the world and today's buildings stand on the site where Edward the Confessor built the original in the 11th century. This illustrious history makes for prestige and it's precisely this intangible quality which is threatened by the call to open the palace to glitzy fat-cat weddings and corporate jamborees.
These unbalanced proposals include sandwich bars, coffee points and souvenir shops. The justification is that catering costs too much, but it could be outsourced to a private company. In any case, there already are coffee points and a souvenir shop and so the proposed changes amount to no more than converting what is probably the most important workplace in the land into a Disneyland. In doing so, those calling for change are undermining the qualities unique to parliament, which also make it a tourist attraction. People pay to enter because it isn't a theme park. Turning it into one won't attract more people, but drive them to the real thing.
THOSE SMALLER BIG PLAYERS
A spectre is haunting India — the spectre of regionalism. All the powers of old India had entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: the Congress and the BJP, their local satraps and their proxies.
Where are the opposition parties that have not been decried as regional parties by their opponents in power? Where are the opposition parties that have not hurled back the branding reproach of parochialism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
The assembly elections in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have once again confirmed that in the more ear-to-the-ground hustings of state legislations, the dog that wags the tail is the one whose nose is set close to the ground.
To put it plainly, regional parties decide the architecture of alliances, which in turn lead to poll outcomes — and not the national parties sending emissaries to firm up deals for their sole benefit.
Take the case of the stunning victory of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. The fact that Ms Banerjee called the shots in terms of pre-election seat-sharing was not only about geographical propriety. According to that logic, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) would have been able to command over the Congress and hammer out a better deal in Tamil Nadu for itself.
But with the state in which the Tamil Nadu electorate viewed its familial skimming of the exchequer's money courtesy the A Raja facilitated 2G scam, it was not in any position to haggle with the Congress for which it now, after a thumping defeat against Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), will solely depend on for political oxygen.
At least for another term before it gets in position for its traditional turn.
The Trinamool Congress had been waiting for its turn to take over the reigns from the Left Front government for years now. It is the duration of the period that the latter has been in power — a full 34 years — that may have provided the illusion that Ms Banerjee has suddenly arrived to provide a choice to communist rule.
But the fact of the matter is that the Trinamool Congress had been rushing into political spaces where the Congress (Ms Banerjee's original party from which she jumped ship in 2007 to sail her own freighter) had for decades feared or had been unwilling to tread. The Trinamool example highlights the fact that just by being a regional party an entity doesn't become a force to reckon with at the state level.
As in the case of local units of national parties, regional parties too must engage in firming up their identity and political space. In this department, the Congress-led coalition, despite a last minute surge from a VS Achuthanandan-led Left Democratic Front, has made the grade.
Which brings us to the blinkered approach of arguably the most centralised party of them all, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Perhaps because of the till-now winning formula of the Left Front in West Bengal, the central committee has kept its nose of praxis out of the state unit.
No such luck in Kerala, where party general secretary Prakash Karat did the long distance damage by initially opposing the chief ministerial candidacy of VS Achuthanandan by misreading matters in the state.
The fact that Mr Achuthanandan was solely responsible for totting up the numbers for the CPI(M) to become the single largest party in Kerala — and stalling the usual anti-incumbency wave — speaks volumes for his ability to play almost catch-up.
For parties like the Congress and the BJP, the elections were a reconfirmation of who the cart is and who the horse.
And as Tarun Gogoi in Assam has shown by returning to power for the third time on the trot by using the peace and security card, empowering local franchises and 'letting them be' can gain dividends for the national party.
A possible lesson for the assembly polls next year in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Punjab.
NEW RULES FOR A VERY OLD GAME
Is there a national message from the May 13 state elections and by-elections verdict? For the Congress, the news is sombre. It has retained Assam in spectacular fashion but seen an expected sweep in Kerala reduced to a cliff-hanger.
In Tamil Nadu, the party won only a 10th of the seats it contested. Its half-a-dozen MLA presence in the new Tamil Nadu assembly matches its numbers in the Bihar legislature, elected six months ago.
Tamil Nadu and Bihar are very different states, but for the Congress they offer a similarity. In both, Rahul Gandhi worked hard and built Youth Congress reserves. In both, party functionaries spoke of a revival and the possibility of going it alone. In both, the optimism came to naught.
Tamil Nadu also indicates the taint and corruption associated with the Karunanidhi family have hurt the Congress. This could prove infectious. In Kerala, facing an eccentric but formidable Communist chief minister, the Congress was badly bruised.
While local issues determined the election, it is a fair argument that anti-incumbency against the state government was negated by anti-incumbency against the UPA government in New Delhi.
The by-elections also brought a grim bulletin. YS Jaganmohan Reddy smashed his Congress rival in Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh) and wrested the legacy of his father, the late YS Rajashekhara Reddy. What a tough-minded dissident could do to the Congress became apparent in Puducherry.
Here N Rangaswamy's breakaway unit sunk the party that side-lined him. Will the scenario be repeated in Andhra Pradesh in 2014?
Given all this, two trends stand out. The Congress is a drag on partners (Tamil Nadu) and not pulling its weight in several state alliances (West Bengal). That apart, it is not growing on its own as it hoped to after its success in the Lok Sabha election of 2009. It has lost ground in Andhra Pradesh and is not as strong in Uttar Pradesh as it was even two years ago.
It has barely beaten the Left in Kerala. As the by-elections suggest, it has not made a dent in BJP's strongholds in Karnataka and Chhattisgarh.
As such, the Congress will probably see support erode in the national election in 2014. The formation of a viable non-Congress collective — an alternative front — is now feasible. There is political space for it. This front can take two forms.
First, it can be trigged by the broadening of the BJP-led NDA. Second, it can have the CPI(M) incubate a third front.
The second looks difficult. The Communists are out of power in both Thiruvananthapuram and, more important, Kolkata. They will spend the next two or three years regrouping, sorting out internal issues and deciding what sort of a party they want to be. That leaves the NDA option.
Here, reality has sobered the BJP. While it is holding on to its old fortresses, it's not expanding. The party had hoped for big success in Assam and fancied that between the AGP and it, they could stop the Congress.
This proved a non-starter. The BJP will have to court new allies not by virtue of being a growing force in electoral politics — as it was in the late 1990s — but by promising to be a very understanding coalition partner in the manner it has demonstrated with Nitish Kumar in Bihar.
It is logical that Naveen Patnaik in Orissa, N Chandrababu Naidu and, separately, Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, and Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu will control crucial seats in the next (post-2014) Lok Sabha.
With Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, these regional satraps could conceivably have 100-120 seats among them. If the Congress falters, they will be ready to do business with an alternative, but on their own terms. If the BJP wants to be that alternative, it will have to accept those terms.
For a start it needs to give its NDA partners a say in the choice of face of the next election campaign. The BJP is in no position to pretend it can be an in-house decision, not after Assam.
(Ashok Malik is Delhi-based political commentator.The views expressed by the author are personal)
TURN, TURN, TURN
On the day that the news of the Left's defeat in Bengal trickled in, Rahul Gandhi returned from Bhatta-Parsaul, rebranded as the mascot of India's dispossessed kisans.
A communist party founded on the mobilisation of the middle peasantry destroyed itself by attacking the class it had empowered, in its frantic wooing of capitalist investment while a bourgeois party that inaugurated the economic 'liberalisation' of India in 1991, managed to position its dynast as a champion of peasants menaced by capitalist predators.
It's the sort of lumbering irony that wouldn't work in a novel, but Indian politics is as subtle as Bombay's cinema and so the coincidence is both neat and dramatically satisfying.
After the brass-faced shamelessness of the DMK's response to political scandal and corruption, its pulverisation at the polls was particularly satisfying. But that said, it's hard for the outsider to discern a larger significance in the Tweedledum-Tweedledee routine of Dravidian politics.
AIADMK'S J Jayalalithaa denounced the DMK with the vicious poise that is her trademark manner and told us that her political life was spent repairing the ruin that was the natural consequence of every DMK term in office. Which made me wonder why she had ever lost an election to these profligate, dynastic, corrupt ne'er-do-wells.
But then I remembered that she had won more than 200 seats in a 234-seat house and was entitled, at least for one press conference, to say anything.
Her victory and the Trinamool's Mamata Banerjee's means that India now has three chief ministers who are women. They are single, they don't have children and they are routinely represented in India's print and electronic media as temperamental viragos.
This tells us something about both the unselfconscious misogyny of our journalism and the toll that Indian politics takes of women who want to exercise power in their own right.
Jayalalithaa referred to the dynastic corruption of the DMK in her press conference and Mamata made a point of saying she had no family but the people of Bengal. So it would be tempting to read this result as a vote for non-dynastic politics if it weren't for the fact that the Trinamool's coalition ally, the Congress, is led by the longest-lived dynasty in republican history.
Also, despite the many defects of the party she demolished, the one thing that comrades don't do is promote their families in politics.
As a spectator it was hard not to feel a pang of disappointment when the Congress-led UDF edged the LDF in Kerala. Had the LDF won, it would have been 34 years since an incumbent government won a second term in Kerala, a nice counter-point to the end of the Left Front's 34-year incumbency in Bengal.
It will be interesting to see how the Left fares, cut off from the patronage and power of provincial office. It has never been in this position in living memory and its defeat in Bengal has been so comprehensive that even the prospect of returning to power must seem remote.
The CPI(M)'s apparatchiks had been privately saying anything above a 100 seats would be respectable and a nucleus to build on for the future.
But given that the Left barely topped 60 seats, a miserable fifth of the strength of West Bengal's legislative assembly, these years in the wilderness will test the ideological commitment of its cadres.
I hope the Left survives this exile from office. As an outsider who hasn't had to suffer the countless (and seemingly endless) little tyrannies of Left rule in Bengal, the hubris of its leaders and the thuggery of its cadres, I want to diffidently suggest that the Left has a pan-Indian significance that's quite separate from its record as a party of government in the provinces.
It's worth remembering that there have been no large-scale communal pogroms on its watch. As someone who lived through the Congress-inspired mass murder of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, I recall the peace rigorously preserved by Jyoti Basu's government in Calcutta during that hideous time.
The real value of the Left was that it stood in the way of Indian politics being polarised around the Congress and the BJP. Despite electorally being a regional player, largely confined to Kerala and West Bengal, the Left saw itself ideologically as a national force.
Consequently, unlike powerful regional parties like Naveen Patnaik's BJD or the Kazhagams or even Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) that willy-nilly allied with one or the other pan-Indian party for political leverage and money, the Left constantly tried to create alternative alignments.
In this, it was chronically unsuccessful but it did, in its awkward, perverse way, try to create a social-democratic space in Indian politics.
The CPI(M)'s tragedy was that it was a pragmatic and successful social-democratic party that refused, ideologically, to accept that characterisation. It should begin its long road to political rehabilitation by purging its politburo, then purging the word itself.
And then, perhaps, it could try and remind Bengal's electorate, and India's, that its leaders were once, in the best sense of that word, bhadralok.
A woman I know, whose interest in the minutiae of Left politics is scant, once observed that of all the members of Parliament who surface on television, the only ones who seemed entirely respectable, were veterans of the Left, men like Indrajit Gupta and Somnath Chatterjee and Sitaram Yechury.
"They're the only ones I'd trust in the same room as my daughter," she said crisply. For that bygone bush-shirted respectability, if nothing else, we should hope that the Left will live to fight another day.
(Mukul Kesavan is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal)
THERE'S SOMEONE LISTENING
Since our distaste for politicians is so palpable, I doubt if any tears will be shed for Amar Singh now that the Supreme Court has lifted a ban on the airing of his phone conversations.
The conversations with Bollywood actresses, politicians, businessmen and actresses-turned-politicians aren't new. Transcripts of these first made the rounds four years ago.
Now, they are open to public scrutiny and will no doubt make headlines again: what Singh allegedly said to which actress and which former leading lady giggled coyly about getting her legs waxed.
Many conversations being played reveal how Singh, then a general secretary with the Samajwadi Party, and his former boss, Mulayam Singh Yadav apparently operated. Certainly citizens have a right to know whether their elected representatives engage in talks about fixing judges and sugar prices in the states they run.
Conversations about deal-making and subverting public policy are overwhelmingly in the public interest. Yet, are we ignoring larger questions?
The question is how do we get this information, and do the ends justify the means? The question is whether those in public life are entitled to private conversations, and where do we draw the line between public and private?
The question is whether a democratic system can permit illegal tappings of phone conversations, or the extent to which official tappings are liable to be misused.
These questions become even more relevant given technological advances and the relative ease with which private phone calls — and email and chat — can be monitored. These questions become relevant in the light of growing national security concerns.
They become relevant in the backdrop of bitter corporate wars with politicians increasingly taking sides.
These questions were already in the public domain, revived now with the filing of a petition by Ratan Tata who says the publication of conversations between him and Tata Group's publicist Niira Radia violate his fundamental right to privacy.
Singh's phone conversations were illegally recorded; Radia's phone tap had the sanction of income tax authorities (the selective leaks by an unknown source were, obviously, illegal).
Yet, both trawl grey areas: if the information obtained from these conversations provides clinching information about how democratic institutions are being subverted, then what is wrong with publishing them?
Plenty. Telephone tapping is a tricky issue. Under the 126-year-old Indian Telegraph Act, the government is authorised to intercept messages in the 'public interest'; no court warrant is required.
A recent India Today cover story made the startling claim that a million mobile phones across service providers are under surveillance; the government figure is 6,000 phones in New Delhi alone.
Are we to believe that one million Indians are involved in terrorism, narcotics, arms-dealing, money laundering — all legitimate reasons to get bugged?
The powers of government to authorise taps are sweeping and can be open to abuse, often covering political opponents and other 'inconvenient' people: as far back as 1988, Ramakrishna Hegde was forced to step down as Karnataka chief minister after opposition MLAs said their phones were tapped.
Yet, as a society we do not seem to be unduly moved by the individual's right to privacy. Perhaps we are genetically coded to accept the greater good, the larger interests of the joint family.
Or perhaps we just enjoy the salaciousness of private conversations out in the open. Even now, nobody is writing Mulayam Singh Yadav's political obituary.
Revelations of fixing will have little or no impact on his political fortunes.
The irony of the Amar Singh phone tap story is not lost. As lawyer Prashant Bhushan hailed the Supreme Court judgement saying: "People of the country are entitled to know how their MPs behave," few had forgotten the infamous CD — allegedly of a conversation between Shanti Bhushan and Mulayam Singh Yadav, a conversation that the Bhushans insist never took place because the CD is forged.
After being dismissed by the Supreme Court for filing a petition described variously as frivolous, speculative, strange, weak, Singh seemed to have learned one lesson from the Bhushans.
His tapped conversation, he said, is concocted.
(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
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A FISTFUL OF HOPE
If there is a binding narrative to these five assembly election verdicts, it is that they made cold sense — these results were not forced by the brute power of large party machines. In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress ended the Left's 34-year-long regime in one heady day. Tamil Nadu overthrew a couple of well-worn, patronising ideas about the electorate — that flamboyant corruption and nepotism of the kind practised by the DMK do not matter to the average voter, so long as they are placated by free consumer durables and housing schemes. Whether or not Jayalalithaa has positioned herself as a genuine alternative to that kind of politics, the magnitude of her victory will be a moderating factor against the kind of unaccountability the DMK cloaked itself in. And Assam resisted the compartmentalising of its vote by political gamers, and returned the Congress, under Tarun Gogoi, back to power, endorsing his moves towards lasting peace in the state.
Apart from Bengal, there was no sense of an ideological face-off — they simply went with the party that would better address the aspirations of a buoyant, hopeful electorate. Even in Bengal, the Left was suckerpunched because it failed to embody that desire for change. Kerala saw a much more narrow fight — the Left can certainly take some comfort in the fact that they came this close to bucking the UDF-LDF see-saw, and that their overall defeat is less of a conclusive writing off by their voters. As for the Congress, which has been deeply invested in all five arenas, these results have been both heartening and cautionary in equal parts — the coalition has been battered in Tamil Nadu and it has swept Bengal, and the party by itself has notched up an impressive victory in Assam. Again, it needs to learn to behave like the centre of a durable coalition — give the Trinamool a reason to stick around for the long haul. Its behaviour with the DMK has shown that a politics of coalition expediency sways nobody.
Voters have also shown they have little patience for also-rans and they are deeply aware of the value of their ballot. There has been in this verdict absolute disdain for anyone who would trivialise what they see as their core concerns — that is something we must celebrate.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Friday, May 13, has entered the annals of history as the day the 34-year-old, uninterrupted, Left Front rule came to an end in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee has overwhelmingly triumphed; and what she is riding Writers' Buildings into is not a wave but a tsunami. In a near-reversal of the 2006 verdict that had decimated the standalone Trinamool Congress, the Trinamool and Congress alliance has vanquished the Left, sparing not even the erstwhile regime's chief minister and his cabinet giants. That is the range and depth of Banerjee's victory, given her salience as Bengal's lone anti-Left voice that didn't fall silent during the Left Front's brightest days in the sun. She had waited a long time for this moment; her tenacity and patience have finally paid off. Although long predictable, hers was by no means an easy accomplishment.
However, Bengal's first woman chief minister's test begins now. From agitationist, Banerjee must move to administrator. For, what lies ahead is an unenviable task. Bengal is near-bankrupt, it needs industry and employment, its education and health sectors need to be salvaged and rebuilt on a war-footing. Yet, nothing will be done in a day; but Banerjee must now put her agenda for governance and recovery on the wall. She must not only talk, but work, and be seen to be doing so. Because, the desperation and discontent behind the hunger for change that has swept her to power demand her to act, from Day 1. From the euphoria of this historic triumph, the new dispensation's transit to the daily business of governing will be closely watched.
However, Banerjee's primary and full-term duty is to help restitch Bengal's body politic, shredded thin by years of political violence, and restore civility to the state's politics. The Left as opposition must do its full bit for this same task. Parliamentary politics is not a maximalist, uncompromising mortal combat. The new Vidhan Sabha must remember that. Banerjee's speech early on Friday was gracious and cautious, insisting on civility and restraint. Bhattacharjee too gracefully conceded defeat and resigned. Bengal's new day must now become a new life.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
It has for long been seen as greatly symbolic that India's assistance to Afghanistan includes a commitment to build its parliament building in Kabul. Ever since the Taliban were swept out of power in the American-led invasion after September 2001, India has had a unique footprint in Afghanistan. In rebuilding its traditionally warm relations with Kabul, New Delhi has concentrated on delivering on transport and social infrastructures, assisting in road-building and power generation and schools and hospitals, delivering food, training personnel. It's won goodwill among Afghans, and it also heeded the limitations placed by geography on India's role. It's therefore understandable that in raising Indo-Afghan ties to a strategic partnership during his Kabul visit this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was keen to emphasise these ties were not targeted at any other state.
Nonetheless, the move signals a reversal of the impression of drift that had set in since the terrorist attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul three years ago. Conscious of the heightened risk to Indian installations, India had seemed to be reducing its footprint in Afghanistan. Now less than a fortnight after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan has returned all stakeholders to the drawing board, the prime minister has asserted India's intent to stay the course on its earlier commitments, and to supplement them with other security measures to remain on the curve in the new situation. It's significant that this outreach seeks to embrace Pakistan in its sweep — Dr Singh and Afghan President Hamid Karzai's joint statement speaks of promoting regional integration.
There's, however, some ambiguity about the Indian stand on Karzai's plan on reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. In his comments, the prime minister appeared to welcome Karzai's efforts, but the nuance was telling. He emphasised Afghanistan's right to do so without outside influence. But in coming months the kind of benchmarks Karzai places for any power-sharing with the Taliban should be crucial in determining the acceptability of the move.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
JANTAR, CHHU MANTAR
As you savour this election verdict, remember the line that the Jantar Mantar candle-light vigilantes so loved to paint on their Gandhi (Anna) caps: Mera neta chor hai. It was spoken with such vehemence, and so adored by PLUs, that you had to be suicidal to question it. Defending the politicians? Have you had your head examined lately? Your best friends would catch you in five-star hotel lobbies and chide: "You defending the system? What's wrong with you, you were such a nice guy? This mood is not against democracy. This is against bloody politicians." "Apolitical", or "people's" democracy, was the flavour of that heady fortnight.
It was a matter of time — actually very little time — before the clamour of mera neta chor hai brought to us its inevitable echo, or the other side of the same philosophical coin: mera voter chor hai. That was always the sentiment underlying the Armani-Jimmy Choo "Revolution" of Jantar Mantar: that our democracy only installed illiterate, crude, crooked, good-for-nothings in power while the really virtuous, the self-styled EPs ("Eminent People"), leaders of the self-defined Civil Society, who mostly spoke with each other, activists and busybodies, the really smart and honest Indians, were excluded.
And the one responsible for this atrocity was the usual suspect, the Indian voter, who answered exactly the same description as the neta: stupid, illiterate, crude, ignorant, and finally, but most importantly, corrupt. If you had dared to question this when the jasmine-scented smoke of candles was wafting in our TV studios, you would have been instantly convicted and sentenced for being pro-corrupt and anti-democracy. You had to be recklessly brave to raise these questions in that phase of Prime Time McCarthyism.
The really bright, intelligent and, most importantly, "honest" Indians were now bringing you your Tahrir Square, to liberate you from tyranny. And tyranny of what else but this curse called India's electoral democracy. And you were complaining? Whose side were you on? A perfectly intelligent and creative actor as Anupam Kher (if you want to see how brilliantly talented he is, go watch his autobiographical solo act, Kuchh Bhi Ho Sakta Hai, next time he brings it to your city) was exhorting us to throw our Constitution out of the window. Neha Dhupia, who cut such a fetching yet convincing figure in Phas Gaye Re Obama as the S&M, man-hating don-madam of Uttar Pradesh's kidnapping mafia, tweeted that when she landed in Delhi a day after Anna's fast, the air already felt less corrupt to her. All this nonsense, even if from such talented and well-meaning people, was given wide currency by many of us in the media as if this was our moment of deliverance — from our rotten democracy. Yet, it took the simple honesty of venerable Anna Hazare himself to say clearly what was being insinuated in whispers, or read between the lines: that the one responsible for the destruction of our democracy, governance and public life, was our silly voter. To borrow an expression from Barack Obama, Anna Hazare spiked his own movement's football by explaining why if he contested elections he would lose his deposit, because our voter, the corrupt, drunken idiot, would merely trade her vote for cash, a sari, a bottle of liquor.
All of us who applauded that now need to write a big, grovelling apology to the voter. She has defied all these temptations to deliver a verdict as wise and decisive as any seen anywhere. More specifically, an even humbler note of apology is due to the people of Tamil Nadu, painted as the most corrupt of all with awful, awful stereotypes thrown at them: they only vote for saris, liquor and 500-rupee notes (two "Gandhis" before polling, and two after the results if the "right candidate" wins). Gandhi, if you haven't figured already, is the code for a 500-rupee note because it carries the Mahatma's portrait. The proposition was that because the DMK had them in the bag with all these bribes and the freebies, they would continue to vote them back to power, ignoring Raja and 2G. How could you trust "such" voters with electing your rulers? And what could you expect when your voters sold out for bribes, and elected bribe-givers who, in turn, would recover their "investment" many times over and so on. After today's verdict, will you still dare to say this?
The very same voter has come out in numbers unprecedented in electoral history (when voting percentages are declining around the world) and thrown rotten egg on all our faces. All of us, upper crust, upper caste, well-heeled PLU,
EP, howsoever flattering the acronym we fabricate to describe ourselves, should collectively apologise to the wise people of Tamil Nadu. Can you imagine how lousy (even if cynically vindicated) we would have felt if they had elected the same venal DMK again? So bow to them, in your newly painted Gandhi (Anna) cap, and say a sincere sorry.
Just when the most protected and privileged classes are demonising and demolishing the "system", those allegedly at its most brutally unjust receiving end have stood up to protect it. Even in Assam, which is so smugly and lazily described as "insurgency-ridden" in civil society and media discourse despite it having been so peaceful for so long, the voter turnout was 75 per cent. And in West Bengal, allegedly reeling under a million mutinies, 84 per cent. Did all these voters brave the May heat in India's most humid zones to vote because somebody bribed them, or fed them hooch? How smugly contemptuous can we, the well-heeled, be of our poorest, most vulnerable and most exploited brethren who not only protect our freedoms but also give us the gift of their collective wisdom by electing or rejecting our governments on merit, and help build our institutions. All this while we pour scorn on politics and democracy, march the streets of South Bombay and Lutyens' Delhi threatening to not pay taxes, to throw out the "system". And how do we vote? Compare South Bombay's 43.3 and South Delhi's 47 (our two most PLU/ EP constituencies) to 85 per cent in the Maoist heartland of Jhargram in tribal West Bengal. And who won Jhargram, the most romantically celebrated "liberated" zone? Mamata's candidate Sukumar Hansda; the candidate of the very pro-Maoist "civil society", the PCAPA's Chhatradhar Mahato, lost his deposit. A revolution, you said? We have seen one today, but not one we had been promised! And thank the poorest, most honest Indian, our voter, for that.
This is a free country, so you have the right to question and attack the "system". But the problem is, our civil society, media, intellectual and ideological discourse are all still thin and shallow. They have a long way to go before they can match the depth and maturity of our voting classes. They make a destructive lynch mob with an unquestioning, don't-confuse-me-with-facts media. They can severely undermine the very institutions that protect our freedoms, rights and entrepreneurship. Of course, the "system" develops aberrations but correctives must come from within it, not from outside with hastily, self-servingly and ultimately self-destructively invented constructs like "civil society", Eminent People (EP), Empowered Committees, court-appointed "Eminent" outsiders and so on. Many of us, in frustration, have resorted to these shortcuts — even that the Lokpal be appointed similarly by "Eminent" outsiders of "unimpeachable Integrity". In fact, this amounts to demanding almost a "civil society" coup d'etat by depoliticising democracy and governance. We must introspect. So, indeed, must our higher courts which, I should argue with humility, have unwittingly played along with this mood and are now, to use a cliché judges love to use in their judgments, hoist with their own petard: the political class is hitting back so artfully by manoeuvring to get panels of EPs to select judges, hoping to throw out the Supreme Court's hallowed collegium and, if they had their way, expose all judiciary to the deprecatory gaze of the na-appeal, na-vakil, na-daleel Lokpal, selected, generally, by the same EPs who would be elected by nobody, but selected, in turn, by fellow EPs. Why? Because the voter is too stupid to give you a system that can get it right from within. If you still believe that dangerous nonsense, read today's verdict again.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE DIE IS CAST
In a rapidly changing security environment in Pakistan and Afghanistan, India has finally taken a decisive leap forward — one that signals a commitment for the long haul in Afghanistan and, more importantly, bears an underlying message that New Delhi is prepared to take hard decisions to stay the course. It was this backdrop that made Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's two-day visit to Kabul a milestone of sorts.
What happens from here on will depend a lot on how the Afghanistan government visualises the strategic partnership with India, announced during the PM's visit. From an Indian standpoint, the decision to go ahead with such a partnership had to be preceded by a larger political call on whether Delhi should open the doors for security cooperation with Kabul. And the decision seems to be in the affirmative, which clearly opens up several possibilities.
By instinct, the Manmohan Singh government is extremely cautious on security decisions and has always looked to avoid or delay any subject that could potentially provoke an undesirable reaction. The fact that Pakistan-sponsored terror elements constantly targeted Indian assets was not easy to deal with. The government, at the highest levels, thought it prudent to tone down the Indian presence and take up projects which would not require heavy manpower deployment in Afghanistan.
Going by the intent shown in the PM's visit, this approach is changing. Not only is India keen to deepen its assistance but it is also prepared to expand the basket. However, the extra caution is still very much present in this otherwise bold move. The declaration on strategic partnership specifically clarifies that it is not directed against any state or group of states, which in itself reflects the complexities involved in taking this partnership forward.
Not just that, the PM and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai have desisted from putting down concerns over cross-border terrorism. Afghanistan has this mentioned in almost every other joint document but not with India. Even India has this condemnation against terrorist safe havens mentioned in most other documents with important powers, including the Indo-US joint statement issued during President Barack Obama's visit last year.
This is not to say the two countries don't share similar views — in fact, they share absolutely the same views but both want this to be least provocative. This reflects the growing maturity and confidence in the relationship — the mutual understanding that any such statement of solidarity could have a negative bearing on the security of both countries.
In many ways, what went unsaid and unstated in the visit is what fundamentally aligns India and Afghanistan today. The implication of each word they say, or every move they make together, is a calculation neither can make definitively. Yet, the dice had to be cast this time. This was part of a larger reassessment of India's role in Afghanistan after the decision of the US and other NATO powers to gradually reduce military presence in the region.
Karzai also realises that Afghanistan needs reliable options within the region as it tries to shape its own future. Then there is a clear commitment to democracy which provides an ideal political backdrop to the partnership and, finally, the fact that India has been able to build relationships beyond old Northern Alliance partners, particularly among the Pashtuns, bolsters the prospects.
But as it takes shape, this partnership is bound to encounter some rough weather. The announcement in itself would have repercussions beyond the boundaries of India and Afghanistan. It is not just Islamabad but Beijing too that is watching these developments closely.
The key for India would be to prove itself as a reliable strategic partner. For most of the past decade, Delhi has tried to pretend that the Af-Pak conflict was not its war because it suited all actors, including the US. But if the move to dilute Western military presence prompted a rethink, the Abbottabad operation validates the change of policy.
The bottomline is that India has to invest in Afghanistan's security for its own sake — be it training the police or even helping the Afghan armed forces in future. It may test India's political leadership, but it is clearly the course to follow in relatively uncertain times.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
MANDATE FOR THE FUTURE
PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
Nothing explodes hubris more effectively than an election. In West Bengal, the Left's hubris was of a strange kind. The Communist Party had acquired a sense of invulnerability on the basis of its early achievements, its control of the state apparatus, and the street might of its cadres. The tenacious persistence and decisiveness of Mamata Banerjee has finally dealt a crushing blow to this suffocating stranglehold. It feels like a new dawn. In Tamil Nadu, a family had managed to treat the state as a personal family fiefdom, blurring all the lines between business and politics, public and private, personal ambition and public welfare. Even though the alternative did not have an exemplary record, the electorate taught the DMK an extraordinary lesson: you cannot get away with everything.
The results are a mixed bag for the Congress. But there is a sobering message from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka: do not presume that you can manage local politics on the template of a consultant strategy chalked out in Delhi. Rahul Gandhi's party reform experiments will come to naught if the party cannot fix three things. It needs more local leaders to emerge whose identity and base depends on their constituents, not the party high command. On issues, it cannot run with the hare and hunt with hound. It did so on corruption. And it did so on Telangana, weakening its own position. Its leaders need to take more unequivocal stands on important issues. There is also a signal for the BJP. The BJP was a small player in these states. But they have shown no ability to expand their footprint. The BJP had invested a lot of political capital in a new strategy in Assam. It has come a cropper.
The leadership of all three national parties, the Left, the Congress and the BJP, suffered from versions of the same hubris: failing to understand local dynamics. The Left put up a creditable showing in Kerala, against all odds. But it is hard not to speculate on what might have been had the party handled the Achuthanandan issue better. No amount of political strategising by the high command is any substitute for building a party from the ground up. But the biggest statement is against those whose hubris confused the corruption of politicians with the corruption of politics. Our politicians may be corrupt; the voters are not. There is no accountability like political accountability.
If elections tame hubris, they also generate an enormous churning of power. It is not a trivial fact that India will now have four powerful women chief ministers who stand on a political base of their own. Tarun Gogoi has demonstrated in Assam what is generally true of India: those leaders who have an ability to synthesise different constituencies, rather than divide them, stand a better chance.
This may, in a strange way, also be the implicit message of Banerjee's victory. Her courage, grit and raw determination have always been exemplary. I was once told by a senior BJP leader that they dare not even think about making inroads into West Bengal, because they were simply too afraid to conduct politics there. Banerjee not only survived a tough political environment; she has beaten the CPM at its own game, in ways that the Congress could not even dream of. She was also helped by the fact that during the last couple of years it seemed like the West Bengal CPM had lost its will to govern. Admittedly, the craving for "poriborton" was so overwhelming that it has swept her to power. But there is one more fact that should not be underestimated. She has, over the last two years, converted the Trinamool from an insurgent party into a genuinely broad-based party that has provided a space for all kinds of new constituencies. The sheer range and diversity of political, intellectual and administrative talent in the party is deeply impressive. Despite the fact that her political breakthrough came in the Singur agitations, she has been careful not to become a polarising figure; all kinds of sections have become more comfortable with her. If she can unleash the long suppressed talent in Bengal, and use her political capital to navigate contradictions rather than exacerbate them, there is no stopping West Bengal. It is too early to pass judgment on what her rule will be like. But there is good reason to be confident that in the end, Indian democracy, for all its faults, educates its leaders into moderation.
What will be the consequences of this election? For each of the individual states in question the results are likely to be for the better. It will depend on what lessons both victors and losers take from this outcome. But one thing is clear. Indian politics is an entirely open field of possibilities. If the Congress is vulnerable in Andhra, it changes the arithmetical possibilities dramatically. The impending demise of regional parties has been hugely exaggerated. It is also good for Indian democracy that the Left put up a good show in Kerala. It gives the party enough of a leg to stand on and keep alive a voice than needs to be heard, if not heeded. Hopefully it will learn the lesson that an old style, genuinely political leadership will serve its cause better than JNU mandarins. The Congress may be exulting in the fact that the DMK's loss may give it more leverage over its allies. But this would be a mistake. If the Congress continues to appear to be close to the DMK, it will lose more in terms of its image than it will gain in tactical terms.
There is great uncertainty looming over the horizon. Let us not forget the fact that "administrative" events like an odd CAG report can transform the political mood and calculations immeasurably. Politics can also be easily thrown off rail by any one of the countless politically significant court cases in the Supreme Court. And, as in Singur, agitational politics can acquire a momentum of its own. With politics in UP opening up, there is going to be immense uncertainty in the days ahead. There will be no structural logic that will determine the outcomes; politics will remain hostage to contingency. We are also living in times where no simple ideological polarities will work: aam admi versus industry, rural versus urban, caste versus class, aspiration versus welfare, poor versus rich. The economic forces that shape the life chances of voters are far too complicated for such dichotomies. Political possibilities will be shaped by those who can combine leadership and judgment. If any party becomes complacent or arrogant, or too clever by half, the Indian voter will show them who has the last word.
The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
BREAKING OUT OF THE RED COCOON
MIHIR S SHARMA
There have been Communists in Writers' Buildings longer than I have lived, as for most of Bengal. We grew up in a one-party state; the CPM yearly seemed to intensify its hold over every aspect of civic life: promotions, licences, permits, syllabi in universities. We had a glorious past to clutch, and so unchanging Left Front rule seemed to, at least in others' eyes, say something essential about our refusal to accept change.
And now that the Left has been swept away, and the rest of the country is hesitantly trying to pronounce "poriborton", what happens? Will a new Bengal emerge from the cocoon of red flags and red tape the government had built for us?
Outside neighbourhood Trinamool headquarters, in Kalighat, in trucks trailing Trinamool tricolours, you will see rejoicing of the sort one sees after victory, the air thick with abir. The cameras are there, understandably, and so is the world's attention. But, given Mamata's extraordinary mandate, the great city's narrow streets seem oddly quiet. The conversations you hear are, if anything, less political than you'd expect in a town famous for loud and pointless polemic. Even after the results, the city is holding its breath.
It is not that there is disbelief the Left is gone. This isn't the death of a tyrant, you know, when people weep in the streets, unsure if it is relief or grief. This is a democracy, and after the panchayat polls, after the general elections, everyone accepted that the long sunset of the Stalinists was occurring — even the CPM. The city did not turn green on Friday morning, it has been so for months now, the red flags tattered, half-visible, Mamata's "Maa mati manush" carved into every street-corner bust of Indira Gandhi.
What you hear depends on who you talk to, of course. Kolkata's intellectual elite — Kolkata has no other elite — turned on the Left years ago. In their suspension of disbelief you glimpse what made them a bulwark of the Left for so long before that. The urban poor was always hers, abandoned long ago by Marxists unable to cultivate what should have been their staunchest supporters — blinded by theory that kept them in servitude to a trade unionism of insiders, at the expense of those on the outside who desperately needed a foot in the door. But elsewhere, things are not so simple. In a strange inversion, parties imagined as an alliance between the intelligentsia and the workers have become instead, parties of the middle class, with bhadra Buddha clones in shabby-genteel drawing rooms across Bengal pursing their lips, wondering what will come.
And let us too ask: what happens now? The broken Left has few answers. Will they, as outgoing minister Gautam Deb threatened, show the Trinamool that when it comes to agitation-politics, they still have a few lessons to teach Mamata? Will their anger turn to the South Delhi seminar-room Marxists that have crushed the state unit's aspirations ever since the "historic blunder" that denied Jyoti Basu the premiership, exactly 15 years ago today? Will the actually-existing socialism of Buddhadeb and Co win that fight, pushing the CPM towards being a radical social-democratic party as CPs everywhere else have become, instead of the terrifying theorist-and-goonda coalition that it became in India?
The Left may have lost, but so has Bengal's Congress. It lost in allowing the Trinamool enough safe seats that it can govern on its own. It lost in not seizing the moment to deploy a few newer faces, the way Mamata did; its local units gripe endlessly about insider candidates that feel they have a straight line to New Delhi. It lost over a decade, unable to perform as a functional opposition, too subservient to what New Delhi declared were the compulsions of national party. No amount of Youth Congress gimmickry will change that.
And for Mamata? In the conch-blowing and cheers of Kalighat, it was difficult to hear her speak. But after she shushed her supporters, it was vintage Didi: Tagore, shout-outs to every disadvantaged section imaginable, an admonition to go home and bathe. Nobody knows how she intends to satisfy the aspirations that brought her to power. Nobody knows what her instincts for governance are, unless they were revealed in her stint as railway minister, in which case there isn't enough money in the Consolidated Fund of India for the state-funded populism she will want to unleash. We can just hope that the relentless negativity that fuelled her long stubborn struggle against the Left has place in it, too, for a little poriborton.
In the end, that's why Kolkata is still holding its breath. So much of what Bengal has become rested upon the assumption that change happened to other people. Today, all its parties, all its people, will have to change.
Now, if we do not become what we always said we would become once we were a "normal" state, we will have nobody else to blame.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WHO NEEDS THE OTHER MORE, THE CONGRESS OR THE DMK?
In the era of coalitions, Tamil Nadu, with only 39 parliamentary seats, has come to punch much above its weight in national politics.
Now, J. Jayalalithaa's spectacular victory has exploded the easy assumption that the Congress's 10 per cent share of the vote is the deciding factor as to which of the two Dravidian alliances has the upper hand. The Congress bought into this myth and insisted on fighting 63 seats but ended up winning only a few. The Congress cadre was unhappy with the DMK, and disunity within its own ranks, with the G.K. Vasan, K.V. Thangabalu and P. Chidambaram factions pulling in different directions, took its toll.
The DMK fared no better, and lost badly even in erstwhile strongholds. The DMK was mauled in Madurai, considered M.K.Alagiri's pocketborough. In northern Tamil Nadu, the DMK alliance was supposed to be particularly strong because of its tie-up with the PMK, which has the support of the Vanniyar community. Here too, the DMK lost out.
The pro-Jayalalithaa wave was felt throughout the state. Her alliance partner, the DMDK led by actor Vijayakanth, played a major role in attracting the youth vote. In fact, Jayalalithaa proved remarkably astute in her election strategy. She realised that a tie-up with the DMDK was crucial because the state's voters were desperately looking for a new face. In the 2006 assembly poll, Jayalalithaa and Vijayakanth's combined vote-share was greater than the DMK- Congress haul in 65 constituencies. At the same, Jayalalithaa drove a tough bargain with Vijayakanth, a novice in politics, conceding only 41 seats to his party. As a result, the AIADMK now commands a majority on its own.
Another smart Jayalalithaa strategy was to counter the PMK by getting the support of Vanniyar social organisations, as opposed to the community's political wing. She refused to yield to long-time ally Vaiko's demand for more seats for his MDMK, calculating that his supporters were unlikely to back the DMK.
But in the end, it was not alliance arithmetic and caste combinations as much as Jayalalithaa's clever milking of the issue of the DMK first family's corruption and the anti-incumbency mood which won the day.
The DMK's rout in the assembly elections will undoubtedly impact the UPA government in one way or the other. Since the 2G scam broke, the Congress-DMK partnership has looked increasingly like a marriage of convenience — the real question is, which side needs the other more? The DMK, with 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha, is the Congress's second largest alliance partner and the Manmohan Singh government could be distinctly unstable if it walks out. Last year Jayalalithaa had presciently urged the Congress to dump the DMK and offered to fill the vacuum with the support of her eight MPs and the backing of smaller national parties. But the Congress had demurred, unsure about her dependability. Aligning with either of the two Dravidian parties is always a Hobson's choice for the Congress.
The DMK finds itself in a similar dilemma. The CBI investigations into the 2G scam have netted some big fish from the DMK, including Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi, whose bail application ruling was deferred until after the election results. With the Supreme Court keeping a vigilant eye over the investigations, the Congress, in any case, is in no position to protect Kanimozhi. Decimated in the state, the DMK now desperately needs the UPA government's protection and DMK representation in the Central government obviously helps. On the other hand, there is the question of family and party pride — can the grand old man of the DMK afford to sit back if his daughter and possibly other family members are sent to jail?
Even as the votes were being counted, some political pundits theorised that the issue of corruption (2G scam) would not affect the Tamil Nadu voter, especially in the rural areas. They explained that the DMK ran a fairly efficient administration, had started a number of populist schemes for the poor and had promised more freebies if it came to power. The much vaunted DMK party machine, particularly in rural areas and among the poor, was another factor cited for its likely triumph. But the Tamil Nadu voter shattered the belief that she is not concerned about corruption, only about cheap rice and colour TV sets. The Karunanidhi family's flagrant misuse of government machinery to line its own pockets, both at the
Centre and in the state, proved to be its undoing.
That is the real reason the Congress needs to distance itself from the DMK, if it does not want to be tarred further by the same brush.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE DAY AFTER
The Day After
After the Abbottabad raid, Pakistan's army has sought an inquiry into what it has been condemning as a violation of Pakistani airspace and sovereignty. The News reported on May 9: "An initial investigation report has revealed that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) radars installed in Peshawar and Risalpur were functioning properly on May 2 and the movement of some planes was detected near the Jalalabad border at 11 pm before the US helicopters entered Abbottabad... PAF formed a special investigation committee to probe the violation of Pakistan's airspace... The committee will investigate how Pakistan's radar system, which could detect the flights outside Pakistan's limit, could not notice the US helicopters... PAF will also examine whether the planes were meant to divert the attention of Pakistani forces."
The Daily Times reported on May 10 that Pakistan's PM Yousuf Raza Gilani has absolved the ISI of any role in aiding and abetting jihadi elements in the country. "Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd," said Gilani. "Any attack against Pakistan's strategic assets whether overt or covert will find a matching response. No one should underestimate the resolve and capability of our nation and armed forces to defend our sacred homeland. The ISI is a national asset and has the full support of the government." He then went on to recount Pakistan's contribution to the war on terror: "Some 40 key al-Qaeda operatives were captured by the ISI. No other country... and security agency has done so much." Concluding that "Pakistan alone cannot be held to account for flawed policies and blunders of others", Gilani raised some questions: "Who was responsible for the birth of al-Qaeda... for making the myth of bin Laden?" He said Pakistan is not the birthplace of al-Qaeda. "We did not invite bin Laden to Pakistan or even to Afghanistan."
The News quoted Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani, telling CNN that "some heads may roll" after an investigation into the Abbottabad raid. A report in The Daily Beast, which said the ISI chief, Shuja Pasha, would be Pakistan's fall guy for the embarrassment, was cited by all Pakistani newspapers. A report in The Express Tribune, however, quashed the notion. It also quoted security officials that Pasha was abroad on a trip to a "friendly state" to discuss the fallout of the Abbottabad operation. Dawn though said that he was on a visit to the US.
Dawn also reported Gilani announcing a visit to China from May 17: "In a speech taking veiled swipes at the US... Gilani hailed China as Pakistan's 'all weather friend.'" He also called China a "source of inspiration."
Dawn reported on May 13: "The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed... their first major revenge for Osama's death as more than 80 people were killed and 115 wounded in a suicide attack on FC personnel near Charsadda. 'This was the first revenge for Osama's martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan,' TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said from an undisclosed location."
No Politics, Mr President
Daily Times reported a Lahore high court ruling that suggested President Asif Ali Zardari refrain from party politics: "The court hoped President Zardari would abide by the law and would disassociate himself from the party's political office... and that he would cease to use the presidency for political meetings of his party. The court had been holding ex parte proceedings on the petitions moved by Pakistan Lawyers' Forum head A. K. Dogar and others for disqualification of President Zardari for also holding the office of the PPP co-chairman." Zardari is currently on a trip to Russia.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
Looking for a central message across so many disparate states is always tricky, and in this case the results have also been quite different. Both Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa's clean sweeps have been accompanied by a massive increase in vote share; in Kerala, both fronts saw an increase in vote share, but the Congress-led UDF won by a one percentage point higher vote share that translated into 4 extra seats.The Congress did spectacularly in Assam in terms of vote share and seats, the peace in the state contributing to a consistent rise in GDP growth rates (3.4% in 2005-06 to 8.1% in 2009-10). The two central themes that suggest themselves for all states are complacency and corruption. With West Bengal's growth among the lowest in the country (at 7.4% p.a. in the last 4 years, only Rajasthan and UP delivered poorer growth among the big states) and its financial position deteriorating as a result of the poor growth (at 4.1%, its own-tax-revenues to GSDP are even lower than Assam's 5.1%), complacency was the Left's leitmotif. The state's finance's also deteriorated (see lead column today), so much that interest outgo eats up a fifth of the annual budget. It underlines just how long Mamata's haul will be.
Thanks to the DMK's industry-friendly image, high-profile investments in the state have risen over the years, and so has growth—at 8.8% p.a. in the last four years, this was the fastest among the states who elected new governments yesterday. While Dayanidhi Maran was telecom minister at the Centre, he ensured many telecom firms (Nokia comes to mind immediately) set up base in Tamil Nadu (under Jayalalithaa at that time); later, when the DMK came to power in Tamil Nadu, a host of automobile firms flocked to it. All of which would suggest, despite what media reports and opinion polls suggested (each one got it wrong for Tamil Nadu!), corruption was a far bigger issue than was initially imagined, including in rural areas. Though Tamil Nadu's average growth was respectable (it was lower than Gujarat, Orissa, Maharashtra and Bihar), it slowed significantly in 2007-08 and 2008-09. This may also have played a role in the DMK rout.
Going ahead, the picture is cloudy. There is no threat to the central government, if anything the DMK will likely be even more dependent upon the Congress. The question is what happens to reforms, the process of running government and attracting investment both at the Centre and the states. Mamata Banerjee remains opposed to the land acquisition Bill, though she might be a bit more cooperative, given the fiscal mess the state is in; on the other hand, she could be more aware of what land acquisition did to the Left's fortunes in Singur and Nandigram, and choose to dig in. Certainly, land acquisition will end up being the biggest football/hot potato over the short term. As for other reforms, the post-PAC standoff between the BJP and the UPA is bad news. At the level of the states, Mamata needs to prove her credentials to industry though the relief of seeing the Left out will be a big plus. Jayalalithaa has an image of being aloof, and industry would be wary, but she is unlikely to upset the investment surge in the state.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
BELIEVE THE IIP IF YOU WILL
Between February and March this year, when order books of engineering firms were slowing and all evidence on the ground suggested new projects were going the same way, the CSO will have us believe capital goods production rose a mind-boggling 77.3%—on a year-on-year basis, the hike was a lower 12.9%, but still pretty high. Given the sharp volatility in capital goods has been such a problem, it's a good idea to remove it—do that, and the March IIP rose 5.8%, down from 8.7% in February, a figure that intuitively squares with the evidence on the ground. It's a theoretical construct, but may not be too off the mark since, sans capital goods, a truncated IIP for the full FY11 grew 7.5% which is not too different from the reported 7.8%.
The good news is that April's IIP will probably be based on a new time-series with an updated base year as well. Presumably it will be more representative—the problem with the current one is that, with the inflation genie very much out there, a higher IIP in a particular month will also encourage RBI to continue with its rate-hikes. Paradoxically, a fuel-price hike, expected next week, will raise inflation while reinforcing the demand compression caused by the rate hikes.
So far, demand looks strong on a nominal basis, but once you adjust them for seasonality, both consumer goods and intermediate goods are slowing on a sequential basis. What's worrying is that while high commodity prices will continue to drive inflation, RBI's capacity utilisation survey for the December 2010 quarter shows levels are creeping up. With little evidence of capacity growing, and more rate hikes likely, that suggests IIP growth will be further constrained.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
AFTER THE POLL, THE INEVITABLE TOLL
Of the four states that came out of the election fever this weekend, the first priority of the new governments will be to petition the central government for radically stronger financial support. All of them, without exception, have whittled down the double shot of fiscal largesse that was built in the award of the 12th Finance Commission and the introduction of the value-added tax (VAT). While Tamil Nadu is not as fiscally challenged as West Bengal, Assam or Kerala, all of them have built up fiscal pressures that have got even more aggravated by the final year of promises, but not backed by a careful reading of their financial strength.
Among them, Tamil Nadu and Assam had also committed themselves to a fiscal reform calendar, but that constraint has not been accepted by West Bengal or Kerala. At first analysis, the stress on the fiscal in these states does not seem apparent except in the case of West Bengal. But it begins to look worrisome when one examines the disaggregated numbers for each state, namely the revenue deficit, the fiscal deficit and the market borrowing of each state.
In the Indian federal set-up, the states depend disproportionately on the level of central transfers. Compared to those transfers, their ability to generate resources from their own tax base has been limited. However, that picture changed for the better in 2005-06, which saw the states adopt VAT and almost simultaneously the commitment to fiscal responsibility. But, as we shall see later, that benefit has begun to taper off, as the expenditure bucket of the states expanded fast.
The other spoiler in the story was the slowdown in the Indian economy in 2008-09 that perceptibly worsened the fiscal position of the states.
So, in the first stage, in 2005-06, the four states being examined here began to reap the first rewards of lower revenue deficit. They were also helped by the fact that the 12th Finance Commission tied a reward to each state government to the number of milestones they achieved in the fiscal responsibility roadmap. The first set of numbers for revenue deficit for each state improved rather sharply since 2005-06.
But from thereon the picture gets muddied. The states, at one level, were attempting to clean up their revenue deficit. But the fiscal deficit of states like Assam and West Bengal was doing no catch up. This was because there was no incentive to reduce this deficit—the fiscal roadmap used the revenue deficit as an indicator, for good reason. The states, therefore, borrowed heavily and used the sum to run up supposedly good capital expenditure. This has often meant spending on costly projects without careful appraisal.
In this context, let's first examine Tamil Nadu, which has the strongest fiscal position among the four. Since 2005-06, the state has slipped from a surplus in its revenue account (-1.1%) as a percentage of the gross state domestic product (GSDP) to 0.8% by 2010-11 (budget estimates). Interestingly, in the same period, its market borrowing has gyrated wildly.
In 2008-09, it raised R9,598 crore from the market, which went up to R12,599 crore in the next fiscal, a rise of over 31%. Keeping in consideration the rise in market borrowing, the Planning Commission raised its gross allocation to R13,569 crore in 2010-11. But for this fiscal it has raised R9,981 crore only from the market (till March 23, 2011). Obviously, the two do not square up, because if there is a uniform improvement in the state report card, the borrowing should not be so out of whack. The primary deficit, which measures how much a state is adding to its deficit net of interest payments, bears out this story. From a negative 0.8% in the initial year, the number has worsened to positive 2% by the terminal year. As a result, from 2005-06 the state has pushed up its fiscal deficit as a percentage of the state domestic product to 3.7%, from an admirable 1.2% in 2005-06. Essentially, the experience shows the state has not been able to run its fiscal house in order. This is very new territory for Tamil Nadu, which till pretty recently had a very well managed fisc.
In this scenario, the new government in Fort St George is almost certain to ask the Centre for more support as its ability to extract more bang from the growth story in the state has got almost totally eroded.
Now take Assam. This state has seen one of the most startling deteriorations in its fiscal story at a time when other states, even among the special category states, have had a better run. Assam had a very robust positive revenue balance in 2005-06, helped by higher tax devolution and transfers from the Centre. But again, as the chart shows, this booty evaporated by 2010-11 to reach a very disappointing 6.1% of the GSDP. In fact, the state has been able to borrow only R800 crore in the last fiscal from the markets against the R3,361 crore of gross allocation allotted to it. Its fiscal deficit was a humongous 11.5% in 2009-10, and though the budget estimates for the last fiscal pegged it lower at 9.5%, the new government will most likely show a similar result.
But since RBI classifies all state government bonds as eligible for special liquidity ratio status (SLR), none of them, irrespective of what they do to the fisc, will be called upon to account for it. The SLR grade ensures that the banking system will offer well-managed states like Chhattisgarh or Gujarat the same spread as is offered to West Bengal or Assam.
To return to the main story, despite all the caveats of the asymmetric balance in revenue raising power of the Centre and the states, there is a clear pattern emerging now. Some of the states are consistently among the poster boys of improved fiscal management while others, equally consistently, are not.
Between Kerala and West Bengal, the former has done much better on internal housekeeping. As the numbers show since 2005-06, its revenue deficit has improved from 2.2% as a percentage of the GSDP to 1.5% by 2010-11 (budget estimates). At the same time, West Bengal had a 3% revenue deficit, that has only expanded to 3.4% as per its budget estimates for 2010-11. In the first 45 days of this fiscal, it has borrowed over R5,200 crore from the market at increasing spread. The borrowing is equal to the total debt raised by Kerala in the last fiscal.
West Bengal is possibly the last state in India to have signed the fiscal responsibility act, in December 2010. This means Mamata Banerjee will be forced into a fiscal straitjacket from the beginning itself. To counter the impact, it's certain she will have to petition the Centre for a special package.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
FROM RABBLE-ROUSER TO GIANT KILLER
Soon after the last phase of polling ended on May 10, party workers began descending on Mamata Banerjee's tiled, single-storey home on Harish Chatterjee Street near the famous Kalighat temple in Kolkata; the crowd growing as the counting day neared. Shouting slogans like Maa, Maati, Manusher joy (victory for the people, the land), Mamata, in her trademark dhonekhali sari (from the eponymous town in Nadia district) and hawaii chappals, came out of her home again and again to calm them down. She was quiet and composed, far from her usual agitated self, and announced that there would be no victory marches, exhorting her party workers to keep the peace at all cost. In between, she painted, listened to music (she is said to love Rabindrasangeet and nationalistic songs).
Once the trends were clear that her party would sweep the state, and stop the Left Front from forming its eighth government after 34 years of uninterrupted rule, the 56-year-old Mamata, street fighter at heart, prepared to take on a new challenge by accepting the people's verdict with "humility". If she is calm, it can be said it's partly because of the enormity of the situation. She had managed not only to stand up to the Left, but had also upstaged them, all in 13 years. It must be said that, although the Trinamool Congress was formed in 1998, Mamata has been a thorn in the Left Front's side ever since she joined the Congress in the 1970s. Through the years, and especially during the land agitations of Nandigram and Singur, Mamata was perceived to be doing what the Left should have been doing, speak up for the poor and downtrodden, marginal farmers and Muslims. For years now, Mamata has been walking through the state, north to south, east to west. Even during the campaign she kept a punishing schedule, walking 20-odd km everyday to meet people from every constituency. As finance minister probable Amit Mitra told us during the campaign, Mamata knows the state like no other.
As Mamata's star began to rise, the Left, strangely apathetic, perhaps arrogant would be a better word, after a seventh landslide win in 2006 (bagging 235 of 294 seats to Trinamool's 32), got further alienated from the people. Nowhere was the disconnect more evident than on the results-eve when the Left Front chairman Biman Bose insisted that the Left would form its eighth government—"there can be nothing other than this".
The Left will have to go back to the drawing board and pick itself up from scratch, and indulge in some serious soul-searching to find out where it went wrong. The reasons are evident everywhere—Bengal has become a laggard in most sectors, including industry where there haven't been any big-ticket investments in the state in the last two years. In 1976, just before the Left came to power, the share of industry was 27% in net state domestic product—it's now less than 18%; agriculture productivity is falling in a state where 60% of the population is dependent on agriculture; education, health, and infrastructure aren't doing well. With Mamata about to inherit a cash-strapped Bengal—it has a debt of R2 lakh crore and, since the elections were announced, the state had to borrow R5,173 crore from the banks for day-to-day operations—she is bound to feel the "weight of responsibility".With the state now giving Mamata its clearest mandate yet—the average turnout was the highest this election at 80%—she will have to deliver on her promises.
In her first remarks after the results, she drew parallels with the freedom struggle and promised good governance, saying there would be an end to "autocracy and atrocities". Her manifesto promises good governance, elaborate plans to rebuild the industrial might of Bengal, revive agriculture, attract large private investments in sectors such as engineering, steel, tea, jute, textiles, mining, power and food processing, rejuvenate tourism, and revive Darjeeling. But even though the people may have voted overwhelmingly for her, Mamata will be keenly watched because her track record as railways minister hasn't been good. To take just one example, she has announced 19 projects in Bengal alone, but only two are anywhere near taking off. Despite her party winning the Kolkata municipal elections last year, it hasn't managed to make life better in the city. But that's another story, and it can't take away from an incredible victory.
DECIDEDLY MIXED RESULTS
No one explanatory framework could have held together the 2011 Assembly elections in four States and one Union Territory. The issues were different, as were the personalities, in West Bengal and Assam in the east of the country, and Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and the Union Territory of Puducherry in the south. For West Bengal, this was a watershed election, marking the end of the 34-year-rule of the Left Front headed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). A government led by Trinamool Congress, with the mercurial Mamata Banerjee as Chief Minister, will be of a very different persuasion from the ones headed by Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Having drawn on the support of sections and classes with conflicting interests, Ms Banerjee could steer the State in new, even if unpredictable, directions. In Tamil Nadu, the return to power of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, with the charismatic Ms Jayalalithaa at the helm, holds long-term import for the socio-economic development and governance of the State. As for Kerala, the 2011 contest will be best remembered for the performance of the loser, not for the victory of the Congress-led United Democratic Front. In a State known for bringing about a regime change every five years, the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front, riding a late surge created by the campaign of the octogenarian Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, almost nullified the anti-incumbency sentiment to make this the closest election since 1965, when the contest produced a hung Assembly. Assam gave the Congress and Tarun Gogoi a hat-trick of wins, something of a rarity in recent years. In Puducherry, the Congress lost to its breakaway group, the N.R. Congress led by former Congress Chief Minister N. Rangaswamy, which had fought the election in the company of the AIADMK.
In Andhra Pradesh, another breakaway group of the Congress, the YSR Congress formed by Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, has jolted the ruling party by the enormous margins of its victory in the by-elections to the Kadapa Lok Sabha and Pulivendula Assembly constituencies. The rise of the YSR Congress threatens to destabilise the demoralised Congress regime in South India's largest State, as many YSR loyalists might see political advantage in switching sides early. The overall consequences of the April-May 2011 elections are hard to predict. While the Congress can take some comfort from its victories in Assam, West Bengal, and Kerala, it will have to deal with increased pressures and changing equations within the United Progressive Alliance. While managing relations with a strengthened TMC will be a challenge, its alliance with the DMK is likely to face an existential crisis sooner than later, given the comprehensiveness of the Tamil Nadu rout and the increasing heat of the 2-G corruption cases.
JUST DESSERTS IN TAMIL NADU
Power corrupts. That may be broadly true but it does not follow in the least that corruption can be the basis and guarantor of power. That is the main message from the Tamil Nadu Assembly election of 2011. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam badly underestimated the political sagacity of the electorate and sought once again to buy up its loyalty. Defying predictions of a close contest, the voters turned out in unprecedented numbers in town and country and vented their accumulated anger against unrestrained corruption, against what was perceived as the inexorable movement towards one-family rule through the appropriation of the State's wealth, power, and resources by various members of the ruling family, against the failure of the government to manage a major power crisis and contain the price spiral, and against flagrant contempt for the rule of law. Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi seems to have laboured under the belief that his regime's welfare schemes and wide social safety net were enough to offset the negative perceptions about these issues. Its positive record in delivering welfare and health services and implementing infrastructure projects was besmirched by its incompetence in dealing with the State's electricity shortage. Incidents such as the tragic killing of three employees of a Tamil newspaper in Madurai as a result of a feud within the DMK leader's family, and the virtual immunity that accompanied the crime, contributed in no small measure to the perception that the rule of law was undermined by political interference and that power flowed from extra-constitutional sources.
But that is only one part of the story. The alliance with a faction-ridden and demoralised Congress, which fought above its weight and has been reduced to a single digit presence in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, proved to be a fatal weakness for the DMK. Voters realised during the campaign that the 2G spectrum allocation scam was a co-production, where the venality of the DMK actors — who had planned, executed, and benefitted from India's biggest corruption scandal – was enabled by the amoral attitude and actions of the Congress leadership of the central government. Alliance arithmetic has always been a factor in Tamil Nadu elections. Ms Jayalalithaa — a strong leader who returns to power for a third substantive term as Chief Minister backed by a four-fifths majority in the Legislative Assembly — got the alliance arithmetic absolutely right. But this election was essentially not about arithmetic. It was a powerful rejection of a regime that, unable to distinguish right from wrong, went down in an akratic haze.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
A CASE FOR RESTRAINT AND MODERATION
IN THE CONTEXT OF THE ELECTION RESULTS, NOTHING SO BECOMES A VICTOR AS GRACE IN SUCCESS, AND NOTHING MAKES VICTORY SEEM SO WELL DESERVED AS COURTESY TOWARDS THE ONE WHO HAS LOST.
This is a season of celebration, and of lamentation. Elections have distributed success and failure, victory and defeat. This is not an hour for restraint.
And yet, that is exactly what it should be.
In the elections held in 1934 to the Central Legislative Assembly, the Madras Presidency had 16 seats. Of these, three were reserved for Muslims and one each for the Depressed Classes and Landholders. In effect, the Congress had 11 seats to contest. Robust opposition was given to the Congress candidates by the Justice Party, which was in power in the Province.
The Congress, which had been conducting a spirited campaign against untouchability and for social reform, faced opposition from the orthodox sections of the Madras population as well. "In the name of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva," a leaflet said, "we exhort you to teach those who wish to interfere with our religion a lesson they will never forget. Will you vote for God or for Mr. Rajagopalachari and his Congress nominees?"
The Presidency's voters were not awed by God. Certainly not by that version of God.
They voted, in that election, emphatically for the Congress, which won all 11 seats. "You have reason to be proud of your marvellous achievement," Congress President Vallabhbhai Patel wired CR.
Did crackers go off?
CR, as President of the Tamilnad Congress, had some suggestions for his party on how to take victory. "This is an hour of restraint," he wrote to S. Satyamurti who had won a dramatic victory in the Madras seat over Sir A. Ramaswami Mudaliar. "Our success," he said, "is no disgrace for our opponents. You must enforce this in all your talks, private or public."
Seventy-seven years on, after results for the elections held for five legislatures have all come in, it is worth asking: have restraint and moderation marked its successes? Or are we proving right the words of Oscar Wilde: "Moderation is a fatal thing, nothing succeeds like excess."
Wilde has also said something that would fit perfectly a victorious candidate's feelings in a 'hung' verdict: "The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster."
Indian voters voting for governments within the States have disfavoured ambiguity. They have generally been voting emphatically, making the 'play' and the 'audience' agree with each other. It is another matter that the regional votes, categorical in themselves, when put together on to the chequerboard of our parliamentary results, have yielded less than a two-thirds or a three-fourths majority for the number one party.
But to come back to success and failure, victory and defeat.
Nothing so ill becomes a victor as gloating, nothing reflects so well on success as sobriety.
In the 1962 election to the Lok Sabha, the constituency of North Bombay saw a celebrated contest between V.K. Krishna Menon from the Congress and Acharya Kripalani, an independent supported by almost the entire Opposition. "A vote against Menon is a vote against me," Prime Minister Nehru had said. And campaigning for the battle-scarred freedom warrior, Rajagopalachari had "blessed" the Acharya, calling his contest a great gain for democracy "whether we win or not." Krishna Menon won, resoundingly. And the first thing he did was to call on the defeated veteran in his temporary abode in the city to which neither belonged.
In 1977, when the democratic opposition led by Jayaprakash Narayan won a victory that would have been thought impossible even a few weeks earlier, the man of whom it was said, "not since Mahatma Gandhi has a single individual without power of office exerted as much influence on India," did something that would have been thought equally impossible. Shortly after the Janata government had been installed, JP called on Indira Gandhi, against whose National Emergency he had pitted his lifetime's reputation as a political organiser, and his renal health as well.
In 2004, after being sworn in Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh observed a high-minded practice in calling on the man he had faced as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha for five tense years and whom he was now succeeding — Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Nothing so becomes a victor as grace in success, nothing makes victory seem so well deserved as courtesy towards the one who has lost.
But there is more to the ambient dynamics of victory and defeat than the grace or gracelessness that can accompany them. Something integral to the contestation itself is involved. And that, in a mature democracy, is the acknowledgment of three features of elective trust: first, its conditionality; second, its reversibility; and, third, its supremacy.
The voter reposes trust, rather than power. The elector confers opportunity rather than sovereignty.
The elected are wont to regard victory as anointing, success as coronation. They are in grievous error, even if only momentary, in thinking so. And in the progress towards the moment longed for they believe, mistakenly in large part, that elective trust is manipulable, purchasable and eternal. Whence, the celebration with crackers, with colours, with conceit.
To go back to the most democratic organisation in the country before Independence, we must not forget that Gandhi, yes, the Mahatma himself, was virtually outvoted within the Congress when at Haripura in 1938 the AICC set his nominee Pattabhi Sitaramayya aside and elected Subhas Chandra Bose as President of the organisation. We must not forget that in 1967, the invincible Kumaraswami Kamaraj, who had said he would win his seat in Virudhunagar "without disturbing his sleep," was defeated by an unknown, Parimalam Srinivasan. We must not forget that in the same year, Bombay's strongman S.K. Patil was defeated by 37-year-old George Fernandes in an incredible result. We must not forget that in 1984 the redoubtable and respected Somnath Chatterjee was defeated by a 29-year-old Mamata Banerjee in what came to be called a 'giant-killing' contest in Jadavpur. Howsoever strong the political claimant, the individual with the vote in the collectivity of voting, is infinitely stronger.
And, more pertinently, like the proverbially high-on-memory elephant, the voter makes a quiet decision about when to garland the wooer and when to twirl its trunk around the dazed supplicant and, lifting the prone frame high, bring it down to earth.
It is a truism that the Indian voter cannot be taken for granted. It follows that candidates cannot be complacent. Also, that victors need not gloat and those defeated – I do not wish to use the phrase 'vanquished' – need not lament. But more important than this, those elected, whether they sit in the Opposition benches or with the ruling party, should know that the vote is a notice, not a certificate. They should know that the dust of defeat and the syrup of success rest in adjoining jars. The first is invariably earned retrospectively. The second is received on trust conditionally, retrievably, and with the confidence of ownership. It can be taken right back unless two things are respected: First, the dignity of the voter who is indistinguishable from the travails of India's common humanity. Second, the intelligence of the voter, which is no less than any master mathematician working on Differential Calculus.
( Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former Governor of West Bengal.)
SHADOWY COURIERS WERE OSAMA'S STRENGTH, UNTIL ONE GAVE HIM AWAY
AN EXTENSIVE AND COMPLEX COMMUNICATION NETWORK FORMED AL-QAEDA'S BACKBONE.
Despite his status as the world's most hunted man, Osama bin Laden managed to evade the counter-terrorism forces of numerous countries for a decade before being detected and killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan earlier this month.
Detainee files from the United States' Guantanamo Bay prison, released by WikiLeaks last month, help shed some light on the logistics of bin Laden's al-Qaeda regime. However, the information may not be entirely reliable as it was obtained, in many cases, through brutal and coercive interrogation techniques.
Going by the files, its seems much of bin Laden's success in maintaining control of al-Qaeda while on the run came from an intricate communications system, which, according to senior al-Qaeda facilitator, Mohammadou Ould Slahi, included "radio relay, couriers, encryption, phone boutiques, and satellite communication links to laptops" (Gitmo file: 760).
But the backbone of the system was the extensive and complex network of couriers on which al-Qaeda was "increasingly dependent" to communicate, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) noted in April 2003, according to a footnote in one of the files (Gitmo file: 216).
In fact, the organisation used couriers for much more than simple communication; the typical al-Qaeda courier had many more duties and responsibilities than the average FedEx man.
Couriers "provided financial and logistical services" for bin Laden and al-Qaeda, often "serving as a courier, accountant, and treasurer" and working "in various offices" for the organisation, as was the case with Ibrahim Ahmad Mahmoud al-Qosi, who also functioned as one of bin Laden's bodyguards (Gitmo file: 54).
A courier was regarded as "a special representative" of the organisation and many, like senior al-Qaeda member Abu Zubayda, found themselves a "part of" bin Laden's "inner circle" (Gitmo file: 10016).
Couriers swore " bayat" to al-Qaeda and its supremo; bayat is defined as "an oath of allegiance to a perceived senior" in an analyst's note (Gitmo file: 1457). "Some individuals met privately with" bin Laden "to swear bayat," according to Mashur Abdullah Muqbil Ahmnad al-Sabri, who had sworn bayat himself (Gitmo file: 324). All were expected to be loyal to both bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
These couriers were "associated with senior al-Qaida leadership," enjoyed "close personal relationships with" bin Laden "and his family," and the top-most, such as al-Sabri, "a guesthouse facilitator (a position of trust and authority)," were treated with what an interrogation analyst notes was "an uncommon, high level of trust" (Gitmo file: 321; Gitmo file: 324). Many, such as Mohammed Ahmed, were among bin Laden's "most trusted associates"; and some, like Mohammed Soliman, he considered "a personal friend" (Gitmo file: 54; Gitmo file: 567).
According to "mid to high-level Al-Qaida operative" Ali Abdullah Akhmed, couriers were entrusted with "funds for personnel, terrorist operations, and logistical support," passports, travel documents, communications and other equipment produced abroad as well as operational orders and plans. They were also in close touch with other couriers and senior al-Qaeda and Taliban members, including bin Laden, and had knowledge of "methods of travel and transportation" and "Operational Security and covert techniques" (Gitmo file: 69).
Couriers were familiar with several al-Qaeda associated guesthouse and safe house facilities, their personnel, and related activities, and also had an understanding of "sources, recipients, and use of funds couriered," according to U.S. agent notes (Gitmo file: 689).
Both al-Qaeda and the Taliban served as sponsors for couriers' travels, giving them large sums of money and knowledge of "extremist financial practices, methods, and other facilitators," Mohammed Akhmed Salam al-Hatabi told U.S. agents. Couriers "traveled using both authentic and falsified travel documents," "moved around a lot," and "had unidentified responsibilities" (Gitmo file: 708; Gitmo file: 321). Such "frequent travels" were "unusual for a fighter," an agent noted, helping identify those who had worked as couriers (Gitmo file: 256).
Owing to the intimate and important nature of a courier's work, "advanced training in operational security tradecraft," in addition to the "basic training course" given to all new recruits, was required for al-Qaeda couriers, "particularly those with international travel," detainee Jamil Ali al-Ka'bi told U.S. agents (Gitmo file:216).
Because of this training, couriers, unlike fighters, used code words in their communications, including "milk" for a type of machine gun and "oranges" for hand grenades (Gitmo file: 52). Some, like Issaa al-Murbati, continued to use these terms in letters home while detained. The use of this jargon was another indicator to U.S. agents trying to identify which of the detainees had worked as a courier.
The majority of detainees in Guantanamo Bay appear to have worked as money couriers, ensuring there would be no record of the money transfers al-Qaeda made to fund its operations.
Most carried smaller amounts of money, and for a courier to be entrusted with a large sum of money lent "credence to his status as a courier/facilitator in al-Qaeda," a U.S. agent notes (Gitmo file: 551). Still, couriers typically carried more cash than fighters, which provided U.S. agents with another clue as to their identity.
Different couriers employed different methods to transfer funds to the intended recipient, but a few were commonly used. Some couriered "money under the guise of dawa (charitable) donations," which was then used "to acquire weaponry" (Gitmo file: 52).
Detainee Abdul Salaam, who had family ties to the hawala business, "the only way known to send money to fellow family members" in Afghanistan, told interrogators how it was also used to route money for al-Qaeda (Gitmo file: 826). According to the file, money would be delivered to a hawala or "money exchange/forwarding business," in a country such as the United Arab Emirates. From there, it would be transferred to a hawala agent in Pakistan where it would be collected by a courier who would take it to an al-Qaeda-owned shop in Afghanistan, the file says. The shopkeeper would then hand the money over to an "accountant...who stores the money in a safe and hands out the money to the appropriate recipients."
Another method of money changing hands was for couriers to contact an operative on his cell phone; the latter would arrange to meet in a public place and accept the funds (Gitmo file: 10014). The operative might then courier the money to a higher-up.
Couriers, thus, "would have had names and telephone numbers of contacts," a fact which U.S. agents found very useful in tracking down other suspected al-Qaeda operatives (Gitmo file: 551). Captured cell phone numbers are repeatedly used, according to the records kept in the Guantanamo Bay files, to track down those with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda — and it was a courier's phone call that eventually led U.S. agents to bin Laden.
In addition to money and communications directives, couriers often transported passports for al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda fighters retreating "from Afghanistan to Pakistani tribal areas near Parachinar" were not allowed "to carry their passports while escaping along this route," said Khalid Adullah Mushad al-Mutayri, who "coordinated the escape" (Gitmo file: 213). Many of those "fleeing Afghanistan" "discarded" their passports, but others entrusted them with the organisation, which would "send their documents later via couriers," according to the file.
Typically, when identifying a good candidate to serve as a courier, al-Qaeda looked for "cover arrangements and lack of a documented criminal record or known ties to terrorists," because such a person could pass undetected through airports and other counter-terror hotspots (Gitmo files: 216).
As a courier had to make several international journeys, al-Qaeda also sought to recruit for this job those with "medical conditions which could be exploited to obtain a valid medical visa for travel" (Gitmo file: 117). While abroad, operatives would "not seek or receive medical treatment," as they were merely taking advantage of the fact that "travel permission (visa) was easier to obtain if the traveler claimed to be entering a country for medical treatment," the file notes.
Others "worked as a courier for al-Qaida operatives, using dawa (Islamic missionary duty) as a cover" (Gitmo file: 216). Missionary work for Jama'at Tablighi (JT), "a proselytizing organization" that was used "to facilitate and fund the international travels" of al-Qaeda members, was "a common al-Qaida cover story," and several operatives were even recruited by JT (Gitmo file: 196; Gitmo file: 52).
On the backs of this army of couriers rested the logistical integrity of al-Qaeda's mission. Without them, the organisation could not have functioned, and bin Laden could not have survived for so long. Equally, if not for one such courier, Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti, who gave himself away with a phone call in 2010 after Gitmo detainees tipped the U.S about his existence, the al-Qaeda supremo may have still been living. The strength of al-Qaeda thus became its weakness.
MARGINAL-ISED IN KADAPA
JAGAN'S TALLY OF AROUND 6.92 LAKH VOTES CRUSHED D.L. RAVINDRA REDDY OF THE CONGRESS BY A MARGIN OF OVER 5.5 LAKH VOTES.
Kadapa is where the problems for the Congress in Andhra Pradesh begin. Hyderabad and New Delhi are where they could reach fairly soon. Jaganmohan Reddy's sensational win in the by-election from the Kadapa parliamentary constituency, beating his nearest Congress rival by well over half a million votes, places the State party leadership in a bind and Kiran Reddy's future as Chief Minister in jeopardy. Adding to Jagan's victory is that of his mother Vijayamma from the Pulivendula Assembly segment of the same constituency.
Jagan's tally of around 6.92 lakh votes crushed D.L. Ravindra Reddy of the Congress by a margin of over 5.5 lakh votes. In this by-election, Kadapa's people mostly saw themselves as voting for the memory of Jagan's father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who was the Congress Chief Minister of the State when he died in 2009. Meanwhile, 'YSR's' widow Vijayamma demolished Vivekananda Reddy, former Agriculture Minister in the Kiran Reddy Cabinet and YSR's brother, with a margin of around 86,000 votes. Jagan led massively in every single segment of the parliamentary seat. In the Pulivendula segment alone, his lead over D.L. Ravindra Reddy exceeded one lakh votes. In the end, the scale of his triumph lent credence to the popular joke that Ravindra's initials stood for "Deposit Loss." As a matter of fact, barring Jagan and Vijayamma, every single candidate in both Kadapa and Pulivendula lost his or her deposit. That's over 60 persons, including all major party candidates like those of the Congress and the TDP. Chiranjeevi failed to deliver to the Congress even the meagre 63,000 votes that his Praja Rajyam Party candidate got in 2009. This despite the film star campaigning in Kadapa big time.
Kiran Reddy could soon discover what Chief Ministers like Anjaiah, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy and Marri Chenna Reddy learned before him. That Andhra Congress dissidents have a particular genius for making the lives of their leaders miserable. It shouldn't take much time before Ministers start disobeying his orders, before MLAs start rebelling and troubling him. It could get worse than that, though. Already a strong section of Congress MLAs (including some of the Ministers who supposedly campaigned against him) really owe allegiance to Jagan. A second section of MLAs sits on the fence. A third will simply blackmail their leadership for better positions and portfolios. That's why the size of the winner's margin was always going to be the most important thing in this election. That Jagan would win was known. Also known was that his winning by a gigantic margin could start the unravelling of the Congress in the State. Hence the massive effort by the Congress to keep his margin down.
If the Congress is unable to contain this, there could be defections to Jagan's YSR Congress party. Or some MLAs could stage a drama of simultaneous resignations to force by-elections in several constituencies. The idea being to push Andhra Pradesh towards mid-term elections. If that comes off, the Congress would face a very rough time in all regions. In Telangana, the TRS would likely gain. In coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, Jagan might prove a nightmare. Worse, the Congress has 33 MPs from Andhra Pradesh, more than from any other State. If a number of these declare their allegiance to Jagan, the UPA government at the Centre will find itself between a rock and a hard place.
The TDP, too, has been shown as being in big trouble. Its candidate, Mysoora Reddy, was certainly the best it could put up in Kadapa and he came third. Had he nosed ahead of the Congress candidate, the party could have drawn some comfort. Finishing third despite hard campaigning by Chandrababu Naidu is a blow. With his party tormented and divided by the Telangana issue, this setback raises questions of how effective Mr. Naidu's leadership now is.
But it is the Congress for which the testing times will likely come first. As many political veterans point out, it had the option of not contesting against Jagan and Vijayamma on grounds of respect to its departed leader YSR. Anti-Jagan Congress followers could then have voted for the TDP candidate. Instead the party made it such a high-profile battle that the scale of defeat is humiliating. Particularly for Chief Minister Kiran Reddy, whose time starts ticking now.
BIN LADEN WIDOWS QUIZZED BY U.S. AGENTS
JASON BURKE AND DECLAN WALSH
Three widows of Osama bin Laden and some of his daughters have been interviewed by American intelligence officials in Pakistan, U.S. officials have told the Guardian.
The three women, a Yemeni and two Saudis, were found by local security forces at the compound in the northern Pakistani town of Abbottabad where bin Laden was shot dead on May 2.
Members of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency were reported to be present at the interview, which took place on Tuesday or Wednesday. The eldest of the three women — believed to be Khariraih Sabar, bin Laden's third wife — is understood to have spoken for them all.
A U.S. official in Islamabad said some of bin Laden's daughters were also interviewed. The women displayed a hostile attitude towards the U.S. officials, he said, which was "not overly surprising considering that we had killed their husband or father".
One of bin Laden's sons, 22-year-old Khaled, was killed and bin Laden's youngest wife, 29-year-old Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, was wounded in the calf in the raid.
Pakistani intelligence services had been slow to grant access to the three, in part to show displeasure at not being warned about the operation to kill or capture bin Laden.
The survivors of the attack on the compound are seen as potentially key sources of intelligence by American investigators. Around a dozen children, aged from two to 12, were also found at the site of the raid. These include Bin Laden's children — a 12-year-old daughter witnessed her father's death — and several grandchildren.
One particular area of interest for US intelligence is bin Laden's finances. American intelligence specialists searching the computer data and documents seized in the raid are hoping to find evidence identifying major donors.
Rather than rely on his personal fortune, which intelligence analysts believe to have been dissipated by the early 1990s, bin Laden is thought to have maintained a personal network of private donors based primarily in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and elsewhere in the Gulf who supplied millions of dollars over the years.
An inspiration for the team working on the documents and computer hard disks, reported to be based in a special centre set up near the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, is the discovery of documents in 2002 which related to the financing of an Islamic charity working in the Balkans in the early 1990s with links to radical Islam. Though their authenticity was challenged, these exposed a series of channels through which money flowed into militant hands and also contained minutes of the meetings in 1988 in Pakistan at which al-Qaeda had been founded. The documents named a number of Saudis as key financiers of bin Laden's operations.
The American investigators are also scouring an extensive archive of e-mails apparently sent by the al-Qaeda leader. His walled compound in Abbottabad was without telephone or internet connections, so bin Laden sent messages by typing them on a computer and saving them on a flash drive. A trusted courier would send the messages from an internet cafe far from the safe house.
The Navy SEAL special forces who carried out the raid seized about 100 flash memory drives from the compound which officials said comprised an archive of exchanges between bin Laden and associates around the world. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011
THE ASIAN AGE
LEFT'S DEFEAT EPIC, BREATHER FOR CONG
The Left in India has suffered an epochal defeat in the recently-held Assembly elections, the results of which were declared on Friday. For the Congress too the message is not too good, although it will have its chief ministers in three of the four states and a Union territory that went to the polls, and it can share power for the first time in three decades in West Bengal under the leadership of Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee who has emerged as a history-making figure.
Luckily for the Congress, the results of the polls in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry do not change the arithmetic in Parliament. Indeed, the drubbing of the DMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu (which included the Congress) at the hands of the AIADMK-led combine will have the effect of cutting the DMK to size and give the UPA-2 leadership much greater elbow room. While the going was good, the latter had made far too many demands on "coalition dharma" at the Centre without giving an inch in Chennai, where it steadfastly refused to let the Congress enter the state government. Now the Tamil party may be expected to conduct politics with a more sombre sense of realism.
But if the Congress takes a medium to long-term view of its prospects after these Assembly elections, it should be realistic enough to appreciate that its political capital has depleted in the nation as a whole, although UPA-2 is at no risk whatsoever. The main Opposition at the national level, the BJP, is weak, and it had little role in these key elections which involved around a fifth of the country's voters. The Congress' stunning victory in Assam — putting it in power for the third time in a row in the state — should not lull it into thinking otherwise, although from the national security perspective, the value of this significant win of a national party in a vital state in the Northeast cannot be stressed enough. But the party's showing in Kerala can give it little comfort, for it had almost lost the game. The heavy hitting by outgoing CPI(M) chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan almost changed the 40-year old pattern of the LDF and the UDF taking turns at power in the state. But the Left, and more specifically the CPI(M), can draw little comfort from this. Under Mr Achuthanandan's leadership the LDF turned in such a commendable performance for two crucial reasons — the CM's virtual revolt against his party's establishment in the state and at the national level, and his sturdier than sturdy image of being anti-corrupt. It needs to be said here that if the Congress had not been reeling under corruption charges at the Centre and in several states, Mr Achuthanandan's well-earned image of being a warrior against corruption would have been less of an electoral factor than it turned out to be. This further underlines the need for the Congress — nationally — to clean up its act and be seen to be doing so if it wishes to be a long-distance runner. For the CPI(M), specially, the clearest message is that the party is out of power in two key states where it has traditionally enjoyed deep-going influence. How well its organisational, political and ideological status coheres now will be of considerable interest to our polity.
The outcome of byelections to the Kadapa parliamentary seat and the Puluvenda Assembly seat in Andhra Pradesh indicate that YSR's son Jaganmohan Reddy has indeed emerged as a dynamic political factor in the state. This too should be a wakeup call to the Congress. The party now needs to seriously reflect on organisational matters and the faltering grip of its government on the country's political idiom.
THE ASIAN AGE
If the United Democratic Front had won the Assembly election in Kerala a little more convincingly, a beleaguered Congress Party at the Centre would have been justified in projecting the results of the five state Assembly elections as a morale booster. Unfortunately for the harried Manmohan Singh government, that was not to be.
Mamata Banerjee won a historic victory against the Left Front. But that victory was exclusively her victory. With a resounding defeat in Tamil Nadu at the hands of a resurgent J. Jayalalithaa, the Congress was left with the small consolation of Tarun Gogoi's enhanced verdict in Assam.
National politics has only a small bearing on election results in the states. Yet, their outcome has a profound bearing on the morale of national parties. Six months ago the Congress believed that a complete United Progressive Alliance (UPA) sweep in the five states would set the stage for a recovery at the Centre and put an end to the paralysis of governance. There was an expectation that a resounding mandate in the states would enable it to exorcise the ghost of corruption that has haunted it since August last year. The nail-biting finish in Kerala and the humiliation of the entire Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance in Tamil Nadu has upset the applecart. Since corruption at the Centre was an important theme of the election in the two southern states, the Congress can hardly claim — as its outspoken member of Parliament Mani Shankar Aiyar did on TV — that the "gossip over corruption" has prevailed over more serious issues. Nor can it brush away the awkward fact that the spirited fightback by outgoing Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan was centred solely on his attack on the UPA government's diminishing integrity quotient.
For the Congress, there was also the additional disquiet over Jagan Mohan Reddy's triumph in the Cudappah byelection and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) victory in the three by-elections in Karnataka. It was Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala that gave the UPA its victory in the Lok Sabha election of 2009. In these states, and Karnataka, it is now on the backfoot. Going by present trends, southern India is going to pose a headache for the Congress.
In the short term, the cumulative national effect of the five Assembly elections doesn't look too positive for the Congress despite the appearance of a 3-2 result. Since the Opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the BJP in particular had very little stake on May 13 (except, perhaps, in Assam), the relentless parliamentary assault on the 2G and Commonwealth Games scandals is certain to persist. The Congress may claim that it has been much more pro-active in taking action against those charged with corruption but this appearance of post-facto uprightness has been discounted by the electorate. In Tamil Nadu, for example, the Congress was crucial in tilting the balance in favour of the winner in all elections since 1977. On Friday, however, its representation was reduced to a single-digit and the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam won handsomely without having to take the Congress on board. The Congress leadership needs to reflect on this ominous marginalisation.
The grim news from the south will not necessarily destabilise the Manmohan Singh government. A much-weakened DMK is expected to fall in line and be less demanding of the Centre, not least because it needs the only crutch it has. But any possible action by the judiciary against family members of M. Karunanidhi could force it to become obstreperous and belligerently Tamil nationalist — a move that could add instability to the pre-existing problem of paralysis.
The only thing going for the Congress at this junction is the equal inability of the Opposition to get its larger political act together. The rout in West Bengal and the narrow defeat in Kerala is a grievous blow to the Left. In the months to come, the two Communist parties will be involved in theoretical navel-gazing. Given the vicious inner-party battles that are certain to ensue, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is unlikely to be the nodal point of any attempt to revive a Third Front. Nor are the regional parties likely to find the Communists a viable national ally.
Ideally, the state of play should have come as a godsend to the BJP in its bid to re-emerge as the alternative pole of national politics. However, it has absolutely no reason to cheer its own performance in the five state elections. For the BJP, these elections were an opportunity to demonstrate that it was capable of gaining a respectable vote share in non-traditional areas. This, in turn, would have presented the party as a viable national partner for regional parties.
The results have been a huge disappointment. Apart from once again failing to open its account in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, it saw a big truncation of its support base in Assam. True, the BJP and the Asom Gana Parishad would have performed marginally better if they had entered into a pre-poll agreement. But even this lost opportunity can't wish away a more awkward fact: that the BJP doesn't have the necessary spread to challenge the Congress on its own terms. It not only needs the NDA but is dependent on terms set by the regional parties.
The weakness of the Left may be a reason for, say, Ms Jayalalithaa, Naveen Patnaik and Chandrababu Naidu to consider the BJP as a possible partner at the Centre. But, except in Orissa, they are not likely to do business because the BJP doesn't have the ability to give them an incremental vote. They are likely to be more receptive to either a confederal arrangement or an NDA leader who is acceptable to all the partners. Unless the BJP can come up with a name that is not burdened by the tag of divisiveness, it is likely that the onus of leading a non-Congress alliance will fall on the shoulders of someone like Nitish Kumar.
Such a move would really send alarm bells ringing in the Congress.
Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist
THE ASIAN AGE
MAMATA PAINTS BENGAL GREEN
She's done it. Mamata Banerjee has delivered on the first part of her poll promise of ushering in change — of parivartan. The Left Front government in West Bengal, the longest serving elected Communist government in the world, has been toppled after 34 years.
As the results poured in and it became clear that Ms Banerjee would be Bengal's new chief minister, the lady thanked voters for this "victory of democracy".
This was a victory of the people, against terror, torture and insult, a victory of Ma, maati, maanush ("Mother, earth, people" the Trinamul Congress slogan). Everyone was included, from up in the hills (wracked by the Gorkhaland agitation) to down in Jangalmahal (the Maoist bastion) to people of all castes and communities. Magnanimous in victory, she compared the historic win to India's freedom struggle and dedicated it to the motherland, Bengal. And she offered her "pranam and salaam" to the people.
The salaam was a good touch, especially since the scene in front of her house exuded the Hindu festive spirit. Dhaakis that we only see during Durga pujas danced to the drumbeat of their feather-tailed, celebratory dhaaks, the sound of conch shells and the delirious ululation of women mingled with the beat of the kanshor ghanta, the ritual bell. And joyous supporters danced and smeared everyone with bright abir (gulaal). This parivartan was defined as an auspicious moment of joy in Hindu terms.
It was a dramatic departure from victory celebrations Bengal had seen in recent years. The Left was far less colourful in victory, it merely raised its fist with slogans of Inquilaab zindabad! and such like, while some cadres did their joy jigs.
But then, Ms Banerjee plays by her own rules — she does not have a party high command to follow, and mixing religious ritualism with politics doesn't bother her. Why, just last year the railway minister took out ads in newspapers publicly posing as a Muslim woman in a make-believe namaaz shot wearing the hijab as she presented development projects of the railway ministry — like a new line and a new nursing college — as Id gifts. Ms Banerjee's keen eye on the Muslim vote was understandable. Almost 30 per cent of Bengal's population is Muslim. The Left Front has been traditionally Muslim-friendly, but the Sachar report revealed how hollow this friendliness was. Muslims in Bengal may have been protected from sectarian ills, but they did not have education, jobs or positions of power. Ensuring social peace, like the Left has splendidly done for decades, was not enough. Seducing these voters would ensure Ms Banerjee's win in a state thirsty for change. So what if it involved using the public exchequer to advertise herself and presenting the regular entitlements of Indian citizens as favours to a minority community? All's fair in love and war, right?
And this was war. Ms Banerjee has been arming for years. She had set her eyes on Bengal and like the young Arjun who could see nothing beyond the targeted bird's eye, she focused squarely on the Left bastion. Ask those in Delhi who have dubbed her the absentee railway minister. Everything she does as a politician, a member of Parliament or a Union minister, seems to be with an eye on Bengal. And today her arrow has hit the bird's eye.
This victory was not easy. Especially for a woman from a lower middle class home who was not the wife, widow or daughter of a political leader. But the girl who lost her father in her teens and struggled to get a college education joined the Congress and became a student leader. Her rise was spectacular, helped largely by then Bengal Congress leader Subrata Mukherjee, and soon the girl in pigtails had graduated from pasting posters on endless walls to heading Bengal's Mahila Congress and then running for the Lok Sabha against veteran Left leader Somnath Chatterjee from a Communist Party of India (Marxist) stronghold, Jadavpur. She campaigned door to door, seeking blessings as a daughter from every family. She even touched Mr Chatterjee's feet, asking for his blessings. And she won. Ms Banerjee entered the Lok Sabha as a giant-killer. It was the first time she had achieved the impossible.
Now, as she dismantles the red fortress in a landslide win, she earns her place in history. This time too she had appealed to the people as one of them, as "a commoner" fighting for change. The people of Bengal had seen her courage and tenacity in the fight against land acquisition for industrialisation in Singur and Nandigram, they had experienced her splendid theatrics, seen her swinging in and out of political parties and alliances, witnessed her incredible determination, felt her unbreakable spirit and recognised in the shrill, temperamental woman in the crumpled cotton sari and rubber chappals the shrewd giant-killer they could depend on.
So the woman from a Kalighat lane once derided by the Bengali bhadraloks will be the first non-Communist chief minister of Bengal in 34 years, and the state's first woman chief minister.
But can Ms Banerjee truly deliver on her promise? Will there be real change in Bengal? Will the cycle of violence end? Trinamul is not a peaceful party, and it is believed that CPI(M) goons have already switched over to them. Politics in the once progressive state of Bengal is ruled by organised violence. Besides, the Maoists have officially declared that the Trinamul has been an ally of the Maoists from the time of Singur and Nandigram, movements that finally swung public opinion against the Left and for Trinamul.
Ms Banerjee herself is short-tempered and not confined by political decorum. During the Singur agitation, she had barged into the Bengal Assembly and vandalised the premises with Trinamul legislators, breaking furniture and equipment and injuring Left MLAs. Parliament has seen Ms Banerjee's anger over the years — she has lobbed papers at the deputy Speaker, collared other MPs and even dragged one away, and thrown her shawl at a railway minister for ignoring Bengal in the Rail Budget.
Besides, like the Left in national politics, Ms Banerjee is the voice of dissent, the natural opposition. She would need a remarkable makeover to deliver good governance and go beyond populist measures. She has breathed hope into a tired population and there are great expectations. She would have to learn the art of administration. She promises industry, but has to find acceptable ways of land acquisition. She cannot blame the CPI(M) conspiracies for every misfortune anymore.
In short, the enfant terrible of Bengal has to grow up. The CM's chair is a good spot for that. And as Ms Banerjee has proved over and over again — nothing is impossible.
Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at:
THE ASIAN AGE
HITLER IN ABBOTTABAD
"Forced to build an infinite wall
I built a rounded well.
I wish the Chinese Emperor
Would burn and rot in hell."
From The Stonemason's Song
Sensation: May 2011
Hitler apprehended and killed by Israeli commandos in a compound near the English Military Academy of Sandhurst.
After 65 years of searching for him, Adolf Hitler was traced to a compound in the military stronghold of Britain and killed in a firefight with Israeli "Herod" commandos.
A triumphant Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, said that the "Herod Elimination Commandos" had flown in five helicopters under British radar all the way from West Asia and landed in the compound where Hitler was believed to be living.
They discovered and apprehended the fugitive dictator and genocidal maniac in the second-floor bedroom of a two-storeyed building. He was executed with bullets to his head after he refused to surrender and attempted to use his paramour Eva Braun's body as a human shield.
The compound with 40-foot high walls, a mile away from Britain's most prestigious military academy, had been watched by Mossad agents for several months before the raid. It was suspected that this was Hitler's hideout when his Dachshund pet Mosley was seen leaving the premises every week and trotting down the pavement to the corner newsagent's shop to collect the "Aram ist haram Zeitung" which had been specially ordered by the dog from S.S. Patel who told this newspaper that he had no idea who the "end reader" was.
Six other supporters of Herr Hitler were also killed in the assault before his body was bundled into the Herod mission's helicopters and, it is believed, flown back to Israel and then dumped in the Persian Gulf. German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to accept Herr Hitler's remains and left the Israelis with no option but to ditch the body, with full Nazi rites, in the sea. Rabbi Shimon Deuteronomischter, speaking for the Israeli government, insisted that the Israelis had a chorus of seven Walkyries singing In a Deutschlandisch Country Garden und auch Ein Ash Grove before the body was consigned to its watery burial.
The whole operation took two hours to complete but now comments from all round the world indicate that there are very many unanswered questions which may take longer to answer.
How had Hitler escaped justice for 65 years? Did the British government, which gets $18 billion in aid on the excuse of fighting Nazism, know that he has been there for at least 62 of those 65 years? How was it that he was living so close to the premier British military academy without the British Army knowing he was there?
Obviously, the greatest stir has been caused in Britain with Prime Minister David Cameron claiming that this country has done more for the anti-Nazi cause when the French just ran away and the Americans made lying films about their heroics.
Indian commentator and philanthropic writer dedicated to bringing fiction to the intellectually challenged, Gropa Naith, said, "Hey, did you get a load o' them pictures of the condominium? Baby, Eva, how could you? The place was, like filthy, honey! Not a designer bed sheet in sight! And, come on, hon, like you could have cleaned up the blood stains before you let the vultures — I mean the mammarazi — click their way in to your home sweet home!"
British corps commanders are believed to have held an immediate conference and accusations were bounced about. How did the Israeli task force get in under the radar? If they could do it, what was preventing the Icelanders from launching a similar attack and targeting the offices of accountants who know how much money Icelandic banks owe us?
The Israelis were asking other questions. Is Britain a state within a state where a considerable and powerful section of the Secret Services sympathise with Al Swastika? (Contd Page 666 of Culture Section)
Extracts from the blogosphere:
"Brothers, Hitler is not dead. He died in 1951 in Abbottabad in Pakistan. These is just stunts by Netanyahu to get elected in election. I am knowing person in Al Swasitka who telled me all this. Why killing golden goose who is laying plenty eggs?"
"Weirdbeard is completely wide of the mark and it is typical of these extremists to subscribe to conspiracy theories. The brave Israeli detachments have, after years, been successful in removing the main threat to world peace. Let us salute them as they are generously donating their salaries to the Israeli PM's fund."
"We are not fooled by the disguise of using an initial like "B". Own up to your opinions Netanyahu!"
"Every rickshaw in London is now displaying sign which is saying "Do not blow horn, Army is sleeping". Ha ha!"
Kate the Commoner
"Kate the Commoner works for the French secret services. Note: there are no rickshaws in London. Wake up police and arrest her."
"Don't be zo zilly. How can Hitler who vos born in 1888 still be alife? Unless he was drinking Yakov's Elixir which keeps everyone very young forever. (Only $17 dollars or £11 per bottle.) If you die, money back!"
"Why was the dog Mosley killed by the Herod Commandos? Was he guilty? Shouldn't he be put on trial instead of shooting on site? These vermin should all be shot…"
In the clearing out of Hitler's Sandhurst bunker, his last will and testament was discovered. Field Marshall Sir Wilhelm Much-Whipping disclosed its contents to the world press:
"Ze tird reich vill Last forever, so you can alles go to Hell. Zis Great Britein ist already going zere, mit de Skottishers declarink lebensraum and das Koalischion breaking in terrible pisses and army being in big defeats in Libya because zey are boasting and wearing medals and their best fighting mode is, zo far, hands up in the air. Ze whole ting is going to hell in a handcart anyway.
My second best bed can please be returned to the Army supplies and ordnance vot lendz it to mich in first place (Is good joke: second best bed in first place! Geddit?)"
Six candidates from the state have made it to All India Civil Services this year. The ball was set rolling last year by Shah Faisal, a candidate from backward Kupwara district in Kashmir who topped the list of last year's successful batch of UPSC candidates. He has opted for J&K and has been assigned to the state. Out of six candidates who could make it this year, one comes from a far off village in Ladakh, 3 from Kashmir Valley and 2 from Jammu region. Apart from the six successful candidates, one candidate hailing from remote Kishtwar region could make it to KAS. This achievement by the state candidates has been waited for long and observers were at fingers crossed why our state was lagging behind in grabbing central service jobs. People had different reasons to offer for our poor show at this prestigious examination. But history has proved that all those reasons were no tenable. Incidentally the female candidate who has won the prestigious merit is the first female from Ladakh to make it. Her achievement becomes more remarkable when we see that she hails from a very remote and backward village where she has had not all those facilities available as are enjoyed by privileged candidates in towns and cities. The case of all these six plus one candidates shows that real talent is inherent and lies dormant unless it is activated either by circumstances, or through natural instinct. We have always held that the youth of the state have great potential. The deficiency is only in exploiting the potential in right direction and through proper guidance. In the mad rush for lucrative jobs or such jobs as can yield fast money, many a talent is wasted. It is because of two things; one is lack of proper guidance at proper time, and the second is greed for fast money. Both of the two are debilitating situations. Parents ought to try to understand the aptitudes of their wards from early times. In today's India, opportunities for proper exploitation of aptitude are not wanting. Talent can shine provided we let it shine. It is also the duty of the teachers to advise parents about the potentiality of their ward and to guide them along proper course.
Obviously the selected candidates will opt for J&K cadre and this is appreciable. If we really want that good governance should be the key to improving economic and social condition of the state, then we should welcome the young civil service candidates taking upon themselves the responsibility of providing good governance once they are inducted into services. Our State is badly in need of efficient, honest and dedicated cadres at bureaucratic level. An IAS officer is also a link between the mainstream national level good governance ideology and the field of operation. Keeping that in view, it will in fitness of things if the government further streamlines the talent search system. Its focus should necessarily be on rural area also because as experience has shown real talent remains undiscovered till it loses its potential. At school and college level, the teaching/administrative staff should be entrusted with the responsibility of identifying prospective talent and making recommendation to the higher authorities for its proper nurture. It is not only the scholarship that will make things go. Exposure of the talent at an early age will go a long way in helping candidates develop their personality. Socialization at an early age helps the successful candidates change their mindset and become more people-oriented servants rather than a boss. It is bossism that has stood between the people and bureaucracy all these years. New entrants need a different mindset and not the hangover of the administration of colonial days. While congratulating the successful candidates, we expect them to bring about a change in the entire bureaucratic system in the state and make it people-oriented administration.
Jammu Municipal Corporation seems to have become active and more responsive to its duty of improving the social profile of the city. It had launched a drive against encroachment and its teams identified such irregularities and recommended correctives under rule. We are waiting to see the results of that drive. Close on the heels comes its drive against food adulteration and sanitation in nearly 250 eateries in the city spread over a vast area. This is to promote public health and inculcate the habit of serving clean and unadulterated food to the customers. This is all fine, and hope it will be a successful drive. But the fact is that more of adulteration to food items or eatables happens before these are used in the eateries and served. Milk and milk products are the foremost of adulterated items and there is no foolproof mechanism with the JMC to control it. Even some of the big suppliers of milk to the consumers in the city are not that clean. Then the case of vegetable and fruit sellers is also to be brought under consideration. Chemical treatment of vegetables and fruits is on increase and with that people are beginning to lose trust in suppliers. It is now generally believed that fruits or vegetables that have been given chemical treatment are injurious to health. The JMC must take proper steps to ensure that the quality of eatables brought to the city and supplied to the hotels and restaurants and eateries is up to the mark. Adulteration has to be checked at that stage.
Then there is the question of leaving eatables exposed to flies and insects and infection. The eateries are open, and the make-shift ovens for baking bread or cooking vegetables are set up along the roadside. It is shabby, unhygienic and offensive. An eatery has to be without flies and mosquitoes. Even stray dogs have been found creeping by stealth into an eatery and eating up crumbs. This speaks of life in middle ages and not of modern times. The water supplied at the eateries is hardly purified. Water from the taps is stored in pots and pans and supplied to the customers. The JMC will receive kudos only when all the dhabas, eateries and eating shops are sanitized in accordance with established norms. An eating shop has to be not only neat and clean but very attractive and pleasing to the eye. The bearers serving the customers have to be properly dressed and trained in rendering polite service. In advanced countries mostly females work in the restaurants and they undergo a course in hotel management. JMC needs to keep innovations in mind while undertaking an anti-adulteration drive.
MEN, MATTERS & MEMORIES
BY ML KOTRU
At a time when Osama bin Laden's brand of brutal jihad is losing its appeal in the world one would have expected lesser Osama's to learn their lesson: peace and prosperity, even for the Islamic world does not flow from the barrel of a gun. It's tragic though that autocrats, dictators in the middle East or call it North Africa, if you will, are refusing to accept the stark reality that it is too late in the day, in the first decade of the 21st century behind us, to accept to usurpers of power to loosen their stranglehold of the poor who for decades have been made to believe that the usurper is actually the deliverer.
The power drunk self-appointed Presidents and Sheikhs are currently in the process of learning what exactly to expect when the worm turns. Ask Presidents Assad, Qadaffi and Hosni Mubarak et al and they will tell you how wrong they had been for more than four decades to assume that the poor, illiterate masses ever believed that the voice of a President to be the voice of God.
The truth is that the Presidents are on the run and hopefully the only God who can save them in the end is the people whose will shall prevail. And the deputies of God, now disgraced, like our Middle Eastern leaders self-styled messengers of God, like our own Osama bin Laden must face His wrath. Not that immediate changes are imminent. The self-appointed "angels" sword in hand, are not going to leave behind a trail of dead and the maimed, quite expected of the men who speak, as if they are His chosen ones.
I am not seeking to write a treatise on faith, belief and democratic values. I am trying to focus on the pygmies who have taken up in themselves to decide for mostly trusting people what is right and what's wrong to tell the "truth" from the "untruth". For instance, I didn't quite frankly realise, that there would be sizeable numbers of people in distant lands who would trying to put Osama on a high pedestal.
Yes, Osama did have some charisma originating in the first place from his challenge to the Americans whose money he did not refuse to accept, which came to him as his share of the vast bin Laden businesses in Saudi Arabia and the US. Add to this the money' he had partaken of in the US backed and Pak-executed war against the Russians in Afghanistan. In the meantime, he was building up his own terror machine specialising in the fine art of killing of innocents. Mind you, he gave up a life of comfort for the rugged deserts and jagged mountain ranges in pursuit of his cause, phoney as it seemed to many.
In some places it is sure to go wrong; in other it may yield hardline Islam. And, yet, thanks to the Arab spring, Islam stands best chance in generations of re engaging with politics to find institutions in which religious and civil life can co-exist. Trust me when I say it Al-Qaeda will not go away with the death of Osama; there will be many smaller offshoots.
What will deaf Al Qaeda jihadists will be mainly the Muslims themselves. Stabilization Muslim countries, outside the Arab arc, where governments have allowed terrorism (Pakistan, Indonesia and Malayia etc.) to gain a hold would be a big help. Of these three countries - there are many more - the US cannot fully ostracise nuclear Pakistan. We Indians have been already warned of the consequences by Pakistani leadership, with Army Chief Kayani having already asked his Government not to tie his arms by standing committed to no- first-use of nuclear power.
And listen Syed Reza Shah Gilani, the Pakistan Prime Minister, when he asks the Americans (right to an extent) who created bin Laden? The Americans themselves when they were backing the war against the invading former Soviet troops in Afghanistan.
I somehow felt sorry for the man when he was addressing the National Assembly on Monday. Truly he could have described his plight in the poet's words "Na khuda hee millana wasaale-e-sanam, na idhar ke rahe na udhar ke". He told bewildered members of his anger over the American assault on the Osama compound in Abbotabad; to soften the anger; he called for an in camera meeting of the two houses of the NA, to be attended also by the Army and ISI High Command, to clear any doubts.
The manner in which Osama had been done away with had, as a consequence, raised questions about the institutional strength of Pakistan. The Executive, the Military and the judiciary appeared to be under a cloud. But that was Pakistan's problem and Gilani was confident that with the "all weather friend", China around Islamabad did not have much to fear. He had a word of caution for Barack Obama though.
Osama's elimination was indeed "justice done" but it was not a victory won, Gilani told Obama. Five days after Osama bin Landen's death the intensity of public anger is palpable in the whole of Pakistan. Pakistan one knows has its vast array of terrorist outfits, all well trained in the use of sophisticated arms by the ISI yet not all of them came to to mourn. May be the pinpoint precsion and the stealth that marked the US attack on Abbotabad shook them all.
The frequent bombing by American stealth bombers on the Pakistani side of the border has long been a source of irritation. But all this brought in its train a whole host of advantages such as fighter aircraft, heavy armour etc and cash cows that have already yielded $18 billion during the last decade with much more in the pipeline.
Curiously there have hardly been any protests at the slaying of Osama in the Middle East. Even Sudan and Yemen haven't reported much noise. The Saudis would, of course, not have allowed even a hint of protests. For Osama, most of whose money came from his Saudi family, was the odd ball whom his adopted home, Saudi Arabia, had disowned for long.
Contrast this with the some protests in Pakistan. Hafez Saeed, the Lashkar chief, who must actually be celebrating the departure from the scene of a major terror power centre, led one of the major protest rallies in the country. In India you had a few sporadic protests, not much to speak of.
But not so in the Kashmir valley where Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the octogenarian pro-Pakistani Hurriyat chief, led his usual flock of breast-beaters. Osama was the Allah's chosen one who had shown the Ummah the path in the fight against infielders. For some reason the State government gave undue importance to his demonstration by putting him under house arrest for about an hour before releasing him to lead his breast-beaters. A few hundred of them according to reports.
And the old man who has single-handedly destroyed two tourist seasons in the valley has gone back on his promise not to have hartals and bandhs now onwards. But Ali Shah does not want to be thought of a s the forgotten man of the valley and has, therefore, promised more of these. His grouse now is that the arrested youth should be released or else… he will have the old style bandh any day or of the week. His goons are always there to threaten those establishments on the mainstreet that choose to remain open. He might even choose to observe all the rituals associated with the observance of the death of a "martyr", especially during the first year of the death. One more word about the old man of Hyderpora in Srinagar: He has sworn in the name of Allah some four times not to do or say anything against the Constitution of the State and of the Union. On each of those occasions he was taking the oath of loyalty to the Constitution as a member of the State Assembly. Perhaps leaders of his kind of piety are not bound by oaths etc. You see he keeps beard and wears a qaraquli cap which alone, he believes qualifies him to be the valley's bearded conscience keeper.
BY PROF. (DR.) R. D. GUPTA
Presently only 28 or 30 percent of the total farmland measuring, roughly 143 or 147 million hectares (mha) is covered by irrigation and the remaining 70 or 72 percent is under dryland/rainfed conditions. And even if the entire available potential area of India is fully exploited, 50 percent of the cropped area will continue as rainfed and dryland farming. Almost entire coarse grains, two thirds of rice and one third of wheat, and 75 percent of pulses and oilseeds are procured from dryland/rainfed agriculture. However, the productivity of these crops in dryland/rainfed region continues to be low, unstable and even uncertain. Rainfall, the only resource of water for dryland/rainfed agriculture varies from 375 mm and 1125 mm.
As far as the regions of the State of Jammu and Kashmir are concerned, they are predominantly rainfed/snowfed having only 30 or 40 per cent irrigated and 70 or 60 percent rainfed areas, respectively. In conjunction with this, the rainfed areas presently exhibit the scenario of denudation, soil erosion and degradation of land. All these factors have brough about low yield in different crops like maize, wheat, pearlmillet and barley, especially in the submountainous area locally known as Kandi belt of Jammu. Similar is the situation in the Karewas of Kashmir. However, watershed based dryland technology minimizes the adverse impact of inconsistency in rainfall pattern on crop productivity watershed approach focuses on the optimum use of land and water resources. Its implementation requires identification of elements that constitute it and understanding their spatial and temporal distribution. It implies that water sheds are demarcated, based on physiography, quantity of rainfall and its distribution pattern and natural course of water flows. Watershed infact, is a land area that has common drainage, and includes land and water development.
Concept of watershed management: Watershed represents a dividing line which delineates and separates a drainage point from another and may be designed as ridgeline. Thus, watershed may be defined as a unit area that covers all the land which contributes runoff to a common point. It also constitutes a natural physiographic unit vis-à-vis hydrologic unit where inherent potentials of land and water interact in a perceptible manner.
Watershed from physical point of view, can be very small like a small stream and/or a very large like a big river. In this context watershed is regarded to be the synonymous with catchment or drainage basin. For example, water from only a few hectares may drain into a small stream. These few hectares will form a watershed. This small stream and many like it drain into a larger stream. The land area drained by such small streams put together will make up the watershed of large stream whereas watersheds of small streams are, thus, known as subwatersheds of larger stream.
"Watershed is a dynamic and functional hydrological unit, which receives the incoming precipitation and disposes it off." The characteristics of watershed govern the conductance of water through it and this constitutes the bases and essence of the soil and water conservation for assigning optimum management practices in the watershed area.
The watershed management or watershed development is a, "rational utilization of land and water resources for optimum and sustained production with minimum hazards to natural resources". The watershed development or watershed management is, infact, a holistic approach of area development including soil and water conservation, and the system of agriculture, horticulture as well as olericulture, animal husbandry silviculture, agrostology, pisciculture, sericulture, bee keeping, poultry rearing etc. This development is resorted in such a manner that the short term and long term goals of development are in harmony with each other and basic needs of people in respect of food, fodder, fuel furniture and fertilizers as well as water, etc are met in full on a sustainable basis.
Achievements in some model watersheds: In most of the watersheds including Jammu and Kashmir, land levelling, terracing and contour bunding have been found suitable in controlling soil erosion and run off loss.
In many watersheds situated win Arawalis (Rajasthan) construction of check dams have been observed to be great utility. Introduced loose boulders check dams with vegetative support at Keri watershed, Jammu district comprising of Padma, Galani, Kangar and Aurakh villages besides Keri, have checked soil erosion and stabilized by the area for production of maize with yield of 15q ha-1 for the first time as well as 29 ha-1 of toria as cash crop during 1992-1993. Now a number of farmers are growing toria, and maize and wheat (IWP-172) crops. Silvi-pastoral and agro-horticultural systems of agroforestry were also introduced. Kinnow, pomegranate, aonla locally known as amli and mango are also being grown. Integrated Watershed Development Project (Akhnoor Subdivision of Jammu) brought about a sea change in the life style of the farmers falling under 72 villages and also in their skills to produce vegetables. The area was once used to grow either maize and wheat or maize and barely with pulses like black gram and gram. But these days, farmers of these areas have started growing vegetables like tomato, pea, onion, garlic etc. Several ponds, wells and baulies have been upgraded/constructed to make water situation better both for drinking and irrigation purposes.
In non-arable lands, degraded areas have been provided with vegetative cover by planting quick growing multipurpose tree species. Excellent efforts have been made in afforestation at Mir (Udhampur, Jammu), Devak (Jammu) and Bari-Badhori (Samba) watersheds. Tree species like kikar, phulai, khair, shisham or sisso and dahman were mostly grown. A number of grass species were also planted.
In some of the watersheds, horticultural trees like phalsa, jamun, dhiu, mango have been planted. These include Bari-Badhori watershed, covering 6 villages, Bari Badhori, Patti, Rahya, Suchani and Mahin Charkan and Keri watershed, comprising 5 villages viz; Keri, Padma, Galani, Kangar and Aurakh Herbal gardens of harar, bahera, aonla have been set up in the villages of Bari Badhori watershead. Ratanjot is growing well in all the villages of this watershed.
Superior grasses like Lolium, Chrysopogon, and read clovers were planted under Mir watershed, Udhampur. The natural grasses reserved for 3 to 4 years as enclosures were Chrysopogon fulvus, Heteropogon contortus and Themedia skp which have nutritive calue and palatability.
In the end, it is concluded that the treatment of the watershed has not only resulted in the overall productivity increase but also made improvement of physic-chemical properties of soils. Moreover, there was lot of employment generation.
(The author is former Associates Dean cum Chief Scientists KVK SKUAST, Jammu)
BY KANWAR SIBAL
Finally, the Indian Government seems to have convinced its domestic detractors that it is indeed 'non-aligned' and that its foreign policy is not being crafted in Washington. Nothing works better in New Delhi than a put-down to the US. And what a snub this has been. Despite extensive lobbying by the US military-industrial complex, supported by President Barack Obama himself, India rejected bids by Lockheed Martin and Boeing for a $10 billion-plus contract for 126 medium multi-role combat aircrafts (MMRCA). Instead, New Delhi has short-listed Dassault Aviation's Rafale and the Eurofighter Consortium's Typhoon.
There were extensive field trials and technical considerations ostensibly which drove the final decision. But the dismay in Washington is widespread and to some extent understandable given the investment that the US has made in cultivating India in recent years. As if to underscore the importance of this development, the US ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, also decided to announce his resignation at the same time when the decision on MMRCA was being made public though he has insisted that this resignation is related to 'personal, professional and family considerations.'
At one level, the seeming transparency of the process should indeed be heartening to those who have been puzzled by India's inability to get its defence modernisation programme on track for some time now. In mature democracies, the policy and process of defence contracts should be above board. For a usually lackadaisical Ministry of Defence (MoD) this is a welcome change.
After years of returning unspent money, the MoD last year not only managed to spend its entire budget but also asked for money to spend on capital procurement. And now with movement on MMRCA bids, it is clear that the ministry wants to move swiftly on new defence procurement, relegating its ultra cautious approach to the sidelines. But major defence purchases are a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.
At a time when the political dispensation in New Delhi is embroiled in a whole host of corruption scandals, it has used this decision to insulate itself from charges of favouritism towards America. In a way it's a masterstroke. To its domestic policy critics, the Government has signalled that despite all the heft of the US military-industrial complex, India refused to budge. To its foreign policy critics, there was a signal that New Delhi remains in thrall to no one, not even the US.
The present Government has been viewed as being too cosy with the US and there were signs of discontent within the ruling Congress party itself on this score. Some of the recent revelations by WikiLeaks about the pressure on New Delhi during the negotiations over the US-India civilian nuclear energy pact had put the Government in a difficult position. The decision on MMRCA allows the Government to make a case that it is its own master.
The danger is in the process New Delhi may have dealt a severe blow to its burgeoning ties with the US. Despite Obama's visit to New Delhi in November 2010, during which he endorsed India's candidacy to the United Nations Security Council, there is a growing sense in New Delhi and Washington that bilateral ties are drifting. Both Governments have other priorities. The Obama administration is too consumed with its domestic economic troubles and the Indian Government has been battling charges of incompetence and corruption at a number of levels.
New Delhi has also made some overtures to other power centres in recent months. At the United Nations, India scuttled attempts by the western powers to strongly condemn the Syrian Government for its attacks on protestors, merely asking the UNSC to urge all sides to abjure violence and seek a peaceful resolution. And before this there was India's abstention on Libya at the UNSC as well as the much touted BRICS summit in China at which the joint statement underscored the need for a realignment of the post-World War
II global order that was based on the untrammelled supremacy of the US.
The decision on MMRCA will only reinforce the perception in Washington that the much-touted strategic partnership between the US and India is more hype than substance. But one defence deal doesn't a relationship make. India will soon be announcing a $5 billion deal for 10 Boeing C-7 heavy-lift transport aircraft with an additional order for a further six as well as more orders for Lockheed's C-130J Hercules transport aircraft. Aside from defence, India shares a wide ranging set of interests with the US, most significant of which is to confront a rising China.
At a time when China's rapid rise is upending the extant balance of power in Asia-Pacific, both need each other. The US faces the prospect of an emerging power transition in Asia and it needs new partners to provide strategic stability to a region where the centre of gravity of global politics and economics is rapidly moving. India, for its part, is trying to come to grips with an ever more assertive China in its vicinity and needs US support if it is to protect and enhance its vital national interests. It would indeed be a pity if a defence deal ends up becoming a benchmark in defining the future trajectory of this very important bilateral relationship. (INAV)
(The writer is former foreign secretary and Indian Ambassador to USA)
MAMATA, JAYA, GOGOI FIRMLY IN DRIVER'S SEATS
It is heartening that the people of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam as also the Union Territory of Puducherry have given decisive mandates to the parties of their choice in the assembly elections. The political adroitness and doggedness of Mamata Banerjee, the people's revulsion over corruption and nepotism under the DMK regime exploited to good effect by J. Jayalalithaa and the inability of the AGP and the BJP to forge a common front in Assam in contrast to Tarun Gogoi's sagacity contributed in no small measure to the results that we see today. The decisive mandates bode well for stability but the proof of the pudding will lie in its eating. It is only in Kerala that the United Democratic Front scraped past the rival Left Democratic Front by a wafer-thin majority, raising doubts over stability.
While the victories of Trinamool's Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and the AIADMK's Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu have both been spectacular, the mandate in West Bengal has the edge in terms of momentousness since the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance has trounced the Left parties which ruled the state uninterruptedly for 34 years. There can be little doubt that much of the credit for this stupendous win must go to Mamata whose never-say-die pursuit of her goal since she broke away from the Congress in 1998 stood out. As late as 2006, the Trinamool Congress seemed nowhere when, in alliance with the BJP, it won a mere 29 seats out of 294 in the assembly elections. The turning point came in the following year when Nandigram exploded on the national scene with her party in the forefront of a movement against land acquisition for a chemical hub. In March 2007 when the police opened fire and killed 14 innocent villagers in Singur, Mamata's demagoguery was in full play as she moved to have Tata Motors' Nano car project banished. After that there was no looking back. Whereas Left leaders had become self-centred and arrogant over the years, it was Mamata who painstakingly nurtured the grassroots and even roped in a cross section of intellectuals to her cause.
In Tamil Nadu, it was corruption as symbolized by the skeletons tumbling out of former Union minister A. Raja's cupboard and the blatant nepotism of the Karunanidhi clan that sealed the fate of the DMK-Congress combine. Jayalalithaa's extraordinary oratorical skills and her focused campaign catapulted her to the peak in a vote that was essentially an anti-incumbency one. The rout of the DMK-Congress combine despite the crass display of money power by the DMK should be a lesson to all parties. It now remains to be seen how the power struggle within the Karunanidhi clan pans out and also whether Jayalalithaa makes use of the mandate to deliver good governance or fritters it away in personal vendetta. Significantly, the Congress has had to pay a heavy price for riding piggyback on the DMK in Tamil Nadu. In Puducherry, too, it has been thrown out of power.
In Assam, the Congress under the shrewd and dynamic Tarun Gogoi never looked like losing but his task was made easier by the manner in which the AGP and the BJP drifted apart. By the time they realized their folly it was too late. The Congress has its task cut out but while its leaders attempt to bring the militant outfits like ULFA into the mainstream, they will have to tread warily.
In contrast to the other states that went to the polls, the UDF's razor-thin edge means that the Congress has a tightrope walk in the offing. Its dependence on the Muslim League and the Kerala Congress (Mani), which have a hold on the Muslims and Christians respectively, could well push it to take a stance that may be seen as communally-driven in some cases.
The electoral mandate is on balance a gain for the UPA which has emerged triumphant in West Bengal and Kerala where it wrested power, and Assam where it retained it, while losing out in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. For its main constituent, the Congress, it is a mixed bag. As for the other national party, the BJP, this election was inconsequential insofar as that party continues to be a virtual non-entity in all these states. For the Left, it is a colossal setback, more so in West Bengal but also to a lesser extent in Kerala where it is on the verge of losing power. Regional parties indeed have well and truly arrived and this election is a reaffirmation of that trend.
THE BJP DRAMA IN PUNJAB
GET RID OF NON-PERFORMERS
The BJP decision to seek the resignations of all its ministers and chief parliamentary secretaries in Punjab has taken everyone by surprise but its operation clean-up would remain suspect as long as land scam accused B.S. Yeddyurappa remains the Chief Minister in Karnataka. The party's tirade against the UPA government, triggered by a series of scandals, has suffered a setback after its leaders' shady deals surfaced in Karnataka and Punjab. While the Congress has acted against some of those found guilty, the BJP had just been making noises and disrupting Parliament.
To cover up and make its campaign against corruption credible, the party's national leadership has taken some action in Punjab but is still under watch in Karnataka. The public curiosity aroused by the dramatic resignations could turn into appreciation for the party if it uses the occasion to get rid of the corrupt and non-performers. It is true everyone is innocent until held guilty by court, and that this has allowed tainted leaders to stay on in power and public life for years together as cases drag. The party should reset its Punjab agenda to focus on development. It should decline the post of chief parliamentary secretary as this is an indirect way of rewarding loyalists in violation of the Constitution.
The BJP cannot hope to attain the moral high ground as long as its partner in power, the Shiromani Akali Dal, keeps shielding those on the CBI's wanted list. The party has been a mute spectator, and even an active participant, as an extravagant, top-heavy administration has plundered or misspent the state resources, pushing the once number one state deep into debt. The party will have to share the blame for Punjab's fiscal deterioration. There is no BJP leader in Punjab who can stand up to the Akali leadership's economic and political excesses, and speak up for what is in the interest of Punjab. There is no one to discipline the party's squabbling leaders or stop their wrongdoings. The party has a chance to set its house in order ahead of the assembly elections.
ECONOMIC WOES OF THE US
FAILURE TO CREATE ENOUGH JOBS IS MAIN WORRY
BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
With the elimination of Osama bin Laden, President Obama's rating has gone up by 11 points to 57 per cent. But his rating as a solver of America's economic problems has fallen to 34 per cent — down by 3 points. What are the main problems on the economic front that the US is facing?
With the GDP growing at 1.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, down from 3.5 per cent in the last quarter, and the $14 trillion federal debt which is not showing any signs of abatement, what is going to be the state of the economy in the next one year? To many top analysts, the main problem with the US is that it is not able to create more jobs, and whatever jobs have been created are not as much as expected. Unemployment is running high at 9 per cent of the labour force, which is a big number as compared to India. To revive the economy, interest rates have been kept low and recently the Federal Reserve's Governor Ben Bernanke announced that there won't be any changes in the interest rates which gave assurance to industry, and stock prices went up because people were going to be encouraged to invest in shares. The Fed has managed to keep interest rates near zero.
The Obama administration has tried its best to revive the economy and went for Quantitative Easing (QE) in which the Federal Reserve bought about $1 trillion in long-term treasury bonds in 2009. Thus, a huge amount of freshly printed dollars were released in the US economy to increase consumer spending and to revive bank lending to small and medium businesses which had been reduced since the financial crisis began. The Federal Reserve bought government bonds worth $600 billion again in 2010 and now QE2 is going to be over soon. From such a heavy injection of dollars, quite a substantial amount went to the emerging market economies to look for higher returns and resulted in heavy FII inflows into those countries. Even India got its share which helped in stoking inflation. The RBI and many other countries' (especially China) central banks have been intervening in the currency markets not to let their currency's value rise against the dollar or else it would hurt their exports.
Thus, the value of the dollar has been fluctuating and when it recently fell against major currencies, the price of gold and silver rose rapidly because people became shaky about holding dollars as a reserve asset. The cheaper dollar, however, is going to boost US exports and the US trade deficit, which has been ballooning, should come down. After Osama, the dollar has risen and oil prices have fallen, and silver and gold prices have also taken a hit. There are several other problems in the American economy like the double dip in the real estate market. Recently after recovering, the real estate market in the US is facing a low point and house prices are falling. Unless the mortgage loans are renegotiated, many Americans may lose their homes like in 2008.
The fiscal deficit is too high at 10 per cent of the GDP and according to conservative economists who are advising the US government, the fiscal deficit problem is the main problem. The reasons behind the huge fiscal deficit are tax cuts during the Bush administration and the Iraq and Afghan wars which have drained the US government of $1.1 trillion. But Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman does not agree that controlling the fiscal deficit is all that urgent and thinks that the main problem is unemployment and for which the government will have to spend on education, skill training, etc, so that jobless youth become employable. To earn more revenue the government will have to raise taxes, but increasing taxes is heavily opposed by the Republicans.
So, where is the money going to come from for Mr Obama's ambitious medicare programme and military spending? Quite clearly the government is broke and the revival of the economy is lukewarm, if not slow.
One of the reasons for the slow growth of jobs is the slowdown of the service sector. Manufacturing growth has also slowed down. Unless these important sectors grow faster there cannot be absorption of the unemployed into the economy.
The US has borrowed heavily from the world in the past because everyone wanted to hold dollar assets. China alone holds $3 trillion worth of dollar assets. If only it tries to unload them in the market, then the value of the dollar will sink. The debt accumulation of the US is alarming because along with the sovereign debt crisis in the EU with the latest candidate for a bailout package being Portugal, there is fear that there could be another financial crisis following a major default by Greece that would usher in another recession. If there are inflationary fears and the interest rates have to be raised, then the US can sink under the heavy interest burden. Yet people around the world have for long believed in the US being the number one nation in technology, productivity growth, innovative ideas and resilience to economic calamities. The US could and probably will revive if it could solve the problem of unemployment and control the lurking inflation and maintain a low interest rate regime. It has to remain in the cutting edge in technology and recently President Obama said that he did not want IT innovations to come only out of India and China, but the fact remains that the US education system remains moulded in the past. The US once had the highest proportion of young adults with post-secondary degrees in the world. Today its rank is 12th. People have been getting hurt with high oil prices and food prices, specially the poor. The US now imports 60 per cent of its oil needs and is affected when international oil prices go up. The US has the third worst poverty rate among the OECD group of developed countries.
US manufacturing growth will have to pick up and its dependence on Chinese goods will have to be reduced to correct its balance of payment deficit. The manufacturing sector in the US has shrunk from contributing 28 per cent to the output in 1959 to 11.5 per cent in 2008. Consumer spending and consumer confidence have to pick up but can happen if people have jobs and regular incomes, and the private sector which runs 80 per cent of the US economy starts hiring more people. Moreover, the confidence to spend will be shaken if there is a terrorist attack in the US — which 69 per cent of Americans fear will take place within a few months of Bin Laden's death.
WITH LOVE TO SHAAM
BY VINOD PRAKASH GUPTA
I am a newspaper man. Not quite literally; it's just that I religiously go through every newspaper that I can get my hands on, every day. Anything I find interesting, I promptly cut it and file it away neatly. Things changed, time passed by but this habit of mine has stayed. And true to form out came the scissors when I came across an advertisement in the paper, immediately after the demise of legendary Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, by his daughters Sherry and Maja requesting everyone to share with them any anecdote or experience that they have had with their father. I meant to write but never got around to doing it.
A few days ago, while cleaning one of my desk drawers, I came across this neatly filed cutting of the advertisement and it brought with it memories of that magical chance encounter with Sam in Shimla many moons ago.
On one crisp winter evening, my wife and I were enjoying a casual chat with our friend Shailender Nigam and his wife Usha over coffee in a hotel lobby. A gentle tap on my shoulder distracted me and there he stood, our charming intruder, Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw. Before we could say a word, he requested with a naughty but pious smile: "May I sit between the two ladies?" – pointing at the gap on the sofa between Usha and my wife. In one simple sentence he had the women eating out of his hands!
Comfortably flanked by the two ladies, his verve and enthusiasm lifted the spirits instantaneously. He held fort and we listened like eager school children devouring every word that came out of his mouth. Out of the many tales he regaled us with; I would like to share one with you.
During the course of the conversation, I asked him, "Who was the best Defence minister you worked with?" Pat came Sam's reply, "Late Babu Jagjivan Ram". He remembered affectionately that Babuji could never pronounce his name correctly and instead of Sam he used to call him Shaam.
He had once received a call on his hotline from Babuji requesting him to help an officer to pick up rank as Major-General. Sam politely replied that he does not interfere in such matters. A few months later Babuji invited Sam for coffee, "Shaam caffi khane aavo" (Sam join me for a cup of coffee). Over coffee Babuji requested Sam to help a Colonel in picking up the next rank. Again Sam politely reiterated his stand and said that he never interfered in such matters.
Exasperated, Babuji asked him, "Shaam, kya aap kabhi bhi kissi ki sifaarish nahin sunta" (Sam don't you ever entertain these requests?). Sam told Babuji that there are only two exceptions to this rule. Either the person being recommended deserves it or when the recommendation comes straight from his girlfriend. Babuji whispered in Sam's ear: "Shaam yeh bhi kuch aisa hi case hai" (This case also falls in the categories of the exceptions to the rule). Stumped by his wit, Sam knew that Babuji had turned the tables on him. Babuji smiled triumphantly as he finished his coffee.
THE SOLDIER AS A DIPLOMAT
UNLIKE MANY COUNTRIES, INDIA CONTINUES TO LAG BEHIND IN MAKING USE OF ITS MILITARY AS AN EFFECTIVE TOOL FOR INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY. THE MILITARY CAN BE AN IMPORTANT MEANS OF CONDUCTING STRATEGIC DIALOGUE OR TRACK-II DIPLOMACY, AND CAN ALSO BE EFFECTIVELY EMPLOYED FOR ESTABLISHING SPHERES OF INFLUENCE AND AVOIDING CONFLICT SITUATIONS. FOR THIS, THE GOVERNMENT HAS TO CARRY OUT A MAJOR ORGANISATIONAL REFORM IN THE CIVIL-MILITARY RELATIONSHIP.
AIR MARSHAL R.S. BEDI (RETD)
Soldier diplomats have all over the world, particularly after the Second World War, contributed to a very large extent towards their national policies and diplomatic endeavours. But India has rarely made use of military diplomacy since Independence. Whether it is so by design or otherwise is perhaps a matter of perception. However, the manner in which the Indian armed forces have been used by the politico-bureaucratic combine doesn't leave much doubt about the trepidations they have of the uniformed class. The military has literally been cocooned and kept away from the civilian citadel. This inhibitive and parochial attitude only precludes any scope for comprehensive diplomacy.
Military diplomacy in the South Asian context can be a great asset for the country. Military exchange programmes, bilateral and multi lateral military exercises, joint training, assisting other countries in times of adversity, as after the 2004 Tsunami, when the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force deployed a large number of their assets to help the devastated countries, earning accolades from the international community, are some examples of this nature. Bonhomie between the participating militaries is an essential pre-requisite for peace and prosperity in South Asia. The role of the Indian Navy in tackling piracy on the high seas is another example of military diplomacy. However, a lot more can be achieved at higher platforms by collective civil and military diplomacy.
Unfortunately, India continues to lag behind in making use of its military as an effective tool for international diplomacy. The military can be an important means of conducting strategic dialogues, track-II diplomacy, international arms control and disarmament and the sale of weapons or defence technology in pursuance of national objectives to pre-empt or counter other powers arming countries inimical to India's strategic interests. Military diplomacy can also be effectively employed for establishing spheres of influence and avoiding conflict situations. With India emerging as the world's largest weapons importer, the polity would do well to leverage this buying power in terms of diplomatic gains for the country.
For this, the government has to carry out major organisational reform in the civil-military relationship. The trust deficit that exists between them has to be removed. Next, an integrated entity comprising the Ministry of Defence and the service headquarters has to be created in order to work in unison and in close liaison with the Ministry of External Affairs. The diplomatic assignments could be handled depending upon their nature and the content. Sadly however, the MEA remains a cloistered "green zone", inaccessible to those beyond its ranks.
No nation has ever realised the importance of military diplomacy as much as the United States. It is perhaps one of the few who understands that the men in uniform are in fact better equipped for augmenting diplomatic efforts through means such as subtle power projection. Without deterrent military prowess, international diplomacy can hardly be effective. Only a composite approach can lead to dividends not attainable otherwise.
A cursory glance at US president Barrack Obama's administration reveals this approach clearly. The Pentagon model of civil-military integration under a civilian head as the secretary of defence is also followed by most of the western countries. Both, the serving as well as retired military men are entrusted with important assignments in the US administration. They help their president in matters of national security, military policy and international diplomacy. This tendency to lean towards retired military personnel for top advisory post is as against the Indian politician's propensity for retired civil servants instead.
During George Bush's presidency, the ambassador to Afghanistan was a retired lieutenant general, Eikenberry. The CIA Director too was a retired US air force general, Michael Haden. Obama's National Security Council is currently headed by a retired US Marine Corps general, James L. Jones. The Director of National Intelligence is also a retired admiral, C. Blair. The senior advisor and the coordinator on Afghanistan and Pakistan is yet another retired lieutenant general, Douglas E. Lute. It may not be out of place to mention here that of the total of 44 US presidents so far, all but twelve had served in the US armed forces. Their understanding of matters military was obviously better.
In total contrast, the men in uniform in India do not even constitute a part of the government hierarchy. They are kept away from the individual fiefdoms of our North Block and South Block mandarins, and in the bargain being distanced from the decision making loop even in matters involving military strategy. Absence of military men from key decision making is most evident in the nuclear field where the military, including the Strategic Forces Command, has no major say, in spite of being the ultimate users.
This paranoia associated with the military has its roots in the Nehruvian era. Nehru's apprehensions arose perhaps from the military take-overs in numerous newly independent Afro-Asian countries across the world. That this was replicated in our neighbourhood as well, possibly added to his woes. This perceived paranoia has gone to the extent that the armed forces are tightly controlled without much freedom of action. The indifference that babus have for the military was experienced by this author first hand. In spite of his personal liaison with then Foreign Secretary, J.N. Dixit, the author could not get the MEA to fill a joint secretary vacancy in the Defence Planning Staff.
A case in point from our near neighbourhood is that of Lt Gen Yaqub Khan. A distinguished military general, he later excelled himself as a top diplomat and held multifarious diplomatic assignments within and outside the country with élan. The Indian Government on the other hand has chosen at best to present the armed forces with an odd carrot by "rewarding" some retiring chiefs by sending them as ambassadors to petty nations - the latter sometimes a downgrading in terms of protocol. Service chiefs being allowed to visit a few countries during their tenure, a mere ceremonial exercise, is the nearest example of their diplomatic contribution to the national effort. In his memoirs, Memories: Sweet and Sour, Air Chief Marshal O.P. Mehra (Retd) recalls an instance during his visit to Iran that best exemplifies the tokenism associated with such interactions. On being personally called by the Shah of Iran and being requested to lend a hand with training Iranian pilots, all that the former air chief could respond with was that he would check with his government in Delhi. This surprised the Shah who thought the subject was well within the chief's domain. It only bears testimony to the authority vested in the service chiefs in matters of this nature.
At another level, a military attaché is supposed to be the ambassador's advisor on the host country's military and strategic environment. But treated as an alien, he is hardly allowed to play such a role. The old bias continues to manifest even today as is exemplified by this aphorism: "In the world of international relations, the military attaché was something of a hybrid. He was part diplomat, part soldier, part scout and perhaps, as Lord George Curzon suggested, not entirely welcome." He is still not quite welcome.
It may be recalled here that at the height of the Rann of Kutch crisis in 1965, the Pakistan Air Chief approached his Indian counterpart with a suggestion not to involve the two air forces lest the crisis escalates. This bonhomie between the two old squadron-mates perhaps, could have been nursed to some advantage and exploited further by building bridges over time.
Further, in the Indo-Pak context, not involving the professional military leadership during the 1965 and 1971 post-war negotiations with Pakistan led to significant strategic failures for which India is still paying the price. In 1965, our political leadership agreed to return the much-fought, highly strategic Haji Pir Pass, thereby losing the critical link between Punch and Uri. Similar bankruptcy of strategic awareness was witnessed during the Shimla Agreement, when 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war were returned without any quid pro quo from Pakistan. India lost a rare opportunity of resolving the Kashmir imbroglio to a large extent. Professional military advice would have perhaps yielded better results from the Indian perspective.
The writer is a former Director-General, Defence Planning Staff
DEMOCRACY AND REPUBLIC
T N NINAN
India's experience with elections began in 1920. It saw full-fledged democracy (every person, one vote) only after 1947. It stopped being a dominion in 1950 — when it ended its ties with George VI as "King of India", and gave itself a Constitution that defined the nature of the new republic. Being a republic means more than getting rid of a monarchy; it means a state defined by the rule of law, with strong institutions checking the arbitrary power of those elected to executive office by popular mandate.
The latest elections to four state assemblies (and Puducherry) have been a triumph of Indian democracy — with governments being unseated in three states and, in the fourth, the government winning a third successive mandate. Vital as this is, as a celebration of the people's will, can it also be a celebration of the Indian republic? Yes, since the Election Commission supervised what appears to have been free and fair voting. If it is true, as Mamata Banerjee has asserted, that people in West Bengal were not allowed to vote freely in past elections, the special attention that the Commission gave to the state this time – holding elections in six phases – did result in triumph of the rule of law.
But there are troubling questions. While the rout of the DMK in Tamil Nadu may be a vote against corruption, what of Ms Jayalalithaa, who is about to become chief minister for the third time? She is the only chief minister in the country who has been convicted of corruption, and who had to step down following a Supreme Court order. As chief minister the last time round, she had the state government withdraw cases against her on corruption charges, including a case in the Supreme Court. For this and other perhaps more valid reasons, no conviction stands against her, while some cases may still be pending. So it is hard to argue that her sweeping democratic victory is also a triumph of the Indian republic.
There are parallels in other states. Ms Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh has cases against her activated or put in hibernation, depending on how she is getting along with the powers in New Delhi. When it comes to Gujarat, the Supreme Court has had to move important cases out of a state where Mr Modi rules as a thrice-elected chief minister. In virtually every election, virtually every political party fields dozens of candidates with criminal records.
Again, it is surely a violation of the republican spirit if a political plutocracy reigns supreme, irrespective of what happens in successive elections. Some two dozen politicians and their families (mini-dynasties, some of them) dominate the political scene in the country, swinging in and out of office periodically as one plutocrat makes way for the next and then makes a comeback. Who might these revolving-door plutocrats be? A rough and ready list would start with the Gandhis and go on to the Pawars, the Karunanidhi clan, the Abdullahs in Jammu and Kashmir, the Scindias and the Thackerays. The mini-dynasties would include the Hoodas in Haryana, Dikshits in Uttar Pradesh/Delhi, Patnaiks of Orissa, a couple of Yadav chieftains in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar…
While some of these cannot be accused of the willful exercise of power, it is hard to argue that they are all uniform respecters of the rule of law. To say this is not to undermine the centrality of popular choice, but to make the point that the health of Indian democracy is a different thing from the health of the Indian republic. And, at the moment, one is doing better than the other.
FINANCIAL MARKET BEHAVIOUR
MODELS ARE STILL RESTRICTED IN THEIR CAPABILITY TO PREDICT MARKET BEHAVIOUR
A familiar issue is how to gain an edge over volatile international financial markets to obviate or minimise future global financial doldrums. Should capital controls be imposed by countries or under multilateral understandings or agreements? Should there be an international financial regulatory agency to initiate action under stipulated conditions? Should financial transactions be taxed? Some countries are making forward-looking suggestions; some are resisting; others are being Humpty Dumpties.
To address price volatility, price determination needs to be understood first. Traditional financial economics literature says the outcome of the market is a "random walk" in prices, or, all available information is already reflected in the current price, so that any future price movements would only result from random exogenous shocks. However, information has always been scarce. Thus, even quite early, such premises were already challenged. Ratti and Shome (1977) demonstrated that, in the presence of uncertainty, the usual solution for an auctioneer, to search and find a set of relative prices through a tatonnement process, at which there is no excess demand in any market, is no longer achievable. Thus, exchanges are not perfect Walrasian auctions. More recent evidence by Lo and Mackinlay (1999) showed that stock market prices do not follow a random walk; there is volatility that cannot be explained as an outcome of exogenous or uncontrollable factors alone.
Related questions arise on whether traders are rational; whether it matters that the marketplace does not determine a price through an equilibrating tatonnement process; and whether volatility is a market failure that needs to be addressed. (Click here for Diagram)
Therefore, to develop a coherent policy in an international framework, we need to first understand the behaviour of players in financial markets.
Consider diagrams I and II. The dotted straight lines indicate the line of "fundamental values" or the true underlying long-term trend values of a stock or share. The lines in blue indicate price movements in the share market with speculators, while the lines in red indicate the price trajectory with no speculators.
The question is: will speculation bring prices towards, or take them away from, the fundamental values? The old algorithm was that "stabilisation is stabilising". Thus, in diagram I, when prices are high, speculators consider it a good opportunity to sell, and do that. Consequently, the prices decrease, which results in speculation bringing prices towards fundamentals. So, speculation becomes stabilising.
Diagram II shows the opposite. When prices rise, operators buy in the hope that prices will rise even further. This type of "noise" trader is said to trade often, usually in a herd, who ignores market fundamentals. This is compounded by "technical or automated trading" that is software-driven and takes place on the basis of recent price and trade volume information rather than on any analysis of underlying economic data. The outcome is destabilising speculation — prices being pushed further away from fundamentals. The relative strengths of the two behaviours – stabilising and destabilising – determine the outcome of whether market activity leads prices towards or away from fundamental values.
Technical trading mimics destabilising speculation. This is because technical traders buy until a certain ceiling is reached when prices are rising, and sell when prices fall below a certain minimum level. Beinhocker (2007) has given an interesting example from Farmer et al (2004), on the impact of a bid-ask spread. They studied one trade in AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company. AstraZeneca's "limit sell order" – offers to buy and sell that are conditional on a price – was set at £31.84. The next limit order was set at £32.30. When a small "buy order" of £16,000 came in, the asking price jumped from £31.84 to £32.30. This was an increase of 46 pence, which now represented the bid-ask spread; the share price moved up by 23 pence. This added £374 million to AstraZeneca's market value, though there was no policy or performance change of AstraZeneca on that day. Thus, a £16,000 buy order had generated a £374 million valuation jump for the company, reflecting solely the way market price recording and clearing take place in technical trading.
To curb volatility, those who recommend controlling financial transactions through capital controls or by taxing capital flows claim that such instruments would curtail technical intra-day trading or short-term transactions; and, in turn, the market would move more towards fundamentals or the underlying long-term trend. The opposite argument is that the reduction in transactions could mean that, when people do trade, they trade in larger amounts in a "thinner market" with fewer participants. This leads to bigger gaps between the limit orders in the market makers' order books. These gaps increase price volatility whenever a market order – an order to buy and sell with immediate fulfilment regardless of price – is placed.
Unfortunately, models of noise trading (De Long et al, 1990) are generally unable to adequately explain behaviours. They fall short of establishing one-to-one relationships between a trader and a behaviour or, for that matter, an "attitude to speculate". This is probably because of the multiple personalities of traders and investors. As a result, Grundfest et al (1991) have even claimed that a tax on financial transactions would affect both (short-term) traders and (long-term) investors.
Thus, instead of modelling speculators' behaviour, would it not be more revealing to model financial markets themselves? One possibility is to model the chaos and complexity endemic in financial markets. The theory of chaos and complexity is best explained through an example of throwing a pebble in a pond. The ripples have no pattern and are, therefore, chaotic, as are financial markets. At the edge of chaos, where the ripples are dying out, however, complex patterns may be discerned. This is the Mandelbrot set, named after the scientist who programmed it.
The complexity theory is being used to explain biological cell growth and galactic formation, so why not financial markets? Global financial equilibrium has successfully escaped traditional analyses and prescriptions. We need new methodologies to take corrective action. If complex behaviour patterns are discerned in otherwise chaotic financial markets, we can observe those patterns and introduce policy to manipulate them. A new generation of economists could surely pioneer such methodologies and bring them to the policy table?
The writer is director and chief executive, Icrier
All opinions are exclusively those of the author
WHY PROPERTY IS HOT, AND DIRTY
LAWMAKERS AND LAW ENFORCERS ALIKE ARE STAINED BY THE LUST FOR PROPERTY AND ITS ILL-GOTTEN RICHES
Politicians make a habit of fishing in troubled waters, and so, Rahul Gandhi's dramatic visit to the troubled villages of Greater Noida was more than a condolence visit. It was a heartfelt attempt to bolster his party's image in the state elections due in Uttar Pradesh next year. Before his 24 hours were up in the village of Bhatta Parsaul, leaders of every party were tailing him in their common quest to wrest the political advantage in Uttar Pradesh. Toppling Mayawati is the name of an old game in New Delhi but should you speak to estate agents who operate in the greater Delhi region, she is often referred to as north India's biggest property dealer. Her land-hungry government, in an earlier avatar, was stymied by the Supreme Court from building shopping malls on the river embankment opposite the Taj Mahal.
Farmers' agitations over land acquisition have emerged not only as a key trigger for toppling governments but also as the defining symbol of corruptible India. It was Mamata Banerjee spearheading the battle against takeover of agricultural land for industrial development in Singur and Nandigram in 2006-07 that led to her storming of Writer's Building in Kolkata. Numerous other leaders, from the discredited A Raja of the 2G scam to Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar among them, are linked to a network of companies run by land sharks, shady real estate developers and builders' lobbies. Property is hot, and the nexus between land acquisition and the power elite has never been hotter.
Lawmakers and law enforcers alike are stained by the lust for property and its ill-gotten riches. Former chief justices, high court judges, top bureaucrats, mid-level magistrates and lowly officials, stand accused with their kin for illegally acquiring land and subverting rules for building clearances. It's the main reason why obstructions persist to amending the Land Acquisition Act five years after being tabled in Parliament.
Defining markers for land are disappearing fast. Step out in any direction from Delhi – to Agra, Jaipur, Panipat, Rohtak and Meerut – and the fields of mustard, wheat, sugarcane and millet are going, going, gone since your last visit. Small nondescript villages are now townships and small towns swamped by chaotic concrete jungles of industrial and high-rise residential developments. Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Faridabad count as satellite towns in their own right, and Noida, metamorphosing into Greater Noida (where four died this week and the district magistrate was injured), is the Uttar Pradesh government's biggest moneymaking enterprise. It wasn't just politicians flocking there this week. There is so much money sloshing round in Delhi that large numbers of its inhabitants are invested there.
Conversion of agricultural land for industrial use or residential and commercial development remains a thorny unresolved issue. There is neither clarity nor transparency on how, or for what purpose, land is acquired – public or private use or public-private partnerships, though it is assumed that most deals are dirty, in collusion with politicians and officials. Adequate compensation at current prices is made difficult because of fluctuating market rates. Fluctuating is perhaps the wrong word. Escalating, soaring or pole-vaulting prices would be more appropriate.
There is no land available in the national capital, one of the most densely urbanised metros in the country. Every other square yard of built property is continually being developed or redeveloped into Lego-like piles. But some rules are observed here, for example in acquisition of property for public services such as the Metro, green areas or other amenities, protected by vigilantes and adjudicated by the courts.
Beyond the fringes, however, where the National Capital Territory dissolves into the National Capital Region, gnawing its way into Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, the no-holds-barred fight for land is a fierce political contest. Politicians rush in where angels fear to tread. But the land sharks were closely monitoring their movements this week. They hold the purse strings to the next election.
THE TERROR TRAIL
AS I PLEASE
K NATWAR SINGH
On September 11, 2001, my daughter Ritu and I were flying over the Atlantic Ocean. We had been out of London a little over two hours when I noticed the Air India plane taking a wide right turn. I asked the air hostess the reason for changing course. The cabin steward whispered in my ear, "Sir, we are returning to London. There have been explosions in New York. The John F Kennedy airport is closed, and so are many other airports. We are not announcing it to avoid panic." So we were back at Heathrow airport amid some chaos and confusion. Dozens of flights had returned from the mid-Atlantic region. The airport authorities were, like the rest of us, surprised and not prepared to have thousands of passengers on their hands. It took us sometime to reach our hotel. Once we reached, we saw on TV the twin towers being reduced to rubble. I had lived in New York when these were being constructed.
Osama bin Laden's death has been mourned by few; it has been welcomed by most. His removal raises several important questions. First, is Osamaism – Al Qaeda – dead? And second, what will be the US' post-Osama programme in Afghanistan? Will the US continue to spend $10 billion every month on a war it cannot win?
Now to Pakistan. I am glad I am neither an American nor a Pakistani diplomat (both would be glad that I am not). The blame game between Washington DC and Islamabad is unseemly and unedifying. The US needs Pakistan — it is a troublesome cliché. That Pakistan needs the US is another cliché. The conclusion is that this love-hate relationship will continue. And so will the American aid of $1.3 billion every year. The Inter-Services Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency embrace will remain undisturbed in the long term. The American establishment declares that Pakistan cannot be trusted. Pakistan returns the compliment (client states often do). Both countries have geostrategic interests and problems. The Americans and the Pakistanis take each other for granted. The exceptions are Pakistan's nuclear weapons; here the Americans do not take Pakistan for granted.
At the moment, US-Pakistan relations are under severe strain. Strong words are in fashion. Pakistani pride is deeply hurt. US President Barack Obama violated Pakistani sovereignty. Pakistan's claim that it was unaware of bin Laden's five-year stay in Abbottabad is incredulous. No one is buying this fiction, least of all the Americans. However, this not-so- happy, mutual misunderstanding will not last. Too much is at stake.
Mr Obama's image was taking a beating. It was being said that "he leads from behind". Now the same crowd is rightly hailing him as someone who "leads from the front". The US president deserves credit for the operation by US Navy Seals. Mr Obama's dignified restraint was impressive. However, some of his spokespersons could have done better. Four versions of the Osama killing in four days caused great confusion.
Does the Arab uprising have a lesson for Al Qaeda? Yes. In the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Damascus, Saana and Bahrain no one invoked bin Laden's name. The cry was about reform, free speech, free press and no corruption. Is an Islamic renaissance possible? Bin laden defamed a great religion. He terrorised even the souls of his villains. The worry is that in spite of his deeds, he will be more than a footnote in history. On September 11, 2001 he challenged the US and, to a considerable extent, the world. Fighting terrorism became the top priority on the international agenda. It is safe to conclude that it will now rank lower in the terror pecking order. The Al Qaeda threat, however, remains.
I have so far not mentioned India. India has no reason to gloat but we have been proved right. The adamantine fact is that Pakistan does harbour terrorists. The British prime minister rightly said that Pakistan had a two-faced approach to terrorism. India, on the other hand, has handled her secularism brilliantly. On two occasions, I told former US President George W Bush that no Indian had joined either Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Should India resume the composite dialogue with Pakistan, even after learning that Pakistan was home to bin Laden for half a dozen years? Yes, we should. Statesmanship demands it. Besides, is there an alternative? Not yet.
While reading a book on the French Revolution, I thought: After 222 years, liberty, fraternity and equality are in short supply. The gospel of equality is the biggest con of all time.
IS PAKISTAN ON THE BRINK?
Pakistan isn't a failed state that some media critics would like us to believe. But is it heading towards a meltdown of governance or a permanent state of anarchy even as Islamist revolutionaries led by the Taliban and their many supporters take over the commanding heights of state power? Prima facie, this is what circumstantial evidence on the Osama bin Laden case (and earlier incidents) would tell us. So, can we conclude that a slow, insidious and long-burning fuse of fear, terror, and paralysis has been lit by the Taliban and Islamists that the state is unable, or partly unwilling, to put out? Superficially, this is what many of us would believe but Anatol Lieven, a professor of International Relations and Terrorism in King's College, London, doesn't believe so in Pakistan: A Hard Country (Allen Lane, Special Indian Price, Rs 499) as he tries to tell us in what could be described as The Idea of Pakistan.
Professor Lieven, who is both a scholar and a journalist, tells the Pakistan story in four parts: part one, "Land, people and history; part two, "Structures that deal with justice, religion, the military and politics"; Part three, "the provinces that cover the four main divisions of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the Pathans"; and part four or "the Taliban" with two chapters on its present status in Pakistan and its likely future.
It is an introduction to the making of Pakistan and its constituents, more addressed to the western reader than to us. We, on the sub-continent, have been provided with many more studies in depth on the army and its grip over the entire economy and over the politics of the state. However, it is useful as an introduction.
Begin with the central fact of Pakistan's life, the military. A popular joke in Pakistan is that while all countries have an army, here we have an army that has a country. But does it have a stable and unified country any more? Look at the scene as it exists now.
In northern Pakistan, where the Taliban and its allies are largely in control, the situation is critical. State institutions are paralysed and over a million have fled their homes. The provincial government of North-West Frontier Province has gone into hiding and law and order has collapsed.
The overall economy is crashing, with drastic power cuts across the country as industry shuts down. Unemployment and lack of access to schools among the young are widespread, creating a new source of recruits for the Taliban. Mr Zardari and Mr Gilani spent the last year battling their political rivals instead of facing up to the Taliban threat and the economic crisis. This is not a cooked-up story but the exact scenario provided by official Pakistani sources and by Ahmed Rashid, one of the best-informed people on the current situation in Pakistan.
How widespread is the Taliban influence is perhaps the most important question that Professor Lieven just glosses over possibly because these areas were simply not accessible to him. But, according to the Islamabad columnist Farrukh Saleem, 11 per cent of Pakistan's territory is either directly controlled or contested by the Taliban. Ten per cent of Balochistan, in the southwest of the country, is a no-go area because of another raging insurgency led by Baloch separatists. Karachi, the port city of 17 million, is an ethnic and sectarian tinderbox waiting to explode. The Taliban is now penetrating into Punjab, Pakistan's political and economic heartland where the major cities of Lahore and Islamabad are located and where 60 per cent of the country's 170 million people live.
Clearly, the Taliban has taken advantage of the vacuum of governance by carrying out suicide bombings (the average age of a suicide bomber is just 17) in major cities across the country. This description is not trumped up by anti-Pakistani observers but is a summary of recent happenings as reported in the Pakistani press.
Why has Pakistan dug itself into this hole? Professor Lieven has just air-brushed these issues, though he doesn't quite ignore them. There are two factors: the role of the military that permeates every nook and corner of governance, and the essentially feudal nature of society.
The chapter on the military, from which the book draws its strength, covers all aspects of life in Pakistan, to an extent unimaginable here.
"The Pakistani military … suffers from one tragic feature which has been with it from the beginning, and which has done terrible damage to Pakistan and which could in some circumstances destroy it and its armed forces altogether… that is, its obsession with India in general, and Kashmir in particular… As Bhutto once said, 'Kashmir must be liberated if Pakistan has to have its full meaning'." And this message has permeated right down to the masses, mainly because of the ISI that has been described as "the intellectual core and centre of gravity of the army. Without the ISI, the army is just an elephant without eyes and ears". You can figure out why the military is in cahoots with the ISI and why the two must have been involved in the bin Laden case.
GEHLOT NEEDS A MAKEOVER
CAN RAJASTHAN'S GENTLE AND MODERATE CHIEF MINISTER TOUGH IT OUT?
Why has news of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot being involved in scams surfaced suddenly? On the face of it, the allegations look serious. The Rajasthan government stands accused of giving contracts and assets worth Rs 11,000 crore to firms with financial links to Gehlot's immediate family: his daughter Sonia and son-in-law Gautam; and son Vaibhav and daughter-in-law Himanshi. One of the companies in question has bought space in newspapers to rebut the allegations. But this clarification has gained little traction with the Congress high command, which summoned Gehlot last week to ask him what was going on.
Gehlot's son is a lawyer but is even more retiring and diffident than Gehlot. He is supposed to have been retained as a legal consultant by a company in return for a number of alleged favours. Gehlot's daughter and son-in-law have supposedly been gifted a flat worth Rs 8 crore in Mumbai through a complicated financial transaction involving a listed company. Those who know Gehlot say this allegation is hardly credible as far as he was concerned, but they couldn't really speak with much authority about the children. Gehlot has the endorsement of the high court. Throwing out a public interest litigation about corruption charges against the chief minister, the chief justice of Rajasthan, Justice Arun Mishra observed on behalf of the bench earlier this week: "All corporate houses are today close to one or the other politician as also senior advocates but that does not mean it proves any corrupt practice. Something more than acquaintance is required to prove corruption charges."
Be that as it may, something doesn't smell too good in Jaipur. But the real challenge is political, and it is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that reappointed Vasundhara Raje as the leader of the Legislature Party which means she is also leader of the opposition. Raje was ordered by the BJP high command to resign from this post in the wake of the party's defeat in the Assembly elections, but she defied the party leadership for nearly five months, going so far as to claim that she had the support of more than 50 of the 78 BJP MLAs who were returned to the Assembly in the 2008 state election. In early 2010, however, she called it quits but even after that, Ghanshyam Tiwari was given temporary charge of her job.
Raje lost the election partly because of a trio of so-called industrialists including Lalit Modi; and partly because the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was internally divided on its view of her. Now, she has returned with RSS backing and after shrugging off the industry baggage.
Meanwhile, how has Gehlot fared? Not too well. True, Raje could have done a lot in Rajasthan with the kind of majority with which she started out. But in the 2008 election, the Congress managed just 96 seats, five short of a clear majority in the 200-member Assembly. And there is an argument that only Gehlot, with his infinite capacity to bend before arrogant and domineering MLAs, could have cobbled a government together and actually run it. Gehlot managed to consolidate the Congress party's hold in the Assembly: six MLAs from the Bahujan Samaj Party merged the unit with the Congress. He secured the support of independents, leading to numerical security. But he could not – and has not – been able to shrug off the image of being a weak, ineffectual chief minister.
What was the option? C P Joshi was one, had he not lost the Assembly election by a margin of one vote. However, the differences between them are more serious than that. Joshi is irascible, blunt and hates being asked for favours. Gehlot is moderate, gentle and unaggressive. They are also not particularly fond of each other. In fact, at a meeting soon after the Assembly elections at which Gehlot was present, Joshi remarked, "I was a follower of Ashok Gehlot. Now I am his collaborator. For each person he has to decide at some point… The earlier relationship between us was of leader-follower and now it is of leader-collaborator."
So the Congress is stuck with Gehlot as the BJP mounts campaign after campaign. As the BJP general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan, Kirit Somaiya has joined hands with Raje. Together they are harassing Gehlot to tears.
At the proposed Congress summit meeting and chintan shivir in Rajasthan, Gehlot might get a chance to redeem himself. But the noose is tightening fast.
THE MESSAGE FROM KABUL
SHANTHIE MARIET D'SOUZA
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Kabul this week appears to have unveiled an era of decisive and confident Afghan policy, enough to silence critics, encourage optimists and, most importantly, instill confidence among the Afghans that India is a reliable friend.
The Indian presence in Afghanistan remains critically linked to the security situation that is maintained predominantly by US and NATO forces. Such a predicament is not unique to India, however. In case of an early drawdown of forces and the return of chaos, few countries of the civilised world would have the capacity and inclination to remain in Afghanistan.
Dr Singh announced India's support for the Afghan reconciliation effort currently underway, which gels well with the country's own experience and stand that "democracy is a means to give political expression to pluralism". This marks a significant and bold shift and shows a will to invest in the future that Afghans choose for themselves in building an inclusive political order.
Many Afghan watchers tend to view the programme for reconciliation with the Taliban as the return of the Afghan Taliban leadership to the seat of power in Kabul. They see this benefiting Pakistan that would then return to using Afghanistan as a "strategic asset" in a post US-negotiated order. This view betrays ignorance of the realities on the ground.
First, post-Osama speculations are rife regarding the possibility of an accelerated US withdrawal from the region. Preliminary indications emerging from Washington, however, point to the contrary. The continuing relevance of Al Qaeda-linked groups and the threats of continued violence by the Taliban will ensure a prolonged international troop presence in Afghanistan, although the focus on counter-insurgency might gradually move towards counter-terrorism with a limited troop presence in a few strategic bases.
Second, in spite of its projected weaknesses, the Indian presence in Afghanistan is characterised by inherent strengths. Apart from the fact that Indian aid (earlier over $1 billion and now raised by another $500 million) is well received in Afghanistan, the decade-long investment in development, including roads, electricity, schools, hospitals and community projects, has generated tremendous goodwill for India among ordinary Afghans.
Talking to Afghans in Kabul a day before Dr Singh landed, it was possible to perceive huge expectations from India. Afghans recognise that India is a friendly country that does not get involved in their internal politics. The deep historical, socio-cultural and civilisational relationship between the two countries and the role India has played so far are reflected in the growing expansion beyond the largely well-received economic footprints. The most significant of India's projects, the Zaranj-Delaram road, has led to a thriving trade and consequent growth in custom revenues. The joint statement of May 12 by the two countries reflects Indian optimism and inclination to carry forward the legacy.
The announcement of an additional outlay of $500 million for small development projects is an assertion of India's commitment to Afghan people, particularly in the insurgency-ravaged south and east Afghanistan. There will be more scholarships, institution-building efforts, social development and higher investment in the health sector. Dr Singh has promised to upgrade the agricultural faculty at the Kabul University to an agricultural university, donate tractors to farmers and give scholarships for the study of agricultural sciences. By investing heavily in building capacity among the Afghan farmers, many of whom are in the process of switching from poppy to a viable crop alternative, India is clearly aiding the alternative livelihoods in an agrarian country which is in need of reviving its economic base and employment and revenue-generating opportunities.
Third, deep cultural links between the two countries would now be strengthened thanks to India's promised assistance to preserve and revive Afghanistan's archaeological and cultural heritage, including Afghan music and restoration of the historic Stor Palace in Kabul.
Fourth, getting involved militarily in the affairs of other countries has never been India's forte and the prime minister has done well to resist the temptation. India can, however, still think of getting involved in capacity-building and reforms targeting the security sector in Afghanistan. A strong and capable Afghan security force would be the best protection Indian interests can receive in Afghanistan.
A lot is always said about the insecurities that growing Indian involvement generates in Pakistan. If that is true, the series of announcements made during the visit could lead to further heartburn in Islamabad, which is currently recovering from a huge diplomatic embarrassment. However, Pakistan should realise that investment in the long-term development of Afghanistan is a better option than viewing it as an asset offering "strategic depth" against India. The Indo-Pak competition in the reconstruction of Afghanistan would go a long way in helping both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Dr Singh, in his address to Afghan Parliament, pointed out that "renewing ties of friendship, solidarity and fraternity is the only agenda India has in Afghanistan". India's strategic objectives would be based on this strong and durable foundation.
Dr Singh's emphasis on regional cooperation and the need to evolve a south Asian identity in re-building Afghanistan will go down well in the region. Indeed, all countries in the region have a stake in reviving their "civilisational" relationship with Afghanistan and in becoming willing partners in its long-term development.
The writer is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore
A VOTE WITH A PUNCH
The poll verdict clearly shows that under no circumstances will the people put up with a brazen display of aggrandising behaviour.
If the results of the elections to the Legislative Assemblies in four major States and the Union Territory of Puducherry can be summed up within a development paradigm, it is this: Development matters to the public; governments will be voted out if they do not deliver on economic growth. But delivering growth is not enough; if that programme comes laced with corruption issues, voters will throw an even tougher punch. Under no circumstances would they put up with a brazen display of aggrandising behaviour.
The results in Tamil Nadu best exemplify the latter proposition. The public, in a sense, endorsed the DMK rule when it voted in that party and the Congress in the parliamentary election two years ago but it has now handed the combine a humiliating defeat. What must be even more galling to the DMK-Congress alliance is that the defeat has come about in spite of their being able to woo a key ally, the PMK, from the AIADMK alliance and, to its good fortune, another ally stayed away from the election in protest against the failure to secure an agreement on seat-sharing. Yet the DMK's defeat, that saw practically all the Ministers in the present cabinet biting the dust, could mean only one thing. In the public mind at least, the needle of suspicion in the 2G spectrum scam clearly pointed to family members of the Chief Minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi. The brazenness with which established procedures were flouted to favour some parties with licences to operate mobile telephony services and the humongous amounts of money that are rumoured to have changed hands clearly put the people off.
However, the absence of major corruption scandals and even exemplary personal conduct, as in the case of the West Bengal Chief Minister, are also no guarantee of electoral success if the public sees no way out of economic stagnation. The violent agitation in Singur was one the government failed to address or contain. It sent the makers of the Nano away to Gujarat, and scared other prospective investors. The real lesson is not so much that police excesses bedevil political fortunes, but that when voters are left with no illusions about industrial revival and economic growth, they will look for alternatives. The regime change is the first expression of this public perception and, ironically enough, it is in favour of the very leader who spearheaded the agitation against the Tatas. The verdicts in Assam and Kerala — one party retaining power in the former, while one alliance gave way to another in the latter — are, in some ways, a nuanced interpretation of the proposition that, given a lacklustre performance record, people tend to choose from the alternatives available with a sense of stoic resignation.
MONEY CAN'T BUY YOU VOTES
M. R. SUBRAMANI
On April 14, the day of the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, a colleague recounted how his neighbour travelled some 125 km to Villupuram to cast his vote — incidentally, in favour of the AIADMK.
The young man had travelled on the top of a bus, with several others, to exercise his franchise. And he and his fellow travellers were among the thousands of voters who criss-crossed the State on all kinds of modes of transport, to be able to cast their votes.
People taking so much trouble to travel to their constituencies to vote was in contrast to the picture two years ago, during the by-elections to the Thirumangalam constituency in Madurai. Then, the DMK had to persuade voters of the constituency who were living elsewhere to exercise their franchise. This time, without any goading, many made the journey, to vote against the ruling party.
The deteriorating law and order situation went against the DMK. But, more than anything else, it was the 2G spectrum controversy that played a decisive role in swaying the Assembly elections.
In a way, the results are something like what happened in 1996, when the AIADMK was swept out of power. There is one common factor, though. On both occasions, perhaps, the Congress lost an opportunity to test the waters alone!
Not the money
A day before the elections, there was this conversation in the lift of a public sector insurance firm. An agent of the firm asked the lift operator who he thought would win. The lift operator, obviously a supporter of the party, said: "DMK", adding that its 'performance' would speak for itself. But the agent then popped a question that left the lift operator stuck for an answer.
He asked: "Ok, if performance will win you the election, why, then, are you distributing money?"
In fact, people were talking in hushed tones for weeks before the polls how money was still finding its way in odd-shaped little packets into the people's homes, especially in the alleyways and by-lanes. And that all this was happening despite the Election Commission taking stringent measures to crack down on such malpractices.
Some 24 hours after the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, a theory was floated based on the record 81.97 per cent voter turnout. The theory was that while the higher turnout could be termed an anti-incumbency wave in the urban areas, it could be deemed a pro-government wave in the rural belt.
Mis-reading rural voters
Indeed, the big question that has emerged from this election is whether the DMK completely under-estimated the rural electorate.
Even the way the DMK approached the election was seen as flawed. It chose to field its big leaders, including its chief, Mr M. Karunanidhi, and his son, Mr M.K. Stalin, from either a rural or a suburban area.
Their reading was that the people in the city, supposedly savvier, would vote against them. But what made the DMK conclude that the rural voters would be soft on them?
Rural Tamil Nadu suffered the most in terms of power shortages in the run-up to the elections. And this was one of the chief issues that the AIADMK and its allies played up.
One development that has hurt the DMK is the problem of farmers not finding enough farm hands, especially at harvest time, or having to pay higher labour costs for labour.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, ironically, made things difficult for farmers to hire workers.
The DMK may have done some chest-thumping on what it called 'welfare schemes' but many in the rural areas saw them as programmes that made people non-productive.
During a visit to one of the agricultural produce markets in Villupuram, a team of Business Line journalists saw how people were critical of these programmes. The results are a reminder that the people's representatives need to have their ears close to the ground.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NOW, GO GOVERN
VOTERS HAVE PUNISHED ARROGANCE AND CORRUPTION AND ENDORSED GOVERNANCE
The people of India have voted against corruption and arrogance, and endorsed good governance — this is the broad message that comes out from the four states and one Union territory whose election results came out Friday. While the sweeping change in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu hog public attention, these were the outcome of the people's rejection of incumbents, whereas Tarun Gogoi's resounding victory in Assam is positive endorsement of his good work as chief minister for two terms. Clearly, strong regional leaders who govern well are what voters want, whether they are from national parties or regional ones. At the national level, the election results strengthen the ruling UPA, and within the UPA, the Congress. In three out of the four major states that went to polls, the UPA has emerged victorious. And the rout the DMK has suffered would make the party a more disciplined, committed member of the ruling coalition. But more than quiescence, the DMK needs to end its avatar as a family business and regain its original, pro-people roots. None of widespread anger against corruption has benefited the principal Opposition party: the BJP has come a cropper, even in Assam where it has had some presence. Two out of the four new chief ministers are from the Congress and a third, from its biggest ally within the UPA, while the fourth chief minister is from a regional party keeping a safe distance from the BJP. This should not lull the Congress into complacence. Rather, the positive momentum yielded by the poll results should galvanise it into action: to provide good governance and institutional reform to root out corruption.
For the Left, it is time for honest introspection. Its failure, altogether, to sense the mood of the people in West Bengal offers worrying evidence of the insularity it has acquired over the years. In Kerala, only by endorsing the crusading chief minister V S Achuthanandan, altering the official stance at the last minute under popular pressure, did the Left avoid a humiliating defeat of the Bengal kind. It would do well to shed 'neoliberal' shibboleths and Stalinist politics, devising policy to broaden the participatory base of globalised growth.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDUSTRIAL DATA SHOW LOSS OF GROWTH MOMENTUM, CALL FOR REMEDIAL POLICY
The latest estimates of the index of industrial production peg growth for March, over the like period last year, at a reasonable 7.3%. This is significant, as the trend rate has mostly been in the low single-digits since October. In fact, the increase seems all the more creditable, coming as it does on top of the strong 15.5% growth in industrial output posted previous March. Also notable is that the index, which hitherto has had 1993-94 as the base year, with weights for different industry segments reflecting the scenario then, would now be thoroughly revised and updated from next month, with 2004-05 as the new base year. In a fast growing economy like India's, with fast relative change among sectors and industries, the base year for the industrial index needs to be updated every five years to better gauge production. A sectoral breakup of the latest figures show that manufacturing, which has almost 80% weightage in the index, has grown 7.9% year-on-year over previous March, when growth notched under the head amounted to a bullish 16.4%. Electricity output, which has over 10% weightage in the index, also seems to be in the buoyant single-digits y-o-y. But what is glaring is that mining output, with about the same weightage as power, has shown dismal 0.2% rise y-o-y. The continuing flux in mining policy is clearly hampering output: it calls for remedial action.
However, despite the latest spurt, industrial growth during the period April-March clocked 7.8%, which is lower than the 10.5% growth seen in the previous fiscal. It points at marked deceleration in the trend rate. Disaggregated, use-based data shows that the growth in capital goods output, which denotes investment demand, amounted to just about 9.3% during 2010-11. It's less than half the growth seen under the capital goods head in the previous fiscal. Further, the latest April-March growth figure for large industry segments like textile products, wood products and basic chemicals, is either lacklustre or negative. Heady growth continues, though, in transport equipment and parts. We need proactive policy to sustain investment and boost industrial momentum.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IT COULD LEAD TO THE FLOWERING OF A NEW CULTURE, IF NOT A CULTURAL REVOLUTION
That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, quoth the bard many centuries ago. And he was no stranger to conflict with horticultural allusions, having devoted several plays to the Wars of the Roses. With the Jasmine Revolution sweeping through North Africa into West Asia, however, the Chinese would have done well to hark back to Shakespeare's wisdom before they blocked the Chinese characters for the flower in text messages. As if blanking out clips of President Hu Jintao warbling M o L i H u a, a traditional paean to the aromatic flower, and reportedly cancelling this year's Jasmine Cultural Festival was not bad enough, cracking down on the wholesale sale of the flower by cultivators could backfire. After all, otherwise loyal comrades thus deprived of their livelihood and pastimes could sniff the flower's suddenly subversive fragrance in their morning cuppa and be seized of a desire to turn Tiananmen Square into Tahrir Square. The Chinese may also want to bone up on Baroness Orczy's fictional account of the effect of a single counter-revolutionary flower called the Scarlet Pimpernel on the people's armies of 18th and 19th century France. The French famously sought him here and sought him there, but the 'demmed elusive' aristocrat who used the pimpernel as his n o m d e g u e r r eremained at large.
Of course, the official shrivelling of the jasmine constituency in China could benefit India. For a while now, most of the cheap items being hawked on pavements and traffic junctions around India have been flooding in from China. With democracy in no danger in India, we would welcome strings of jasmine, especially at rock-bottom prices. That would be one Chinese item whose short shelf life would not irk us.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LEADING INDIA TO A NEW WAY
HERE ARE A FEW LEADERSHIP LESSONS AS WE SHIFT FROM THE LEFT TO WHATEVER IS LEFT!
In West Bengal and Kerala, the people will not be led by the extreme Left for a while. They will be led by whatever is left! If in one state there is a bankruptcy of resources, in another there is a bankruptcy of ideas. A change in guard does not necessarily mean an immediate shift in leadership culture. By pressing the button on the voting machine, the electorate does not really tell the outgoing government why it has failed. Nor does it tell what it expects from the newly elected government. The onus of interpretation of the verdict rests squarely on the quality and culture of leadership that these two states are able to put together.
For half a century, India has not just been badly mismanaged but has also been grossly under-led by elected representatives who confuse leadership with 'managing' public opinion. The word 'manage' in India today stands for gross and subtle manipulation of the mind. Managing is devoid of the idealism or the moral core of what it means to be a leader. An electoral victory gives a political party a licence to practice unfair governance to recover the cost of contesting a 'fair' election. A lot of damage has been done in the past by a top-down, command and control political leadership who thought that they knew more about this country than they actually did. The recent nationwide upsurge around corruption and competitive 'fast-tracking' of legislation is a clear case of a leadership that is caught napping. It is clear that the problem of corruption is a top-down disaster as the vast majority of India has neither the means nor the money to be corrupt.
Leaders in India need a radical transformation in thinking from "I" to "India": Leaders of both West Bengal and Kerala will benefit greatly from being part of something bigger than themselves or their party. You don't transform from I to India by switching your flag or your faction. Real change will come from the leader's commitment to leadership rather than dealership. Here are three transformational mantras that may help the new leaders and cheerleaders of West Bengal and Kerala:
One, follow your compass that will show a new horizon for the state for the next 15-20 years and not your clock that will stop ticking for you after five years.
Two, leave your people with tough questions rather than appeasing answers. If you give people answers — they may or may not benefit. If you ask them questions both you and your people will benefit. Three, find your growth team. Leaders grow out of an ecology of leadership rather than their 'egology'. A growth team consists of complementary capabilities rather than more people of the same kind. No real development happens unless leaders commit to growing themselves beyond their individualised, me-focused agenda.
Harnessing the power of pluralism: Commitment to pluralism rather than monocultures imply there is more than one solution to a problem. I heard this interesting story about a Russian planner who travelled to New York City from Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He questioned his host, "Who is in charge of the supply of bread to New York?" Obviously, there was no one centrally controlled entity that was in charge of supplying bread to New York. Yet, New York was much better off than Moscow with all its planning in making bread available to its citizens. The steady exodus of senior bureaucrats and police officers from both Kerala and West Bengal suggest a return to perpetuation of monoculture — "My way or the National Highway!"
Countering corruption with crucial conversation: The only defence against individual and institutionalised corruption is productive and crucial conversation. The Berlin Wall fell, not because of precise political plans but because of the power of conversation. Obama's ascent to US Presidency demonstrated the power of conversation through the social media. When conversations get stuck in the past the country's future gets hypothecated to past behaviour and past actions. When conversations shift to the future — the country has a chance to move in the realm of possibilities. It is the leader's primary job to shift conversations away from witch-hunting and hanging tax-evaders towards a more transparent and productive future.
Replacing top-down coercion with chaotic order: Anna Hazare's movement, which one would describe as Anna-archy, reinforced India's image in the world as a functioning anarchy. This is a nation that is more chaordic than any other democracy. You may wonder what the expression 'chaordic' means. It means that there is an emerging order inherent in India's chaos that most of the world doesn't seem to get. The chaos aspect of India is all for us to see on CNN. Yet, there is a supreme order there.
There are two elements in that order. The first is that India has always had a penchant for self-rule over entrenched systems, a sense of swaraj, that is the cause of both our unity as well as our need to be unruly. Second, under the veneer of institutional apathy and indifference, there lurks in our youth the rage to make a difference. A new generation in India, the one that is seeing their icons win the World Cup or the Oscars, feels suffocated by the past; almost choked by the sheer weight of ineffectual and corrupt tradition. They are slowly breaking free — they are the ones who have no time to repeat history because they are busy making it.
DEBASHIS CHATTERJEE DIRECTOR, IIM KOZHIKODE
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'ARAB WORLD HAS JETTISONED BIN LADENISM'
ULLEKH N P
Ayesha Jalal is one of the world's most reputed authorities on Pakistan. In the past, her comments on Indian nationalist leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and their role in the Partition had generated controversy, but her incisive observations on authoritarianism in the subcontinent have often been lapped up by critics worldwide.
Jalal is now worried that Osama bin Laden's killing in Abbottabad by US forces will lead to immediate reprisals, and that the chances of such reprisals are very high in Pakistan. She also says there has to be more transparency on the burial of Bin Laden in the ocean by releasing both some visual record of the moments before his death as well as the burial at sea.
As regards Pakistani military establishment's likely role in the operation to kill Laden, Jalal, author of very highly regarded books on the Indian subcontinent, says that "they prefer to be charged with ineptitude and incompetence rather than be associated with an American-led kill Osama operation". Her work, The State of Martial Rule: The Origins of Pakistan's Political Economy of Defence, has put the spotlight on some of Pakistan's vexed problems, including the power that radical elements wield over state agencies in that country. In that book, she has also dwelt at length on the role of Islam in the balance between state and Pakistani society, besides exploring tensions between the central government and provinces, ethnicity and related problems. As an expert on the Indian subcontinent, Jalal has shed new light on issues of governance in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh over the past 50 years in her book, Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia. For an author who has written on identities, she had once said in a lighter vein that she wears multiple identities. In interview to a blogger-student, she said: "People are generally comfortable wearing multiple identities… I'm quite comfortable being a woman, a Muslim, a Pakistani, an American."
According to her, while Islamabad has much to be worried about what appears to be a unilateral American military operation on Pakistan's soil to finish off Bin Laden, the possibility of the Americans grabbing Pakistan's nuclear assets is not going to be nearly "as straightforward as an attack on a not particularly well-defended residential complex".
Jalal, the Mary Richardson Professor of History and Director, Center for South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies at Tufts University, doesn't see US-Pakistan relations getting any worse following the Osama operation because the relationship, she says, has been "strained for some time now and is unlikely to get appreciably worse". She says, as expected, the US government has so far underplayed any evidence of culpability by the Pakistani state or sections of the state, such as its intelligence service, ISI, in sheltering Bin Laden.
She is of the view that the killing of the Al Qaeda chief gives President Barack Obama an opportunity to respond to pressures at home for an early withdrawal from the Af-Pak region, but the counter-pressures and temptation to build on the successful elimination of Bin Laden with further strikes will be equally great. For that reason, she feels, the US will not advance its pullout from the trouble-torn region. The US had set a 2014 deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Jalal, who has previously taught history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Columbia University, Harvard University and Lahore University of Management Sciences, begs to differ with some reputed columnists in the US who have compared the fate of Al-Qaeda to that of Peru's 'The Shining Path' group after its leader Abimael Guzman's capture. "Osama was already a stretch removed from controlling the operational aspects of Al-Qaeda. Though a symbolic blow, his death is unlikely to affect Al Qaeda's operations. The iconology surrounding Osama's martyrdom may even give some impetus to Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups," she says. Amid searing change in West Asia and North Africa, Jalal says the Arab world has already moved on to methods other than those promoted by Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Over the past few months, stretching from Tunisia to Egypt, political unrest has led to the fall of dictatorships or at least authoritarian regimes facing a severe challenge from pro-democracy protestors. "While there may be some quarters that will mourn his (Osama's) death, much of the Arab world is looking to enter the next phase against authoritarian regimes through non-violent movements."
DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR SOUTH ASIAN & INDIAN OCEAN STUDIES
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GO THREE-TRACK ON PAKISTAN
Incompetence plus incompetence still equals incompetence, goes a Murphy's Law. On May 9, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani mounted a spirited defence of his country's role in the war against Al-Qaeda. But it couldn't hide his country's twin incompetence that the US operation to take out Osama bin Laden highlighted nine days earlier: the intelligence failure to detect Osama hiding in a most-secured garrison town for about six years; and the military failure to discover, in real time, the midnight US helicopter-borne Operation Geronimo.
Gilani spoke not a word on it. He had good reason not to speak on them, because the humiliation was total.
Yet, he did some gentle plainspeaking. It may sound incredible, but why should Pakistan's 'permanent establishment' protect such a toxic asset as Osama? For no good reason, except gaining extra international opprobrium, and more importantly, stoppage of all US aid. What incentive it might have had to do so? As a venerable Pakistani columnist noted, the bounty on Osama's head was too tempting in the first place. Also, consider the fact that Osama is no Dr A Q Khan —disgraced, but still deemed a matter of national honour. How can Pakistan provide a safe haven for Osama, given the unstated policy consensus in Islamabad-Rawalpindi to go all-out to eliminate foreign elements kicking up the worldwide jihadi storm from inside Pakistan, while jealously guarding "strategic assets" like the Haqqani network based out of North Waziristan? The fact that the militaryintelligence complex has stoutly declined to launch a military offensive in the tribal agency is a testimony to the fact that it has not abandoned the illusion of achieving 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan. Again, Gilani was speaking the truth: Pakistan had turned in more high-value Al-Qaeda leaders than the US could ever since its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It is inconceivable that the Americans could capture Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, et al, without cooperation from Pakistan. Also, the preliminary intelligence Pakistan provided to the US about the compound where Osama was hiding. Double-crossing is always abhorrent, but Pakistan knows that it's also a political blunder, when vital US interests enter the play.
Gilani's speech hardly disguised the conceit that the US should have taken his country into confidence about a raid deep inside its territory. Beyond the Pakistani bravado of 'national sovereignty' and the usual diplomatic thrust and parry, there remains a more substantive point. CIA Director Leon Panetta, in an interview with Time magazine, echoed the point. "It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardise the mission: They might alert the targets." The relations between the American and Pakistani intelligence, never good, have been so fraught that the US will neither notify in advance about drone strikes in its far tribal agencies nor about the raid in Abbottabad, near Islamabad, because it feared the targets would be tipped off.
Is this a good omen for India in the 26/11 investigation about the complicity of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)? For all the evidence it has about the ISI's rogue S directorate that directs 'non-state actors' like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the US has an oblique answer that could tamp down any extravagant expectations we might have, post Osama's killing. "We believe that it's very important to maintain the cooperative relationship with Pakistan precisely because it's in our national security interest to do so," as White House spokesman Jay Carney put it.
Fair enough — US national interests will remain as calibrated as they were in 2008. What India must do to tackle Pakistan, if we were to prevent more 26/11-style attacks? This question must be analysed at three levels.
First, there is no escape from constructive dialogue, just as there is no escape from the truism that you can't negotiate geography. That does not, however, mean that we should raise the diplomatic heat to dismantle the Indiacentric terror infrastructure in Pakistan only in fits and starts, whenever a terrorist incident occurs.
Two, India must acquire the requisite level of military/intelligence sophistication. Just compare Operation Geronimo, that broke every action to the minute detail, and achieved its goal in style, with the Indian hostage rescue mission in Taj Mahal Hotel in November 2008 that went about without even a proper floor plan of the building. You don't need more examples to clinch the point.
Three, India must effectively call Pakistan's nuclear bluff. Much has been talked about the 'cold start' strategy — a military doctrine that would allow for India to respond with limited, targeted conventional surgical strikes to a Pakbased terror attack against India. Has it progressed beyond the Powerpoint presentation stage? It will be a difficult task, but with tacit US support, the strategy has the potential to defang Pakistan's nuclear blackmail for good.
Talk softly, but carry a big stick: that's the US approach to difficult customers like Pakistan. Should India's approach be any different?
LEFT ROUT AT KALIGHAT
STATE ELECTIONS SPELL END OF AN ERA FOR AN IDEOLOGY IN BENGAL, AND BRING FOUR WOMEN AS CHIEF MINISTERS
The results of the Assembly elections in five states of India announced on Friday the 13th, are mostly spectacular and quite historic. Proving all exit polls wrong, the AIADMK-led coalition won an overwhelming majority, winning 204 out of 234 seats in Tamil Nadu. In Bengal, the Trinamool Congress-led coalition, which includes the Indian National Congress won 226 out of 294 seats, trouncing their opponents, the coalition of communist parties.
In both cases the victors benefited from an anti-incumbency wave. But that is an understatement, since antiincumbency is supposed to be a feature of all Indian elections. Even anti-incumbency was proved wrong when ruling governments were voted back into power in Gujarat, Delhi and Bihar. Hence we must conclude that election outcomes are as much a report card on performance, as about throwing out incumbents.
In the case of Bengal, TMC managed to oust the leftists who were continuously elected for 34 years, since 1977. Nowhere in the world has there been such a continuous rule of communists who enjoyed electoral victories repeatedly. In 2002, on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of their rule, there was an article by nine eminent Bengali economists (including India's present Chief Economic Advisor), all non-residents then, bemoaning the decline of Bengal.
That was written nine years ago. The authors pointed to the decline of industrial output (from a national share of 10 to 5 per cent), decline in employment despite rise in population, fall in industrial investment and business confidence. Bengal had become a state of bandhs and lock-outs, where it held a national record. It had become surplus in electricity, because there wasn't enough industrial demand. Even a mundane statistic like value of cheques cleared in Kolkata as compared to Mumbai had fallen precipitously from 38 to 6 per cent.
The authors further added, "What makes these numbers even more striking is the fact that this industrial meltdown happened in a period of relative peace and political stability in the state after the turbulent 1960s and the repressive 1970s." While the rest of India was steadily accelerating to higher growth rates, Bengal was falling behind. Even then the state kept voting the communists back to power.
There are several reasons for this, and not all of them are unsavory (i.e. scientific rigging of elections). The leftists had implemented one of independent India's most comprehensive land reform in the 1970's (called Operation Bargha). Agricultural production had progressed well and rural roads were in much better shape, even before national Prime Ministers' Rural Roads initiative of 1999. And the communal tensions were almost unheard of, an enviable record. But now after 34 years, a Grassroots Party has been given a clean slate to bring old glory back to Bengal.
Another remarkable consequence of these election outcomes, is that four big and important states of India will have a woman as Chief Minister. Three out of these four have made it to the top without inheriting their political legacy from a father, a husband or a godfather. The states of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Bengal and Tamil Nadu together make up more than thirty per cent of national population.
With half of local bodies (panchayats and city councils) in states like Tamil Nadu and Bihar, also having elected women officials, there are going to be a lot of women in powerful political positions. It would only be at the apex level, in India's Parliament, where we have inadequate female representation. If the women's reservation bill is tabled during this Lok Sabha, then even that might change. With the defeat of leftists, and anointment of women leaders (in the 'Kali' yug), these have been momentous elections.
…AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS
TWO things can safely be said about the election results announced on Friday. First, while time will tell us if those who won deserved to win we can say without hesitation that those who lost certainly deserved to lose. And two, that while on the face of it the ruling Congress-led UPA might have reasons to rejoice, there are equal if not greater reasons for its main constituent to feel concerned. The Congress has retained Assam, and the Front it leads has, bucking a trend of decisive anti-incumbency, inched ahead in Kerala. For no great efforts that it put in, the Congress is part of the alliance that has swept West Bengal. And in spite of its best efforts, the alliance it was part of in Tamil Nadu has been dismissed with contempt by voters. In essence, therefore, Assam provides a Congressman the only reason to wear a beaming smile. On the flip side, the loss of a key and badly-tainted ally in Tamil Nadu will place the UPA under some strain. While a DMK out of power in Chennai will be less of a bother in New Delhi, it will equally prove a burden in the 2014 parliamentary election.
The victory of the Trinamul Congress in West Bengal, coming on the back of successes over the past two years, makes Miss Mamata Banerjee the most important ally of the Congress in New Delhi. The bankruptcy of the state she has inherited will make Miss Banerjee dependant on the Centre, but the sheer size of her political presence may, equally, make her a difficult partner, especially on issues such as land reform where a Congress beholden to industry and the realtor lobby may find itself confronting a leader who has clear and contrasting views on the subject. It will not be an easy relationship in the next two years, not least because Miss Banerjee is quite capable of scruffing up even an ally to demand the respect she now unquestionably deserves. Beyond these Assembly election results, the resounding win of Jagan Mohan Reddy in Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh) is bound to put pressure on the Congress. While a split in the Opposition vote between Reddy and former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu would help the Congress, the party will have to worry about defections from its ranks and the possible consolidation of Opposition votes behind its former Chief Minister's son.
The other major political grouping to be severely affected by these results is the Left. It has been emasculated in West Bengal, a denouement it sought when it lost its political moorings and by taking too many people for granted. While it has in the context of the state's curious politics performed well in Kerala, it has ultimately lost power. Tripura now is the only state where the Left's writ runs, a depressing slide from five years ago when it rode its strength in three states to call the shots nationally. The Left will have to re-invent itself within a multi-party framework and this will mean having to dispense with the Stalinist iron-fist it wears inside liberal-genteel gloves. Long before it lost the election, the Left had lost even its own distorted version of Marxist ideology.
The Tamil Nadu result in all likelihood marks the end of the political career of M. Karunanidhi and unless in his remaining days he decisively settles the question of succession it might even mark the end of his party. Karunanidhi's many children and nephews are extremely ambitious and enormously wealthy. Each thinks he or she is particularly accomplished. An ambiguous probate of his political legacy might result in a division of spoils that will leave his party in tatters.
HUMILIATION IN ANDHRA
CONGRESS HAS ITSELF TO BLAME
THE Congress could have avoided a humiliating defeat at the hands of YS Jaganmohan Reddy in last Sunday's by-election to the Lok Sabha from Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh, and to the State Assembly from its Pulivendula segment at the hands of his mother, YS Vijayamma, by graciously leaving the two seats uncontested in memory of the former Chief Minister, YS Rajasekhar Reddy. Losing the two seats will not threaten either the stability of the UPA government at the Centre or the Congress government in Hyderabad but the defeats raise questions about the very legitimacy of the Kiran Reddy government. If only Sonia Gandhi had listened to wiser counsel of her party elders in the State and left the field open to the fledgling Yuvajana Sramika Rythu (YSR) Congress floated by Jaganmohan Reddy to fight it out with the Telugu Desam Party and the motley crowd of Independents, the Congress could have burnished an image badly bruised after the expulsion of the prodigal son of a man who restored Congress rule in AP in 2004 and ensured its return to power in 2009, besides securing the most Lok Sabha seats for the party. The two by-elections were the first Jagan's YSR Congress contested and Sonia Gandhi had instructed Chief Minister Kiran Reddy and state party leaders to ensure the defeat of the mother and son duo at all cost. State health minister DL Ravindra Reddy was asked to resign and contest against Jagan.
In Pulivendula, the Congress thought the best way to defeat Vijayamma was to create a split in the YSR family by fielding the younger brother of Rajasekhar Reddy, YS Vivekananda Reddy, a former minister. Fourteen State ministers, two for each of the seven Assembly segments of the Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency, were put in charge of the campaign with the Chief Minister virtually camping in the constituency. The virus of 'money-for-vote' spread from neighbouring Tamil Nadu to Kadapa and the best efforts of the Election Commission could not prevent it. Voters have been paid between Rs. 500 and 2,000. Finding the army of Congress heavyweights no match for the mother and son team, Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi, who recently merged his Praja Rajyam Party with the Congress, was roped in to galvanise the campaign. His description of Jagan as the Hasan Ali of Kadapa did not go down well with voters. It only added to the embarrassment of the Congress as Hasan Ali is accused of being the money launderer of the party's top brass.
In a desperate attempt to run down Jagan, the Congress levelled three score and ten charges of paid news against Jagan, thinking some of them would stick. But the YSR Congress candidate owns the largest circulated Telugu daily in the state, besides owning television news channels, and had no need to pay for his or his mother's campaign coverage in the media. The Election Commission served 39 notices relating to paid news on Jagan against three on the Congress candidate. The rising popularity of Jagan in the State Congress after the death of his father in a copter crash two years ago, was viewed as a potential threat to Rahul Gandhi and therefore he had to be cut to size. Now, the humiliating defeat of the Congress candidates is bound to have an adverse effect on the party. Unable to tackle Telengana, the Congress finds itself on a slippery slope in Andhra Pradesh even as the YSR Congress appears an attractive proposition to party legislators sitting on the fence.
LESSONS FOR THE WINNER, AND FOR THE LOSER
BY RAVINDRA KUMAR
AND so West Bengal has finally said goodbye to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its assorted partners. It has done so decisively, and while the Marxists would now like us to believe that change was inevitable after three decades and more in power, they ought to be stunned if only because they had seemed so totally in control even three years ago. But in the victory of the Trinamul and the defeat of the Left, there are lessons for both political groupings.
The Left must realize that no party can afford to employ Stalinist tactics in a multi-party democratic structure. Indeed, a party of the sort that the CPI-M had become in West Bengal ~ one that controlled, even micro-managed the lives of citizens and sought to stifle dissent ~ was an aberration.
Apologists of the Left will disagree; they will argue it was these methods that kept them in power for 34 years. But if they are honest with themselves, they will appreciate basic truths. The Left came to power riding a wave it hadn't created. It was re-elected the first two times because it followed a broadly socialist, and not overtly Stalinist, agenda. Thereafter it remained in power by distorting elections, through creation of bogus voters and manipulation of the polling process. For at least the past 15 years, it was helped by the wooly-headedness of the Congress and on occasion the national party's complicity in preserving the status quo in Bengal for gains in New Delhi. It was this ambivalence that forced Miss Mamata Banerjee to form her own party more than a decade ago.
And in the past two decades, especially in the last years of Jyoti Basu and throughout the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee period, the CPI-M became intolerant of dissent, impervious to criticism and arrogant in its conduct. Worse, it sought to convey to the people it ruled that the writ of the party and its leaders could not be questioned. The civil service was whipped into blind obedience, the police became an agent of the party and civil society was bludgeoned into submission. Quite honestly, it was difficult to find more wimpish civil servants than the ones in Bengal after Marxists had put them in their places; a dozen or more needed to be put together to fashion a single working backbone.
On a personal note, this writer's life as a journalist ~ a span of some 33 years ~ has been spent almost equally in New Delhi and Kolkata. In New Delhi, the Left, especially the Marxists, presented a soft, articulate, liberal face; they were the ones who would present cogently the arguments against the establishment of which they were never fully a part. Their methods could be questioned on occasion, never their intent or the fact that their hearts seemed to be in the right place.
It was on moving to Calcutta as it was in the mid-1990s that the other ~ harsher, wholly intolerant ~ face of Marxists revealed itself, one so different from the impression formed at Delhi's coffee houses and the India International Centre.
And this face was of a political grouping that was brutal and ruthless, that could institute false civil and criminal cases, disrupt newspaper supplies on a regular basis, surround and attack a newspaper office, order arrests almost at will, sponsor a shadow trade union to foment industrial strife, orchestrate bogus and scurrilous allegations about colleagues, whip up communal passions, keep simple governmental clearances pending for indeterminate periods and, in general, do everything it could to stifle criticism it saw as dissent.
Sadly, most major players in Bengal's print media allowed themselves to become willing supporters of the Left's tactics, because the party had three powers that owners found irresistible. One, by its capture of the hawkers' unions, the ruling party could subtly but surely ensure which paper was delivered to a subscriber and which one was not. Two, by controlling the flow of Government advertisements it could influence bottom lines. And three by offering other largesse, including public land at concessional prices, it could entice proprietors. Sadly many succumbed, one newspaper going as far as to shamelessly advocate violence by the state to quell the protests against land acquisition in Singur and another to proclaim as recently as two years ago that all sensible people were with the Chief Minister.
The fact though that these tactics worked for as long as they did should not suggest that they will work again. And this is the challenge that confronts both political groupings. A Trinamul government must dismantle extra-constitutional structures; the Marxists must recast their politics without leaving space for their various levels of intrusive committees, and by recognizing that criticism is a necessary component of a democracy. In short, while the Trinamul must strive to govern in a generally liberal and democratic fashion, the Left if it wants to be a force in Indian politics must aspire to return to power in the manner of democrats.
The onus is on the Marxists to realise that their ideology, as they have unfolded it in Bengal and Tripura, is an aberration within a multi-party structure of the sort we have in India. Kerala, truly, does not count because the Marxists have ruled as members of broad coalitions that have sometimes included such obvious non-socialist entities as the Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel and because the voter has used anti-incumbency as an effective check on authoritarianism. Outside this country, Communism has worked only in single-party structures. And the methods that might work in Beijing, or once did in Moscow, are unlikely to work in India indefinitely.
Equally, this is a lesson for Trinamul, especially because it may be tempted to replicate ~ at various levels of society ~ the levers that the Left had employed so successfully to perpetuate its rule. That will be foolhardy and counter-productive. Having done away with the so-called dictatorship of an anointed proletariat, it is unlikely people will accept the autocracy of a self-proclaimed, but as yet untested, democrat.
Life has given Miss Banerjee the opportunity of a lifetime. If she is able to offer to the people of West Bengal a responsive and democratic government, she could well force the Left to recast itself as a more liberal, less intolerant political party. The Constitution does not provide for – or permit – Stalinist methods; and even after Indira Gandhi's tinkering, it allows space only for socialist politics, certainly not for the sort of dictatorship of the proletariat that the Marxists employed over a significant part of the past 34 years on the assumption that voters had endorsed it.
If the Left doesn't learn and Miss Banerjee plays her cards right, 2011 could well turn out to be a fatal blow for Indian Communism. But if Miss Banerjee slips up, 2011 could well become a fatal blow for West Bengal.
The writer is Editor, The Statesman.
WOMEN OF THE MOMENT
CHIEF MINISTERS-IN-WAITING MAMATA BANERJEE AND JAYALALITHA ARE SIMILAR AND YET DIFFERENT, WELL MATCHED IN THEIR DETERMINATION, RESOLVE AND PASSIONATE HATRED FOR THEIR PRINCIPAL OPPONENTS ~ THE CPI-M AND THE DMK, WRITES SEEMA MUSTAFA
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and M Karunanidhi crumbled before the onslaught of two women, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha, who are now ready to be sworn in as chief ministers of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu respectively. The two are similar and yet different, well matched in their determination, resolve and passionate hatred for their principal opponents ~ the CPI-M and the DMK.
Their campaigns have been different and yet focused. Mamata mingles with the crowds, is more accessible, and is seen as often as she is heard. Jayalalitha likes to appear inaccessible, rarely gets out of the vehicle she is campaigning from and greets her supporters from a distance. They share a sound political sense, know when to move in for the opponent's jugular, and are ruthless when it comes to politics. The difference is that the West Bengal chief minister-to-be is a self-made politician, working her way from the ground upwards while her colleague in Tamil Nadu is in politics because of her mentor MG Ramachandran.
Amma, AIADMK's Jayalalitha, likes the ostentatious. Like a good movie star, she has a sense of the dramatic and Tamil Nadu veterans still talk about the peacock chariot ride that brought her into politics when MGR was alive. She does not bother to disguise the fact that she is the party, and every occasion is used to drive home this one inalienable fact. Her MPs in Delhi do not speak without clearance, and do not hesitate to tell the scribes that they have to be authorised by Amma before they can wax eloquent on any issue. Praise for "Amma" of course does not require any clearances, and all in the AIADMK have learnt that it pays to be lavish with compliments and a heavy dose of servility.
"Didi" or Mamata too is theatrical, to put it mildly. She was part of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's shouting brigade who would trash their mikes in Parliament. The minute she got up, serious MPs left the House knowing that it would be adjourned within minutes because of the din. She is remembered for dancing on the bonnet of Jaiprakash Narayan's car and has always held the Left and Socialists in total disdain.
Amma and Didi revel in the personality cult. AIADMK supporters tattoo Puratchi Thailavi (revolutionary leader) Jayalalitha on their bodies, while crowds usually walk behind a seemingly impervious Mamata chanting "Didi, Didi!" She likes to be known as the "baby of the people" and unlike Jayalalitha who likes a lavish lifestyle, Didi in her hastily-draped cotton saris, lives simply.
Amma is known to be vengeful and it is highly unlikely that she will spare graft-accused DMK leaders once she assumes office. Shortly after becoming the chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 2001, she ordered the arrest of Karunanidhi and pictures of him being bodily lifted by police, screaming, crying and kicking have still not been forgotten by the people of the state. Similar scenes are expected as the overpowering verdict will be seen by Jayalalitha as a mandate to crack down on the crippled DMK.
There is little to suggest that Didi is in a mood to forgive and forget. Her struggle against the Left has been bitter and far longer, with the violence claiming lives of party workers on both sides. The Trinamul Congress sweep in West Bengal is not going to herald peace, at least not initially, as Mamata will be under pressure from her party to settle scores with the CPI-M.
Both women are good at rousing passions and bonding with the people they address. Both campaigned on pro-people issues and clearly, as the results show, inspired the electorate. The fact that both of them have secured a majority to form governments on their own will worry their allies. The Congress is already looking a little insecure as Mamata Banerjee is clearly not going to give them ministries of their choice. She has the people's mandate for five years, and the Congress knows that it will have to change its tone and tenor to retain its little toehold in West Bengal.
The two new women chief ministers do not share a rapport. There was a period before 1999 when they had exchanged harsh words, after which Didi described Amma as her "elder sister". She insisted that the two wanted to build on their 'very good relationship" but this never really happened, with the animosity continuing till date when Jayalalitha questioned the last Union railway budget. But then as they say, in politics there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. The way to Jayalalitha's heart could be a Baluchari silk sari.
The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman
GRAPES OF WRATH
At a time when Osama bin Laden's brand of brutal jihad is losing its appeal, one would have expected lesser Osamas to learn their lesson. They must realise that peace and prosperity, even for the fanatic, does not flow from the barrel of a gun. It's tragic that autocrats and dictators in West Asia or North Africa don't seem to realise that times have changed ~ that the oppressor can no longer make the oppressed believe that oppression is key to deliverance.
The Presidents and sheikhs on the run are probably wishing that they hadn't projected themselves as divine oracles for decades. Now, down and definitely out, all they can do is seek divine intervention. These former dictators on the run must have learnt to their detriment that it's better not to justify acts of oppression and state-sponsored terrorism with arguments to defend a cause ~ any cause ~ divine or otherwise.
But the same cannot be said for Al Qaida-adherents. And, that's the reason why the death of Osama bin Laden may not signal the end of Al Qaida. Even as the master terrorist's mortal remains rot away at the bottom of an undisclosed sea, the scramble for acquiring his mantle has likely begun. True, Osama's charisma, as it were, seemed irresistible when he first challenged the all-powerful USA years ago. It's a different matter that he had no qualms about accepting American money ~ churned out by his family's enterprises in Saudi Arabia and the USA ~ to build his very own terror machine. Add to this the money he had made during the US-backed and Pak-executed war against Russians in Afghanistan in the early 80s. Mind you, Osama gave up a life of comfort for the stark deserts and rugged mountain in pursuit of his, well, cause. He could prosper because some Islamic countries allowed him to. Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia instantly come to mind. But in the post-Osama scenario, however much the USA tries, it cannot completely sideline a nuclear-enabled Pakistan. Pakistan's military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani has already asked his government not to tie his hands by committing against first use of nuclear power. The country's Prime Minister, Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani, elicited titters around the world when he demanded of Washington after the Abbotabad storm broke: "Who created bin Laden, after all?" His poser was a clear allusion to the CIA-backed war on Russians in Afghanistan. One couldn't help feel sorry for the man when he was addressing Pakistan's National Assembly last Monday. Truly, he could have described his plight in the poet's words "Na khuda hee millana wasaale-e-sanam, na idhar ke rahe na udhar ke". Though he called for an in-camera meeting of the two Houses of National Assembly, to be attended also by the army and ISI brass "to clear any doubt", his panic was palpable and pitiable to some extent. The manner in which the USA did away with Osama has raised questions about the institutional strength of Pakistan. It brought its executive, its military and its judiciary under a cloud. Mr Gilani's outburst against benefactor USA may have a lot to do with the confidence inspired by words of encouragement from "all-weather friend" China. Mr Gilani warned President Barack Obama that though Osama's elimination may have been "justice done" but it was not necessarily victory won. The vast network of terrorist organisations in Pakistan, trained and nurtured by the ISI, had been curiously undemonstrative of its grief at Osama's slaying even days after the Abbotabad operation. It could be that the precision of the stealth attack had shaken them. There has been hardly a murmur of protest in West Asia as well. Even Sudan and Yemen didn't make much noise. The Saudis, of course, had long disowned Osama.
But contrast this with the reaction of the most visible face of terrorism in Pakistan ~ Hafeez Saeed ~ the Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba chief. For a man who must be actually celebrating the dissolution of a major and rival power centre, he led one of the major protest rallies in the country. In India too, a few sporadic protests were witnessed but nothing of note ~ save in the Kashmir Valley. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the octogenarian pro-Pakistan Hurriyat chief, led his usual flock of breast-beaters to mourn Osama's assassination. For some reason, the state government accorded him undue importance by putting him under house arrest for about an hour before releasing him to lead his breast-beaters ~ a few hundred of them according to reports.
The man who has single-handedly destroyed two tourist seasons in the Valley, has gone back on his promise to not call for bandhs anymore. But determined not to lose relevance in the Valley, he has gone back to his disruptive ways. His goons are always ready to browbeat shop-owners bent on keeping their establishments open for business on days deemed unsuitable by the Syed. The man had sworn in the name of Allah some four times not to do or say anything that subverts the Constitution of the state and the Union. In each such occasion, he had been taking oath as a member of the J&K Assembly. Seems the Valley's self-appointed conscience keeper has a lot in common with the deposed autocrats of West Asia and north Africa.
The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor of The Statesman, Delhi
India and Afghanistan enjoy a deep and abiding relationship that goes back in time and history. We are people of the same region. We cannot remain unaffected by developments in Afghanistan. We take a long-term view of our partnership with Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh before leaving for his two-day visit to Afghanistan
The priority of the new government would be to restore people's democratic rights and provide good governance and impartial administration sans politicisation.
Trinamul Congress supremo Miss Mamata Banerjee after the West Bengal election result was declared
The results are unexpected. The Left Front humbly accepts the verdict of the people and promises to play the role of a responsible and constructive Opposition.
A joint statement issued by outgoing chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and LF chairman Mr Biman Bose after the Trinamul ended 34 years of Left rule in Bengal
It is a victory for people and democracy.
AIADMK chief Ms J Jayalalithaa after her party routed the DMK in Tamil Nadu
We were sure of forming the government again as very few states introduced as many welfare schemes as Assam.
Chief minister Mr Tarun Gogoi after the Congress retained power in Assam
75 companies of Central forces and a few thousand policemen will be deployed at the counting centres.
Chief election officer Mr Sunil Gupta
We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan.
US President Barack Obama
Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd. Pakistan is not the birthplace of Al Qaida. We did not invite Bin Laden to Pakistan or even to Afghanistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani
I am ashamed of being an Indian.
Congress leader Mr Rahul Gandhi, after witnessing the plight of farmers in Greater Noida
I am delighted at the news, although I have no intimation of any such development. I don't think it's a recognition of my work, but it does remind me, in particular, of the work to be done. I'll take a call on the panel in consultation with my colleagues.
Binayak Sen when he has been made a member of the Planning Commission's steering committee on health.
It's probably the toughest day of my career. I haven't picked a cricket bat for five months... I came into this game with zero confidence.
Former India skipper Sourav Ganguly after his comeback match in IPL
Time past is a series of discrete events. From this series, historians select some events and bestow on them a certain importance and significance. Thus, historians see an assassination of an Austrian archduke in Sarajevo in June 1914 as the event that sparked off the First World War a month later. In other words, historians place an isolated event in a sequence and then endow it with significance. But there are other events that do not require historians to declare them to be historic. For example, the murder of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1948 or the declaration of the Emergency in 1975 are events that come to mind from contemporary Indian history. The critical question is, what makes an event self-evidently historic? One convenient starting point is that the event is seen by all contemporaries as being momentous, and a radical break from the trends of the past.
Using this simple yardstick, the West Bengal election results can be described as historic without any controversy. No one could have predicted, say, 10 years ago, that he would see the Left Front routed in an election. Most people had taken Left rule for granted in West Bengal. The defeat of the Left is thus a major rupture from the past: it marks a break in a political continuity that goes back nearly three decades. This much is obvious and undeniable. The end of a political system that had exercised power over a state for such a long period of time is an event whose importance can hardly be over emphasized. But there is another dimension that adds to making the event historic. The challenge to the rule of the Left Front came in the form of a woman who did not recognize the existence of the word, defeat. She battled continuously against a regime that she saw as evil; she marched across West Bengal to protest against what to her was an abuse of power. People began to see her as the embodiment of their resentment and of their hopes to be freed from the misrule of the Left. A single woman against a system — that is the stuff from which history is made.
It can hardly be claimed that the overthrow of the Left Front in West Bengal is an event of world-historical significance. Such a claim would place the event outside its given context. In the history of West Bengal, it is a landmark event because it carries within it the potential to unmake and make history. If the promise of change that was at the heart of the electoral triumph is to have any substance then the new government in office will have to dismantle various structures that the previous regime established to serve its narrow party interests. Out of the detritus of that, the new government will have to create new institutions of governance. West Bengal has just witnessed and even participated in the making of a historic event. The state awaits new forms of governance: that will be the making of history.
FIRST PURGE, THEN CHANGE
DELHI'S SUPPORT WILL BE NEEDED TO FULFIL PROMISES SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
Amidst the clouds of green powder and the sound of conch and cymbal, a triumphant Mamata Banerjee can reflect that she has survived Beth M. Payne's approbation. That wouldn't have been possible once upon a time when other winds of change, poriborton hawa, also blew strongly in the state. The American consul-general's fulsome praise would have been the kiss of death for any Bengali politician.
Fearing what it might do to his radical reputation, even Jyoti Basu kept under wraps his assurance to one of Miss Payne's predecessors that not a single revolutionary squeak would escape his lips in the United States of America if he were granted a visa. His right arm would dangle by his side with the hand determinedly open lest anyone accuse him of clenching his fist in the shoulder-level "Lal salaam" salute. But times have changed. The Left might shriek about the Foreign Hand air-dropping arms in Purulia but not about WikiLeaks reports of Miss Payne "cultivating" Didi. Voters have endorsed her view that "the charge for change" can be led only by Didi, "the most popular politician in the state".
While Miss Banerjee's "public rhetoric" is gratifyingly "devoid of any anti-Americanism", her private overtures to American diplomats suggest "that a Banerjee-led West Bengal government will be friendlier to the United States than the current CPI(M) one". Whether or not American capital is again "waiting on the door-step" (as Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, undivided Bengal's last chief minister, thought in 1947), an invitation to the US probably is. Miss Payne pointedly reminded her State Department bosses that the Union railways minister hasn't yet experienced the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Didi could do with a break after the punishing campaign that made history. But, of course, she can't abandon the field even for a moment. The real challenge is at home and now. The future not only for her party but for the state's 92 million people depends on how the woman who has moved from "oppositional street fighter to West Bengal chief minister-in-waiting" (quoting Miss Payne who, like everyone else, expects Didi to quit the Union cabinet) manages the transition at what her manifesto rightly calls "the crossroads of history". How history shapes will depend almost entirely on the far-sightedness, impartiality and managerial skills of the historic agent of change who was once notorious for her erratic behaviour.
Her manifesto's action plans for 200 and 1,000 days are fine. But there may be no chance of carrying out the promised reforms unless Trinamul inspires confidence and demonstrates a mature grasp of governance in its first 100 days. Winning a battle isn't winning the war. The Left may be down but it is not out. The philosophy of the world's longest-serving democratically elected communist government may be erased from the hearts and minds of people who are moved by pragmatic self-interest. But 34 years of patronage have created deeply entrenched vested interests in every institution of state, and those interests will fight tooth and nail against dislodgement.
Kalyani Chaudhury's book, When the Pendulum Stops: Death of Bengal Bureaucracy, presents a graphic picture of political control of the State Government Employees' Co-ordination Committee and the Police Association. Political appointees head most educational institutions; a large number of school, college and university teachers are drawn from the Marxist or fellow-travelling ranks. Some may have boarded the bandwagon of success as they would even if it were painted saffron and flaunted the swastika; but some may also be believers.
Will they shed their allegiance as the retired IAS, IPS and other officers who are now Trinamul's prized props appear to have done? And if they do, what credence can be placed in this especially expedient (and rewarding) poriborton hawa? A purge would cripple the administration. Ideally, a civil servant's politics, like his religion, should be a matter of private concern and have no bearing on his official performance. But will either Didi or an angry and bruised Opposition permit such civilized separation of identities? Even many Western democracies now acknowledge a "fast track" for officials who identify with the ruling party. The commitment to "Dalatantra Nai Ganotantra (Not Party rule but Democracy)" may go against the grain of many people since government in India often resembles a durbar headed by a raja in political garb.
It will be especially difficult to live up to the creditable "Badla Noy, Badal Chai (Not Revenge but Change)" slogan because Marxists are not the only politicians with goondas at their beck and call. Indeed, reports suggest that some murderous mercenaries have already crossed to the winning side. Miss Banerjee may be able to spare us the horrors of Sain Bari in reverse. But galvanizing people out of the all-pervasive inertia that hastened the state's decline and replacing it with a disciplined, vibrant work culture is more relevant to realizing her pledge of "a better and brighter tomorrow". The noisy melee during yesterday's victory speech provided an instance of Bengali unruliness. If Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was "the least Indian of Indian leaders" (quoting V.S. Naipaul), Didi's brisk walk, snappy gestures and matter-of-fact speech make her the least Bengali of Bengali politicians. Nothing else in the state moves as briskly. Ideology doesn't have a monopoly of the lethargy that extends from Writers' Buildings down to district capitals.
The most damning indictment of the Left Front, however, is that having triggered the revolution of rising expectations, it faltered in the vision, courage and political flexibility to fulfil it. The Chinese saying, "Due to Mao Zedong, we could stand up. Thanks to Deng Xiaoping, we are getting rich," highlights the two stages of growth. Land reform and panchayati self-government were vital to the culmination that a born-again Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee might have achieved had he broken with his predecessor's crony capitalism, disregarded Prakash Karat's hardline wisdom, and forged ahead with his own programmes to set up industries, add value and generate employment. There was nothing inherently wrong with Nandigram or Singur. West Bengal needs capital for such projects. Trinamul's promise to "attract large private investments in sectors such as engineering, steel, tea, jute, textiles and other areas of manufacturing, mining, power and food processing" addresses that need.
New Delhi's backing improves Miss Banerjee's chances of fulfilling the promise. She will have to consider, therefore, how best Trinamul can keep faith with voters and serve the state. A separate identity enhances her local image and gives her greater leverage vis-à-vis the United Progressive Alliance. But it also gives the Congress leadership greater scope for manoeuvre. Burdened with a crippling debt, West Bengal's new government cannot hope to realize any of the Trinamul targets — investment in health, education, infrastructure, agriculture or industry — without New Delhi's generous cooperation. Bearing in mind Pranab Mukherjee's admission, after his own political free-lancing, that the Indian National Congress occupies the only space for a secular democratic party, a return to the fold might also be logical for a former Youth Congress president who has held cabinet rank under a Congress prime minister. The party's existing state unit is hardly a credible entity.
Without the UPA, Didi might be able to set up the Tagore Centre for Universal Values, Vivekananda Centre for International Understanding and Nazrul Islam Research Centre of her dreams. She might even succeed in growing litchis, mangoes and chillies, as her manifesto also mentions. But not much more for the promised "regeneration and rejuvenation of Bengal". In shouldering the tremendous responsibility that has been cast on her, Mamata Banerjee needs the Centre more than the Centre needs her.
POSTSCRIPT: Mamata Banerjee doesn't talk bull, to lapse into slang. But her scriptwriters do. The manifesto claims that "Good and impartial governance is the bull work of any society". Mercifully for West Bengal, her vision, courage and labour are a bulwark against illiterate effusion.
AFTER VICTORY WHAT? SOME AGENDA FOR DIDI
REFLECTION FOLLOWS TRIUMPH. IF THE MESSAGE OF CHANGE ON WHICH THE POLLS WERE WON AND LOST IS TO HAVE MEANING, CERTAIN KEY ISSUES NEED IMMEDIATE ATTENTION AND ACTION. HERE ARE SOME OF THE PROBLEMS AND THEIR SOLUTIONS.
CITY: WATER THE ROOTS
The solution: Modern science and practices suggest one way how this problem can be fixed. Techniques of rainwater harvesting are being used by many private organizations even in West Bengal. There exists in Jadavpur University a body of knowledge and expertise on the subject of rainwater harvesting and the technologies involved. The new government could easily use the expertise to set up large-scale projects of rainwater harvesting to increase the quantity of water available in the different areas of Calcutta. The fact that Calcutta gets very heavy rains during the monsoon should make such projects eminently viable. Is Mamata Banerjee listening?
Governance: Free and fair
The problem: Mamata Banerjee had promised in the TMC's manifesto to end the tradition of "Party-Cadre misrule", which had become the signature style of the Left Front government over the last 34 years. The one area of governance that needs to be urgently cleaned up is the bureaucracy.
Blessed by the mandarins of Alimuddin Street, babus in various government offices have given a new meaning to the idea of 'work culture' in the state. Dealing with government officials usually means having to negotiate with corruption, venality, laziness and inefficiency at various levels. Even the simplest and the most legitimate demands of the citizens take months, or even years, to process — if they get processed at all. Every official application means endless waste of time, money and energy, and complaints usually fall on deaf ears.
The solution: Now that the people of West Bengal have woken up from their long slumber, it is time for the Rip Van Winkle bureaucrats to stir themselves too. The new government can facilitate the process by depoliticizing the system thoroughly from top down. Every official action, or the lack of it, by government employees must be scrutinized dispassionately. Efficiency, dedication and professionalism should be rewarded, while indolence, bribery and underhand dealings must be punished severely. Further, the use of information technology to hasten the pace of delivery will boost the image of West Bengal as a modern and progressive state.
By completely withdrawing political patronage from the bureaucracy, the new dispensation will be able to achieve one of its professed goals — the shift from a party-centric administration to a people-centric one. Such a move will not only help the state machinery function more competently but also help the government earn the trust of the people who have voted it to power.
Health: Heal thyself
The solution: When the Trinamul Congress's plan for 200 days speaks of launching a programme to build a four-tier healthcare infrastructure, the party must be aware that it does not have to build it in its entirety. A solid infrastructure already exists, although that may have to be expanded. But what already exists does not work, because, as this story suggests, the problems are multiple and on many levels. From doctors who would be willing to go anywhere because they know they have the conditions for work and a decent place to live in, maybe even a school where their children could go, to non-medical staff who do not steal patients' food and essential drugs or blood, who understand what hygiene is, are at least polite to the suffering and trained to work medical equipment, in a workspace not given over to dogs, cats, rats, ants and unauthorized persons running hospital sites as their fief because they have party backing — infrastructure needs the right human beings and an appropriate environment for them. To build, the new government must dismantle too. Will it be able and willing to de-politicize the system? Maybe then the supply lines for drugs and bandages will remain uninterrupted to the ends of the four-tier system.
Education: Free from Party
The solution: It is a simple and a tough call. The realm of education has to be freed from being subservient to the State and the Party. The immediate solution is a dismantling of the school and college service commissions. Careers in schools and colleges should be open to only merit and loyalty to any political formation should not be of any consideration. The consequence of this is that teachers would no longer remain servants of the government. Their pay and allowances would be determined by the schools and colleges where they work. This could lead to the alienation of a body of opinion. Will Mamata Banerjee take the tough call?
BUT WHAT ABOUT LAND?
ASHIS CHAKRABARTI ASKS AN UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTION
The popular movements against land acquisition notwithstanding — Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar or Greater Noida — there is no running away from the fundamental reality that India can no longer remain shackled to agriculture if it is to fight poverty, unemployment and other basic social and economic challenges.The time for controversy is over. The new government has to take a clear call on whether it will be bold enough to do what needs to be done about land and agriculture in Bengal. It has to move fast to free land from limited, unproductive and unprofitable uses for agriculture. And there is no way this can be done without putting even fertile farmland to industrial, infrastructural and commercial uses. After all, only two per cent of West Bengal's total land area is supposedly not arable.
There are several broad arguments against the conversion of land into non-farming uses. It will threaten food security. It will uproot traditional communities from their centuries-old livelihoods and environment, thereby not only alienating them from land but also destroying their social and cultural identity.
But the people's livelihoods keep changing over generations and so do their identities. And displacement and dislocation of people's livelihoods will happen even if the acquired land is not in a fertile belt but in arid areas such as Purulia and Bankura in Bengal.
A more powerful argument relates to the question of employment for people who lose their land to industries and other non-farming uses. In Singur, the Nano project would have provided jobs to 5,000 people with an investment of Rs 1,500 crore, say some critics of the land-for-industry policy, whereas the people who were dependent on the land acquired for the project numbered around 15,000. They also point out that Haldia Petrochemicals created only 10,000 jobs at an investment of around Rs 10,000 crore till 2003-2004.
These critics suggest that agri-based industries could be the strategy for growth with jobs and for minimum displacement from land. But all reliable data show that agriculture and jobs relating to it have been shrinking in Bengal since the early 1990s.
But then, new industries everywhere are capital- and technology-intensive. That they are not as labour-intensive as old agriculture is no reason to live without modern industries or technologies. Far trickier issues are those involving payment of fair compensation to landlosers and their economic and social resettlement and rehabilitation.
The land acquisition (amendment) bill and the rehabilitation and resettlement bill, which are waiting to be passed into laws in Parliament, may have their weaknesses. Institutions need to be created to enable farmers to get justice in their dealings with industrial and commercial houses, or even with the government over the transfer of land use.
While living and working in China a few years ago, I asked several economic planners and social scientists in Beijing why the government risks the growing social and political instability that comes with the acquisition of land for industrialization and urbanization. The answer I generally got could be just as true for both India and Bengal. Pursuing this policy is risky, I was told, but leaving huge populations dependent on agriculture is simply suicidal for the country's future.
ON BEING A SARDARJI
When I first went to England, I was more concerned with befriending English girls than studying law. My only apprehension was that turban and beard would put them off.
Fortunately, it was the other way round: my turban and beard made me appear a genuine Indian, while my clean-shaven colleagues were dismissed as brown versions of English boys.
There were three of us in London University, Tarlok Singh was a scholarly Sardar who later made to the ICS and became the head of the Planning Commission. At that time he had only half a moustache. Then there was Basant Singh from Kenya who was a keen cricketer.
There was nothing to my credit except being the son of a generous father. There was not the least resemblance between the three of us, yet the English were always mixing us up. Tarlok was the favourite student of Professor Harald Laski who often gave me books meant for him.
A more amusing incident was when Amarjit Singh, who was in Selwyn college, Cambridge, came to spend a week-end in Welwyn Garden city. I was living in a cottage close to the woods which were full of Rhododendron bushes then in full bloom.
Amarjit Singh decided to take a walk in the woods before returning to Cambridge. He met an elderly lady who greeted him as she had known him for some time. After a little chit-chat, Amarjit told her he was not the Singh she knew but a friend of his. The lady apologised and said: "I did realise you looked a little different but was not sure." A couple of hours later they ran into each other at the railway station. The lady greeted him and said, "You know Mr Singh I mistook you for a friend staying with you."
A memorable dialogue over Sardarji's identity took place in Jerusalem. I was staying in King David hotel. One evening as I went to the dining room, I found only one unoccupied table and made for it. The next table was occupied by a middle-aged American couple. They gaped at me for a while before getting into huddle, whispering into each others ears. Then the man turned to me and asked, "Excuse me sir, do you speak English?"
"Yes, I do," I replied
"My wife and I were wondering where are you from?"
I decided to have some fun and replied: "I give you three guesses. If you get it right, I'll buy you a drink."
The man paused before asking, "You would not be Jewish."
"No, I am not Jewish."
"Would you be a Mussalman?"
"No, I am not Muslim."
"No, I am not Buddhist."
"I give up, what are you?"
"I am a Sikh."
"Then you must be from Sikkim," he pronounced.
At a Writers Conference in Glassgow I found myself in the same lodging house with a few writers including the Bangladesh poet Jasimuddin. After making sure that I was not a hot-headed Sardarji, he would great me every morning: Shordarji, aap ko boro buj gaya?"
What Am I
I was going over Coleman Barks translation of Rumi for the enth time reading only those passages that I had underlined. I came across one which had impressed me as a summary of my beliefs. I am not sure if I have quoted those lines earlier but even if I have, they deserve being repeated. They run as follows:
Not Christian, or Jew or Muslim, nor Hindu
Buddhist, Sufi or Zen. Not any religion
Or cultural system. I am not from the east
Or the west, not out of the ocean or up
From the ground, not natural or etheriel, not
Composed of elements at all. I do not exist.
Am not an entity in this world or the next,
Did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
Origin story, My place is placeless, a trace
Of the traceless neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
Worlds as one and that one call to and know
First, last outer, inner, only that
Breath, breathing human being.
Santa had come back to his native village after staying in England for five years on a work visa. He was very pompous and showing his power to speak English to villagers. He and his friend Banta went for a walk in the morning towards their fields. Excreta of a buffalo were lying in the way. Santa remarked "Oh, this is a cake." Pat came the reply from Banta, "Iss noo chakh ke vekh". Santa was silenced and never tried to speak in English again during his remaining stay in the village.
(Contributed by Ram Niwas Malik, Gurgaon)
''ONLY IN ASSAM THE RULING PARTY IS SET TO RETURN TO POWER.''
They were mandates for change in four assembly elections, and one was huge enough to create history. The voters' verdict that runs through the results of elections in three of the four states and a Union Territory is a big slap on the incumbent governments.
The popular swings against the Left Front in West Bengal and the DMK in Tamil Nadu were of a tidal nature. The Left Democratic Front in Kerala suffered a huge erosion in its support. It also lost power, though the rival United Democratic Front has only a precarious majority. In Puducherry too the incumbent Congress government lost. Only in Assam the ruling party is set to return to power. Overall, the electorate in no state was confused about its choices, and voted overwhelmingly in one way, although it was not good enough to produce a very decisive result in Kerala.
The most remarkable victory comes from West Bengal where Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress has ended the 34-year-old uninterrupted rule of the Left Front. It is a victory whose chronicle was foretold in elections at other levels and poll surveys in the recent past. But when it came about it was so overwhelming that it is the stuff of fantasy and history, with even chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee losing his seat. Bengal has seen a huge political quake, with the arrogance of long-held power crumbling before the perseverance of a leader who had a grasp of the people's aspirations and related to them better.
Though the Congress is also a part of the victorious alliance, there is no doubt where the credit for the victory goes, with the Trinamool in a position to form a government on its own. The victory of Jayalalitha's AIADMK in Tamil Nadu is equally sweeping, much above all expectations. The AIADMK too is in a position to form a government without help from allies. The DMK, which recorded one of its worst electoral performances, has paid the price for the massive corruption scandals in which its leaders were involved and for the nepotism that marked its leaders' conduct.
The Congress will be happy that the party and its chief minister Tarun Gogoi has come back to power in Assam for a third time with a bigger mandate and a majority of its own. The UPA at the Centre may be stronger in theory now, though the impact on it of a more assertive Banerjee and a weaker DMK is yet to be judged.
HEED THE ORDER
''THERE'S LITTLE REASON FOR LAW & ORDER PROBL-EMS TO ERUPT.''
The Karnataka government has shown scant regard for a supreme court order that called on all states to demolish unauthorised places of worship on roads and other public places. The apex court had directed the government on December 7, 2009, to remove all illegal structures, including temples, mosques, churches and gurudwaras, within eight weeks.
The Karnataka government identified 4,817 structures across the state that were illegally constructed in public places such as vacant land, parks, roads, streets, corners, and circles. But, roughly 15 months after the expiry of that deadline, the government has acted upon just 1,659 of them — a mere fraction of the illegal structures it should have promptly razed. Of all the districts, Bangalore Urban has acted the most diligently to implement the court order, while Hassan has failed to act upon even a single illegal structure. Of the 154 structures that were regularised, a staggering 82 are in Tumkur and 55 in Dakshina Kannada.
The slow pace at which the government is acting to implement the apex court order is shocking. Can the government explain why it is dragging its feet? Officials have blamed the government's failure to act upon the court directive on peoples' religious sentiments. They have said they need to take the public into confidence before they demolish places of worship. Given religious sensitivities, they are citing law and order problems. These are valid excuses but they are not unsurmountable problems. The government has the sound backing of the court order. It should therefore clarify that its demolition of the illegal structures is required under the law.
Many of the illegal places of worship have become a safety hazard to pedestrians; they have been erected on pavements on busy streets forcing people to walk on the road. In some places, they are situated bang in the middle of a road causing accidents. It is well-known that many of these structures are but a ruse to grab public land.
There is little sacred about the land on which these shrines have come up. If the government implements the court order and demolishes illegal structures of all religious communities without favouring one or the other, there is little reason for law and order problems to erupt. Unrest is unlikely if all communities are treated alike. The government must implement the court order without further delay. Defiance of the court is not the way responsible governments behave.
JAPAN'S CRISIS RAJARAM PANDA
KAN CAME UNDER INTENSE PRESSURE TO SUGGEST CHUBU TO SHUT DOWN HAMOAKA'S NO 4 AND 5 WORKING REACTORS.
In the wake of the nuclear crisis stemming from radiation spreading from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the Japanese government has started reviewing the safety features in other nuclear plants and efforts are being made to strengthen them. Japan identified the Hamoaka nuclear plant in Shizoaka prefecture in central Japan that sits near a major faultline to be the country's most vulnerable nuclear facility.
Hamoaka is situated 150 km west of Tokyo in a region where seismologists say there is an 87 per cent chance of an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or higher striking in the next 30 years, raising questions over why it was built there in the first place. Prime Minister Kan Naoto, therefore, asked but could not order the plant's owner, Chubu Electric Company, to shut down the plant until earthquake and tsunami protection can be built. Chubu is Japan's third biggest electricity producer.
The Hamoaka nuclear plant is Japan's 'most dangerous' plant and could produce 'grave damage' similar to the problems at Fukushima that was damaged by the earthquake of March 11, 2011. Kan thought that because of the grave impact on the Japanese people that could be incurred as a result of a serious accident at Hamoaka in the future, such a precaution needs to be taken. Though environmentalists applauded Kan's decision to request Chubu to shut down, there were other aspects to the issue.
The loss of cooling at Fukushima plant caused explosions, which damaged buildings housing nuclear reactors and caused release of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. As a result radiation subsequently spread to the ocean when contaminated water was released into the sea. Crews are still struggling to restore cooling and contain the damage and it is hoped that success will be achieved soon.
Following the Fukushima case, the US was among one of the first countries that ordered a review of nuclear plant safety and the review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission continues. In Japan too, fears rose that another large quake and tsunami could cause radiation leaks, fuelled by the direction of the wind, and could have a serious impact on Tokyo.
Fukushima's No 3 reactor has been of particular concern as it contains plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel or MOX, and would release highly toxic plutonium in the event of a meltdown. In view of this, Kan came under intense pressure from the public and his key scientific advisers to suggest Chubu to shut down Hamoaka's No 4 and 5 working reactors. While a third reactor has been shut down for inspection, units 1 and 2 are set to be decommissioned.
If Chubu accepts Kan's request, it will have to build a tsunami-resistant wall and install emergency backup generators to improve its ability to function after a natural disaster. Chubu needs 2 to 3 years to build a 12-metre-high tsunami wall stretching nearly a mile along the Pacific coast.
Besides Fukushima experience, the urgency of Kan's request to Chubu was because Japan's electricity wholesaler Japan Atomic Power found that a small amount of radiation in gas escaped from the Tsuruga nuclear plant. Though the amount of radiation at Tsuruga was estimated at about one-four hundred thousandth of the annual legal limit, there were no changes in readings from radiation monitoring devices placed around the plant. The government has come under intense pressure to review its energy policy, of which atomic power is a major part.
While the Kan government would try to prevent the halt of the Hamoaka reactors from causing power supply problems, Chubu is confident that it can meet peak demand of 25,600 MW even if Hamoaka shuts. But relying on thermal plants to fill the power gap would push up costs by 700 million yen a day or about 256 billion yen a year. If Chubu fails to attain enough capacity because of hot summer, it could cause problems for Toyota Motor Corp, Suzuki Motor Corp and other major manufacturers with factories in the region.
Chubu Electric President Akihisa Mizuno has promised to 'swiftly consider' Prime Minister Kan's request. But Kan's request is not legally binding and therefore some people in Chubu remain reluctant to immediately comply. Shutting down Hamoaka power plant will have a large impact on local employment. The municipal assembly in Omaezaki is united in seeking enhanced safety steps while keeping the plant running.
However, in view of the sensitive nature of the issue, though Kan's request lacks any legal basis Chubu Electric is expected to comply despite concern that closure of its only nuclear plant could result in power shortage in central Japan in the coming summer. While admitting that the request was outside Japan's legal framework, Kan took the decision single-handedly to fend off criticism that his government was slow to act in containing the crisis at Fukushima.
While Chubu Electric is examining the possibility of boosting output from gas, oil and coal-fired plants, as well as buying power from other utilities, the company's chairman Toshio Mita visited Qatar to discuss possible provision of LNG to help cover the shortfall. Kan's request must not be seen that Japan's is reviewing its nuclear energy policy in a major way.
(The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
ONE YEAR AND MANY BILLIONS LATER
Last May's $140 billion European bailout was supposed to ease Greece's return to private financial markets. But it demanded too much too soon in the way of growth-killing austerity. And it insisted that Greece keep paying its lenders in full and on time.
Greece is in deep trouble again. Yet European Union finance ministers meeting Monday are expected to plan for a further $86 billion dose of the same failed medicine. Something has to be done to keep paying Greece's bills, which no private lender wants to finance. But the same sort of bailout is not the answer.
Over the next year, the European Union must put in place arrangements to reschedule Greece's more than $400
billion in debt — extending payouts to both public and private lenders, the latter mainly German and French banks, or reducing the amount owed or possibly both.
Without debt restructuring, Athens will have to keep coming back to Europe for more cash to pay off the banks and the burden on European taxpayers will keep growing. The longer Europe's leaders hide from this fact, the bigger the eventual bill will be, and the longer Greeks will have to wait for renewed growth.
Greece's economy shrank 4.5 percent last year and is projected to fall an additional 3 percent this year. Average salaries are down roughly 10 percent. Those grim numbers have translated into shrinking tax revenues and bigger budget deficits. Greece's national debt, now just over 140 percent of gross domestic product, is on track to rise to 160 percent next year, and keep rising.
Athens has failed to meet its own deficit-cutting targets. Prime Minister George Papandreou needs to deliver on better tax collection, privatization of public utilities and health care reform. These politically difficult measures won't come close to balancing Greece's books, but they will help improve the country's long-term economic prospects. And they will make it politically easier for other European governments to agree to debt rescheduling.
A Greek rescheduling could set a worrisome precedent. But no serious banker any longer believes Greece can pay all that it owes on time. Greece got itself into this mess. But Europe will have to help it get out. It will become even harder the longer Europe waits and pretends.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE ENSIGN INVESTIGATION, TO BE CONTINUED
The Senate Ethics Committee acted responsibly in referring the sordid case of former Senator John Ensign to federal authorities for possible criminal violations. Rather than let the matter fade with the Nevada Republican's hurried resignation before his scheduled deposition, the panel stressed that there was "substantial credible evidence" he violated the law.
After a 22-month investigation, the committee pointed to eight areas for further investigation by the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission. These focus on the ways Mr. Ensign sought to contain news of his affair with the wife of a staff aide. The senator helped the aggrieved aide — a longtime friend — into a lobbying career. The senator's parents also gave the aide a $96,000 "gift," which they insisted was not hush money.
"Lives were destroyed by his actions," Senator Barbara Boxer, the ethics chairwoman told the attentive chamber. While Mr. Ensign denied violating laws and ethics standards, Ms. Boxer said the panel investigators concluded that his misbehavior could have led to his expulsion from the Senate.
The inquiry record said Mr. Ensign shredded and deleted relevant documents, "marketed" his former aide to find potential clients and used Gmail to evade disclosure requirements.
The committee has now asked Justice and the F.E.C. to investigate further. Both had previously declined to take action in their inquiries of the senator. The election commission, which is particularly dysfunctional, rebuffed its own staff's findings that the $96,000 payment violated election law. They need to take a deeper, less politician-friendly, look at the committee's documentation.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PAKISTAN AFTER BIN LADEN
Like most Americans, we have long despaired at the cynicism of Pakistan's leaders, who accept American "counterterrorist" aid while also sheltering and enabling some of the worst anti-American extremists. But we never imagined that Osama bin Laden would be found hiding in plain sight, a stone's throw from Pakistan's leading military academy and an hour's drive from Islamabad. Pakistan's behavior since then has only added to the outrage.
Instead of vowing to find out which officials were behind the scheme, Pakistan's leaders — military and civilian — have tried to deflect all blame and stoke more anti-Americanism. Some members of Congress are asking why the United States should continue to provide billions of dollars in aid to such a faithless ally. For now, at least, an aid cutoff would be self-defeating.
There should be no illusions. We see no sign that Pakistan is ready to stop playing all sides, or will ever figure out that the fight against extremists isn't a favor to the United States but essential to its own survival.
The equally hard truth is that the United States never would have gotten Bin Laden if it did not have the large military and Central Intelligence Agency presence on the ground that Pakistan has permitted — and American aid has paid for — since 9/11.
There are many more extremists hiding in Pakistan. While Pakistani leaders publicly rail against American drone strikes, they privately tolerate them. Washington needs Islamabad's cooperation to supply troops in Afghanistan. The best hope for getting out of Afghanistan is some political deal with the Taliban. Pakistan can help facilitate such a deal or undermine it.
There is one other chilling point to consider: the stability of Pakistan's government — and its nuclear arsenal. Pakistan's Army might be able to stave off a militant takeover, without American military backing, but we wouldn't want to bet on it.
President Obama needs to leverage this moment. Many Pakistanis are furious about the raid on their territory. Parliament held an unusual session on Friday, demanding answers from the spy chief who accused Washington of conducting a "sting operation on us." But many are also outraged by the fact that Bin Laden managed to hide in their country for so long. "Could the self-appointed custodians of the national interest themselves be the greatest threat to national security?" wrote Cyril Almeida of the Dawn newspaper. The television journalist Kamran Khan declared, "We have become the biggest haven of terrorism in the world."
Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the unilateral attack on Bin Laden as a violation of sovereignty and threatened to close American military supply routes to Afghanistan if drone strikes are not halted. It was not a helpful gesture.
Pakistani leaders are nervous about what more may come out. The trove of computer files seized by the Americans may provide some welcome bargaining power.
The Obama administration also needs to take a harder look at military aid to Pakistan to determine what is vital for counterterrorism and what might be tied to specific benchmarks, like apprehending the Taliban chief, Mullah Muhammad Omar, and members of the Haqqani network.
In its fury, this country should also not lose sight of the fact Pakistan has the potential to be a far greater nightmare than Afghanistan under the Taliban. Economic aid is the best long-term hope of changing the country's political culture. The five-year, $7.5 billion package for schools, energy and other projects hasn't gotten off the ground. Congress must approve trade legislation, which is the best way to develop an outward-looking middle class.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton should go ahead with her visit to Pakistan. President Obama should delay setting a date for his trip. Pakistan's leaders have very tough decisions to make. They need to realize that the days of Washington's unconditional support are over.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A TRUE FINNISH SPRING
BY ANU PARTANEN
ONE of my best friends posted the first plea at 8:41 p.m. Finnish time last month: "Please, adopt me until I can find permanent living arrangements in America." Other friends soon inundated Facebook with similar requests for refuge at my apartment in Brooklyn. They hunted for plane tickets, researched visa regulations and vowed to leave Finland for good.
This was not a result of a natural disaster or armed revolution, but rather of a very proper, very democratic election that shocked me and my friends and startled much of the world. Overnight, Finland seemed transformed from possibly the most sensible, even boring, country in Europe — known for excellent schools, zero corruption, gender equality and a pro-European Union approach to politics — into the nationalistic, populist, Euro-skeptic home of the True Finn Party.
Having lived for two years in the United States, I arrived for a visit home this month to a changed land. The long, dark Nordic winter was finally over and the streets of Helsinki were bursting with the bright green of new birch leaves. Usually Finns are gleeful this time of year, but the mood now is sober. My parents and friends talk of nothing but the election results and the risks and benefits of Finland's policies toward the European Union. Political discussions are even breaking out among strangers in the subway — unheard of here, where we are famous for keeping to ourselves.
The most heated debates revolve around a country at the other end of Europe: Portugal. On the heels of the bailouts of Greece and Ireland, debt-ridden Portugal has been counting on a 78 billion euro rescue package, about $115.5 billion. When the True Finns won 39 seats in Finland's 200-member Parliament, they became the third-largest party, with enough leverage to try to block Finland from contributing its share. This had the potential to derail the entire rescue package, calling into question the survival of the euro zone itself.
The True Finns have, like populist parties in Denmark, France and the Netherlands, campaigned to restrict immigration, defend family values and stand up to the European Union. In America you might consider them the equivalent of Tea Partiers (if they didn't support the welfare state, that is).
Their rise is interpreted as a reaction to the harsh realities of the new millennium. Finland's flagship company, Nokia, is shedding jobs at home. Our welfare state is facing cuts because of the global recession. Europe's lack of travel restrictions has led to an influx of Eastern European panhandlers.
Myself, I've benefited a great deal from the European Union — I've studied abroad, traveled easily, enjoyed a strong euro. Like most of my friends I believe in solidarity and in helping the weak.
Yet I was shaken when I learned that we Finns were supposed to lend money to Greece. It didn't seem fair that my taxes would go to a country that had been living beyond its means.
Our resentment toward being asked to help our far-flung partners in the Union is also exposing the hypocrisy behind another dearly held Finnish tradition: our disgust at how little compassion Americans seem to have for their fellow citizens in terms of sharing the wealth. When my friends criticize the United States for failing to provide universal health care, I point out that America is twice the size of the European Union. It's not quite parallel, but if Finns were asked to contribute to the health care of the Greeks, the Irish and the Portuguese, they might feel a little like Americans.
And now they do.
Friday afternoon, without the support of the True Finns, Portugal's bailout was endorsed in Parliament, clearing the way for its approval by the European Union on Monday.
Because they failed to get what they wanted, the True Finns dropped out of the negotiations to become a coalition partner in the new government.
But even if they won't play a major role in determining Finnish policy, the True Finns have prompted some lasting changes, and transformed Finland's meek stance toward Europe. The leading parties have refused to back further bailouts unless the country in question provides direct guarantees on the loans. (Would Finns, known for their fondness for liquor, like a stake in Greece's ouzo distilleries?)
And the debate they started — about what kind of country Finland is, and wants to be — continues. The True Finns fear that the Finnish way of life will be undermined by immigrants. In my "red-green" circles — as the politically leftist and environmentally aware are called — the fear is that Finland will succumb to close-minded bigots and lose the diversity and benefits that come from belonging to a larger European community.
For my part, I did what I could to help — I offered a place on my couch in Brooklyn to any political refugees. But in the end, my friends in Helsinki seem to be deciding that this is no time for retreat. Instead they'll stay to help determine the future of their country.
Perhaps in the process, we Finns will learn something from that union of states on the other side of the Atlantic. And maybe we'll even be able to offer some suggestions in return.
Anu Partanen, a former staff writer for the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, is writing a memoir about being Scandinavian in America.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
H.I.V. S O S
BY CHARLES M. BLOW
Treatment as prevention.
That's the way scientists describe a striking and incredibly encouraging new finding of a large clinical trial released on Thursday that found that H.I.V.-infected people who took antiretroviral drugs were 96 percent less likely to pass on the disease than those who didn't.
This is an extraordinary finding, coming in the year of the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic in America.
This now shines a harsh light on the cruelty-creep and passion-drift by federal and state governments whose lack of financing and fealty in the fight against AIDS has had the effect of either starving or restricting support, services and prevention efforts for people with H.I.V. and those at risk of contracting it.
In light of this week's news, perhaps no program becomes more important or in more urgent need of reconsideration than the nation's AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, or ADAPs, for low-income patients. ADAPs are co-funded by federal and state governments and now find themselves in a bit of a crisis.
On the federal level, Washington's contributions haven't kept pace with the scope of the problem. In 2000, 68 percent of ADAP budgets came from federal money. Last year, that had dropped to 45 percent. And the state-level lawmakers are making unconscionable choices.
According to data from the ADAP Advocacy Association: as of last week, the number of people on ADAP waiting lists had risen to 7,873; between April 2009 and April 2011, 14 states reduced the number and types of drugs they would pay for. A number of states have stiffened financial eligibility requirements, capped enrollment or removed some people already enrolled. Other states are considering doing so.
This is particularly problematic since the National ADAP Monitoring Project's annual report, released in March, showed that those most dependent on the program are some of society's most vulnerable. About a third of all people diagnosed with AIDS are enrolled in ADAPs, three-quarters of them had incomes of less than 200 percent of the national poverty level, 61 percent were uninsured, and 55 percent were black or Hispanic.
But as the recession put more patients in need, federal and state aid didn't keep track. From 2007 to 2010, the number of people using ADAPs jumped by a third, but federal and state funds specifically appropriated for it grew by just 3 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
Not only is it morally reprehensible to restrict or deny life-saving drugs to those who need them (talk about death panels), it is a colossal miscalculation of public health policy, not to mention fiscally irresponsible.
The new findings should help change a paradigm that's badly in need of changing. Treatment benefits the healthy as well as the sick. It not only prolongs and improves the lives of those who are H.I.V.-positive, but also is a prophylactic for those who aren't. Everyone wins.
It's time to expand ADAPs, not diminish them.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
VOLUNTEERS AND VICTIMS
BY JIA TOLENTINO
THIS week, in the wake of accusations that the Peace Corps had mishandled the startling number of sexual assaults against its volunteers over the last decade, Congress invited former participants to tell their side of the story.
In many cases, their tales were horrifying — not only of rapes and attempted rapes, but also of the Corps's efforts to play down or ignore them, as well as the risks involved in certain country assignments.
Many echoed comments by volunteers interviewed for an ABC News report in January. Karestan Koenen, who was raped in 1991 in Niger, said, "My own experience was that the treatment by the Peace Corps was worse than the rape."
As a recent Peace Corps volunteer whose service in Kyrgyzstan ended early because of sexual harassment, I sympathize with Ms. Koenen. My ultimately positive experience points to ways the agency can reform, however, and in many ways already has.
From 2000 to 2009 more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers reported sexual assaults, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes — a number that is doubtless too low. Under the anonymous reporting process at our small post in Kyrgyzstan, two to three volunteers reported a rape or attempted rape each year.
I landed in Kyrgyzstan last April, a week before the government was overthrown. My group's introduction to that unforgettable country consisted of evacuations and lockdowns amid endless training: wash all vegetables, exercise for happiness and never go to the clubs on the Embassy blacklist. Much of the training centered on how female volunteers could avoid rape.
As I imagine is typical in all Peace Corps posts, we yawned through our safety sessions, aching to work. The training, though extensive, seemed facile. Ultimately, no behavioral code could ward off rape; try as we might to walk in lighted places, our primary offense in the case of an assault would simply, as always, be that of being female.
Once in my remote village, I grew used to men telling me they would make me their wives — they would kidnap me, they joked, as was the custom. I notified the Peace Corps after a few unpleasant incidents; it instantly offered me a site change. I refused, as I felt invested in the children I was teaching and the library I was building.
In the summer, I broke a Peace Corps rule and was grounded to my village for two months, a dangerous punishment in a village full of unemployed, drunk men. One day my host father kissed me. When I reported it, the Peace Corps pulled me in for a talk with a doctor and then sent me back to complete my punishment.
In the winter, I was grounded again, this time for not sending a required text message. After a dozen minor incidents — being grabbed, being followed — I appealed, but the punishment stayed.
But things changed in January, after ABC ran its report exposing the extent of sexual assault against Peace Corps volunteers. Suddenly, everyone became concerned about my safety, to the point that headquarters reviewed my incident history and told me I had 24 hours to pack my things and leave.
Back in America, I felt crushed. Yet I was also relieved that the Peace Corps had finally turned its mixed messages into decisive action, regardless of the image concerns that prompted it. The reconsideration is long overdue, since volunteers tend to support the Peace Corps until the end. If I had been raped and the Peace Corps had told me it was my fault for not following safety protocol, I might well have believed them.
Likewise, the women interviewed by ABC and testifying before Congress want to change the Peace Corps, not tear it down. Like them, I believe that the agency is absolutely able to make decent and compassionate changes to its handling of volunteer safety.
That was certainly the case at my post in Kyrgyzstan. It conscientiously reported all sexual assaults, and just as important, created an atmosphere where we knew we could be honest about sexual assaults.
All posts need to adopt such open policies. Without full and honest disclosure of sexual assaults from each post and from the agency as a whole, female volunteers cannot be sent out in good conscience. Headquarters should consider a universal policy to investigate, and even block, sending female volunteers to sites or countries with assault rates above a certain level.
Female volunteers need to know that their lives will be dangerous, and they need to know just how dangerous their posts will be. They need the chance to say no, and the belief that, when they say it, their voices will be heard all the way back to Washington.
Jia Tolentino writes the blog The Best Little Bookshelf in Texas.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
TOGETHER AGAINST MURDERS OF WOMEN
Ayşe Paşalı has become a symbolic name of murdered women in Turkey.
Before she was stabbed to death by her ex-husband, Ayşe was beaten-up as we saw her purple-eyed swollen face in newspapers and on TV, God knows how many times.
Ayşe Paşalı was a symbol because she was denied the protected she requested.
Beaten-up and threatened she was killed by her ex-husband in the end as a result of 11 knife strokes.
We learned that Paşalı's ex-husband, İstikbal Yetkin, was accused of "voluntary manslaughter" and sentenced to a heavy lifetime in prison.
The decision might be appealed at the Court of Appeals though.
If the high court reaches a parallel decision, it would be a relief for everyone.
Such a decision in the Ayşe Paşalı murder case is in fact a success of women organizations to some degree.
For instance, let's see what the Istanbul Feminist Collective has done for keeping the Paşalı murder case on the agenda and until the court reached a fair decision:
The Istanbul Feminist Collective "stayed on guard" [for two days] in squares and organization centers in the provinces of Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Antalya, Van, Diyarbakır, Sinop, Urfa, Mersin, Adana, Mersin, Eskişehir, Nevşehir, Samsun and Trabzon until the court reached the verdict in the Paşalı murder case.
We saw the placards in their hands.
They were on duty from 7 a.m. to midnight in Istanbul and other cities.
The collective played a tremendous role in the court's fair decision.
As the verdict came in the Ayşe Paşalı case, we received more good news in the issue of violence against women.
The Council of Europe opened the convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence to be signed during a council meeting in Istanbul.
A total of 13 countries, including Turkey, signed the convention.
A few hours later, I was with the Council of Europe Deputy Secretary, General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, at the Çırağan Palace, Istanbul.
In office since 2002, Boer-Buquicchio is the first female deputy secretary general in the Council of Europe.
She has been fighting for women's and children's rights for years.
Exerting efforts for years to materialize the Council of Europe convention, Boer-Buquicchio says Turkey has played an active role in preparation of the blueprint.
For the enforcement, the convention needs to be approved by national assemblies of 10 countries, she says.
A letter from women organizations to the prime minister
The Council of Europe deputy secretary believes healthier statistics in the subject matter would be obtained following the endorsement of the convention in Turkish parliament.
Because, no institutional figures in Turkey reflects the fact about violence against women.
The convention is a breakthrough in Turkey for not only women in wedlock, or women living with their partners without wedlock, but also for women married in religious ceremony.
This is quite significant indeed because women organizations have demanded for so long to bring this practice into life especially for unmarried couples.
The Council of Europe's convention gives us hope for the prevention of violence against women. However, this is Turkey and we have both good and bad news.
The Gender Equality Mechanisms Women Platform, an umbrella organization for nearly 60 member women organizations, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The platform poses question to Erdoğan about the claims concerning the abolishment of the State Ministry for Women's Issues and Women's Status and Issues General Directorate under the prime ministry.
The reason for claims is the law numbered 6223 that has passed for radical changes in the government structure.
The law implies that the State Ministry for Women could be transformed into a kind of Social Services Ministry and Women's States General Directorate into Women and Family Directorate.
Women organizations naturally question why the preparation phase of the law is not transparent and why they are not consulted with along the process.
Will Erdoğan reply to this letter?
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
HUMBLE ADVICE TO EUROPEAN WOMEN ACTIVITS
The Doğan group is one of the media groups that champion the cause for empowerment of women. Milliyet, which until recently was part of the Doğan group, supported the campaign to encourage families to send their daughters to school, while the daily Hürriyet supported the campaign on domestic violence. The Daily News' position on gender equality has also been based on positive discrimination for women. And it will continue to be so.
Unfortunately, the Daily News has run many stories on the problems faced by women. One of the recurrent issues was violence against women. We had to run report after report about stories of women victims of violence, some of which ended with death.
Usually women activists held the government responsible for not doing enough to protect women from violence. Unfortunately, some women's request for protection had been turned down by officials. At one stage the minister responsible for family and women rebuffed criticism following the death of a woman whose request for protection was turned down, saying it was impossible to fulfill all the demands for protection. Unfortunately, while women activists were calling for a change in the mentality of men, that minister in question was a woman.
Last week we had reason to be cheerful and hopeful for women's rights in our country. Turkey became the first country to sign the European convention to prevent and combat violence against women. Prior to signing it, Turkey played a key role in finalizing the draft and making it on time to be open to signature for the Council of Europe meeting in Istanbul. From now on, this binding convention, which is a first for the whole world, will be known as the Istanbul convention.
This new effort to champion the cause to combat violence against women comes from a country that recently has been sentenced by the European Count of Human Rights for not providing protection to a woman who sought protection from the government.
Some might say that Turkey's recent attitude was linked to improving its tarnished image. After all, this is also a country where until recently the perpetrators of honor crimes received reduced sentences due to cultural sensitivities.
In order to rebuff speculation that this was a move of public relations campaign, the new government that will be formed after the June elections should not waist any time to ratify the convention. In fact, let this convention be the first international treaty ratified by the new parliament. Turkey would also become one of the 10 countries to ratify the convention, which is necessary for it to come in force. This will carry a huge symbolic importance to show that Turkey is truly dedicated to preventing and combating violence against women. And obviously, ratification will also not be enough. The new government must take the convention's stipulations as a reference to its policies. As a first step, the government, joined with the opposition, should amend the relevant law, in order to provide protection to all women, from their partners, independent of whether their relationship is official or not.
And a last word to our colleagues and all the women activists in Europe. Violence against women should not be seen as a problem of developing countries. The day the convention was signed, I was interviewed by Radio France International. As cases like honor crimes are seen frequently in Turkey, I was asked about the importance of the fact that the convention was signed in Istanbul. I told them this move was important to show Turkey's new resolve on the matter. But I also underlined the fact that, even what we call progressive democracies in Europe suffer from the problem of violence against women. Some European countries tried to water down certain provisions of the convention during the negotiations. Women in France, Germany or Sweden might not face the phenomenon of "honor crimes." But even in countries where sensitivity on gender equality is high, women face violence. They face physical violence, but the violence they are subjected to is not limited to the physical. There are other types of violence, including psychological violence. As Michele Bachelet, head of UN Women said, sexual violence is a global phenomenon. It is even seen in rich, highly educated families.
We will always be happy to receive support from European women activist for the cause of equality in Turkey. But they should not underestimate the domestic situation and be vigilant that the convention is endorsed as soon as possible in their respective countries as well.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
A MERGER AND ACQUISITION IN THE BUSINESS OF TERROR
MUMBAI --- Chaos theory, the science of finding logic in the seemingly illogical, does not to my knowledge have a sub-discipline for the news media. Perhaps it should. I'll remind myself to bring this up in the next visit to a university communications faculty.
The case study should begin here in this bustling Indian city with a compare-and-contrast of the coverage of the assault in Abbottabad two weeks ago that resulted in the killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden.
In recent days I have followed events online in the western and the Turkish press, watched the international satellite channels and also watched the drama through Indian TV and the sophisticated Indian newspapers such as the Times of India, the Hindustan Times or DNA. A comparable debate exists, as you would expect, on matters of Pakistan sovereignty and the trustworthiness of its government, which is poorly regarded here. The same moralizing over the U.S. Navy Seals' failure to capture bin Laden alive is also here, as it is around the world.
But the divide, if that's the right word, is something implicit. For if this news was cathartic in the city where bin Laden's hijacked planes wrought such hellish devastation and death nearly a decade ago, here where another terrorist attack killed 164 people in 2008, the conclusion is far different. For Americans, and not just the young people who famously danced for joy in front of the White House, the mood is about an ending. "Closure" on the events of 9/11 is an often-encountered phrase. Here, where the iconic date is "26/11," for Nov. 26, 2008 when the Mumbai attacks occurred, there is no celebration. Virtually everyone I have spoken with sees no end to jihad terror. Most, in fact, see the danger and threat increasing.
"Top terrorist in Pakistan? We told you so, says India," headlined daily DNA's day-after front page.
A lead analysis two days later in the rival Hindustan Times: "LeT may make bids to replace al-Qaeda."
"LeT," is the local abbreviation for "Lashkar-e-Taiba," the organization blamed for the Mumbai attacks. Unlike al-Qaeda, it is hardly a household word in the west. While its priority has long been the disputed region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, its ultimate aim of Shariah rule throughout much of the world is squarely in line with that of al-Qaeda.
"It hasn't been regarded as important in the western media, because its targets and the immediate threat have largely been in the east," Indrajit Gupta, editor-in-chief of a national news magazine told me one evening.
That's not to say Lashkar has been entirely ignored. There is plenty of research available online and a detailed analysis on this ascendant terror group was carried just last month by the Associated Press. None of this is difficult to find and I urge its reading. But what reporting exists is largely out of sight. The AP agency report, for example, actually appeared in very few newspapers. Similarly in Turkey. The only original work I could find in Turkish was a report on a diplomatic website. It took note of Lashkar's training of ethnic Turkic Uygurs to join the separatist fight in China's Xinjiang Province.
Lashkar, however, is unlikely to remain so invisible for long, predicted Sundeep Waslekar, founder of India's global think tank, the Strategic Foresight Group. Rather than a case of CIA daring-do, he told me, bin Laden's killing is more akin to the corporate takeover of a weak brand. Al-Qaeda is a spent force, its recruitment long ago collapsed, its fighters number at best in the hundreds if not the tens. The forces that cashed bin Laden into the CIA have now placed their bets on a much more formidable organization whose claims include a vow to "raise the green flag over the White House." Waslekar's estimate of Lashkar's fighting force is around 200,000. It also enjoys a quasi-legal fundraising/charity arm in Pakistan that make it a force to be reckoned with.
"Comparing the strength of al-Qaeda and LeT (Lashkar) is like comparing the militaries of the United States and Belgium," Waslekar said.
From this city, the chaos of terrorism seems hardly to have been defeated. Something similar might be said of the chaotic way the news media perceives, assesses and reflects continuing terrorist threats and danger.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
JUST STOP KILLING YOUR PEOPLE, MR ASSAD
"Allah, Syria, Freedom - nothing else!" That is the slogan peaceful protestors are chanting on the streets of Syria these days, challenging the classical pro-regime slogan "God, Syria, Bashar - nothing else!" Yet the "security forces" of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are brutally crushing this most justified yearning for liberty. It is reported that the thugs of the regime have killed at least 850 people in the past few weeks, whose only crime was to ask for the end of the Baath dictatorship that has ruled the country for more than four decades. Thousand have been reported to be arrested, and tortured, while troops supported by tanks are raiding towns and homes. The regime of Mr. Assad is simply killings its own people.
The Baath bloodshed
Here in Turkey, we are watching all this with great concern – and great contempt. It is true that some among us are fooled by the Baathist propaganda – that this is all the work of "terrorists" and evil outsiders who support them. It is also true that our government has been trying to go a bit easy on Syria, which has been the beacon of Ankara's successful "zero problem with neighbors" policy. Yet still the Turkish government is raising the tone of its criticism against the Syrian regime day by day, while many here want even stronger condemnations of the regime's crimes against its own people. We just cannot sit down and watch a massacre on our borders, on the very people that are our friends, relatives and brothers.
In fact, the Baath regime in Syria, like its bygone counterpart in Iraq, has always been brutal. The massacre of at least 10,000 people, mostly civilians, in Hama in 1982, was an act of evil we always mourned and never forgot. The culprits were Hafez al-Assad and Rifaat al-Assad, the father and the uncle of the younger Assad who is ruling Syria now. Since the latter came to power in 2000, with a more smiling face and more reasonable rhetoric, we believed that the dark days of Hama are gone and a new era is at hand in Syria. But those hopes are being shattered these days, as Bashar al-Assad is proving not much different from his bloody predecessors.
There is discussion here in Turkey on whether Mr. Assad is happily ordering the ongoing massacres, or whether he is manipulated by an evil establishment who knows nothing other than killing, torturing, or spreading fear. Personally, I don't know the answer. But I don't also care. The only person whom we can appeal to is the one whose posters hang on almost every official wall in Syria: Bashar al-Assad. If he is good-willed but weak, then he should show some guts, take matter at hands, and stop the onslaught against peaceful protestors. If he is strong and ruthless, then he should tremble before God, or, at least, see that his regime's brutality is terribly wrong even for Machiavellian reasons.
So, as a fellow Muslim, and a concerned citizen from friendly country, here is my call to Mr. Assad: Just stop killing your people. Order your troops not to fire a single bullet at peaceful protestors. Let your people say what they want to say, and ask for the democracy they deserve.
Tear down this wall
Ultimately, Mr. Assad, just tear down this wall of tyranny, and open up your regime. Human beings have something called dignity, and hence you can't expect them to bow down to the dictates of tyrants. In the past, maybe they looked as if they did, but that was because there was no way for them to raise their voices. But now we live in a different world, a much open and transparent one, and the aspiration for freedom cannot be crushed as it was done in the past. If you insist doing so, then you will be on not just the wrong but also the losing side of history.
So, Mr. Assad, just go out and promise democracy for Syria, giving a clear roadmap for political participation, including free and fair elections. That will be much better than telling us childish stories about how the West or Israel are working against you behind-the-scenes. I, too, have my strong opinions about Israel's 44-year-long occupation of Arab lands. But I am also sick of seeing Arab dictators using Zionism as a straw man to frighten their populations and as a conspiracy theory icon to justify their faults and crimes.
And finally, to those noble Syrians, who, despite all the state terror unleashed on them, keep on changing, "Allah, Syria, Freedom!" Please know that there are millions in the world, who honor your cause, respect your courage, and pray for your success. Here in Turkey, too, we worry about your lives, pray for your well being, and hope for the democracy you deserve. May Allah be with you, indeed.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
ON GROWTH AND GROWTH DISORDER
You might have noticed the Justice and Development Party's, or AKP, election slogan "Let's carry stability on and let Turkey grow" and its urban version "Let's carry stability on and let Istanbul grow." Poor Istanbul has already been way over capacity is being deemed proper for more growth. This is not a slogan picked up arbitrarily, but well summarizing greedy and ambitious masses that have newly met with consumption society. Mahatma Gandhi once said, "There is always enough for the needy, but never enough for the greedy."
Growth mania has reminded me of a university-years book, "Small is Beautiful," by the German-descent British economist Fritz Schumacher. Published in 1973, the book is one of the avant-garde cult books on environmental awareness. An excerpt from the book reads that life standard for a modern economist is measured by annual consumption as the one who consumes more is better than who consumes less. A Buddhist economist will find such an approach totally illogical because consumption is a simple tool for human's well-being. The goal is to achieve maximum well-being through minimum consumption. For a modern economist, this is difficult to understand. They get used to measuring the standard of living by annual consumption amounts; presumes a man consumes more is in better shape than a man consumes less.
I see that everyone, who is ready to give Istanbul hell, pretends to be in profound love with Istanbul. I think this is how love-and-hate dilemma works with Istanbul residents. Where ever we see an ugly building, bridge or a tunnel, and now with the construction of the Crazy Istanbul Canal, we spot Istanbul lovers. This is a kind of love, similar to the one in John Steinbeck's award-winning masterpiece "Of Mice and Men," in which Lennie strangled the poor girl as he caressed her.
I also remember an exhibit. The artist had designed a room for adults through the eye of children. In other words, chairs you have to climb up on in the house filled with furniture and things that one has always to stretch up to reach. A spooky environment in the eye of a child. Gigantic Istanbul reminds me of this exhibit as our lives are slowly getting confined in it.
News about the Crazy Istanbul Canal is announced without any reservation, like an irreversible decision, a godly decree by politicians. After an opening sentence "The works will start after June 12," appears a group of men who speak about subsidiary projects, parcels, construction, shopping centers, finance, etc. It is all in the air as yet. Turkey reckons for it's over and done with its dear big, crazy project.
Put aside the environmental concerns for a while, even hydraulic engineers openly warn of severe consequences of this project. Calculations prove that the project will definitely change output of rivers like the Danube, Dnieper, Dniester, Don as well as Kızılırmak in Turkey, which all are opening to the Black Sea, and therefore, will change the ecosystem of the Black Sea. An in-depth, independent, multi-year and multi-national environment impact assessment financed by Turkey needs to be done. If construction works begin without it, Turkey could pay astronomic damage. If we recall countries having borders with the Black Sea, two of which are already in the European Union, the parties involved against Turkey become self-evident.
But nobody talks about it. Because the only truth is that money is remedy for everything, can buy anything; yet the worst is that our natural environmental is free. This is also why discussion is limited to "in time of peace, merchant vessels shall enjoy complete freedom of passage and navigation in the Straits, by day and by night, under any flag with any kind of cargo" as stated in the Montreux Convention. They will somehow convince the Russians by money anyway.
As small is beautiful, I wonder why human's incurable arrogance develops in the opposite direction. Another excerpt from Small is Beautiful reads that even it will be difficult to neutralize greed and jealousy. Perhaps we can do this by being less greedy and jealous, perhaps by resisting luxury to become a need, or perhaps by delicately simplifying and diminishing all our needs.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE CORRIDOR - LOCAL LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM VIDEO TAPE POLITICS
As sex tapes are being exposed one after the other, some are being used by politicians for political gimmicks. How are these tapes obtained? Who is conducting such an organized plot, how and where? Who can get so close to politicians tightly protected circles and how are politicians being followed even into their bedrooms? Where are these images recorded without consent saved to be exposed in due time? Why does no one take action in the matter?
Questions are plenty, but no satisfactory answer has been found yet.
The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, Adana Deputy Tacidar Seyhan is an informatics specialist. Seyhan previously said over 10 minibuses fully equipped for wiretapping purposes entered through customs and that information was confirmed. On behalf of the CHP, Seyhan took part in a parliamentary investigation commission on wire-tapping. Tapes are recorded and serviced on order, according to Seyhan.
"There are many illegally obtained tapes on parliamentary deputies," Seyhan bluntly says, underlining that he received information and similar images would be serviced again when it is due.
This is not only Seyhan's anticipation. Nowadays, the sex tape scandals hitting the MHP might happen to others any moment.
Traces of such expectation might be seen in backdrops of some political centers in Ankara. During election campaigns, sex tapes seem to remain on top political centers' agenda.
What is pleasing is that the tape fight at top of politics has not influenced locals yet.
I was on road to Anatolia this week so as to take the pulse of cities. I listened to people and politicians in the Aegean provinces of Uşak, Denizli, Afyon; and had a chance to make observations.
The sex tape scandal has not poisoned the sensual pool of politics in the area. Responsible local competition refuses to hit below the belt.
In Denizli, politicians in a cut-throat race sent Ankara messages each a "kind of lesson."
The governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, first row deputy candidate Nihat Zeybekçi said "Not even the 'T' in the word 'tape' was on the agenda in Denizli. We will not allow this. It is not right either. We have not even uttered a single word on it and we will never."
The CHP's number one candidate Adnan Keskin said "Political gimmicks using the tape will not take us anywhere. This is something extrajudicial. Neither is it moral nor human. We are tackling with unemployment, corruption and bans here."
The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, first row deputy candidate Emin Haluk Ayhan said "I was reacted neither by people nor by my competitors regarding the sex tapes."
What do you say? Will anyone in Ankara hear this out?
Kılıçdaroğlu's modest menu
I found an opportunity to exchange a few words with the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's wife Sevim Hanım at the Uşak meeting. Mrs. Kılıçdaroğlu told me about the modest menu of her husband who lost some weight during campaign trails.
I learned Kılıçdaroğlu is not fussy with food. His favorite dish is famous fried beans from his hometown Tunceli. But, this is a dish cooked with garlic, Sevim Hanım informed me. And because garlic smells bad, Kılıçdaroğlu has not been eating fried beans for a long time.
His second favorite dish is dried beans. Kılıçdaroğlu is almost addicted to it, Sevim Hanım said. His number three is stuffed meat balls made with bulgur, which is called "içli köfte" in Turkish.
And the essential on this modest menu is "yoghurt and bread." Yes, you hear correctly. If Kılıçdaroğlu cannot find any of his favorite dishes, he mostly prefers eating yogurt and bread, Sevim Hanım said.
Comfy room selection in Parliament
Foundations of the new public relations building has been laid in Parliament. An 11-storey smart building, to cost around 108.9 million Turkish Liras, will have three flats at the lower levels. Construction of 40 square meter offices for each of 550 deputies will be completed within two years. Deputies will share their rooms with secretaries and advisers. Two types of rooms will be in the building. Luxury level will be decided after a questionnaire. There are two types of rooms, one of which will have bigger space, double desks and a couch as the other will be smaller and have armchairs. Parliament Presidency holds a questionnaire among deputies, advisers and secretaries. No one knows which room type will be decided in the questionnaire but it's better if I let you know that the first option, i.e. comfy and bigger room is more suitable for work, according to Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
ANKARA CATCHES UP WITH THE DAY, IT IS TIME FOR TOMORROW
Turkey's initial falling out with the West, and NATO on policy toward Libyan awakening, recently was replaced by a more coherent tune.
The Turkish road-map, which was put forward by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan at the beginning of May for Libya, on Thursday morning, was openly embraced by Dr. Mahmoud Gibril Elwarfally, interim prime minister of the Libyan Transitional National Council, or TNC, in Washington, DC.
Jibril, during his talk at Brookings, a think tank, said the Turkish road map could be taken as an "overall framework" for peace negotiations. Jibril, answering my questions following his talk at the Brookings, also added that for any plan, the United Nations will have to be the main actor, and facilitator, and any negotiations that will take place have to be based on U.N. Security Council 1973 resolution.
Turkey's change of heart about Gadhafi to tell him to "leave," in addition to closing the Turkish Embassy in Tripoli apparently reflected positively on the TNC. About a month ago when I asked Ali Aujali, TNC's Washington envoy, about Turkey's policy toward Libya, he had a lot of harsh and undiplomatic words for Erdoğan. This time though, the top official of the TNC, Jibril, avoided even criticizing Turkey's unwillingness to freeze the Gadhafi regime's assets, and said only, "we ask all countries to obey 1973's articles. Turkey is no exception."
Jibril's public support for the Turkish peace plan was equally significant signal to Turkey and the international community that the TNC recognizes Turkey's special role in the region and its deep involvement with their country economically, which the new government following the Gadhafi regime will have to deal with head on.
American educated Jibril's talk in Washington aimed primarily to paint a broader picture for those who want to know more about TNC, and what kind of a future they have in mind for Libya once the Gadhafi regime falls. Jibril seized the moment, and diagnosed what is occurring in Middle East and Libya today as a natural result of globalization.
What youth wants in different countries in Middle East, including Libya, is the same as what other youths around the world want, said Jibril, which is to reach basic human dignity comprised full individual rights and freedom. There needs to be a new approach in the international relations, Gibril said, in which power of the communication is recognized as new rule of the game and policy adaptations ought to be made accordingly.
After giving this broader picture, Jibril asked the U.S. administration to release Libya's frozen assets, "We are facing a very acute financial problem because of the frozen assets," Jibril said. "So I would like to call on the United States administration to help us."
While Turkey is now about on the same page with NATO on Libya, on Syria though, since no country has been able to decide what position to take, Ankara doesn't feel any heat about another falling out with the West yet. Washington, for weeks, keeps stating that "the window" for Assad to take on radical reforms to meet with Syrians' demands "is narrowing," but not closed.
Timing of Erdoğan's recent interview with Charlie Rose is also interesting and displays Ankara's courage to meet with the international media, since Ankara has been able to close the ranks with the West on the Arab Spring.
Ankara should also take this temporarily catching up phase to make some value-free assessments for ongoing Arab Awakening.
More than a month ago, when I had a chance to interview Ms. Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim communities around the world, at the U.S. State Department, she talked about her engagement activities with the youth in Muslim countries in detail. She explained her office's engagement policy with them to listen and understand the booming Arab youth. That is why, Pandith concluded then, Secretary Clinton was able to make a speech last fall in Doha and warned Middle Eastern governments to heed their young generations' demands, before all started.
Ankara's earlier anti-colonial and occidental rhetoric over Libya, slightly revealed that some part of the decision making staff in Ankara might be still under the influence of events that occurred about 100 years ago, during World War I, when the British, through mainly Herbert Kitchener, Minister of War and former commander of Britain's imperial armies, promised and through his officers in Cairo, provoked Arabs to rebel against the dying Ottoman Empire, to only seize much of Ottomans' Arab-speaking territory afterwards. It is over 100 years and Arab youth know as much as their western peers what they want now.
Ankara made some mistakes with the ongoing Arab Awakening, but so far, by no means, it lost it yet.
Ankara's latest policy change on Libya, show signs that Ankara can catch up with today even it has to make some U-turns.
Now it is time for Ankara to catch up with the future. It is to become a leading voice and pressure point for real change in Syria, not merely a follower.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
IF THE BALD MAN HAS CREAM TO HELP HAIR GROW
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been in efforts to push his political adversaries out of the political game in Turkey.
A systematic sex-tapes war has been launched against the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. Probably whoever they were, the organizers of that vicious campaign against the nationalist party are hoping that the image of the MHP would be tarnished, less people would vote for it and thus it will not be able to overcome the 10 percent national electoral threshold to become eligible to send deputies to parliament.
For a long time the prime minister and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, are no longer talking about their famous topic, the Kurdish opening or the "peace and brotherhood project." On the contrary, as if it was not the Kurdish opening of the AKP government that provided a red carpet welcome ceremony to "less criminal" members of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, gang at the Habur border gate last year, the premier and his party have become far more nationalist than the far right politicians and parties.
Even though there are claims that there is a secret agreement between the government and Abdullah Öcalan, the separatist chieftain serving at the İmrali island prison an enforced life term for his role in the separatist terrorism-related death of over 35,000 Turks since the 1984 start of the PKK violence in this country, for a silence of arms until after the June 12 polls, the pro-PKK independent candidates and the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, political wing of the gang are being attacked by the prime minister far more strongly than anyone else, including the far right.
The Islamist AKP has turned more nationalist than the nationalists in hopes of recuperating some lost prestige in western and central parts of the country irritated with the Kurdish opening. The probable assumption of the AKP might be that the independent candidates supported by the BDP and the PKK would be the "first party" in the southeast, but people opting for another party would still prefer to vote for the AKP and make the AKP the "second party" in the eastern and southeastern Anatolian provinces while the nationalist campaign will help the AKP become the first party in the rest of the country, at least in overwhelming number of western provinces.
Changing CHP made life difficult for AKP
Traditional roles are indeed changing. In the past two elections, for example, besides the MHP the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, was the party of the patriots committed to the Turkish republic. CHP was very much like the custodian of the "secular democratic Kemalist republic" and nothing else.
Now, the CHP has started tilting towards becoming a social democrat party and its new language regarding rights, liberties and most importantly of all the Kurdish issue, though probably because of election concerns very little has been said on this issue so far and a report, which was completed could not be released, has started irritating the "nationalist left" diehard traditional grassroots of the party.
So far, while the "clean politics" or "honest politician" image of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has been helping the CHP to win some center-right support particularly in central Anatolian provinces, the muted promises for a resolution of the Kurdish issue or problems of the Alevi question, Kılıçdaroğlu himself has a Kurdish connection and is an Alevi, is helping out the CHP advance in the eastern and Southeastern provinces. For example after many elections it is believed at least in Mardin and Şanlıurfa the CHP might produce deputies this time.
Many pollsters agree that the biggest surprise of the June 12 election will be the CHP. It is a fact as well that unlike the 2007 polls when people questioned by pollsters were somewhat shy of disclosing they would vote for the AKP and though in the polls AKP was trailing around 35-38 percent it received 46.7 percent electoral support, now people are scared of disclosing they would not vote for the AKP. Thus, the biggest surprise might be the AKP.
Yet, irrespective of the vote share it might have in the June 12 polls, if only two parties succeed in overcoming the anti-democratic 10 percent electoral threshold and the MHP remains under the political guillotine, that would mean the ruling AKP might have a higher chance of producing over 330 deputies, or 3/5 majority in the next parliament. 3/5 majority, or 330 votes, is sufficient for the AKP to undertake constitutional reforms or to write a new constitution single handedly, introduce presidential system and open the way to Erdoğan become the first president of a presidential Turkey.
Erdoğan told Charlie Rose of PBS that he asked Syria's absolute ruler Bashar al-Assad to send his men to Ankara for a course in democracy.
There is a nice saying, if the bald man has a cream that helps his hair grow, he would use it on his own head first.
I. THE NEWS
India and Pakistan seem to be on a collision course around the issue of water. In the last 26 years, the two countries have held 13 rounds of secretary-level talks on the issue of India's right to build the Wullar Barrage. At this week's 14th round of talks, both sides, as expected, showed little flexibility: Indian secretary Dharwajay Singh stressed India had the right to build the barrage under all conditions and Pakistan held that the construction of Wullar Barrage, or any other project that resulted in Indian control over the River Jhelum, was unacceptable. The storage capacity of Wullar, at 0.30 million-acre feet, is a violation of the Indus Water Treaty. Pakistan is also quite alarmed by India's plan to build 12 hydropower projects on the Kabul River in Afghanistan which experts say will seriously increase Pakistan's water woes. In another violation of the IWT, India has managed to get approval from the UN for carbon credits for the controversial Nimmo-Bazgo and Chuttak hydropower projects. As per rules of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, India is bound to get trans-boundary environmental impact assessment reports from Pakistan to earn carbon credits on these projects. This it has not done.
Agriculture makes for a smaller percentage of GDP for India than for Pakistan. As a lower riparian, Pakistan is sensitive to any hint that something done upstream might cause it to lose its share of water. But there is no indication that India realises these sensitivities. Hawks on both sides predict that India and Pakistan may fight a water war in the near future – such a doomsday scenario may be exaggerated at the moment but the argument is increasingly gaining sway, especially in light of ostensibly aggressive Indian moves. Water is increasingly being elevated to 'core' status, not quite rivaling Kashmir in intensity but likely to get there if current trends persist. Water thus, more than ever before, requires joint management. Pakistan and India need creative solutions to the political stalemate that could move from water management to broader bilateral rapprochement. A holistic approach to water resources – one that recognises the interaction and economic linkages between water, land, the users, the environment and infrastructure – is necessary to evade an impending water crisis in the subcontinent. Whether politics will follow water or water sharing precedes the complementing politics, a successful, long-term, comprehensive resolution in the region, especially to the Kashmir conflict, will be impossible without dealing with water. Water will indeed be the carrier of concord between India and Pakistan.
I. THE NEWS
The question of how relations between Pakistan and the US will pan out is beginning to emerge as an increasingly dominant feature on the political horizon. The Defence Committee of the Cabinet, the country's highest forum on defence matters, has been tough in its criticism of the American action, which it noted, ran contrary to the aspirations of our people. It has spoken of redefining the parameters on which Pak-US relations are based and of consulting all key agencies to do so. Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, for reasons unknown, did not attend the crucial discussion. Meanwhile the prime minister, in comments to the Time magazine that can only add to the sense of instability, has said that unless US trust for Pakistan was restored, his government could tumble as a result of growing public displeasure and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Khalid Shameem Wyne has cancelled a scheduled trip to the US.
The US has remained largely unrepentant in the wake of Operation Geronimo, even though some small conciliatory gestures have been made. For the most part though, pressure has continued to build with New Delhi also cashing in with a "list of terrorists" it alleges are based in Pakistan. There are indications that Pakistan is making its own plans as events unfold. President Zardari's visit to Russia at a crucial time is clearly intended to build new allies as things continue to go wrong with Washington and, ominously, relations between the military and civilian leadership worsen. The main issue to consider is how this whole sequence of events beginning early this month in Abbottabad has been handled by the government. The delayed response, the sense of confusion within the government, and the inability to come up with a cohesive stance, have all added to the problems that now loom large, creating a growing sense of crisis.
I. THE NEWS
THE TALIBAN'S REVENGE
It was one of the worst-ever suicide bombings seen in a country where 30,000 civilians and 5,000 military personnel have died in terrorist attacks since the war on terror began. At least 80 more people were killed in a double suicide-bombing at a Frontier Constabulary training centre in the town of Shabqadar near the Mohmand Agency. The death toll is expected to increase as, of the 140 who are reported injured in the blasts, at least 40 are still struggling for their lives. The Taliban have said they were behind the blasts which were intended to exact revenge for the death of Osama bin Laden. There had been warnings against such attacks. We do not know what else may be on the cards and how many more lives will be lost. The US is celebrating the death of Osama; the ratings of President Obama have soared to 60 percent, their highest in two years – but it is our people – who had no part in determining what happened – who are paying the price for the raid in Abbottabad. The young FC men who died and were targeted were not involved in and responsible for the US action in Abbottabad.
The bombing demonstrates that the killing of the Al-Qaeda chief hasn't solved anything. Terrorism lives on, and could grow in the country as anger against the US continues to mount. This is a problem Pakistan has been left to deal with and it is a difficult one to manage. We have seen for some time that, even after fierce military action in the north, the Taliban remain capable of striking. There is reason to believe that Bin Laden's death may bring the militant forces closer together to forge greater unity among themselves and regroup around a common cause. The consequences of this are distinctly frightening given the havoc terrorism can create and the possibility that yet more attacks could follow the one in Shabqadar.
WAKE UP AND DUMP PETTY POLITICS
No doubt squirming people who dwell in falsehoods fear exposure whenever untruths are exposed – which is why the thought of an independent inquiry into the Abbottabad fiasco, as much as the public may support the idea, will gain no traction with them. That said, there are better reasons why we should think again before joining the chorus for a judicial inquiry.
To begin with, as long as those who have the most to lose in an impartial inquiry remain in office, they will be able to manipulate or truncate the evidence. Hence, at best, what may emerge is not what is necessarily true but what could almost be true. And that would be more dangerous because being so close to the truth, it is more likely to mislead.
Furthermore, a robust inquiry risks exposure and nothing can be worse for troops in battle than to see their fellow soldiers and commanders pilloried or reviled and possibly drummed out. If we fasten ourselves to a single aspect of truth – namely, why we were unaware of Bin Laden's presence on our soil – the exaggerated fixation on a single topic will lead to a loss of balance and the truth might become as distorted and dangerous as the falsehood that it is trying to expose.
Besides, in the midst of a war such as the one being waged today, a diligent search for the truth would require public disclosure of operational military and intelligence procedures which under the rubric of 'compromising national security' would be impermissible. This, therefore, is not the time for a public inquiry or the time to unravel a country that is at its weakest and could spin out of control.
Nor has Mr Sharif made the recommendation with only that in mind. His concerns are very different. He seems obsessed with getting his premiership back after it was taken away by the military, unfairly as he still believes, even though he did strange things when in office and behaved more like a despot than a democrat. Nor does he enjoy any real standing overseas. Even the Saudis with whom he had close ties and who bailed him out of trouble may be wary of his politics of using the Bin Laden fiasco to get even with the military.
Judging by what we know about him and having watched him in office, Mr Sharif is no statesman but an unreformed self-serving politician who senses that the Abbottabad fiasco is as good an opportunity as any to tame the military and to grind his own axe. He may also feel that he has little to lose.
If he spooks the military into some form of unconstitutional action, he will have the other parties and the judiciary on his side. Anyway, the outcome of a judicial inquiry will almost inevitably result in the military ending up with a lot of egg on its face, which suits him no less.
But how Mr Sharif expects a high-level commission to complete its work in just 21 days beggars the imagination. He makes a fool of himself in giving such a short deadline in such a complicated case. This tendency, like his other ill-conceived deadlines issued previously to Mr Zardari, shows him to be a knee jerk reaction type of person with a personal agenda rather than a thoughtful person with no axe to grind. This is contrary to what should be happening – both sides should be keen to repair the civil-military relationship. Neither side can get anywhere without the other, the internally fragmented civilians even more so.
Everyone concedes there is no greater need than that at present but what we get from Nawaz Sharif is the reaction of a shark that senses blood.
While this is not the time for politicking, Mr Zardari by leaving matters entirely in the hands of the military (to earn their support) is doing them and himself no good. His indifference to the manner and means by which the war is fought, highlighted by the fact that he has not visited a single battlefield since the war spiked, has few parallels among war-time leaders. His appointments schedule does not in any way indicate that his country is fighting a war for its survival. His statements ignore the fact that US and Pakistani interests appear increasingly irreconcilable; nor do they reflect any concern.
Mr Zardari's sole and constant effort appears to be the preservation of his office. To this end sacrificing principles or casting adrift the ideological moorings of his party present no obstacle. Today's friends can just as easily become tomorrow's enemies only to reconcile and then part once again. What counts for him are votes regardless of the means with which they are obtained.
Among Zardari's coterie, even men of average intelligence stand out. A financier interested in economics is as rare as a labour leader interested in the labour movement. They call themselves leaders and, yes, they are out in front but they do not lead, they just follow. Mr Zardari, it is said, once claimed that he had a PhD in 'life' – actually, 'survival' – if so, it is clearly his own survival he was talking about, not that of the nation.
Given the kind of leaders we have, pouncing on the military in such a fluid and tense situation will get us nowhere. It is worth recalling that it's only the military that stands between us and our antedeluvian adversaries.
Moreover, whether we like it or not, neither the US nor others will behave cautiously anymore. After the Abbottabad fiasco, serious doubts have arisen about our capability and also about whether we are able to tackle the problem that is hurting us more than any other country and which has brought us to a potentially grave situation. Economically, we are in tatters and that matters a lot to most people. Of course, an economic collapse would be much worse. We don't have oil and gas that has enabled Iran to cock a snook at others and do what it likes.
The question is how do we tackle the tricky situation that has emerged, leave Bin Laden behind, and find a new working relationship with the US and the EU? There are at present, no alternative friends, not even China, that are as well-endowed with lucre and weapons which we desperately need. Moreover, the world is getting impatient with our split personality. Somehow, we have not managed to convey the internal problems we face discreetly or convincingly instead, we have been indulging in bluster. The optimistic, albeit, hollow soliloquies of our former foreign minister won't work anymore because now we have been found out.
It won't be business as usual anymore (with all the pranks that we and the US played with each other). So, we had better wake up, dump petty politics, and get serious and solemn, as the situation demands, rather than emotional and suicidal. A national government reinforced by a repaired civil-military relationship may indeed be what is needed.
A friend wrote to say that many years ago, while at university abroad, he read a story linked to the subcontinent. It was about a gardener introducing an eager boy (the son of his employer) to the wonders of a nearby forest. But one incident that he witnessed changed everything for him. It was the sight of a hysterical monkey on a tree trying to get to the physical root of his pain with his fingers but ripping apart his wounded belly in the process. It's a thought that bears some relevance to our situation today.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
The Western mantra of Pakistan being the epicentre of terror has been as old as the war on terror itself. But we have always maintained that Pakistan is the frontline state in the war against terrorism, has given matchless sacrifices, and arrested or killed the largest number of Al-Qaeda leaders. However, the killing of Osama bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad and the revelations that his family had been living there for the last five years have given credence to the Western, Indian and Afghan allegations against Pakistan. And our explanations, which were already suspect in the wider world, no longer hold the ground.
India in particular has gone berserk and reminded the world that "look, you didn't take us serious when we repeatedly asserted that Pakistan is the epicentre of world terror." The Western media is also awash with anti-Pakistan news and analyses, which it considers its right to do in the presence of material evidence and rationale. The anti-Pakistan people like ex-Afghan Intelligence chief Amarullah Salih have also jumped on the bandwagon by saying that he had clearly informed Musharraf in 2004 about the whereabouts of Osama in Pakistan. According to him, the strongman rejected the assertion out of hand.
Tragically, our leadership is playing a perfect ostrich in the face of challenges. It has adopted a strange narrative after the killing of Osama. The position is destined to earn further disgrace and bad name for the country.
Admittedly, the US can ill-afford to turn a completely antagonise Pakistan at the moment. For the some time to come, relations will remain as they were before the death of Osama. But Pakistan is facing unimaginable credibility deficit in the world.
The current year is very important for Afghanistan. In the recent past, Pakistan had played its cards well to claim a position to persuade the US for accommodating its concerns in Afghanistan. The Abbottabad incident overturned the equation; Pakistan has gone on the back-foot while the US has come to dictate the terms. Pakistan's position against the other players in Afghanistan has also taken serious beatings.
We can fool our people but the Americans are not ill-informed. They know that Abbottabad could not have happened without Pakistani cooperation. The allegations by some senators or the CIA chief, or the Western media's uttering, are altogether aimed at notching up pressure on Pakistan to toe the US line on Afghanistan. We are up for difficult times ahead.
Pakistan would be at the receiving end in this war from the so-called allies and enemies alike. The Western alliance and Al-Qaeda will train their guns on us. They will certainly adopt the "Pakistan first" strategy. India too is going to emphasise its right to Abbottabad-like operations against the LeT leadership. The US will increase footprints on Pakistani soil to track down Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Mullah Umar and conduct operations against them.
The Al-Qaeda "revenge" reaction will be directed against Pakistan. Osama was the spiritual leader of Al-Qaeda but never its operational commander. He was personally averse to attacks in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries. The Western allies were his first priority. His successors, unlike Osama, are extremely anti-Pakistan. Since Al-Qaeda has lost the capability to mount other 9/11s in the West, it will definitely target Pakistan and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda affiliates in Pakistani will be stirred up to spill huge troubles in our country.
Tragically, Pakistani is faced with so many challenges at a time when our leadership in all spheres of life is proven incapables. Many days have passed since the Abbottabad incident, but the Pakistani leadership, including the president, the prime minister, the interior minister or the foreign minister, is yet to come up with a plausible response. The chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, of which Abbottabad is a division, is neither interested in such issues nor feels the need to come up to say anything on them. We thought that Pakistan has a defence minister, but he is absent from the radar screen.
The world buzzes perception of a melting Pakistani state in the face of mortal challenges. The day international attention was focused on Islamabad, the PML-Q ministers were taking oaths of offices at the Presidency. When the prime minister, the president, or their ministers are approached for reaction they pathetically stress their non-relevance. They call it jealously guarded military territory. When the military leadership is asked about it, it throws the matter at the doors of parliament and the government. The military swears that it follows the government's outlines on such matters.
Amid apathy, the twin-cities seem like Baghdad of the past. Like Tatars at the gates of Baghdad, foreign forces are knocking at our doors, but our leadership has no interest in the hard subjects of foreign policy, terrorism or national security. The two power centres seem at loggerhead like a scene from the Cold War, or appear awash with lust for lucrative ministries.
Indeed, the situation is yet not out of control. The civilian and military leaderships can steer the country to safe waters in this sea of challenges if they rise above personal, partisan and institutional interests. But only a miracle can convince them to forgo personal and institutional interests in favour of the greater national good.
The writer works for Geo TV.
I. THE NEWS
THE DEVOLUTION DISASTER
MALIK AMIN ASLAM KHAN
The past decade can be termed as the decade of disastrous devolution in Pakistan. First, it was the unchecked grassroots devolution which wreaked havoc with the district management systems under the garb of responsive local governance and now it is the constitutionally driven devolution which is demolishing various federal structures in the name of provincial autonomy. After successfully torpedoing the health and education sectors and ripping apart the Higher Education Commission this unleashed cannon of the 18th Amendment is now all set to blast the federal environment structure.
As the ministry of environment gets ready to face the chopping block, it is essential to lay out some glaring facts on the table and hope for sanity to prevail.
Firstly, the subject of environment was originally placed in the Concurrent List in the early 70s when the issue itself was in its infancy. Needless to say, the issue of environment today is not what it was 40 years ago. The heightened global consciousness on the issue since then has now catapulted it to the forefront of the worldwide debate on human sustainability and global security. Alongside terrorism, it is today considered one of the most pressing challenges facing the world community. However, our national policymakers seem to be terribly out of sync with this global reality and have failed to recognise the unavoidable significance attached to the environmental issue, by senselessly relegating it to provincial oblivion through the 18th Amendment.
Secondly, environmental issues do not recognise manmade boundaries and, consequently, require a management response driven by a collective global commitment which is then synched with cohesive national efforts. That is the reason why the world is now bound together in a complex environmental architecture which is based upon an array of multilateral environmental agreements on critical issues such as climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity, air and marine pollution and desertification. Pakistan is a signatory to many such conventions and agreements which demand it to undertake appropriate national policy responses as a cohesive unit state – something which is not going to be possible with a fragmented and uncoordinated structure at the provincial level.
While the actual implementation of all environment-related policies should occur at the local level, as it currently does, the presence of a consolidating platform at the federal level is a necessity driven not just by international conventions but by our national needs for ensuring efficiency and consistency. The ministry of environment provides this platform for defending and articulating Pakistan's national interests at the global negotiations forums while also generating the required national priority policy responses synched in with these global demands.
A number of national policies including those on environment, forests, rangelands, carbon finance, clean development mechanism, clean drinking water and sanitation have emanated out of this framework. It is, thus, no surprise that many countries are centralising the national institutional structures and environmental policy-making from the state to the federal levels.
Our neighbours India and China are a good case in point. Pakistan would be irrationally and pointlessly going against this global trend by fragmenting its existing environmental architecture at this stage. Such an action could lead to serious unintended consequences pertaining to Pakistan's role as a responsible partner in the global community as well as its ability to face up to the growing national challenges on the environmental front.
Thirdly, the issue of environment is gaining intense importance for Pakistan as the economic consequences of ignoring this critical issue come to the fore. The World Bank estimates that in Pakistan more than six percent of the national GDP is being wiped off every year owing to environmental costs linked with domestic air and water pollution. In addition, a very recent UN study points out that the country will, at an average, need to spend six to 14 billion dollars every year till 2050 to deal with the consequences of extreme events in the future triggered by climate change. This is alarmingly evidenced by the fact that in Pakistan nine out of the 10 worst disasters of the past 40 years have been environment related and the recent catastrophic floods alone burdened our fledgling economy to the tune of U$ 9.7 billion in economic damages.
In addition to the economic costs, the environmental field is generating tremendous economic opportunities for clean growth. It is now becoming lucidly clear that owing to a heightened and growing global sensitivity, future development financing is going to be strongly linked with the environmental issue. The global carbon market alone is valued at more than $85 billion per year and is acting as a conduit for financing of low carbon growth and development. In this context, within the ministry of environment, Pakistan has also set up a carbon market infrastructure which has more than 100 projects in the pipeline.
Moreover, the "Green Climate Fund" announced at the Cancun climate meeting in 2010, is committed to generating $100 billion per year as long-term climate-friendly finance for developing countries. This amount is almost equal to the "total" development assistance which currently flows through all the multilateral agencies combined. Within this context, a recent UN study has estimated that Pakistan needs almost eight to 17 billion dollars in short-term financing to put its future growth along a low carbon trajectory fuelled through clean and renewable energy options.
All of the above points towards not only the need for Pakistan to secure environment-based financing but the increasing global trend of linking development with environmental concerns and of routing mainstream financing through this linkage. Pakistan would be at a loss to effectively access all these financial flows if it aimlessly devolves the focussed infrastructure which is currently available at the federal level.
Finally, on a domestic political note it is ironic that the present regime is recklessly driving the devolution bulldozer on the environmental front. The Pakistan People's Party has a very strong history of being progressively sensitive and actively responsive to global trends in the past. This has been clearly evident on the issue of environment.
It was the PPP government which in the 90s took the bold initiative to establish a separate ministry of environment at the federal level, enacted the Pakistan Environment Protection Act, 1997, created the apex environmental body, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Council, in 1997, It also has the distinction of holding seven of the 11 meetings of the council to-date. Most importantly, the party fought the 2008 elections guided by a forward-looking and progressive manifesto based upon five "E's" – one of which stands for the environment. It is thus one of the five pillars on which the current ideological philosophy of the party is based upon – at least in theory if not practice.
Over the past few decades, through the platform of the ministry of environment, Pakistan has not only maintained a leadership position amongst developing countries to shape various global multilateral agreements but has also painstakingly developed a national infrastructure and capacity to respond to the national environmental challenges. Dismantling all of this at this critical stage in the country's development will be globally insensitive and domestically unproductive.
Thus, the national imperative is clear and straightforward – Pakistan has to treat the issue of environment as a top priority or be economically consumed by its consequences. An integrated national infrastructure and cohesive policy-making body is one of the prerequisites of forging an effective national response to meet this challenge of the 21st century. If sense is to prevail, Pakistan should be reinforcing, rather than dismantling, the central environmental management architecture that has been so painstakingly built over the past decades.
The writer is former minister of state for the environment and a member of the Core Group on Climate Change.
I. THE NEWS
TO RUSSIA, WITH FRIENDSHIP
The importance of President Zardari's visit to Russia does not lie only in the fact that it is the first official visit to Russia of any Pakistani president in over 30 years, but that it took place at a time when Pakistan's relations with its traditional ally, the United States, are at their lowest ebb. Pakistan badly needs regional friends to ward off the potential for mischief.
This is a defining moment for Pakistan. The fallout of the Abbottabad operation has caused serious strains in already tense bilateral relations with the US. Despite all efforts at damage control, these relations are likely to remain fractured. To keep trouble at bay, Pakistan needs to develop greater understanding with countries in the region and the role of Russia is critical in any such strategic search. Friendship with Moscow will hopefully have a salubrious effect on our relations with India and could be evoked to dampen Indian hostility.
The importance of close economic and trade relations is obvious and the discussions and MOUs signed in Moscow testify to the mutual desire to raise the profile of bilateral relations by exploring new avenues of mutual collaboration and joint ventures. President Zardari has rightly placed emphasis on cooperation in the energy sector, critical for Pakistan's economic development. The agreements on the exploitation of oil, gas, and coal deposits, electricity transit from Central Asia and the modernisation of Pakistan's steel mills will provide an anchor to the political edifice and common objectives of seeking regional stability, countering terrorism and interacting through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). A close understanding on Afghanistan, particularly on the role of Pakistan in the post-US withdrawal scenario, would also be a source of stability and security in the region and needs to be pursued vigorously.
Friendship with Moscow, however, also has its own unique significance. The Cold War era is over. Both Islamabad and Moscow recognise the need to turn a new page in their relations. However, the stumbling block has been a mindset that makes Moscow view relations with Pakistan through the prism of India. Moscow's perceptions of Pakistan's policies have been deeply influenced by the Indian perspective, blocking the blossoming of genuine and lasting friendship.
Pakistan has an important place in Russia's foreign policy being one of the major influential Muslim countries. Pakistan's foreign policy has of late focused on developing closer relations with countries in Central Asia. The president's visit is part of the continuing effort that began with Prime Minister Gilani's visit in 2008. Pakistan should institute a high-level dialogue on strategic and political issues and build up a mechanism to focus on economic cooperation through increased market access to Pakistan and connectivity in the trade and energy sectors.
Pakistan is at a crossroads and any miscalculation by its leadership would multiply its predicament and problems. Failure to contain the current bitter controversy on the Bin Laden affair could ignite fresh flames of antagonism between Washington and Islamabad. India is already fishing in the troubled waters and has exploited Pakistan's precarious situation by issuing a list of 50 men, allegedly including five serving military officers, that it wants extradited to stand trial on terror charges. If the rapprochement with Washington recedes and events take an ugly turn, India may be encouraged to invoke UN Security Resolution 1368 of September 2001 which "calls on all states to work together urgently to bring to justice the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of terrorist attacks and stresses that those responsible for aiding, supporting or harbouring the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of these acts should be held accountable."
Friendship with the Soviet Union is now a strategic imperative and must be achieved and sustained.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
FACELIFT OR OVERHAUL?
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
Nawaz Sharif has sought the constitution of a high profile judicial commission to inquire into events surrounding the Osama bin Laden fiasco. This demand is reasoned, unobjectionable and a welcome departure from the grimy politics of our bedevilled democracy. If regime change was its paramount priority, the PML-N could have resorted to petty opportunism by laying the entire blame of the embarrassing and embittering events of May 2 squarely on the ruling PPP. Having declared to be in control of the ISI and unwilling to question khakis over Osama's presence in Pakistan or the Americans over their unilateral military operation inside Pakistan, the PPP could easily be made the exclusive target of our nation's outrage over proliferating terror networks within Pakistan and our tattered sovereignty.
he PML-N has not just done the Zardari regime another favour; it has also done the right thing. It is inexplicable why our ruling civil and military leadership is unable to grasp the magnitude of damage inflicted on Pakistan's security, credibility, image and claims of defence preparedness by the Bin Laden catastrophe. Can it not comprehend that this epochal event cannot simply be brushed under the carpet? Even if we didn't know of his presence, why did the world's most wanted terrorist elect to make Pakistan his home? Why do all terror trails find their way to our country? Why have we been unable to make any progress in documenting the identity of our nationals and acquiring control over cross-border movement? Why are people in a country that has lost 30,000 civilians and 5,000 soldiers to terror grieving the death of the terror kingpin? Has our twisted security policy not transformed Pakistan into one big contradiction?
The Bin Laden incident has placed us at the crossroads yet again. We can respond with denial and jingoism and consequently dig deeper the hole we find ourselves in. Or we can stop lying to each other and ourselves, disclose all related facts leading up to the May 2 incident with candour and responsibility, let individuals be held to account for their failings, and use the opportunity to revisit our security mind-set, overhaul our security policy and policy making mechanism. In this context, a non-partisan commission revealing the truth can serve as a necessary first step. But offering policy advice on national security, counter terrorism and foreign policy would fall beyond the mandate and expertise of a judicial commission. Once the facts are out, we will still need a high-powered bipartisan policy commission to review and overhaul our security mind-set, policy and policy-making mechanisms that caused the Bin Laden debacle and the many before it.
Let us get the nonsense about patriotism and 'sticking by our institutions' out of the way first. Is sticking by a corrupt government patriotic? Should we have celebrated the Dogar court or Musharraf's rubber-stamp parliament as our token of love for Pakistan? How would unquestioning and unconditional support for everything the khaki leadership does promote Pakistan's national interest? Are these not mortal men capable of making mistakes? Should they have a monopoly over the definition of national interest and patriotism? And how does holding the khaki high command to account for its acts, omissions and choices translate into lack of gratitude for the soldiers who stake and lose their lives in the line of duty and are the frontline victims of bad policy choices?
Was it not the self-serving use of the term patriotism that Samuel Johnson described as the "last refuge of the scoundrel"? Does our national security doctrine not affect the rest of us on an everyday basis and impinge on the most fundamental of our constitutionally guaranteed rights? Does it not impact everyone wearing a Pakistani identity for becoming an object of suspicion around the globe? The definition of patriotism that confers on our khaki high command the status of a holy cow is also a product of the same mindset that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan, contrived the jihadi project, manufactured the doctrine of strategic depth, gave us Kargil and is still at ease with preserving militants as strategic assets. Clemenceau was probably not being facetious when he declared that, "war was too important to be left to generals."
We need a new concept of national security that focuses on maximising the security of Pakistani citizens. This will not happen by laying bare the facts of the Bin Laden incident alone. We will also need to review Pakistan's counter-terrorism policy, security and foreign policy especially vis-à-vis Afghanistan and India, and Pakistan's relationship with the United States. Can we preach respect for sovereignty if we are unable to account for who lives in Pakistan, control cross-border movement of men, arms and money or ensure that our territory is not used as sanctuary to plot attacks on other nations? After being in the throes of violence for over a decade now, why do we still lack a comprehensive counter-terrorism policy? Why is being a proscribed militant organisation in Pakistan of no legal consequence? Why is our criminal justice system failing to prosecute and convict terrorists?
What is the nature of our interest in the future of Afghanistan? We don't want hostile neighbours on the eastern and the western borders. We don't want growing Indian influence within Afghanistan. We don't want the US to have a permanent footprint in our neighbourhood. We don't want the US war to succeed in a manner that results in a permanent anti-Pakistan Northern Alliance dominated government in Afghanistan. We don't want to betray the Afghan Taliban who have genuine following and might assume control of Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan once the US withdraws, and consequently face reprisals with them actively joining hands with Pakistan's TTP and fuelling anarchy in our country. These are legitimate interests and concerns. Why can we not articulate them instead of resorting to hypocrisy?
Are we unaware of militant organisations flourishing in Pakistan, or are we being coy? Will we view the Osama bin Laden incident as another minor blow to the jihadi project or are we going to realise that the use of jihadis as strategic assets is history and it is time to liquidate them? Has anyone calculated the intangible cost of this misconceived project and the damage inflicted on the country and its citizens through the spread of intolerance, bigotry, arms and violence? Are we cognisant of the disastrous consequences that another Mumbai could inflict on the interests of Pakistan and its citizens? Will we have a stronger bargaining position in resolving our disputes with India if we have a strong polity, a stable economy, credibility and international support or if we possess surreptitious jihadis as strategic weapons?
And what are all the secret military deals we have cut with the US? Did Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman US Senate Intelligence Committee, not wonder what was all the fuss about the drone attacks when they were flying out of a Pakistani base? Did Lt General Shahid Aziz, former chief of general staff, not reveal that General Musharraf handed control of the Jacobabad base (and also Pasni) to the US? Do actions of our civilian and military leaders not bear out accounts from Wikileaks and the Guardian that they had agreed to privately allow and publicly condemn drone strikes and the unilateral US military action against Bin Laden? Do these secret deals serve Pakistan's national security interests? Are they justifiable under law?
Neither hypocrisy nor a facelift will redeem Pakistan after the Osama fiasco. We need to come clean and use this as an opportunity to overhaul our security policy and policy-making mechanism. We have skeletons in our closet. It is time to drag them out, confront them and bury them for good.
I. THE NEWS
MEMO FROM USA
Two years ago I got an email message from a spook in the military intelligence agency in response to a column I had done for this newspaper. I had complained about the secrecy the Pakistan Army maintained. Why was the media being kept out? I questioned. In the agency's defence, the message said that while they would like to brief the media, even have embedded journalists like they do in America, the high priests at GHQ were against such a practice. The "top three" frowned upon the media being taken into confidence. End of story.
So now for the Chief of Army Staff General Kayani to point a finger at the media in the Bin Laden mess is unfair. What is the media supposed to say or write? Where can it find the truth? The measly ISPR statements are not always reflective of what's going on behind the GHQ walls of silence. The anchors, admittedly, have gone overboard reporting on the conspiracy theories post Bin Laden; the analysts and writers have gone gung-ho on demanding that heads should roll. Even our ambassador in Washington, while fumbling for answers, has said that "heads will roll". God help him for making such a promise! Whose 'head' does he have in mind when he makes such statements?
Back home in Islamabad, according to press reports a constitutional petition in the Supreme Court names the heads that should roll! They are Zardari, Gilani, Kayani, Pasha and the Air Chief who should be "tried under Article 6 for violating the Constitution, conspiracy and criminal negligence to safeguard sovereignty as well as the life and liberty of the citizen of Pakistan."
Will any of these heads roll? You've got to be kidding! Why? Because these worthies have already begun playing the blame game with each other. Anchors, some 20 of them, were given a background briefing by military sources claiming that the reason for the Bin Laden intelligence failure were the "7000 visas" that our ambassador in Washington dished out (of course on Zardari's orders) to Americans without getting proper clearance from the concerned agencies (read GHQ) in Islamabad. So, the anchors were led to believe that most of these shadowy characters were CIA operatives trying to cause mischief in the land of the pure.
Well, it's so easy to pass the blame on the civilian government - but we all know who is the most powerful in the land. It's Kayani and not Zardari. The latter may get away with corruption, nepotism, favouritism and cronyism, even if the whole country is screaming blue murder, but he will never be allowed to get away with the country's security issues and its sovereignty. The two areas fall in the No-Go zone and are tightly controlled by our military.
General Kayani was our last hope. Many of us had put high stakes on his integrity, patriotism and ability to save the nation should the need ever arise. Today, he appears like the rest of our political leaders, who have routinely let the nation down. Can Kayani account for $20.7 billion in military and economic development aid that Pakistan got from America from fiscal 2002 through fiscal 2011? Who are the individuals and institutions who pocketed the money? And guess what? Had Kayani stood firmly behind the Chief Justice of Pakistan when he reopened the NRO issue back on December 16, 2009, today Pakistan would have been a different country. But the army chief, who played a role in CJ's restoration, was stone silent on the NRO. Goodbye to hope.
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email: anjum email@example.com
DCC'S STRONG CONDEMNATION OF US RAID
SOME of the important developments that took place on Thursday exposed gravity of the situation arising out of US raid in Abbottabad on May 2 and how seriously it has impacted upon the Pakistan-US relations. Warning by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in his interview to Time that continuing to work with the US could imperil his Government; that ISI-CIA relations have broken down and his remarks during address at the inaugural ceremony of C-2 nuclear power plant that it is Pakistan which is offering supreme sacrifices but favours are being showered on India, are reflective of the growing disenchantment at the official level with the unilateral policies of Washington.
At the same time, American Ambassador Cameron Munter was summoned to Foreign Office and a formal protest was lodged over violation of Pakistan's sovereignty by the United States. But more important than all this was the gathering of the civilian and military leadership, for the first time after operation in Abbottabad, under the banner of Defence Committee of the Cabinet, where the top policy and decision-makers discussed the situation threadbare and came out with strong condemnation of the raid and some of the crucial decisions on how to tackle it effectively. The decision to clearly define the parameters of the country's cooperation with the United States in the on-going counter-terrorism campaign would help safeguard national interests if pursued in letter and spirit. Though the task has been assigned to relevant agencies but we hope that the parameters would be determined strictly within the framework of unanimous resolutions of the parliament on national security and input given by parliamentarians during in-camera session of the parliament. But the very decision to 'define' parameters of cooperation clearly indicates that so far we were extending unconditional and limitless cooperation to the United States, which is appalling and affront to national sovereignty. The tendency of deciding such issues of far-reaching implications at individual levels disregarding relevant institutions has inflicted incalculable damage to the country in terms of human lives, material loss and bruised reputation. It is, therefore, time to institutionalize policy and decision-making as is done by other countries of the world especially those where democratic institutions are in place and rule of law prevails.
SPIRIT OF LHC VERDICT
IN a landmark judgement, the Lahore High Court has ruled that the President of Pakistan may neither hold a political office, nor participate in political activities or use Aiwan-e-Sadr for such purposes, since the office of the President demanded complete neutrality and impartiality. It has expected that the President would abide by the said declaration of law and disassociate himself from political office at the earliest possible.
It is unlikely that the verdict will have any immediate consequences as can still be challenged in the Supreme Court and no one knows how much time will it take to decide the issue conclusively. The ruling PPP has shown mixed reaction to the judgement of the court with serious and sober voices declaring that they would formulate their response following internal consultations and deliberations and those more loyal than king like Babar Awan viewing a purely legal and constitutional issue through political microscope. As was done in the case of judgement regarding dismissal of NAB Chairman, the Sindh chapter of the PPP has opted to agitate against the verdict in dual office case as well. PPP's concern is understandable but it is important to note that the verdict has not out rightly declared holding of the two offices by the President as illegal; rather there is emphasis on avoiding use of presidency for political purposes because of sanctity of the office of the President. In the constitutional scheme of things too, the office of the President is supposed to be neutral, otherwise there was no justification to have a partisan President as well when the chief executive is also representative of the majority party in the National Assembly. The President, also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is supposed to be symbol of federation and he can perform this role only if he doesn't hold any political office and has no tilt towards any particular political party. As against this, Asif Ali Zardari has not only opted to retain the office of the party's co-chairperson but has also virtually turned the presidency into PPP Secretariat as apart from housing party office-bearers at Aiwan-e-Sadr, party meetings are also frequently held there and even party slogans are raised during official functions. In the initial days of Zardari's presidency, photographs of party leadership were hanged in almost all halls and corridors of the building causing resentment among people but then better sense prevailed and now photographs of founder of Pakistan are also seen there. We hope that the PPP and the President would not make verdict of the LHC as an issue of personal or party ego as the spirit is to enhance prestige of the coveted office. By doing so, he would surely command genuine respect from all segments of the society.
TURN USC MORE POOR FRIENDLY
DESPITE its immense potential and crucial role in mitigating economic sufferings of the people, the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) has remained on tenterhooks during different periods of its history mainly because of lack of vision of those at the helm of affairs and their wrong policies. It was because of this approach that at times the corporation became highly profitable entity and at times incurred losses and faced uncertainty about its very existence.
In this backdrop, the directive of Federal Minister for Industries and Defence Production Ch Parvez Elahi to the US to open three thousand more outlets within the next six months all across the country is a welcome initiative, as it is reflective of his desire and determination to enhance role and performance of the corporation. Though it is an era of free market economy but it is also a fact that in countries like Pakistan private sector often tend to behave like cartel creating artificial shortages of commodities and hike in their prices. The USC was established with the objective of countering such monopolistic tendencies and it has rendered tremendous service in alleviating sufferings of the consumers during difficult times by way of making essential commodities available at comparatively cheaper rates to the people. In this connection, one may cite the example of sugar the prices of which have been hiked unjustifiably by the millers for the last several years and it is the USC that has come to the rescue of the poor consumers. As Ch Parvez Elahi has necessary background, we are sure he would take keen interest not only to expand its network that will also create thousands of job opportunities but also take concrete steps to improve its working and turn it into profitable organization.
PML-N'S DEMAND FOR A JUDICIAL COMMISSION
NEWS & VIEWS
Pakistan's opposition leader Mian Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday demanded an independent judicial commission headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and chief justices of five high courts as its members for independent investigation into what he said a fiasco. He rejected the government's internal military probe led by Adjutant General. "We completely reject the prime minister's committee. It is powerless and cannot investigate the matter in depth," he told a news conference shortly after returning to Pakistan. It is incomprehensible as to why Mian Sahib has demanded formation of judicial committee, because security and defence matters requires deep knowledge and expertise in these disciplines. This means that judicial commission, if formed, will have to depend upon the input from the army and air force personnel, whereas the committees formed by military and air force would do exactly the same job.
It is true that our vulnerability has come to the surface during bin Laden episode, but again in the ultimate analysis the civil and military leadership has to work out if military doctrine needs a change. They have to ponder as to what measures should be taken so that security lapse or failure does not occur again. Meanwhile, Air Force and Army have initiated departmental inquiries, and it should be borne in mind that they have the same stake if not more than members of the assemblies. Some politicians and media men are demanding that some heads must role; some are demanding resignation of the president and prime minister while others want resignation from heads of the armed forces and ISI. They should remember that 9/11 was a monumental failure of the intelligence and armed forces of the sole super power America. Of course, 9/11 commission was set up in America but president or heads of the intelligence agencies did neither resign nor any one was taken to task on any lapse or failure.
If Mian Sahib's demand or proposal is accepted and a judicial committee headed by the Chief Justice is formed, members from the defence establishment would be either co-opted as members or would be asked to give their expert opinion. Let us take the argument a little further. In the event the committee recommends that military should retaliate and destroy any drone violating Pakistani space and sovereignty. If the committee gives its recommendation that any adventure like the recent one - the unilateral action in Abbotabad - should be responded adequately, the consequences of such decisions will have to be kept in mind. It is not the intention here to create a scare of the super power, nor it is being suggested that Pakistan should take the insult lying down. The point being made here is that if at all a judicial commission or parliamentary commission is established, terms of reference should be drafted very carefully, so that findings are not used against Pakistan to prove that it is not capable of dealing with the terrorists.
Mian Nawaz Sharif should realize that it is too serious a matter and drawing a political mileage or denigrating military and the ISI would be detrimental to national interest. Secondly, he should stop considering himself as a visionary and the most popular leader after Quaid-e-Azam. Already, his policies have isolated the PML-N, which is now confined to some districts of central Punjab. Anyhow, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Monday had announced that Adjutant General would head an inquiry "to get to the bottom of how, when and why" bin Laden had been hiding in the garrison town where he was killed by US Special forces. It is worth mentioning that even the CIA was not sure that Osama bin Laden was there at the compound, and according to reports President Obama said that it was 50/50 chance that Osama bin Laden would be there. Anyhow, he took the decision to conduct strike to take out bin Laden.
Our politicians do not realize the sinister being played around Pakistan. They and some media men and anchorpersons insinuate that the military and the ISI is either involved in hiding Osama bin Laden or intelligence agencies have failed in capturing him. This is exactly the stance of the CIA chief Leon Panetta who said that Pakistan either did not have the capability to capture Osama bin Laden, or there were some elements who lent him support. India has also been talking about its capacity to conduct surgical strike in Pakistan. Indian leadership however understands the consequences of any adventurism against a nuclear state. Indian Army is also conducting a larger-than-usual summer collective exercise on the Rajasthan border between the two countries, at a time when Pakistan is facing all sorts of international pressures after US operation in Abbottabad which killed Osama bin Laden. The exercise is billed as testing further the concepts of Cold Start, the joint doctrine of all three services developed in 2004. Because of this, the current exercise will involve tank-to-tank wars, helicopter operations, and others.
Our political eminences must be aware of the fact that American leadership has been posing as Pakistan's friend and acting as its enemy. Quite skillfully it mounted a campaign to project Pakistan, particularly its military and the ISI, as playing a double game in the war on terror by hobnobbing with Afghan Taliban and other insurgent groups while professing commitment to this war. In this campaign, the CIA enlisted some of our own media people and think tanks as well. It also created proxies in its tribal region and settled areas to destabilize it through bloodletting and fratricide, and by locating dissidents on its territory for subversion in our neighbouring countries - China and Iran. Since both CIA and ISI are likely to work in the interest of their countries, there is always a possibility that conflicting interests could stoke tensions and cause strained relationship. Anyhow, our ruling and opposition parties and the media should support Pakistan's military and the ISI and frustrate the designs of Pakistan's enemies who wish to see military and the ISI weakened to make a final assault on Pakistan.
It was in this backdrop that efforts were made to bring ISI under interior ministry to make it ineffective. Our leaders must understand the designs of the US and India. America wants to see India as a regional and a world power. After Osama's episode, the US will be more arrogant and more demanding. There is a perception that the US wants to see the ISI under the CIA and Pakistan military under Pentagon, and being strategic partner of India, it expects that Pakistan military plays a second fiddle. Despite Pakistan's enormous sacrifices, members of US administration continued negative propaganda against Pakistan. On 14th February 2005, an assessment by US Intelligence Council had stated that Pakistan will be a failed state by 2015. India's Foresight Strategic Group had published a book titled 'Provinces of Pakistan, which had presaged: "In 2001, political discourse is increasingly references to the 1971 situation. It does not mean that provinces will secede in 2004 or 2005, yet it remains to be seen whether they will be together until 2010". Pakistan has survived beyond 2010, and will inshalla defy predictions of those who wish ill for Pakistan.
The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.
SOME STRAY THOUGHTS ON OSAMA'S END
COLUMN FROM DALLAS
A decade long manhunt for Osama finally came to a close on the night of May 2 when America's toughest counter terrorism force Navy Seals nabbed and killed the chief of al-Qaida in a house located in Abbottabad, a scenic city barely 60 miles by road from the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad. If ISI had been abetting Osama then they would not have kept him in a walled and open palatial mansion, but in a secret well-guarded dungeon where no one could have ever traced him. If any secret operative of ISI had knowledge of his presence in the suburbs of Abbottabad, he would have definitely informed some of his own kith to claim the fabulous reward. So to cast doubts on Pakistan's intelligence agency that they knew about Osama's presence in Abbottabad is a claim that does not hold water. If ISI or the Pakistan's military intelligence have failed due to what is being doled out as incompetence then such a stigma must also be shared by CIA and other premier intelligence agencies of the world which as well could not trace Osama. The Indian intelligence agency RAW would have definitely passed on that information to the United States to denigrate Pakistan.
One may imagine that a super power had remained obsessed with a terrorist who remained on the run and escaped for a decade from the most intensive manhunt recorded in history. That in these ten years the United States has killed an impressive number of Al-Qaida affiliates, speaks for the tenacity and frenzied propensity of that country to punish the perpetrators of 9/11 incident that shook the world, changed the profile of America as well as the mentality and psyche of the American people. One of the baleful repercussions of the 9/11 tragedy was the steep hype in racial, ethnic and communal profiling of the immigrants especially of the Muslims. One can also infer that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that consumed millions of human beings, including tyrant Saddam Hussain was the consequence of the urge for routing the al-Qaida whose network previously had remained committed to the American cause of annihilating the Soviet Communist Empire. The al-Qaida under Osama's leadership was in the vanguard of inflicting an historic defeat upon the Soviet Union, paving way for the rival United States to emerge as the sole super power.
The United States will not relent solely on killing Osama but would pursue with a new vigor to hunt down the remaining al-Qaida affiliates till this organization virtually become dysfunctional. So one can also perceive and speculate that United States would remain wedded to this course of chasing the living stalwarts of al-Qaida and kill them. Pakistan, at present, looks like s subdued and shaking scapegoat. She is confronted with the much speculated charge of betraying or playing a double game in America's war against the al-Qaida terrorists who have been attacking American embassies and ship prior to the earth shaking attack on the World Trade Center in New York on November 11, 2001. For all these years of chasing Osama and after his retreat from Tore Bora hideout, there were conflicting projections about Osama's whereabouts. No one could be prepared to believe for a moment that he was still alive because of the widely believed perception that he might have died due to his serious kidney problems and non availiblity of complicated dialysis procedures to keep him alive.
Osama was not only a later day turned enemy of the United States but also of many Islamic countries including Saudi Arabia that he thought was sold out to American interests in the Middle East. He wanted American forces to be out from the Saudi Arabia. For him this was not only sacrilegious but provided bases to America to operate against the Islamic states in the region. He also believed that the presence of the American forces in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, would be detrimental to the economy of that country. In the hindsight of his military exploits in Afghanistan that were achieved with the massive support from the United States, Pakistan and the western countries, Osama miscalculated that he could establish Islamic emirate in the Islamic countries and at the same time carry out attacks on American facilities all over the world. That was the beginning of his isolation and the dismal failure due to his self delusional ambitions.
He miscalculated American military and economic might and overestimated the capabilities of his rag tag outfit of followers that could only operate in a given area beefed up by the logistic backup, financial and weaponry support and with the planning of the established armies as was done in Afghanistan. He chose the path of terrorizing and sabotage and clandestine suicide bombing through very motivated yet misguided members of Al-Qaida. The result is obvious as terrorism or violence is the least desired option for a genuine or even non-genuine cause to prevail or make any headway. If he wanted to disseminate Islam, the best course was to mobilize his cohorts and followers to become the votaries of Islam and preach the its pristine virtues with hallmarks such as justice, peace, equality, accountability, human rights, piety, rectitude, morality and all the noble stuff that Islam offers.
Had he adopted this approach, he would have been still living and his mission and message going around the world without any antagonism, with great strides and glaring achievements He chose confrontation instead of pursuation and pleading. The American media, taking undue advantage of the unbridled freedom of expression is relentlessly heaping scorn, dirt and innuendos on Pakistan that has been and is still an overly loyal and unwavering ally in American war on terrorism. While airing such uncharitable accusations against Pakistan, these commentators and analysts conveniently forget that Pakistani armed forces have been fighting in the most inhospitable terrain and against the most defiant fighters for the sake of America and NATO.
Now when America is planning to retreat from Afghanistan and draw down its forces, the onus of not doing enough has fallen on Pakistan. If compared whether Pakistan has done marvelously well in the war against terrorism or NATO, the scale would heavily tilt towards Pakistan. The Unite States used Pakistan and Muslim fighters from across the globe against Soviet Union in Afghanistan. After the victory, Americans left Pakistan and Afghanistan high and dry. In the follow up periods, Pakistan was almost being declared as a state sponsoring terrorism. Yet this false and made up charge was overturned when Pakistan was against needed after the 9/11 cataclysm. Pakistan is doing a thankless job that at the end of the day turns into a curse for it. In the wake of the Osama' end game episode, If the American Congressmen, Senators and the press alike are pleading stoppage or curtailing Pakistan's military aid punitively, then such a move would have corresponding adverse ramifications for the United States. Pakistan even without the American aid would survive. Nations do not prosper or die because of foreign alms or aid or its stoppage. Foreign aid with strings saps the independence of a country and Pakistan has experienced this anathema. However, in that scenario, Pakistan would have no choice but to wind up its military operations in Waziristan and elsewhere. That would deal a fatal blow to the American and NATO ambitions and objectives in that dangerous terrain, with Taliban and even some left out al-Qaida fighters once again stalking the length and breadth of Afghanistan.
Let us not forget that Pakistan is paid because it allows its land for overland transport of all kind of merchandise for NATO forces. Moreover, Pakistan has to procure military hardware and pay to the soldiers fighting a terrible war. Wars are not gratis: these cause financial burdens. The aid that is being given to Pakistan is a pittance of what Pakistan is doing in her northern regions. Pakistan has almost cleared these safe sanctuaries of the anti American militants. If Pakistan withdraws, these rugged valleys and inaccessible mountains would again become launching pads of forays for Taliban and other dreaded militants. How many drones American would send? It is the army that carries out straight combats and exterminates a much larger number of miscreants that what a thousand drones may not do if sent every day.
Finally let us not forget that Pakistan is a sovereign and independent state. It is not a protectorate, a hirling or vassal of the west or America. Its war efforts against the radical militants must be respected, acknowledged and highly applauded. If this blame game and diatribe against Pakistan does not stop, Pakistan should say adieu to the American aid and let the United States and NATO fight their own war. The candid corollary and the stark truth is that United States still needs Pakistan and needs indispensably.
—The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.
OPERATION GERONIMO & ABBOTTABAD FIASCO
AYAZ AHMED KHAN
On seeing the dramatic live action TV footage of Navy Seals jumping into the compound of Osama bin Laden, and killing him, US President Barrack Obama gleefully yelled, "justice had been done." He misused the word "justice", he should have said, " Retribution has been accomplished". Visiting Ground Zero, President George Bush had vowed revenge against Osama bin Laden and other perpetrators of 9/11 bombings of World Trade Center and Pentagon. It has taken ten long years and thousands of terrorist bombings, and hundreds of thousands of lives lost by terrorist attacks, and US bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan and FATA (drone bombing's) before President Barrack Obama could claim that, "Justice has been done". Osama bin Laden was killed on the morning of May 02, 2011, during a well planned and professionally conducted night attack by US Navy's commando's called Navy Seals.
Thirty five US Navy Seal personnel fully equipped for a surprise shock assault, took off from Bagram Airfield north of Kabul in four Black Hawk Stealth helicopters. They flew in the lap of high hills ranging from six to eight thousand feet, before emerging near Tarbela. By flying between high hills and evading radar detection and using most advanced low level flight navigation technology, the four Blacks zeroed on Osama bin Laden's compound undetected, and launched a powerful ambush and killed the most wanted enemy of America.
For the safety of the pre-emptive attack by the Black Hawk helicopters, United States Air Force had positioned an armada of EC 130E/H, MC 130, E-3 AWACS, and F-15 long range fighters with BVR- beyond visual range capability. According to the Washington reporter of Pakistan Observers "Operation Neptune Spear" conducted on May 02 night comprised four Black Hawk armed helicopters and twenty advanced aircraft including EC 130 H and E-2C AWAC's to jam Pakistani radars, F18E Super Hornet fighters from a US Navy aircraft Carrier specially positioned for this mission to intercept PAF F-16's, and Type-68, MH-X and MV 22 helicopters. Several of these aircraft and helicopters were orbiting close to FATA inside Afghanistan, in readiness to assist the assaulting Black Hawks, in case things went wrong. It can be assumed that these aircraft flew drone like patterns, to confuse the Pakistani radars.
Their route to Osama bin Laden's compound near Pakistan Military Academy PMA Kakul in Abbottabad cantonment ensured complete secrecy and zero possibility of radar detection. Pakistan Air Force has a number of high power radars, which operate round the clock, and look deep into Afghanistan. There are also a few low level radars with limited range, for the defense of vital installations along the border adjoining Afghanistan. These modern radars, were operating at the time the Black Hawk intruders entered Pakistan air space, flew for 40 minutes en-route to Abbottabad, remained over the target for about forty minutes and took another forty minutes to exit Pakistani air space. All the PAF radars were operative and vigilant, but did not detect the Stealth (radar evading) Black Hawks, flying in radars shadow between high hills. The PAF also has a few SAAB Erieyes AEW- AWAC's for radar detection and electronic surveillance and intelligence. They were not airborne, because such a heli-borne threat from the West was never visualized.
American Black Hawk attack planners had rightly assessed that USAF aircraft flying and orbiting west of the FATA will arouse no suspicion. American assessment that flying the mountain terrain pattern no Pakistan Army unit or Pakistan Air Force fighter or ground to air missile could react before one hour was proven correct. Had such an air borne attack force come from the East, the PAF air defenses would have reacted within five minutes, and the radar controlled guns and SAM's- surface to air missiles would have fired and brought down the attack helicopters including the USAF or USN Black Hawks. But the attack helicopter assault came from the West, which was unexpected. It ensured total radar evasion, and therefore no detection or reaction by Pakistani air defense system was possible.
Mobile Observer Units -MOU's are a vital component of the PAF Air Defense system. In the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars the Wireless or Mobile Observer squadrons were deployed along the Indo-Pak border, and in arcs around vital airfields and important installations. The MOU's send voice mail report of low level enemy aircraft entering Pakistan. Being experts at aircraft recognition, they are able to report type, height, estimated speed and direction of the enemy bombers and fighters. Before 1965 war the PAF had developed aircraft interception system based on visual and audio reporting by the Mobile Observer units. As many as 35 Indian Air Force bombers and fighters were intercepted and destroyed by PAF fighters based on MOU's accurate reporting. These units were not deployed along the Pak-Afghan border. I am confident that had the Mobile Observer units been deployed, the US Black Hawks would have been detected, and F-16's or FJ-17 Thunder fighter interceptors would have been immediately launched.
The Pakistani nation needs to understand the limitations of Pakistan's military response to the May 02 attack on Osama bin laden compound in Abbottabad. American nation and its leaders claim Operation Geronimo as "mission accomplished". For Islamabad it exposed failure of intelligence agencies and of the military. Pakistan's response exposed intelligence failure of Himalayan proportions. Osama bin Laden was thought to be dead as a result of carpet bombing of the network of caves in Tora Bora mountains where the Al-Qaeda leader was hiding. But he slipped out into Pakistan, and lived here ever since. What did the CIA, ISI and the Military Intelligence do to track, search and hunt for him needs to be revealed by the US and Pakistani Intelligence Brahmins. Gilani has shielded the Inter Services Intelligence Agency which was supposed to monitor Bin Laden's movements, hide outs and residence. ISI did catch over one hundred Al-Qaeda commanders and key leaders, but had no inkling of where Osama bin Laden was since ten years. That he was living in our middle, in Abbottabad cantonment, next to Pakistan Military Academy has come as a huge shock. Prime Minister Gilani has rightly praised the ISA as a national asset. But after the Germino fiasco the Pakistani nation has the right to ask, what was the Police, Intelligence Bureau, FIA, the Military Intelligence and the ISI doing while Osama bin Laden and his family were enjoying the bracing weather of Haripur and Abbottabad, since seven and a half years.
Here was the Al-Qaeda warlord, who was instrumental in the death and maiming of one hundred thousand Pakistani men women and children, destruction of three hundred mosques, fifty shrines, five hundred schools, road side bombings, bombings of Army and Police Training Centers. The Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists violence has brought the Pakistani economy to its knees. Foreign investment has dried up, yet the terror mastermind is living as "our guest", in our midst. Who were his protectors and his couriers? Our intelligence agencies have floundered on the rocks of failure. And there is an urgent need of top to bottom overhaul.
Gilani Sahib has rejected US allegations of incompetence and complicity. Incompetence is galore. We cannot hide it, and our failuremust not be put under the mat. The roots of Police and IB incompetence are excessive political interference, deficient funding, corruption and poor leadership all around. While rejecting American allegations of complicity, it is in order to fully investigate and clearly establish, who facilitated OBL's movements and long residence in Pakistan, especially close to the Pakistan Military Academy and in the middle of three Army Regimental Centers. The PM has rightly blamed the CIA, and global intelligence agencies for not tracking OBL's movements. Osama bin Laden was their focus, yet they lost track of him. Pakistan has handed over hundreds of Al-Qaeda operatives and allowed US drone bombings of FATA villages. So if there is any complicity, it is with the Uncle Sam-big brother America and not with Al-Qaeda and Taliban, who plan to continue killing us.
WRITING NEW NARRATIVES
It is a well know saying that 'change' is the only phenomenon which is permanent. Different times are characterized by different settings. Many out of these settings become accepted norms and established truths. It is also a part of human nature that most of the humans feel comfortable to live in these old-established niches. This is not only true for individuals but also for many states and societies. The societies which are tradition-led and the states which are establishment-led often found difficult to opt for a leap shift, and change. They prefer to procrastinate and in the process suffer. Societies and states which value freedom, power of reasoning and individualism mostly present a dynamic response to dynamic challenges. Extraordinary challenges demand extraordinary responses. If apathy is given the name of patience, the results can be disastrous.
2 May 2011 is yet another defining moments of great consequences as was September 11, 2001. The fateful day of September 11 offered us a stark choice to be either 'with the U.S. or against' this sole super power of 21st century. That made us a close ally of the U.S. Despite few shifts, this gave us leverage to carry-on with the past. The past where India was an arch enemy, the U.S. was a power which can provide economic as well as military aid without posing any existential threats, and, the past where we could ignore our masses, institution building, rule of law, and carry on as a poor state but with few great ambitions. We understood that a strategic location has made us a strategic player; and did not understand that mostly we playing the games of other players. We manage to remain in a race with India, and rest of the world never took us a serious threat. They mostly treated us as a solution to the problem; though occasionally highlighted otherwise. Ten years have passed since September 11, and now the U.S. is not ready to accept us in the present state. This time this super power is not on our side against any other enemy. They call us ally but treat us as a suspect which must be observed, even to level of censure. For the first time, there is an existential threat from the U.S. to both our state and society. If this state of affairs continues, and so are their physical incursion, it will only mean that either we are unable to function as a efficient state or a serious problem to the rest of the world. It is ironic, but a fact that power moulds the world opinion very quickly now a days. What should be our response?
A denial, a weak pleading of the case, and continue living in the old narratives till the time it becomes too late. This must not be the response of a nation which wants to live in a better and secure future. We need not make some U turns and feel embarrassed but take the change as a dictate of the time and a logical course. We must understand that states keep changing their attitudes, patterns and responses. Russia, China, Japan and many other countries are the examples. No policy is for ever valid and no idea except the divine is a perpetual truth. That time has reached where we must give space to new thinking patterns without feeling any offence. It may not be too late to write new narratives. This new look and fresh narratives must bring a change at our internal and external fronts. For near future, we may have to give a different response to our domestic, regional and international obligations.
At domestic level, we need to understand that our real strength lies in our peoples. We have ignored them in the past. At present, we possess few exceptionally marvelous looking superstructures which actually do not reflect the true strength of our state and society. Our structures are built on borrowed money and grants under different scenarios; and, do not possess an inbuilt and lasting strength. If we compare to the West, our defence punch is mostly a borrowed one. Our domestic capability is too crude and limited in number. This realization must lead us not to swim in those hot waters where we may not for too long. If we are able to concentrate on our human potential, it will not only reduce our economic, social and other problems but also a better alternative to combat the militancy. Militancy and religious extremism must not be among any options. Right now, India is not a threat but militancy within our ranks can put us in great dangers. Our people should be an asset for the world and offer better potentials for economic gains. Besides other things, the West has shown a great inclination towards possible economic opportunities. At regional level, peace with India may be the only option. If at all, we thought of militancy as an option to equalize India's superiority in defence, we need to forgo it as the U.S. is knocking at the door due to this menace. After acquiring nuclear power, India is no more an existential threat to us. We will surely be able to defend against India, if they ever venture. India's desire to be an economic giant may never excite them to ring war-bells. Kashmir is our great sensitivity, but since we can have right now what we want, it is better to defer. Peace with India will relieve us to continue having ties with the U.S. for better equipment and money. It may not sound well to our ego but it will surely go well for our survival and ultimate progress. Let India to better focus on other rivals.
After ten years of September 11, the U.S. is behaving like a 'tough guy'. We can not dictate a super power to learn 'morality and civility' from us. We have to adjust to theirs. If we show a serious face against militancy and extremism at our domestic front; this will parry their conspiring rage. At international level, our image may be of a poor state but not a weak and failed state. Our focus on economy and education can make us more relevant at international level. We must be ourselves convinced that our survival is not in 'strategic depth' but 'human potential'. Militancy and religious extremism is not only a threat to U.S. but also to us and our great religion. It offers a pretext to intervene. If old narratives have not worked and put us in a situation where the U.S. is turning to be a 'predator-ally, we need to write and try new narratives.
ABBOTT DANCES TO HIS OWN TUNE
IT seems strange to end a budget week with the government changing the topic to population strategy and Tony Abbott forcing Bob Brown to rule out an early election.
It's been an unorthodox budget season. Wayne Swan delivered an unspectacular budget that failed to deliver the tough cuts he promised. Yet Labor's strategy was to put the onus on Mr Abbott to either agree with its cuts or provide alternatives. It challenged him publicly and cajoled journalists to do the same. The Prime Minister's frustration was palpable as she sought to switch attention to Mr Abbott and set him up to fail. But the Opposition Leader would have none of it, simply ignoring the directives from the government and some media, and dancing to his own tune. His budget reply was actually a campaign speech, an effort to empathise with family cost-of-living pressures and a stinging critique of the broken carbon tax promise and other perceived government weaknesses. Mr Abbott had every right to deliver such a speech, and he did it with some aplomb. Ms Gillard has retorted that it was "mindlessly negative" and that the opposition has surrendered any right to the economic high ground. She might be right, or Mr Abbott might be on to a winner. It is all there for the public to see and they will be the arbiters.
A NOT-SO-BIG VISION FOR AUSTRALIA
THE Gillard government's population strategy, Sustainable Australia, Sustainable Communities, released yesterday is a troubling departure from the principles that have underpinned immigration policy for decades and upon which our prosperity has been built.
In the week in which the government's own budget drew attention to the labour shortages that could constrain growth and fuel inflation, we are landed with a report that challenges the connection between economic strength and immigration levels. Talk about mixed messages.
Since Treasury confidently predicts Australia's population will reach 35 million by 2050, the absence of numbers in the report released by Sustainable Population Minister Tony Burke looks like political cowardice. Instead of providing a big-picture national overview, it takes a parochial, community-by-community approach to dealing with the challenges of growth, focusing heavily on regional development, the digital economy and lifestyle issues. This piecemeal strategy raises the question of what purpose the report serves, other than pacifying the Greens, by canvassing mainly state and local government issues.
The government moved in the right direction in the budget, announcing that 16,000 skilled migrants would be allowed into Australia in 2011-12 under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme. That 60 per cent increase will help relieve labour shortages created by the mining boom and will lift the total number of new migrants for the year to just under 200,000 and should be part of a comprehensive growth strategy. As former Queensland premier Wayne Goss told ABC television on Thursday, Australians should be told the facts -- that as baby-boomers retire, the nation faces lower living standards unless governments plan and build infrastructure to cope with a population of at least 35 million.
After an unedifying, populist race to the bottom during the population debate in last year's election campaign, Mr Burke's report, hamstrung by Julia Gillard's opposition to a "big Australia", has not provided the circuit-breaker that was needed. It is still unclear to us why the word "sustainable' was added to Mr Burke's ministerial title since the word had become so ubiquitous it has virtually lost its meaning. But an immigration policy built on a flimsy document like this one would, without doubt, be unsustainable.
OVERLAND FACES QUIZ AND SEARCH. ANYTHING TO HIDE?
A TRAVESTY of justice will occur if the current inquiry into Victorian police command does not examine the most worrying behaviour of the Chief Commissioner of Police, Simon Overland.
The inquiry, conducted by Jack Rush QC, was established this week after the Baillieu cabinet discussed the option of sacking Mr Overland. The Victorian police leadership crisis must be resolved. But doubts about Mr Overland will never disappear unless there is a serious examination of his role in the Operation Briars affair, which dates back to 2007 when Mr Overland was a deputy commissioner.
The crisis has reached a crescendo this month after the commissioner fell out with his well regarded deputy, Ken Jones, who resigned before Mr Overland expedited his exit. This drama comes against a background of serious budgetary and operational problems. A computer system failure led to parole offenders being left free before going on to allegedly commit murders, and the cost blow-out in a replacement computer system could top $100 million. Mr Overland has been accused of succumbing to political pressure from the former Brumby government to release incomplete crime figures during last year's election, he faces problems with an officer recruitment drive and he has refused to reveal the source of his disagreement with his departing deputy.
Considering all this, the Baillieu cabinet discussed sacking Mr Overland but instead has ordered the Rush inquiry. Mr Rush has broad-ranging powers and it is in the interests of all Victorians that he uses them to look back at Operation Briars. The main relevant facts of Operation Briars are now well known, thanks to a series of court cases and affidavits. Yet Mr Overland has never been held to account for his role. By his own admission, the then deputy commissioner shared information from a secret murder investigation's phone tap. Under law, such information can only be shared for the purposes of the operation. Yet it appears that neither the information nor the purpose for which it was shared related to the murder investigation.
In an intriguing tale of rivalry within policing ranks, the ambitious Mr Overland acted because the phone tap revealed the Police Association might be about to embarrass him by leaking news to a radio station that he was being sent on an overseas training assignment. By intervening to protect himself from this media embarrassment, Mr Overland inadvertently set off a train of events that tipped off the subject of the phone taps, undermining the investigation. The person Mr Overland shared the information with, police media chief Stephen Linnell, the man he passed it on to, assistant commissioner Noel Ashby, and in turn the man he told, Police Association secretary Paul Mullett, all subsequently lost their jobs and faced legal action over the incident. But Mr Overland was spared. The Weekend Australian would like to know why. Mr Rush now has the opportunity, and we would argue the duty, to revisit these matters to consider whether Mr Overland has a case to answer, and if so, question why action was not taken at the time.
There can be no doubt that Mr Overland has been a media and political player. From the day he allowed the premier and police minister to pin on his commissioner's insignia, he was seen as too close to Labor. This week he even admitted that cosy start was a mistake. But he has also sought cosy relationships with certain media, and issued media bans on those, such as 3AW's Neil Mitchell and The Weekend Australian, who have dared to question him. It is not without irony that this media vanity provided the motivation that led to his questionable actions in 2007.
The situation now, however, is even more serious. A poll shows 92 per cent of serving officers lack confidence in his leadership. His highly credentialled deputy is gone, the budgetary, computing and recruiting problems remain, and he is facing the humiliation of a top level inquiry into the command of his force. Mr Overland is familiar with all these difficulties and says he has nothing to hide. But he must also realise that unless the cloud of Operation Briars is cleared, it will always hang over him.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
IS IT OUR BANK, YOUR BANK OR THEIR BANK?
THE very word "community", with its touchy-feely sense of involvement, carries all the alluring wholesomeness of home-baked bread. Twelve years ago, when Victoria's 10th community bank — a branch of Bendigo Bank — opened in the central goldfields town of Maldon, The Age was encouraging about the possibility of communities being able to call the bluff of large organisations that do not meet local expectations: "It is a gentle revolution, in which some battles are won and some lost, but even the biggest conglomerate is not immune."
In 2011, this revolution has proved far rougher than expected, drastically affecting the very people it was designed to protect: the legion of local investors who believed local banks would make a difference. Today, The Saturday Age publishes a detailed examination of workings of the 193 community banking companies of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank (as the institution has become). Where the bank's self-promoted role is to "feed into prosperity, not off it", the reality is quite different. As our report shows, $27 million — one-fifth of public investment in community banks as start-up capital and initial costs — has gone. Twenty branches have lost all shareholders' funds; one-third lost money last year, with one in 10 having to receive substantial loans from Bendigo Bank. In addition, the report reveals that half of all annual community-bank revenue goes straight to Bendigo Bank, as well as thousands of dollars in franchise fees.
All this raises various questions of efficiency and propriety that need to be determined by the appropriate authorities. In the meantime, acute grass-roots frustrations remain, particularly among those who invested in community banks in good faith and who, like any shareholder, expected positive returns or, if not, at least the chance to sell. What was once seen as a brave and inspiring model-banking system now appears to be little more than a franchise operation that, whatever local good it has achieved, has come at an expensive price: a loss in financial terms, but also in community respect.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
TONY ABBOTT'S BUMPER-STICKER CAMPAIGN
TONY ABBOTT must think the wave of anti-government sentiment he is riding has momentum enough to be unstoppable. That might explain his remarkable speech in reply to the budget on Thursday evening. The tradition has been that opposition leaders use the opportunity to set out an alternative economic program to the government's. That was too pedestrian for Abbott, who substituted his so-called vision instead. His vision, unsurprisingly, was much like his election platform - and indeed his speech ended with a call for an early election.
Certainly there was material in the government's budget worth attacking. The batty promise to give away set-top boxes to eligible pensioners was almost made for ridicule, and looks certain to provide the government with endless pain in coming days. From Abbott's point of view, too, the government decision to declare households earning more than $150,000 to be rich, and ineligible for welfare, instantly created a large and vocal constituency he can encourage to feel hard-done by. That his argument is unjustifiable will not worry him: he wants to hurt the government, not make policy sense.
Mostly though, Abbott followed his own choice of targets, many of them outside the budget. He offered a swipe here and a backhander there for all the policies he has built his campaign against the government on: the broadband network, the home insulation scheme, the flawed Education Revolution school building program. Above all the others was the carbon tax, which Abbott has, successfully so far, whipped up into an enormous bogyman, to scare the daylights out of middle Australia.
This is all well and good, and there is some truth in some of Abbott's criticisms. But his choice of targets was significant and implied what Abbott could never state: that the government's budget was, in fact, broadly responsible and with a few minor exceptions, well-designed to fit Australia's present economic circumstances. That was why he mostly ignored it.
Abbott is attempting, and so far successfully, to dominate the political agenda with a critique which undermines the Gillard government's legitimacy at a more fundamental level. The government is incompetent, wasteful, spendthrift, his argument runs. It has lost control of asylum seeker policy. It is dishonest and weak for promising not to introduce a carbon tax before the election, then reneging when it needed the Greens' support. It clings to power thanks to independents whose support for it goes against the wishes of their own constituents. If its budget is responsible, who cares? We can only guess at his detailed strategy. Will he, like Malcolm Fraser, block supply, for example? Certainly an early election is part of his plans. He said as much in his speech.
The problem with Abbott's approach is that it is all attack and no defence: that is to say, he is very good at writing the text of bumper-sticker attacks on the government's policies, but spectacularly poor at providing an alternative. Voters can see clearly what Abbott is against (everything the government does or says). They are in the dark about what, beyond a few platitudes, he is for. More to the point in budget week, they don't have any idea at all what any policies he has might cost the country or themselves. And they don't know how he will pay for them. Abbott may of course believe this matters little - that he can whip up anti-government feeling to such a pitch that voters believe anything - even an Abbott-led Coalition - is a preferable alternative.
His great good fortune is that he is opposing a government almost completely devoid of salesmanship or political skill. The Gillard cabinet may contain hard-working and intelligent people who are grappling conscientiously with difficult problems, but they seem to live in a bubble unconnected with the lives of ordinary people. They perceive no need to communicate with the outside world or persuade it that the government's policies are justified. The government's collective method of dealing with Abbott's thousand-pinprick attacks is to turn in on itself like some great wounded animal, absorb the punishment, and hope its tormentor will go away.
Perhaps indeed that is the way to deal with the Abbott strategy. To succeed, though, the government must also make progress on its own, not Abbott's, agenda. It must show it can actually achieve some of the great objectives it has set itself. It must introduce a carbon tax, and demonstrate to the electorate that it is nothing to be feared. It must continue to spread the broadband network to show more people its value. It must continue the project to restructure health and schools funding fairly.
The budget is a successful step in that direction, but only one. Many more are needed.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
DRIVE LIKE THE WIND, BULLSEYE
GOOGLE is working with Ford to develop a driverless car, capable of remembering where its occupant has taken it and predicting where he or she will want to go next time. This is more than good news. It has come not a moment too soon. Sydney, as we all know only too well from yesterday's contretemps with the distressed man on the Harbour Bridge, teeters daily just one incident away from gridlock. How many motorists, though, stuck for hours only a few hundred metres from their destination yesterday morning, would have been thinking "If only I could dump the car and walk to work from here"? Let us hope Google and Ford can make it happen. That way, the next time some fellow-citizen experiences personal difficulties severe enough to warrant blocking a major traffic artery, drivers will be able to get out, slap the car on its rump as Hollywood cowboys do with their horses, and see it turn and putter off homewards by itself. They can then make their way on foot to work, or catch a train if it is too far. Of course, getting home at the end of the day could be a problem. The two companies should consider adding a come-when-I-whistle feature.
PAKISTAN: MARRIAGE OF INCONVENIENCE
Two armies, one American the other Pakistani, both performing dysfunctionally in this part of the world, need each other
If ever an opportunity presented itself for a civilian government to claw back powers it has ceded to an army whose tentacles extend into every part of life in Pakistan, yesterday was the day. The army, and its premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), were facing an unprecedented assault on their competence after the US raid on Abbottabad. Even talk show hosts, the secular mullahs of Pakistan, turned on them.
How could Osama bin Laden's presence go undetected for six years in a garrison town that is home to three regimental headquarters and a military academy? How could US helicopters grab their quarry from underneath their noses? Hours before the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, was due to answer questions like these in a closed session of parliament, the Taliban put down a third amendment for debate: How is it the military failed to protect its own recruits, 66 of whom were among over 80 who died in two suicide bombings in Charsadda, north of Peshawar?
Asserting the primacy of civilian control over a failing military is, however, the last thing on the mind of President Asif Zardari. If his period of office has taught us anything, it is that there is a world of difference between strengthening the democratic project and strengthening a civilian government's hand, as one commentator has observed.
If the summit of the government's ambition is to see out a full term, then a chastened army becomes the ideal partner. One pretends to govern while the other pretends to protect. But nor is that an answer either. Being the chief of Pakistan's army is a balancing act. He heads an empire that has simultaneously threatened to let the Chinese inspect the rotor parts of the stealth helicopter that crashed into Bin Laden's compound, and given the CIA access to Bin Laden's widows. Bigger trade-offs are in the works. Gen Kayani will continue to resist US pressure to go after three groups that the ISI still consider long-term assets – Mullah Omar, the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba. To go after them would be to provoke civil war, the ISI pleads. But the price of pleading impotence may also be high: allowing back all those CIA agents who have just been forced to leave the country, and with them more US operations on sovereign soil.
The bottom line is that Islamabad will not change its strategic posture. The irony of the US relationship with Pakistan is that it may not have to, if the military path currently being pursued in Afghanistan fails to blunt the Taliban's offensive. Two armies, one American the other Pakistani, both performing dysfunctionally in this part of the world, need each other.
LORDS REFORM: NOVELTY POLITICS
It may be unavoidable that constitutional reform is a question of low politics – but there has to be internal consistency
The draft Lords reform bill is promised within the next fortnight. Its return to the political frontline is both overdue and inauspicious. It sets off with the drawback of looking like a consolation prize for Nick Clegg after the AV disaster. That makes it easy for Labour (as well as the Conservatives) to obstruct. Ed Miliband is already indicating that without a commitment to a 100% elected upper chamber, it is unacceptable. He should leave room for manoeuvre. But Mr Clegg starts on the back foot.
If Lords reform were easy, it would have been done long ago. It is harder now than ever. Most Tory MPs don't care for it while nearly all peers will need their fingers forcibly prising off their delightful bars and libraries. Resistance is hardening; questions are being raised about the rights, at a time of coalition, of the Commons against the Lords. Labour has argued that it extinguishes the Salisbury convention, which gives bills based on manifesto commitments a safe passage. That would make it impossible to use it to impose reform. The counter-argument, that taken together the coalition partners won a greater share of the vote than any recent majority government, might be true but lacks the weight of precedent. Meanwhile, David Cameron has made reform (which he notoriously called "a third-term issue") even more difficult by creating new peers at double the previous fastest rate. There are now 830 entitled to sit in the bloated second chamber, and at the moment only the grim reaper can thin their number. Allowing peers to retire would be a sensible advance; so would excluding serial absentees, and those sentenced to more than a year in prison, as David Steel recently suggested. But it will not be enough.
The experience of the past 10 years shows how important it is that short-term change supports rather than cuts across longer-term reform. Since the abolition of the hereditaries, the Lords has become steadily more assertive. Packing the house in theory gives the coalition a de facto majority, but there have already been more successful revolts – 16 – in this parliament than in the final year of the last. And although there are complaints about ex-Labour MPs importing their tribal customs, and reports that the cross-benchers are getting stroppy too, the big rebellions this week, on fixed-term parliaments and elected police commissioners, suggest it is the newly muscular Lib Dems who are resuming their pre-coalition role as the swing vote.
Securing legislation that would deprive them of their jobs is going to entail an all-out war (there are some who want to see it forced through with the Parliament Act), and that could jeopardise all other government business. This week, Mr Clegg talked of MPs and peers working together on a joint committee, starting by agreeing a way of whittling the Lords down to 200 in the next five years and completing reform by 2025. His words sit oddly with his defence of the creation of new peers, which he says is part of a rebalancing to reflect share of the vote – a rebalancing that has nearly trebled Lib Dems' Lords representation in the past year.
It may be unavoidable that constitutional reform is a question of low politics – but there has to be some internal consistency. To add to the mess, Mr Clegg – anxious to have a saleable commodity – seems willing to accept that up to a fifth of the new upper house might be appointed. He should think more carefully about previous attempts at reaching a universally acceptable solution. No concession will make an elected upper house acceptable to some MPs and peers. Right now, it is beginning to look like a rerun of the AV debacle, with the Lib Dems sinking political capital into an imperfect compromise, and facing probable defeat. The coalition's constitutional ambitions are beginning to look worryingly more like political novelty than new politics.
UNTHINKABLE? FLASHMAN AND THE PRIME MINISTER
If there's a Flashman among all of them in the Commons, it's the Hon Gideon George Osborne
There's been some rum talk in recent days of a squirt called David Cameron matching up to Harry Flashman. The cheek, I say! Only this week at prime minister's question time – still the same old nonsense, never changes, not since Gladstone's day – that young chap Edward Miliband announced "Flashman is back". Well, how do you think Flashy felt about that? This Cameron has pink cheeks, slick hair and I'd bet two shillings to the pound he's never been further east than Calais. I know the type – seen it all before – costly school, well-connected friends, stuffed full of prim nonsense about the nobility of society and now, just because he cracked some damn-fool joke in the House of Commons, everyone thinks he's a proper bully. I know a man when I see one and that Cameron has never run away from a fight over the hills of Kandahar and it's an insult to Flashy to suggest I'm anything like him. I've half a mind to search out young Miliband and trounce him (I served his older brother once, out in Kabul during the Helmand campaign, and know that family always ducks a challenge). No doubt I'm uncharitable, but Westminster seems to be run by a gang of chaps without hair on their chin who've never done a hard day's work in their life. I say to hell with the lot of them – though there is one, the Hon Gideon George Osborne, who's more my type, got a spark in his eyes, out for what he can get. If there's a Flashman among all of them in the Commons, it's him.
Yours etc, Harry Flashman
THE JAKARTA POST
GOOD IS NOT ENOUGH
The decision by the Jakarta administration to extend a ban on trucks traveling on four sections of the inner-city toll road for one month after a limited five-day trial during the organization of the 18th ASEAN Summit last weekend has won the support of Jakartans as it has produced good results of relatively smooth traffic flow within the inner-city toll road.
The ban, which is imposed from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily, has proven to be successful in reducing traffic loads within the inner-city toll road and thus reduced the travel time needed by Jakartans using personal vehicles or public transportation to reach their destinations within the capital city.
Jakarta has so far been planning to impose a total ban on trucks traveling on the inner-city toll road, aimed at easing congestion on the city's roads, especially during rush hours.
However, nothing is perfect. And that includes the restriction, which is indeed in its trial period for a month. The policy has drawn strong protests from the business community, complaining of a double increase in travel expenditures, a double increase in travel time and almost a double increase in travel distance of their truck fleets.
So strong is the opposition from the business community that the Jakarta chapter of the Organization of Land Transportation Owners (Organda) has threatened to organize a massive strike of some 9,000 organization members next Friday.
The ban has also been strongly criticized by the management of the city's Tanjung Priok seaport – the country's main entry/exit point of goods – as it has affected and interrupted the loading/uploading and distribution activities in the supposed 24-hour-operating seaport.
The imposition of the administration's new policy has been controversial since its conception. Initially meant to significantly reduce the usually severe traffic congestion within the city, particularly its inner-city toll road, during the ASEAN Summit, the administration has — without prior notice or consultation with the related business community — decided to extend the truck ban.
Should the administration have carefully planned for such limited operational hours and traffic rerouting for the trucks, it would have issued notice on the ban in advance. Such an early notice is necessary as it would give the truck owners enough time to anticipate the traffic reroute and inform their customers of possible extended delivery times as well as potential increases of their service fares.
The administration should have also discussed the new policy with the Tanjung Priok port operator, as the movement of trucks and container carriers to and from the seaport has a significant share of the increased traffic load on the city's streets and inner-city toll road.
Apart from its immediate impacts on the business community, the effectiveness of the policy in the long run is also questionable. Unless there is a carefully planned grand strategy on efforts to ease maddening traffic jams in the capital city, the operational hour restriction and traffic reroute for trucks will prove to be less and less meaningful in the future.
Measures such as restrictions on private vehicle ownership through strict imposition of progressive taxation, selected access of major thoroughfares and improved and expanded public transportation services should also be the immediate priorities in the administration's policy.
The restriction policy for trucks is a good start. But good is not enough, as more efforts are needed to soothe traffic problems in the capital city.
THE JAKARTA POST
INDONESIAN VS US EDUCATION SYSTEMS
As a student who has attended three different high schools with European, US and Indonesian curriculums, I have concluded that I have benefited most from the US curriculum.
While US President Barack Obama and many Americans are unsatisfied with the quality of the US education system, I shall give a further explanation about the distinctions between American and Indonesian high school curriculums and defend why I believe the US one is best.
First of all, the US curriculum awards high school students autonomy to decide their courses of study. While Indonesians do have the option to focus during their last two years of high school on natural sciences or social sciences, depending on their desired future major in the undergraduate level, Americans have the option to design their own course schedules every year, based on their interests and needs.
This is permissible, as long as they fulfill certain graduation requirements that usually comprise four years of English, three years of social and natural sciences, two years of a foreign language and three years of mathematics (high schools in the US go for four years not three). In addition, US high school students have the option to select the level of difficulty of the courses they take, depending whether their school offers Honors or Advanced Level courses.
Despite these advantages, however, the academic offerings of the US curriculum do not necessarily mean that it is the ideal education system for Indonesian high school students today. The current Indonesian curriculum is designed to suit the needs of Indonesian high school students. Similar to most countries around the world, Indonesian students have to apply specifically for the major and undergraduate institutions that they are interested in pursuing, by taking examinations.
A highly focused high school curriculum, therefore, is ideal in helping students to score well in their examinations. In the US, however, students do not have to declare their majors until their second year of college. For example, as a first-year undergraduate student at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, I still have one year to decide whether I would be double majoring in Economics and Political Science or just one of them (with the intention of going to Law School).
To be admitted, high school students need to meet the academic standards of the American institution they wish to attend by showing their academic transcript, standard test scores, teacher recommendations, and essays without having to commit to a specific major.
The best curriculum certainly depends upon the preferences of students themselves. The Indonesian curriculum is highly focused on specific areas, while the US curriculum is more broad and general. Students who know for sure what their passions and interests are may prefer the Indonesian system. It would be of beneficial to the Indonesian education system as a whole to change the current curriculum so it gives students more options to pursue their passions and interests.
Many young students are still indecisive about what types of careers or subjects they want to spend their lives focusing on, and giving them the power to experiment in different subject areas assists them in finding the right path.
Before I moved to the US for high school four years ago, for example, I was certain I wanted to study architecture. After taking a required class in the social sciences at the US high school I attended, however, I decided that law, politics and economics was a more ideal path for me. Most importantly, however, the curriculum of the US education system encourages students to take courses in a variety of subjects. This gives them a wide range of knowledge in subjects they would not otherwise concentrate on.
I am aware of the difficulty of changing the current educational system, especially with the lack of funding provided by Indonesian the government to even support our entire population with public education. The priority of the Indonesian government currently shall remain to increase the nation's overall literacy rate and to enable youths to at least graduate high school.
Perhaps in the future, however, it would be to our nation's advantage to improve the quality of our education system by providing a broader and interest-based curriculum to assist our future leaders. While specialization is crucial, the more knowledgeable we are in various subjects, the more competitive we will be in the global market.
I find that the broad-based curriculum has helped me understand different subject areas and expanded my academic interests. I hope my peers in Indonesia can experience these advantages to improve the overall quality of our nation's human capital.
The writer is a first-year undergraduate student at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
THE JAKARTA POST
DEALING WITH FRICTION, GAINING FROM ACFTA
HANK LIM AND SIMON TAY
The free trade agreement between ASEAN and China (ACFTA), implemented in January 2010, was heralded as creating the world's largest market with 1.8 billion consumers, and helping link up Asians with Asians.
Yet 16 months since it came into effect, tensions have been rising. Businesses in Indonesia and some other countries have protested the impacts of Chinese imports and political concerns have been signaled.
Is the risk of a trade war rising? Do ASEAN economies really gain from the agreement with the rising China? How can the ACFTA help rather than hurt?
The ACFTA is having a real effect on bilateral trade. In 2010, trade volume reached US$300 billion, an increase of 55 percent year over 2009. Import duties are being reduced gradually on a wide range of items — including many consumer items such as garments, leather products, ceramics, food and beverages, and electronics, as well as petrochemicals, iron and steel.
Imports from China have surged and some domestic producers have felt the impact as consumers switch to these imports. In Indonesia — ASEAN's largest economy — manufacturers have complained to government and dragged Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu to the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). Similar sentiments are being expressed in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand.
Some accuse China of dumping goods into ASEAN markets, artificially making prices low to unfairly compete for market share. Calls have come for ASEAN governments to re-negotiate the FTA or else to impose countervailing taxes against Chinese imports.
There is also talk of other, non- trade barriers, such as requiring labels to be in the local language. Such measures would be questionable under international trade law and might spark friction with China.
It remains to be seen if ASEAN governments can resist such calls, especially when domestic manufacturers can influence and lobby, or are state-owned. Part of the challenge is to balance between short term pain with longer term gains.
The gradual phasing out of the tariff and other gives ASEAN businesses some time to adapt. But inevitably some businesses will prove unable to compete in the new market. Business closures and worker layoffs will then follow in the short term, visible and politically sensitive.
Facing this, ASEAN governments should initiate structural domestic reforms to nudge domestic producers to adjust and move up the value chain, or move to other products. Policies to ensure employment or else provide welfare benefits for affected workers will also be needed.
ASEAN should undertake this in view of the longer term benefits to be gained. As China grows economically, its domestic market offers a large potential market for ASEAN exports, provided ASEAN manufacturers can be competitive. Furthermore, as wages and costs continue to increase in China, there will be a push factor to increase China's investment in ASEAN countries.
This has already been felt in sectors for resources, energy, and minerals. But there are also emerging signs that some Chinese companies and other multinationals are relocating some parts of the manufacturing supply chain from China to selected ASEAN economies. An investment agreement recently signed in Bangkok can support this.
By lowering market risk and uncertainty, not just Chinese and ASEAN investors but also US, European and Japanese companies can also be attracted to invest in the integrated market. Whether this eventuates, depends on ASEAN governments adapting their economies. For instance, even if companies want to relocate manufacturing to ASEAN, countries must provide sufficient and secure electricity for the factories that will be built. This is otherwise a bottle neck for foreign manufacturers looking to invest.
Intra-ASEAN trade barriers must also be dismantled so that manufacturers can disperse different parts of their supply chain across ASEAN, to maximize efficiency. In this way, governments must give effect to the ASEAN economic community in tandem with ACFTA. Only a more integrated ASEAN can effectively trade with China.
The calculus of gains and losses from freer trade is complicated. While losses are often immediate and visible, benefits may not be readily apparent and require policy adjustments to take hold. Political leaders have to provide leadership not only in signing FTAs but even more in following up with prompt structural changes.
More research and data collection and dialogue with various stakeholders before the signing the ACFTA may have assisted. But the need now is not to rescind the agreement but to move to better manage and gain from it.
This is not only in the calculation of the domestic interests of some manufacturers. It is important for consumers, investors and the wider ASEAN economy as well as for the political and strategic relations between China and ASEAN. China is rising and ASEAN must learn to live and compete with, and gain from its neighbor.
Hank Lim is Senior Research Fellow and Simon Tay is Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
THE JAKARTA POST
EXCEEDING ALL EXPECTATIONS
JULIAN ALDRIN PASHA
Those of you who have seen the biographical sports drama Invictus (2009) — based on John Carlin's book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation (2008) — would remember scenes where South African President Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) inspires the country's national rugby team captain, Francois Pienaar (played by Matt Damon), to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
More than just motivational talk, conversations between the two men can actually serve as an awakening. My favorite lines in the movie are spoken by Mandela's character, "How do we inspire ourselves to greatness, when nothing less would do? How do we inspire everyone around us? I sometimes think it is by using the work of others… We need inspiration, Francois, because in order to build our nation, we must all exceed our own expectations."
And as history tells us, exceed they did.
I could not help but think that the same can apply in our beloved country. We too, need to exceed our own expectations, because that's the only way we could build this nation.
When President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono received the UNISDR award for being a "Global Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction" this week, represented by National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) chief Syamsul Maarif, in Geneve, Switzerland, this should be greeted as a sign of positive momentum.
In a country regularly struck by natural disasters (BNPB records that more than 4,400 natural disasters hit Indonesia between 2004 and 2009), emergency management is an obligatory skill. Appreciation as such coming from the UN affirms that we are on the right track.
As the current Chair of ASEAN, Indonesia is also taking the lead in the region's emergency response management, seeking better and more innovative coordination and coherence in implementing the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster and Emergency Response and the ASEAN Coordination Center for Humanitarian Assistance. Indonesia is also ready to open the doors to its newly established Peace and Security Center for joint use by friends and neighbors.
Exceeding expectations also requires steadfast commitment to one's journey. This applies to any person, group or entity, such as a government.
Those serving in President Yudhoyono's second term would notice a great deal of importance being placed on the need for strategic actions and constant evaluation. No issue is too big or small to escape the President's attention, as seen at his desk or at Cabinet meetings. Some have mocked these meetings as countless and bearing no tangible results. But the truth is ours is a government running and at work. Let the people be the judge at the court of democratic elections, and let there be no misgivings about them.
As for room for advancement, there should be no restriction.
This is especially relevant in times when there is still a "struggle between forces for change and forces fighting change, people who work for democracy, the rule of law and human rights protection, and people who stand to profit from retaining the authoritarian structure of New Order times" (Stockmann, 2009).
In this consolidation of democratic reforms we're going through, compromises cannot be dismissed and will continue to take place until the right mixture is achieved. The leader's role is to guard this process, lest it go astray.
The system to be achieved is one that promotes tolerance, guarantees press freedom and upholds the rule of law. When that happens, it will be one uniquely Indonesian mixture, and part of the Indonesian experience.
A steadfast commitment — that's what the government is asking from you. As Nelson Mandela once said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." Let us do it!
The writer is the spokesman for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
What happens often in Sri Lanka especially what happened on May Day is an indication of the bankruptcy of Sri Lanka's party politics, which has degenerated to its most disgraceful levels. Instead of working out a charter or other benefits for workers, May Day was disfigured into a campaign against the United Nations Panel report calling for an international probe on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the last few weeks of the war in 2009. Particularly ironic or sad was the fact that the once vibrant socialist parties in the United People's Freedom Alliance government – parties like the LSSP, the CP and the NSSP also put the workers and the state of the economy on the sidelines and joined the emotional hype or hysteria against the UN Panel report.
Most of Sri Lanka's party politicians were obviously seeking personal glory and gain at the expense of millions of poor people. They seem to think that most of the Sri Lankans are fools or that they can prove Abraham Lincoln wrong and fool all the people all the time. But since independence the sovereign people of this country have proved they are no fools but are at times vulnerable to third-grade politicians who misuse or abuse power and plunder the resources of the country.
This state of affairs could be traced back to 1931 when Sri Lankans including women were given universal adult franchise. But were the people of the country mature enough at that time to make not just a choice but an informed choice.
Over the years since 1931 with the British having divided and ruled the country and having had a system based on ethnicity to name officials to participate in government, most of the post 1931 leaders wooed the electorate using feelings and emotions instead of facts and realities. Hence the use or misuse of language, race of religion for party political gain. Even the candidates were often selected on the basis of their ability to win the votes of vulnerable people.
Looking back it is obvious that Sri Lanka has paid a heavy and bloody price for this. Soon after Independence the D.S. Senanayake government disenfranchised the people of Indian origin. In 1956 we had the tragedy of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike selling the slogan of Sinhala only in 24 hours obviously to grab power. The rest is history – teriible, tragic history and millions of people have paid an unbearable price for the hypocrisy and double games of party politicians. Most of them most of the time acted and are still acting as whitewashed sepulchers or sanctimonious humbugs. We are in the aftermath of one of the bloodiest wars that any country faced. Even in this context our so- called leaders are trying to use vulnerable people to achieve their ulterior objectives of clinging to power.
This and even the so-called development plans offered to the people show the bankruptcy of party politics. We often wonder what the leaders of the four religions in the country are doing. It is necessary for a country like ours that spiritual values are translated into action. We need to walk the talk as spiritual people with other-centered values and not allow party politicians to ruin the country any further.
Some politicians in the Government like Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa argue that with the decimation of the LTTE leadership the root causes of the war have vanished, thereby relieving the authorities from finding any political solution to the ethnic problem.
At the same time the Tamil political parties still insist on their decade-old-demand for self rule, while a section of the Tamil Diaspora is still pressing for a separate Tamil State within the Sri Lankan territory.
During the war it was very difficult for one to find an ordinary northerner who was not supportive of a separate Tamil State, leave alone anyone who was against the concept. Needless to say that those engaged in EPDP politics were exceptions. Has the crushing of the LTTE leadership by the armed forces made any impact on the Tamil psyche?
Finding an answer to this question still seems to be laborious since the people, especially those from the north are apparently skeptical of their surrounding and are still not fully opening up their minds to the outsiders. However, there are exceptions where few people speak somewhat freely, seemingly due to a secure feeling owing to their relatively balanced outlook.
During a recent visit to Wanni we observed a change in the outlook of some Tamils towards the sensitive issues related to the ethnic problem. Ironically, no one we encountered recollected the major grievances that were put forward by the traditional Tamil political parties and the Tamil armed groups as the main causes for the armed conflict in the country, in their original form or phrases.
The Tamil groups in late seventies and early eighties were complaining about several key issues which they claimed to have seriously affected the lives of Tamil people. The imposition of the "Sinhala only" policy by the SWRD Banadaranaike government in 1957, the "Sinhalese colonization" by several governments in the traditional Tamil areas and the standardization policy for the university admission were among them.
These issues seemed to be new to majority of ordinary people we talked to, and they vaguely attributed the armed strife to things such as "discrimination", "imposition of majoritarianism of the Sinhalese by the government on Tamil speaking people" and "lack of democracy."
When we specifically posed the question as to whether the standardization policy introduced by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government in 1973 for the university admission had been a cause for the conflict many people we met were clueless. This may be due to the fact that a lot of new issues have cropped up submerging the theorized ones, with the escalation of the conflict.
Meanwhile, some others said that not only the Sinhalese students in southern backward areas but also Tamil students in northern backward areas had benefited by the policy, in spite of the fact that students in Jaffna where there are schools with much facilities affected. Before May, 2099 one would have been surprised to hear such balanced arguments from an ordinary Tamil.
We asked some people we met in the north about the ramifications of the "Sinhala only" Act introduced by the SWRD Bandaranaike government in 1956 on the lives of the Tamil people and whether it was really a cause for the war. The people belonged to the older generation could recollect how some of their contemporaries gave up government jobs following the Act compelled them to pass a Sinhala proficiency test to remain in the job and to get promotions. They were of the view that this situation had some bearing on the mounting of the Tamil frustration in the seventies and eighties.
However, there are also people now in the north who argue that those who resigned from the public sector in protest of the hegemonic law shouldn't have done so. They contend that those resignations had reduced the clout of the Tamils in the public sector and that in turn had victimized the Tamils further.
A salient fact one could observe was that people from all walks of life in the north take the heavy military presence in Wanni and the heavy influx of labourers from the south for the development and rehabilitation projects in the north as irritants. Two years may be too short to thin out the military presence in the region, but the reason for the influx of labourers from the south is not clear.
Nevertheless, the reluctance of even those spoke freely to identify themselves pointed to the fact that the war is not over yet.
The conviction of Raj Rajaratnam, a billionaire financier and founder of the Galleon Group, one of the world's largest hedge fund management firms, by a New York federal court jury on five counts of securities fraud and nine of conspiracy to commit fraud between 2003 and 2009 sends a clear message to the financial markets. It is that they are not above the law and that white-collar crime is still crime. The New York jury, which deliberated for 12 days, rejected Mr. Rajaratnam's defence that the detailed "mosaic" of information given him by high-level contacts within companies amounted to a legitimate strategy. Mr. Rajaratnam faces a minimum of 15 years and a half in prison; he will appeal, but under a $100 million bail arrangement he is electronically tagged and remains under house arrest until his sentencing on July 29. Out of 47 people charged with insider trading in the last 18 months, he is the 35th to be convicted. In Galleon-related cases, 21 out of 26 defendants have pleaded guilty, including Danielle Chiesi, formerly of Bear Stearns, Intel's ex-staffer Rajiv Goel, and IBM's former executive Robert Moffat. The question is whether prosecutors will now go after other big fish who went to the edge of the law in dealing with Mr. Rajaratnam.
As for insider trading, it is significant that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has used anti-mafia techniques like wiretaps to good effect. Corporate lawyers may be right that the biggest successful Wall Street prosecution since the Milken and Boesky scandals of the 1980s will have a "chilling" effect on the way financial trading is done but that by itself will not address the wider issues. The fact that many of those convicted were, at the time of their crimes, working in some of the world's most powerful financial companies will only serve to deepen public distrust of the financial sector. Suspicion is already widespread as a result of the 2007-08 global crash and the failure of the massive state-funded bank bailouts to deliver the promised economic revival. Furthermore, criminal investigation, by its very nature, takes place ex post facto, and its deterrent effects are uncertain, depending on the perceptions of risk under the circumstances. That, together with the complexity of the financial sector, means that the moral effects of high-profile convictions may fade under the relentless pressure to make big bucks quickly. Criminal prosecutions in this area cannot replace well-designed and resolutely implemented regulatory legislation. That, however, will require political will of a kind few countries seem to have in the current climate, however much the public supports such action.
IT IS SAID THAT "FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WEST CAN BE REVOLTINGLY REWARDING, WHILE ENMITY COULD BE REVEALINGLY REVILING".
BY JAYANTHA GUNASEKERA
Sri Lanka is being condemned by the Western Powers and their stooges in the UNO regarding human rights violations. A mock panel has been appointed without General Assembly and Security Council permission.As regards violation of human rights by the USA targeting and killing hoards of civilians by unmanned drones in Afghanistan, this is what a US Federal Judge had to say whilst delivering a judgment: "There is a painful conflict between human rights and national security. Fundamental human rights have to be sacrificed at the alter of national security".
This is now settled law in the USA. Why then are the US and the UK attempting to create problems for us, merely to satisfy 300,000 LTTE Diaspora supporters? Is it that International Law exculpates the western powers, while Sri Lanka is governed by another set of International human rights Laws? There is one law for the Western countries and another for Sri Lanka! The standard and quality of US and UK politicians have deteriorated to such an extent that they will stoop to accepting filthy lucre from the LTTE's enormously rich treasury. They will also compromise their honour, for the LTTE Diaspora vote that they can secure at elections.
In our conflict, the corrupt and foolish Western politicians by taking the side of criminal gangs and their Diaspora, are steadily and surely inviting hatred towards their nations. The Arabs detest them. The South American countries spurn them. So do Afghanistan, Pakistan, the African Union, Sri Lanka and a majority of Indians. Almost all Non-Aligned Countries would not approve of their cut-throat ways and their interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.
It goes without saying that China and Russia are waiting for the day when the so called Western powers will crawl before them. Pretty soon they will find themselves isolated.
It is sickening to think of the "holier than thou" attitude of the Western countries who are trying to probe fabricated human rights violations of Sri Lanka, while they violate human rights with impunity. Corruption is a wind that is blowing now across the Western countries. We must start a campaign to commence a parallel United nations Organisation headed by a strictly impartial Secretary General who will hold the scales evenly amongst all actions. No 2 terms should be encouraged.
The Report of the Panel of Legal Experts unilaterally appointed by Ban Ki-moon has now been released. This is a very pliable panel who has been twisted and turned by the Western powers. They have also been heavily influenced by the LTTE Diaspora. They are a set of insignificant people who have been hand picked by the already partial Ban Ki-moon. They have proved that they are incapable of justice and fair play. They have also proved their ignorance of international law. They are no experts than the man in the moon!
This is a completely ex-parte and partial report based on video clips, blatantly false material fed to them by the Tamil Diaspora.
Before the death of Prabhakaran, they influenced Hillary Clinton to coax David Miliband and Kouchner to go to Sri Lanka and attempt to twist the arm of out President. But our President had the strength of character not to yield. The Western powers felt thoroughly insulted that they could not save Prabhakaran's life.
Navaneethan Pillai, the UN Human Rights Chief, has been heavily influenced by the Diaspora. Clinton and Pillai are pushing Ban Ki-moon to pressurize the Sri Lankan Govt. It is a shame that this panel of experts – supposedly honourable and impartial people, have now yielded to the pressures of Ban Ki-moon, the Western powers and the leaders of the Diaspora. This is exactly the Report based on fabricated material, that was expected of them. If our Forces wanted to massacre the Tamils, all they had to do, without wasting their bullets, was to watch Prabhakaran and his men exterminating the Tamils when they came out from the clutches of the LTTE, to the Govt side. Not a word of praise from the West or Ban Ki-moon for SAVING the lives of 300,000 Tamils, when our Forces put their lives in harms way, in order to save these Tamils. Thousands of Tamils held as hostages were killed by the LTTE, during the last few days of the war, when they were in the process of escaping from the LTTE held areas.
After the death of Prabhakaran and his cohorts, we fed the refugees, clothed them, medicated them, sheltered them, built hygienic toilets to prevent an out break of cholera. Every conceivable precaution was taken for their well being, while the Tamil Diaspora contributed nothing to look after these, their own displaced people.
The Report is an absolute sham and should be roundly condemned. Ban Ki-moon, Hillary Clinton, Navaneetham Pillai and Robert O"Blake would have instructed this panel what type of report they expect from them, in order to create problems for Sri Lanka, for crushing the worst terrorist organization in the world. It is a shame that these supposedly honourable people have prostituted themselves to tender a report acceptable to the West and to the partial UN officials.
The US and the UK forces are killing innocents in Afghanistan and Libya. As Secy General of the UN, he is expected to hold the scales even, whether it be an insignificant member or a super power. No favouritism is permissible. His salary is paid by the contributions of all members of the UN.
It is apparent that this Secy General is dictated to by the Western powers and will bend over backwards to please them. If he is impartial, he should have first appointed a panel to examine the atrocities that are presently committed by the US and UK inAfghanistan and Libya, in order to prove his bona fides. The Western forces are killing thousands of civilians with their unmanned drones, in Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan.
He should also appoint a panel to investigate the torture in Abu Grahib and Guantanamo Bay. Ban Ki-moon at the dictates of the US, UK and the European Union is attempting to give oxygen and restart violence in Sri Lanka. It has to be clearly understood that excesses are bound to occur in war, but these don't amount to human rights violations.
A Sri Lankan with guts should be permitted to address the General Assembly and the Security Council, to expose Ban Ki-moon as a thoroughly unsavoury and unsuitable person to hold the post of Secretary General of the United Nations Organisation.
It is not the human rights violation that are really prodding the Western political leaders and the corrupt UN officials. Corruption is a new wind that is blowing across the UN and the Western world.
Inga-Britt Ahlenius, Under Secy General of the UN and a former Swedish Auditor-General, made a scathing attack on Ban Ki-moon's integrity. Having been associated with him for so long, she had every opportunity to determine the type of person he is, and that he is totally unfit to head the United Nations.
With all these allegations Moon has survived, thanks to his being shielded by corrupt Western Powers. Small wonder then, that he will not go against their dictates!
Inga-Britt Haleness in a 50-page states, "that the Secy General improperly refused to allow many of her office's audit reports to be made public, or to allow nearly all of its confidential investigative reports with evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing to be referred to prosecutors." She further states that he tried to take control of investigations. Her Office of Internal Oversight Services resisted his efforts to launch official probes into news leaks." She goes on, "the fact is that you are not upholding to the letter, nor to the spirit, the General Assembly's decision to ensure an operational oversight body in the interest of the organization. In this sense your actions are not only deplorable, but seriously reprehensible. No Secy General before you has questioned the authority delegated to the Head of OIOS to appoint the staff. Your action is without precedent and in my opinion seriously embarrassing to yourself." She further adds, "last year, similar criticism was voiced by Norway's UN Ambassador Mona Juul in another unusual personal attack on Ban." She adds, "the investigations led to an unprecedented number of misconduct findings by UN officials and prompted Federal probes into corruption."
This is the UN under Ban Ki-moon. Therefore no credibility or confidencd can be placed on a Report submitted by a panel unilaterally handpicked by him.
The writer is a President's Counsel
An hour or so after President Obama appeared on television late on the night of May 1 to announce the killing of Osama bin Laden by American forces, a veteran political commentator on one of the cable-news networks mused that the only person he could remember whom Americans had hated as much as they did Bin Laden was Adolf Hitler.
This notion seems apt: for Americans today, Osama bin Laden symbolised evil.
Every war needs an enemy, and Bin Laden, through his campaign of murderous attacks not only in the United States but in the Muslim world as well, earned the hatred and vitriol directed at him. His sudden end, after nearly a decade of searching, caught everyone by surprise. Even now, the story seems improbable. Correct intelligence, punctilious organisation, rapid deployment, precise execution, the target eliminated without any American being injured. This is the stuff of Hollywood. In the real world, we attack with drones, too often missing high-value targets and blowing up wedding parties and funerals.
Not this time. This time we hit our target. America is celebrating. We turn out not to be in decline after all: we are still the superpower the rest of the world envies and fears. President Obama boldly green-lighted a high-risk operation, a decision surely not easy to make, and the gamble paid off. True, the blood on the corpse was barely dry before calls began for American withdrawal from Afghanistan: the risk of going to war over a symbol. That debate may soon sharpen. Still, for the moment, the dancing in the streets continues.
And yet, amid the national joy, ethical questions abound. Consider the most obvious one. It appears that the mission all along, despite White House assertions to the contrary, was to kill bin Laden, not capture him—that is, to assassinate him. The Obama administration, like its predecessor, continues to insist that setting out to kill the other side's leaders pursuant to a very general congressional grant of authority is not the same as assassinating them; but this semantic argument cannot cloak what we have been doing, both with our drones and with our Special Forces. I am not arguing against a policy of assassination, but I do think we should call what we are doing by its proper name.
And there is a deeper ethical dilemma. In the end, we were able to track bin Laden because he communicated only through two couriers believed to be brothers. And what was the source of this vital clue? The intelligence apparently came from detainees imprisoned in secret facilities overseas and subjected to what has been euphemistically called "enhanced" interrogation.
We must not shrink from this possibility, distasteful though we might find it. If the United States is to carry out President Obama's announced policy of seeking out and eliminating the nation's enemies, accurate human intelligence is of first importance. Bin Laden was clever enough to avoid all electronic communication, and to build his compound sufficiently close to Islamabad that he fell within its air-defence intercept zone. Electronic monitoring from a distance would not have located him, and a drone attack would have been difficult.
So the information from the detainees was crucial, and we face an uncomfortable irony, both political and ethical. The finest moment of Barack Obama's presidency to this point came about precisely because of the detention system against which he railed during his campaign. Indeed, the only slip in what was otherwise an exemplary performance on May 1 was the president's failure to credit his predecessor, who established the controversial mechanism that likely led us to bin Laden's door. If we are cheering bin Laden's death, then we are also cheering, whether we like it or not, the methods that brought it about.
Consider another question. Does it seem odd that only four people besides Bin Laden died in the assault? It may be that the Qaeda leader had few reliable bodyguards at the end. One can envision the group of insiders thinning, as those around him see othes melting away and decide that the others must know something they don't—and so they vanish, too, leading to more people getting the same signal. Economists call this an information cascade. It is what happens when you see everyone else on the street looking up at the sky and decide that you had better look, too; or when you deduce that because an unfamiliar restaurant is crowded, it must be good.
National-security experts have suggested that producing this sort of cascade is the hidden agenda driving the drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The larger plan—so the theory runs—has been to spread panic among the upper echelons of Al Qaeda, as well as others, elsewhere in the world, who might contemplate attacks on Americans. Fearful for their own lives, those closest to the leader might desert, or even turn betrayer; and as some desert, others will follow.
The death of Osama bin Laden solves no tactical problem in either the Afghan war (where the Taleban have begun their annual spring offensive) or the larger war on terror. Nor does his assassination untangle our politics at home: it will not create jobs, close the deficit, or reform Medicare. In short, when one looks at the reality of the practical challenges facing us, Bin Laden's death changes nothing.
But it does give Americans of all political stripes a sense of closure, of satisfaction, of victory. By the time these words appear, we might have tumbled back into our usual cycle of partisan backbiting, the way we swiftly did after 9/11. Or maybe this time we can resist. After all, national unity is a symbol, too—and worth fighting for.
Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of law at Yale University
GULF DAILY NEWS
BY PAUL BALLES
IN a distant past, one summer holiday included island hopping in the Aegean Sea. The island of Limnos provided one of the most unusual holiday experiences.
On the first night there a strange thing happened: an odd man, who seemed to be uttering gibberish, made his way around the restaurant tables.
A waiter explained that this was the village idiot.
Some locals later expressed embarrassment that their island had such a friendly, but imposing idiot.
Generally, a village idiot is locally known for ignorance or stupidity, but also as silly or nonsensical. The term is further used to stereotype the mentally challenged.
As early as Byzantine times, the village idiot was treated as an acceptable form of deranged individual. The Limnos idiot fitted that reality perfectly.
A few authors have used "idiot" characters in novels, plays and poetry.
Among the most famous are Edmond in Shakespeare's King Lear, Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, Wordsworth's The Idiot Boy and Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
Perhaps the most famous reference to a literary idiot comes when Shakespeare's Macbeth says:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Modern village idiots enjoy worldwide audiences and receive exorbitant payment for being themselves in the media.
Rush Limbaugh draws at least 15 million listeners a week. He has been a "birther", questioning Barack Obama's citizenship, like a number of other idiots "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". According to Forbes magazine, he earns $54m (BD20.3m) a year. Numerous writers and media commentators have dubbed him an idiot.
Often public figures, in government or the media, show all the qualities associated with idiocy: whether they are ignorant, stupid, nonsensical or deranged.
Forbes says Donald Trump, New York's real estate baron considering a run for the presidency, earns $50m annually. He looks and acts deranged in public.
During several interviews, he announced that America spent so much invading Iraq that it deserves Iraq's oil. Since America conquered Iraq, he claimed, they should keep it. Trump blandly refers to Opec as an illegal monopoly. He says he wants to tell Opec: "Hey fellas, your gonna toe the line or your gonna have big problems." He acts like a threatening village idiot.
Trump has been a voice for the American tea party movement of mostly white racists who follow their chosen village idiots, like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck of Fox News.
Other possible village idiot candidates for the US presidency are past speaker of House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Gingrich is widely known for acting deranged and had to resign from his old post amid ethics complaints, while earning a reputation as a twice-divorced adulterer who espouses family values. Is this a candidate for president?
Then there's the ignorant southern reverend who organised a burning of the Quran, who reflects a mentality that veers a long way from the harmless village idiot.
Notorious Quran-burning pastor Terry Jones planned a protest outside the Islamic Centre of America, in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Muslim population in the US.
Perhaps this is the way of the modern world. It seems that we have returned to Byzantine times, when the village idiot was treated as an acceptable form of deranged individual.
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