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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

EDITORIAL 08.06.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month june 08, edition 000853, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

THE PIONEER 

  1. VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER
  2. GOOD NEWS FROM EGYPT
  3. INDIA MUST STAND UP AS A NATION - D SUBA CHANDRAN
  4. REFUSING TO DISCUSS A JUST SETTLEMENT - BARRY RUBIN
  5. RESET IN US-RUSSIA RELATIONS PAYS OFF - DMITRY KOSYREV
  6. ARMY RULERS IN CIVILIAN CLOTHES - ASHOK K MEHTA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. MORE TELECOM STINK
  2. A GLIMMER OF HOPE
  3. TO CURB OR NOT TO CURB
  4. SUDIPTO MUNDLESUDIPTO MUNDLE
  5. 'I AM DISAPPOINTED BY THE LACK OF MANDARIN TEACHERS IN INDIA' - RUDRONEEL GHOSHRUDRONEEL GHOSH 
  6. VIGILANTE REPUBLIC - JUG SURAIYAJUG SURAIYA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. THE NUMBER YOU'VE DIALLED...
  2. CROSS-DRESSING KI JAI!
  3. KALYUG'S WARRIORS - SAGARIKA GHOSE
  4. SOLE SURVIVOR- RAJBIR DESWAL
  5. COLLATERAL DAMAGE - SUMIT MITRA

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. OPPOSITION'S RIGHT
  2. GETTING CLOUDED
  3. THE COLOUR OF EVASION - ILA PATNAIK
  4. KATHMANDU'S CHALLENGE - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
  5. PARLIAMENT'S JOB - MANU PUBBY
  6. SHANGRI-LA DIALOGUE
  7. ARMS ACROSS THE OCEAN – ROGER COHEN
  8. INCLUDING, THROUGH CONVERSATION - ARUN MAIRA

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. DON'T WANT FOREIGN SHARES
  2. STRUCTURING IT RIGHT
  3. THE UPA'S QUEST FOR LEGITIMACY - MK VENU
  4. IT'S MARAN VERSUS SIBAL NOW - SUNIL JAIN

THE HINDU

  1. GREENING INDIA
  2. INCONCLUSIVE EXIT IN YEMEN
  3. THE NATION STATE AND ITS TERRITORY - M.S. PRABHAKARA
  4. SUDAN'S LEADERS ARE NOT LOOKING FOR A FIGHT - SIMON TISDALL
  5. RADIATION'S UNKNOWNS WEIGH ON JAPAN  - MATTHEW L. WALD
  6. A NATURAL GAS PLATFORM IN THE GULF OF MEXICO. —

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. PRODIGAL'S RETURN A BOOST FOR BJP?
  2. CHESS VS WEI QI - K.C.SINGH
  3. BABA ON FAST, BJP GETTING HUNGER PANGS - SIDHARTH BHATIA
  4. MONKEYS, MORALS, MATHEMATICS - JAYANT V. NARLIKAR

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. ENDEMIC RAGGING MENACE
  2. FOOD SHORTAGE
  3. INDIA MUST ENGAGE AFRICA - BY M K DHAR
  4. WOMEN IN INDIAN POLITICS - BY DR VISHIESH VERMA
  5. FALLING FOOD PRICES IS NOT GOOD FOR AGRICULTURE - BY DR ASHWANI MAHAJAN
  6. NOISY POLLUTION - BY VIRANDER KHASHU

THE TRIBUNE

  1. LOKPAL ISSUE BLUES
  2. INDIA-US DEFENCE TIES
  3. NO END TO SCAMS
  4. INDIA CAN'T DO A 'GERONIMO' - BY LIEUT-GEN HARWANT SINGH (RETD)
  5. CAR-RYING ON IN LIFE - BY SARVJIT SINGH
  6. THE IMF HAS A LOT TO ANSWER FOR - JOHANN HARI

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. HASTEN SLOWLY
  2. CONSOLIDATING THE GAINS
  3. VENICE TO VERONA VIA VITTORIO VENETO - PARTHASARATHI SHOME
  4. BORDERING ON THE ABSURD - SUBIR ROY
  5. LAND FOR THE BOYS - M J ANTONY
  6. SHOULD SINGUR LAND BE RETURNED TO UNWILLING LAND-LOSERS?

BUSINESS LINE

  1. DO PEOPLE MATTER?
  2. CHALLENGE OF FINANCING SMES - ARUN KUMAR
  3. OBAMA ON BACKFOOT, DESPITE GERONIMO - SRIDHAR KRISHNASWAMI
  4. THE DOHA ROUND GOES FOR A SIX - RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY
  5. INFLATION OVER THE DECADES  - BORNALI BHANDARI
  6. LIKE WATER ON A LOTUS LEAF' - CHITRA NARAYANAN

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. READ HARRY POTTER, PM
  2. IMPERSONAL NUMBERS
  3. UMA AND THE GANGA
  4. COMPETITION: PLENTY, NOT ENOUGH
  5. BARRIERS TO ENTRY STILL REMAIN
  6. SHOULD INDIA HAVE AN INHERITANCE TAX?
  7. SPEED UP PRODUCTIVITY GAINS  - JAIDEEP MISHRA

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. WHY I'M WORRIED ABOUT TINTIN

DECCAN CHRONICLE

  1. MONKEYS, MORALS, MATHEMATICS
  2. RISE ABOVE YOUR KARMA
  3. WHY THEY WANT A SAVIOUR
  4. BABA ON FAST, BJP GETTING HUNGER PANGS
  5. PRODIGAL'S RETURN A BOOST FOR BJP?
  6. CHESS VS WEI QI

THE STATESMAN

  1. 'NO ALTERNATIVE'
  2. SUBALTERN MENU
  3. SUNSET OR SUNRISE?
  4. AFTER THE DALAI LAMA - BY CLAUDE ARPI
  5. OIL SLICK
  6. DECODING RAMDEV'S RETREAT  - RAJINDER PURI      
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. HOPE DIPS
  2. SMALL CHANGE
  3. HEALTHY LESSONS
  4. THE FRENCH IMPORTS  - STEPHEN HUGH-JONES

HAARETZ

  1. SHAVUOT 2011: OBSCENITIES AS WORDS OF TORAH  - BY YOSSI SARID
  2. READINESS AND BLINDNESS IN THE GOLAN HEIGHTS  
  3. ISRAEL NEEDS ENTREPRENEURS LIKE SAMMY OFER - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  4. THE FALSE MESSIAH IN THE PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE - BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY
  5. THE AGE OF THE SNIPER  - BY ANER SHALEV

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. KEEPING PROTECTIONISM AT BAY
  2. THE FAIR REWARDS OF INVENTION
  3. ANDREW GOLD AND THE '70S SOUND - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
  4. RESISTANCE GROWS
  5. YOUR TWEETIN' HEART - BY MAUREEN DOWD
  6. THE EARTH IS FULL - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  7. WEINER LIKE ME - BY ERIC WEINER

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. THE NIGHTMARE OF THE GENERALS - MUSTAFA AKYOL
  2. THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT IN OUR RECENT HISTORY - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  3. END OF THE 'MUSLIM DEMOCRACY' BALONEY - KADRİ GÜRSEL
  4. E-COLI OR E-TAPES, WHICH ARE MORE DEADLY? - YUSUF KANLI

THE NEWS

    1.      VICTORY AT LAST

    2.      FLOOD REPORT

    3.      HAJ AFFAIRS

    4.      FREEDOM'S PRICE   - TANVIR AHMAD KHAN

    5.      THE BEGGARS' BUDGET  - HUZAIMA BUKHARI AND DR IKRAMUL HAQ

    6.      BACKING THE COMMISSION  - ISMAIL KHAN

    7.      WAR BEHIND TALL BARRIERS  - KAMILA HYAT

    8.      KARACHI'S POWER WOES  - MUHAMMAD UMER

    9.      SECURITY SUMMITRY  - DR MALEEHA LODHI

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. NEGLECT THAT LED TO FLOOD HAVOC
  2. US TO WRAP UP SOON
  3. SCOURGE OF HAJJ AND OTHER QUOTAS
  4. A BUDGET FOR MASSES OR ELITE? - SHAUKAT MASOOD ZAFAR
  5. ECONOMIC MANAGEMENT - MALIK M ASHRAF
  6. SIGNALS FROM WESTERN FRONT - ABID LATIF SINDHU
  7. THE REAL FACE OF INDIA - AFSHAIN AFZAL
  8. SHOULD (COULD) PAK, US BOND BE BROKEN? - MARK MAZZETTI

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. TUTU IS WRONG ON ISRAEL BOYCOTT
  2. SOLAR REBATE IS DAYLIGHT ROBBERY
  3. GILLARD ON RIGHT TRACK TO PROGRESS NT INTERVENTION

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. REBATE BACKDOWN SHOWS SHORT RESOLVE
  2. NEW PHASE, SAME OLD WAR
  3. TROOPS POORLY SERVED BY FLAG-DRAPED LEADERS
  4. GENDER JUSTICE TOO LONG DELAYED

THE GUARDIAN

  1. THE NEXT IMF BOSS: INSIDE JOB
  2. IN PRAISE OF … WINTER FUEL PAYMENTS
  3. COUNTER-TERRORISM: PREVENTION AND CURE

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. FUKUSHIMA INVESTIGATION
  2. DIAL MLADIC FOR MASS MURDER - BY RAMESH THAKUR
  3. ARE WE PREPARED FOR A MULTIPOLAR ECONOMY? - BY JUSTIN YIFU LIN AND MANSOOR DAILAMI
  4. THAILAND INC. VERSUS THAKSIN - BY KEVIN RAFFERTY

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. A GOOD START
  2. UNPRETENTIOUS ATTITUDES TO OUR SOCCER - SOLICHIN M. AWI
  3. WHY ARE CENTRAL BANK RESERVES SO BIG? - PAUL DONOVAN
  4. HIV/AIDS FIGHT: ASIA-PACIFIC GAINS 'FRAGILE' - FRANCOISE BARRE-SINOUSSI
  5. SBY FIGHTING FOR PARTY UNITY - ROHMAD HADIWIJOYO

DAILY MIRROR

  1. WHY SL AND PAKISTAN VULNERABLE TO INT. PRESSURE?
  2. GOING OVER THE GOLAN
  3. PENSION FIASCO: A CHASTENED AND CHASTISED REGIME?
  4. BUILD A TRULY MULTI-ETHNIC NATION

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. NO ESCAPE FROM TELEMARKETERS    -  BY MEENA MENEZES

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. SUDAN'S LEADERS AREN'T LOOKING FOR A FIGHT - BY SIMON TISDALL
  2. ATTACK ON YEMENI PRESIDENT WAS A FOREIGN PLOT - BY MOHAMMAD REZA FORGHANI
  3. PICK YOUR POISON - BY JOEL S. HIRSCHHORN
  4. WILL WASHINGTON FOMENT WAR BETWEEN CHINA AND INDIA? - BY PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
  5. CONTINUING BAHRAINI STATE TERROR - BY STEPHEN LENDMAN

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER

CONGRESS DESCENDS TO FOUL-MOUTHED ABUSE


The Congress showed its fascist streak last Sunday night when it ordered Delhi Police to brutalise thousands of men, women and children who had gathered at Ramlila Ground to peacefully protest against the most venal cash-and-carry Government India has ever had and which is led by the party. Since then, the Congress has also demonstrated how low it can stoop by taking recourse to coarse bazaar language while defending the morally and legally indefensible police crackdown it ordered on sleeping protesters and then attacking the Opposition for taking up cudgels on behalf of the victims of Sunday night's atrocity. High on the conviction that nothing or nobody can stop it from abusing power and misusing authority, the Congress has sought to tar the reputation of the RSS and the BJP, launching a scurrilous attack on both organisations and their leaders. The tone and tenor of those speaking on behalf of the party are not dissimilar to that of hoodlums who seek to scare people into submission; their loutish language makes the most scurrilous reportage of cheap yellow rags that made Page 3 popular among the under-classes appear sanitised and clean. The lexicon of political discourse, it would appear, in the case of the Congress has suddenly shrunk to terms of abuse as foul-mouthed spokespersons compete with each other, with more than a little help from 'friendly' media, to prove who is more boorish. Is this the new loyalty test set by the party president? For nothing else explains why Ms Sonia Gandhi has chosen to remain silent as her foot soldiers unleash volley after volley of uncouth verbal assault on the Congress's political opponents. The political commentary, if at all this expression can be used given the low level of discourse, that emanated from the Congress on Tuesday when party leaders made shockingly disparaging remarks that can be construed to be repulsively sexist against the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Ms Sushma Swaraj, has left many people wondering whether Ms Gandhi endorses such vulgarity. It is a sad reflection of the state of affairs that prevails in India's Grand Old Party that its president should maintain a stunning silence as her colleagues betray their true character and class.


Political debate can be acrimonious, but it should never descend to abuse and character assassination. Nor should parties seek to score political points by directing their ire at individuals, unless the issue merits such attack. The issue that agitates India at the moment is not about individuals but an institution, namely the Congress and the rampant corruption it has spawned in high places. Linked to this is the Congress's arrogance, its criminally callous indifference to popular disquiet simply because it wields power and believes it can ride roughshod over the people of this country. The Congress forgets that it has been humbled by the people on more than one occasion in the past, that too when the party was led by stalwarts. Tragically, its current leaders have not learned any lessons from the party's post-1975 history; worse, they have elected to become one with the hooligans who populate the Congress's ranks. It's a shame and a pity. The shame is entirely that of the Congress; it's a pity that India should be saddled with a Government that has to depend on goons masquerading as Gandhi's political heirs.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

GOOD NEWS FROM EGYPT

THE IKHWAN IS NOT ALL THAT POPULAR AFTER ALL


Ever since the democracy-scented, reform-laden winds of this year's Arab Spring blew through Egypt causing its people to suffer from a sudden bout of allergic reaction (symptoms included an immitigable desire to gather in large numbers and march around towns) against their President Hosni Mubarak, there has been a genuine fear that the aforementioned 'affliction' may have further weakened the body of the country's electorate, making it susceptible to an even worse pathogen, the Muslim Brotherhood. Popularly known as the Ikhwan, the Islamist organisation that is committed to building a new regime that is based on its interpretation of Sharia is frighteningly well positioned to win the presidential polls scheduled for September this year. Thanks to its deeply entrenched, extensive domestic network that has long been believed to be the source of its pan-Egyptian grassroots support base, the popular perception is that the Ikhwan is all set to sweep the parliamentary polls too. However, a recent opinion poll, conducted by the Abu Dhabi Gallup centre, shows that contrary to popular belief, the Ikhwan has actually won little political favour among the masses — a measly 15 per cent of those polled said that they supported the Ikhwan. Interestingly though a whopping a 69 per cent would like religious leaders to have an "advisory role" in the new regime. Against this background, the Ikhwan's decision to have a non-theocratic political front — the Freedom and Justice Party which was recently recognised as an official political party —while simultaneously pushing for a state that is governed by Islamic law is a brilliant manoeuvre.

On a more serious note, it must be mentioned that while it is hugely encouraging to know that popular support for the Islamists is a myth, it is still worrying to see that some 60 per cent Egyptians were undecided in their voting preferences. Of course this is not entirely surprising given that three decades of single party autocratic rule has ensured that there is no available credible political alternative. Moreover, political parties formed after Mr Mubarak's resignation are also yet to find their niche, possibly because they have been too busy fighting the imaginary popularity of the Ikhwan. The Gallup poll clearly shows that Egyptians do not want mullah rule but would much prefer a secular regime that focuses on economic issues such as soaring unemployment and increasing levels of poverty. It is high time that these new political parties look beyond the ghost of the Ikhwan and work towards creating a truly popular agenda. The people of Egypt have emerged stronger from the Arab Spring and yes, a long and hot summer lies ahead as they work to rebuild their country, but at least fears of an Islamist winter are hopefully unfounded.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

INDIA MUST STAND UP AS A NATION

D SUBA CHANDRAN


Have we learned any lessons from the Headley disclosures of Pakistani involvement in the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai? Are we now more determined than before to take on Pakistan? Or are we still dependent on others to plead our case and send bogus dossiers to Pakistan? The world will take note of India if New Delhi sends out a firm message: Thus far and no farther. That calls for political courage


Finally, the much-awaited disclosures by David Coleman Headley are in the public domain. Yes, they nail down the involvement of ISI handlers and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in the Mumbai terrorist attack. So? Is there anything new in this 'revelation'? What should be the primary focus in India? To tell the international community "we told you so" or to devise a strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan?

The hard reality in India is, even if the ISI chief goes public announcing the involvement of some of his officials in the Mumbai attack or with the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, what can New Delhi do about the same? Demand the extradition of those officers and submit another nonsense dossier and make ourselves a laughing stock at the international level?


Either we learn from the Americans or devise our own strategy to deal with Pakistan's involvement, instead of expecting the international community (read the US) to act on behalf of us. Our primary strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan in terms of dealing with terrorism seems to be on the following lines: First and foremost, we want international understanding and support for our 'principled stand' against Islamabad and want Pakistan to be declared a terrorist state. Second, we will prepare a dossier and submit it to Pakistan, demanding the extradition of individuals. Third, we will make statements, organise conferences and discuss amongst ourselves.

What has the US done? It works with Pakistan where necessary. It violates Pakistan's sovereignty if there is a need by operating drones and flying SEALs all the way up to Abbottabad, kills the most wanted man and get them back to their base. Powerful nations in the world make a statement by their actions, and not by talking to media and compiling dossiers.


The primary focus for New Delhi should be in terms of devising a comprehensive strategy towards Pakistan, to prevent not only another terrorist attack, but also inform them that the use of terrorism as a tool against India is unacceptable. In fact, the Indian nation has been giving a wrong signal by stating "another attack of the Mumbai scale is unacceptable". Does that mean another attack on the Indian soil of Jaipur, Hyderabad and Bangalore is acceptable?

Any comprehensive strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan in terms of preventing any future terrorist attacks should involve political, military and diplomatic responses. At the political level, India's responses so far have been based more on emotions and rhetoric than any realistic approach based on realpolitic. The Government needs to evolve a common political strategy both inside Parliament and outside, in terms of building a consensus. Once there is a consensus on what needs to be done, if there is a terrorist attack, it will be easier for the Government to pursue a strategy. In fact, if there is a consensus on what is likely to be the follow-up, Pakistan may even consider twice before approving any terrorist attack.


Such a political strategy should have a strong military component. If there is a militant attack led by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba anywhere in India, on any scale, what could be a political response with a military component? An attack on the Lashkar headquarters in Punjab, either by the Air Force or through missiles, with a strong political back-up, come what may, the Government will be willing to face the consequence.

This is where India's military will have to do its homework in terms of preparing for a punitive attack and take on any follow-up military action by Pakistan. What will be Pakistan's response, if India targets the Lashkar headquarters? Will they get ready for an all out war with India? Will they immediately use a nuclear weapon against India? Will they unleash more militant attacks on India?


The political establishment in India seems to have been caught by the Pakistan bluff: If there is any limited Indian military response to Pakistan's involvement in terrorist activity, it will result in a conventional war, leading to the use of nuclear weapons. It appears, nuclear weapons have deterred India from protecting its national security!


Can India call Pakistan's bluff? Is Pakistan so sure of waging a conventional war or use nuclear weapons against India? Or, does Pakistan believe such a posturing will enable the international community to pressurise India from not pursuing any military strategy?


This is where the third component of India's response to Pakistani militant attacks needs to evolve: A comprehensive diplomatic offensive both vis-à-vis Pakistan and the international community. Both should be delivered a clear message that any militant activity on the soil of India will be responded with military action, and India will be ready to face whatever the fallouts are. Certainly, whatever may follow India's strong political and military response cannot be worse than the situation that we are already in.


What is needed today is not to tap our shoulders, with a smirk and a "we told you so" in terms of Pakistan's complicity vis-à-vis supporting militant activities on Indian soil. Rather what we need is an articulation of a coherent strategy and political support to pursue such a course, come what may. In the comity of nations, we will be taken seriously, only if we take ourselves seriously and stand up as a nation.


-- The writer is the Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi & Visiting Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

REFUSING TO DISCUSS A JUST SETTLEMENT

BARRY RUBIN


Going to the UN to circumvent talks and allying with Hamas are two major ways that the Palestinian Authority is violating the Oslo Agreement, the very basis of its existence. Yet the Obama Administration is extending its support to the unilateral independence move


And so he rushes off to Europe to muster support so that the United States is not alone. It's the end of May already. Besides, the UK, France, Germany, and Italy have already made clear that they won't support unilateral independence.

In a real sense this issue has illustrated Mr Obama's incompetence and the mess created by his world view. What would a 'real' President have done?


First, get an early start. The moment the Palestinian Authority announced it was considering this scheme, he would have coordinated with European allies to get a joint statement that this was unacceptable and that there would be negative consequences for the PA in pursuing it and refusing to negotiate with Israel. What's being done in May should (and could) have been done in January. Why is Mr Obama trying to get a joint stand with Europe now when the issue has been discussed for months?


Second, lobby hard in the Third World. American diplomats should be limousining into the offices of Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Foreign Ministers all over the world to make it clear that the United States wants them to oppose this initiative. Favours should be called in; gentle warnings made. Yet as Latin American countries — a traditional area of US influence — unilaterally recognised a Palestinian state, Mr Obama stood by and did nothing.

 

Third, make the consequences clear to the PA. The PA has done many things to sabotage Mr Obama's prized peace process. Here's a partial list:

·  Went back on its promise to him not to push the Goldstone Report, which even its principal author now disowns, at the UN.

·  Sabotaged his September 2009 initiative for a Camp David-style summit to be held in December, after he publicly announced it at the UN.

·  Refused to negotiate seriously with Israel when Israel accepted and implemented a nine-month-long freeze of construction on settlements and then even added Jerusalem to it. The PA waited a few days before the expiration, held a couple of formal chats, and then demanded that the freeze be renewed!

·  Made a deal with Hamas that obviously runs counter to US policy and puts a big hole in the side of the already sinking peace process.

·  Going to the UN in this time-wasting, negotiations' killing maneuver.

Ironically, the Palestinians are almost universally portrayed as the world's leading victims. Yet in a very real sense, they are the world's most spoiled political grouping. Decades of refusal to negotiate, intransigence, and terrorism are rewarded while massive subsidies continue ignoring political behaviour, incitement, violation of commitments, terrorism, and corruption.

Maybe that's the real problem making this conflict persist.

Fourth, Mr Obama has not put any sanctions on the PA, refused to threaten it, and has barely criticised it in public. Indeed, the money and diplomatic support continues no matter what the PA does. Mr Obama's level of backing for Israel does not go up in response to PA behaviour either. So he has taught the PA that sabotaging American policy pays because it makes him (and the world) criticise Israel, widens the US-Israel rift, and even brings more US concessions for the Palestinians in a desperate effort to make peace, even if the Palestinian leadership cares less about that achievement than the United States, EU, and UN.

It is an amazing example of Mr Obama's exaltation of weakness that even a deal between the PA and Hamas has barely brought a squeak from him, after a period of saying "we'll see what happens". The Administration's great defence is that maybe the deal will collapse of its own weight. We're also told that Congress will declare US aid to the PA illegal and stop it because of this alliance with a terrorist group.

Yet what kind of President let's something happen that would lead to Congress forcibly terminating one of his priority policy initiatives? This is not leadership and, of course, if it happens that will be a major embarrassment for the White House. The obvious criticism is: Why didn't you do anything?

Fifth, the President should have explained very clearly why he is opposed to this maneuver. The problem is that he cannot really do so without blaming the PA.

Let us remember that in the year 2000 — that's 11 years ago! How time flies when you're fantasising about an unworkable peace process — the Palestinian leadership rejected peace. (Note: So did the Syrian leadership and the US Government is still treating that regime as a friend!) President Bill Clinton denounced the PA rulers. Then President George W Bush discovered that PA leader Yasir Arafat was lying to him and trying to import Iranian weapons to launch a full-scale war on Israel. He, too, got angry.

Mr Obama, however, has not caught on and probably never will. The PA does not want to make a compromise peace resulting in a two-state solution. Going to the UN to circumvent talks and allying with Hamas are two major ways that the PA is violating the Oslo agreement, the very basis of its existence. In fact, by rejecting peace and instead launching a terrorist war on Israel they violated it 11 years ago. And, as far as Western diplomacy goes, they never pay the price.

It will pull the rug out from under the United States every time and make its President look foolish. And that's sure what's happening with the PA's unilateral independence bid.

In short, this is a huge mess. And while the PA is responsible for it, the President is, too. The PA is showing by how it behaves that it doesn't want peace. Still, the West just doesn't want to recognise this fact. It's far easier and cost-free to blame Israel.

But what's the point in Mr Obama coming up with a new peace plan when it should be clear that it isn't going anywhere, and why it isn't going anywhere. People talk of a "cycle of violence". Well what about the cycle of diplomacy? Here's how that works:

US and Europe propose plan, demand is made for both sides to make concessions, Israel makes concessions, PA doesn't implement its part; plan fails; Israel blamed; new cycle begins.

Of course, sometimes Israel refuses also or only makes partial concessions. Yet every time the PA's score is zero. At least Israel is always willing to talk. The PA has now refused serious talks for 2.5 years and there's no doubt it will get to the three-year-mark.

The fact that Israel has caught onto this game and refuses to play anymore has provoked astonishment in Europe and America. Don't those Israelis realise that it's for their own good? No, they realise it is against their interests and also realise that these countries either haven't been paying attention or don't care.

But to return to the PA's UN manoeuvre. The Obama Administration has botched it. In the end, the unilateral independence gimmick will be defeated but at the cost of at least one year wasted diplomacy and an increasingly reckless PA strategy. This time, though, the US Government will have to stick its neck out and (very possibly) do a unilateral veto.

-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of MERIA.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

RESET IN US-RUSSIA RELATIONS PAYS OFF

DMITRY KOSYREV


During the recently concluded summit at Deauville, Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama reiterated their commitment to maintain strategic balance. Besides discussing missile defence, both of them agreed to cooperate in the fight against terrorism


Until their recent meeting in Deauville, Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama had not met face to face since the APEC summit in Yokohama, Japan last November. This six-month hiatus was only to be expected, given the particular way that bilateral relations between the two powers have unfolded.

It will undoubtedly be some time before any details on the exact nature of the agreements reached on missile defence become available. That is, supposing that Deauville saw any agreements reached at all, and that it was not just a convenient opportunity to continue the talks.


Mr Obama, who is renowned for his oratorical gifts, had this to say after the meeting: "We continued our discussions around the issue of missile defence and we are committed to working together so that we can find an approach and configuration that is with the security needs of both countries, that maintains the strategic balance, and deals with potential threats that we both share."


Both countries' media write that the United States and Russia want two different things from missile defence. Washington wants absolute security from any missile attack, whereas Moscow wants to know for sure whether Americans have stopped preparing for a nuclear war against Russia. The two countries simply think differently and are talking about two different things, and they are unlikely to ever understand each other.


Mr Medvedev and Mr Obama, who have been working tenaciously to cut strategic and offensive weapons over the past two years, clearly have the stamina to reach an agreement on missile defence as well. Moreover, Russia has said more than once that the New START Treaty is worthless without an agreement on missile defence.


Other achievements of their meeting at Deauville include the US-Russian joint statement on visa liberalisation. Of course, the United States will not allow visa-free travel for Russians overnight, but maybe potential tourists from provincial Russia will no longer need to go to Moscow for interviews at the US Embassy. Washington may approve multiple-entry visas for Russians, something the EU has already done.


Russia and the United States also agreed on Thursday to further cooperate in the fight against terrorism, in particular Al Qaeda. This harkens back to the post-2001 era when the US and Russian intelligence services really cooperated and people in both countries hoped for a strong friendship forged in a struggle against a common enemy.


Furthermore, the two Presidents signed a joint statement on deepening cooperation in the cross-boundary Bering Strait region, including the expansion of interaction between the national agencies responsible for the specially protected natural areas in Alaska and Chukotka.


And lastly, Mr Obama said the reset in US-Russian relations paying off. "Over the past two years, I think that we have built an outstanding relationship and, as a consequence, we've been able to reset relations between the United States and Russia in a way that is good for the security and the prosperity of both of our countries," he said at a news conference after his meeting with Mr Medvedev.

Unfortunately, there is still no clear path forward in bilateral relations. As diplomats would say, there is no agenda. And efforts to formulate a new agenda for US-Russian relations in the past few months have not yielded substantial results.


Coasting is not a problem in such a situation, but there is always the danger of ending up in a minefield. It is clear that these two new-thinking leaders honestly want friendly relations between their countries. But, as is often the case, the voters get in the way. Ordinary people may know little about politics but the two leaders need their support at next year's presidential elections.


It usually takes people years, and possibly even several generations, to stop seeing someone as an enemy, but accelerating the process could spoil everything in the current explosive global situation.


It would have been ideal if there were one pro-American party and one anti-American party in Russia, but doubts about a US-Russian partnership do not run along party lines. Mr Obama said we should help maintain a strategic balance between the two countries (like during the rule of Nixon and Brezhnev), but what about all the other aspects of our relations?


Unlike Russia, the American electorate is being split by many other foreign policy events, such as Mr Obama's call for a two-state solution that uses the 1967 borders as a starting point, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu response that these borders are "indefensible".


Even Democrats say Mr Obama should not have raised the issue, although many think it is not Mr Obama but Mr Netanyahu who is betraying Israel.


In an even more unpleasant move for the people, the United States may decide to hold talks on the future of Afghanistan with the war-weary Taliban. Part of the US electorate hates the idea, although it could be the only way out of this 10-year war.


In light of this, the current crawling pace of the US-Russian reset could be conducive to progress. You know, 'less haste, more speed'.


-- The writer is a Moscow-based political affairs columnist.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

ARMY RULERS IN CIVILIAN CLOTHES

ASHOK K MEHTA


Burmese Generals have bestowed on their country a new Constitution, elections and a Parliament while making Aung San Suu Kyi politically irrelevant.

In response to Washington's nudging on promoting democracy in Myanmar, New Delhi's stock reply has been: "India is not in the business of exporting democracy." In the last six weeks, Burmese Generals have bestowed on the country a new Constitution, elections and a Parliament which marks a transition towards restoration of democracy. Burma-watchers see the situation changing quietly, imperceptibly, but changing at any rate, positively to uncover the information and freedom black hole there. Others call this "false openness, merely consolidation of power by the military through the façade of a democratic system".

In military parlance, it is redeployment of troops. Myanmar's strongman, President Than Shwe, has stepped aside, retiring with him arch rival Gen Maung Aiye; but behind the scenes retaining the levers of power as Senior General, like Mentor Leader Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. Inclusive of Senior General Than Shwe there are six power centres, all headed by former Generals barring one which is led by a serving General.

Mr Thein Sein is President responsible to the Union Parliament and "duty-bound to honour and safeguard the Constitution". As the Party's candidate he heads the Cabinet and has to make the system work. There are two Vice-Presidents of whom one is an ethnic Shan and the only civilian in the power structure. The Senior Vice-President, who is the Army's candidate, is the leader of 25 per cent of all legislative seats held by the Army. The Party General Secretary, who is the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, heads the Union Solidarity Development Party which has replaced the State Peace and Development Council, is packed with Army loyalists and holds 60 per cent of seats in Parliament.

The sixth power centre is under Commander-in-Chief General Min Aung Hlaing who appoints the Defence, Home and Border Areas Ministers. He is not answerable to the Constitution and in case of Emergency, the President will hand over powers to him. He selects one quarter of the legislators from the Army and is, therefore, the most important General.

How does this all-retired-except-one Generals' power dynamic work? For all five leaders cooperation is the mantra with the blessings of Senior General Than Shwe. The President, Speaker and Party General Secretary have to be re-elected in 2015 and, therefore, need to work with the people. The new Parliament is bicameral and represented by ethnic groups and others by up to 15 per cent. A similar proportion of reservation is replicated in the seven State Parliaments but sufficient numbers have not come up to fill all the seats. Kayah is the only State where ethnic parties rejected the elections.

Whether at the Centre or in the States, the USDP-Army combine is supreme. On the face of it, power has been diffused, but in reality power remains in the hands of Generals, managed by Senior General Than Shwe. The Party, as in any authoritarian regime, is required to control the Army — power flowing from the barrel of the gun. Since the new system has not been worked and the Generals lack experience, cross-connections are expected. As the Army is not under the Constitution, some enlightened Commander-in-Chief could dismantle the new architecture of power-sharing.

With high desertions and low recruitment in the Army, units are functioning below strength. The Army controlling both the Party and Parliament will not be easy. The Army opposes federalism and greater power to ethnic groups. Therefore, it favours development over democracy. President Thein Sein, whose first visit abroad was to China last month, has not induced any confidence among the people about change and freedom as they see him as a prop of Senior General Than Shwe to maintain status quo and make military rule in Myanmar acceptable to the international community. With five power centres replacing the single window policy, decision-making will be tough.

The President's inaugural speech in March 2001 was pivotal in its commitment to democracy. He said that he and "all Members of Parliament, including 25 per cent military appointees, are duty-bound to honour and safeguard at risk to life, the Constitution and the democratic nation in line with the Constitution". His reference to national reconciliation with ethnic nationalities, economic development and willingness to amend the Constitution was a bold beginning and likely to be questioned by hardline Generals.

Senior General Than Shwe has apparently taken leaves out of the Chinese and Vietnamese model where the focus is on high growth rates and economic development for social stability by improving per capita income. Social scientists argue that a $2,000 per capita income maintains societal stability while the $8,000 mark leads to demands of political freedom.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and Senior General Than Shwe have become good friends. Facing a dozen insurgencies, Myanmar wishes to emulate the Sri Lanka model of crushing rebels. Mr Rajapaksa is impressed with Myanmar's focus on development which he wishes to implement in lieu of power-sharing with ethnic Tamils.

The military regime in civilian clothes has released Myanmar's icon Aung San Suu Kyi but made her politically irrelevant. Her National League for Democracy did not contest the elections as the party has disintegrated and suffers from an identity crisis — it is more of a social organisation now. The halo around Ms Aung San Suu Kyi has not tarnished as she remains the key to lifting of sanctions and rapproachment with the West and ethnic groups.

Similarly, the Buddhist clergy, which revolted in 2007, has been put in its place and not allowed to go the Sri Lanka way. Two months on experts are divided whether democratic change and openness are underway or it is all a sophisticated hoax to institutionalise military rule. Tension between the serving military and the military political party is expected as suspicion and distrust of political parties is deeply ingrained in the Army.

Myanmar has no recent experience of democracy or creating institutions and structures to support it. The country, passed over for the chairmanship of Asean once earlier, will be in line for it in 2014. Western sanctions targeting the Generals have not worked, especially on their wealth and money which is safe in Singapore. When the transition to democracy was underway, Burma-watchers said: "Than Shwe is on his way out but Aung San Suu Kyi is not on her way in". They were right about Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, not about Senior General Than Shwe. Democracy may still be a long way off but change has certainly hit Yangon.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

MORE TELECOM STINK

 

If reports that Union textiles minister Dayanidhi Maran has been asked to quit his cabinet post are correct, it's a step in the right direction. Investigations into the 2G spectrum scam have already landed two DMK leaders - former telecom minister A Raja and DMK MP Kanimozhi - in jail. And pressure is now being mounted on Maran, who stands accused of arm-twisting cellular service company Aircel into selling out to the Malaysia-based Maxis group when he was telecom minister from 2004 to 2007. In return Maran's family-run media enterprise, Sun Network, is alleged to have received investment worth Rs 700 crore from the latter.

The allegations are buttressed by original Aircel promoter C Sivasankaran's contention that the department of telecom under Maran sat on applications for 14 licences and spectrum. Yet, these were expeditiously cleared once the ownership of the company changed hands. But that's not all. Preliminary CBI investigations reveal that Maran had also diverted official phone lines to boost his family business. Given the serious charges against Maran of using public office for personal aggrandisement, it's not enough for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to say that they ought to be investigated without "fear or favour." To facilitate the work of law enforcement agencies, it's appropriate that Maran steps down from the Union cabinet as he attempts to clear his name.

If there is any truth to the charges against Maran and Raja, it would reinforce claims of crony capitalism's vice-like grip in the country. Crony capitalism is not so different from the commanding heights principle of the pre-liberalisation era, since in both cases it's politicians who control the levers of the economy. Such a system profits a few people but is unhealthy for most citizens. It kills competition and hurts the cause of inclusive growth. The issue is linked to the national outrage that exists today on corruption as well as stashing unaccounted money in foreign locales, rightly seen as hurting people's futures.


The Manmohan Singh government can't afford to distance itself from the Maran case. In the present environment, inaction is likely to be interpreted as apathy and strengthen the anti-government chorus from within and outside the political mainstream. The UPA can ill afford another Ramdev-like fiasco. It must not only work on long-term solutions to institutional corruption - a strong Lokpal Bill could be one step in this regard - in the short term it must also be seen to be acting. For that, it must ask tainted ministers such as Maran to step down even as charges against them are probed.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

A GLIMMER OF HOPE

 

Glacial would be an understatement in assessing the attempts to patch together an institutional framework of governance in Kathmandu, following the overthrow of the monarchy. But the dismantling of the dual security system - coming on the heels of the Constituent Assembly (CA) being granted a three-month extension - holds out the hope that the process is heading into its home stretch. For the Maoist leaders to agree to police personnel replacing People's Liberation Army (PLA) men in their security details is of considerable symbolic significance. It strikes at the heart of one of the key issues that has bedevilled negotiations with other parties - the integration of former Maoist combatants into the security forces. With 19,000 PLA men currently languishing in various camps, this is an increasingly urgent need. The abolition of the dual security system has removed one of the roadblocks to fulfilling it.


There are others, of course. The CA's term may have been extended, but it has a daunting list of tasks to achieve in the next three months - from pushing forward the integration process to finishing a first draft of the Constitution and reaching a consensus on the extent and contours of federalism. The first step to tackling these is to find a suitable replacement for current Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal so that the formation of a national unity government can go ahead. A failure to do so may well result in the sort of impasse that required 17 attempts over a seven-month period to vote in a new government. The resolution of a violent struggle is not a linear, logical process. But even so, to return to a pre-February situation would be a major step back. It is time for the Maoists, the Unified Marxist-Leninists and the Nepali Congress to display both flexibility and vision.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

TO CURB OR NOT TO CURB

SUDIPTO MUNDLESUDIPTO MUNDLE

 

The price of crude oil, silver and other commodities dipped sharply the day after the RBI raised policy interest rates by a further 50 basis points last month, and it was accused of being behind the curve, dealing with yesterday's problem, etc. However, nowhere in the world can the monetary authorities, or anyone else for that matter, predict at the time of announcing a policy what the global markets will throw at them the next day. Besides, the slight moderation in recent weeks notwithstanding, high inflation remains the number one challenge for macro-economic management at present. So the RBI is quite right to focus on this. But the real worry is that it may not have the required tools to contain the kind of inflation we are experiencing.

The phenomenon of inflation is more complex than is commonly understood. While inflation manifests itself as a rise in the general level of prices, its sources and causes may vary quite widely. In the present episode, while all prices have been rising, it has been led by different groups of commodities at different times during the past year. A year ago, inflation was being led by food prices. Later in the year, it was primary non-food items, fuels and minerals that led the price rise, though vegetable prices also saw a spike in the winter. During the last few months, manufactured products have led the rise in prices. Thus the sources of inflation have varied greatly during the year, and their causes could also be quite different.

To understand this, it is useful to think of the economy as consisting of three broad segments. The first is one where supply is relatively inflexible in the short run, and prices adjust to equate demand and supply. In agriculture, for instance, supply is fixed once the crop has been harvested. When that supply is short compared to demand, prices rise. When the supply is in excess of demand, prices fall.


The second segment is one where the quantity of supply is flexible and adjusts to the level of demand at given prices. The prices themselves are less flexible, and formed as a mark-up over costs. The size of the mark-up reflects the pricing power of market leaders, or what economists call the degree of monopoly. In highly competitive markets, or in the downturn of a business cycle, margins are low. Conversely, prices tend to rise in the upturn of a business cycle, or when competition is weak. Prices will also rise when costs rise in this segment of the economy. Cost push inflation, as distinct from demand pull inflation in the first segment. The manufacturing sector is a typical example of such price formation.


In India there is a third segment, the administered price segment, where prices are formed by government order. Large swathes of the economy, which are still dominated by public enterprises, are part of this segment, e.g. the oil companies which adjust prices only when permitted to do so by the government.


Of course, the adjustment of administered prices is often a delayed reaction to underlying market forces, the price of hydrocarbons again being the obvious example. The formation of some prices is also a hybrid phenomenon, as in the case of foodgrains like rice and wheat. There is a threshold price, or support price, which is administered by fiat. However, actual prices can rise above this level if there is a sharp shortfall in supply, e.g. because of a drought, and market forces come to dominate as in the first segment.


Another complexity is added by international trade, where prices of exports or the costs of imports are determined by global trends. This is again illustrated by the price of oil. But there are many other products where price changes are also driven by global trends. Cotton, rubber, iron ore, gold and silver are all examples of commodities where large increases in domestic prices during the past year have been highly correlated with increases in international commodity prices.

 

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'I AM DISAPPOINTED BY THE LACK OF MANDARIN TEACHERS IN INDIA'

RUDRONEEL GHOSHRUDRONEEL GHOSH

 

Even in the absence of official diplomatic relations, bilateral ties between India and Taiwan are strengthening. Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre in New Delhi , Wenchyi Ong , speaks to Rudroneel Ghosh about areas of collaboration.


What is the perception about India in Taiwan?

In the past, Taiwanese people's perception about India was moulded by prominent Indian figures. First among them is Lord Buddha. Almost 85% of Taiwanese belong to various Buddhist sects. Second is the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Many of his works have been translated in Chinese and put in textbooks for 6th graders in Taiwan. All of us have grown up reading Tagore. Third is Mahatma Gandhi. He fought the British colonialists around the time we were fighting the Japanese colonial forces. Chiang Kai-shek supported India's independence during the early 1940s. These three figures are part of our collective memory. But today's generation in Taiwan knows about India through its impressive economic growth story, which is reported on a daily basis in Taiwanese media. And then there is Bollywood. 3 Idiots was a huge box-office hit in Taiwan. As we speak, My Name Is Khan is showing in theatres. Fundamentally, the two people share common values such as democracy, a plural society and emphasis on family bonds.


Despite the common values, people of the two countries appear unaware of each other. How can we remedy this?

The traditional means would be through cultural connections - movies, musical performances and tourism. We have been collaborating with ICCR to organise such events in India. But i feel the best way to reduce the gap would be through Mandarin Chinese teaching. I am disappointed by the lack of competent Mandarin teachers in India. There is a belated realisation on your part that you need to boost the number of people proficient in Mandarin. Taiwan can be a fantastic source of native Mandarin teachers. If teachers from Taiwan can train your teachers in Mandarin that would be the best way to reduce the awareness deficit.


Taiwan is big on educational collaboration. What is the philosophy behind this?

Currently foreign students in Taiwanese universities account for 3% of all students. According to policy goals announced by our president, Ma Ying-jeou, this is too little. We would like to upgrade this to 10%. When foreign students come to our campuses they gain an in-depth understanding of our culture. They become life-long friends of Taiwan. We have quality educational resources that we want to share with international students. Also, cost of studying in Taiwan is very economical - one-tenth of that in London or Boston. We have about 500 Indian students in Taiwan, almost all of them in science-related PhD programmes. I want this number to grow to about 5,000 in another 5-6 years.


How can we boost synergy in Indo-Taiwanese trade relations?

Two-way trade stood at $6.4 billion in 2010, which is larger than India's trade with Canada or Israel. I am expecting to see double-digit growth in the foreseeable future with trade volume reaching $10 billion in 3-4 years' time. But the most important mechanism that can really boost trade is a Free Trade Agreement. Feasibility studies are already being done by ICRIER and Chung-Hua Institution. Also, in our model investment follows trade. Currently Taiwan invests $1 billion in India. There is huge potential for this figure to increase. Taiwan is India's natural partner if the latter wants to increase its manufacturing output to GDP ratio from 16% to 25% in the next five years.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

VIGILANTE REPUBLIC

JUG SURAIYAJUG SURAIYA

 

By its brutal police action against Ramdev's so-called yoga camp in New Delhi the central government overnight transformed a rabble-rousing maverick - who, among other things, offered to cure the 'sickness' of homosexuality through breathing exercises - into a folk hero and martyr. The Centre's strong-arm tactics against a gathering that had remained peaceful was all the more bizarre in that it came shortly after senior members of the government had openly kow-towed to Ramdev, trying to reach a compromise regarding his main demand of immediately bringing back into the country the huge amounts of black money reportedly stashed abroad by tax evaders and scamsters.


The opposition - mainly the sangh parivar which till then had been underplaying its links with the saffron-clad guru - has come out in full-throated support of Ramdev, comparing the police raid on the yoga camp with the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, a rhetorical allegation that insults the memories of the victims of the Amritsar atrocity. The use of brute force to muzzle inconvenient dissent has, more appropriately, been likened to the imposition of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi. Indeed, today's scenario does have ominous echoes of 1975. At that time, Jayaprakash Narayan's anti-government movement played a part in provoking the imposition of the Emergency. In the very different political context of today, where coalition rule has become the norm, no government is in a position to suspend fundamental rights as Indira Gandhi could do. However, there are parallels between JP's movement and the civil society-cum-satyagraha campaign initiated by Anna Hazare and subsequently hijacked by the more flamboyant Ramdev. Like JP, Anna and the yoga guru have set themselves up as extra-constitutional authorities who - without the mandate of ever having been elected to public office - want to change the laws on which the Indian republic is founded. This is tantamount to not only redrafting the Constitution but doing so in a manner that in itself is unconstitutional. The Constitution is the foundation of the Indian republic; if it were subverted the edifice that we call India would collapse.


'Extra-constitutional authority' - which, like JP, is what Ramdev and Anna lay claim to - is a fancy term for vigilantism, for taking the law into one's own hands. Vigilantism gains a dubious legitimacy when legal channels are seen to be incapable, or unwilling, to provide even a semblance of justice. This, increasingly, seems to be the case in India. Whether it is bringing killers to book, as in the Jessica Lall and other cases, or ensuring that farmers do not get dispossessed of their land and livelihood for the benefit of state-sponsored carpetbaggers, or stemming the rampant epidemic of corruption in everyday life, what we call civil society has repeatedly had to step in to rectify the many failures of the law. When the law is seen to fail, vigilantism seems to be the only remedy. But it's a dangerous remedy. For today's acclaimed vigilantes, the people's champions, could prove to be tomorrow's dictators.


The true role of civil society in a democracy - which India supposedly still is - should not be vigilantism, not the substitution of law by the will of the mob. Civil society's true role is not to confront the government of the day but to engage it in critical dialogue, through all the legitimate means available to it, from demanding electoral reforms to pressing for more effective implementation of the Right to Information Act.


The problem today is trying to differentiate between the vigilantism of the individual and that of the state; who is more above the law, a Ramdev or a so-called law enforcement establishment that uses self-sanctioned violence to suppress dissent and so undermines the very laws it is meant to enforce? In what seems to be turning into a vigilante republic, there is no easy answer to a question that hangs over us like a Damocles' sword.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

THE NUMBER YOU'VE DIALLED...

Allegations of graft are lapping at the feet of yet another former telecommunications minister, this one too from the beleaguered Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Dayanidhi Maran is being accused of abuse of authority — charges similar to those faced by his successor A Raja, who is in the slammer pending investigations.

Mr Maran held the portfolio between 2004 and 2007 and is alleged to have engineered the necessary concentration of powers in his office that allowed him, and Mr Raja after him, to exercise wide discretion in the grant of mobile telephony licences.

With the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) summoning former telecom ministers, both Mr Maran and Mr Raja now face public scrutiny for out-of-turn allotments that may have benefited themselves and their party and for depriving the nation of substantial revenue through auctions of scarce radio frequencies.

On his part, Mr Raja has argued that all decisions he took as minister had kept the entire Cabinet in the loop and the loss to the exchequer was purely notional because India's policy for mobile telephony had settled on a licensing system after a debate on its merits over spectrum sales.

Mr Maran, likewise, could marshal these persuasive arguments. But he faces a more sinister accusation of bullying a businessman into selling his telecom company to a family friend. If C Sivasankaran's charge — that he was forced to sell Aircel to Malaysia's Maxis — were to stick, Mr Maran would find himself in a bigger hole than Mr Raja is in.

Victimisation appears to be a bigger crime than patronage in the warped laws of Indian crony capitalism.

The DMK is paying a high price for losing its home constituency. Two of its senior ministers and the party boss' daughter, Kanimozhi, are in the doghouse. The UPA should draw some lessons on how not to run a coalition from the unfolding DMK crisis.

A governing alliance can avoid the unedifying spectacle of regional snouts in the trough — and the eventual comeuppance — if it lays out rules on acceptable behaviour at the outset. These terms of engagement are, unfortunately, lost in the din of post-poll haggling. It thus falls on the senior member of such non-hierarchical groupings to lead by example.

Both the Congress and the BJP are reconciled to ruling in alliances. It is in their self-interest to give some sort of structure to this form of governance.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

CROSS-DRESSING KI JAI!

What is it about our worthies that make them infuse everything with utter seriousness? Never mind that Congressman Janardan Dwivedi didn't need to make the incident of a man (unsuccessfully) throwing a shoe at him anything other than the slapstick comedy that it was.

But what made Mr Dwivedi take a pot shot at Ramdev's slipping into a salwar kameez while leaving Delhi on Sunday? "Satyagrahis don't run away wearing women's clothes. They fight," Mr Dwivedi said.

We're sure what he meant was that male satyagrahis don't wear women's clothes. Coming from a Congressman, we're doubtful whether he was saying that no satyagrahis wear women's clothes. But we'll let that pass.

What we don't feel like letting pass, however, is Mr Dwivedi's insinuation that cross-dressers are morally dodgy and are fundamentally cowards. We couldn't find anything from Mahatma Gandhi on the subject, but the Mahabharata — surely not an RSS text — says a few things about men donning women's clothes.

Arjuna dressed up as a woman to 'become' Brihannala during the last year of the Pandavas' exile. While he was a bit upset — being cursed by the apsara Urvashi after he had rebuffed her advances and was turned into a 'kliba' (man who dressed and behaved as a woman) — it was Krishna who told him the advantages of cross-dressing.

The Mahabharata says that Arjuna wearing red silk, long hair and bangles as Brihannala hid his 'masculine glory' without eclipsing it "like Ketu covering the full moon".

Cross-dressing gets its biggest support from Lord Krishna himself, who regularly wore Radha's earrings, skirt,  blouse and shawl — while his belle donned his clothes, peacock-feathered crown and flute included.

Men dressing up like women and women dressing up like men isn't something restricted to the champagne-sodden decadence of the 1920s Berlin of Marlene Dietrich. I

t's also traditionally part and parcel of the 'sakhi-bekhi' cult of Vaishnavism. Baba Ramdev certainly has many things going against him. But if he decided to play Mama Ramdev for a bit, we certainly won't fault him that.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

KALYUG'S WARRIORS

SAGARIKA GHOSE,

The UPA has dispatched Ramdev to his ashram. The police action at the Ramlila Maidan was insupportable and the BJP has now gained a cause celebre. The RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have fully supported Ramdev from the start. On Twitter, anyone critical of Ramdev is being dubbed a 'Congress agent' by Sangh parivar activists.

The Ramdev phenomenon and, to some extent, the Anna Hazare campaign are part of India's right-wing nationalist revolution. It is right-wing because it is based on national pride and individual entitlement. It is a movement of the middle and lower middle class buoyed up by 9% growth that now seeks a responsive, overtly honest government and a hard State.

This revolution is closely linked to a Hindu consolidation spreading through society. Perhaps as a backlash to globalisation, urban religiosity and Bharatiya sanskriti have become fashionable; faith in gurus is growing and it cuts across classes. Ramdev jumps from colas to homosexuality to black money in his choice of enemies, yet his devotees' faith remains constant.

Notwithstanding the BJP's crushing electoral defeats, the Hindu nationalist consolidation is gathering tremendous cultural momentum, much of which feeds into the anti-corruption campaigns. The Ram janmabhoomi movement is back, in a new sophisticated avatar.

The revolution has its virtues and dangers. Its virtues are, first, that it is based on an engaged sense of 'desi' cultural pride. Second, it is forcing a debate where none existed on issues like corruption and black money.

But the danger of the Hindu revolution is that it may overthrow liberal constitutional values and revive street justice, of which Ramdev's prescription of death penalty for economic offences is one example and shoe throwing is another. 

It is also a revolution that is being played outside formal politics, at least for now. Govindacharya, one of the organisers of Ramdev's movement, has been openly critical of the BJP leadership. Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj are fighting a battle in Parliament, not at the Ramlila Maidan.

But just as the Ram mandir agitation was begun by the VHP and later used by the BJP to come to power, there are those within the Sangh who are eyeing a similar opportunity to piggyback on an anti-corruption movement being built at the grassroots by Hindu outfits. 

Next year's elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand will be a test of whether the BJP can convert Hindu consolidation into electoral victory.

'War against corruption' is led by people of many hues, but it is also the Hindu revolution's catch-all device to rally new support to the cause.

Many protests are contained within the umbrella: protest against an overly westernised 'elite class', protest against 'anti-national intellectuals' embodied in the persona of Binayak Sen and protest, at its very root, against rule by the 'foreign-born' Sonia Gandhi.

No surprise therefore that Ramdev brought up Gandhi's foreign-ness again.

Hatred of Sonia Gandhi and the Congress dynasty is the leitmotif and spur of the Hindu revolution, the reason why large numbers of middle class folk are lining up behind the Hindu revolution. Analysts have pointed to right-wing consolidation in the lower judiciary, gauged from the judgements on the Babri masjid title suit as well as from judgements on Binayak Sen, both criticised by the apex court.

The saffron think tank Vivekananda Foundation consists of many public figures. Already, the BJP is asking why Syed Ali Shah Geelani's seminar did not get the same treatment as Ramdev's protest.

A court in Muzaffarpur has registered a case of 'sedition' against Digvijaya Singh for his views on the yoga guru.

The first Hindu revolution begun in the 1980s by the VHP, based on a desire to restore Hindu pride by building a Ram mandir in Ayodhya. 'Hindu rage' at the Rajiv Gandhi government's 'minority appeasement' in the Shah Bano case added to the momentum. The movement acquired a mass character through LK Advani's rath yatras.

Critics were described as 'pseudo-secularists' or 'Macaulay's children'.

Shocked by the electoral reversals of 2004 and 2009, Sangh activists are angry with the BJP for letting the temple movement down, for straying towards the path of 'Shining India'. A desperate search for a cause and a new rallying cry has led them to the 'war on corruption'.

It has replaced 'Hindu pride' just as 'corrupt' has replaced the earlier 'pseudo-secularist'.

Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal may be genuinely driven by nation-building sentiments. Yet, their voices are in danger of being drowned by those with more supporters on the street. 

Will the Hindu right-wing revolution spell the death-knell of  the UPA? Rajiv Gandhi created his party's nemesis by allowing the shilanyas at Ayodhya in 1989. Manmohan Singh, too ,could prove unequal to right-wing consolidation.

The UPA's handling of Ramdev — first kow-towing and then arresting him at midnight — showed how politically weak the government is.

India's Hindu consolidation today has a benign face, focused on forcing governments to deliver on corruption. But the Hindu revolution could start to devour liberal values if met with governmental paralysis. 'Hang the corrupt', 'Jail anti-nationals' or 'Bomb Pakistan' cannot become mantras of a modern rational India.

UPA 2 needs to recognise the society it is confronting, start delivering on its anti-corruption campaign promises and look and act like a 24 x 7 government. Else, bit by bit its, authority will be chipped away.

Today, it's Ramdev and Anna. Tomorrow, a new people's messiah might emerge from the wings. 

(Sagarika Ghose is deputy editor, CNN-IBN. The views expressed by the author are personal)

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

SOLE SURVIVOR

RAJBIR DESWAL

All cops are not necessarily corrupt. Some, like yours truly, are more or less honest. You know, the sort who doesn't say 'No, no!' to a 'let's-round-it-off-to-the-next-digit' offer, but isn't an out-and-out rogue either.

So there I was, having accepted those half-a-dozen '50% off' coupons from a branded shoe company.

Straightaway, my wife bought four pairs of shoes, two of them being brown Oxfords that could double as part of my uniform. One brown pair was duly packed off for posterity — and forgotten about. It was only after a couple of years that I realised that the boots proved to be a little too big for me.

Which is when the inevitable happened.

We were waiting in attendance for the minister who was on her first visit to the district. Suddenly, I felt uncomfortable.

I proceeded to reassure myself, saying that while being driven in the car from home, I didn't have this kind of feeling. I tried standing 'straighter', but nothing improved. I felt the ground slipping away. In the scorching heat of a north India summer, I sweated profusely with  my adrenaline levels jumping.

With trepidation, I tried to lean on the wall but slithered, all the while smiling in a sort of steely way, lest anyone found me to be the 'soft policeman' on duty, a traitor to his uniformed tribe.

And exactly at the moment I felt I was floating, the minister arrived. Everyone gathered around her with bouquets and garlands.

I tried towing along and did make it to her car, even giving her a perfect salute — my hands still not knowing what was happening to the rest of my body. But the 'sinking' continued, strangely accompanied by an attack of vertigo. I looked back to check the distance from where I stood to where my car was.

That's when I saw a trail of polyester and plastic grains on the red carpet that had been laid out for the VIP. The trail had led to my feet and was traced to my boots.

Oh dear. Finally, I figured what was happening. The sole of my shoes being synthetic — and not used for a long time — had dissolved and disintegrated bit by bit. 

Excusing myself from the well-heeled and well-shod, I rushed to my car with a perfectly synthetic smile that was caught on camera as I made my way back home. Next day when I saw my photograph in the newspapers, I promised myself: never again would I succumb to temptation and accept any dodgy coupons. 

(Rajbir Deswal is an IPS officer. The views expressed by the author are personal)

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLLATERAL DAMAGE

SUMIT MITRA

In Pakistan, the army has remained the law since 1958 when general Ayub Khan assumed political power through a coup d'etat. Constitutions have come and gone since then, but not the military's grip on the nation and its mind. But every fall has a decline, and one need not be a Gibbon to get its feel.

In Islamabad, the army may still be the law, but that chinks are showing in its armour is evident from a cursory glance at the Pakistani media. Asma Jehangir, human rights activist and elected president of Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association, now publicly calls the army a bunch of "duffers", the only job of its generals being to play golf and "grab the best plots".

The recent willingness of Pakistan's civil society to talk about its army — particularly about the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), its thuggish dirty tricks department — seems to be the outcome of the serial drubbings it has recently received from the United States, its traditional masters.

It began with the daring operations of the US Navy Seals in locating and killing Osama bin Laden in a house at Abbottabad close to the Pakistan Military Academy. It exposed the true status of Pakistan and its sovereignty with Americans as the latter strolled into Pakistani territory as if it was a McDonald's outlet.  

Abbottabad was followed by an attack on PNS Mehran, a naval base and naval air headquarters in Karachi. There were reports in the media earlier that the Pakistani navy had been thoroughly infiltrated by al-Qaeda elements and, apparently, goaded by the US, the military was at last trying to rid it of jihadis.

It must have had some truth in it, for enraged by the alleged cleansing, terrorists raided the harbour with ease, destroying two reconnaissance aircraft and holding the place to ransom for 17 hours.

The journalist who reported al-Qaeda's penetration in the navy was found missing. Two days later his body, showing marks of brutal assault, was fished out of a canal over 100 miles from his home.

It could well be the handiwork of ISI, known for its medieval ways of sending signals to a community, in this case to the media. But, within a week, the ISI had to hand over intelligence input to the Americans on Pakistan al-Qaeda chief Ilyas Kashmiri, the mastermind of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. Like bin Laden, Kashmiri was also sheltered by the Pakistan army all these years.

After it handed over Kashmiri's whereabouts, it took the US only the pressing of a button to kill him and his guests with missiles fired from drones.

The Pakistani military is almost a creation of the US, having been its Cold War partner since the Baghdad Pact that led to the formation of the Central Treaty Organisation (Cento) and the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (Seato).

After Zia ul-Haq put an official seal on Islamic fundamentalism by raising mujahideen militias to help the US counter the erstwhile Soviet Union's aggression of Afghanistan, fundamentalism became Pakistan's quasi-official creed. The Cold War ended, the Soviet Union perished, but the mujahideen grew from strength to strength.

However, following 9/11, Pakistan decided to selectively dismantle its terror outfit, keeping one wing forever battle-ready against India while trying to defang the westward-looking units.

It has been a miserable failure.

In the minds of Pakistan's ordinary people, the US is competing with India on the list of demons. In the State prep schools, children are taught that the letter 'tay' is for takrao or collision, which, in turn, is illustrated by a picture of jet planes crashing into the destroyed twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

Anti-American feelings invade not only madrasas but also the top academies. A recent WikiLeak (No. 153436) published in the Pakistani daily, Dawn, has US Ambassador Anne Patterson, who had addressed students of the National Defence University (NDU), mentioning in her cable that the students  were "astonishingly naive and biased" about the US.

She quoted a US colonel who had attended a course at the NDU and was startled at the students' "anti-Americanism" and general naivete about national and global affairs.

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the US, who recently visited the NDU with US Senator John Kerry, must have regretted asking the students who they recognised as Pakistan's chief enemy: India, the US or other nations. A third of Pakistan's would-be military leaders identified Pakistan's Enemy No. 1 as the US.

(Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal)

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

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

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

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

OPPOSITION'S RIGHT

 

The Centre's firm indication to the "civil society" members on the joint drafting committee for the Lokpal bill that work would go on with or without them instantly yielded clarifications. A day after their Monday boycott, Arvind Kejriwal, one of the five non-government members on the committee, said they would not withdraw from further meetings. But the manner in which they have sought to reschedule meetings and pre-assign the agenda has already revealed their casual approach to the deeply consultative spirit that must — and does — inform law-making in a democracy. That impression is reinforced, significantly, by opposition parties. In responses almost identical in tenor, they rebuffed the drafting committee's questionnaire on issues related to the Lokpal bill. They reminded the committee about Parliament's central role in law-making and advised the government to table the draft bill in its monsoon session, and thereon leave it to established parliamentary procedures.

This stern, and near unanimous, response from non-UPA political parties is a timely check on the prescriptive (even gotcha) approach of the civil society half of the committee. On behalf of the BSP, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati told the finance minister, and chairman of the drafting panel, Pranab Mukherjee: "Seeking an opinion of the party before tabling the bill on the floor of the House (is) contradictory to parliamentary traditions." CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat wrote: "We suggest that the government prepare a draft of the Lokpal legislation on which we will be able to give our views." BJP President Nitin Gadkari argued: "Expecting political parties to give their views to a drafting committee comprising of civil society representatives for acceptance or otherwise would be upsetting the constitutional propriety where parties, parliamentarians and Parliament have the last word."

These missives come at a time when politics has been polarised further after the Ramdev theatrical. Yet, the opposition's responses present the government an opportunity to reconfigure the process for drafting the Lokpal bill, which it has promised to table in the forthcoming session of Parliament. They constitute a reality check for the government — and Anna Hazare's civil society nominees — that it is the government that tables a bill in Parliament, and thereafter submits it to the procedures and the will of the House. And though, in this newspaper's estimation, it was an error to bring self-appointed representatives of civil society to make up half of the drafting committee, that error is the government's burden alone. Once a bill is tabled, Parliament, and Parliament alone, takes possession. Therefore, the government should get on with the draft and hereon ignore the antics of the co-drafters.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GETTING CLOUDED

 

Apple wants you to move. Steve Jobs, the iconic company's iconic head, announced two new developments at a developer's conference on Monday. One was a new operating system, which he hoped would get more people onto Apple hardware; and one was something called the iCloud, which he hoped would get people to move their files into Apple's control. The idea behind the iCloud is a familiar one, that of "cloud computing", in which the connectivity of our age is harnessed to allow us to untie ourselves from any particular machine. Our phones, our work and home PCs, our laptops and tablets and netbooks, should be able to access the same files and the same data; and Apple, through the iCloud, intends to make that happen.

Of course, only if all the devices in question are Apple machines. Apple doesn't play well with others. So far, the company has only gained through its all-or-nothing approach, dominating the market for music through its iPod and iTunes near-monopoly, for example. But that might well be the flaw in the strategy here, for cloud computing is a totally different animal in concept. We can all instinctively understand what it should mean: that once something is ours, it should go somewhere up or out there where it is instantly accessible to us, wherever we are — or whatever platform or phone or PC we're using. Will that instinct be satisfied by a closed, Apple-only system? Jobs' answer is always that people don't like to worry too much about things like interfaces, so they should let Apple do it for them, and so far that's worked.

Google and Amazon already run cloud systems, and this once again positions Apple as Google's direct competitor. (Microsoft is being slow: cloud-ready Windows 8 and Office 365 are not due till later this year.) There's a significant difference in openness, and in ease of usage; Google's system, which also lets you upload documents and music and access them anywhere, works with standard office packages; but Apple's "will sync in your pocket", Jobs promises. There's no question that leveraging connectivity for convenience of access is the next great step in computing. Watching two of the three great computer companies go head-to-head with different ideas of how to go about should be fun.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE COLOUR OF EVASION

ILA PATNAIK

 

Black money of Indian citizens held abroad might only be a fraction of the black income in the domestic economy. All black money, whether held in India or abroad, should be traced to individual accounts, and legal proceedings undertaken to ensure payment of taxes. At the same time, black money is being generated in the domestic economy all the time. This is a consequence of the failure to implement the goods and services tax (GST), to remove loopholes in the tax system, to get rid of high statutory tax rates and reform the tax administration. These are issues that can be solved more quickly.

Black money is income on which taxes are due but have not been paid. It gets created every time taxes are evaded. It may arise when a respectable citizen engaged in perfectly legal activities, like a lawyer or doctor, fails to declare income received, such as that received in cash. Or it may arise when indirect taxes are evaded, such as when excise duty or service tax is not paid.

A fraction of the black money in the economy is ferreted out of the country and held in assets abroad. Banks account for only a fraction of these assets. Real estate, companies, bonds, shares, gold and cash may be others.

Finding evidence of tax evasion and tracing the money to individual assets, both at home and abroad, is part of the job of the tax department and should be done on an ongoing basis. In addition to money held in banks, other assets purchased domestically with income on which taxes were not paid also constitute black money. Considering the practice of cash payments in real estate transactions, almost every second house owner in Delhi and Mumbai holds a certain amount of black money. Increased capacity of the tax department to uncover black money should be able to bring this and other such wealth into the open.

But even if all this black wealth is traced and its owners are made to pay taxes and fines, it does not solve the problem of new black money being generated as individuals and businesses continue to evade taxes. It is this problem that needs to be addressed urgently with equal, if not more, emphasis.

How is black money being generated? A large part of the economy is below tax limits. Income earned by the bulk of the population falls below taxable limits, and thus does not constitute the black economy. Further, there are ways in which taxes can be avoided, rather than evaded. These involve using legal means such as taking advantage of various exemptions. The income on which taxes are not paid because of various exemptions provided legally by the tax system is also not black money. However, when income is misrepresented, such as shown as agricultural income (which is exempt from income tax) for the purpose of avoiding taxes, it constitutes black money.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) economies have used a two-pronged approach to improve tax compliance. On one hand, tax policy has been modified. This involves simplifying the tax system, getting rid of exemptions, improving incentives to report income and pay taxes, as well as lower tax rates. On the other hand, tax administration has been improved. Modern information technology systems have been used. The principle behind this strategy is that the gains from tax evasion should be low, the likelihood of being caught should be high, and when caught the punishment should be high. This should reduce the attractiveness of evading taxes.

India needs to move further on this strategy. In India too, we have seen that when tax rates are low, people are more willing to pay taxes. That was part of the strategy India used in reducing the huge black money problem that had arisen in the 1970s, when the statutory marginal income tax rate was 97 per cent. While income tax rates have been brought down, there is scope for further reduction. Proposals for rationalisation and reduction of rates were made in the Direct Tax Code, but have not yet found their way into budget proposals.

Excise duty has traditionally been seen to be another of the main sources of tax evasion. The tax falls on the entire value of goods manufactured. In cases where the value of raw materials is high and excise had already been paid on inputs, the manufacturer is expected to pay tax on the value of the goods which included taxes paid. The amount to be paid is determined by excise inspectors. The growth of manufacturing has been much faster than the growth of excise duty collected by the revenue department. This constitutes one part of the evidence of excise theft. The way out is the imposition of a value added tax which would allow producers to get a tax offset. If imposed on all goods and services across the country, the GST would reduce the complexity of the system and improve compliance.

Reducing black money in the real estate sector would need both reduction in stamp duties, to reduce the incentive to under-report purchase prices, as well as improved information about property prices.

Policy-makers need to improve tax compliance through improvements in tax policy and administration to reduce the generation of new black money. Bringing money back from abroad will be a long and time-consuming exercise and may yield limited returns. Few countries have been able to do it on a scale that has macroeconomic consequences. Improving tax policy, tax administration and tax compliance, on the other hand, has reduced distortions, improved tax revenues and has GDP-scale consequences.

The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi. Views expressed are personal
express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

KATHMANDU'S CHALLENGE

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

 

It was no surprise that the Constituent Assembly of Nepal was saved at the eleventh hour. While the assembly building — China's gift to Nepal as a national convention centre — remained heavily fortified, and baton-wielding policemen patrolled the roads last week, protests brewed elsewhere. There were symbolic acts like feeding 601 oxen and performing the last rites for 601 people. Why 601? That is the strength of the assembly.

However, after the decision to extend the tenure of the House, politicians seem to be in a proactive mode. The leaders of the three major parties — the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) — who had signed the agreement to give the assembly three more months seem to be working in cohesion, and at a pace not seen before. But will they be able to complete the peace process by August 14, and promulgate the new constitution thereafter?

Maoist chief Prachanda has initiated some measures like doing away with the dual security cover — of state security personnel and the People's Liberation Army — for the party's top brass. Over 130 Maoist combatants guarding their leaders will be sent to cantonments. The Maoists will also hand over the keys to their arms containers to an all-party special committee headed by the prime minister. But the UCPN-M's senior vice-chairman, Mohan Baidya, has called Prachanda's act a surrender. Given the crisis within the party and the Maoists' history of faltering in the implementation of the peace process, Baidya's dissension has generated a sense of scepticism. The breakthrough will come when the rehabilitation and integration of Maoist combatants takes place according to the recent agreement. If that goes smoothly, it will amount to the Maoists saying farewell to the arms.

Can the five-point programme be honoured and the deadline met? Political will can make that happen. It is also possible that Prachanda's proposal could be challenged, especially by Baidya, and the peace process derailed. However, such a debacle will further discredit political parties, particularly the Maoists. The future course of Nepali politics and the fate of the peace process will be largely determined by Prachanda's response to the emerging situation as Baidya's camp takes a hardline.

Like the Nepalese, the international community too is keeping its fingers crossed. Interestingly, Nepal's two giant neighbours — India and China — have not reacted to the latest extension of the House, although the EU, the Scandinavian countries and the UN have welcomed it. India watchers in Kathmandu say its "multichannel" diplomacy in Nepal outweighed ambassador Rakesh Sood's "no term extension" hardline.

India, at the moment, appears happy with the consolidation of Madhesh-based parties which had stayed neutral at the time of voting after putting forward their demand that 10,000 people from the region, bordering India, be given entry to the Nepal army. Madhesh-based leaders have warned that otherwise they will launch a protest movement and, if necessary, block the lifeline to Kathmandu by calling bandhs. India's policy that was vigorously pursued by Jawaharlal Nehru and followed since has been to discourage any trouble in the Madhesh region as it will have a direct impact across the border. With Sood likely to leave next week, on completion of his extended tenure, the Maoists say building relations with India may again be possible. It is something that the new envoy, Jayant Prasad, has to define at the earliest. For the moment, India's clout in Nepal seems to be shrinking, confined to a few districts in Madhesh.

Meanwhile, Yang Houlan, a security expert, will be arriving as the new ambassador from China. Beijing may not have spoken publicly on the new developments in Kathmandu, but it had apparently encouraged the ruling Left groups to have the House term extended. While India appears far more dependent on discredited Madheshi leaders as allies, China has moved fast, cultivating political, social and business groups. China has certainly strengthened its ties with the Maoists, but even if the UCPN-M suffers a split or abandons the peace process under pressure from the Baidya camp, it will not be without allies.

Nepal's politicians — having failed to deliver what they had promised — are increasingly blaming the international community. "They raise our aspirations, support us initially, but then at the end want to make us slaves," says Prithvi Subba Gurung, a former UML minister, who belongs to an indigenous group. His reaction comes in the wake of the British government stopping financial support to the National Federation of Indigenous People of Nepal. This was ostensibly done to discourage them from going on a strike. The group is turning hostile towards Britain and the Scandinavian countries, almost in the same way that Maoists are turning against India. And China is comfortably smiling.

These are early days and much depends on how the big parties get their act together. The early signs, though, do not augur well.

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

PARLIAMENT'S JOB

MANU PUBBY

 

Parliament's job

The CPM has slammed the BJP for sitting tight over the Lokpal bill during the NDA tenure and has said that the party is projecting itself as a fighter of corruption when its office in Karnataka is doing the opposite. The lead editorial in Peoples Democracy expresses disappointment that the arguments and controversies around the Lokpal Bill has ensured that it has not moved forward since the concept was mooted by the Administrative Reforms Committee in 1969. "The six-year BJP-led NDA government that followed from 1998, notwithstanding their current projection as fighters against corruption, sat tight on this issue. Its logic seems to be the following: when in opposition fight corruption; when in office do the opposite! (a la Karnataka)," the editorial says.

Holding that the concept of a Lokpal was revived in the 1990s on the insistence of Left parties after the Bofors scandal, the editorial says that the reason the bill was not passed in 1997 was the same arguments on whether the PM and his office should be brought under the purview of the office.

Slamming the government for delaying the bill even after the Left parties forced a commitment on the issue in 2004, the CPM has said that the government cannot escape its duty to bring the bill before parliament. "It must be borne in mind that in our constitutional scheme of things, irrespective of the consultations whatever may be their level, an Act can only be promulgated by the parliament. The government therefore, despite all these efforts, cannot escape from bringing the Lokpal Bill before the parliament,"the editorial says.

A request to Moily

Peoples Democracy carries a letter by Brinda Karat to Law Minister Veerappa Moily, on the compulsory retirement of 18 district-level judges in Chhattisgarh. The MP says the three-judge screening committee set up by the high court submitted a report on the basis of annual confidential reports and the action was taken. The MP has said that those punished have not been heard by the screening committee or the high court and have not even been given copies of the report. "This is entirely against the principles of natural justice but even more significantly it also points to the weakness of the rules, which permit such arbitrary and unacceptable socially unjust actions," Karat has written. While holding that corrupt or incompetent judges should be removed, the MP has argued that in this case the decision seems to be "contaminated with blatant prejudice and discrimination." She adds: "I am writing to request you to intervene in this matter to erase this black mark not only on the dignity of ST and SC judges in Chattisgarh, a state with a predominantly tribal population but also on the constitution of India.

Nuclear dealings

People's Democracy criticises Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh for "unwittingly" spilling the beans, by "reportedly admitting" that he "can't stop the [Jaitapur] project. It is going to come up because it is not just about energy but also about strategic and foreign policy."

Holding that the project is coming up at the "cost of our sovereignty and independent foreign policy", the article says that the lives and livelihoods of millions of people are at risk: "Fisheries [in Ratnagiri district] will be affected since the plant will release 52,000 million litres of hot water into the sea every day. Water discharged from the plant will be around 5 °C hotter than the ambient sea temperature. And even a 0.5 °C of a rise in temperature will lead to the killing of marine species, like the prawn, mollusc and fish resources."

It also says that the construction of the jetty for the plant will destroy mangrove forests in the area and restrictions will be placed on the movement of boats and fishing vessels. It also reminds the reader of the Fukushima disaster, raising questions about the long-term consequences of harnessing nuclear power.

Compiled by Manu Pubby

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

SHANGRI-LA DIALOGUE

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

Shangri-La Dialogue

At the annual Asian security summit organised last week in Singapore by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, the focus was all on the dynamic between Beijing and Washington and their changing roles in Asia. In two separate standalone plenaries at what is now known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, the top defence officials from the two countries affirmed strong national commitments to stabilise bilateral relations and contribute to peace and security in Asia.

At the end of the day, it was not clear if either US Defence Secretary Robert Gates or the Chinese defence minister General Liang Guanglie was successful in reassuring the top Asian officials assembled in Singapore.

After a rocky 2010, which saw Washington and Beijing repeatedly confront each other, the message of bilateral harmony in 2011 was certainly welcome if not entirely convincing. For many in Asia, the tensions between rising China and an America on the decline are structural and cannot be papered over by nice words.

Too much harmony, according to some in the region, will mean the United States is incapable of resisting the new hegemon on the horizon. Too much conflict, others fear, would put the Asian nations in a cleft stick.

Gates, who was on his last trip to Asia as defence secretary, sought to convince the region that the large budget deficit at home will not lead to a reduced American military presence in Asia. Gates urged Asian leaders not to underestimate American resilience and outlined a number of moves that will make US military strategy in Asia a robust one.

If the Asians were looking to Gen Liang, the first defence minister to appear at the ten year-old Shangri-La dialogue, for a message of military restraint, they were disappointed. While he insisted that China's defence policy was "defensive" in orientation, he did not answer specific regional concerns on a range of issues from the implications of Chinese military modernisation to its muscular maritime assertion.

As the Asian security environment becomes increasingly uncertain, India remains an enigma for much of Asia and the Pacific.

While much of Asia wants wants India to contribute to regional balance of power, many nations are frustrated by the difficulties of engaging the Indian defence establishment in a sustained dialogue and productive cooperation. If India wants to signal more purposeful security engagement with Asia and the Pacific, it could start by making the Shangri-La Dialogue part of the defence minister's annual calendar.

This year, India was represented by Minister of State Pallam Raju, last year by National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, and the year before by the Admiral Sureesh Mehta, the chief of naval staff. An annual visit by the Indian defence minister accompanied by a high-powered delegation could provide the vehicle for raising Delhi's strategic profile in Asia and the Pacific.

The Pamir Group?

Barely days before US Special Forces located and killed Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan on May 2, there were reports that Islamabad was pressing Kabul to abandon a declining America and latch onto a rising China.

While Pakistan has denied the reports and China has projected itself as a bridge between Washington and Islamabad, there are interesting ideas afloat on how Beijing can build an exclusive regional cooperation framework with Pakistan and Afghanistan. "China, Pakistan and Afghanistan need to form a Pamir group, a strategic trilateral partnership to support sustainable peace and prosperity in the region", Li Xiguang wrote this week. Li, who directs the Centre for Pakistan Studies at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, said the "the Pamir countries could revive the Silk Road with China's intensifying its investment in building a network of roads, energy pipelines, electric grids and other infrastructure connecting Afghanistan and Pakistan with China".

"Serving as a mediator to bring peace between the warring factions of the region, China can work collectively with Afghanistan and Pakistan to stop violence among the local people, helping an Afghan government that makes all fighting peoples and factions sit at the table for political settlement and national reconciliation", Li added.

Libyan diplomacy

Afghanistan is not the only place China wants to mediate. It has already stepped out in Libya. Beijing has confirmed that its officials were making contact with the Libyan rebels and their transitional government in Benghazi. China will also receive Gaddafi's foreign minister Abdelati al-Obeidi in Beijing this week.

Some time ago, this column reported on the ongoing debate in Beijing about taking a pro-active approach to the Libyan crisis. Chinese critics of the traditional policy of non-intervention have argued that Beijing must focus on helping resolve the civil wars and regional conflicts in faraway lands.

Those calling for a bolder Chinese foreign policy insisted that a rising power must go beyond the urgent evacuation of nationals from war-zones and find ways to protect its long-term interests — commercial and strategic. India must adopt a similar pro-active approach in Libya, besides expressing its reservations about the Anglo-French intervention.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

ARMS ACROSS THE OCEAN

ROGER COHEN

The US is no longer interested in Europe per se. That's not bad. It reflects Europe is whole, free, at peace.

But of course the deflection of American attention always prompts a measure of unease, as was evident at a meeting of the Council for the United States and Italy. The question arises: Can some new galvanising transatlantic goal or institution be found?

I doubt it. The lesson of Venice is that history moves on. Great decisions affecting far-flung lands were once taken where the idle now gaze at roseate facades and wander over stones smoothed by centuries. After the doges came the dolce vita. After statecraft came style, Flaubert's "discharge from a deeper wound."

Transatlantic relations are OK. They do not transfix. They function. In so far as the US is interested in Europe it is interested in what can be done together in the world.

America is now looking to the emergent powers, to its winding-down wars and to the places that affect national security. Europe is in an awkward phase, its integration on hold. The European bicycle was always unsustainable without forward motion. There is none.

Helmut Kohl, the former German chancellor, said something startling last month. Speaking at the American Academy in Berlin, he declared: "Germany's future is with its neighbors, our partners in the EU. We will stand side by side with the Greek people. It is the most important thing."

It was startling because you don't hear Chancellor Angela Merkel saying much about Germany's European leadership. She has her finger to the wind. A clear majority of Germans would much rather Greeks got a comeuppance for their profligacy than help. Europe, once its anchor, has become Germany's albatross. Merkel bears it with a grimace.

Combine German navel-gazing with an American president shaped not by Europe's drama but by the Pacific's allure and you find yourself in a transatlantic relationship that has lost its emotional core.

Still there is work to be done. Perhaps Europe can help America make the right call in Afghanistan and America can repay the favor in North Africa.

The drawdown in US troops in Afghanistan is about to begin. The question is: In what numbers? A cautious process maintaining maximum combat capability is being advocated by the outgoing secretary of defence, Robert Gates, as a "no-brainer." Europeans are on the go-faster side of this debate. They are right. Osama bin Laden is dead, a grinding 10-year-old war is unwinnable, and there may be no more than 100 al-Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan. It's time to switch from counter-insurgency to a counter-terrorism approach that reflects finite resources and the need to build an exit strategy around talks with the Taliban.

The US in turn can help Europe ensure that decent societies emerge around the Mediterranean basin. The European strategic interest in the Arab Spring is overwhelming. It is political despotism and economic failure across North Africa that has fed instability, extremism and an immigrant tide northward. Yet Europe's response has been hesitant.

There are three priorities. End the war in Libya in short order with the departure of Muammar Gaddafi. Ensure democratic change equals opportunity for young societies: Europe needs to help create a regional investment bank similar to the one that helped fulfill the promise of the last spring — of 1989. And remember the Arab Spring's bumper sticker, "It's Egypt, stupid." Egypt is the pivot.

I'd argue that Egypt is now more important to America than Afghanistan. Its success in a democratic transition would be the best antidote to the frustrations in the Arab world that led to 9/11. Egypt's successful emergence from despotism is as delicate and critical as German unification within the West was two decades ago.

The Arab Spring reminds us of what does still bind the US and Europe: values of human dignity and freedom. The transatlantic relationship is an empty vessel if not used when the yearning of less fortunate peoples touches on what binds us most intimately.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

INCLUDING, THROUGH CONVERSATION

ARUN MAIRA

 

India's remarkable democracy is at work. In Bengal's elections, voters massively ousted the longest ruling elected Communist government in history. In Delhi, civil society activists of both urbane and earthy kinds have rallied masses to demand that the Government get really serious about fighting corruption. 'The romance of democracy is that somehow the result will come out the way you want, but everything we know about democracy is that the result comes out the way the people want', John Mueller said. What do these recent events tell us about what the people of India want?

Shekhar Gupta's report on a recent visit to Bengal's villages ('Bengal stands up to ask for more', IE, May 11) provides clues. In rural Bengal, he noted an absence of the poverty he sees in other parts of the country. No hunger, no beggars, even in the poorest districts. This the Communists have achieved. What they missed, he says, is that the people had moved on from seeing development as fulfillment of basic needs to development as fulfillment of their "aspirations".

Aspirations are more complex than basic needs. People in Bengal resented being ruled by a party machine. They had difficulties in getting access to goods provided by the state if they did not belong to the Party. They wanted fairness and inclusion — human aspirations that are more difficult to measure and deliver than material needs. Political leaders must recognise and fulfill such aspirations or they risk being thrown out. In Singapore, a party that has produced a remarkable improvement of living conditions for Singaporeans has been troubled by a decline of its popularity in recent elections. The reason, analysts say, is growing resentment of an arrogant party machine. Wherever there are free elections, as in India, political change will happen sooner. Where there are none, as in China, though there is already evidence that people want more than material growth, change will come later.

Indian leaders have three tasks before the next elections: offer the people a fresh view of development; accelerate reforms; and improve democratic institutions. From the people's perspective, the reform agenda must be much broader than financial and economic reforms. Reforms of the financial system are necessary no doubt. However, like changes in the electrical systems in a house, they are only one part of what inhabitants expect from the architect they commission to improve their home. They want the architect to provide them more space and improve the ambience of the house too. This requires more creativity and boldness. Corruption will not be reduced or public service delivery improved, which are peoples' demands, without bold administrative reforms, electoral funding reforms, and political reforms — especially the devolution of powers to local bodies.

While preparing the approach to the 12th Plan, the Planning Commission has listened to people's expectations more widely and deeply than it has ever before. It has received the views of almost a thousand civil society organisations, through common platforms constructed by civil society organisations themselves. Business associations have also given their views on the country's challenges. And through the internet and social networks, thousands of citizens have spoken up too.

All sections want vastly improved implementation. And they want a new 'approach' to improving the country and their lives. For this, administrative reforms are imperative; and also devolution of powers, and citizens' participation in implementation. People want not just government for the people, which Singapore has and the Communists had also delivered in Bengal initially. They want a government genuinely of and by the people. Growth is necessary. But the principal objective of the 12th Plan cannot be only economic growth, they say. It must also be more inclusion in governance and growth.

India can conduct free and fair elections on a scale that no other country can. It has developed the vertical threads of democracy for the upward representation of people. However, to be strong, the fabric of democracy needs lateral threads too. These are processes of deliberation to reconcile interests of stakeholders, and for their participation in governance between elections. Such processes transform governments for the people into governments by and of the people.

When Anna Hazare demanded action against corruption, some took the position that unelected civil society organisations should not be allowed to represent the people: this task should be reserved only for their elected representatives. The truth is this would weaken, not strengthen democracy. Citizens' participation in the management of their affairs cannot be completed in only a few minutes every five years with the casting of their votes. They must continue to be engaged with issues that matter to them, and they must be heard from more often.

In the US, as in India, there is disenchantment with the performance of assemblies of elected representatives. There is a surge of interest in institutions of direct democracy — referendums and direct ballots of citizens on specific issues. But these too are methods to merely ascertain the majority preference, not methods to reconcile opposing points of view which must be the spirit of a deep democracy.

Institutionalised processes of dialogue between diverse interests are the lateral threads that strengthen democracy's fabric. These processes require democratic institutions to aggregate and represent people's interests. Therefore improvement of the quality of political parties, trade unions, business associations, and civil society organisations is essential for democratic governance. These institutions must be democratic, transparent, and competent.

The agenda of India's leaders must be to improve the quality of these representative institutions, and also the dialogue amongst them. They are the foundations for shaping and implementing reforms that matter to people.

The writer is a member of the Planning Commission

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DON'T WANT FOREIGN SHARES

Sebi has once again kicked up a controversy with its latest ruling on the conversion of Indian Depository Receipts (IDRs) which will impact the market as it casts a shadow on the future of IDRs. In brief, the conversion norms now for IDRs say that they can be converted into shares after one year, provided the IDRs are illiquid, which is defined as annualised trading volumes being less than 5% of listed IDRs. As StanChart has a higher trading value of 48%, it is liquid and cannot be converted. Sebi's stance is that if free convertibility is allowed, then liquidity in the IDRs would suffer as most would be converted into shares. If this was permitted, then, on June 11, ten IDRs would be converted to one equity share and the investors, which include institutional as well as non-institutional entities, could look forward to taking advantage of arbitrage opportunities between India, Hong Kong and London. Ironically, the only way it can be converted is if investors stop trading in the IDR for the next six months so that we near the 5% number!

The idea behind IDRs was to begin globalising our capital markets, to allow foreign companies to raise their brand image or financial resources, while our investors could invest in foreign shares without going through the cumbersome processes required for buying equity in overseas markets. This would have placed IDRs at par with GDRs and ADRs, and the development of this market could have taken the economy to a higher level, given that we are already seeing over $50 bn of foreign funds coming to India. By introducing this clause, we must necessarily have an illiquid IDR market for IDRs to succeed!

We need to ask ourselves whether we are in favour of having a vibrant IDR market. If the answer is yes, there should be ease in the way we transact and clarity on issues such as capital gains, voting rights (IDR holders do not have voting rights), fungibility, participation of insurance companies and so on. To be a bit charitable, we could justify Sebi's stance by saying that this was an experiment and the regulator was keen on how it would work out. But by introducing this conversion clause, we may just be terminating this market as foreign companies will no longer see value in having their listings in India and would look at alternative markets in Asia. Even if they are open to issuing IDRs, given that the main motivation is brand building rather than fund raising, investors may not be too keen on the same. Besides, if investors are still interested in the pie, they can use the the RBI annual window of $200,000 and follow the investing processes and regulations in other countries to diversify their portfolios. An unfortunate turn of events.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

STRUCTURING IT RIGHT

The industry ministry's proposal to buy back infrastructure firm IL&FS and IDFC's 51% stake in the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC) hasn't come a day too soon. The project, to develop 24 smart industrial cities over 5,500 sq km, each at a cost of R40,000-50,000 crore, is something India sorely needs—the idea is to raise industrial output in the six DMICDC states 1.6 times more by 2040 and smart planning, to ensure people can walk/cycle to their workplaces, will cut energy consumption by 40%. It was to be a model for urbanising India, so vital given that 270 mn more people will flock to cities by 2030. But IL&FS/IDFC's stake had created a situation where the project had got irretrievably stuck. Buying out this stake and giving it to institutions like LIC carries the danger of the project going the way of other government projects, so the new governance structure has to be carefully thought out.

The way the project was originally conceived, DMICDC was to be a project consultant whose job was to get the city projects to a stage where they could be bid out to private firms; the government share was kept at 49% for obvious reasons, and the rest was to be given in small lots to the host of infrastructure financing firms India has, the likes of IIFCL and IDFC. As it happened, 41% was given to IL&FS and 10% to IDFC. Under the current scheme, DMICDC has morphed from just being a project consultant with success fees to being a project developer as well, setting up SPVs to develop trunk infrastructure—power plants and main roads, for instance. Once done, this will raise the value of land around it—state governments will own the land—and private firms can then be called in to develop the city.

So where's the problem? The initial money, R3,000 crore per city, to do the master planning and develop the trunk infrastructure, is to come from the government; the government will also guarantee Japan-government funding to DMICDC; subsidiaries/associates of IL&FS/IDFC would likely bid for the cities/projects that DMICDC would be taking to bid-stage; when the value of SPVs doing the trunk infrastructure goes up, how do you ensure this accrues to the government which originally funded them ... It is issues like this the industry ministry is hoping to address when it goes to Cabinet to buy out IL&FS/IDFC. But it needs to provide some more clarity on why the project won't end up becoming another slow-train to nowhere. Urban and industrial India can't afford that.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE UPA'S QUEST FOR LEGITIMACY

MK VENU

The UPA government is clearly on the back foot in regard to the disproportionate force it used to evict Baba Ramdev and his supporters from the Ramlila Maidan in the capital. The entire episode seemed to suggest the UPA is increasingly riven with self-doubts over its own legitimacy and authority as a government elected by the people. This is fast becoming a psychological condition for the coalition government now. The classic symptoms of this condition are there for all to see. A Prime Minister who is always second guessing what the Congress party high command might not approve of would naturally appear weak. A top government functionary told this writer that the Congress party was not unified in its response to the situation even on day one when the yoga marketeer landed in the capital in a private plane last week.

The post facto narrative put out by the Congress party is that there was total consensus among the Cabinet ministers and top party functionaries that Baba Ramdev must be first offered an olive branch, and force must be used, if at all, only if the yoga master starts showing intransigent behaviour. This narrative does not stand a moment's scrutiny because even as the UPA Cabinet ministers, including Pranab Mukherjee, extended the rare courtesy to meet Ramdev as he landed in a private plane, top Congress functionaries like Digvijay Singh had already started airing disapproval of such action on the part of the government. In fact, Digvijay Singh somewhat surprised the government functionaries by ridiculing Ramdev as one whose yoga credentials too were suspect.

Digvijay's pronouncements showed dissonance between the government and the party even as Kapil Sibal was trying to negotiate a deal with Ramdev. Ramdev too appeared very benign on the day he arrived in Delhi. He said 99% of the issues had been sorted out between him and the government, and that his demands had more or less been conceded by the UPA. The yoga guru appeared so conciliatory as to prompt some political observers to speculate whether the Congress was trying to build him up as its own secular, saffron-clad Sadhu who will counter both the Hindutva elements and civil society luminaries spearheading the Lokpal agitation. Indeed, Ramdev seemed to have some credentials to be propped as Congress's own saffron counter to the upper caste-dominated Hindutva leadership. Ramdev is a backward caste Yadav and could potentially bring political dividends in the Hindi heartland. It is also interesting to note that many emerging "spiritual gurus" with reasonably large following are from the non-upper caste segment!

Even if the Congress had a half-baked plan to appropriate Ramdev's following through an excessively conciliatory approach, the sheer dissonance over this within the Congress party put paid to it. In the end, the outcome of the brutal crackdown was exactly the opposite of what the UPA government would have initially hoped for. Today Ramdev, Anna Hazare and the BJP are thrown together as a united force opposing the government. There couldn't be a bigger disaster than this in political terms.

Indeed, this is made worse with the Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari bluntly stating on a television channel that the police response is never calibrated and excesses are often committed when the state seeks to restore order.

The larger issue that needs to be examined is whether the government-party dissonance is causing the UPA incalculable harm. It is very apparent that the Cabinet ministers were not on the same page as the party leadership on day one when Ramdev landed in Delhi.

Even in connection with the spectrum allocation scam, it seems there had been some government-party dissonance when it was amply clear that the telecom minister A Raja was being highly unorthodox and irregular in his functioning. Many other instances can be cited where the Prime Minister has been perceived as second guessing the party leadership all the time. Such second guessing was quite apparent even during the Indo-US nuclear deal negotiation, which was all but abandoned before it got revived, again because of support from an influential section of the party. We are constantly seeing such dissonance on other issues too, like evolving a unified approach to the Naxal problem.

Consequently, the response of the state apparatus appears very tentative at all times. More than Manmohan Singh as an individual, it is the moral authority of the executive head that appears fragile these days. In a philosophical sense, the state derives authority from its inherent coercive power which is meant to be used for the larger good of society. A weak government invariably botches up the legitimate use of coercive power, as seen in the Ramdev episode. And mind you, it is not about the excess use of police power in just one instance. It is more about how the people perceive the legitimacy of the Prime Minister's authority.

John Locke, the 17th century enlightenment philosopher whose treatises on government provided inspiration for the US Constitution, defined coercive power as "the only appropriate response to the illegitimate use of coercive power" by non-state actors. The UPA needs to recover the legitimacy of its coercive power. Otherwise there will be more drift in governance.

mk.venu@expressindia.com

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

IT'S MARAN VERSUS SIBAL NOW

SUNIL JAIN

Former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran may be right when he says the R600 crore investment by a Maxis group company (Maxis owns the Aircel telecom brand in India) into his brother's Sun Direct took place when he was no longer a minister, so he can't really be accused of abusing his official powers. Maran has also denied the allegation made by serial entrepreneur C Sivasankaran that Maran forced him to sell his stake in Aircel to Maxis of Malaysia.

What is, however, uncontestable is Sivasankaran's other allegation that, under Maran, the telecom ministry ensured Aircel or Dishnet Wireless which it owned, did not get requisite licences/spectrum despite being eligible. While Sivasankaran has made all these allegations to the CBI, you don't really have to go by what he says, just read the official Justice Patil Committee report. Justice Patil was appointed by telecom minister Kapil Sibal last year, with a remit to go back to see if existing policy had been violated while issuing licences/spectrum by previous governments—the idea was probably to nail the BJP but what emerged was quite the opposite. The NDA, with Arun Shourie as minister, issued 26 licences, the UPA issued 180! This includes the 157 issued by Raja and 23 by Maran. In the process of writing its report, the Justice Patil Committee has lots to say about how the ministry functioned under Maran, about how top bureaucrats went along with him in denying licences to Sivasankaran.

In March and April 2004, Dishnet applied for 10 licences—within a period of 45 days of application, Arun Shourie cleared 7 of these and issued licences to the company. Dishnet and Aircel applied for another 11 licences, taking the total to 21 including the ones cleared by Shourie, but Maran took between 9 and 34 months to clear them. While licences like those for Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh (East and West) took over 32 months to be cleared, the licences that were applied for after Maxis took over Aircel (in December 2005) took between 9 and 11 months. All 14 licences cleared by Maran were issued in December 2006 and, a few months later, a Maxis group firm invested R600 crore in Sun Direct.

Here's what Justice Patil Committee has to say about some of the activities in the ministry under Maran, and the officials named include various telecom secretaries other than just S Behura who is currently in jail for colluding with Raja:

Madhya Pradesh: Before Maran took over on May 27, 2004, a query had been raised (May 5, 2004) on the application. This, Justice Patil said, "was not warranted in terms of notified procedure/guidelines". After clarifications were given, on July 8, 2004, the proposal was cleared by even the telecom secretary, but on August 24, the PS to Maran wrote to say he had been directed by Maran to seek some more clarifications. According to Justice Patil, "The clarifications sought besides being vague, were also irrelevant for consideration of application for grant of UASLs". The Patil Committee then lists the officers responsible.

Bihar: In July 2005, Dishnet should have been allotted start-up spectrum, but a series of queries delayed the actual allotment till February 2006. According to Patil, this was "delayed on account of notes put up/queries raised which were not relevant in terms of laid down procedure for consideration of application and allotment".

Kolkata: By December 2006, however, things had changed for Aircel. In Kolkata, Bharti Airtel had applied for additional spectrum since its subscriber numbers had reached the required levels. The ministry then asked Bharti Airtel for some clarifications, and the next in line, Dishnet!, was given the spectrum even before the clarifications could be given. As Justice Patil puts it, "in terms of FCFS procedure, the application of Bharti Airtel Ltd. for additional spectrum was required to be decided first". "This was in breach of FCFS criteria." Once again, the officers involved have been mentioned.

Loss to exchequer: While Maran has issued a press release to say that even the CAG has not said there were any losses to the exchequer as a result of his decision to give Dishnet/Aircel licences in 2006 at prices discovered in the 2001 auction, Justice Patil disagrees. "Between the period 2004 and 2008, if the entry fee was not to be revised to reflect the opportunity cost and when competitive bidding for determining entry fee was not followed; since the matter had financial bearing, before finalization of procedure for grant of licence / allotment of spectrum, concurrence of Ministry of Finance ought to have been taken as per Rule 4 of Government of India (Transaction of Business). This is yet one more deviation from extant policy."

Maran, by the way, can't even say he was merely following Shourie's policy, since 18 months after Shourie ceased to be minister, Maran came out with his own licensing regime—it had 74 sections over 28 pages as compared to Shourie's 17 sections over 6 pages. If this policy said the 2001 price would be used for issuing new licences, how's Shourie to be blamed?

If the government should turn a blind eye to all this, and not ask Maran to step down pending investigation, it's for a good reason. The telecom ministry's presentation to the JPC on the Raja scam still talks of how Raja was merely following the NDA's policies!

sunil.jain@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

GREENING INDIA

The National Mission for a Green India with a planned investment of $10.3 billion over the next 10 years can have a major developmental impact in more ways than one. Such a massive exercise can raise fresh natural capital that is so vital for the tens of millions of people who depend on degraded forests. It can meet the twin objectives of assigning forest land to tribal and other forest-dwelling communities to enable livelihoods, and relieving extractive pressures on core dense forests to aid conservation of wildlife and biodiversity. The overarching benefit to the environment will be in the form of carbon sequestration to combat climate change. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, which has grasped the imperative to balance these concerns, aims to add an impressive five million hectares of forest cover, and also improve the quality of forests over a similar area. The experience gained from the Joint Forest Management (JFM) programmes of the past will be invaluable. The JFM measures did not live up to their promise in most States and, in some cases, existed only on paper. In the main, they left forest communities feeling alienated. That nearly 40 per cent of open forest remains degraded today reinforces the need for a vastly improved management system.

A central role for local communities in forest restoration and expansion is envisaged under the new plan. This can help correct the historical imbalance in their role in managing the commons. It must be emphasised, however, that the whole exercise needs to be rooted in scientific practices. Several dedicated young scientists have been working in degraded areas of the Western Ghats to re-introduce endemic plants. These conservation groves, often sitting cheek-by-jowl with plantations and habitations, shelter a lot of endangered animals and birds. This shows that many more eroded ecosystems can harbour the biodiversity that is under pressure. The potential to expand horticulture in these sites, including disused mines, through fruit tree cultivation is worth exploring. Local communities can also be involved in the campaign to control invasive plant species that have been unthinkingly introduced into the environment. These plants suppress indigenous varieties and have overrun vast tracts of forests, reducing their productivity. Overall, the Green India plan, which is expected to provide a higher forest-based livelihood income to three million households, is significant for its attempt to give people a central role in restoring forest health. The legacy of mistrust between the Forest departments and tribal communities must give way to a joint management framework that is grounded in good conservation science.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

INCONCLUSIVE EXIT IN YEMEN

After months of dodging promises to step down, President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has exited — in a somewhat unexpected manner — after being wounded in rocket fire by opposition forces targeting the presidential palace in Sana'a. While his departure has led to rejoicing in Yemen, the next steps in a volatile country where al- Qaeda is feared to have a significant presence are far from clear. From January 2011, anti-government street protests put increasing pressure on Mr. Saleh to remit office. It is unlikely that the Yemen strongman, who ruled for 33 years beginning as the President of North Yemen in 1978, will return to his country from Saudi Arabia where he was flown for treatment of his wounds. Even if he overcomes his injuries, Saudi Arabia, which shares a border with Yemen and is nervous that the protests in its neighbourhood may spread to its soil if not ended swiftly, will do everything to prevent his return. An indication of this came with the Saudi regime joining the United States in the call for the swift implementation of a Gulf Cooperation Council plan for a transition in Yemen. The GCC plan envisages Mr. Saleh's resignation in return for immunity for himself and his family members, and a caretaker government that will hold parliamentary elections within 90 days. Three times he accepted the plan only to change his mind at the last minute, setting his forces on the protesters, raising the spectre of a civil war as Yemen's fractious tribes joined the fighting on both sides. It may be easier now to persuade him to sign on the dotted line. Indeed, the first step in the plan, handing over the reins of government to the Vice-President, has already been accomplished with his exit. But Mr. Saleh's family members remain in charge, with control of the intelligence service and the Army. Making them cede power peacefully may not be easy.

In these circumstances, a democratic election is hardly in sight. Unlike in other countries touched by the "jasmine revolution," the mass protests in Yemen do seem to have an identifiable leadership. Initially propelled by youth and ordinary people, the movement could not have survived six months but for the backing of an important opposition leader from a rival tribe, Hamid Al Ahmar, a telecom tycoon who is said to have funded the protests. His brothers are also key figures in the movement. An important military general also defected and has claimed to support the protests. What is of concern here is that their opposition to the Saleh regime is based more on tribal and personal rivalries than on any commitment to democratic values. If Yemen is at the cusp of real change, it is as yet hard to see.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

THE NATION STATE AND ITS TERRITORY

EVERY NATION STATE, WHETHER IT FORMALLY CAME INTO BEING WITHIN LIVING MEMORY OR HAS BEEN A STABLE POLITY FOR CENTURIES, VIEWS ITSELF AS A UNIQUE AND INVIOLABLE TERRITORIAL ENTITY.

M.S. PRABHAKARA

The nation state and its territory are symbiotically bound together, inseparable and inviolable. The diminishment of one leads inescapably to the diminishment of the other. This, the classic (and idealised) view of what constitutes the nation state, has remained more or less unchanged since the middle of the 17th century, despite the constant internal and external challenges to the supposedly inviolable territoriality of many sovereign nations, the changes that have come about in 'unalterable borders,' and the emergence of new nation states.

As explained in political science textbooks, the series of treaties known as the Westphalia treaties, which ended the Thirty Years War (1618-48), are the basis of the modern nation states in Europe. This concept has, over the years, acquired universal applicability and is now the foundational basis for modern nation states everywhere, including India. Over and above this is the Indian nationalist view that from times immemorial, India has been a civilisational state, Bharat Mata, mystically transcending the narrow legal definitions of European theorists of what constitutes the modern nation state.

This is not unique to India. Every nation state, whether it formally came into being within living memory or has been a stable polity for centuries, views itself as a unique and inviolable territorial entity. Many also evoke the image of the nation state as the Eternal Mother, especially in periods of national crisis.

Mother Russia remained a living idea even in the Soviet Union and was evoked by Stalin when the country faced great peril from the Nazi invasion. The territory where "not a blade of grass grows," in Jawaharlal Nehru's words half-a-century ago — or Siachen now — remains an area of contestation because of this inviolability of national territory. Thus the rhetoric of leaders at moments of foreign aggression: "We are not going to retreat from an inch of our territory."

Interestingly, such passionate commitment to territoriality is not a unique expression of only an established nationhood. People struggling to attain nationhood are as fervid about the territory that is still in the realm of their imagination — imagined as part of their memory and aspirations, and not a reality on the ground that can be fought over — as established nation states.

The struggles for sovereignty going on in Assam and its neighbourhood in northeast India are a case in point. In popular perception, the whole region comprising seven States (with the artificial addition of Sikkim to the Northeastern Council, eight States) is aflame with violent separatist insurgencies. In reality, serious separatist or sovereignty struggles with some political and organisational substance to them, and a cadre trained in the use of arms to take forward such sovereignty aspirations, are a reality in only three States of the region — Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.

While the leaders of the dominant separatist outfits in Assam and Nagaland are engaged in discussions with the Government of India — for over a decade in Nagaland — the situation in Manipur is rather more complicated. The prospect of such outfits in Manipur coming on board and talking to the government is now linked, in the view of the insurgent leaders — not all of whom are clear about their objectives or even their readiness to talk — to the Government of India accepting some preconditions. The most important of these is that the government must agree to hold "a plebiscite under international supervision" to ascertain the will of the people of Manipur on sovereignty and independence.

On the face of it, such a demand is unrealistic. It is also deeply flawed in its apparent perception that the "people of Manipur," even those who have sovereignty aspirations, have a common perspective on sovereignty and independence. The fact is, the "people of Manipur" comprising three distinct communities do not share a common vision of their past or their future aspirations. The point hardly needs to be laboured.

However, this is not the place to discuss the nuances of sovereignty narratives of the region, every one of whose seven States, while unique, also shares a commonality of history and memories, and a measure of resentment against 'India.' Rather, in all States, the insurgencies have serious issues with others of their own kind, outfits that too are fighting the Indian state, on what constitutes the existing territory, and the territory of the putative sovereign and independent state that they aim to attain. In other words, while their principal contradiction is with the Indian state, there are serious problems over the territorial imagination of the mutually contending outfits.

The most striking of such contradictions prevails in Nagaland and Manipur. Nagaland is now one of the States of the Indian Union under the Constitution. It has all the formal appurtenances of a constituent State — executive, legislature, and judiciary, with Kohima having a Bench of the Guwahati high Court. However, the territorial imagination of the Nagaland government — its vision of what its territory should be — or of the political parties of Nagaland, including the Congress and the BJP (which had two Ministers in the previous National Democratic Alliance government), is no different from that of the three outfits fighting for or committed to Naga sovereignty. Each one of these claims nearly two-thirds of the territory of Manipur, to whose inviolability the government of Manipur is as fervently committed as the most uncompromising of separatist outfits fighting to secure Manipur's sovereignty and independence.

These contradictions were sharply heightened during the prolonged blockade in April-May last year of NH-39, the principal point of entry into Manipur, by student groups in Nagaland protesting the Manipur government's refusal to allow Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of NSCN (IM) to visit his ancestral village in Manipur's Ukhrul district. Indeed, Nagaland has claims on the Changlang and Tirap districts of Arunachal Pradesh, as well as the reserve forests on its border with Assam over which the armed police of the two States have fought pitched battles. It also has claims on Myanmar's territory.

Territory is such an 'emotive' issue that even outfits with little muscle seeking greater autonomy within Assam, though the rhetoric remains sovereignty and independence, are hobbled by the territorial imperative. The demarcation of the boundaries of the territory of the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) is still not complete because of claims and counter claims and, more to the point, the reluctance of several villages on the border to be included. Violent separatist 'roll call' organisations (to borrow the terminology from Karnataka politics to designate groups engaged in extortion) in the two other autonomous districts, Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills, have unresolved territorial issues between themselves.

The Manipur government's decision to upgrade the Phungyr sub-division of Ukhrul district, a key area of the future Nagalim dominated by Tangkhul Nagas, into a full-fledged district is opposed by the NSCN (IM), which runs the parallel government of the Peoples' Republic of Nagaland (GPRN) on the ground that the State government cannot take even routine administrative initiatives in areas claimed by the NSCN (IM) to be part of the putative Nagalim.

In other words, territoriality is as central to established nation states that define themselves in terms of their territory, traced to the history and memories of the people, as to the organised or disorganised groups within the territories of a nation state seeking to challenge the territoriality of the larger structure, and carve out a separate territory for themselves. In turn, those who challenge the territoriality and lay claims on the territory of 'existing nation states' themselves have serious contradictions with others mounting similar challenges and, when these are weak, press hard on them. This Hobbesian conundrum is perhaps best summed up in these lines from the poem, On Poetry: A Rhapsody, by Jonathan Swift:

Hobbes clearly proves that every creature
Lives in a State of War by Nature.
The Greater for the Smallest watch,
But meddle seldom with their match …
So, Naturalists observe, a Flea
Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey.
And these haves smaller Fleas to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum:

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THE HINDU

OPED

SUDAN'S LEADERS ARE NOT LOOKING FOR A FIGHT

SIMON TISDALL

 

Despite recent clashes, North and South Sudan calculate they have more to gain from peaceful negotiations than another war.

 

Like myriad starbursts exploding in a night sky, violent armed clashes and humanitarian crises are erupting across the map of central Sudan as the country prepares to divide into two separate states early next month. But beyond the confusion and screams of pain, the gritty wider context is a fierce, two-sided competition for resources, territory, international diplomatic support and, most especially, oil, that is intensifying by the day.

To the name of Darfur, a watchword for bloodshed and misery, may now potentially be added the less familiar names of South Kordofan, the Nuba mountains, Abyei, and Blue Nile. All these areas are to some extent disputed between Khartoum and Juba and, like South Sudan itself, face debilitating internal divisions. The nightmare now is that these numerous flashpoints could somehow fuse together to spark a third Sudanese civil war.

As usual, the northern government of President Omar al-Bashir is blamed for the deteriorating security situation by western governments and media. Last month's, May's, occupation of the Abyei border region by the Sudanese army, in which about 100 people reportedly died and up to 45,000 were sent fleeing, brought a sharp but familiar weekend rebuke from the UN Security Council.

Condemning what it called a "serious violation" of previous agreements, the council demanded that "Sudanese armed forces ensure an immediate halt to all looting, burning and illegal resettlement" and warned (rather hollowly in view of its ongoing failure to prosecute Bashir for alleged genocide in Darfur) that those breaking international law "will be held accountable."

Satellite evidence

The U.S.-based Enough Project went further, saying it had seen satellite evidence suggesting northern troops had committed war crimes in Abyei, and had submitted it to the International Criminal Court. John Prendergast, co-founder of Enough, said governments had a duty to invoke the "responsibility to protect" doctrine applied elsewhere in Africa this year.

"Sudan's north-south and Darfur conflicts have produced more dead, wounded and displaced persons than Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Ivory Coast combined," Prendergast wrote in the Washington Post. "How long is the international community willing to tolerate this deadly dictator? [a reference to Bashir] ... We must proceed before Abyei ignites the next Darfur." Bashir is also catching flak for clashes, reviving this week, in the Nuba region of South Kordofan state, which is controlled by Khartoum and contains most of the north's oil reserves. The south's ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, claimed Bashir's militia proxies, directed by the state governor Ahmed Haroun (another unapprehended Darfur war crimes indictee), were stoking Abyei-style tensions between pro-south Dinka Ngok tribespeople and northern Arab Misseriya nomads. Khartoum is also accused of backing tribal-based militias in Blue Nile state, further to the east, to pressure local, southern-allied armed groups that fought Khartoum during the civil war that ended in 2005.

To all these many charges, Bashir resolutely pleads not guilty — and he has a case. Khartoum maintains the latest trouble in Abyei began when northern troops came under attack from southern forces, a claim supported by the UN. It describes the occupation as a temporary arrangement, pending a resolution of its status. Khartoum has proposed a rotating administration in Abyei, with a joint committee taking control before independence day on July 9. It has also suggested a demilitarised zone along the length of the common border.

Conciliatory moves?

"We were able to arrive at an agreement to end the war that started in 1955 and so there should be no issue too difficult to solve through negotiations," Bashir said last week in comments undermining his ogre image. "It's better than we sit and discuss and consult. We want brotherly ties between the north and the south." Bashir made similar conciliatory noises when interviewed by the Guardian in April. Southern leaders have responded in kind, saying they do not want a fight. Talks on all these issues are ongoing.

Those in the west prophesying another civil war or a Darfur-style repeat genocide misunderstand what is happening — which is not a countdown to war but a negotiation. Abyei and similar disputes had become bargaining chips, said International Crisis Group analyst Zach Vertin in a recent briefing.

"Despite dangerously high rhetoric over the course of the last year, both north and south have calculated that the cost of a return to war far outweighed any potential gains," Vertin said. While both sides were endeavouring to attain the upper hand, they actually needed each other more than they would admit, especially if oil revenues, crucial to both, were to be maintained.

It is delicate balancing act — and Sudan is nothing if not volatile. It could yet go badly wrong. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

     

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THE HINDU

OPED

RADIATION'S UNKNOWNS WEIGH ON JAPAN

MATTHEW L. WALD

As officials in Japan agonise over what constitutes a safe radiation dose for people who live near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, the state of the science has been a daunting problem. Studies on the effects of exposure are based mostly on large doses delivered quickly by atomic bombs, while radiation from the Fukushima disaster would more likely result in small doses delivered over many years.

So far the debate in Japan has centred on the risks to children. Government guidelines set after the disaster allowed schoolchildren in Fukushima Prefecture to be exposed to 20 times the radiation dose previously permitted. The new level is equal to the international standard for adult workers at nuclear power plants.

After a huge outcry from parents, the government promised that it would lower the permissible level and that it would pay to remove contaminated topsoil from school grounds.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki data

But the debate is not limited to children; the authorities have to weigh the risks of allowing thousands of people, including the elderly, to be exposed to levels that remain far above natural background radiation.

The general assumption is that when people are exposed to small doses for decades, the incidence of cancer will rise over time. But that prediction is based on extrapolating from data on people who were exposed to acute brief doses when atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 — not on observing individuals exposed to small doses over decades.

Some researchers argue that all humans are regularly exposed to a low natural level of radiation, and that it is not harmful when below a certain threshold, although foetuses may be an exception. Another vocal minority argues that there is statistical evidence for higher cancer rates among people exposed to tiny incremental doses.

Still, the mainstream view is that extrapolating from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki data is more prudent.

"There's a point beneath which you just don't know, and a straight line is the simplest assumption," said Dr. Richard R. Monson, an epidemiologist and chairman of the committee that wrote an influential report released in 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences on low-level radiation exposures.

His committee based its recommendations on a hypothesis known as the "linear, no threshold model." Under this hypothesis, if a given dose will cause fatal cancers in a certain number of people in a population, then half that dose will cause fatal cancer in half as many people, and a millionth of that dose will cause fatal cancer in a millionth as many people.

Dr. Monson's committee largely extrapolated from the health records of thousands of Japanese civilians exposed to a sudden burst of high-energy gamma radiation by atomic bombs. Over the next 65 years, most of those people died from cancers that may or may not have been caused by radiation, and others from causes common to old age.

Their death rate from cancer exceeded the one recorded for populations of Japanese not exposed to the radiation. But applying this data to the risks faced at Fukushima Daiichi is problematic, experts say, and could lead to overstating or understating the risk to people who live near the plant. The most obvious difference is that the bomb survivors' exposure in 1945 was nearly instantaneous. People in the Fukushima area are confronting regular levels of contamination in the range of 5 to 10 times what people are normally exposed to in natural background radiation.

A quick irradiation

What is more, some of the radiation to which people are being exposed around Fukushima is inside the body; it comes from radioactive materials that contaminated their food or water. At Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many of the victims experienced only a quick external irradiation.

Evan B. Douple, the associate chief of research for the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, a joint Japanese-American science institute that analyses health data from the bomb survivors, said that a dose delivered slowly over time was less damaging than an equal dose delivered quickly.

"It is well known in radiation biology that radiation-induced damage from a given dose of radiation is less effective if it is protracted or fractionated," he said. The reason, he said, is that the body's repair mechanisms work during the extended period of exposure.

The 2006 report by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that the effect of a given amount of radiation is 1.5 times worse when the dose is given all at once than when it is extended. But there are no authoritative details on varying doses over time.

As if this were not complex enough, another school of thought suggests that the radiation effect on people exposed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was worse than the official statistics show.

This theory holds that weaker individuals were killed off by the bombs and by the hardships suffered in those cities at the end of World War II. The people who survived past that period, on whom the estimates are based, are not representative because they were stronger than average.

So the deaths counted in the following decades occurred among a hardier-than-average population, critics say.

In the United States, most of the policies involving radiation exposure involve people who are exposed to low levels on the job, like nuclear plant workers. If the United States faced decisions like those now confronting Japanese officials, "there really isn't any coherent policy," said Robert Alvarez, a former senior staff member at the Energy Department who works as a consultant for groups worried about nuclear risks.

Kuniko Tanioka, a member of the Japanese Parliament who travelled to Washington to research how the United States government conducts independent inquiries after major technological disasters, said that advising the public after a nuclear accident poses grave challenges in both countries.

Ms. Tanioka suggested that the best course that Japan could take would be to distribute all the raw data it has on radiation exposure to the international community and allow outside interpretations. — © New York Times News Service

  ***************************************


THE HINDU

A NATURAL GAS PLATFORM IN THE GULF OF MEXICO. —

Natural gas is not the "panacea" to solve climate change that fossil fuel industry lobbyists have been claiming, according to new research from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Reliance on gas would lead the world to a 3.5°C temperature rise, according to the IEA. At such a level, global warming could run out of control, deserts would take over in southern Africa, Australia and the western U.S., and sea level rises could engulf small island states.

Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA, told a press conference in London: "While natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, it is still a fossil fuel. Its increased use could muscle out low-carbon fuels such as renewables and nuclear, particularly in the wake of Fukushima. An expansion of gas use alone is no panacea for climate change."

The IEA also warned that gas could push out renewables, if governments come under pressure to reduce renewables subsidies and opt for gas instead, as gas companies have been urging.

Industry lobbying

The Guardian recently revealed the extent of lobbying by the gas industry, which senses a unique opportunity to rebrand itself as green. Previously inaccessible sources of gas are predicted to create a "golden age of gas" with lower prices and plentiful supply.

When burned for power, gas produces half the carbon of coal.

"Gas is a fortunate fuel because all its competitors have some problems," said Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA and one of the world's foremost authorities on energy and climate.

Coal suffers high emissions, renewables can be expensive, and there are safety fears over nuclear after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011   

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THE HINDU

UN COULD SPLIT AFGHAN TALIBAN, AL-QAEDA BLACKLIST

The United Nations said on June 7 that it is considering creating separate terrorism blacklists for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, a political gesture that could spur possible Afghan peace talks.

Peter Wittig, permanent representative of Germany to the United Nations and chairman of the U.N. committee overseeing the sanctions, said the panel will decide in about two weeks whether to divide the list.

The U.S. and Afghan governments have said that they are willing to reconcile with Taliban members who renounce violence, embrace the Afghan constitution and sever ties with al-Qaeda. Making two separate lists would symbolically delink the Taliban from al-Qaeda, recognising their different agendas.

"It would highlight the significance of the political efforts that are ongoing in Afghanistan," Wittig told a group of reporters at a briefing in the Afghan capital.

Al-Qaeda is focused on worldwide jihad against the West and establishment of a religious state in the Muslim world, while Afghan Taliban militants have focused on their own country and have shown little interest in attacking targets outside Afghanistan.

"The links are there, but they don't justify putting them in the same basket," said Wittig, whose country favours the split. "There would be an element of Afghan ownership because there would be an obligation to consult with the Afghan government on requests concerning changes to the list. So they would get a more prominent role."

Some nations, however, are still undecided about whether to embrace the idea of splitting the list. All committee members must vote in favour for it to be approved. It's unclear, for instance, whether it will be approved by Russia, which has expressed reluctance in the past to approve requests to delist Taliban members.

Afghan authorities are talking to council members to persuade them to back the idea.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been making peace overtures to members of the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan for five years and sheltered al-Qaeda before being driven out of power in the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001. The Taliban have long demanded removal from the sanctions list to help promote reconciliation.

The current U.N. sanctions list for both al-Qaida and the Taliban includes about 450 people, entities and organisations, including roughly 140 with links to the Taliban.

The Afghan government already has asked a U.N. panel to take about 50 Taliban figures off the sanctions list, which keeps them subject to an asset freeze and travel ban. The committee will rule on many of these requests next week.

Wittig said later at a news conference that he expected some Taliban members to be delisted by mid-June.

"The question is 'Does the individual still pose a terrorist threat?' That's the criteria to delist an individual, but this of course is linked to the overall political situation," he said. "The Security Council and the members of the sanctions committee are aware that there is a political process going on."

— AP ***************************************


 

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THE ASIAN AGE

PRODIGAL'S RETURN A BOOST FOR BJP?

The return of the firebrand Uma Bharti, a former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, to the BJP on Tuesday after an interval of over five years is likely to give the beleaguered saffron party a shot in the arm. Since she was obliged to leave the party in 2005 after questioning L.K. Advani's endorsement of Muhammad Ali Jinnah as a "secular" politician, the saffron-robed Ms Bharti made several unsuccessful attempts

to return to the fold, but her efforts were thwarted by senior BJP leaders of her generation who were both envious of her popularity with the rank and file and afraid of her potential to be in the forefront of the leadership once the Vajpayee-Advani era had ended. That she has now been invited back to the party by its current chief — a culturally non-metropolitan, regional leader trusted by the RSS but no favourite of the party's other power-brokers — when the BJP is going through one of its worst crises in decades, speaks for itself. The key task before the BJP is to make a mark in next year's Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The party organisation in the state is faction-ridden, its core support has dissipated, and the party is bereft of a leader with charisma or Hindutva-inspired appeal or credibility. On all these counts, Ms Bharti fits the bill perfectly. If the caste cauldron is to be taken into account, the "sadhvi" is from the influential backward caste of Lodhs which had given the state a BJP chief minister in Kalyan Singh earlier. With Mr Singh ousted from the party some years ago, there was no backward caste leader worth the name left in the BJP leadership structure in UP. Although Ms Bharti is from the Khajuraho region of Madhya Pradesh, this belt abuts UP and Ms Bharti is well known as a political personality of the Lodh caste in UP as well. In charisma terms, the sadhvi from Khajuraho can be said to be the equal of any other political leader of the state, including chief minister Mayawati. If the so-called "secular" vote splits three ways among the BSP, SP and the Congress, and the BJP is able to retrieve some of its backward class and brahmin votes, much of the credit would likely be due to Ms Bharti.
However, like some other charismatic figures, the former MP chief minister is also widely seen as a temperamental figure who has the potential to be a divisive influence at the leadership level. Many believe, for instance, that Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the BJP's current CM in Madhya Pradesh, cannot breathe easy if Ms Bharti is able to recover her lost space in the party leadership structure. Nevertheless, the party president has reposed confidence in her. For now that is what counts. At the level of symbolism in the times of Baba Ramdev, Ms Bharti's return could not have come at a more opportune time for the BJP. Even as the party's top leadership backed the yoga teacher's recent protest and decided to go in for a token fast in his support, Ms Bharti went straight to the heart of the matter. She arrived at the yoga guru's ashram in Hardwar to offer him felicitations and moral support. From the point of view of the sympathisers of the Baba, who in significant numbers are thought to be drawn from the ranks of the Hindu right, a stronger hand could not have been played to back their guide. This has every chance of being counted as an electoral plus when the time comes. On her part, Ms Bharti might serve her own and her party's cause best if she consciously avoids ruffling feathers even as the party quietly celebrates the return of the prodigal daughter.

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

CHESS VS WEI QI

K.C.SINGH

Henry Kissinger's book On China arrived in the capital's bookshops on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of Tiananmen Square on June 6. Today, that episode may be a blip in the history of a country with a four-millennia-old civilisation and continuous nationhood since 221 BC. In 1989, however, it rattled China, brought into question Deng Xiaoping's economic pragmatism

and soured Chinese relations with the West, particularly the US. The book's relevance is, however, wider. It gives a unique insight into the thought processes of four generations of Chinese leaders, with whom Mr Kissinger interacted in official and demi-official capacities. Mao Zedong, in his elliptical magnificence, speaks to the reader; as does Zhou Enlai and so on. Although Mr Kissinger's avuncular indulgence is manifest, giving the Chinese the benefit of the doubt, for instance in ignoring their proclivity to function both within the domain of the post-World War II global order as outside it through the clandestine export of lethal technologies to their clients in South Asia and Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). But the nexus between Chinese strategic and operational thinking and their cultural and historical roots is masterly.
Illustrative is a comparison between the Chinese board game Wei Qi and chess, of Indian provenance and now universal acceptance. While in the Chinese game, played with 180 pieces per player on a board with 19 by 19 lines, the aim is to outflank through spatial dominance, in chess the object is to checkmate the antagonist into submission. Mr Kissinger explains that the 1950 Korean War, where China opposed the US, the 1962 Sino-Indian border clash and the 1979 Sino-Vietnam hostilities were all acts of offensive deterrence. The first ensured the survival of DPRK, a Chinese protégé, the second downsized India and made Jawaharlal Nehru a nervous wreck. The last demonstrated Soviet helplessness as they could not assist Vietnam despite a friendship treaty. Though akin to the Western doctrine of pre-emptive action, for the Chinese, Mr Kissinger concludes, in each case, "having restored the psychological equation, in Chinese eyes, genuine deterrence has been achieved". That explains China's unilateral withdrawal in 1962 to pre-war positions. Additional factors perhaps were the likely onset of winter, extended supply lines, Soviet ire over Chinese distraction during the Cuban missile crisis and President John F. Kennedy swinging the full US support behind India.
Both countries, post-World War II, faced complex challenges. It is in countering them that posterity now judges their ruling elite. The Indian leadership inherited a country partitioned by the departing rulers; the Chinese in 1949 had a nation traumatised by Japanese occupation and ravages but also a bloody civil war, leaving one faction with Taiwan, though fully supported by the US.
China had, however, been a nation in continuum since 221 BC. Even though Chinese empires fractured, re-uniting in cycles, the idea of China was uncontested. Every barbarian invasion, if not thwarted at the border, was eventually overpowered through endurance or absorbed in Chinese culture. Thus Mao's China refused to join the Warsaw Pact or give a naval base to the Soviets. They first aligned with the USSR to fight the US in Korea and then, in 1972, reversed it to help the US contain the Soviets. They struck quasi-alliances, advancing their national interests, convinced of their manifest destiny. Despite Mao's revolutionary zeal to purge China of the vestiges of Confucianism, his successor Deng Xiaoping actually resurrected the same to put China on the path of accelerated rise.
The Indian elite, on the contrary, were strung between their English education, Nehru's Fabian Socialist vision and Gandhiji's deliberate tapping into the fossilised Indian religious and cultural well springs, realising that an enslaved nation could not be freed without spiritual revival. Nehru's Indo-centric narrative taught the masses to recognise the relevance of their own traditions. This had in it as much of Buddha as of the Bhagavad Gita. It, however, had no pragmatic advice on how to deal with hard decisions impinging on foreign policy and national security. The answer to that would be a complex mix of Asoka's pacifism and Chanakya's statecraft.
In retrospect, non-alignment was good in practice but bad in theory, as India got entrapped in its logic. When the Chinese descended on eastern India in 1962, Nehru went rushing to the US, even seeking air cover, which in retrospect was both unnecessary and impractical, particularly when India had not even deployed its own air assets.
Episodically, India has operated on the basis of realpolitik. In 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi correctly assessed that factors favoured pre-emptive action. The US was war-weary post-Vietnam, China was exhausted after its fratricidal Cultural Revolution and Pakistan had lost all moral authority, first in undermining an electoral verdict and then with genocide. India succeeded in bifurcating its principal antagonist in South Asia. Having done so Indira Gandhi chose to ignore her external environment, in which the creator of today's China, Deng Xiaoping, had been recalled by Mao after his banishment since 1966. He worked from 1973 to 1976 and, following Mao's death and temporary sidelining, again from 1979 to 1991. The great pragmatist had by then worked his magic, the result for all to behold. The greatest challenge Indira Gandhi perceived in 1975 was Jayaprakash Narayan. As India slipped under Emergency control, losing its core marketing values of freedom and democracy, China was emerging from Mao's nihilism. A young Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, with a mandate to remodel India, stumbled within two years of his historic victory. The time to break away from the sterile dogmas of controlled economy and non-aligned policy was already long past. China was showing that there is space between being non-aligned and aligned. It is called being a pole. The initiative was finally taken by an accidental Prime Minster, Narasimha Rao, seven years too late and myriad steps too few.
Mr Kissinger's last chapter is titled, "Does history repeat itself?" For China the world hopes not, as it would be regressive for China to mutate into a Middle Kingdom, remote and prescriptive. For India, the question is whether the creators of chess can outplay the masters of Wei Qi. Where the Chinese have given the world products, India has exported ideas. Can the material trump the mental, the prosaic the spiritual?

K.C. Singh is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry

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THE ASIAN AGE

BABA ON FAST, BJP GETTING HUNGER PANGS

SIDHARTH BHATIA

The sight of Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and many others from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dancing at Rajghat has offended even sympathisers of the party. Quite apart from being distasteful — dancing on Gandhiji's grave, as it were — it was also misplaced. What exactly did the BJP leaders and workers feel so triumphant about?

That some cunning plan of theirs had worked? That Baba Ramdev, by getting thrown out of Delhi after much midnight drama, was now going to emerge a martyr? And even if he did turn into a hero, how exactly does it benefit the BJP?
So overwhelmed was the BJP by these events that its leaders not only danced, but also indulged in some bizarre hyperbole. The lathicharge at the Ramlila Grounds was reminiscent of the Emergency, they said. This was soon turned up a notch — it was another Jallianwala Bagh massacre, said the party's statement. Both descriptions are not only wrong, they are also in bad taste. To compare a lathicharge to the brutal killing of helpless men, women and children with bullets in an enclosed park by a colonial government shows the depths to which politicians will sink to gain some political mileage.
But back to the basic question: How does all this actually help the BJP? No one who has been watching the developments of the last few days will have missed the Sangh Parivar's connection with the Baba and his campaign. Always known to be close to the large Sangh family, Baba has vast properties in BJP-ruled states. But when Sadhvi Rithambara came and sat with him on the platform, all doubts were removed. Some of the Baba's strategists are known Sangh Parivar champions and were batting for him on television, while his campaign against black money bears close resemblance to a so-called "paper" produced by Sangh-aligned "intellectuals" which had accused United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi of parking illicit funds abroad and for which Lal Krishna Advani had to apologise.
The BJP's hyperventilation over the summary removal of Baba Ramdev from Delhi limits, must, therefore, be seen in that light — it is extending support to one of its own. However, far from being elated, the BJP should be worried. The BJP is not just another party; it has ruled the country. It has leaders with vast amounts of political and parliamentary experience. It rules in several states and hopes to get back to power in Delhi soon. Given that UPA-2 is fumbling on several fronts, the BJP should be brimming with enthusiasm, energy and ideas to push the government into defensive mode and start planning for a regime change. Instead, we see the country's leading Opposition party hitching itself to the bandwagon of a yoga guru with zero political experience, some fairly weird ideas and dubious financial sources. There are scores, if not hundreds, of such swamis, gurus and babas all over the country with reactionary views and no one but their followers take them seriously. Baba Ramdev operates on a much bigger scale and has morphed into a strong brand, but surely even the BJP knows that such things are ephemeral. Besides, there is a good chance that many of the Baba's followers are BJP supporters anyway, so the Baba's plans to set up a political party could split that vote. So why this enthusiasm for the Baba?
Over the decades, the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar have always looked around for respectable leaders with mass appeal who can be a good "mukhota" (mask). Jayaprakash Narayan and V.P. Singh are two such examples; both were professed secularists but both were anti-Congress. Their mass credibility was perfect for the Sangh Parivar, which has always been aware that its own ideology has limited appeal. Jayaprakash Narayan helped cobble together the Janata Party, and, V.P. Singh with outside Right and Left support, put together a government. Both these experiments failed but the BJP came out much stronger.
Times have now changed. There is no one in the Opposition of the stature of either Jayaprakash Narayan or V.P. Singh. With the retirement of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP, too, is bereft of anyone with mass appeal. The party has not been able to mount any credible attack on the government and the loss in the 2009 elections has completely demoralised it. The Sangh Parivar is now looking at the future; they may not invest in Baba Ramdev beyond a point, but he will, at the very best, serve a temporary purpose of taking on the government, or even — so the more fanciful believe — topple it. Tentative approaches were made to join with social activist Anna Hazare, but when he realised such an association could backfire, he distanced himself.
Such reliance on extra-political entities can only be harmful to a legitimate political party like the BJP. Its leaders need to be introspecting about the implications of handing over centrestage to mavericks like Baba Ramdev. Instead, the BJP ought to be sharpening its weapons to take on the government which is at its most vulnerable, what with allegations of financial scams swirling around. But practising hard politics can be difficult and frustrating. Better just to jump into a ready-made tamasha and hope that some of the spotlight falls upon you, too.

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THE ASIAN AGE

MONKEYS, MORALS, MATHEMATICS

JAYANT V. NARLIKAR

Many of us have read stories from the Indian classic Panchatantra, know also how that collection originated. A rich man had sons who refused to be taught the usual way. No method of classroom teaching made any impression on their brain. So how could they be educated into becoming responsible citizens? His problem was finally solved by Vishnu Sharma, a learned but practical minded teacher.

He told the boys interesting stories that carried morals, which were of great use to them. The code of conduct that they assimilated from the tales would have been lost on them had it been presented as cut and dried commandments to be learnt by heart. Sharma's stories provided the rationale for the code and their very absorbing nature made it easy for the boys to appreciate them.
A somewhat similar method should be employed to make the usually tyrannical subject of mathematics "user friendly". All too often the subject is introduced to the hapless pupil as a collection of rules to be followed in order to solve problems, which also are often stated in an uninteresting fashion.
The student therefore looks upon the whole exercise as a ritual — to be learnt by heart and executed verbatim, without understanding the logical context of those problems.
The second off-putting aspect of this type of school maths is the importance given to number crunching. Firstly, the exercises in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, followed in higher classes by manipulations of fractions already sap any enthusiasm a kid may have brought with him/her. Secondly, no attempt is made to know whether s/he can relate those exercises to worded problems. So if a kid grows with a liking for the subject it is in spite of, rather than because of our school teaching. Is there a way that opens up the logical treasure house, a method that shows kids that mathematics really is a subject to test one's thinking skills while also entertaining one's mind?
There surely is. It was my good fortune that I was introduced to it at an early age, when I was still in primary school. I was given books on recreational mathematics by my father. To most readers of this article the phrase "recreational mathematics" may sound an oxymoron. How can a subject that terrifies the child take on a recreational garb? But it does. As I discovered when I opened those books, there were no jungles of numbers to cope with. Instead there were pictures, cartoons, puzzles, even stories and anecdotes.
There was one crucial difference, however, between these books and purely recreational literature. When you read these books, you begin to appreciate that the text is trying to draw your attention to some problem that needs to be solved. There are puzzles that challenge you to solve them. And what is worth stressing, the expertise needed to solve them does not require number crunching but does demand strict adherence to the rules of logic.
Take this example. An island has two resident tribes. Tribe A is made of people who always tell the truth while those belonging to Tribe B always tell a lie and try to mislead. A tourist to the island encountered three natives walking together. He asked one of them: "Sir, to what tribe do you belong?" That worthy replied but the tourist could not follow what he said. So he asked the person standing next to him: "Will you please tell me what your friend just now said?" "Sir, he said that he belongs to Tribe A", replied the second person of the trio. At which the third gentleman said: "No, no! My friend said that he belongs to Tribe B". So, of the two companions, which one was telling the truth?
If you have got the answer, skip this paragraph otherwise read on. If the first native belonged to Tribe A, he would tell the truth and inform the tourist that he belongs to Tribe A. On the other hand, if he belonged to Tribe B, he has to tell a lie and so he would reply to the tourist that he belongs to Tribe A.
Thus, in either case, his reply would be that he belonged to Tribe A. Given this conclusion, we see that the second man was telling the truth and the third one was lying.
Notice that the problem or its solution did not involve any manipulation of numbers. Rather its solution leads us to use logical thinking. Indeed, as one drives deeper into the garden of mathematics, one discovers that logical arguments take the front seat and number crunching takes the backseat. This may help understand why in the world of expert mathematicians, a person with the mental ability of performing quick additions, multiplications etc., is not considered a mathematician. For the same reason, the so-called vedic mathematics is not an example of higher mathematics.
I, therefore, suggest that once a week the maths teacher should devote an entire period playing games and solving puzzles that have a mathematical base. This way the pupils will learn to appreciate the subject for what it really is and will cease to be afraid of it. Such entertaining byways to various aspects of mathematics do exist and are waiting to be enjoyed.
I end this account with a problem from Lilavati, the book of problems written by the 12th-century Indian mathematician, Bhaskaracarya, supposedly addressed to his talented daughter (of the same name as the book). It gives an example of the delightfully poetical way in which a mathematical problem can be posed: "The square root of half the total number of a swarm of bees went to a Malati tree, followed by another eight-ninth of the total. One bee was trapped inside a lotus flower, while his mate came humming in response to his call. O Lady, tell me how many bees were there in all?"
Ladies and Gentlemen, can you solve this question?

Jayant V. Narlikar is professor emiritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus, and a renowned astrophysicist

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

ENDEMIC RAGGING MENACE

 

One of shameful scourges afflicting our higher educational institutions is of ragging. This came from the western culture but developed into monstrous home-bred proportions to the brink of barbarity. It is livid expression of group power and its instinct of assertiveness over the weaklings. Cornering a lame duck of a new entrant, the group of "seniors" allocates itself the right to deal in a dehumanized manner with the helpless new entrant. The scourge has become so rampant that the Supreme Court had to order its prohibition, and hold the heads of respective institutions responsible if a case of ragging took place. The Supreme Court has also laid down the procedure of handling the cases of ragging. The reason for the Supreme Court to take such a strong view of the matter is that there have been cases in which ragging has ultimately ended up in the loss of precious lives. It is shameful that a student aspiring to build his career and become national asset is forced to end up his or her life as his survival is made miserable and unsustainable. It is a sad commentary that despite clear verdict of the Supreme Court and also the instructions of state governments, ragging has not stopped in educational institutions. This menace is deep-rooted and more often than not has extraneous implications of goons and cronies exerting influence on senior students with criminal mentality or background. Even the heads of the institutions are discreetly threatened by these goons with dire consequences if he or she intervenes to obstruct ragging of new comers. In other words, a mafia is gradually forming up in some institutions and it is getting entrenched.
Though the state governments have been directed by the Supreme Court to ensure that ragging is not allowed in public or private institutions in their respective states, yet this order is not being enforced in letter and spirit in some cases. The Apex Court has noted that some states have not come up to its satisfaction in preventing cases of ragging. They have fallen short of implementing the guidelines of the Apex Court. Now that the season of admission to academic and professional institutions has set in, educational authorities in our State have taken some preventive measures to keep the menace out of operation. On the directions of Commissioner Secretary, Higher Education Department and Director Colleges, Nodal Officer of the Government Colleges in Jammu Province, recently issued directions to the Principals of all Colleges to set-up anti-ragging cells in their respective educational institutions well before the commencement of academic session for effective implementation of the new law of the State. In addition, the University of Jammu has also issued notification for strict adherence to the guidelines formulated by the Supreme Court. The cells will comprise senior faculty members and even one officer from the civil administration so that the menace that has gripped several states of the country does raise its ugly head in Jammu and Kashmir. Authorities are adopting various methods to make it clear to the student community that there is not only the order of the Supreme Court but also the writ of a law enacted by the State Legislature prohibiting ragging and directing the government to take punitive measures against the culprits. It is appreciable that various preventive measure through which awareness of ragging as a crime is to be brought to the notice of the student community, are being pressed into service like putting up signboards in the campuses, printing warnings on admission forms, alerting police authorities to register complaints of ragging and take action to prosecute the identified culprits. Unless strict punitive action is taken against the defaulters or the group of defaulters, this menace may not be stamped out. Rustication, expulsion and even imprisonment of persons implicated in ragging should ensue forthwith as it is an anti-national act and unacceptable to society. We hope that the alacrity with which the state education department has moved in right direction to suppress the evil of ragging, will lead to satisfactory results and J&K State will have not a single case of ragging for times to come.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

FOOD SHORTAGE

 

More reports of shortage of food grains in some parts of Jammu region are coming in. Their details are somewhat alarming. Though CAPD Minister maintains that steps are being taken by the department to break the nexus between depot holders and officials of the department, most parts of the Jammu region are facing an acute shortage of ration. Protests against ration shortage have become a routine affair as the authorities concerned have failed to streamline the supply. Opposition parties have also been demanding that the state government should improve public distribution system. A common complaint of people of backward areas and especially from below the poverty line is that there is wide scale pilferage of government ration through mafias. The subsidized ration meant for the BPL families rarely reaches them and is easily available on the black market. There were a number of instances in the past few months where either the Vigilance Department or the police arrested ration dealers and the CAPD officials while selling ration in black market. A majority of people living in R.S. Pora area have not been getting ration for the last one and a half year. There appears a nexus between officials of the department and ration dealers, is the common view.
According to a social activist, the subsidized ration meant for the BPL families rarely reaches them and is easily available on the black market. There were a number of instances in the past few months where either the Vigilance Department or the police arrested ration dealers and the CAPD officials while selling the ration in the black market. A dealer was arrested from Ustad Mohallah here recently in this regard. An official of the department and a dealer were also arrested from the Khandwal area in the Satwari block. The Kissan Morcha recently launched a campaign to demand ration for people living in the Kandi area of the Jammu region. The issue was also raised in the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council during the Budget session, but no action was taken. Amidst all these discouraging reports the Minister for Food Supplies contends. "Those, who are not getting ration, can send their complaints directly to me through fax. I assure the people that their complaints will be addressed immediately". He added: "We are trying our best to streamline the functioning of the department and those who want to give their suggestions are welcome". Akhoon said he had decided to visit the areas from where the department was getting the complaints.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

INDIA MUST ENGAGE AFRICA

BY M K DHAR

 

India has launched a serious bid to woo African hearts and minds. It intends to increase its involvement in the resource-rich continent, despite political instability in some countries and doubts about the long-term safety of investment. The philosophy behind New Delhi's approach, as outlined by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while addressing the Second Africa-India Forum Summit Addis Ababa, is that it has enough faith in the people, societies and countries of the continent and whatever temporary difficulties they may face now, they have the will, the resources and the inclination to overcome them.
Thanks to the trade winds that gust across the common Arabian Sea, to the delight of merchants, adventurers and fisherfolk, Africa and India have enjoyed close relations since time immemorial. In more recent times, Mahatma Gandhi hit upon the idea of passive resistance, "satyagraha" to protest against the execces is and injustices of colonial powers while practicing law in Africa, before making a mark on the Indian political scene and launching a mass movement which eventually led to independence from British rule. The movement also led to the independence of most African nations from British and French colonial rule. India has helped out with more UN peacekeeping mission there with close to 10,000 blue helmets in the field, preserving peace between warring states and tribes, curbing secessionist movements and countering mindless violence.
With such a rich background of comprehensive engagement, India does not want to miss any opportunity to contribute to the continent's development through trade, transfer of technology and manufacturing skills, capacity building, training of African youth to help them develop the continents large natural resources and agriculture. More recently, corporate globalization has led bilateral relations, with several big Indian companies and private capital, trade and investment in Agriculture becoming the prime engines driving them. More than any other region, it is Africa that has to be a strategic priority for India, which must offer partnership no other power is willing or able to extend.
Energy and resource hungry China has made major forays into Africa, with bilateral trade to the tune of $ 260 billion last year, compared to India's $ 46 billion, which is proposed to grow to $ 70 billion by 2015. It is fast picking up oil prospecting and exploitation contracts, outbidding others, including India, in the process. India may not be able to match China's resources and business skills; therefore, it needs to redouble efforts to find new markets for its growing exports and ensuring energy supplies. The world faces new challenges, as Dr. Singh told the Summit, in meeting the requirements of food and energy security. Global institutions of governance have become outmoded and are under stress. It is in this context that India and Africa must foster a new spirit of solidarity.
Agriculture is the backbone of several African countries. Dr. Singh demanded market access for the commodity producers of the continent. Vulnerable sections of the peasantry need to be protected from the vagaries of the international marketplace. It is thus imperative that the development dimension of the Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations is not diluted. As the Summit's host and Ethipian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi pointed out, his country has 3 million hectares of un-untilised land which it wants to lease out to others for growing food. An Indian investor has already been given a lease of 300,000 hectares to grow maize. "We want to develop our land to feed ourselves, rather than admire the beauty of fallow lands, while we starve".
Despite such a rich cultural and commercial background, the task of mainstreaming Africa in India presents both a challenge and a risk. Not only are the means to achieve it contested, but questions are also raised about the unity of purpose among African peoples to give their economies a great push with outside assistance and eradicate endemic poverty and hunger. Fundamental questions are also raised about the relationship between the powerful rich and industrialized world and the poor developing countries. The continent has been endlessly recreated and deconstructed, used and abused by the popular and elite discourse on nationhood and the people that are to be created and moulded in the New World. The current economic situation is far from favourable, particularly for developing countries. The world faces new challenges in assuring food and energy security and global institutions of governance are outmoded and under stress.
India had pledged $ 5.4 billion for projects in Africa at the First Africa-India Forum Summit in New Delhi in 2008, the bulk of which has been utilized. At Addis Ababa Dr. Singh announced another $ 5 billion package to help achieve the development goals of Africa. The amount may not be very big, considering Africa's needs, but it is so targeted as to build capacities which will generate production and jobs, thereby contributing to economic development. An additional $ 700 million has also been offered to establish new institutions and training programmes in consultation with the African Union and its institutions. A commitment has also been made to develop the Ethiopian-Djibouti railway line at a cost of $ 300 million to improve connectivity. The area of capacity building has been New Delhi's strength. Several new institutions will be created at the Pan African level across various sectors -- food, textiles, weather forecasting, life and earth sciences and agriculture and rural development.
Indian diaspora is regarded as India's strength in Africa, there are more than 2 million people of Indian origin living in Africa, including businessmen, teachers and professionals. But these communities are not so well integrated within the political and cultural milieu of host countries. (NPA)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

WOMEN IN INDIAN POLITICS

BY DR VISHIESH VERMA

 

This is best of the times for Indian women, Rashtrapati Bhawan has a lady politician turned President, three of the top slots of Lok Sabha are occupied by women with the elevation of Sushma Swaraj as the leader of the opposition, Meira Kumar with soft voice and economy of words controls the unruly parliamentrarians during budget session, while there is Sonia Gandhi the chairperson of the biggest and old Parliamentary party Congress. Three other active parties like BSP, AIADMK and Trinamool Congress are headed by Women. The Lok Sabha has highest number of women members-59 since independence. The four big-states of India are being governed by women. The seventy three year old, Sheila Dixit, interior designer, dare devil, out-batting male party rivals is third time Delhi's Chief Minister. The sixty three year old, Jayalalitha (Amma) former actor has taken over the charge of Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu fourth time. The fifty six years old Mamta Banerjee(Didi) with cotton sari and hawai chappals marked out as an eternal pedestrian, flip flopping her way through the busy streets and unruly crowds, two times minister has taken over the charge of Chief Minister of West Bengal first time. The fifty five year old Mayawati (Behanji) became Chief Minsiter of Uttar Pradesh fourth time in 2007.
How they have made it to the top has less to do with the fact that they are women, than with how they entered the politics and secured the place in it. Forget that pseudo debate on Women's reservation for a while, there is no gender tyranny, the most powerful politician at the moment in India, is woman, Sonia Gandhi.
The common characteristic that Jayalalitha, Mamta Banerjee, Mayawati and to a lesser extent Sonia Gandhi share with each other is, that they act as though no one could get away with trying to intimidate them. They have demonstrated extraordinary resilience in the face of heavy odds.
In Indian politics at present Sonia Gandhi is considered the most powerful woman. In 2004, she was named the third influential woman by the Forbes magazine, in the list of 100 such women of the world.
She has earned this position by keeping together the coalition partners and maintaining her leadership as UPA Chief. The spring of 2004, witnessed Sonia Gandhi's finest hour. She enhanced her moral and political status by forsaking the Prime-ministership and choosing Manmohan Singh for the post.
Congress was being led by un-chrismatic Narsimha Rao. In 1996 elections Congress was defeated, Rao was shoved aside, Sitaram Kesari took over. The sincere Congress workers requested her to rejuvenate the Congress party. She came forward to keep the Congress together and to breathe life into it.
Mamta Banerjee is grassroot level politician she did not inherit power but acquired it. She built her own career more in the tradition of an avenging deity than a politician and presented herself as a victim of CPI-M's dictatorship and had committed to herself that she willn't rest untill she has destroyed their power. In 1984, she burst into limelight having defeated CPM Stalwart Somnath Chattergee. She was 29 at that time, Rajiv Gandhi had picked her to defeat Somnath Da. Mamta had indeed performed a feat, many congress leaders were heard saying, "she has bearded the lion in his own den". In 1993, when she was minister in P.V. Narsimha Rao's Government she staged a Dharna in front of Chief Minister Jyoti Basu's chambers in writers building in Kolkata. She was demanding justice for a poor deaf girl who was allegedly raped by certain persons owing allegiance to CPM. Ministerial office didn't like Mamta's style of functioning, she resigned Rao's Ministry. In 1996, though a Congress member she dubbed the party as "a stooge of CPM" claiming that she wanted clean Congress.
In 1997 when the congress plenary session under the President ship of Sita Ram Kesari was held in Kolkata, Mamta raised the banner of revolt against his leadership. She organized the parallel rally, her rally turned to be successful, while Congress rally flopped.
Mamta also clashed with police, if it came in her way. No leader has been assaulted by police and Marxists as many times as she. She was seen on small screen groaning with pain in hospital bed and raising her plastered hand in the Lok Sabha.
In 1998 she created her own party "Trinamool Congress".
Mamta Banerjee is one leader who will never say 'die' once she takes up a cause, she will never give it up. As Union Minister, she didn't change her style of living. She didn't move to ministerial banglow but continued to live in modest MPS' flats in multi-storey building in Delhi. Convent educated Jayalalitha is 'angry mother'. And her anger is rooted in personal history of pain, denial and isolation, she was "other woman", the 'usurper'. In 60s and 70s, as one of the leading actresses in South Indian film industry she was known for her glamour and good looks. As long as Jaya was merely the consort of MGR, she was barely tolerated, for his sake she was neither respected nor feared. Her sense of individuality comes from a deep sense of grievance at the many personal injustices, she was subjected to. Jayalalitha received worst treatment after the death of her mentor. On the day of his cremation she was forcibly removed from the carriage carrying his dead body to the cremation ground. Afterwards she was physically attacked and her sari was torn away in the State Assembly.
Jayalalitha outmanoeured all those politicians who had proposed MGR's wife against her. She showed the stuff she was made of, by wresting the party mantle from M.G. Ramachanderan's wife, Janki. She has become chief Minister after Supreme Court cleared her of many cases going against her.
When Mayawati became Chief Minister of UP in 1995 the then Prime Minister N.Rao, described the event as a "miracle of democracy". That was for the first time that a Dalit woman had become the Chief Executive of the most populous and politically sensitive state of the Union. Mayawati was groomed by BSP founder Late Kashi Ram.
She hijacked the BSP from Kashi ram's nose even before he was disabled by the stroke. She rules Uttar Pradesh with iron hands. In 2008 she made her debut in world's most powerful womens' list of 100 holding 59th position..
There are few, if any parallels with the rise of BSP in UP. In 1989, it fought its first Assembly and Parliamentary election. By 2002, it had become the second largest party in the State Assembly. In 2007, Mayawati began her 4th term as the Chief Minister. Now, Dalits and Brahamins both are at her side. She has also earned the support of Muslims and other upper castes she has a plan to change Uttar Pradesh to Uttam Pradesh, her main agenda is "Sarva Jana Hitya, Sarva Jana Sukhya", she says, "Politics is her profession, Dalit power is her goal". Mayawati is rewriting the rules of the political game. Her social political engineering in UP has for the first time made BSP player of substance and relevance on the national scene. She has extended her experiment in vote politics to other states successfully and traditional parties are worried.
At present, in Indian politics both at the regional and national level, Women on the top are most impressive. In 2004, Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalitha stirred the brew which led to the fall of Union Government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee- by one vote. This time, third time sworn in Jayalalitha was simply congratulated by Sonia Gandhi on phone. Mayawati or Jayalalitha who-so-ever gets the opportunity would come forward to become Prime Minister.
Both these women are acceptable to BJP, CPM and TDP. The Regional Parties, later on, may fall in line. Certainly women politicians are going to play a major role in future political set up of India.
(The Writer is a former Reader Co-ordinator of University of Jammu.)

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

FALLING FOOD PRICES IS NOT GOOD FOR AGRICULTURE

BY DR ASHWANI MAHAJAN


It has been said that the only people who can change the world are those who want to. The world needs to move from its current non-renewable energy paradigm to a future powered by entirely renewable energy supply. It is only by making such a transition that we will be in a position to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change. A large number of leaders across the world from within the policy arena, business, media and civil society are questioning the views of conventional experts on the world's energy future and their business as usual scenarios, embarking on a serious search for realistic alternatives. The world has reached peak conventional oil and gas consumption, meaning thereby oil and gas companies are digging deeper and deeper into unconventional sources, with disastrous environmental and social consequences. Coal is still relatively readily available but catastrophic in terms of climate changing emissions. The world can no longer afford to hang on its old energy paradigm and its dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.
The Energy Report, produced through a joint effort of WWF and Ecofys, breaks new ground in the energy debate; a possible system in which all of the world's energy supply is provided by renewable sources by 2050. The Energy Report shows that this future is within our reach and provides a vital insight into how it can be achieved. The report puts together strategies and technology options that have already been put in practice to create a feasible global scenario. WWF wants to help change the old paradigm for the energy and articulate a new pathway for the future.
Renewables will play a greater role than either nuclear or carbon capture and storage by 2050. About 13 per cent of the world's energy come from renewable sources in 2008, a proportion likely to have risen as countries have built their capacity since then, with china leading the investment surge, particularly in wind energy. But by far the greatest source of renewable energy used globally at present is burning biomass- about 10 per cent of the global energy supply which is problematic because it can cause deforestation, leads to deposit of soot that accelerate global warming and cooking fires cause indoor air pollution that harm health. Wind power by contrast met about 2 per cent of global electricity demand in 2009, and could increase to more than 20 per cent by 2050.
Renewable energy is already growing fast- of the 300-giga watts (remember one gigawatt is equivalent to 1000 megawatts) of new electricity generation capacity added globally between 2008 and 2009; about 140 GW came from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. The investment that will be needed to meet the greenhouse gas emissions targets is likely to amount to about $ 5 trillion in the next decade, rising to $ 7 trillion from 2021 to 2030. Developing countries have an important stake in the future- this is where most of the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity live yet also where some of the best conditions exist for renewable energy deployment. Renewable energy can also meet the growing demand of developing countries where over 2 billion people lack access to basic energy services and can also do so at a more cost-competitive and faster rate than conventional energy sources.
Today, we do not use energy in a judicious manner. More than half the heats we pump into our homes disappear through walls, windows and roofs- yet we know how to construct buildings that require virtually no energy for heating or cooling. We favor big, powerful private cars over far more efficient forms of transport. Energy-hungry appliances clog the market, even though there is a wide range of efficient alternatives available. Manufacturers could use far less energy by reassessing their materials and processes. Energy conservation is something every one can embrace. We simply require to start making wise choices today. Nuclear meltdown in Japan after powerful earthquake in March 2011 clearly reveals why society should no longer bear the risks of nuclear disaster. And that is why it is clear now than ever before that the energy of future for the safer, more prudent society will come from renewable energy. The more we use renewable energy, the more we benefit the environment, strengthen our energy security, create jobs locally and help improve our economy. Here we can explore ways to use renewable energy.
Using Biomass Energy
Ever since humans started burning wood to keep warm and to cook food, we have been using biomass energy. Today we can also use biomass to fuel vehicles, generate electricity and developed bio-based products. Here we can explore the different ways to use biomass energy. For instance, by using fuel for vehicle with ethanol or biodiesel, using clean electricity generated from biomass, using products like plastics made from biomass.
Using Hydrogen
Hydrogen- a colorless and odorless gas is the most abundant element in the universe. However, because it combines easily with other elements, it is rarely found by itself in nature. Hydrogen usually combines with other elements, forming organic compounds called hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons include plant material and fossil fuels such as petroleum, natural gas and coal. Water is produced during the burning of any hydrocarbon. Hydrogen can be separated from hydrocarbon through the burning of heat- a process known as reforming. Currently, most hydrogen is made this way from natural gas. An electric current can also be used to separate water into its components of oxygen and hydrogen. This process is known as electrolysis. Currently, hydrogen has great potential as a power source for fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells can provide heat for homes and buildings, generate electricity and power vehicles.
Using Hydropower
Flowing water creates energy that can be tapped and turned into electricity. This is called hydropower or hydroelectric power. If we have access to flowing water on our property, we can use a micro hydropower system to generate our own electricity. Micro hydropower system usually generate up to 100 Kilowatt (KW) of electricity.
Using Solar Energy
If we step outside on a hot, sunny day, and we will experience the power of sun's heat and the light. We can use solar energy to heat our homes through passive solar design or an active solar heating system. We can also use it to generate our own electricity. We can use it to heat water in our home or swimming pool. We can use it to light our home both indoors and outdoors.
Using Wind Energy
We have harnessed the wind's energy for hundreds of years- from windmills that pump water or grind grain to today's wind turbines that generate electricity. If you live on at least one acre of land with an ample wind resource, you can generate your own electricity using a small wind electric system. You can also use a small wind turbine for pumping water. You may have the opportunity now or in the future to buy clean electricity from a wind power plant.
One thing that looks imminent is the fact that the future belongs to renewable energy. Scientists and industry expert may disagree over how long the world's supply of oil and natural gas will last, but one thing is for sure that it will rather sooner or later exhaust.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

NOISY POLLUTION

BY VIRANDER KHASHU

 

The imbroglio of pollution has its manifestations entrenched in multiple realms of modern day living and the mankind either wittingly or unwittingly has been ignoring the ramifications of this monster affecting directly the quality of human life on the planet. The question arises- Are we in a position to quantify the damages inflicted by such events like toxic emissions, the harmful by products, the ravaging tsunamis, the depleting soil cover, the devastating earthquakes, the over exploited resources? Certainly yes, would be the answer ! But how easily we have been ignoring the Philip side of same picture, which though subtle, has a potential of affecting human health adversely. Yes, we are talking about the impending danger of unbearable sounds to human ears termed as Noise Pollution. The situations when unbearable, distracting, irritating, pulsating sounds are freely audible in a medium without any barrier or insulating, noise pollution is created. The human race of today is being slowly but silently afflicted, both inside as well as outside their homes, through invisible energy particles travelling in waves, which of course has no physical shapes to invite instant reactions. This energy pollution contaminates are not physically seen but travel in waves which interfere with the naturally occurring waves of similar type in a particular environment. Broadly, sounds are considered noise pollution if they affect human life, wild life and their activities on repeating, regular basis but precisely any process created artificially but terribly mismanaged, moving out of control and which disturbs any natural process, causes human harm can be classified as pollution and the one created by abnormal noise can very easily be called noise pollution. However, there seems to be no broader consensus and parameters on which sounds defined may have actually caused noise pollution and its consequent detrimental effects on the mental frame and behavioural pattern of both humans and animals particularly the wild ones. Experts are of firm opinion regarding the deleterious fallouts of those unwanted sounds on human health which ultimately affects their behaviour, approach and particularly warning about the sounds of specific amplitudes which possess damaging proportions on human health both physiologically as well as psychologically. Noise pollution can very easily cause aggression and annoyance creating disturbances among the humans and disturbing the families. The various health hazards like hypertension sleep disturbances, high stress levels are an outcome of this malady besides forgetfulness, diabetes and severe depression trauma attacks at times. High noise levels can also contribute cardio-vascular effects thus adding to the ever increasing graph of high blood pressure as well as increased incidence of coronary artery disease (CAD) cases all over the world. Chronic exposure to noise may cause noise induced hearing loss especially in the people working in occupational environment prone to heavy volumes of noises emanating from mechanical gadgets in factories and industrial units when compared to the people hitherto unexposed to such noises. Most of the people working in such atmosphere demonstrate significantly reduced hearing sensitivity and at times have a permanent problem beyond correction as observed prominently in order persons. The persistent loud music blaring from the high digital speakers fitted in public transport vehicles, striking against hapless eardrums of the commuters, caught in snarling traffic jams often culminates in unusual behavioral attitudes and mood swings besides simmering headache which is true in case of Jammu city also. Adding to the woes, the persistent shrilling sounds pouring from various types of high pressure musical horns playing synchronically particularly at roundabouts and main crossings with inhaling of discharged gases from vehicles more often in developing countries like India including Jammu city, consequently disturbs the human health in the form of severe mental agony and instability. In urban areas, automobile, motorcycles and even entertainment noise can cause sleep disruption in humans and animals. The desi style of marriage celebrations in our country where loud music and noise form an inalienable part of entertainment adding to the pomp and show of the function, with bands and DJ's intermixing together thus producing a collateral impact accounting for temporary loss of hearing in some cases. In fact acoustic exposure can lead to temporary or permanent loss of hearing. A study carried out in 32 German hospitals found that environmental noise increased heart attack risk by three quarters in women and nearly 45 percent in men. The firing of crackers on festivals and blowing of loud horns in the vicinity of hospitals and other healthcare centers often induces an irreversible impact on the patients, which is of common prevalence in India. In Jammu urban as per one estimate, the noise created on Diwali day itself reaches to nearly 115 decibels which is far more than the permissible limit of 55 decibels of noise in residential areas as per the limits prescribed by central pollution control board.
There has not been any comprehensive law in mitigating the suffering of the people whether pedestrians or commuters and the management of the problem has not been seriously addressed so far in our country. Most governments earlier considered this harmful noise as a nuisance rather than a problem but with the passage of time with its ill effects coming to the fore, the communities of the world have awakened since noise and electronic pollution possess the potential of wrecking the societies and the incidences of deafness are ever increasing. However, lately the steps are being initiated towards safeguarding the health of workers in industries by affecting the changes in the design of industial equipment and erection of physical barriers in the work place. In western countries, use of noise barriers, limitation of vehicle speeds, alteration of roadway textures are some of the measures to mitigate the roadway noises. Many people are not aware of their legal right to protest against their right to noise free peaceful living. Only awareness and determination shown by the governments and the people alike will bring a change and the mutual concerted efforts undertaken to minimize these unwanted sounds created appropriately termed as noise pollution.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

LOKPAL ISSUE BLUES

BUT THE PROCESS MUST BE REINVIGORATED

 

It is truly unfortunate that relations between government and civil society representatives on the Jan Lokpal Bill panel have run into rough weather thereby jeopardising a coordinated approach to the drafting of legislation to check ministerial and bureaucratic corruption in the country. That there was lack of trust between the two sides was palpable all along. But there was visible intent on both sides to come up with a draft Bill by June 30. Now, with Anna Hazare and his team having boycotted a new round of talks on the Bill in protest against the crackdown on Swami Ramdev's congregation in Delhi and Union minister Kapil Sibal having reacted unusually strongly to the boycott, there was uncertainty over whether the civil society representatives on the Jan Lokpal panel would return to the negotiating and drafting table. It is a matter of relief that better sense seems to have finally prevailed on Anna's team after a round of muscle-flexing.

 

Considering that there was a mutually-agreed deadline to meet so that the monsoon session of Parliament could deliberate on the draft Bill, the Anna Hazare camp should have gone along with the latest meeting even while it registered its protest over the police role in breaking up Swami Ramdev's hunger strike. By staying away from a panel meeting and bringing forth extraneous demands like a televised debate to ensure people's views on the proposed law, the civil society representatives did not help the process of arriving at a draft. If the Government were to bulldoze its way to a draft without the participation of the civil society representatives, Anna Hazare and his men would have much to rue about. The legitimate concern expressed by Anna's team over moves to exclude the Prime Minister, the higher judiciary and members of Parliament from the scope of the Bill also need to be thrashed out. If the issue remains unresolved, it could be recorded in the draft report with notes of dissent.

 

Now that the civil society representatives have decided to return to the panel meetings, all acrimony must be kept aside and the panel must work with earnestness. The draft with the notes of dissent, if any, must be put before Parliament for discussion, amendment and adoption. The Anna Hazare team must realize that there is nothing to gain from boycotting the deliberations of the joint panel. In fact, such a boycott would be counter-productive.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

INDIA-US DEFENCE TIES

STRATEGIC BUYING OF MILITARY TRANSPORT PLANE

 

India has finally agreed to buy from the US 10 high-value C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft for the IAF, estimated to cost Rs18000 crore ($4.1 billion). The US has been putting pressure on New Delhi in a subtle way to purchase seven more of these planes to offset the rejection of Boeing's F-18 and Lockheed Martin's F-16 fighter planes as part of a $10 billion medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal negotiated between the two countries during President Barack Obama's April visit to New Delhi. For the present, the Cabinet Committee on Security has decided to stick to the number exactly required by the IAF — only 10 planes. But this is unlikely to satisfy the Americans, who want India to increase its purchases to reach the value of the MMRCA deal. It is, therefore, believed that New Delhi may buy a few more C-17 planes in the coming months. The IAF had been so far managing with Russian H-76 Gajraj and AN-32 flying machines for transporting men and material to strategic locations.

The C-17 military transport aircraft has certain advantages over the Russian one. The Indian agencies that will be benefited include the aviation arm of RAW, the Aviation Research Centre. The new planes have undergone strict tests and the Indian side is quite satisfied with its new acquisition. The supplies will be made in two years with a few extra engines and sufficient spares. But it would have been better if the deal included the transfer of technology too so that India could think of indigenous production of such planes.

In any case, the MMRCA deal will boost India's defence relations with the US. India needs to add to the strength of the IAF keeping in view the acquisitions of the Chinese air force. The tendency to compare with Pakistan should be given up. An emerging regional power that India is, it should think of acquiring a status which is no inferior to that of China. Only then will China stop pinpricking India now and then.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

NO END TO SCAMS

FIRST RAJA, AND NOW MARAN IN THE DOCK

 

IT seems that the scam bag that the UPA government carries is almost bottomless. As if the A Raja and Kanimojhi skeletons that tumbled out of it were not scary enough, there are equally shocking allegations against Union Minister of Textiles Dayanidhi Maran. C. Sivasankaran, the original promoter of cellular service provider Aircel, has alleged that the former Telecom Minister coerced him into selling out to Malaysian telecom company Maxis Communication. The Department of Telecom held back 14 licences and spectrum during Mr Maran's tenure and issued these only after Aircel was sold to Maxis. Maxis dutifully invested Rs 300 crore in Sun Direct TV, owned by the Marans, through a subsidiary, Astro All-Asia Network. Mr Maran has denied the charge, but nobody is convinced, given the ample circumstantial evidence in the case. His argument that nobody can force Sivasankaran to do anything because he is a billionaire is neither here nor there.

 

Not only that, the CBI has also confirmed another serious charge against Mr Maran that he diverted official phone lines to boost his family business. If Aircel chief's allegation of armtwisting are proved to be true, it would make the continuation of Mr Maran in the ministry untenable.

 

That batters the image of the DMK all the more. Given the credibility crisis, the UPA is unlikely to bail it out. When his party wanted to snap ties with the Congress-led UPA, Mr Maran had advised against it. Now that his own head is on the block, he cannot fume against the alliance either. Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has exhorted the investigating agencies to look into the matter without "fear or favour", it is unlikely that the UPA itself would remain unscathed, considering that its name is in mud because of the never-ending scandals and controversies.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

INDIA CAN'T DO A 'GERONIMO'

THERE ARE MAJOR FAULT-LINES

BY LIEUT-GEN HARWANT SINGH (RETD)

 

Consequent to American operation 'Geronimo,' at Abbottabad in Pakistan to eliminate Osama bin Laden, many in civil society have been asking whether India can go ahead with a similar operation. 'Geronimo' involved painstaking intelligence work spread over many years, though the final 'fine- tuning' took seven months or so. Detailed intelligence work and application of cutting edge technology apart, it required an enormous amount of co-ordination among those in the higher echelons of the civil administration and military high command as well as with the one who was to control the mission. The entire planning was closely monitored by the Chiefs of Defence Staff, the CIA chief and the President himself, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

 

For months they worked on the plan, disseminating information strictly following the principle, 'need to know'. A mock-up of the 'Osama house' would have been erected and an operation rehearsed a number of times by the designated team of helicopter crews and Seals, and the latter had otherwise been undergoing one of the most vigorous training schedules. Only then was it possible to complete the mission with clock-work precision. It was the President who had to take the final call and gave written orders.

 

Since intelligence is the most essential input for such an operation, can Indian intelligence agencies measure up to this basic requirement? Weaknesses of Indian intelligence have repeatedly surprised the nation, be it the Chinese road across Ladakh, the scale of aggression in 1962, and mass infiltration in 1965 in J and K followed by the attack in Chamb-Jorian. Kargil was a major intelligence failure and so was the attack on Parliament where there were security lapses too. It was repeated at Mumbai, in spite of some early leads. More recent are the cases of lists of terrorists in Pakistan and the CBI team arriving in Copenhangen with an out-dated warrant of arrest. The list is endless.

 

Accurate and actionable intelligence is fundamental to the success of covert operations, whereas it remains our weakest point. In fact, in the case of Indian intelligence agencies, it is not the case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing but the little finger not knowing whom the index finger, of the same hand, is fingering?

 

At the national level we have the NSG, especially trained and equipped for such operations. At Mumbai these commandos first took too long to arrive and later too long to complete the operation. Equally, are the NSG commandos equal to the job? Just recall the visuals of a commando holding his weapon well above his head and firing at supposedly some terrorists! This visual was repeatedly shown on the American TV, where we saw the drama unfold. The NSG was commanded by an army officer, invariably an ex-commando, but now it is a police officer with no ground-level experience of commando operations. Grabbing jobs, irrespective of the suitability of the appointee, is another feature of Indian setting.

 

There was no centralised control over the operation and the entire scene around Taj Hotel appeared one of a 'circus,' with apparently no one knowing what to do. The details of ammunition and grenades expended by the commandos in this action would give an idea of the operation and our suspicion of possible collateral damage.

 

Both the Indian Navy and the Indian Army have special forces which can carry out missions of the type conducted by the US naval Seals at Abbottabad. They are organised and trained for such missions and have the best of leadership. Quality of intelligence inputs apart, it is the joint operations where more than one service is to take part and then problems arise. There are major fault-lines in the field of coordination and meshing together of various aspects of such an operation between the two Services taking part in the operation. This lack of 'joint-ship' has been the bane of Indian defence forces, which essentially is the handiwork of the politic-bureaucratic combine. The policy of 'divide and rule', and 'turf-tending' over national interest has been the dominant feature of the Indian defence apparatus.

 

In the case of the Abbattobad raid, in spite of the complete integration of the defence forces in the United States, the Naval Seals had their own helicopters to ensure total involvement and commitment of those taking part in the operation. In the case of India, helicopters meant for carrying such troops are with the Indian Air Force rather than the Army! So, the total commitment required on the part of all those taking part in the operation will not measure up to the level required in an operation of the type conducted at Abbottabad. In fact, discord has often appeared when two Services had to operate together. It surfaced in rather an ugly form during the Kargil operations.

 

In the Indian political setting, a clear direction and the will to go for the kill will continue to be lacking. At Kargil, troops were told to carry out a 'hot pursuit,' but were forbidden to cross the Line of Control. This is when Pakistan had violated, on a very wide front and to great depth, India's territorial integrity and the situation called for and justified a befitting response. However, India's timid and inappropriate reaction resulted in frontal attacks up those impossible slopes, with avoidable casualties. Pakistan suffered no punishment for its blatant act of aggression. Consequent to attack on Indian Parliament, 'Operation Parakaram' kept the troops in their battle locations for months and ended in a fiasco. Indian reaction to these two incidents conveyed to Pakistan that it can take liberties with India and the latter carries no deterrence for the former. At the same time, it demonstrated that Indian political leadership will never have the stomach to order an operation of the 'Geronimo' type, no matter how provocative the action of the other country may be.

 

Civil society has suddenly woken up and is now seeking answers to searching questions on these issues, having closed its eyes and switched off its mind to national security issues all these decades. The inescapable fact is that the full potential of various components of the defence forces just cannot be realised without adopting the concepts of Chiefs of Defence Staff and "Theater Commands" along with the integration of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Services headquarters on the lines of the Pentagon. What has currently been carried out by way of amalgamation of Defence Headquarters with the MoD is a joke and a fraud on the nation. Yet civil society has remained a silent spectator. The Arun Singh Committee Report continues to gather dust, as it stands consigned to the archives of the Indian government.

 

Besides the above fault-lines in the Indian security establishment, it is the watertight compartments in which various organs of the state work. Foreign policy is evolved and practised in isolation of national security considerations and consultations. Intelligence agencies are never made accountable and have inadequate interaction with the defence Services.

 

The writer is a retired Deputy Chief of the Army Staff.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CAR-RYING ON IN LIFE

BY SARVJIT SINGH

 

Tinku Car Dealer", appeared on my cell phone screen around 5 pm yesterday. "Pick me up from Tribune Chowk in half an hour. I have spotted a good car for you in Panchkula," ordered a crisp voice. He was referred to me by a business man friend from Ludhiana with the words, "He is a dependable person. I have been dealing with him for the past 15 years".

 

As I approached the bus stop, the brilliant eyes on a boyish frame were hard to miss even in the grey of the dusk. He later told me he was 46. "Sir, many wellwishers dissuaded me from carrying on with 'this menial profession' but I have carried on with it all of these 26 years. What matters is you should become a master of the field. It doesn't matter what you pursue," he broke the ice settling in the car. "I never lost focus or heart, knowing that ups and downs are there in every walk of life. If you make a hundred phone calls, one sure clicks; if you keep waiting nothing happens. Today people know me for what I am, 'Tinku Car Wala', who can always find a good deal for you, and not as so and so's son. And that's what I like about myself."

 

Then he took a phone call, "Sir, it's a silver Alto, in mint condition. The owner won't accept anything below Rs 1.65 lakh." Then continuing with me, "Sir, I have contacts in Bombay and Delhi too; I spent 2 years each in both the big cities. I used to return Rs 1.5 to 2 lakh to my Bombay employer every day. Then he felt threatened I may take over his business and we parted ways."

 

On the way, he made a phone call to someone in Ludhiana: "A Rolls Royce Ghost is available at Rs 2.5 crore straight from showroom in Bombay. It is a cool Rs 25 lakh off, for the person who booked is not in a position to buy now."

 

I could not help complimenting him: "Your range is impressive — Alto to Rolls Royce". "Sir, recently I brokered a deal for a two-year-old Rolls Royce Phantom at Rs 2.25 crore. "How much is the new one for? " "Rs 3.75 crore!"

 

"Sir, I don't have a PAN card, a bank account, a car; not even a scooter. Things only cause botheration. I am a free bird. I sleep wherever my work takes me and start the next day from there. I don't count currency while accepting or making payments. I keep a wad of 500 rupee notes in my pocket, and work for another when I run out of it. I don't think twice before buying a Rs 10000 pair of shoes if I like one." The glitter was intact in the eyes, as I turned to see his face.

 

"You don't appear to be married?" I asked him. "That's right; it somehow never worked out for me". "You look to be a fine man to me. It's never too late. Who knows someone is waiting for you, as you have been!" "It's too late now. And I have practically nothing to offer to a woman." "Woman is Lakshmi, she brings prosperity with her." I felt compelled to sermonise.

 

It was dark when we returned after seeing a car that was beyond my budget. "Where would you like me to drop you?" "Wherever it's convenient to you. I can always catch an auto, a taxi or walk to the nearest bus shelter", he said smiling.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE IMF HAS A LOT TO ANSWER FOR

IMAGINE A PROMINENT FIGURE WAS CHARGED NOT WITH RAPING A MAID, BUT STARVING HER TO DEATH, ALONG WITH HER CHILDREN, HER PARENTS, AND THOUSANDS OF OTHER PEOPLE. THAT IS WHAT THE IMF HAS DONE TO INNOCENT PEOPLE IN THE RECENT PAST. THAT IS WHAT IT WILL DO AGAIN, UNLESS WE TRANSFORM IT BEYOND ALL RECOGNITION

JOHANN HARI

 

Sometimes, the most revealing aspect of the shrieking babble of the 24/7 news agenda is the silence. Often the most important facts are hiding beneath the noise, unmentioned and undiscussed.

So the fact that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is facing trial for allegedly raping a maid in a New York hotel room is – rightly – big news. But imagine a prominent figure was charged not with raping a maid, but starving her to death, along with her children, her parents, and thousands of other people. That is what the IMF has done to innocent people in the recent past. That is what it will do again, unless we transform it beyond all recognition. But that is left in the silence.

To understand this story, you have to reel back to the birth of the IMF. In 1944, the countries that were poised to win the Second World War gathered in a hotel in rural New Hampshire to divvy up the spoils. With a few honorable exceptions, like the great British economist John Maynard Keynes, the negotiators were determined to do one thing. They wanted to build a global financial system that ensured the money and resources of the planet were forever hoovered towards them. They set up a series of institutions designed for that purpose – and so the IMF was delivered into the world.

Works for the rich

The IMF's official job sounds simple and attractive. It is supposedly there to ensure poor countries don't fall into debt, and if they do, to lift them out with loans and economic expertise. It is presented as the poor world's best friend and guardian. But beyond the rhetoric, the IMF was designed to be dominated by a handful of rich countries – and, more specifically, by their bankers and financial speculators. The IMF works in their interests, every step of the way.

Let's look at how this plays out on the ground. In the 1990s, the small country of Malawi in Southeastern Africa was facing severe economic problems after enduring one of the worst HIV-AIDS epidemics in the world and surviving a horrific dictatorship. They had to ask the IMF for help. If the IMF has acted in its official role, it would have given loans and guided the country to develop in the same way that Britain and the US and every other successful country had developed – by protecting its infant industries, subsidising its farmers, and investing in the education and health of its people.

That's what an institution that was concerned with ordinary people – and accountable to them – would look like. But the IMF did something very different. They said they would only give assistance if Malawi agreed to the 'structural adjustments' the IMF demanded. They ordered Malawi to sell off almost everything the state owned to private companies and speculators, and to slash spending on the population. They demanded they stop subsidising fertilizer, even though it was the only thing that made it possible for farmers – most of the population – to grow anything in the country's feeble and depleted soil. They told them to prioritise giving money to international bankers over giving money to the Malawian people.

Told to get out

So when in 2001 the IMF found out the Malawian government had built up large stockpiles of grain in case there was a crop failure, they ordered them to sell it off to private companies at once. They told Malawi to get their priorities straight by using the proceeds to pay off a loan from a large bank the IMF had told them to take out in the first place, at a 56 per cent annual rate of interest. The Malawian president protested and said this was dangerous. But he had little choice. The grain was sold. The banks were paid.

The next year, the crops failed. The Malawian government had almost nothing to hand out. The starving population was reduced to eating the bark off the trees, and any rats they could capture. The BBC described it as Malawi's "worst ever famine." There had been a much worse crop failure in 1991-2, but there was no famine because then the government had grain stocks to distribute. So at least a thousand innocent people starved to death.

At the height of the starvation, the IMF suspended $47m in aid, because the government had 'slowed' in implementing the marketeeing 'reforms' that had led to the disaster. ActionAid, the leading provider of help on the ground, conducted an autopsy into the famine. They concluded that the IMF "bears responsibility for the disaster."

 

Then, in the starved wreckage, Malawi did something poor countries are not supposed to do. They told the IMF to get out. Suddenly free to answer to their own people rather than foreign bankers, Malawi disregarded all the IMF's 'advice', and brought back subsidies for the fertiliser, along with a range of other services to ordinary people. Within two years, the country was transformed from being a beggar to being so abundant they were supplying food aid to Uganda and Zimbabwe.

 

The Malawian famine should have been a distant warning cry for you and me. Subordinating the interests of ordinary people to bankers and speculators caused starvation there. Within a few years, it had crashed the global economy for us all.

 

In the history of the IMF, this story isn't an exception: it is the rule. The organisation takes over poor countries, promising it has medicine that will cure them – and then pours poison down their throats. Whenever I travel across the poor parts of the world I see the scars from IMF 'structural adjustments' everywhere, from Peru to Ethiopia. Whole countries have collapsed after being IMF-ed up – most famously Argentina and Thailand in the 1990s.

 

Look at some of the organisation's greatest hits. In Kenya, the IMF insisted the government introduce fees to see the doctor – so the number of women seeking help or advice on STDs fell by 65 per cent, in one of the countries worst affected by AIDS in the world.

 

In Ghana, the IMF insisted the government introduce fees for going to school – and the number of rural families who could afford to send their kids crashed by two-thirds. In Zambia, the IMF insisted they slash health spending – and the number of babies who died doubled. Amazingly enough, it turns out that shoveling your country's money to foreign bankers, rather than your own people, isn't a great development strategy.

 

The Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz worked closely with the IMF for over a decade, until he quit and became a whistle-blower. He told me a few years ago: "When the IMF arrives in a country, they are interested in only one thing. How do we make sure the banks and financial institutions are paid?... It is the IMF that keeps the [financial] speculators in business. They're not interested in development, or what helps a country to get out of poverty."

 

Some people call the IMF "inconsistent", because the institution supports huge state-funded bank bailouts in the rich world, while demanding an end to almost all state funding in the poor world. But that's only an inconsistency if you are thinking about the realm of intellectual ideas, rather than raw economic interests. In every situation, the IMF does what will get more money to bankers and speculators. If rich governments will hand banks money for nothing in "bailouts", great. If poor countries can be forced to hand banks money in extortionate "repayments", great. It's absolutely consistent.

 

Some people claim that Strauss-Kahn was a "reformer" who changed the IMF after he took over in 2009. Certainly, there was a shift in rhetoric – but detailed study by Dr Daniela Gabor of the University of the West of England has shown that the substance is business-as-usual.

 

Look, for example, at Hungary. After the 2008 crash, the IMF lauded them for keeping to their original deficit target by slashing public services. The horrified Hungarian people responded by kicking the government out, and choosing a party that promised to make the banks pay for the crisis they had created. They introduced a 0.7 per cent levy on the banks (four times higher than anywhere else). The IMF went crazy. They said this was "highly distortive" for banking activity – unlike the bailouts, of course – and shrieked that it would cause the banks to flee from the country. The IMF shut down their entire Hungary programme to intimidate them.

 

Collapse that was not

 

But the collapse predicted by the IMF didn't happen. Hungary kept on pursuing sensible moderate measures, instead of punishing the population. They imposed taxes on the hugely profitable sectors of retail, energy and telecoms, and took funds from private pensions to pay the deficit. The IMF shrieked at every step, and demanded cuts for ordinary Hungarians instead. It was the same old agenda, with the same old threats. Strauss-Kahn did the same in almost all the poor countries where the IMF operated, from El Salvador to Pakistan to Ethiopia, where big cuts in subsidies for ordinary people have been imposed. Plenty have been intimidated into harming their own interests.

 

It is not only Strauss-Kahn who should be on trial. It is the institution he has been running. There's an inane debate in the press about who should be the next head of the IMF, as if we were discussing who should run the local Milk Board. But if we took the idea of human equality seriously, and remembered all the people who have been impoverished, starved and killed by this institution, we would be discussing the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission – and how to disband the IMF entirely and start again.

 

If Strauss-Kahn is guilty, I suspect I know how it happened. He must have mistaken the maid for a poor country in financial trouble. Heads of the IMF have, after all, been allowed to rape them with impunity for years.

 

—The Independent

 

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EDITORIAL

HASTEN SLOWLY

REAL RISKS FOR PENSION FUNDS IN EQUITIES

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) chairman, U K Sinha, has come out strongly against rules that restrict or disallow pension fund investment in equities. This has been a matter of personal faith for Mr Sinha from his days as the head of UTI asset management. Since he is now the capital market regulator, his views need closer examination. Now, as before, he is driven by a desire to see a less volatile and deeper equities market where domestic institutions counter-balance foreign institutional investors which enter and exit quite rapidly in times of uncertainty. He has pointed out that there is perhaps no other significant country in the world that has the kind of restrictions as exist in India on investment in equities by pension funds. His point is that if an investor herself wants her pension fund to get into equities, regulation should not stand in the way. India is a beneficiary of such investment, as foreign pension funds are among those that have sought to benefit from the high returns that Indian equities offer in a well-regulated environment.

Among financial instruments, equities offer the best long-term returns and the volatility visible in them at any given moment mostly evens out over time. But there is by definition an underlying risk in equities and several issues need to be considered. One, even in the best regulated markets in the world, mis-selling of financial products is a fact of life. In a country like India, with its level of financial literacy, the chances of this downside are real. An investor's choice is important but a lay investor may not always know what is good for her. Two, institutional players in mature markets do not always correctly assess the risks implicit in different products. In the run-up to the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession, even such risk-averse institutions as university endowments and municipalities took on exposure to complex derivative products and came to grief. Three, there is such a thing as a "black swan" event, something that happens once in a life time. With current levels of life expectancy, there can be a 50-year gap between the time a young person joins a pension fund and draws her last pension before departing this world. Thus, the need to be cautious when it comes to the regulation of pension funds cannot be over-emphasised.

 

 Hence, there is a strong case in India for pension funds to be invested in government paper, bank fixed deposits and highly-rated bonds for the most part and the rest in equities so as to achieve a balance between the need for safety and a decent rate of return. The insistence of the trustees of the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) in refusing to touch equities, reflecting the attitude of the trade unions, may be an extreme position, but regulatory caution restricting such exposure to low levels is eminently sensible. The pension regulator's observation that under present circumstance restrictions on pension funds' equity exposure should remain where they are appears quite sound. As for getting the EPFO to ease a little, there is only one way of doing it, by patiently selling the idea over time.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

CONSOLIDATING THE GAINS

FEWER, COORDINATED AGRICULTURAL SCHEMES ARE THE WAY TO GO

Given the unchecked proliferation of central agricultural development schemes (totalling more than 50), Krishi Bhawan's move to condense them into a few programmes, while leaving greater operational say to state governments, seems well-conceived. The Planning Commission has done well to readily agree to such a shift in approach from the 12th Plan, which starts next April. In fact, when Krishi Bhawan launched its flagship programme, the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (National Agricultural Development Plan, or RKVY) in 2007, several schemes in operation then were merged into it. However, the multiplication of schemes is a seemingly unstoppable process, considering that every annual Budget moots new programmes to showcase the government's commitment to development. The current year's Budget, predictably, was no exception. As many as seven new schemes for the farm sector were announced by the finance minister, though the amounts earmarked for each was rather small, at Rs 300 crore. These pertained to extension of the Green Revolution to the eastern region, promotion of cultivation of pulses, vegetables, oil palm, nutri-cereals (coarse grains) and protein supplements (animal products).

Since the political temptation to launch new schemes is hard to control, it is necessary to review them periodically and integrate or merge them into fewer, better-crafted schemes that avoid overlapping. One of the objectives of RKVY was to decentralise planning for farm development, and to give the leading role to the states in formulating situation-specific action plans and implementing them with central funds. Centralised planning (ie, a "top-down" approach) tended to lay emphasis on national priorities without heed to local needs. Besides, they took the initiative away from the states, which are primarily responsible for agriculture. One result has been half-hearted execution of programmes. Decentralised planning, on the other hand, allows schemes to be tailored to suit local agro-ecological conditions and the local resource base.

 

Such an approach, adopted under the RKVY rubric, seems to have worked if one is to judge by the faster agricultural growth — which in the last five or six years has averaged about 3 per cent, a rate not achieved after the 1980s, and twice the rate of population growth. Though it might be argued that RKVY, too, has failed to achieve the admittedly ambitious goal of 4 per cent annual agricultural growth, it would be unfair to blame RKVY alone. Notably, only about a third of the agriculture ministry's annual developmental budget has been channelled through RKVY during the current 11th Plan. The Planning Commission proposes to raise this proportion to a half, or even two-thirds, in the next Plan. This is important, since the states' own spending on agricultural development has been on the slide for a long time, despite their generally improved fiscal position. Since the new arrangement would mean a substantial transfer of central resources to states, the action is moving decisively to state capitals.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

VENICE TO VERONA VIA VITTORIO VENETO

INDO-ITALIAN TRADE REMAINS WAY BELOW POTENTIAL

PARTHASARATHI SHOME

Venice is invariably on Indian tourists' travel route. They ride excessively priced gondolas through its canals, gazing at dilapidated, photogenic homes with sculpted exterior mouldings, hanging clothes and blooming flowers. Stopping to pick up exquisitely crafted Murano glass or Cameo pendants for loved ones and gorging on seafood and wine are other musts. The more adventurous tourists criss-cross the waterways in crowded Vaporettos or navigate narrow lanes in sneakers, doing the rounds of the Bridge of Sighs or the hidden treasures of San Rocco, where frescoes by Tintoretto led it to be termed the Sistine Chapel of Venice. The Moor sounding the gong of the clock at St Mark's Square reveals the millennia-old dependence on Africa for physical tasks. Yet, such were the rigours of the Venetian Republic that once the Doge, its administrator, was elected and entered his palace, he never emerged from it again, like the living child goddess of Kathmandu. Of course, the Doge's decisions were final.

A well-heeled tourist looks for more and ventures out of Venice. One cannot but notice striking similarities in the political economy of India and Italy. In the post-Roman period, Italy had been fragmented into city states and kingdoms until, after an extended tumultuous period, it was unified in the 1860s. Reflecting the different economic stages of the regions – the poor south including Sardinia and the rich north including Venice to Verona – a complex system of fiscal federalism emerged. Even today, tempers tend to run high among Italian regions on the matter of inter-regional transfers.

 

Moving east to west, Vittorio Veneto is located between Venice and Verona. Its calendar-perfect historical neighbourhood is from when it was in the Venetian Republic until annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866. Not only did it produce a pope, but the final battles of World War I were also fought here. Its gracious environs produce Amarone, the best Italian wine. There to celebrate a friend's hallmark birthday, I found myself among friends from Colombia, Venezuela, Canada, UK, and other Italians, a veritable mix. At dinner, I realised that Italians could be louder than Indians over meaningless banter, in a relaxed ambience of perfect camaraderie. Their menu could be more extensive than ours with antipasto, cheeses, pasta, fish and meat dishes, and various desserts, comprising a cuisine finessed over millennia from the epicurean Romans. No wonder then that the modern Italian feels comfortable in an Indian milieu with our chaotic debates over delectable food.

The highway to Verona revealed a super-developed region of manufacturing units. It led me to think of Indo-Italian trade. How we are, or might be, linked, I thought. Reaching Verona, though I failed to find the Two Gentlemen of Verona, I did make it to Juliet's little balcony and the small courtyard from where Romeo would have climbed up to her. Moving on, an unforgettable asparagus risotto topped with Amarone at Botega del Vino, a timeless boutique restaurant, completed the visit.

Coming back to my query, over the last decade, India's exports to Italy as a share of exports to the European Union (EU) fell from over 12 per cent to 10 per cent (see graph). The share of imports rose from 6 per cent to 10 per cent. Further, Indo-Italian bilateral trade suffered in particular in the 2008-09 global economic recession. A negative growth rate of over 10 per cent was registered in 2009. However, since the recession, it grew 22 percent in 2010-11 albeit from the shrunk 2009-10 base, reaching $8.85 billion. The number of traded commodities also expanded. An Italian diplomat recently expressed optimism that Indo-Italian trade would reach $17.5 billion by 2014. After all, since Italy is not the largest trading partner of India among EU countries, possibilities are not saturated.

Selected important items in Indo-Italian trade are shown in Tables I and II. India exports textiles, vehicles and transport equipment, base metals, chemicals, machinery, leather goods, gems and jewellery, engineering goods, iron and steel products, automobiles and auto parts (Table I). It imports machinery and mechanical appliances such as precision tools, articles of base metal, chemicals, vehicles and aircraft, plastics and rubber, and optical instruments (Table II).

But has Indo-Italian trade neared its potential? Economists measure bilateral export potential by using the Revealed Comparative Advantage (RCA) index and then combining it with some assumptions. RCA is defined as a ratio of two shares. The numerator is the share of India's exports of a commodity in its total exports. The denominator is the share of world exports of the same commodity in total world exports. An RCA value higher than one for the commodity indicates India has a comparative advantage in exporting it to the world.

But is there potential for India to export it to Italy? For this, we select India's RCA commodities in Italy's import basket that have a share of at least 0.5 per cent in Italy's total imports. And we use two criteria. One, India could export all exports of a particular commodity to the world (that Italy imports from India) to Italy alone. And two, Italy would shift all its global imports of a particular commodity to India alone. The lesser of the two is selected and is used to indicate India's export potential of the commodity to Italy (Table I). It is an upper bound of India's export potential to Italy. It reveals that India's potential exports to Italy are $23 billion. Similarly, Table II shows Italy's potential exports to India are $12 billion.

Comparing the actuals with potential in Tables I and II reveals that in both cases exports could increase significantly. But the difference between actual and potential exports from India to Italy is much higher than that from Italy to India. There is optimism in the air but India needs to seek Italian markets more aggressively.

The author is director and chief executive, Icrier
All opinions are exclusively those of the author

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BUSINESS STANDARD

BORDERING ON THE ABSURD

SUBIR ROY

Depending on your appetite, Indian politics is getting rather entertaining. Newspapers carry front-page pictures of senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L K Advani addressing the media after submitting a memorandum to the President of India urging her to convene an emergency session of Parliament to discuss the crisis arising out of the action taken against Baba Ramdev, who was holding a hunger strike against corruption and black money.

Nothing wrong with that except that the same Mr Advani had told reporters a couple of days ago that he was not satisfied with developments in Karnataka, the key south Indian state where the BJP is in power, and that it does not figure in his list of well-run BJP ruled states. This is not a flash in the pan. The reiteration that things are not going well in Karnataka comes from top BJP leader Sushma Swaraj's remark. She claimed that it was not she but fellow senior leader Arun Jaitley who was instrumental in making iron ore mining barons, the Reddy brothers, ministers and important in politics.

 

She was seeking to live down the oft- repeated comment that it was she who made the Reddys important as a reward for electoral help rendered earlier. Maybe the pressure is telling on her. Or else, why would she get up and dance with joy before TV cameras at a time when there was gloom over the brutal police action against peaceful followers who had come to attend a yoga discourse by Baba Ramdev?

The fun is not all on one side. There is trouble in the Congress camp too. Kapil Sibal, who handled or mishandled, according to your judgement, the negotiations with Baba Ramdev, is cut short by Sonia Gandhi at a top -level Congress party meeting when he tries to give some background. Her irritation is apparently shared by Rahul Gandhi who laments that there is no focus on so much of work that is being done among the poor. This is apparently too much for Pranab Mukherjee who almost loses his cool over the state of affairs. The argument appears to be: Why bend over backwards to accommodate civil society? Why indeed? Why should Kamal Nath, of all people, join Baba Ramdev's gathering against corruption when he was touring the minister's constituency? This is dead serious — Kamal Nath raising his voice against corruption.

And what is all this in aid of? What are the Baba's demands? Some are practical and doable. For example, introduce a change in the electoral system to directly elect the prime minister, bring income tax details under the Right to Information Act, substantially increase the minimum support price for grains, make wages for different types of labour uniform across the country, change the Land Acquisition Act so that farmers don't lose out to industry and, last but not the least, promote Hindi and downgrade English.

But look at the rest. Toughen the Lok Pal Bill to include death penalty for the corrupt, especially corrupt officials (not Babas who get whole islands gifted), immediately retrieve all the black money stashed away in tax havens abroad (the Swiss are presumably just waiting for this say-so), abolish Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes, disable the Indian operations of banks from tax havens (what happens if the foreign branch of an Indian bank is found to be involved in money laundering?) and again, last but not the least, replace all laws inherited from the British with swadeshi laws.

If Baba Ramdev is not fully conversant with what is practical in public affairs then he is hardly the only one to blame. A journalist asks the Congress party spokesman at a press conference in a sarcastic vein: "Aren't you happy there is no political opposition left in the country?" He then proceeds to brandish a shoe at the spokesman. It is discovered later that the man is no journalist (how can a journalist do such a thing?) but is a teacher at a school in Rajasthan affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It is not only the RSS that is stepping in to fill the gap created by a non-performing Opposition, elements at the fringe of the Sangh Parivar have also come to the fore. Uma Bharti has just met Baba Ramdev; the presence of Sadhvi Ritambhara of Babri Masjid demolition fame seated next to the Baba was widely noticed; and his key deep-rooted adviser is Govindacharya.

Ultimately, it is images that remain in the mind when political disputations are forgotten. My favourite is one of Baba Ramdev seeking to flee the police in a salwar kameez. Being in a hurry, he apparently forgot to shave his beard. If pictures of the Baba exist in that attire they can be passed on to the differently oriented community who may then forgive him for saying that his asanas could cure homosexuality. With the Baba defending himself by saying that he did nothing wrong since every man is born of a woman, the community can get ready to admit him into their fold.

Talking of images, the quality of political caricature has just gone up several fold. Jug Suraiya, Ajit Ninan and Neelabh are running riot on the pages of The Times of India. My favourite is the one of the BJP leadership marching behind the Baba whose drum bears the legend "Baba's Foo-Faa Band". But the one that captures the pathos of the moment goes to Keshav's cartoon in the Hindu. It depicts a dejected Manmohan Singh slowly melting away in the heat. It is so telling that there is no need to add as a caption the prime minister's own words justifying the police raid — "unfortunate but no alternative".

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

LAND FOR THE BOYS

FAVOURITISM IN THE ALLOTMENT OF PLOTS IS AS BAD AS GRABBING THEM

M J ANTONY

 

In its wisdom, the state giveth and the state taketh away. When it acquires farmlands claiming eminent domain, there is blood on the streets. However, when it quietly bestows largesse on chosen ones, it is barely noticed. At worst there is a lawsuit.

There were a dozen lengthy judgments from the Supreme Court in the past two months on land acquisition disputes — a mark of the times. But the biased award of public land to the favoured few also figured in three prominent decisions.

 

One was the allotment of a bigger plot in exchange for the smaller one, purportedly for a school in which cricketer Sourav Ganguly had a special interest. The Calcutta High Court had not found anything wrong in the grant. However, the Supreme Court found the transaction arbitrary and illegal. His talent in the cricket field does not confer on him any expertise in the field of education, the court said. Bona fide ends cannot be achieved by questionable means (Humanity vs State of W Bengal).

"This court," said the judges, "has not been able to get any answer from the state why on Ganguly's request to the minister, the government granted allotment with remarkable speed (within one month) and without considering all aspects of the matter. This court does not find any legitimacy in the action of the government which has to act within the discipline of the constitutional law. The state has failed to discharge its constitutional role."

A few weeks earlier, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti bore the brunt of judicial censure for bestowing land for a favoured organisation (Akhil Bhartiya Upbhokta Congress vs State of MP). The court underlined that the conferment of any benefit must be founded on sound, transparent and discernible and well-defined policy. It should be free from discrimination and arbitrariness.

The judgment said: "The distribution of largesse like allotment of land, grant of quota, permit licence etc by the state and its agencies/instrumentalities should always be done in a fair and equitable manner and the element of favouritism or nepotism shall not influence the exercise of discretion, if any, conferred upon the particular functionary or officer of the state."

The third case highlighted the role of civil servants in the distribution of urban land near the capital (NOIDA Entrepreneurs Association vs NOIDA). There were many questionable aspects, like the conversion of land for purposes different from the master plan and some people getting lucky enough to exchange their original plots for bigger ones in better locations. Therefore, the Supreme Court referred the investigation to the CBI, after a preliminary probe by its own commission.

The court explained the role of the government in such matters again. It said: "State or the public authority which holds the property for the public or which has been assigned the duty of grant of largesse etc, acts as a trustee and, therefore, has to act fairly and reasonably. Every holder of a public office by virtue of which he acts on behalf of the State or public body is ultimately accountable to the people in whom the sovereignty vests. As such, all powers so vested in him are meant to be exercised for public good and promoting the public interest. Every holder of a public office is a trustee. State actions are required to be non-arbitrary and justified on the touchstone of Article 14 of the Constitution…The public trust doctrine is part of the law of the land. The doctrine has grown from Article 21 of the Constitution. In essence, the action or order of the State or State instrumentality would stand vitiated if it lacks bona fides, as it would only be a case of colourable exercise of power."

The rules covering distribution of public property are thus comparatively clearer than the law on acquisition of private land. Allotment of public assets can be tested on the principles of fairness, non-discrimination and other norms set by Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

However, the land acquisition law is caught in a web of intractable issues like defining the evasive "public purpose", assessing just compensation related to the market value and rehabilitation and employment of the land-losers. The 1894 Land Acquisition Act has invited a blood-red burial due to industrialisation. The rioting has woken up the law-makers to the need for an alternative legislation. But they are still tinkering with alternative models.

State governments in hot spots like in Uttar Pradesh have come up with hasty prototypes, mainly to score brownie points over the Centre. But the issue is too important to be left to the mountebanks. Before anyone thinks of another fast in Delhi maidans putting forward the land question, the draftsmen should fast-track the enactment by coming up with a satisfactory Bill in the next parliamentary session.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

SHOULD SINGUR LAND BE RETURNED TO UNWILLING LAND-LOSERS?

Singur land can neither be used for cultivation nor for non-agricultural business, but Mamata Banerjee made a pre-election promise to farmers and she should keep it.

DIPANKAR DASGUPTA
Former Professor of Economics, Indian Statistical Institute

 

The reason the Singur project is not likely to yield much fruit is that few industrialists will wish to locate themselves in that area

Singur, if anything, is probably a lost cause now. First, one doesn't know the use to which the land returned to the "unwilling farmers" will be put. Despite affirmations to the contrary, it is doubtful if the land is suitable for farming anymore. Beneficiaries of the policy reversal will either employ the land for non-agricultural purposes or sell it. Both options could act against their interest, the arguments for which will be outlined below.

The second reason the Singur project is not likely to yield much fruit, at least in the near future, is that few industrialists will wish to locate themselves in that area. "Unwilling" is not an attribute that applies to farmers alone.

Let us consider the two reasons in reverse order. The history of Singur still looms large in West Bengal's recent industrial history. An industrialist as powerful as Ratan Tata moved out after completing 80 per cent of the construction work for a world-class factory. Investors will, therefore, hesitate till there is convincing proof that the climate is now industry-friendly.

In the meantime, what will happen to the erstwhile farmers? Consider the "willing" farmers first. If their willingness to part with the land was prompted by employment promises in industry and the projected mini-industrial township around it, they have surely been disappointed. Neither has a factory come up nor are they tilling the land. The picture, of course, is not entirely gloomy, for they had received their cheques. One does not know clearly how they had used the compensation money. Those who had used the money wisely were hurt less than the others.

Assume, however, that a factory does come up in the not-too-distant future. Assume further that the draconian 1894 Land Acquisition Act is amended in favour of the "unwilling" farmers. Industrial development in the area will push up land prices and the returned land will presumably be sold at prices much higher than what the "willing" farmers had accepted. To compensate them, private investors should probably be required to make up for the difference between the market price offered to the "unwilling" group and the acquisition price received by the "willing" group.

This step could remove the possibility of a class struggle arising from the social distinction between "willing" and "unwilling farmers". Quite obviously, discontent alone will not materialise into a mass movement in the absence of political leadership. Can a leadership evolve at all? Going back to the days when the Singur movement began, the leadership was provided by a single individual whom the Leftists did not consider an opponent worth reckoning. Their calculations were grossly incorrect as was proved on May 13, 2011. But the Leftists have learnt their lesson now. They are less snooty and have a readymade textbook to fall back on, one that was written by their detractors. Organising a movement could be further facilitated by the fact that the number of people constituting the "willing" is substantially larger than the ones belonging to the "unwilling" class.

Potential industrialists will, therefore, be watching. If the Left has truly been wiped out, Singur will probably send out a positive message. If not, the "unwilling" farmers will actually stand to lose. The land returned to them will be neither cultivable nor gainfully employable for non-agricultural business in the absence of overall development in the area. Worse, its market price could nose-dive, possibly to levels lower even than what the willing farmers had received. Finally, the state will lose too, since it is steady revenue from industry alone that can rescue it from its financial woes.

Scrapping the inhuman 1894 Act will probably be the only positive fallout of the Singur movement. India as a whole will gain from this, even if Singur does not.

 

SAUGATA ROY
Union Minister of State, Urban Development

Naturally, as chief minister, Banerjee would want to keep her election promise and return the land to the unwilling land-losers

Yes. Mamata Banerjee should return Singur land to land losers. It was her demand during the Singur agitation and also her pre-election commitment to the people of the state. Now that the people have elected her chief minister she should keep this commitment. A brief backgrounder will explain why.

The Left Front government bought 1,000 acres in Singur, an hour's drive from Kolkata, for Tata Motors to build a small-car factory. The farmers of the area protested and sought Mamata Banerjee's leadership for their movement against the acquisition. Despite this, the state government went ahead and formally issued a notification to acquire the land. It started the process of distributing cheques to those farmers who were willing to part with their land on September 25, 2006. That day, Banerjee sat in protest in front of the office of the Block Development Officer. The police, under instruction from the chief minister at the time, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, lathi-charged the crowd that had assembled there, evicted Banerjee and sent her back to Kolkata. A "Bangla bandh" was called in protest against this police action on October 1, 2006. All this happened just before the festival season.

After the festival season, farmers restarted their agitation under the leadership of the Krishi Jami Banchao Committee. The police prevented Banerjee from entering Singur on November 30, 2006 on grounds that curfew had been imposed in the entire district (Singur comes under Hooghly district). On December 2, 2006, the police tear-gassed and lathi-charged protesting farmers and took possession of their land. Curfew was lifted a few months later after the high court intervened.

Banerjee then started an indefinite fast at the Metro Channel in Kolkata from December 4, 2006, reiterating the demand that land be returned to unwilling land-losers. The hunger strike was called off after 26 days following assurances from the prime minister and the chief minister and a request from the president. But the chief minister did not keep his word, even though he had written Banerjee four letters during her fast calling for negotiations.

Although Tata Motors started work at Singur after it was given possession, the farmers' agitation continued intermittently. Banerjee then started an indefinite "mass dharna" in front of the factory walls in August 2008. On the intervention of Gopal Krishna Gandhi, then governor of West Bengal, a series of meetings were held at Raj Bhavan between the government and the opposition led by Banerjee. It was agreed by both sides that land would be returned to the unwilling farmers and Tata Motors could build its factory in the remaining area. But the chief minister went back on his word and said the Tata group would not agree to return 400 acres. Ultimately, Tata Motors withdrew its project from Singur and set up the Nano factory in Sanand, Gujarat. This is the position as it stands today.

Naturally, as chief minister, Banerjee would want to keep her election promise and return the land to the unwilling land-losers. This was something to which the previous government had agreed. Banerjee has said Tata Motors can still build its factory on the 600 acres available to it and she intends to stick to that position. On land acquisition, her general position is that the government should not acquire any land on behalf of private industry anywhere. Industry can buy land from the farmers directly with their consent. The Trinamool Congress feels that this should be the policy of land acquisition throughout the country and the obsolete Land Acquisition Act should be dispensed with.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

DO PEOPLE MATTER?

If it is fine for the NAC to recommend legislation, why is it not all right for Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev to do likewise?

Cracking under the relentless pressure from the Hazare-Ramdev campaigns over the last eight weeks, the Government is making one mistake after another as it desperately tries to divert public attention away from corruption. The main takeaway for the people is that this Government will go to any lengths to protect the corrupt. The mistakes have been well-chronicled, but it is the ingenuous arguments that now stand out. One is that groups of well-meaning citizens cannot be allowed to hijack the legislative agenda; the other is that the RSS is behind the anti-corruption movement. Taking the second argument first, one must ask: even if it is true that the RSS is behind the movement, does that somehow make it illegitimate? Why is the Government trying to shift attention from corruption to the RSS? If RSS volunteers helped out in an earthquake or a flood, would that help be rejected by the Government? So the point is not who is doing it but what it is sought to be done. And this clearly makes the Government nervous to the extent that it is even using phrases from the Emergency days, such as "an attempt to de-stabilise the Government."

The first argument — that citizens should not drive the legislative agenda — is intellectually identical to what colonial and Soviet-style authoritarian governments tended to use: we know what's good for you. According to this view, people don't matter, only the rulers. That this is sheer effrontery in the 21st century has not occurred to the Congress party apparatchiks. But that is not all: it is the Congress party that created the National Advisory Council (NAC), chaired by its President. If it is fine for the NAC to recommend legislation, why is it not all right for Anna Hazare and Ramdev to do likewise? As Shakespeare said, it is surely a tangled web they weave when they seek to deceive. If the people now conclude that the Congress party is trying to protect some of its high-ups, it will have only itself to blame. And this impression will only be strengthened after the ham-handed attempt by the party to distance itself from the Government's action against Ramdev. The effort, clearly, is to minimise the negative fallout against the party. It is not likely to succeed. It is also remarkable that the party has learnt nothing from the Bofors years. Then also, faced with allegations of corruption, the party had tried to brazen and bulldoze its way out.

What next? In all likelihood, the monsoon session of Parliament is a goner now and, with it, any legislation for economic reform. The Government can try and blame the Opposition but, the fact remains: both in the winter session of 2010 and the forthcoming session, it is its own actions that are responsible.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

CHALLENGE OF FINANCING SMES

ARUN KUMAR

 

Small enterprises are hit by poor access to funds. This can be overcome if financial institutions are able to assess firm-specific and general risks, and offer innovative products.

India is home to about 26 million small enterprises (with investments less than 50 million) that account for about 20 per cent of the country's GDP . While small enterprises drive economic growth with their ability to innovate and employ in large numbers, the biggest challenge faced by them is access to finance.

Small enterprises, such as brick-kilns, grocery stores and small restaurants, need finance to purchase raw materials, procure stock, pay wages, meet other working capital requirements and support expansion plans.

Despite the efforts of Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises, SIDBI and support from the RBI by inclusion under priority sector, there continues to be a huge demand-supply mismatch in small enterprise financing.

One of the major reasons for banks/financial institutions (FIs) being unable to bridge this gap is the perceived credit risk involved in financing small enterprises. This is primarily on account of non-availability of valid bills, proper accounting systems and lack of known buyers.

To mitigate such credit risk, banks typically look for enhanced collateral or traditional equity, both of which cannot be brought in by most entrepreneurs. Further, due to their small size and local presence, the transaction costs involved in financing them are very high.

ASSESSING LENDING RISKS

In the face of banks'/FIs' reluctance to lend, these enterprises are compelled to resort to high cost, non-continuous financing from money lenders and other informal sources, or continue to operate at sub-scale. Banks charge an interest rate of 10-20 per cent, compared with 36-70 per cent from informal sources like money lenders. Risks faced by any business can be broadly classified as idiosyncratic or systemic. Idiosyncratic risks are specific to an enterprise, like location of business or skill of the entrepreneur.

Systemic risks, on the other hand, are beyond the control of any enterprise. Such risks make up the environment in which a business operates. Risks due to change in preference of customers, a catastrophic event, and changes in economy are all examples of systemic risks.

The key to financing any enterprise lies in the ability of the financier to evaluate and manage such business risks. High quality origination can help evaluate idiosyncratic risks well. Traditional equity acts as a cushion for such risks. A high quality local originator with geography and business specific information about such enterprises in the operational area will be able to evaluate and manage this risk well and will demand lesser traditional equity to be brought in by entrepreneurs.

Systemic risks, however, are a different ball game. No amount of traditional equity is sufficient when the financier is uncertain about an enterprise selling anything at all in an environment where demand patterns and economic situations can change very quickly.

A financier searches for cues to establish that the business has a current and future ability to service loans, even in an uncertain business environment. For small enterprises that have large number of cash transactions, poor record of sales, produce undifferentiated goods and lack known clients, assessment of systemic risk becomes very difficult.

Such challenges can be addressed through structures that allow financiers to trap cash flows, or by resorting to a stronger and well established sales pattern in a supply chain.

FINANCING METHODS

Some ways of financing small enterprises are as follows: Supply-chain financing, where a supplier and a buyer with known balance sheets can be financed.

For example, small enterprises that manufacture and supply jam to large players can be financed if their cash flows are trapped through bills, or by obtaining a collateral/guarantee/comfort letter from the company to which it supplies.

This can be adopted by many financial intermediaries, even large banks. The method has its limits because it requires careful mapping of supply chains. Lending through a local financial intermediary who can verify cash flows and income of the enterprise and finance them through relationship-based approach is another option.

A local financial intermediary who understands the working capital cycle, seasonality, procurement place and mode, point of sales, and demand for the product or service, can finance small enterprises based on an understanding of the geography in general and various aspects of the business in particular.

A local intermediary can ascertain turnover, income and other key financial information required to arrive at a credit decision about the enterprise.

Business-specific templates can be developed for each small enterprise and a master limit can be fixed taking into consideration the scale of business, projected sales turnover and surplus they would generate.

Depending on business requirements, FIs can provide working capital loans, term loans or both. Also, long-term, relationship-based lending helps mitigate credit risk by creating dynamic incentives for the enterprise to maintain a relationship with FIs.

PRODUCT INNOVATIONS

Innovation in product structuring is as important in addressing gaps in small enterprise financing as the channel itself. Innovative products such as equipment lease finance can help address the need for term debt, and products such as receivable financing, bills discounting and factoring could substitute requirements of working capital finance, addressing the unique needs of small enterprises.

Local originators are best placed to do this given their monitoring capability and knowledge of small enterprises, allowing structuring of products like working capital finance, channel finance and cash credits that meet needs of the enterprise, enabling scale.

(The author is with IFMR Rural Finance. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

OBAMA ON BACKFOOT, DESPITE GERONIMO

SRIDHAR KRISHNASWAMI

Osama bin Laden will at best be a minor issue in the November 2012 elections. The US economy is the overriding factor.

Obama "got" Osama, but will Osama "get" Obama the re-election next year? The gunning down of the al Qaeda leader in Abbottabad, Pakistan, may have won initial praise for the American President on his "decisiveness" in staying with Operation Geronimo that carried a lot of risk.

But the aftermath was something of a surprise: President Obama got a "bounce" of between six and eleven points; Wall Street remained flat, and so did the US currency. With all the so-called political lift for Obama, his rating on handling the economy went down by at least three points.

Osama bin Laden will be a factor — though a small one — in the November 2012 election, but in the shorter term perspective there are other things that the Obama administration will have to keep in mind. And these will include the outrage in Congress over Pakistan; the emerging framework of relations with that South Asian country; the war on terrorism and the future of American operations in Afghanistan. As it is the Democratic administration expects voices to emerge on the need to continue with the present state of play in Afghanistan, now that bin Laden is out of the way. But will all these weigh in heavily at the time of the electoral showdown?

ECONOMY KEY FACTOR

It is not as though the President, his advisors and strategists for 2012 are missing the point: that when it comes to showdown time in November 2012, Americans are going to vote by their pocketbooks. Foreign policy has rarely mattered. And Obama does not have to look too far back in history.

At the end of the First Gulf War in 1991,the then President, George H. W. Bush, had an approval rating of about 90 per cent, but went on to lose the election next year to Bill Clinton.

"It's the economy, stupid" was a slogan coined by Clinton strategists, and used so effectively against the Republican incumbent in 1992, that it eventually carried the day. And this is precisely what the Democratic President is being reminded of today — that Osama bin Laden is not going to deliver him the White House for a second time; and if quick and determined efforts are not made to revitalise the economy, it could well turn out to be a one-term Presidency.

The stakes are not just for the President, it is also for the Democrats, especially in the United States Senate. Of the 33 seats that will be up for re-election in 2012, Democrats will be defending 23 of them; and at least six of the eight open seats. And with the Republicans having wrested control of the House of Representatives, the loss of the Senate by Democrats in the next election will be a major setback if President Obama comes back for a second term.

The debate on raising the debt ceiling is not the only issue that faces the Obama administration as it jostles with the Grand Old Party on Capitol Hill. It simply has to do with almost everything that concerns the economy.

CONTENTIOUS ISSUES

The national debt of $14 trillion aside, it has to do with unemployment, which is pegged around 9 per cent; sluggish housing starts, with home-building at its lowest point in more than two decades; foreclosures continuing to be high; disposable income growing at less than 3 per cent per year; and questions on the real impact of the billions of dollars poured in by way of stimulus plans.

Republicans have been hammering away on the issue of raising the debt ceiling, stressing that this would have to come to terms with the larger aspects of spending programmes; and Democrats are arguing that the Grand Old Party is only looking for ways to get rid of Medicare and Medicaid.

In fact, the Obama White House is being pressured not to "negotiate" with the Republicans on anything that may have to do with Medicare and Medicaid; and are looking at the first signals of the administration as a sign of weakness.

It is about eight months away from the active primary season. It is unlikely that another Democrat is going to enter the fray to complicate matters for President Obama.

And it really is an open season within the Republican camp on who will challenge the Democratic incumbent. The Grand Old Party must have specific alternatives to be able to make a meaningful stand in 2012.

And President Obama knows full well that unless states like Ohio and Florida move up the economic ladder in the next 18 months or so, it is not going to be a repeat of 2008.

(The author is Head, School of Media Studies of the Faculty of Science and Humanities, SRM University, Chennai.)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

THE DOHA ROUND GOES FOR A SIX

RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

New Delhi has done well to back the "early harvest" package approach to getting the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations off the ground. But, in the same breath, it must be acknowledged, , that the Doha Round will not produce a body of accords which will regulate international trade, for the next 10 years or so.

The Round willbe a truncated one, possibly focussing on the requirements of the least-developed countries which will enable them to catch up a bit faster than would have been the case otherwise with the other economies of the world.

There is, of course, no doubt at all that this would be a big step forward for a very large number of people excluded from the ambit of even basic economic development for centuries.

Dismembered

But the fact remains that the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), enunciated way back in 2001, will now be dismembered beyond recognition, so much so that a couple of years from now – after the "early harvest" approach has been implemented – it will be just one of those noble projects which failed to get off the ground because the economically privileged inhabitants of the planet insisted on refusing to see beyond their nose when it came to negotiating with the poor to raise the living standards of the human race as a whole.

Lamy's admission

In fact, Mr Pascal Lamy, the WTO chief, has, unknowingly, hinted at this chronic inability on the part of a section of negotiators to make sacrifices for the greater good of mankind when he told the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee in Geneva on May 31: "I believe we have to approach this process (of disaggregation) in a co-operative and constructive spirit. Presenting lengthy lists of demands and insisting on all of them will not help us to move forward. Even though the (Geneva) Ministerial is in December, we cannot afford a Christmas tree. We have to build 'up' rather than 'down'.

He added "There is precious little time if we are to deliver by the WTO Ministerial Conference. It is time we roll up our sleeves and restart working – that is, negotiating. And as we do so, we must re-create the spirit of co-operation that was present when we launched the Doha Round".

In this one passage, Mr Lamy has exposed what is grievously wrong with the Doha Round of negotiations ever since it began . Everyone has laid stress on the indispensability of an accord , but very few national negotiating teams have been unwilling to give up an inch so that the Round can cover an extra mile. There is no point in putting the blame on any section of the negotiators because, at the end of it all, every single member of the WTO has suffered.

It is almost certain that an agreement on LDC issues will be notched up by December, although cotton could pose a stiff hurdle in wrapping up the project because of strong lobbies operating in the US. The suspicion is that all the stops will be pulled out to get through this exercise.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

INFLATION OVER THE DECADES

BORNALI BHANDARI

 

Current inflation rates are high, but not too worrisome in relation to the experience of the last 40 years. Increased volatility, however, is a concern.

The Reserve Bank's repeated rate hikes point to its concern over inflation. Consumer price inflation has been in double digits for the two consecutive years. The last time annual consumer price inflation was in double digits was in 1998-99 for a single year.

The average annual inflation rate (calculated from the Consumer Price Index of Industrial Workers with 2001 as the base year) was 12.05 per cent peaked in 2009-10, declining slightly last financial year (2010-11) to 11.12 per cent.

To make matters worse, the average annual inflation rate on the basis of wholesale price index (WPI) with 2004-05 as the base year jumped up from 3.57 per cent in 2009-10 to 9.25 per cent in 2010-11.

PRESENT AND PAST

Using data from the post-Independence period, we calculate five-year moving averages of WPI and CPI inflation rates to examine whether the present is significantly different from the past. Further, we use five-year moving averages of coefficient of variation (standard deviation/mean) to study volatility. Overall average WPI inflation from 1959-60 to 2010-11 is 6.8 per cent (7.65 per cent for 1970-71 to 2010-11) and CPI-IW inflation from 1970-71 to 2010-11 is 8.08 per cent. However, this average hides significant variations. Some of those key variations are: First, the period from 1994-95 to 2004-05 shows a consistent 10-year decline in inflation rates, unlike any other time in history.

Second, although inflation has started increasing after 2004-05, it still is not close to the pre-1994-95 phase.

Inflation rates' volatility reduced sharply after the mid-1980s. It remained low thereafter except for brief periods. Since 2009, we see rise in volatility, although they are nowhere near the levels seen in the 1960s to the early 1980s.

The two series —WPI and CPI — show different degrees of volatility. Post 1985-86, WPI inflation rate remained relatively more stable than CPI except during a brief period between 1994-95 and 1998-99.

This is because WPI gives less weight to food and rental prices, while services do not get any weights at all.

High average rates of inflation and volatility may not be necessarily correlated. In the 1960s and the 1970s, the averages rates of inflation and volatility were quite high.

In contrast, we see lower volatility with relatively higher average inflation in the 1980s. A reverse trend is observed in 1995-96, when inflation started moving down but volatility increased.

Currently, we see both increasing rates of average inflation and volatility, but they are still lower than historical trends.

DRIVERS OF INFLATION

Mr Deepak Mohanty, RBI Deputy Governor, in his speech at the Bankers Club in September 2010 summarised the major factors that have driven inflation.

Historically, high inflation in India has been a combination of three factors: poor agricultural productivity and high dependence on monsoon; commodity price shocks, mainly oil prices; global business cycles and wars.

During the 1970s and the early 1980s, OPEC price hike and inconsistent oil supply was one of the major factors that led to higher inflation in India. India being a net importer of oil, exogenous supply shock had a cascading impact on prices of inputs and deteriorating balance of payments. In the 1980s and the early 1990s, supply shocks (food shortages and oil price rise due to US-Iraq war) were accompanied by demand pressures of high fiscal deficit in the 1980s and growing GDP in the 1990s.

Structural changes

The declining trend in inflation during 1994-95 to 2004-05 was the result of structural changes in the macroeconomic framework due to liberalisation.

The improved supply response, improved financial and real economy, better monetary policy and emphasis on fiscal consolidation all helped bring down inflation.

Post 2004-05, we observe a new phenomenon— demand conditions (especially non-government) influencing inflation along with the supply side. The Indian economy grew at an average rate of 8.24 per cent between 2004-05 and 2009-10, fuelled by the growth rate in the services sector. India experienced growth rates of above 9 per cent for three years from 2005-06 to 2007-08. This implied a rise in real per capita income, as inflation was below 6 per cent during those three years.

Increase in income raised aggregate demand, which the supply side found difficult to match, at least in the short run. Accompanying this increasing demand were the increases in prices of food and fuel in 2008.

The Lehman crisis acted as a negative demand shock in the latter part of 2008, bringing down inflation. But the relief was shortlived.

India recovered quickly from the financial crisis. However, the drought of 2009 followed by the uneven rainfall in 2010 and increase in aggregate demand have kept food prices inflation in double digits.

The recent Middle East political crisis has added to the inflation pressures. These uncertain times have also increased volatility, in CPI and recently in WPI.

INCREASED VOLATILITY

When we compare the current inflation rates to the 1990s, they seem high but compared with four decades of data, the trends are not so worrisome. However, the increased volatility displayed by both the inflation rates is troubling.

India has experienced an unusual combination of factors in a short span of time after 2004-05 which have affected inflation volatility — rise in prices of food and fuel (partly fuelled by increase in global demand), uncertain monsoon, the financial crisis and then domestic rise in demand.

Not only does volatility deter private investment, it also affects inflation expectations. Considering that majority of the population in India is relatively poor, double digit food inflation and high inflation in general hits the poorest and weakest sections the hardest.

(The authors are, respectively,

Fellow, NCAER and Senior Analyst,

Infosys. The views are personal and

do not represent the views of the

organisations.)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

LIKE WATER ON A LOTUS LEAF'

CHITRA NARAYANAN

A Tamilian in a 'Hindi' party, Ms Nirmala Sitharaman has evoked a lot of curiosity. But this political novice has held her own in TV debates against veterans.

What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like that? We ask Ms Nirmala Sitharaman, the BJP spokesperson, who often manages the impossible feat of smiling sweetly at TV anchors who annoy her. We get a short, sharp lecture on the virtues of the BJP - or what her friends in Tamil Nadu call the 'Hindi' party. The gist of it is that hers is perhaps the only truly democratic party, where open discussions are encouraged.

We are at lunch at the Govinda, the restaurant at the Iskcon temple in east of Kailash in Delhi.

The multi-storeyed temple, which boasts a robot that recites the Bhagwad Gita, gets a crowd of Krishna devotees, Indian and foreign. The bakery and air-conditioned restaurant at the complex get a crowd of food lovers

The Director of Govinda, Mr V. K. Parashar, joins us. Although the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner ((no onion, no garlic), it's the sumptuous buffet meals with a mix of Chinese, continental and Indian dishes priced at Rs 350 that is the crowd puller. "We sell 5 lakh thalis a month," he says. On Sundays, there is chhappan bhog (56 items on the menu).

Ms Sitharaman looks slightly stunned by the array of drinks — from aam panna to jal jeera and buttermilk and the beautifully-presented starters such as cucumber rings with paneer delicately placed in the hole in the middle, mini potato cutlets, and a beautifully decorated fruit platter.

"This, I suppose, has been prepared in the Pushtimargi style, with seva bhava?" she asks Mr Parashar.

"Yes, when you do something for the Lord, you must do it with devotion and our food promotes spiritual advancement," he says.

Frozen Tamil

We are curious about Ms Sitharaman's upbringing. "My mother's mother side is from Thiruvangad. My mother's father's family comes from a village near Salem. My maternal grandfather is essentially from Musiri, which is along the bank of the Cauvery. But he finally settled down in Madurai. So all these places have live contact for me," she says.

Her father was in the Railways in a transferable job. So after Class 5 she and her sister were sent to their periamma's house in Chennai. This lasted for three years. "That was my only exposure to Chennai education," she says.

After that her parents decided the family should stay put in Trichy and she did the rest of her schooling, including her B.A. there. She left Tamil Nadu for JNU in 1980 where she did M.A. in Economics After that she was married into an Andhra family, so never went back to Tamil Nadu.

"My Tamil is frozen in time. Every time I visit Chennai, I am teased that I don't know the current slang," she says.

But she is proud that she can hold her own in "Medai Tamil" – the highly literary political lingo. Politicians are expected to speak like poets in Tamil Nadu, she tells us, and many poets become politicians.

"Only Ms Jayaalalitha can get away with speaking colloquial Tamil," we murmur sotto voce.

After M.A., she wrote her Ph.D thesis on the India-Europe textile trade but though she submitted the dissertation, she never appeared for the viva. "By then I had moved to London with my husband Prabhakar," she says ruefully, nibbling at the soya lolly dish - this is a curry dish in which soya wrapped around an ice cream stick is dunked. Govinda has some experimental offerings – we notice an aloo halwa and fruit ki sabzi on the menu.

In London, she started off working at a well-known store called Habitat before moving on to the research division of the PriceWaterhouse Coopers where within a short span she grew to head the competition unit. It was an exciting time. "East Europe was beginning to wriggle out of the Soviet grip. It was the time of perestroika and glasnost and every Western firm was looking for business opportunities there," she says.

But then the baby came along and in 1991 she and her husband moved back to India — straight into the fiery heat of Andhra. "When we came in April to Narasapuram very close to where the Godavari meets the sea, it was already 40 degrees," she says. The decision was taken to have the baby in Chennai.

That happened three days before Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. "I couldn't get out of hospital". Finally, after three days, she had to be taken out in the doctor's car flying white flags.

The next 20 years were spent in the think-tank she and her husband set up in Hyderabad. "We were doing all sorts of work," she says. She also was also appointed as an apolitical member (she was the youngest) of the National Commission for Women, where she interacted closely with Ms Sushma Swaraj.

Saffron by elimination

The BJP, we ask? Especially, when you are married into a Congress family? "I don't know whether it was through the elimination process in my mind," she says. "I was certainly not inclined to the Left. She did not get into the Congress for the same reason, she says.

Perhaps the BJP connect happened through the NCW work.

At this moment, Mr Parashar asks: "On television, how does it feel having to defend the indefensible?"

She is quick to retort. "I am not sure it is right to label anything as defensible or indefensible. There are many dimensions to an issue. It is not for me to see and judge. I cannot look at it from my myopic view only."

"Once a line is taken by the party, I am expected to stick to it. But that doesn't mean that I am a mere mouthing machine. I apply my mind," she says.

The mornings are spent scanning the papers. At some point in the day, a party line is worked out and after that everyone has to bowl to the field.

But if she really does not believe it, isn't it stressful, we ask. "I don't want to involve myself too much in every decision emotionally," she says.

Where does she see herself in the BJP, we ask. Tamara Elai Thanni, she says evocatively in Tamil. "I am like the drop of water on the lotus leaf," she says.

Krishna, Krishna

As the dessert — kheer and malpua — arrive, Ms Sitharaman volunteers suddenly, "Sitting here is so appropriate. I have been doing a study on Krishna worship in India in temples where Krishna is named as Krishna in the moolasthana. There is enough evidence to show that in these temples the puja padhathi is not derived from the agamashastras or Vedic narration only. In fact, they have all picked up on verses derived during the Bhakti movement." We nod knowledgeably.

She points out how in the east coast, Krishna has become Balaji, Jagannatha and so on, whereas on the west coast, right from Dwaraka, Vittala or further down to Udupi or Guruvayur, they have all been following a worship pattern that is written by Krishna bhaktas — songs written by the local devotees.

Of the people, by the people, for the people, we suggest. But there hasn't been much time to study Krishna worship traditions recently.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

READ HARRY POTTER, PM

THE MARAN INQUIRY IS WELCOME, BUT WHERE IS A PROACTIVE INITIATIVE ON CORRUPTION?

 

The Prime Minister did well to call for law enforcement agencies to carry out their inquiry into minister Maran's alleged misdeeds without fear or favour. Regardless of whether it would induce Mr Maran's uncle and DMK leader Karunanidhi to downgrade the Congress one additional notch on his scale of friendship, this is the only prudent reaction available to the PM and the UPA leadership. Which takes some of the moral sheen off this welcome stand against corruption. There is a groundswell of public anger against brazen corruption by the political class and it is necessary for political parties to respond in a constructive fashion. Initiating prosecution in cases that come to broad daylight is not enough. It is more important to do something to dismantle the system in which corruption is entrenched. And at the root of systemic corruption is the manner in which India's political parties mobilise their essential funding: loot of the exchequer, sale of patronage and extortion. True, there is no magic wand to end corruption, as the Prime Minister observed. But even in the world of magic, as any fledgling fan of Harry Potter could tell you, courage, tenacity and a firm sense of moral purpose matter more than wands. These are the qualities that need to be summoned to bring about a paradigm shift in how political parties function.


Let the Congress set an example by cleaning up its political funding. Let the party president announce that all contributions to the party would be accepted only by cheque and let it show audited receipts that are realistic, rather than the tiny fraction of actual income that it shows at present. This would put pressure on all other political parties to follow suit. The result of transparent fund-raising by political parties would be to reduce the scope for politicians and civil servants to build individual fortunes, squeeze out patronage, extortion and associated delay from government functioning and prepare the ground for a faster growing India where outlays translate into welfare. And the people would reward, nay, worship, the politician who initiates such change. This is the route to anti-corruption credibility.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IMPERSONAL NUMBERS

BALANCE SHEETS MUST NOT BE AFFECTED BY ANY CHANGE OF GUARD AT THE TOP

 

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) deputy governor K C Chakrabarty does not mince his words. He has taken issue with what has been an age-old practice among banks: of freshly-minted chairmen using the opportunity to make more aggressive provisions so that they are able to present a rosier picture in the subsequent months. The issue has, no doubt, acquired a new salience following the sharp dip (99%) in profits announced by the new Chairman of the State Bank of India (SBI) while declaring the bank's fourth quarter profits. Nor is the practice confined to banks. As any behavioural scientist will vouch, it is human tendency to paint one's predecessor in a poor light if only in the hope of being seen more kindly in comparison! But when that impacts balance sheet numbers that are supposedly immune to personalities (since they are based on strict accounting rules), the issue goes beyond human frailty to rattling the faith of the wider public in the sanctity of key numbers.


In the case of SBI, higher provisioning — for pensions and for loans, occasioned in part by the RBI's new provisioning norms requiring banks to provide for 70% of their non-performing assets as on September 2010 — was largely responsible for sharply lower profits. However, the 'new chairman syndrome' , which is particularly true of public sector banks that are not truly board-driven and hence tend to get identified by the man at the top, cannot be ignored. In the case of SBI, for instance, additional provisioning was necessitated by the bank's volte face on teaser loans (where interest rates were kept seductively low in the early years) following the exit of its former chairman who had many a run-in with the RBI on the subject. But these are all matters of detail. At the end of the day, as the deputy governor says, 'Reporting has to be credible…If we don't make the system credible and create a standard, people will report anything.' However, the onus for that rests not only on the banks but also on the RBI. As banking supervisor and regulator, it needs to ensure such wild fluctuations are eschewed and subjectivity replaced by objectivity in accounting treatment.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

UMA AND THE GANGA

THE RIVER FLOWS THROUGH THE ESTRANGED LEADER'S RETURN TO HER PARENT PARTY


On Tuesday, June 7, 2011, we finally got to know why the River Ganga flows through Uttar Pradesh and not MP. It is just so that Uma Bharti can continue her S a m a g r a h a G a n g a A b h i y a ncampaign to retain the sanctity of the river by returning to the BJP and setting things right in the troubled state of UP where assembly elections are due to be held in the summer of 2012! In retrospect, it seems just as well that when Bhagirath prayed for the divine Ganga to descend to the Earth in the mythological past, those who granted him this boon also ensured that the holy river flowed through what is now known as the state of Uttar Pradesh and did not go anywhere near MP where Uma Bharti's successor as CM presently governs without any interference from his predecessor who has been out of the BJP for the last six years. Which explains why, while announcing the return of Uma Bharti in Tuesday's press-conference, BJP national president Nitin Gadkari repeatedly stated that she would look after party affairs in UP!


Uma remembered at the press conference a Hindi poem about a bird leaving a ship now and then but always returning to the vessel which was both its base and destination. If the road to Delhi runs through Lucknow, the BJP needs the firebrand OBC leader who launched her own party-vessel without getting anywhere in the last few elections. And her reference to her being inspired to join the BJP at a young age by the late Vijayaraje Scindia and Gadkari's comment that, whether in or out of the party, Uma had always subscribed to the same ideology could both be summed up in the adage that birds of a feather fly together. It's a different matter that Uma's return could ruffle some feathers among her former colleagues as well!

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

COMPETITION: PLENTY, NOT ENOUGH

ECONOMIC REFORM HAS PUT PAID TO LARGE-SCALE CRONY CAPITALISM BUT HUGE BARRIERS TO ENTRY STILL REMAIN


In a recent column in The Times of India, I showed that Indian business was not a small cozy club of crony capitalists: newcomers kept getting into the top 30 with surprising regularity. Of the 30 companies in the Bombay Sensex in 1990, only nine are still there. The Birlas are down to one company in the Sensex against five in 1990, and the Tatas to four today against six in 1990. Of the six multinationals in the Sensex in 1990, only two are still there. This analysis has drawn two main criticisms. One is that while there is indeed a churn in Indian business, it has slowed down recently. The second is that crony capitalism is now producing as much or more wealth than productive merit, giving economic reform a terrible name.


There is some truth in both criticisms, yet they are no more than qualifications to the more important point that newcomers keep penetrating the top 30. Back in 1990, many economists argued that economic liberalisation would mean domination by a few business houses, while others said multinationals corporations would wipe out both big and small business houses. Both predictions have proved dead wrong.


I agree with Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley that a regular churn of top companies is healthy in a society, and that we need newcomers who rise on merit while inefficient oldies should bite the dust. India is far from ideal on this score. Yet the actual churn has beaten all predictions.


Sharma says that only one company in the Dow Jones Index of 1960 is still there — General Electric. But for a fair comparison, we need to look at the post-reform period in India. I looked up the 1990 and 2010 lists of companies in the Dow. Fifteen of the 30 companies in the Dow today are survivors from 1990, against only nine in India. So, the churn has been bigger in India.


The newcomers in the Dow are mainly service companies (banks, retail, entertainment, telecom), three IT companies and two pharma companies (better seen as R&D companies than manufacturers). That looks to me like a steady shift from manufacturing to services as the US goes into a post-industrial phase. It looks less revolutionary than changes in India. However, Sharma says that most of the churn in India took place in the 1990s, and has later slowed down. In 2011, he says, almost 90% of the weight of the Sensex comes from companies that were in the index five years ago, indicating a lack of churn. The same statistic in 2006 was 68%, and in 2001 was 38%.


A related point is made in an IMF working paper by Ashoka Mody, Anusha Nath and Michael Walton, looking at profit trends in all the companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange. This concludes that profit increases are associated with higher productivity and efficiency, not monopoly power; so rising profits are more a sign of dynamism than entrenchment. At the same time, "the robust process of new entry seems to have stopped, and there well have been some increase in industry concentration in the 2000s."


Now, the abolition of industrial licensing in 1991 was like the opening of a dam's floodgates, which produces a huge initial gush followed by a lesser flow. Is the recent slowing of business entry in India normal and non-alarming after an initial gush, or should we worry? The IMF study suggests that while overall there is dynamism, the concentration of market share in some industries is high enough to exceed US benchmarks for competitive behaviour.
A quick look across economic sectors suggests plenty of domestic competition. India has become famous for frugal engineering (exemplified by the Nano), and this is an outcome of intense competition. Nevertheless, procedural barriers certainly exist for medium companies, as highlighted in the Doing Business series of the IFC/World Bank.


    The Doing Business edition for 2011 puts India at 165th out of 183 countries in ease of starting a new business, 177th in obtaining a construction permit, and 182nd in enforcement of contract. Industrial licensing may have been abolished and imports of goods and technology may have become easy, but clearly major barriers still exist that are especially onerous for small and medium companies. We must reform a host of rules and procedures at the state government level. The more simple and rule-based business is, the more talented newcomers will oust less efficient oldies.


Crony capitalism hogs the headlines. Yet, industrial and financial deregulation since 1991 means that political discretion affects only parts of the economy, above all natural resources, real estate and government contracts. These are large sectors, yet they constitute a minority of total economic activity. I am told by industrialists in other sectors that in many states they don't have to make political pay-offs to survive or flourish. They complain bitterly of low-level corruption from hordes of inspectors and petty officials, but this is not cronyism and does not create oligarchies. As for big corruption, the rise of the middle class had changed the old chalta hai attitude to corruption. Public anger now overflows through TV channels, and obliges politicians to take notice. Hopefully, this will force muchneeded changes in policies. Future allocations of natural resources and awards of government contracts need to be done through competitive bidding, not political discretion. A Lokpal with teeth can change political incentives. In sum, while in most sectors competition is keen and newcomers can break through, we still need substantial reforms to reduce procedural barriers and corruption, especially in land and natural resources. This will not only increase business churn but create a business class that is respected for merit, not hated for sleaze.

 

SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FACE OFF

SHOULD INDIA HAVE AN INHERITANCE TAX?

 

 

SUDHIR KAPDIA TAX MARKET LEADER, E&Y No Need to Add Another Layer of Tax
Inheritance taxes are generally levied all across the developed world. Conceptually speaking, the idea of inheritance tax is for society to extract its fair share of taxes on wealth accumulated by individuals over their life times. In a way, inheritance tax is a cost levied on wealthy individuals in a capitalist system where unbridled accumulation of wealth is made possible without any fetters. However, what may arguably be a good tax policy instrument in developed capitalist societies may not necessarily be appropriate for an emerging centre/left polity such as India's. This is because, arguably, there are still effective external (and moral) barriers in place to prevent and check unhindered aggregation of wealth in private hands. In fact, there is a strong tax policy argument to encourage capital asset formation in India itself rather than encourage accumulation of assets outside the country by seeking to tax inheritance of accumulated wealth in India, especially if one considers all the other incidental revenue raising opportunities for government in connection with assets and wealth located in India (property taxes, wealth taxes, etc). For several years, India experimented with estate duty before it got scrapped along with the gift tax levy and substantial dilution of wealth tax in light of tax reforms towards moderate income tax rates and simplified law. The cost of collection of estate duty was disproportionately higher compared to revenue generated. Further, most of the so-called unproductive assets (farm houses, jewellery, etc) are already covered under wealth tax which would continue to be levied upon those assets once they are inherited by legal heirs of the deceased taxpayer. Hence, the current income tax and wealth tax laws combined ensure that a rich person's income is taxed at the maximum marginal rate and wealth tax levied on his unproductive assets.

Further, complex valuation issues would arise, for example, in case of personal shareholdings in asset holding companies or companies owning significant businesses. So, there does not seem to be much purpose served in introducing a third element of tax on inheritance. Instead, strengthening of tax enforcement machinery with more robust databases and better monitoring of income and wealth would be more advisable.

 

D P SENGUPTA

FORMER JOINT SECRETARY, FINANCE MINISTRY It's Only the Second Best Option Estate duty was introduced in India as a part of the recommendations of Nicholas Kaldor as part of a system of comprehensive system of taxation to garner revenue resources needed to fund the ambitious plan programme of the country. The legislation was, however, complex and dealt with the practices of myriad types of settlements and disposition of property. Property passing two years prior to the death was not be taxed. The levy was on the 'accountable person' who had powers of disposition of the property of the deceased. The minimum estate duty leviable was 30% of the value of the estate. The legislation inevitably got mired in litigation from the beginning on complex legal issues relating to disposition of property. Over the years, the contribution of the estate duty to the total tax collection was very meagre whereas disputes were many. Consequently, the government decided to abolish the levy in 1985.
However, it is a fact that the tax-GDP ratio is still very low as compared to the developed countries and if we aspire to be a strong nation, it is absolutely necessary to increase the same. Over the last few years, there has been considerable buoyancy in tax collections. Nevertheless, there is a need to find further resources. If a more efficient tax administration can reach a tax-GDP ratio of about 25 without recourse to any additional levy and by eradicating tax evasion, that will be the best option. But, that does not seem to be too realistic.
In this context, it is interesting to note that India is one of the very few large countries that do not levy a death duty or inheritance tax. It is also interesting to note that during their recent visits to India, two of the wealthiest persons in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, both came out strongly in favour of such a levy in India. In fact, at the time of introduction of the legislation in the United Kingdom, the chancellor of exchequer argued that all men who die rich are in debt to the states as they had failed to make their contributions to direct tax properly and hence the accumulation.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NOW&THEN

SPEED UP PRODUCTIVITY GAINS

JAIDEEP MISHRA



    Corruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable products of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today, noted the saintly leader in the early years of independence. That was then, when malfeasance, corruption and capital flight were far from institutionalised as they seem these days. The way ahead is to rid the corridors of power of vested interests pitching for continuing with opacity and the status quo. What's essential is transparency in electoral funding, in the execution of public contracts, and in the policy implementation generally. But while we carry out muchneeded institutional reform, we ought not to lose sight of proactive moves to shore up productivity and rev up efficiency improvement across the board.
And the way ahead is to boost innovation, including social innovation, so as to make individuals, corporates and entire industries more productive. It would be all for the greater good. Reportedly, the Centre has chalked out technology policy for an indigenous medium-sized, civil aircraft to take off in the foreseeable future. The move should have favourable implications and commercial spillovers both in the specific field and well beyond, although the Saras programme to develop a 14-seater multirole, transport aircraft did require 18 long years simply for the initial launch. However, this time around, there seems ample scope for focus, learning and early identification of a private-sector partner. Research and development is a dynamic, complex process, which does require gainfully traversing the learning curve. But while we do need to implement the prestige technology-policy projects, there's also the need to fine-tune operations and innovation in other sectors, such as public transport. We need modern, low-floor buses for instance, with timings, in real time, easily available via mobile phone SMS.
Reports say that the National Aerospace Laboratories, situated just outside Bengaluru, has been mandated to 'develop aerospace technologies with a science content to design and build small and medium-sized civil aircraft, and support all national aerospace programmes.' According to the financial feasibility report, the first phase, or the design phase, is likely to begin next January and would require an investment of .4,400 crore, spreadover a three-five year period. The next phase, or the production phase, should start within three years of the launch of the design phase, with an investment requirement pegged at .3,900 crore. What is the rationale for such governmental investment? Take for instance pre-commercial R&D, when the engineering knowledge and scientific base for a potential advance in the field, say a product or process technology in the making, is at an early stage of development. And when it comes to pre-commercial R&D, there's the real possibility of substantial "appropriability" problems, for the ability of the private sector to reasonably capture the economic benefits of investment in the area would be limited indeed. After all, the nature of pre-commercial R&D is characterised by spillovers into the general knowledge base, and in such a scenario other corporates and firms can well appropriate the economic "rents", read benefits, of the R&D effort. Hence, the need for public support for the R&D, in the absence of which there is likely to be substantial underinvestment in potentially path-breaking investment that can result in cutting-edge advances in science and technology, complete with considerable social and economic benefits as well. The point is that corporates would have little incentive to invest in R&D that would willy-nilly be available to others for commercial exploitation. Note also that R&D funding in India remains much too low, and much of it government-led, at barely 1% of GDP. It is in sharp contrast to the other major economies, where even in relative terms the level of investment can be three times higher.
It remains to be seen though whether an indigenous medium-range aircraft would be "in service" by 2017, as reportedly is the target. It would be technically challenging alright. More importantly, commercial success may still be elusive, given the rather crowded space for 50-100-seater aircraft, what with Embraer's E-Jets and Bombardier's CSeries, for example, wellestablished in the midrange. Still, it would make sense to boost domestic capability with its myriad scope for spillovers and attendant benefits.
But while we explore aerospace, there's the pressing need to modernise public transportation pan-India. It is a pleasure to step into the new Volvo buses in Delhi, but we need to make the idea of public transport thoroughly dependable and quite comfortable, so as to rev up demand and fast-forward payback. A GPS-enabled system would allow commuters to track buses in real time. In tandem, there's also the requirement for well-designed solarpowered and suitably financed rickshaws. A whole century and more after Kipling popularised the term, what's desirable is a paradigm-shift when it comes to powering them.

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

WHY I'M WORRIED ABOUT TINTIN

SCEPTICISM WON'T STOP ME FROM THUMBING MY NOSE AT FRIENDS IN THE US


In these days of piracy on the broadband seas and jungle law in the world of torrents, it isn't unusual for Hollywood to try and release a film across the globe at the same time. Sometimes it even brings them to India a week before they open in the US. The feverishlyanticipated The Adventures Of Tintin: Secret Of The Unicorn, however, opens in India on November 11, a full six weeks before the giant film – a film made by Steven Spielberg and co-produced by Peter Jackson – releases in the US, just in time for Christmas. And while we can all welcome this headstart in seeing Captain Haddock on screen, it might not necessarily be for the best of reasons.

 

The studio is clearly concerned. Releasing the film in Belgium and France in the end of October – followed by markets like India and Brazil soon after – shows that they want to flood the world with markets long before American critics and audiences have a chance to react. It is the exact opposite strategy as that taken by most animated films, coasting on their record-breaking US opening, and differs also from big 'event' films in the hope that positive US reviews will lay the foundation for a sizeable global opening. This is decidedly not the year's most highly anticipated film, at least not in Hollywoodland.

 

Neither Spielberg or Jackson, despite their awe-inspiring statuses as box office behemoths and mainstream messiahs, is bulletproof anymore, you see. Spielberg's last was a critically savaged and flakily conceived Indiana Jones sequel, while Jackson's last film was a hideously mawkish adaptation of a lovely Alice Sebold novel. Just their names on a poster aren't enough to lure audiences into theatres anymore. Their presence helps, but there's scepticism: especially in an audience that is getting increasingly wary of both 3-D movies and motion-captured animation. And the primary reason, of course, that Americans just aren't getting their knickers wet about Tintin like we are is that they simply don't know the guy.

 

On the other hand, I learnt to read with Tintin. (Destination Moon, in case you were wondering.) As a nation we appropriated Tintin very early on, the Belgian reporter showing up in serialised strips across our magazines, while translators scratched their heads and wondered how to translate 'troglodytes' into Bangla and 'O my beauty past compare' into Malayalam. The Potter/Twilight reading tween of today might not be as reverent of Herge's epochal creation but his or her parents certainly are; Tintin, like Goscinny and Uderzo's Asterix, is a part of our collective childhood, a part of growing up itself. If there really was a whiskey called Loch Lomond, a significantly larger percentage of us would be alcoholics.

 

Which is why it makes sense that the studio would like Secret Of The Unicorn to open abroad first, so the Tintin-adoring markets can gorge on the film and encouraging box office receipts ideally send the Americans into curious queues.

 

Scepticism aside, I'm an incorrigible believer, and there is no better American filmmaker than Steven Spielberg to helm this adventure. It's the perfect set of stories to start with, and when Steven and Peter say we're going to see mo-cap animation unlike any we've ever experienced before, it's hard not to get all goosepimply. I do wish, though, that this Tintin didn't look quite as much like Tilda Swinton.

 

 

Tintin is very much a part of our collective childhood, and not just in English

RAJA SEN

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MONKEYS, MORALS, MATHEMATICS

 

Many of us have read stories from the Indian classic Panchatantra, know also how that collection originated. A rich man had sons who refused to be taught the usual way. No method of classroom teaching made any impression on their brain. So how could they be educated into becoming responsible citizens? His problem was finally solved by Vishnu Sharma, a learned but practical minded teacher. He told the boys interesting stories that carried morals, which were of great use to them. The code of conduct that they assimilated from the tales would have been lost on them had it been presented as cut and dried commandments to be learnt by heart. Sharma's stories provided the rationale for the code and their very absorbing nature made it easy for the boys to appreciate them. A somewhat similar method should be employed to make the usually tyrannical subject of mathematics "user friendly". All too often the subject is introduced to the hapless pupil as a collection of rules to be followed in order to solve problems, which also are often stated in an uninteresting fashion. The student therefore looks upon the whole exercise as a ritual — to be learnt by heart and executed verbatim, without understanding the logical context of those problems. The second off-putting aspect of this type of school maths is the importance given to number crunching. Firstly, the exercises in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, followed in higher classes by manipulations of fractions already sap any enthusiasm a kid may have brought with him/her. Secondly, no attempt is made to know whether s/he can relate those exercises to worded problems. So if a kid grows with a liking for the subject it is in spite of, rather than because of our school teaching. Is there a way that opens up the logical treasure house, a method that shows kids that mathematics really is a subject to test one's thinking skills while also entertaining one's mind? There surely is. It was my good fortune that I was introduced to it at an early age, when I was still in primary school. I was given books on recreational mathematics by my father. To most readers of this article the phrase "recreational mathematics" may sound an oxymoron. How can a subject that terrifies the child take on a recreational garb? But it does. As I discovered when I opened those books, there were no jungles of numbers to cope with. Instead there were pictures, cartoons, puzzles, even stories and anecdotes. There was one crucial difference, however, between these books and purely recreational literature. When you read these books, you begin to appreciate that the text is trying to draw your attention to some problem that needs to be solved. There are puzzles that challenge you to solve them. And what is worth stressing, the expertise needed to solve them does not require number crunching but does demand strict adherence to the rules of logic. Take this example. An island has two resident tribes. Tribe A is made of people who always tell the truth while those belonging to Tribe B always tell a lie and try to mislead. A tourist to the island encountered three natives walking together. He asked one of them: "Sir, to what tribe do you belong?" That worthy replied but the tourist could not follow what he said. So he asked the person standing next to him: "Will you please tell me what your friend just now said?" "Sir, he said that he belongs to Tribe A", replied the second person of the trio. At which the third gentleman said: "No, no! My friend said that he belongs to Tribe B". So, of the two companions, which one was telling the truth? If you have got the answer, skip this paragraph otherwise read on. If the first native belonged to Tribe A, he would tell the truth and inform the tourist that he belongs to Tribe A. On the other hand, if he belonged to Tribe B, he has to tell a lie and so he would reply to the tourist that he belongs to Tribe A. Thus, in either case, his reply would be that he belonged to Tribe A. Given this conclusion, we see that the second man was telling the truth and the third one was lying. Notice that the problem or its solution did not involve any manipulation of numbers. Rather its solution leads us to use logical thinking. Indeed, as one drives deeper into the garden of mathematics, one discovers that logical arguments take the front seat and number crunching takes the backseat. This may help understand why in the world of expert mathematicians, a person with the mental ability of performing quick additions, multiplications etc., is not considered a mathematician. For the same reason, the so-called vedic mathematics is not an example of higher mathematics. I, therefore, suggest that once a week the maths teacher should devote an entire period playing games and solving puzzles that have a mathematical base. This way the pupils will learn to appreciate the subject for what it really is and will cease to be afraid of it. Such entertaining byways to various aspects of mathematics do exist and are waiting to be enjoyed. I end this account with a problem from Lilavati, the book of problems written by the 12th-century Indian mathematician, Bhaskaracarya, supposedly addressed to his talented daughter (of the same name as the book). It gives an example of the delightfully poetical way in which a mathematical problem can be posed: "The square root of half the total number of a swarm of bees went to a Malati tree, followed by another eight-ninth of the total. One bee was trapped inside a lotus flower, while his mate came humming in response to his call. O Lady, tell me how many bees were there in all?" Ladies and Gentlemen, can you solve this question? * Jayant V. Narlikar is professor emiritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus, and a renowned astrophysicist

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MONKEYS, MORALS, MATHEMATICS

 

Many of us have read stories from the Indian classic Panchatantra, know also how that collection originated. A rich man had sons who refused to be taught the usual way. No method of classroom teaching made any impression on their brain. So how could they be educated into becoming responsible citizens? His problem was finally solved by Vishnu Sharma, a learned but practical minded teacher. He told the boys interesting stories that carried morals, which were of great use to them. The code of conduct that they assimilated from the tales would have been lost on them had it been presented as cut and dried commandments to be learnt by heart. Sharma's stories provided the rationale for the code and their very absorbing nature made it easy for the boys to appreciate them. A somewhat similar method should be employed to make the usually tyrannical subject of mathematics "user friendly". All too often the subject is introduced to the hapless pupil as a collection of rules to be followed in order to solve problems, which also are often stated in an uninteresting fashion. The student therefore looks upon the whole exercise as a ritual — to be learnt by heart and executed verbatim, without understanding the logical context of those problems. The second off-putting aspect of this type of school maths is the importance given to number crunching. Firstly, the exercises in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, followed in higher classes by manipulations of fractions already sap any enthusiasm a kid may have brought with him/her. Secondly, no attempt is made to know whether s/he can relate those exercises to worded problems. So if a kid grows with a liking for the subject it is in spite of, rather than because of our school teaching. Is there a way that opens up the logical treasure house, a method that shows kids that mathematics really is a subject to test one's thinking skills while also entertaining one's mind? There surely is. It was my good fortune that I was introduced to it at an early age, when I was still in primary school. I was given books on recreational mathematics by my father. To most readers of this article the phrase "recreational mathematics" may sound an oxymoron. How can a subject that terrifies the child take on a recreational garb? But it does. As I discovered when I opened those books, there were no jungles of numbers to cope with. Instead there were pictures, cartoons, puzzles, even stories and anecdotes. There was one crucial difference, however, between these books and purely recreational literature. When you read these books, you begin to appreciate that the text is trying to draw your attention to some problem that needs to be solved. There are puzzles that challenge you to solve them. And what is worth stressing, the expertise needed to solve them does not require number crunching but does demand strict adherence to the rules of logic. Take this example. An island has two resident tribes. Tribe A is made of people who always tell the truth while those belonging to Tribe B always tell a lie and try to mislead. A tourist to the island encountered three natives walking together. He asked one of them: "Sir, to what tribe do you belong?" That worthy replied but the tourist could not follow what he said. So he asked the person standing next to him: "Will you please tell me what your friend just now said?" "Sir, he said that he belongs to Tribe A", replied the second person of the trio. At which the third gentleman said: "No, no! My friend said that he belongs to Tribe B". So, of the two companions, which one was telling the truth? If you have got the answer, skip this paragraph otherwise read on. If the first native belonged to Tribe A, he would tell the truth and inform the tourist that he belongs to Tribe A. On the other hand, if he belonged to Tribe B, he has to tell a lie and so he would reply to the tourist that he belongs to Tribe A. Thus, in either case, his reply would be that he belonged to Tribe A. Given this conclusion, we see that the second man was telling the truth and the third one was lying. Notice that the problem or its solution did not involve any manipulation of numbers. Rather its solution leads us to use logical thinking. Indeed, as one drives deeper into the garden of mathematics, one discovers that logical arguments take the front seat and number crunching takes the backseat. This may help understand why in the world of expert mathematicians, a person with the mental ability of performing quick additions, multiplications etc., is not considered a mathematician. For the same reason, the so-called vedic mathematics is not an example of higher mathematics. I, therefore, suggest that once a week the maths teacher should devote an entire period playing games and solving puzzles that have a mathematical base. This way the pupils will learn to appreciate the subject for what it really is and will cease to be afraid of it. Such entertaining byways to various aspects of mathematics do exist and are waiting to be enjoyed. I end this account with a problem from Lilavati, the book of problems written by the 12th-century Indian mathematician, Bhaskaracarya, supposedly addressed to his talented daughter (of the same name as the book). It gives an example of the delightfully poetical way in which a mathematical problem can be posed: "The square root of half the total number of a swarm of bees went to a Malati tree, followed by another eight-ninth of the total. One bee was trapped inside a lotus flower, while his mate came humming in response to his call. O Lady, tell me how many bees were there in all?" Ladies and Gentlemen, can you solve this question? * Jayant V. Narlikar is professor emiritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus, and a renowned astrophysicist

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

RISE ABOVE YOUR KARMA

 

The whole of Bhagavad Gita is about the Law of Karma. It is often said, "You shall reap, what you sow". When you sow seeds, its germination and the quality of the plant you will get depends on the fertility of the soil. Similarly, every act of ours, however insignificant it may be, has the potential to germinate and bounce back depending on how and where this act has been performed. The reaction of this act also depends on the capacity and level of subtleness of the action and the level of subtleness of the event or person against/for whom the action has been performed. The greater the subtle-ness, the higher the magnitude of the reaction. For instance, it is often said that one must never keep or express any ill-feeling towards any spiritual person in thought, word or deed. This is not because all spiritual people are egoists but because such a person's energy, by way of certain practices, is more subtle and stronger. Hence, the reaction of your action against this person will be directly proportional to the level of evolution of this person. Higher the level of consciousness of the doer, quicker the reaction, and higher the intensity of the reaction and lower the consciousness level. Our rishis in the mountains, who stay in a state of stillness for long durations, have a thorough understanding of the Law of Karma. — Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles... And a Haunting. Contact him at dhyan@dhyanfoundation.com

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WHY THEY WANT A SAVIOUR

 

There is no getting away from Baba Ramdev. Even in a Thai island, one is kept informed about the life and times of the fasting and furious yoga guru, a 46-year-old man with a flowing black beard in trademark saffron, who not only has a mass following — some 20 million-plus viewers in India tuning in to his early morning television show — but also wields control over a yoga and meditation network reportedly worth several billion rupees. The local newspaper carries a six column report, with photograph, about how the Baba is making Indian politicians tremble. The report was written a few hours before the midnight crackdown on the Baba and his supporters at Delhi's Ramlila Grounds — the "ground zero" of the yoga guru's mass hunger strike against corruption. With that act, the situation has only become more dramatic and charges of government high-handedness are flying thick and fast on cyberspace. Sitting one space removed from the breathless saturation coverage of the Baba Ramdev saga in our media, two immediate questions come to mind. One, why are recent anti-corruption movements — first led by Mr Anna Hazare and now by Baba Ramdev — getting so much traction? Two, why is the government seemingly unable to gauge the level of support such movements will get? The second question sprang up when the authorities came up with this gem of a reason for the crackdown on Baba Ramdev's long-publicised hunger strike and rally against corruption — apparently, the police had permitted a rally of up to 5,000 people, but thousands more turned up, so the rally had to be stopped for "law and order" reasons. Since Mr Hazare's hunger strike against corruption earlier this year, many media pundits have spent hours of television time and reams of newsprint telling us why such movements are a bad idea, how the civil society leaders are unrepresentative of the people, how giving in to hunger strike is like giving in to blackmail and so on and so forth. So why is there so much popular resonance the moment a similar agitation is started by the yoga guru? And why can't the government figure out beforehand the level of support such a movement will get, so that it can take pre-emptive action? In opinion poll after opinion poll in recent years, corruption has consistently been mentioned as one of the top issues of concern to Indians. So it should not really surprise anyone that any charismatic leader can raise this issue and expect huge support. With rising petrol prices and high inflation, especially in food, the sheen of emerging India is failing to rub off on much of middle India any more, not to speak of the millions below that highly controversial poverty line. On top of that, there are daily reports of huge graft in high places, be it the 2G scam or over the Commonwealth Games 2010 contracts. The impression that some people are having a very good time through unfair means while the rest are suffering is one that is bound to lead to resentment. That is the feeling coming through in these movements, and there is little point in rationally establishing that some aspects of these movements — or their leaders — are irrational. There is a trust deficit. Growing numbers of people, from middle India to those struggling in the margins, are desperately looking for a messiah. What matters is not how such a person or persons come across to the pundits but how they are able to reach out to the increasing numbers of people who have lost faith in the current crop of leaders. The efforts by the Centre to talk to the Baba, many of whose views send a frisson down liberal spines, before his planned rally showed that the government was at least starting to understand this feeling. But whatever goodwill had been generated by those meetings — and the earlier agreement with Mr Hazare's supporters to set up an independent panel over the Lokpal Bill — has now largely been dissipated by the midnight swoop on Baba Ramdev and his followers. Who ordered the swoop is unclear, but it is clear that various arms of the government are working at cross purposes. What suffers in the process is the government's image — the image of being decisive and more important, of being against corruption. Now there may be protracted negotiations between the Baba and various ministers before some sort of a settlement is declared, but the image that will probably remain uppermost in the popular mind is of a government that acts against corruption only grudgingly and when pushed to the wall. It is an unfair image of a government that is right now prosecuting a former minister and other senior leaders of its own party and coalition partners on various corruption charges. But getting a fairer image will require faster and more visible action not only against corruption but also vis-a-vis movements such as those led by Mr Hazare and Baba Ramdev. It will also require more empathy from the powers that be when people groan about high prices. In politics, EQ (emotional quotient) is usually more important than IQ (intelligence quotient). Someone who has just found out that his favourite food is now beyond his means will not be comforted by being told it is part of a global trend. The importance of perception is all too obvious in Thailand also. The Thai election campaign is now in full swing for the July 3 national polls. Like India, Thailand is witnessing an unsettling price pressure amid robust economic growth. Prices of food, fuel, electricity and daily consumer goods are up. There is palpable disenchantment with reigning politicians, and a desperate yearning for change. A group which broke away from the ruling Democratic Party has put up posters carrying images of dogs, monkeys, lizards, with the controversial slogan "Don't Let Animals Enter Parliament" — a reference to corruption in Thai politics. In these despondent times, there is a crackle and a buzz about a telegenic 43-year-old businesswoman, with almost no previous political experience. No doubt, there is delicious irony in the fact that she is Ms Yingluck Shinawatra, youngest sister of the famously controversial Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's former premier, accused of corruption, and currently in self-imposed exile. Yingluck, widely believed to be a proxy for her brother, relies not only on her brother's "pro-poor" credentials, but equally her freshness, charisma, ability to "connect" with ordinary people and energy. There are lessons here for Indian politicians. * Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BABA ON FAST, BJP GETTING HUNGER PANGS

 

The sight of Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and many others from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dancing at Rajghat has offended even sympathisers of the party. Quite apart from being distasteful — dancing on Gandhiji's grave, as it were — it was also misplaced. What exactly did the BJP leaders and workers feel so triumphant about? That some cunning plan of theirs had worked? That Baba Ramdev, by getting thrown out of Delhi after much midnight drama, was now going to emerge a martyr? And even if he did turn into a hero, how exactly does it benefit the BJP? So overwhelmed was the BJP by these events that its leaders not only danced, but also indulged in some bizarre hyperbole. The lathicharge at the Ramlila Grounds was reminiscent of the Emergency, they said. This was soon turned up a notch — it was another Jallianwala Bagh massacre, said the party's statement. Both descriptions are not only wrong, they are also in bad taste. To compare a lathicharge to the brutal killing of helpless men, women and children with bullets in an enclosed park by a colonial government shows the depths to which politicians will sink to gain some political mileage. But back to the basic question: How does all this actually help the BJP? No one who has been watching the developments of the last few days will have missed the Sangh Parivar's connection with the Baba and his campaign. Always known to be close to the large Sangh family, Baba has vast properties in BJP-ruled states. But when Sadhvi Rithambara came and sat with him on the platform, all doubts were removed. Some of the Baba's strategists are known Sangh Parivar champions and were batting for him on television, while his campaign against black money bears close resemblance to a so-called "paper" produced by Sangh-aligned "intellectuals" which had accused United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi of parking illicit funds abroad and for which Lal Krishna Advani had to apologise. The BJP's hyperventilation over the summary removal of Baba Ramdev from Delhi limits, must, therefore, be seen in that light — it is extending support to one of its own. However, far from being elated, the BJP should be worried. The BJP is not just another party; it has ruled the country. It has leaders with vast amounts of political and parliamentary experience. It rules in several states and hopes to get back to power in Delhi soon. Given that UPA-2 is fumbling on several fronts, the BJP should be brimming with enthusiasm, energy and ideas to push the government into defensive mode and start planning for a regime change. Instead, we see the country's leading Opposition party hitching itself to the bandwagon of a yoga guru with zero political experience, some fairly weird ideas and dubious financial sources. There are scores, if not hundreds, of such swamis, gurus and babas all over the country with reactionary views and no one but their followers take them seriously. Baba Ramdev operates on a much bigger scale and has morphed into a strong brand, but surely even the BJP knows that such things are ephemeral. Besides, there is a good chance that many of the Baba's followers are BJP supporters anyway, so the Baba's plans to set up a political party could split that vote. So why this enthusiasm for the Baba? Over the decades, the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar have always looked around for respectable leaders with mass appeal who can be a good "mukhota" (mask). Jayaprakash Narayan and V.P. Singh are two such examples; both were professed secularists but both were anti-Congress. Their mass credibility was perfect for the Sangh Parivar, which has always been aware that its own ideology has limited appeal. Jayaprakash Narayan helped cobble together the Janata Party, and, V.P. Singh with outside Right and Left support, put together a government. Both these experiments failed but the BJP came out much stronger. Times have now changed. There is no one in the Opposition of the stature of either Jayaprakash Narayan or V.P. Singh. With the retirement of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP, too, is bereft of anyone with mass appeal. The party has not been able to mount any credible attack on the government and the loss in the 2009 elections has completely demoralised it. The Sangh Parivar is now looking at the future; they may not invest in Baba Ramdev beyond a point, but he will, at the very best, serve a temporary purpose of taking on the government, or even — so the more fanciful believe — topple it. Tentative approaches were made to join with social activist Anna Hazare, but when he realised such an association could backfire, he distanced himself. Such reliance on extra-political entities can only be harmful to a legitimate political party like the BJP. Its leaders need to be introspecting about the implications of handing over centrestage to mavericks like Baba Ramdev. Instead, the BJP ought to be sharpening its weapons to take on the government which is at its most vulnerable, what with allegations of financial scams swirling around. But practising hard politics can be difficult and frustrating. Better just to jump into a ready-made tamasha and hope that some of the spotlight falls upon you, too. Sidharth Bhatia is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai


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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

PRODIGAL'S RETURN A BOOST FOR BJP?

 

The return of the firebrand Uma Bharti, a former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, to the BJP on Tuesday after an interval of over five years is likely to give the beleaguered saffron party a shot in the arm. Since she was obliged to leave the party in 2005 after questioning L.K. Advani's endorsement of Muhammad Ali Jinnah as a "secular" politician, the saffron-robed Ms Bharti made several unsuccessful attempts to return to the fold, but her efforts were thwarted by senior BJP leaders of her generation who were both envious of her popularity with the rank and file and afraid of her potential to be in the forefront of the leadership once the Vajpayee-Advani era had ended. That she has now been invited back to the party by its current chief — a culturally non-metropolitan, regional leader trusted by the RSS but no favourite of the party's other power-brokers — when the BJP is going through one of its worst crises in decades, speaks for itself. The key task before the BJP is to make a mark in next year's Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. The party organisation in the state is faction-ridden, its core support has dissipated, and the party is bereft of a leader with charisma or Hindutva-inspired appeal or credibility. On all these counts, Ms Bharti fits the bill perfectly. If the caste cauldron is to be taken into account, the "sadhvi" is from the influential backward caste of Lodhs which had given the state a BJP chief minister in Kalyan Singh earlier. With Mr Singh ousted from the party some years ago, there was no backward caste leader worth the name left in the BJP leadership structure in UP. Although Ms Bharti is from the Khajuraho region of Madhya Pradesh, this belt abuts UP and Ms Bharti is well known as a political personality of the Lodh caste in UP as well. In charisma terms, the sadhvi from Khajuraho can be said to be the equal of any other political leader of the state, including the Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati. If the so-called "secular" vote splits three ways among the BSP, SP and the Congress, and the BJP is able to retrieve some of its backward class and brahmin votes, much of the credit would likely be due to Ms Bharti. However, like some other charismatic figures, the former MP chief minister is also widely seen as a temperamental figure who has the potential to be a divisive influence at the leadership level. Many believe, for instance, that Mr Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the BJP's current CM in Madhya Pradesh, cannot breathe easy if Ms Bharti is able to recover her lost space in the party leadership structure. Nevertheless, the party president has reposed confidence in her. For now that is what counts. At the level of symbolism in the times of Baba Ramdev, Ms Bharti's return could not have come at a more opportune time for the BJP. Even as the party's top leadership backed the yoga teacher's recent protest and decided to go in for a token fast in his support, Ms Bharti went straight to the heart of the matter. She arrived at the yoga guru's ashram in Hardwar to offer him felicitations and moral support. From the point of view of the sympathisers of the Baba, who in significant numbers are thought to be drawn from the ranks of the Hindu right, a stronger hand could not have been played to back their guide. This has every chance of being counted as an electoral plus when the time comes.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CHESS VS WEI QI

 

Henry Kissinger's book On China arrived in the capital's bookshops on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of Tiananmen Square on June 6. Today, that episode may be a blip in the history of a country with a four-millennia-old civilisation and continuous nationhood since 221 BC. In 1989, however, it rattled China, brought into question Deng Xiaoping's economic pragmatism and soured Chinese relations with the West, particularly the US. The book's relevance is, however, wider. It gives a unique insight into the thought processes of four generations of Chinese leaders, with whom Mr Kissinger interacted in official and demi-official capacities. Mao Zedong, in his elliptical magnificence, speaks to the reader; as does Zhou Enlai and so on. Although Mr Kissinger's avuncular indulgence is manifest, giving the Chinese the benefit of the doubt, for instance in ignoring their proclivity to function both within the domain of the post-World War II global order as outside it through the clandestine export of lethal technologies to their clients in South Asia and Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). But the nexus between Chinese strategic and operational thinking and their cultural and historical roots is masterly. Illustrative is a comparison between the Chinese board game Wei Qi and chess, of Indian provenance and now universal acceptance. While in the Chinese game, played with 180 pieces per player on a board with 19 by 19 lines, the aim is to outflank through spatial dominance, in chess the object is to checkmate the antagonist into submission. Mr Kissinger explains that the 1950 Korean War, where China opposed the US, the 1962 Sino-Indian border clash and the 1979 Sino-Vietnam hostilities were all acts of offensive deterrence. The first ensured the survival of DPRK, a Chinese protégé, the second downsized India and made Jawaharlal Nehru a nervous wreck. The last demonstrated Soviet helplessness as they could not assist Vietnam despite a friendship treaty. Though akin to the Western doctrine of pre-emptive action, for the Chinese, Mr Kissinger concludes, in each case, "having restored the psychological equation, in Chinese eyes, genuine deterrence has been achieved". That explains China's unilateral withdrawal in 1962 to pre-war positions. Additional factors perhaps were the likely onset of winter, extended supply lines, Soviet ire over Chinese distraction during the Cuban missile crisis and President John F. Kennedy swinging the full US support behind India. Both countries, post-World War II, faced complex challenges. It is in countering them that posterity now judges their ruling elite. The Indian leadership inherited a country partitioned by the departing rulers; the Chinese in 1949 had a nation traumatised by Japanese occupation and ravages but also a bloody civil war, leaving one faction with Taiwan, though fully supported by the US. China had, however, been a nation in continuum since 221 BC. Even though Chinese empires fractured, re-uniting in cycles, the idea of China was uncontested. Every barbarian invasion, if not thwarted at the border, was eventually overpowered through endurance or absorbed in Chinese culture. Thus Mao's China refused to join the Warsaw Pact or give a naval base to the Soviets. They first aligned with the USSR to fight the US in Korea and then, in 1972, reversed it to help the US contain the Soviets. They struck quasi-alliances, advancing their national interests, convinced of their manifest destiny. Despite Mao's revolutionary zeal to purge China of the vestiges of Confucianism, his successor Deng Xiaoping actually resurrected the same to put China on the path of accelerated rise. The Indian elite, on the contrary, were strung between their English education, Nehru's Fabian Socialist vision and Gandhiji's deliberate tapping into the fossilised Indian religious and cultural well springs, realising that an enslaved nation could not be freed without spiritual revival. Nehru's Indo-centric narrative taught the masses to recognise the relevance of their own traditions. This had in it as much of Buddha as of the Bhagavad Gita. It, however, had no pragmatic advice on how to deal with hard decisions impinging on foreign policy and national security. The answer to that would be a complex mix of Asoka's pacifism and Chanakya's statecraft. In retrospect, non-alignment was good in practice but bad in theory, as India got entrapped in its logic. When the Chinese descended on eastern India in 1962, Nehru went rushing to the US, even seeking air cover, which in retrospect was both unnecessary and impractical, particularly when India had not even deployed its own air assets. Episodically, India has operated on the basis of realpolitik. In 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi correctly assessed that factors favoured pre-emptive action. The US was war-weary post-Vietnam, China was exhausted after its fratricidal Cultural Revolution and Pakistan had lost all moral authority, first in undermining an electoral verdict and then with genocide. India succeeded in bifurcating its principal antagonist in South Asia. Having done so Indira Gandhi chose to ignore her external environment, in which the creator of today's China, Deng Xiaoping, had been recalled by Mao after his banishment since 1966. He worked from 1973 to 1976 and, following Mao's death and temporary sidelining, again from 1979 to 1991. The great pragmatist had by then worked his magic, the result for all to behold. The greatest challenge Indira Gandhi perceived in 1975 was Jayaprakash Narayan. As India slipped under Emergency control, losing its core marketing values of freedom and democracy, China was emerging from Mao's nihilism. A young Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, with a mandate to remodel India, stumbled within two years of his historic victory. The time to break away from the sterile dogmas of controlled economy and non-aligned policy was already long past. China was showing that there is space between being non-aligned and aligned. It is called being a pole. The initiative was finally taken by an accidental Prime Minster, Narasimha Rao, seven years too late and myriad steps too few. Mr Kissinger's last chapter is titled, "Does history repeat itself?" For China the world hopes not, as it would be regressive for China to mutate into a Middle Kingdom, remote and prescriptive. For India, the question is whether the creators of chess can outplay the masters of Wei Qi. Where the Chinese have given the world products, India has exported ideas. Can the material trump the mental, the prosaic the spiritual? * K.C. Singh is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

'NO ALTERNATIVE'

ONLY IF LEADERSHIP IS WANTING


HAD Dr Manmohan Singh retained a modicum of sensitivity or grace ~ not to mention the courage expected of the nation's chief executive ~ he would have been quick to reassure the people over what has snowballed into a major political crisis. That his first public comments on the controversial "clearance" of the Ramlila Ground should come on the sidelines of a function (only when quizzed by the media) points to extreme arrogance, or a lack of the moral fibre to admit error. Even the most vehement critic of the godman who acquired respectability courtesy UPA-II, and their number is legion, is appalled at the police action. Without echoing nonsensical comparisons with Jallianwalla Bagh or Tiananmen Square, or caring two hoots about the arrest of the yogi who tried to escape in salwaar kameez, there is massive public sympathy for the real victims of the inevitable brutality when Indian police goes into action. What can justify an operation against ordinary people shortly after midnight, evicting them without advance notice and when alternative accommodation is difficult to find? The police claim that the gathering was potentially violent is as worthless as the contention that it was attacked first: had that been true there would have been an eruption of lawlessness. That the operation was rooted in mischief is indicated by police pressuring doctors at the nearby hospital to send the injured away after first-aid to ensure low casualty figures. Mischief confirmed when people who finally collected the bags they had abandoned realised that cash and valuables were missing. Even large sections within the Congress party do not accept the "unfortunate but honestly no alternative" alibi that Dr Singh trotted out. Such political shamelessness can be displayed only by someone who chooses to retain occupancy of 7 Race Course Road but ducks direct election to Parliament.


If there was a trace of sincerity to the "unfortunate" part of the Prime Minister's comment why is it that none of his ministerial menials went to the hospital to inquire after the woman who could be paralysed for life, or the fate of the man in the ICU? Has any party functionary met those who sought refuge in gurudwaras and temples, and are struggling to raise the fare home? If skulduggery marked the "negotiations" with the yogi, protecting skulls was not part of the script for the cops. Is Dr Singh helpless or haughty? Either way he is long past his "best before" date. There are still some who reconcile themselves to his continued presence in office but they do so because the most-talked about alternative is an even worse option.

 

SUBALTERN MENU

WELFARE HANDOUT WITHOUT SPADEWORK

IF on a very limited scale, the West Bengal government would appear to have fulfilled the critical contours of the proposed food security legislation. The move is also concordant with the National Advisory Council's recommendation notably on two parameters ~ the BPL segment has been widened and the monthly quota of 35 kg of rice will be available at Rs 2 a kg. The scheme is focused on the Junglemahal area. Tribals with an annual income of Rs 42,000 stand to benefit; for non-tribals, the annual income has been pegged at Rs 36,000. Compared to the criteria in force till the elections, the ceiling is certainly an improvement of the benchmark. However, in this calculated variant of neo-liberalism, the government has effected a fine distinction between class groups that are perdurably poor. Poverty knows no frontier. The tribal, the "non-tribal" and the Maoist sympathiser are equally impoverished in this region. If the idea is to extend the welfare handout to the subaltern, the net ought to have been comprehensive enough in terms of reach. The Adivasis of the Dooars, to offer but one example, are no less disaffected and not merely because of the designs of the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha. The underpinning quite obviously has been to placate people in the state's volatile belt. But this exercise in selective welfare cannot ensure the fulfilment of the Benthamite doctrine of the greatest good of the greatest number. Social democracy ~ to counter the Maoist threat ~ will at best be partial.


Clearly, the announcement has been made without a grasp over the fundamentals, primarily an indeterminate group within the unorganised sector. Proceeding from conclusion to premise, the survey of the exact number of beneficiaries is yet to take off. For all the good intentions, the scheme cannot fructify without a stringent check on PDS outlets to prevent the diversion of foodgrain to the open market. It is precisely over this diversion that the government's target area was rocked by food riots in October 2007. It is an ominous trend that panchayat functionaries are doubling up as PDS dealers. The Trinamul regime needs to demonstrate there is a difference in the levels of corruption of its followers and those of the CPI-M. There are red herrings on the trail to provide rice at Rs 2 a kg in the Maoist belt though this is admittedly more substantive than providing free cycles.

 

SUNSET OR SUNRISE?

SANA'A REMAINS FOGBOUND

AS the Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, convalesces in Saudi Arabia, the outlook in Sana'a remains ever so fogbound. It is far from clear whether the sun will set over the Saleh dispensation... or rise with a change of guard, not wholly improbable. For all the gloating celebrations in the wake of the President's abrupt departure for Riyadh, Saleh's vow to return has doubtless deepened the uncertainty. With Saudi Arabia playing the role of a broker, a power transfer deal after 33 years may yet be worked out. The movement since the beginning of the Arab Spring appears to have given way to a power vacuum in summer; fears that it could lead to a broader conflict are not wholly unfounded given the extent of  poverty, the rivalry between tribals and the presence of Islamist militants. Though the Vice-President, Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has the support of the Opposition, he was remarkably circumspect on Monday when he hinted at Saleh's return. He is integral to the beleaguered dispensation, holding charge in the President's absence. The latter's return itself could trigger a bout of renewed frenzy and mire the country in civil war. It is an open question whether the Opposition plan to present Saleh with a quick-fix political transition will fructify. The success of Saudi Arabia's efforts towards a change after months of bloody strife will hinge substantially on its powers of persuasion to prevent Saleh's return. No less critical is the anxiety  of the Saudi authorities to forestall the spread of the Afro-Arab movement to the kingdom.


Having nursed an injured Saleh, Riyadh will now have to play a delicate balancing act to bring about a change. And that change could well turn out to be brittle if the experience of Egypt and Tunisia is any indication. Thrice has the President reneged on his commitment to sign a deal that will envisage presidential elections in two months. The crucial ponderable is whether he will be granted immunity from prosecution if he accepts the "no-return" proviso that the Saudi regime is reported to have advanced. The formula that rules out homecoming in return for the immunity deal will arguably help resolve the crisis in Yemen. Not least for its own selfish reasons, Saudi Arabia has a big role to play. Yemen's descent to civil war is but a few steps away from the opening of a new chapter in the Arab Spring.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

AFTER THE DALAI LAMA

WILL TIBET MOVE FROM THEOCRACY TO DEMOCRACY?

BY CLAUDE ARPI


FOR the past three months, Tibetans-in-exile have gone through a political and historical tsunami, the most serious since March 1959 when a young Dalai Lama decided to cross the highest Himalayan peaks to take refuge in India. At that time, he abandoned his homeland along with some 85,000 of his countrymen; this was the beginning of long and traumatic years as refugees.


Today when the Tibetans are considered to be one of the most successful exiled communities, the Dalai Lama has decided to change the three-century old governance system of the Land of Snows and quit politics to consecrate his energy on other pursuits. In a public statement on 10 March, the Tibetan leader explained the background for his decision: "As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect."


In June 1991, the Tibetan Parliament in exile (also known as the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies) had adopted a 'Charter', a sort of Constitution providing a separation of power between the judiciary, legislature and executive powers of the Central Tibetan Administration (or Government in exile). The Charter assigned specific functions to the Dalai Lama as the Head of State.


Penpa Tsering, the Assembly's Speaker explained that on 14 March the Dalai Lama told the Deputies: "The message of His Holiness was very firm, very determined. It was very difficult for most of the members to digest the decision of His Holiness". For a long time, the Deputies had had an inkling of the Dalai Lama's intention to retire, but "nobody could imagine that it would be so encompassing and so sudden", noted Tsering.
After the Dalai Lama had officially rejected an appeal of the 14th Assembly to reconsider his decision, it became clear that there was no choice but to amend the Charter and adapt the provisions to the new situation. It was a difficult task, though the Dalai Lama said: "It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run. It is not because I feel disheartened. Tibetans have placed such faith and trust in me."


A five-member 'Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee' was formed, with representatives from the Kashag (Cabinet) and the Assembly to suggest a legal solution to the tricky situation.
In an interview in 2006, the Dalai Lama had told me: "I have three commitments in life: promotion of human values, promotion of religious harmony and promotion of awareness of the Tibetan cause."  He had further elaborated: "Out of three commitments, number one and two are mostly on volunteer basis. Till my death I committed myself to these causes. Regarding the third one (Tibet), in a way it is not a voluntary commitment, it is due to past history and to the Dalai Lama institution." He has now decided to withdraw from this historic commitment.
While making a proposal, the Drafting Committee kept in mind both aspects of the issue: the past historical role of the Dalai Lamas and their special place for the Tibetan nation as well as his request to be relieved of his political responsibilities.


The committee finally presented the outcome of its deliberations to a national general meeting held at Dharamsala from May 21 to 24. This enlarged consultative session was attended by 418 'senior' Tibetans such as 'former 'prime ministers', members of the Cabinet, former ministers, present and former members of Parliament, representatives from the Tibetan settlements and eminent members of civil society.
Everyone was overwhelmed by the momentous occasion, sensing that the Tibetan nation was at an important turning point of its history. Could Tibet smoothly walk from theocracy to democracy?


A large majority of the delegates favoured a constitutional system with the Dalai Lama as an honorific Head of State. Many spoke of the British system, though the example of the Queen was not a happy one. He refused.
Though the 'draft' provided the historical background of the previous dual role of the Dalai Lamas; it was decided that in the changed situation, the Dalai Lama should remain 'Protector and the Symbol of the Tibetan Nation': "[as] human manifestation of Avaloketeshvara, is the guardian and protector of the Tibetan nation. He is the guide illuminating the path, the supreme leader, the symbol of the Tibetan identity and unity, and the voice of the whole Tibetan people." In one way, he could fulfill his historical role, without dealing with day-to-day issues.


While many nations, particularly in the Arab world try hard to overthrow by force their unelected leaders through 'flower revolutions', here is the example of a leader wanting to quit all his responsibilities and the masses begging him to remain at the helm in one way or another.


The 'retirement' has some serious implications. First, there is undoubtedly a larger political dimension to the Dalai Lama's retirement; it places the political leadership in Beijing in an awkward position. Beijing has no clue about a democratic process, having only known the dictatorship of one-party rule since 1949.
Second, it solves the issue of a successor for the Dalai Lama; now constitutionally the political successor will be the elected Kalon Tripa.


The Deputies wanted the Dalai Lama to continue to provide guidance in various forms "in matters of importance to the Tibetan people, including the community and its institutions in exile". The Dalai Lama did not agree; he knows perfectly well that his 'advice' is always considered as an 'order' by the Tibetans.
Dr Lobsang Sangay, the elected Prime Minister explained to us: "We were left to amend the Charter with a Preamble and three provisions [Article 1] which have been accepted with some dilution or explanations. The Dalai Lama, our most revered leader, will continue to represent the Tibetan people, he has accepted to 'share his opinions' with the Cabinet and the Assembly and now the Cabinet will appoint representatives and envoys, who will be allowed to use his name."


The Dalai Lama will, however, continue to meet with world leaders and other important individuals and bodies;

in international fora, he could continue to speak on behalf of the Tibetan people.


Another issue is the negotiations with Beijing. When we asked Dr Sangay if he believes that the Chinese who have always said that they will only speak to the Dalai Lama's representatives will now agree to meet envoys nominated by him, he said: "They should talk both with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Administration. We are for dialogue, for genuine autonomy. The [Chinese] are sometimes too much obsessed with technicalities."


The Chinese have repeatedly stated that they would only discuss with the Dalai Lama "his own future and that of some of his supporters."


The Dalai Lama has always countered this argument saying that he is not bothered by his status, but is only interested in the welfare of the six million Tibetans in Tibet. The situation has not moved forward for the past 30 years; the future seems rather bleak. Hence the Dalai Lama has decided to withdraw at this point in time.
After one week of suspense and several back and forths between the 'Palace' and the Assembly, the Dalai Lama has finally accepted the changes proposed by the Assembly and the amendments have now been ratified.
What an example for the world ~ a leader giving up his historically bestowed powers on his own, without a bloody revolution or even a flower revolution.

The writer is an expert on China-Tibet relations and author of Fate of Tibet.

 

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THE STATESMAN

OIL SLICK

THE GOVERNMENT SAYS HIGH CRUDE PRICES, ACUTE LOSSES SUFFERED BY OIL PSUS AND A HUGE SUBSIDY BURDEN WARRANT A FURTHER INCREASE IN FUEL PRICES. THE REASONS ARE SPECIOUS AS THE POWERS THAT BE ARE ONLY BENT ON PROFITEERING, WRITES PSM RAO

Petrol prices have been raised by Rs 5 per litre from 14 May. Another increase is due shortly as the oil companies claim the latest hike compensated for only half of what was needed in view of the high crude prices. Although the government was talking about increasing the price for some time now, it waited till the elections to five states got over. This ~ the capacity of the government to delay a "much-needed" increment ~ even after having deregulated petrol prices last June, is something confusing to the common man. How can the government possibly raise or stall the price of petrol even after it has been decontrolled?
The government deregulated the price of petrol in June 2010. With that move, it allowed oil marketing companies the freedom to fix prices instead of fixing them itself which it had been doing as per the administered price mechanism (APM). For other products such as diesel, LPG and kerosene, the government continues to regulate prices. That the government dragged its feet in raising the price of petrol indicates that though it pleads helplessness, it can contain the prices of petroleum products, including those of deregulated products . Also, that it can even revoke deregulation if it wants to hold the prices. But the government has no intention to do that; it has been pursuing a policy of making continued incremental change in the prices of petroleum products. It argues that it has compelling reasons to do that. But it seems the people are being thoroughly misled. And, the government is deliberately peddling misleading projections to make the people take the burden as their fait accompli.


Three specious reasons

Three reasons are prominently being advanced in support of the price hike. The government argues that high crude price in the international market calls for a further hike. The current rate is more than $100 per barrel. But that is no justification. At the current exchange rate of Rs 44.9 a dollar, the per barrel rate at $100 works out to Rs 4,490. That translates into Rs 28 per litre as one barrel equals 159.99 litres. The cost of crude constitutes 90 per cent of the petrol production overhead. Some 20 to 30 per cent of crude is indigenously available and need not be priced at par with world marker prices. So, the actual cost of production need not be more than Rs 30 a litre even after adding other costs. As such, the price of petrol (see chart) could easily have been fixed between Rs 19.47 and Rs 26.52 over the past four years if the government wasn't so bent on profiteering.
The second reason that the government advances is that oil companies are sustaining huge losses ~ Rs 78,000 crore in 2010-11 with losses likely to touch Rs 1,80,208 crore in 2011-12. But these figures denote under recoveries and not losses as projected. Under recoveries mean notional and not actual loss ~ it is the gap between the government-fixed price and import parity price ~ as clarified by the Rangarajan Committee. In fact, oil companies have every reason to post good profits and not losses. The petroleum ministry's statistics show that public sector oil companies posted an aggregate profit after taxes of Rs 1,26,288 crore for the four-year period from 2006-07 to 2009-10.


The third reason cited is that the government is bearing a huge subsidy burden. But total petroleum subsidies, as could be seen from Basic Statistics on Indian Petroleum & Natural Gas, 2009-10 compiled by the ministry of petroleum and natural gas for four years ~ 2006-07 to 2009-10 ~ stood at Rs 23,325 crore.

Profit motive

Despite the arguments advanced by the government in favour of hiking fuel price, what it earned in the form of taxes and other income during the above mentioned four-year period stood at Rs 4,10,842 crore. As such, the subsidies paid work out to just 5.67 per cent of the government income from the petroleum industry. If the earnings of the states (Rs 2,63,766) too are taken into account, the subsidy share come down to a mere 3.45 per cent. Clearly, the income of the Central and state governments from the oil sector, net of subsidies, should be Rs 6,51,283 crore during 2006-07 to 2009-10. Their tendency to bemoan high subsidies, therefore, is largely unacceptable.
The petroleum sector has become a good source of revenue for the government and it pays for it to keep the prices high. There are clear indications that the prices of diesel and LPG, too, are going to be raised shortly. With this in mind, the government is highlighting the so-called losses incurred on these products. The current revenue loss on diesel is pegged at Rs 18.19 a litre, on PDS kerosene Rs 29.69 a litre and on every 14.2 kg LPG cylinder at Rs 329.73. The government thinks it can overwhelm people by touting such inflated figures so that they don't put up too much resistance when the prices are actually hiked.

The BPL card

The government has also been toying with the idea of reducing or, if possible, entirely doing away with subsidies. It is considering reserving LPG subsidy only for people living below the poverty line (BPL). This means a large number of people, including the lower-middle classes, will no longer be entitled to subsidised domestic LPG. There are many among the lower-middle classes who won't be able to buy domestic LPG if it is not supplied at a subsidised price. So, these people could well find themselves cooking on kerosene stoves or on firewood for want of domestic LPG.

Although the government seeks to offer subsidised LPG to BPL families, it knows very well that such families won't be able to afford the fuel no matter how subsidised it is. By definition, BPL people are those who are unable to generate enough income even to buy food necessary for their survival. What they primarily need is square meals every day. Cooking gas, subsidised or not, is something they simply have no use for, not yet. The government's persistent complaints about crippling subsidies is nothing but a clever ploy to truncate the number of beneficiaries and the scope of its public distribution system. Clearly, the goal is to raise revenue and not help the poor.

Inflation and petro prices

The profit motive is making the government blind to high inflation. The recent credit policy of the RBI has stressed on the need to contain inflation even if it means compromising the economic growth rate to some extent. But any hike in fuel prices will have a cascading effect on inflation. Doubts, of course, are being expressed about the effectiveness of the RBI's policies in curbing the spiral. Arguments can be advanced both for and against the RBI's policies. But there can be no second opinion about the adverse impact on the economy if fuel prices are further hiked. The government must realise that raising fuel prices will have a cascading effect on all other goods and services.

The government's profit motive is also making it wave in more and more private players. Seems it has conveniently forgotten that India's very first industrial policy resolution adopted six decades ago had identified the petroleum sector as a "core sector of industry, the future development of which was to be the sole and exclusive responsibility of the state". The sector remains just as important today with its dependence on imported crude at 80 per cent. As such, it is the government's responsibility to regulate as well as develop it. The time has come for the government to stop milking the sector, jettison misleading statistics and fulfill its mandate.

The writer is a freelance contributor

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THE STATESMAN

DECODING RAMDEV'S RETREAT

RAJINDER PURI      


Ramdev has publicly forgiven the government for its crackdown at Ramila Maidan because Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh described the event as "unfortunate". Ramdev has not exonerated the police action which he claims will be condemned by history. However, the PM is forgiven. The yoga expert is ready to resume negotiations with the government. To what might be attributed this extraordinary act of magnanimity?
Two possibilities suggest themselves. The first and obvious possibility is that the heat generated by official probes into Ramdev's wealth is having its effect. The government's long experience of using official agencies to blackmail and browbeat opponents into submission is by now legendary. However there might well also be another possibility. As had been repeatedly pointed out in these columns, there are clear signs of divisions within the Congress as well as the Opposition. The cross-party alignments contending with one another are causing much confusion. Circumstantial evidence indicates that broadly speaking, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the Advani set-up within BJP and Mr Anna Hazare's group were ranged on one side. On the other side were Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, the RSS and Ramdev. Might not this alignment explain the mixed signals that emanated from the government in addressing the Ramlila Maidan rally?


Not only did Congress general-secretaries Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr Abhishek Singhvi issue statements to grievously damage the parleys between Ramdev and the government. The pressure on Mr Kapil Sibal, apparently a PM loyalist, by Ramdev's waywardness led him, in desperation, to release a secret letter by Ramdev's aide in order to justify himself. If the PM has to bend before 10 Janpath, surely his loyalists must have to crawl! The draconian midnight police action at Ramlila Maidan without giving any time to the peacefully sleeping protesters to respond to the revocation notice issued might also be explained by inner party conflict of the Congress.  The home ministry falls under Mr P Chidambaram. Mr Chidambaram, who, in his own words, has merely to close his eyes when Mr Rahul Gandhi speaks to conjure the vision of the late Rajiv Gandhi, is a fierce 10 Janpath loyalist. He appears to be in fact Mr Digvijay Singh's most serious rival in the sycophancy stakes of the Congress party. Mr Chidambaram's problems with the PM became apparent during the 2G spectrum scam. Readers might recall that on 19 February, 2011, I wrote: "During his recent Press conference, the PM said that the finance minister was informed and had cleared the decisions related to the 2G spectrum licenses taken by the former telecom minister Mr A Raja. Home minister Mr Chidambaram was the finance minister when those decisions were taken. He had denied having approved Mr Raja's mode of issuing licenses for the spectrum deal. So who is speaking the truth, Dr Manmohan Singh or Mr Chidambaram?"
Ramdev's desire to resume dialogue with the government might well be impelled by the aim of concluding an unfinished agenda. The Congress party is comparatively isolated. Could the conclusion of the unfinished agenda deliver the knockout blow to the Congress? The endgame of the soap opera being enacted to bring back black money from abroad would be, of course, the dramatic exposure of the Congress VIPs. That explains the hysteria displayed by Congress leaders responding to Ramdev. Would not leaders accused of receiving money from foreign governments by official foreign sources, and of holding illegal Swiss bank accounts by reputed foreign media, be in the natural course nervous at the prospect of the truth coming out about Indian black money abroad?

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

 

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THE STATESMAN

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

 (OCCASIONAL NOTES)


Mr Winston Churchill's attacks on the Courts of Justice in connection with the Trade Unions Bill will not enhance that gentleman's reputation as a politician. The Osborne judgment, which was the immediate question under consideration, was given by the House of Lords and it is preposterous to suggest that the Law Lords were biased against Trade Unions when they found that it was illegal for those bodies to compel their members to support a political cause whether they believed in it or not. Lord Shaw, who delivered an important and highly interesting judgment on that occasion, was known in the House of Commons before he became a Peer as an advanced Radical politician, and no unprejudiced person imagined for a moment that the decision was in any way based upon hostility towards Trade Unions. The Bill now introduced to enable the Unions to raise special levies for political purposes is a very dubious one, and the fact that its introduction gave Mr Churchill an opportunity to make an outrageous attack on the Courts is likely to stimulate the opposition that will be offered to it.


In December last, Rani Sarat Kunwar of Khairigarh, District Kheri, offered a prize of Rs 500 for the best monograph written in comprehensible Urdu or Hindi on the practical uses and lessons of the UP Exhibition with relation to the industrial development of the United Provinces. The prize, owing probably to the difficult and arduous nature of the task, did not attract many competitors, but the monograph written in Hindi by Srimati Hemant Kumari Devi, wife to Pandit Markandya Prasad Bhattacharjee of Narahi, Lucknow, was found to be a comprehensive one and had the advantage of style in the language in which it was written. Consequently the prize has been awarded to this lady.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

HOPE DIPS

Reality, it appears, is finally biting; in recent weeks, government officials have toned down their expectations of GDP growth for the coming two quarters. After the economic performance in the fourth quarter of 2010-11 (January to March 2011) indicated that activity was indeed slowing down, the more pessimistic economists and analysts say that growth in 2011-12 (FY12) could be as low as 7.2 per cent. Quite a far cry from the 9 per cent that officialdom had pegged it at, or had hoped for. The currently available data suggests that activity is going to slow down further in the first half of FY12 than it had in the last quarter of FY11; the slowdown will be on virtually all fronts: in agriculture, industry, and perhaps even in consumption. The question now exercising the minds of economists is how severe the slowdown in the first half of FY12 is likely to be, and the likely impact on the growth rate for the entire year.

Let's take agricultural growth: the Reserve Bank of India had stated in the run-up to its annual monetary policy announcement in May this year that agricultural growth would return to its trend level (about 3-3.5 per cent) after posting a 5.4 per cent growth in FY11. For agriculture, the monsoon is a key factor; while the meteorological department estimates (so far) a normal monsoon, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's update suggests otherwise. With drip irrigation and vastly improved irrigation systems, a less than normal monsoon may have less adverse impacts, but it will affect farmer sentiment. Industry is faced with high input costs (though commodity prices have fallen) and high interest rates that have put many hundreds of crores worth of capital expenditure on the backburner. Many expect investment to pick up in the second half of FY12, but nobody's betting on it yet. Consumption has remained buoyant in FY11, but stubborn inflation could well play spoilsport in FY12. Some economists expect inflation to touch 10 per cent in the third quarter of the current year. For the government, the economic slowdown is an opportunity to push much-needed reform in a number of areas. It should grab it with both hands.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

SMALL CHANGE

Those who want to change the world should be ready to accept changes at home. But that is too much to expect from communist parties and their leaders. Until recently, leaders of communist parties would stay on in power or in their posts until their death. Things are changing for these parties in many parts of the world. The general secretary of the Communist Party of China, who is also the head of the government, can no longer hold either post for more than two successive terms. But the leaders of communist and other leftist parties in India are notoriously slow to learn and to change. It is, therefore, a sign of the changing times that some leftist leaders in West Bengal are calling for a change in the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) following the Left Front's humiliating defeat in the just-concluded assembly elections in Bengal. It is impossible to miss the irony, though, in a Forward Bloc leader's demand for such a change in the CPI(M)'s leadership both at the national and state levels. Asok Ghosh, the secretary of the Bloc's Bengal unit, is 87 and has been in his post since 1948. There is thus a ring of absurdity in a Bloc leader calling for a change in the CPI(M)'s leadership.

However, the real change that communists and other leftists in India need to embrace is not one of leadership. Every political party routinely faces successes and failures in elections. An electoral defeat does not necessarily have to prompt leaders to quit. True, Prakash Karat, the general secretary of the CPI(M), or Biman Bose, the secretary of the party's Bengal unit, have to admit their responsibility for the party's huge defeat in Bengal. There is perhaps enough merit in the demand for their resignation. What is more important, though, is the change that the CPI(M) and other left parties must accept in their organizational structures. Unlike the leaders of other parties, chiefs of communist parties do not contest popular elections. As such, they cannot claim to be people's representatives. And, the inner-party polls which supposedly elect them to their posts have nothing democratic about them. The issue is thus not one of changing leaders who have failed to win an election for the party or the Left Front. Little will change for these parties unless they come to terms with the reality that they need to shed failed leaders as well as their outdated politics. That could prove to be too tall an order for small leaders.

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THE TELEGRAPH

HEALTHY LESSONS

 HOW A FORMER ETHIOPIAN DICTATOR CAN HELP BETTER BENGAL'S HOSPITALS DIPLOMACY K.P. NAYAR

Mamata Banerjee's first trip abroad as chief minister, once she has set her house in order, ought to be to Zimbabwe. Once she arrives in Harare, the chief minister and her entourage should drive to the city's upscale suburb of Gunhill. India's ambassador to Zimbabwe, Venkatesan Ashok, or his designated successor, J.K. Tripathi — if he has reached Harare from his current post in Sao Paulo by the time Banerjee makes her visit — ought to be able to easily arrange a meeting between the chief minister and Gunhill's most famous resident, former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Colonel Mengistu could give Banerjee some precious advice on how to turn her inane visits to Calcutta hospitals and her incoherent conversations with medical professionals into some productive work that could actually reform these hospitals and make them truly useful to the public, going beyond the media circus that her surprise checks on the administration of healthcare in West Bengal have descended into.

I was in Addis Ababa when Colonel Mengistu concluded that he had to do something about Ethiopia's derelict and decrepit hospitals with the same passion and sincerity with which Banerjee is approaching the healthcare deficiencies of West Bengal. That was a time when Indian doctors were in abundance in Ethiopian hospitals, drawn by the handsome salaries offered by Emperor Haile Selassie's government and uncaring of the fact that Jawaharlal Nehru's India had funded their medical education with public money in the misplaced expectation that these doctors would take care of Mother India's children instead of Ethiopia's.

Like Banerjee who concluded after her surprise inspection of the Bangur Institute of Neurosciences that its director, Shyamapada Ghorai, had to take the rap for the institute's shortcomings, Mengistu initially held the leadership of Addis Ababa's hospitals to account. And that leadership had a huge component of Indian doctors.

But Mengistu had a luxury that Banerjee does not have in her bid to reform Calcutta's hospitals. The Marxist colonel got Bulgaria, Cuba and East Germany, among other socialist countries, to send physicians and surgeons to work in Ethiopian hospitals in support of his own red revolution, which needed to be tenderly cared for from Moscow. So Mengistu got rid of the likes of Ghorai whom he blamed for his country's healthcare woes. In the process, the colonel also saved money because the Warsaw Pact and Cuban doctors were 'volunteers' who received their salaries from their national governments.

But nothing changed in Ethiopian hospitals for the better. They continued to be as derelict and decrepit as they were under the Haile Selassie regime, which Mengistu's band of Marxists had overthrown. As Banerjee will probably realize after numerous surprise inspections, most of the rot in hospitals is caused not by the doctors, but by the equivalent of the Group D staff at the Bangur Institute in other Calcutta institutions.

The so-called medical malpractices in American hospitals are, more often than not, the result of mistakes by staff assisting physicians and surgeons. If a woman's non-cancerous left breast is mastectomized by mistake, as it has happened many times in hospitals in the United States of America, it is most likely caused by negligence on the part of nurses or other staff who prepared the charts for the surgeons. Which is why hospitals are sued in the US and doctors are usually only one party to the suit. But Banerjee would probably make a surgeon pay for the error and not hold the entire institution to account, going by what one has seen of her hospital inspections so far.

It would be instructive for her to travel to Zimbabwe — where Colonel Mengistu now lives in exile — and find out for herself how he dealt with the curse of Group D-type staff in Ethiopian hospitals some three decades ago. He simply shipped off errant ward boys and the like from Addis Ababa hospitals to the Ogaden where Ethiopia and Somalia were fighting a border war. Since ward boys are not trained soldiers, most of them became cannon fodder in the bloody war.

But Mengistu's government did not abandon or bury these dead soldiers in the Ogaden. Instead, the regime brought their dead bodies back to the hospitals where they worked and put them on display on the pretext that this was being done for their colleagues to pay homage to those who had died for their country. Actually, the steady flow of body bags from the Ogaden war put the fear of god into the Ethiopian equivalent of the Group D staff of Calcutta hospitals. They knew that if they did not shape up, they would be shipped out. Ethiopia's hospitals changed, and changed for the better.

If such steps constituted shock therapy for the ills of Ethiopian hospitals, they were also mere stop-gap changes. What truly transformed the fundamentals of Ethiopian medical services during 17 years of Marxist rule was not the use of the stick by a health minister or by the head of government, but a comprehensive overhaul of health policy. Advised largely by a team of over 300 Cuban medical professionals sent by Fidel Castro, Mengistu's team drew up an altogether new health policy stressing disease prevention or control and rural health services. Community involvement and self-reliance in health activities at the local levels became central to this new policy.

A year after the Marxists overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie, the Dergue, as the revolutionary regime came to be known by its Amharic acronym for the "Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army," temporarily closed universities and all higher secondary schools. Nearly 60,000 educated men and women who thus became available for the Dergue were asked to fan out among the country's remote, abysmally poor and mostly illiterate villages to teach hygiene, health standards and local self-government to rural people who had been suffering for centuries under a feudal order.

It is not likely, indeed impossible, that Banerjee would be able to do any of this. By a stretch, the Ogaden war could be compared to the Maoist insurgency in her state. But an elected chief minister in a democracy does not have the power to conscript disobedient, lazy or thieving hospital ward boys and transport them to Maoist-infested districts to face bullets and bombs as punishment. She is in an even lesser position to round up students or the elite of society and send them to rural West Bengal even for a few weeks during the summer break to work for the uplift of poor villagers.

Education, it would appear, is another priority for the new chief minister, judging by her actions in the first few weeks in office. The story of the Indian ambassador's Ethiopian maid in Addis Ababa was typical of how the Dergue dramatically raised literacy levels during their years in power. This maid was one of Ethiopia's teeming millions of illiterate people when Haile Selassie was in power.

The Marxist junta ordered her to school as part of a mass literacy campaign, again on the Cuban model. But she refused to be enrolled to study. The maid was in her mid-40s, and saw no point in becoming literate at her age. The kebele, an Amharic word for "neighbourhood," the lowest administrative unit in Ethiopia, fined her at first. She paid the fine and still refused to study. Eventually, she was sent to jail for non-compliance with the campaign to make all Ethiopians literate.

In Mengistu's jails, prisoners were not given any food. If someone was in jail, feeding that prisoner was the responsibility of his or her family. This maid's family sent her food from home for a few days until she was convinced that learning to read and write was better than putting her children through the travails of feeding her daily in jail. She told me that there were thousands of Ethiopians who became literate under duress. When Haile Selassie was ruling Ethiopia, hardly 10 per cent of his people knew to read or write. In 10 years of rule by the Dergue, that figure had gone up to 63 per cent of the population, according to credible statistics of that period.

If Banerjee goes to Ethiopia from Zimbabwe to see Mengistu's legacy, she may be disappointed though. Many of those who had become literate under the Dergue have slipped back to where they were before the mass education drive once the Marxists were overthrown in 1991. Last month, Ethiopia was trying to get Indian hospitals to run their healthcare, long after abandoning the Cuban approach. There is no doubt that Mengistu committed severe atrocities. But history has been unkind to Mengistu because of those who are selective in judging him. Perhaps this is a time for Bengal to learn from such partisan history.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

THE FRENCH IMPORTS

STEPHEN HUGH-JONES

I have a prejudice, and I'll admit that that's what it is, about my own language. I'm entirely happy that English is an utterly mongrel tongue, a wild melange — a goulash, if you prefer — of words, like those two, from many other languages. Yet, unreasonably or not, I detest the French phrases that it has imported in the past 50 years from what used to call itself the European Economic Community and is now the European Union.

I blame my journalistic colleagues for this. The British press started to take the EEC seriously in the 1960s. Editors began posting correspondents in Brussels, until then, to Britons, merely the disregarded capital of disregarded Belgium. In those days, French was the lingua franca of the EEC, and the journos began to pick up its vocabulary.

A few technical terms were unavoidable. Council of ministers was one.The English word is cabinet, but the Eurogatherings of the (then only six) national ministers of this or that weren't really a cabinet, and anyway, cabinet in French means a minister's personal staff.

Likewise, when I was young, I never heard of pigmeat; that unfortunate animal, when butchered, produced pork, ham or bacon, period. But Brussels wanted an overall word, so English got pigmeat, albeit from the German schweinfleisch rather than French. Fair enough. But other imports were less excusable.

There's a perfectly good English word, subsidy. In media Eurospeak, mainly as concerned the EEC's common agricultural policy, it became subvention, the French term. Indeed, common itself, as in that policy, is to some extent imported from French; though it can indeed be used in the sense of shared, as in they made common cause, the natural English word would have been joint.

More general phrases came in too. When say, two ministers had a bilateral talk after some wider meeting, this was reported as in the margins of the meeting, a straight translation from French. An idea that came to nothing had run into the sand, from the French word ensabler, to silt up. I admit I like that phrase.

In contrast, I squirm at the now widespread misuse of reticent. That English word has just one meaning, keeping silent. But the French réticent normally means reluctant, and now careless writers give that sense to the English word too.

For the record

And one word makes me see red. The French, for reasons unknown to me and probably to them, call the British, Americans and our like les Anglo-saxons. That is an accurate description of part of Britain's population 1,500 years ago. If the French want to use it, usually to be rude about us, that's their choice. But today's Britons, let alone Americans, are not Anglo-Saxons. Why should any English-speaker pick up an adjective so inaccurate? It's not rude, just wrong.

Yet many serious people have adopted it. I've read a learned historian writing of some recent tendency in "Anglo-Saxon universities". For the record, dear professor, no such institutions exist, or ever have.

The latest folly is the Eurocrats' attempt to dictate that the English plural of euro, the EU currency, is euro, with no 's'. It isn't. They own the coins, but we English-speakers own the language.

THEWORDCAGE@YAHOO.CO.UK

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

SHAVUOT 2011: OBSCENITIES AS WORDS OF TORAH

THIS ISN'T THE TORAH WE RECEIVED. SINCE THAT TIME, ISRAEL HAS BEEN SWALLOWED UP BY THE LAND OF ISRAEL AND DISAPPEARED INSIDE ITS MAW.

BY YOSSI SARID

Go to your computer right now and watch the frightening video clip posted on YouTube as a memento of Jerusalem Day (it's called "Yom Yeru 2011" ). Not a handful, but hundreds of young people high on hard-core nationalism wave blue-and-white flags; may their eyes grow dim.

"Death to the Arabs, death to the leftists," they chanted. "The Temple will be rebuilt, the mosque will be destroyed." "Kahane lives, Mohammed is dead." "Itbach al-Arab" ("Death to the Arabs" in Arabic ). Thus they elevate Jerusalem as their chief sin: May their tongues cleave to their palates.

While I was roaming Jerusalem's streets, another mob was gathering at the city's Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, with rabbis Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed and Dov Lior of Hebron among the guests. The former demands Israel be purged of Arabs, while the latter endorses a book that justifies killing gentiles, urges soldiers to disobey orders and refuses to show up for questioning by the police.

Nowadays, every obscenity is treated as 'words of Torah.' A bill was even submitted for discussion to the cabinet that would permit incitement by rabbis, and rabbis only. And MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union ) was also among the guests.

The guest of honor was the prime minister; lift up your heads, O ye gates. "I see you as an elite Torah combat unit," the king of glory - and of shame - said fawningly. Now the Torah, too, has its own elite combat unit.

Jerusalem Day ends, and Shavuot arrives - the holiday I once loved above all others for its graciousness and compassion. This is the time of the giving of our Torah, "a Torah of life I gave to you." But this isn't the Torah we received. Since that time, Israel has been swallowed up by the Land of Israel and disappeared inside its maw.

Our education minister, Gideon Sa'ar, is also living in the Book of Joshua, as if the Torah had no other books - as if we had no children here, but only our distant forefathers. Of all the possible nationwide school trips, he chose to join the first visit by students to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, to support his new program, "Visits to the Land of Our Fathers." A few months ago, he threatened a principal with dismissal because he proposed teachers take a tour of army checkpoints. But what is permissible for an emperor is forbidden to the flea in his ear.

As a part-time civics teachers when he deems the occasion right, Sa'ar surely explained to the visiting students how the Jewish settlement was established in "Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron" as a plot against the government; how the settlers there beat up soldiers and policemen and spat on their neighbors; how the people who dwell by the Cave of the Patriarchs make pilgrimages to the grave of the Jewish murderer Baruch Goldstein, and sanctify his name in public; how the Torah handed down at Sinai authorized us to dispossess, deport and seal houses; and why a Hebron market street stands empty.

Shavuot is blessed with a beautiful megillah, the Book of Ruth. I sometimes wonder how Ruth managed to worm her way into the Book of Books; perhaps the Song of Songs paved the way for her. It could never happen today. The Education Ministry and Mercaz Harav would never consent, and the Culture and Sports Ministry would disqualify its candidacy for the Zionist Artwork Award.

That's all we need: For a complete goy - a Moabite, on top of all her other problems - to marry Mahlon, who, even though he has fallen low, is still a Jew. By what right did she cleave to Naomi - a healthy woman, after all, who doesn't need a Filipina in constant attendance - so that she could later seduce another wealthy Jewish man, thus enabling her to remain without a permit from the rabbis and without even a pro forma conversion? And how did it happen that "all the people" were happy and supportive, without a single opponent?

After all, even back then, they could have deported her as a foreign agricultural worker who had infiltrated into Israel by means of dubious paperwork.

And they would have left her great-grandson, David, without a chance of even being born, much less later being anointed as Israel's king.

As the holiday approached, I telephoned the Bialik-Rogozin School and asked to speak with Ruthie. She's an 11-year-old girl, a sixth-grader, with Ghanaian parents who work as cleaners. But don't think they - her mother and father - are innocents. For it's not by chance that they named their daughter Ruthie - Ruth, of all things - in order to remind us of, and make us mourn, what we have lost.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

READINESS AND BLINDNESS IN THE GOLAN HEIGHTS

THE NEGOTIATIONS WILL NOT COME TO LIFE IN THE TWILIGHT OF THE DAMASCUS REGIME. BUT ISRAEL WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PERSIST INDEFINITELY IN DENYING THE NEED FOR OPENNESS TO A PEACE PROCESS.

The IDF proved this week that it does a good job preparing for the previous war. It may only be an isolated incident, whose character was more civilian police-oriented than military, but anyone who found flaws in the intelligence and military systems on Nakba Day (May 15 ) must admit the lessons were learned, the forces were deployed and the mission was accomplished.

On Sunday, Naksa Day, the Israel Defense Forces succeeded in blocking hundreds of demonstrators who, surrounded by cameras, stormed the border fences in the Golan Heights, carrying flags, posters and loudspeakers.

The price, in fatalities from sniper fire, was perhaps overshadowed by frequent reports about the massacre of Syrian civilians by Bashar Assad's security forces. Israel may also have achieved the goal of showing determination to prevent penetration into territory it holds, to the extent of exercising lethal force. But the hope that this would also achieve deterrence from similar demonstrations in the coming days and weeks, in a stream that would peak simultaneously with the Palestinian Authority's move to gain statehood in September, seems like an illusion.

The Palestinians reckoned they would have casualties. They too have learned lessons from May 15. It did not deter them, and there are no grounds to assume it will deter others on other fronts, especially when the regimes or organizations holding the Arab side of the border have no interest in acting against the demonstrators. The incidents have also shown that 30 years of forced annexation and naturalization have not turned the Golan Druze into devoted Israeli citizens.

This has become routine in the Israeli-Arab conflict - the IDF scores a tactical victory, which shrinks in contrast to the strategic failure. Netanyahu's government wanted to sweep aside the existence of a yet-unsolved conflict between Israel and Syria. Previous governments bargained with Bashar and his father, Hafez Assad, about a formula enabling returning the Golan to Syria - entirely or almost entirely (a small difference, over which the main bargaining was held ) - in exchange for peace. Netanyahu has refrained from doing so in the past two years, despite the chance to break up the dangerous Iran-Syria-Hezbollah northern alliance.

The negotiations will not come to life in the twilight of the Damascus regime. But Israel will not be able to persist indefinitely in denying the need for openness to a peace process, both vis-a-vis the Palestinians and vis-a-vis Syria.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ISRAEL NEEDS ENTREPRENEURS LIKE SAMMY OFER

THE DEATH OF OFER, ONE OF THE RICHEST PEOPLE IN ISRAEL, FORCES ALL OF US TO DO SOME SOUL-SEARCHING.

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

The Israeli suffers from envy that drives him crazy. Nothing makes him angrier than someone who succeeds. There is nothing that affects his health more than someone who becomes very wealthy. He hates him. He wants him to fail. He attaches the unflattering label "tycoon" to him in order to hurt him, humiliate him, cut him down to size, until he falls and suffers like him.

The death of Sammy Ofer, one of the richest people in Israel, forces all of us to do some soul-searching. Only a few days ago, when the Iran oil tanker affair exploded, Ofer was labeled nothing less than a traitor who was willing to trade with the Iranians for monetary gain. Even before anyone knew what had really happened there. After all, it's such fun to spill the blood of a "tycoon."

If you ask the average Israeli how Ofer acquired his fortune, he will tell you confidently that Ofer purchased the Israel Corporation from the government for a song, and thereby became a very rich man. Because everything is corrupt. Everything is wheeling and dealing. Everything is the government-business relationship.

But the truth is that Ofer made his fortune abroad, and only afterward returned to Israel in order to invest the profits here. He became very rich thanks to an international shipping business that has nothing at all to do with Israel. He left Israel in the late 1960s and went to live in London, where he founded a shipping company that was very successful. He took great risks, took out huge loans and purchased ships during times of crisis, when everyone was afraid to buy, and was therefore well prepared in times of prosperity. Only in the 1990s did Ofer return to Israel, with his billions, and purchased the Mizrahi Bank and then the Israel Corporation.

And there is another problem with the theory. The Ofer brothers did not purchase the Israel Corporation from the government but from a totally private entity. They didn't even purchase it cheaply because, at the time, a huge Canadian corporation that dealt in phosphates tried to buy the Israel Corporation (which owns Israel Chemicals and the Dead Sea Works ), to corner the global phosphate market for itself. Idan Ofer saw a notice about that in the newspaper, and convinced his father to offer a higher price - and that is how the Ofers purchased the Israel Corporation from the Eisenbergs.

Since then 12 years have passed, and the Ofers committed the greatest crime of all: They were successful. They developed the Israel Corporation and increased its turnover from $1 billion annually to about $10 billion. Their profits also increased accordingly, in the wake of the worldwide increase in demand and in the price of phosphates - and due to better management, daring and capturing markets all over the world.

What's wrong with that? After all, we need entrepreneurs who take risks, break through boundaries, create jobs and propel the economy forward.

All that doesn't mean the Ofer family is as pure as the driven snow. That is not the case. We can and should criticize them, but they can't be turned into robber barons who only try to get an increasing number of exemptions and benefits from the government. Because first of all it isn't true, and second it's a sure way to make life miserable here for every entrepreneur, every wealthy businessman, and anyone who wants to invest, build and develop.

And let there be no mistake, the Ofer family is not alone. Every wealthy businessman is a suitable object of profound hatred. The envious people would confiscate the property of Yitzhak Tshuva because he was able to find gas. They would eliminate Lev Leviev for not going bankrupt in the 2008 crisis, but managing instead to rescue Africa-Israel. And they pray to see the day when Nochi Dankner falls.

The popular saying that the country sells its assets cheaply is untrue. The truth is that the government doesn't know how to run a business. That's why when it owns the asset - the business loses money. The government suffers from a surplus of manpower, rule by committee and amateur political management. Only the moment that it is sold to private capitalists does the business undergo a process of streamlining and modernization, and then it starts earning a profit. So its value increases, and then the envious ones say: Look, it's a fact, he bought them cheaply.

Because our envious people are the most envious people in the world.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE FALSE MESSIAH IN THE PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE

NETANYAHU'S PROPAGANDA MACHINE SWUNG INTO FULL GEAR AGAIN AND TRANSFORMED A RIGHT-WING GENERAL INTO A 'TRAITOR,' 'SABOTEUR,' AND 'GANG LEADER.'

BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY

This summer, 1,000 rockets a day are expected to land on the inhabitants of central Israel for an undetermined period of time, with thousands of casualties on the cards. This is the reality that emerges from the assessments of the minister for the homefront, the real front, Matan Vilnai and from the recent warnings voiced by newly retired Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

The future of the citizens of the center of the country is being determined in a more secure center. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to devote so-called "Jerusalem Reunification Day," marking the 44th anniversary of the capital, under its current status, in which Jews are citizens and non-Jews are not, to the country's real center - Mercaz Harav Kook, a yeshiva and the center of religious settler messianic ideology.

On his perceived-as-victorious return from Washington, the Rome of today, Netanyahu was welcomed at the messianic core like an anointed king. Taking their seats with all the proper respect and giving their blessings were the police investigation refuseniks, the anointers - Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the ethnic cleansing rabbi from Safed, and Rabbi Dov Lior, the senior messianic rabbi, the rabbi of the first Jewish underground, mass murderer Baruch Goldstein's rabbi, the rabbi of the rulings declaring Yitzhak Rabin a "pursuer" and a "betrayer," and the rabbi behind the book of incitement to murder of non-Jews, "Torat Hemlekh."

In turn, Netanyahu addressed his anointers and their followers, declaring them to be his source of strength in his dealings with U.S. President Barack Obama. "You are the elite special ops unit that leads the nation."

The travel advisory vis-a-vis the east voiced by Dagan is being heard at a critical moment. A historical drama is underway in the target country. A real battle for power is raging between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his sect on the one side, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the traditional regime on the other. The Revolutionary Guard is accusing the president and his followers of blatant messianism; Ahmadinejad is accused of having crowned himself the Mahdi - the Islamic Messiah.

He and his circle believe in apocalyptic messianism. Their connection to nuclear weaponry is dangerous. Despite their extremism, Khamenei and the Iranian establishment are a different story. In Pakistan, too, there are dozens of atomic bombs and Islamic extremists, but the pragmatism in the established system creates stability.

The fact that Ahmadinejad's messianism looks to be on the losing side is crucial. Even those, like myself, who believe in considering dramatic measures to strike at the messiahs of the bomb must know that an Israeli attack would thwart the moves to remove the messianic faction from power. Moreover, as is the case with every messianic movement, Rabbi Akiva, a spiritual leader, is a problem; but the real apocalypse comes only when a Ben Koziva, an apocalyptic messiah, takes over as an anointed Bar Kochba, who led the doomsday rebellion (in his personal case, against the Romans one that brought tragedy upon his people.)

The change in Iran is not fortuitous. In 2003, the Iranian leadership suspended its nuclear program for two years, after assessing that the United States constituted a threat following its invasion of Iraq. Today, the sanctions and, even more so, the regional ferment against oppressive regimes are causing the establishments in the region, as in Iran, to distance apocalyptic messianic elements from power.

Only in Jerusalem is messianism growing stronger. The "crime and punishment" principle has a mythical role in all cultures. In messianic cultures, the upheaval of principles is the essence. When a crime and its punishment are reversed, a messianic sign is born. Netanyahu's rise to power came under such a sign.

After the incitement demonstrations he orchestrated to chants of, "With blood and fire, we will expel Rabin," led to the assassination of a hero and prime minister, the religious right expected punishment - of Netanyahu and of the settlement world. Instead, seven months after the incitement and the murder, the anointed of the right was elected.

And the drama is repeating itself: The modern-day Ben Koziva, Netanyahu, travels to Washington, enters the lion's den and slaps the "black Muslim," aka "president," in the face, and walks away unscathed. Instead of being punished, he wins applause from the elected of the empire. Like Mordechai the Jew in the Purim story whose audacity led to his crowning, our Bar Kochba mounted the horse of public support.

The head-spinning from the messianic victory over the "crime and punishment" gave rise to Dagan's warning. In his opinion, the repeated transition in messianism from the manic to the depressive will end in disaster. From Netanyahu's current sense that he has the ability to ignore U.S. opposition to a strike against Iran, as well as its demand for peace talks based on the 1967 border lines, the leadership, when faced with the price of September, will get spooked and, in the service of messianism and the settlements, the strike on Iran will come to stop the peace on the basis of 1967.

When it was exposed, the Netanyahu propaganda machine swung into full gear again and transformed a right-wing general into a "traitor," "saboteur," "nutcase" and "gang leader" who is "trying to topple an elected prime minister." However, the real gang leader can be seen sitting in the Prime Minister's Residence. Every citizen and every friend of Israel must act to remove his hands from the steering wheel. Never have the words "a matter of life and death" been more accurate.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE AGE OF THE SNIPER

ON NAKSA DAY, EVEN AS THE SNIPERS WERE SHOOTING AND THE AMBULANCE SIRENS WERE WAILING, THE ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESMAN PROUDLY SAID THAT THE ARMY HAD LEARNED ITS LESSONS FROM NAKBA DAY.

BY ANER SHALEV

The is the age of the sniper - Syrian snipers and Israeli snipers. Syrian snipers on the roofs of homes shoot at Syrian demonstrators protesting the regime, while the Israeli snipers on the border of the Golan Heights shoot at Syrian demonstrators sent by the regime.

It's an age in which diplomatic perspective has shrunk into the telescopic sight of a sophisticated rifle. What goes through the mind of a sniper when he looks through the scope, when he pulls the trigger? How does he decide at whom to aim, and at which part of the body?

The equation between the snipers on the two sides is a Syrian invention. It's easy to see that the Syrian regime, battling for its survival, is eager to replace pictures of the massacre in Hama and other Syrian cities with pictures of blue-and-white violence, albeit more moderate, near Majdal Shams and Quneitra. It's easy to identify the effort to divert attention from the lost legitimacy of Syria's minority Alawite government, and instead to try to undermine the legitimacy of Israel on the anniversary of the start of the Six-Day War, Naksa Day.

The troubling question is: Why did Israel cooperate with this Syrian equation so obediently, so unimaginatively?

The result, 20 Syrians killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli sniper fire, raises questions about the judgment of our political and military leadership, and about what lessons were learned from the events of Nakba Day three weeks earlier. After all, on Naksa Day, there were no surprises; there was enough time to prepare, maybe even to think for a change.

The Palestinian protests on Nakba Day, May 15, and on Naksa Day, June 5, were meant to acknowledge the Palestinian traumas of 1948 and 1967, and to demand a resolution of the resulting problems. But in the realm of nations, as in the realm of emotions, the hidden, unconscious goal of post-traumatic behavior in most cases is not to restore the situation to what it was (returning the refugees to their homes, for example ), but a ceremonial repeat of the trauma (for example, more killing and expulsion ).

From this perspective, the Israeli response, which included live fire on demonstrators trying to cross the border that was apparently not aimed just at their legs, played right into Palestinian hands, providing the world with the longed-for images of killing and expulsion. One might have expected the larger and better-prepared Israeli forces to have repelled the demonstrators by less violent means and without killing anyone. It isn't clear why weeks of preparation ended this way, and what the Israeli satisfaction with the results is all about.

True, unlike on Nakba Day, when there was a mass breach of the border on the Golan, on Naksa Day, only a few managed to get to the border fence and they were immediately arrested. With this result, the defense minister and the prime minister can indeed be pleased: The ritual of return failed, and the border wasn't breached. But other borders were breached - invisible moral borders.

On Naksa Day, even as the snipers were shooting and the ambulance sirens were wailing, the Israel Defense Forces spokesman proudly said that the army had learned its lessons from Nakba Day. If that's the level of Israeli lesson-learning, then we should all be worried.

What does this say about Israeli preparedness for the next Gaza-bound flotilla, which is readying to leave Turkey at the end of June? Where is the original, creative, out-of-the-box thinking? Will we always fall into the traps, even when they are known in advanced? Is the only message from our leaders with the analytical minds is that the brain is an obsolete organ, and if force doesn't work, use more force?

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

KEEPING PROTECTIONISM AT BAY

The world's big trading nations have done a fairly good job over the last two years of resisting protectionism even as their economies stalled or shrank. But their patience with open markets seems to be wearing thin.

With growth still slow and unemployment high, many developed countries are resorting to measures that restrict imports — from antidumping investigations to tariff increases. This must stop.

The World Trade Organization has been monitoring new trade restrictions since the Group of 20 industrialized nations promised to refrain from protectionism in 2009. It found that between October 2010 and April 2011, these nations imposed 122 new restrictions affecting about 0.5 percent of world imports. That is more than twice as many as in the period between May and October 2010.

This trend does not yet threaten global trade, which expanded by more than 14 percent last year, according to the W.T.O. But it indicates an erosion of the discipline that kept world markets open through the downturn and prevented protectionism from further denting global growth.

Every country has given in to temptation to some degree. Brazil increased tariffs on tools and toys. China opened antidumping investigations against American grain imports and imports of photographic paper from the United States, the European Union and Japan. The United States imposed a special tax on some foreigners who win government procurement contracts.

This course is not surprising given the sluggish recovery. In Europe and the United States, the end of fiscal stimulus has left communities and industries foundering. And with the international solidarity sparked by the global financial crisis eroding, governments want to give domestic firms an advantage.

Since the financial crisis began in 2008, G-20 countries have imposed 550 measures to restrict or potentially distort trade. Such measures disrupt international supply chains, reduce economic activity and dent the sense of common purpose that was needed to survive the economic crisis. Giving in to the protectionist impulse now can only make matters worse.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE FAIR REWARDS OF INVENTION

Before the Bayh-Dole Act was passed in 1980, the billions of federal dollars spent on scientific research rarely benefited the public through commercial applications. Fewer than 5 percent of government patents were licensed to industry. To push patents into practical use, the law set up a scheme for awarding the rights to institutions, like universities, that have incentive to bring inventions to market.

Since 1980, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, has been granted control of 3,673 patents. A recent study found that companies started by M.I.T.'s graduates, faculty and staff generate annual world sales of $2 trillion.

In a 7-to-2 decision this week, the Supreme Court undermined the act's purpose by ruling that it does not automatically give a university title to an invention by a faculty member when the research is federally financed.

The case, Stanford University v. Roche Molecular Systems, involved a Stanford researcher who had transferred his rights to methods for testing AIDS treatments to a private company that was eventually acquired by Roche. Roche commercialized the procedure and incorporated it into H.I.V. test kits. Stanford sued Roche, arguing that the researcher's assignment of rights was invalid under the Bayh-Dole Act. The court held that even though the researcher may have had an obligation to the university, he had legally assigned his rights to the private firm.

Although the decision is based on a literal reading of a poorly drafted initial agreement between Stanford and the researcher, it is likely to have a broader effect. It could change the culture of research universities by requiring them to be far more vigilant in obtaining ironclad assignments from faculty members and monitoring any contracts between researchers and private companies. Relationships between the university and its faculty are likely to become more legalistic and more mercantile.

By stressing "the general rule that rights in an invention belong to the inventor," the majority opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. romanticizes the role of the solo inventor. It fails to acknowledge the Bayh-Dole Act's importance in fostering collaborative enterprises and its substantial benefit to the American economy.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

ANDREW GOLD AND THE '70S SOUND

BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG

At one time, I thought I owned every album Andrew Gold played on between 1974 and 1980, nearly all of them recorded and produced in southern California. I was wrong. I never owned the albums he recorded with Barbi Benton, Hugh Hefner's girlfriend in the early 1970s, even though she went to high school with me. I wasn't intentionally collecting Gold, who died last week at age 59. He just happened to back up, produce or appear with nearly everyone I was listening to at the time.

Andrew Gold doesn't define the southern California pop of that era. But if you listen to the songs he played, you come away with a vivid feel for the sensibility of those years, a music of the subtropical twilights and the soft westerlies, to borrow a phrase from Joan Didion. Gold knew catchy, and nearly all the songwriters he knew — Karla Bonoff for one — knew catchy as well.

When I hear Gold's name, I hear the names of dozens of studio musicians from that time: Waddy Wachtel, Dan Dugmore, Kenny Edwards, Wendy Waldman and on and on. Above all, I hear Linda Ronstadt, who broke through big with "Heart Like a Wheel," the first of her albums that featured Gold.

The music certainly wasn't L.A. noir. It was L.A. velour. As for Gold's early solo albums, which yielded the songs "Thank You for Being a Friend," "Lonely Boy" and "Never Let Her Slip Away," they were painfully sweet but catchy, and I was caught.

I remember watching Gold in Ronstadt's band, playing piano and a flame-toned Les Paul guitar that was nearly the color of his hair and beard. He was an excitable boy (to quote Warren Zevon, who lived on a darker but adjacent musical street), and it showed. VERLYN KLINKENBORG

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

RESISTANCE GROWS

Add Massachusetts to the groundswell of states and localities opposing President Obama's misconceived and failing immigration dragnet.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced on Monday that his state would not participate in Secure Communities, the fingerprint-sharing program that the Obama administration wants to impose nationwide by 2013. Gov. Andrew Cuomo halted New York's involvement last week. Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois rejected it last month. They join a long list of elected officials, Congress members and law-enforcement professionals who want nothing to do with the program for the simple reason that it does more harm than good.

The program sends the fingerprints of every person booked by state or local police to federal databases to be checked for immigration violations. It was supposed to focus on dangerous felons. But it catches mostly noncriminals and minor offenders, as New York said, "compromising public safety by deterring witnesses to crime and others from working with law enforcement."

For years Mr. Obama, like George W. Bush before him, has relentlessly pushed forward with immigration enforcement schemes while failing to give any relief to millions desperate to shed their illegal status.

Real reform requires a comprehensive strategy: stricter enforcement plus legalization for the millions whom it would be foolish to uproot from our society and economy. As Mr. Obama has driven deportations to record levels, he has gotten no closer to fixing a failed system. But he has made Republican hard-liners happy by bolstering the noxious argument that all undocumented immigrants are mere criminals, deportees-in-waiting.

This is a failure of decency and good sense. It merely punishes and does nothing to actually come to grips with the problem of illegal immigration. Resistance has mostly been heard at the ground level, from immigrants and advocates who say families are being split apart, workers frightened and exploited, the American dream dishonored. So it's good to hear powerful Democrats — Mr. Obama's friends and allies from large states — telling him that with Secure Communities he has gone way overboard.

What these states' actions mean, practically speaking, is unclear. States like New York signed contracts with the Department of Homeland Security to enter Secure Communities, and now the administration insists that they must participate. If they send suspects' fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for criminal checks — as states must and will continue to do routinely — then the F.B.I. will share that data with the Department of Homeland Security. There is no way to opt out.

We'll see about that. The idea that the federal government can commandeer states' resources for its enforcement schemes seems ripe for legal challenge. And it's wrong to make state and local police departments the gatekeepers of immigration enforcement. It should not be up to local cops to drive federal policy by deciding which neighborhoods and people are the focus of their crackdowns.

We welcome the votes of no-confidence in Secure Communities. The message is clear and growing louder: Mr. Obama and the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, need to try something else. That something else is real immigration reform that combines a path to legality with necessary measures to secure our borders and deport real criminals who are here illegally.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

RESISTANCE GROWS

Add Massachusetts to the groundswell of states and localities opposing President Obama's misconceived and failing immigration dragnet.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced on Monday that his state would not participate in Secure Communities, the fingerprint-sharing program that the Obama administration wants to impose nationwide by 2013. Gov. Andrew Cuomo halted New York's involvement last week. Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois rejected it last month. They join a long list of elected officials, Congress members and law-enforcement professionals who want nothing to do with the program for the simple reason that it does more harm than good.

The program sends the fingerprints of every person booked by state or local police to federal databases to be checked for immigration violations. It was supposed to focus on dangerous felons. But it catches mostly noncriminals and minor offenders, as New York said, "compromising public safety by deterring witnesses to crime and others from working with law enforcement."

For years Mr. Obama, like George W. Bush before him, has relentlessly pushed forward with immigration enforcement schemes while failing to give any relief to millions desperate to shed their illegal status.

Real reform requires a comprehensive strategy: stricter enforcement plus legalization for the millions whom it would be foolish to uproot from our society and economy. As Mr. Obama has driven deportations to record levels, he has gotten no closer to fixing a failed system. But he has made Republican hard-liners happy by bolstering the noxious argument that all undocumented immigrants are mere criminals, deportees-in-waiting.

This is a failure of decency and good sense. It merely punishes and does nothing to actually come to grips with the problem of illegal immigration. Resistance has mostly been heard at the ground level, from immigrants and advocates who say families are being split apart, workers frightened and exploited, the American dream dishonored. So it's good to hear powerful Democrats — Mr. Obama's friends and allies from large states — telling him that with Secure Communities he has gone way overboard.

What these states' actions mean, practically speaking, is unclear. States like New York signed contracts with the Department of Homeland Security to enter Secure Communities, and now the administration insists that they must participate. If they send suspects' fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for criminal checks — as states must and will continue to do routinely — then the F.B.I. will share that data with the Department of Homeland Security. There is no way to opt out.

We'll see about that. The idea that the federal government can commandeer states' resources for its enforcement schemes seems ripe for legal challenge. And it's wrong to make state and local police departments the gatekeepers of immigration enforcement. It should not be up to local cops to drive federal policy by deciding which neighborhoods and people are the focus of their crackdowns.

We welcome the votes of no-confidence in Secure Communities. The message is clear and growing louder: Mr. Obama and the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, need to try something else. That something else is real immigration reform that combines a path to legality with necessary measures to secure our borders and deport real criminals who are here illegally.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

YOUR TWEETIN' HEART

BY MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

Tweetin' ain't cheatin'.

In his sensationally surreal apologia, a weepy Anthony Weiner had only one thing to brag about: "I've never had sex outside my marriage."

No congress for the congressman. In the new, mega-political Internet sex scandal, the 46-year-old New Yorker downplayed his phone sex and salacious sexting with female strangers as "you know, almost a frivolous exchange among friends."

Scrabble is a frivolous exchange among friends. Taking a picture of your deal, as David Letterman dubbed it, and blasting it into hyperspace to women you've never met is, you know, something more creepy and compulsive.

When Democratic front-runner Gary Hart had his vertiginous fall in 1987, after his photo with Miami model Donna Rice on the Monkey Business hit the papers, feminists were irate that this progressive pol was treating women as objects.

They found it especially galling that Hart had married up — winning the daughter of a former president of his college — and then got caught dating down.

The weenie Weiner married up to Hillary Clinton's aide, the glamorous and classy Huma Abedin, and only 11 months later got caught e-dating down with a Vegas blackjack dealer, a porn star and a couple of college students.

This time, no feminist umbrage rang out — and not merely because Weiner is a liberal Democrat. Women have been conditioned by now to assume the worst.

In five decades, we've moved from the pre-feminist mantra about the sexual peccadilloes of married men — Boys will be boys — to post-feminist resignation: Men are dogs. And there's no point in feminists wasting their ire at women being objectified because many women these days seem all too ready to play along.

We've traded places with France. There, after D.S.K., a spirited feminism has blossomed, an urge to stop covering up seamy incidents of droit du seigneur. Now we're the world-weary ones, with little energy to try to reform relations between the sexes: Is there any point, really, in trying to fix men?

This scandal resonates less as a feminist horror story than an Internet horror story. Are men, as New York magazine recently suggested, losing interest in having sex with their real partners because they're so obsessed with porn, sexting and virtual partners? The lazy man's way to sex, where a billion women are a click away.

After seeing a cascade of famous men marrying up and dating down — Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods, David Vitter, John Ensign and Arnold Schwarzenegger — and with Dominique Strauss-Kahn being supported by his prominent, elegant and wealthy journalist wife as he fights charges that he assaulted a 32-year-old hotel maid, maybe feminists have learned that male development stops at power.

This scandal seemed like an insane cat's cradle, with Spitzer commenting on the bad judgment of Weiner, who was a beach-house buddy of Jon Stewart and who was married by Bill Clinton to Huma, who was a White House intern for Hillary (who ran against the two-timing Edwards) when Monica was an intern for Bill.

Sometimes powerful men are secretly insecure, needing constant reassurance about how important and attractive they are. The waxed bare-chested picture Weiner sent to Meagan could have been captioned: "Geek who buffed up." As Orwell noted: "Any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats."

Often powerful men crave more than love and admiration from The Good Wife. Sometimes they want risk, even danger. Sometimes they're turned on by a power differential. They adore a fan reaction like the one from Lisa Weiss, the Vegas blackjack dealer, who flirted with Weiner on Facebook: "you are sooo awesome when you yell at those fox news" pundits, and "I bet you have so many chicks after you! you are our liberal stud."

In her book, Elizabeth Edwards wrote that she would have bet her big house that her husband would not fall for a cheesy line like the one Rielle Hunter tossed at him: "You are so hot."

But clichés work. As Weiner wrote to Weiss: "What are you wearing?"

Meagan Broussard, a 26-year-old college student and single mom from Texas, wrote on BigGovernment.com, conservative Andrew Breitbart's site, that her relationship with Weiner began when she wrote on his Facebook page that one of his speeches to construction workers was "hot."

"Within an hour," she wrote, "we were sending messages back and forth."

Broussard lost her sense of awe pretty quickly: "Talking to him was sometimes a turn-off because he was so open and just so full of himself, as if he were looking, searching for something."

In some ways, Internet sex has fewer risks, like disease. But there's the risk of exposure, in all its meanings, and ruining your real life before a global audience. That's what Weiner, who ensnared himself in a web of lies outrageous even for Capitol Hill, is finding out.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE EARTH IS FULL

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we'll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornados plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we'd crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?

 "The only answer can be denial," argues Paul Gilding, the veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur, who described this moment in a new book called "The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World." "When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. But the longer we wait, the bigger the response required."

Gilding cites the work of the Global Footprint Network, an alliance of scientists, which calculates how many "planet Earths" we need to sustain our current growth rates. G.F.N. measures how much land and water area we need to produce the resources we consume and absorb our waste, using prevailing technology. On the whole, says G.F.N., we are currently growing at a rate that is using up the Earth's resources far faster than they can be sustainably replenished, so we are eating into the future. Right now, global growth is using about 1.5 Earths. "Having only one planet makes this a rather significant problem," says Gilding.

This is not science fiction. This is what happens is when our system of growth and the system of nature hit the wall at once. While in Yemen last year, I saw a tanker truck delivering water in the capital, Sana. Why? Because Sana could be the first big city in the world to run out of water, within a decade. That is what happens when one generation in one country lives at 150 percent of sustainable capacity.

"If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees," writes Gilding. "If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth's CO2 blanket, the Earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet Earth behaves, with social, economic, and life support impacts. This is not speculation; this is high school science."

It is also current affairs. "In China's thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humankind and nature has never been as serious as it is today," China's environment minister, Zhou Shengxian, said recently. "The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the worsening ecological environment have become bottlenecks and grave impediments to the nation's economic and social development." What China's minister is telling us, says Gilding, is that "the Earth is full. We are now using so many resources and putting out so much waste into the Earth that we have reached some kind of limit, given current technologies. The economy is going to have to get smaller in terms of physical impact."

We will not change systems, though, without a crisis. But don't worry, we're getting there.

We're currently caught in two loops: One is that more population growth and more global warming together are pushing up food prices; rising food prices cause political instability in the Middle East, which leads to higher oil prices, which leads to higher food prices, which leads to more instability. At the same time, improved productivity means fewer people are needed in every factory to produce more stuff. So if we want to have more jobs, we need more factories. More factories making more stuff make more global warming, and that is where the two loops meet.

But Gilding is actually an eco-optimist. As the impact of the imminent Great Disruption hits us, he says, "our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilizing as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades."

We will realize, he predicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is broken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less. "How many people," Gilding asks, "lie on their death bed and say, 'I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,' and how many say, 'I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?' To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff."

Sounds utopian? Gilding insists he is a realist.

"We are heading for a crisis-driven choice," he says. "We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we're not stupid."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

WEINER LIKE ME

BY ERIC WEINER

Silver Spring, Md.

IT'S never easy being a Weiner, but I can't recall a week as difficult as this one. I desperately want to escape myself, but I can't. I am everywhere. Today, I learned I have few allies, even among Democrats, and that I may have given public relations advice to a porn star. My wife, though, is standing by me. For now.

Representative Anthony D. Weiner, the congressman from New York (no relation, as far as I know), has rendered my life a lot less fun. I'm afraid to Google myself, normally one of my favorite activities, lest I find myself confronted with those now-ubiquitous bulging shorts. (Not my shorts, just to clarify.) I've become adept at hiding the morning news before my 6-year-old daughter asks, again, "Dad, why is our name in the newspaper?" In the digital age, we are yoked, for better or worse, to those with whom we share certain letter combinations. Names matter, now more than ever.

The truth is I don't know how to feel about my namesake, caught recently with his pants (nearly) down. On the one hand, as a fellow Weiner, I feel his pain. On the other hand, he has given us Weiners a bad name, and let's face it: we didn't have a great one to begin with. It wasn't easy growing up a Weiner. Kids possess a special talent for cruelty, one that I now realize is rivaled only by that of headline writers. I'm having serious junior high school flashbacks.

We Weiners, though, are eminently adaptable. It's a survival thing. At some point, my father, Seymour, changed the pronunciation of our family name from WEEN-er to WHINE-er because, really, who wants to be known as Seymour WEEN-er? It was a Faustian bargain, to be sure, but a wise one. At least that's what I thought until "Saturday Night Live" aired a popular skit about a couple named Doug and Wendy WHINE-er. They would speak, of course, in grating, whining voices that my classmates parroted whenever they pronounced my last name, which was often. Those were difficult years.

Later in life, I tried to embrace my Weiner-ness. As a correspondent for NPR, I signed off by pronouncing my last name strongly and proudly, unlike some broadcast personalities who change their names to something more anodyne. (Can you hear me, Jon Stewart?) I wrote a book about happiness, riffing off the irony that my last name is pronounced WHINE-er. Yes, I thought I had managed to make the best of the hand that God — and my grandfather — had dealt me.

Then this. How could you, Anthony? And why wasn't I — indeed, why weren't Weiners everywhere — listed among those whom you hurt? I mean, you seemed to cover most of the free world. Would it have killed you to throw your namesakes in there, too?

With all due respect to Shakespeare, a rose by any other name just isn't the same. We look in the mirror and see not a generic person but a very specific one. We see Ted, and Sarah, and José, and yes, sometimes we see a Weiner. Names don't merely describe. They impugn meaning. The river of semantics flows in both directions. Call someone a nincompoop often enough and long enough and they start to believe it. There is no such thing as "mere semantics." Names matter.

Some friends suggest that "Weinergate" is good for me and my writing career. I'm not so sure. Indeed, I believe it's time we re-think that old saw about there being no such thing as bad publicity. I suspect Anthony would agree. No, Weinergate is not good for us Weiners any more than Watergate was good for water.

So, I have a request of the media: enough with the puns. Enough of the "Weiner wrap" to describe your team coverage of the scandal. Enough of the "Weiner probes" and the "stiff criticism" and, yes (I'm talking to you, Daily Beast), enough of "Weiner's Junk Defense." This man's name — my name! — is not license to regress to 7th grade. So, with all due respect, members of the media everywhere: please give the Weiner jokes a break. They give people like me a bad name. And names matter.

Eric Weiner is the author of "Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine," to be published in December.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE NIGHTMARE OF THE GENERALS

MUSTAFA AKYOL

Last weekend, I had coffee with a young Turkish lady who is, besides other things, the daughter of a general in the Turkish military. She was very polite and articulate, but not very cheerful and happy. For her beloved father has been in prison since last January, when an Istanbul court decided to arrest nearly 200 officers. They were all accused of having taken part in the "Balyoz" (Sledgehammer) scheme, a 2003 military meeting in which a military coup against the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government was allegedly discussed.

"This just doesn't make sense," my coffee friend said. "My father was not even at the conference that they claim to be a coup plan." Apparently, the only thing which linked her father to the case was that his name was on one of the documents which listed "officers that will serve." Even if there were really a coup plan – something my friend rejected – it would still be wrong, she explained, to arrest people who were only indirectly involved.

Sledgehammer effect

As I was listening all this, I could not help but feeling sympathy for the young lady and her family. (I know what it is like to have a father who is arrested indefinitely in a political case.) I also thought that, whatever the nature of the "Sledgehammer" scheme is, some of the arrested officers might indeed be innocent: Perhaps they were just doing their job. Perhaps they were really just listed on a piece of paper by their more sinister superiors.

In other words, it could well be the case, that the Sledgehammer case, which has recently put more than 10 percent of Turkey's top military brass into prison, might have excesses. It might even be the case that the case is perhaps overblown, as its critics claim. I claim no expertise in such delicate legal matters and prefer to leave the verdict to the judges in charge.

Yet there is another thing that I know: these controversial cases of the past few years, Sledgehammer – along with another one, Ergenekon – have transformed the political landscape in Turkey. In both cases, especially in Sledgehammer, Turkish society saw something which used to be unthinkable: that men in uniform can be put on trial and can even be put in prison.

This was important for not just the sake of taboo-breaking. It was even more important for the sake of "regime change" – a change from a military to a civilian one. The old regime was long and well established: From the year 1960 onwards, the Turkish military staged four military coups, executed a prime minister, killed or tortured thousands of citizens, and continuously intimidated certain segments of the nation. This thuggishness finally ended in the past few years, and thanks not only to changes in politics but also criminal investigations such as Ergenekon and Sledgehammer.

I wish things had been different. I wish one day the chief of staff appeared in front of cameras and gave a mea culpa speech. "We apologize to the nation for the inconvenience we have caused," he could have said. "Our institution has done bad things in the past, but we have reformed ourselves and now are genuinely committed to democracy."

But, alas, the Turkish military has never voiced such examples of self-criticism, and has hardly given a sign of respect for democracy. Most generals were rather keeping a self-righteous and arrogant tone until very recently. Only with the loss of their prestige did they become more humble. Only with the loss of their power did they become less threatening.

The nightmare of the generals, in other words, was perhaps the only way out for an end to the nightmares they used to inflict upon a large part of the nation. They lived by sword, one may say, and now they are now falling by the sword.

Us or them

Now, let me underline that I am saying all these descriptively, not approvingly. The rule of law is crucial, if not sacred, for me. Therefore I am not willing to approve injustice even to those who have been unjust.

That's why, from the beginning of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases, I have voiced criticisms or restraints. I have opposed long-term arrests, and pointed to some of the inconsistencies in the indictments. (I did more so in Turkish; for it is the Turks who need to discuss these things.)

In return, I have been criticized by some of my liberal or conservative friends for being too naïve. "You are just stupid," one of them said to me boldly. "If we don't get these guys now, they will get us back, and you will be in a military prison cell with electric wires tied to your testicles."

Well, I see that point. But I also see that this county should not oscillate forever between political camps that see each other as sworn enemies. Instead of taking one of the sides unquestioningly, and attacking the other side by all means available, we should be able to talk to each other and reach some basic consensus.

That is one of the key things I expect from the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in its impending third term. Yes, they have defeated the hawkish generals and the arrogant social forces behind them. Well done. But now they must help building a country in which no one sees no more nightmares.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT IN OUR RECENT HISTORY

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

Let me say the truth, the general approach of our society has astonished me greatly.

One of the most important events in our recent history has been experienced. Kenan Evren, the leader of the Sep. 12, 1980 coup, for the first time, has been called to give testimony.

The symbolic meaning of this development is very significant.

I am surprised because I was expecting more broadcast, more attention on this subject. Whereas, it was dealt with as if it was an ordinary case.

This general approach shows how quickly the Turkish society forgets events or sheds the past. It is a routine developed for living in a country where the agenda changes a few times a day.

I was also among those who said; "Oh, we were finally saved from a disaster," on the day the Sep. 12 intervention took place. But Sep. 12 became such a monster afterwards and turned Turkey into such a jail and our lives into such a torture that is started the first coup and military allergy in this country.

It cut the branch it was standing on.

Evren is a symbol.

It is extremely important that he is questioned at age 94.

Up until now, these steps should have been taken much more before and Turkey should have been cleaned from these coup fears.

It is very beneficial that the Ergenekon and "Balyoz" (Sledgehammer) cases should also be collected in one case and finished with determination to put a full stop to the history of coups instead of dispersing them unnecessarily and putting them at a state where it has become unsolvable.

Justice arriving late hurts. The real criminals save themselves mixing among the innocent.

Reactions on coup article

We are facing a huge rebellion.

I have received very interesting reactions to what I wrote last week. In summary, I had said, "We, the seculars, have in our genes a love and respect for the military. It never occurred to us that it was wrong that they staged coups. On the contrary, we even agitated them." The reactions are increasing.

 A portion of secular friends who were from my generation and share the same feelings said, "You gave ammunition to the opposing side."

I was very astonished.

We are still continuing "we" and "them" attitude. What I was expecting, though, from them that they would come up with arguments that would contribute to my observations and enlarge the debate. They, on the contrary, continue the street fight.

One of the most recent examples, Yiğit Bulut of Haber Türk, has described me as such:

"Dear friends, I thought I need to deliver some notes when I saw how 'opportunists' like Mehmet Ali Birand, in pursuit of changing sides and creating opportunities for his boss jump into the subject as orphans would jump to new found warmth of a mother's lap."

Thank God, I am so happy for his wide strategy knowledge and that he shares his previous articles with us. But reading in between the lines of his article I can also sense his fear that his position could be stolen by somebody else. But he should not worry. I don't see any bigger butter upper than him.

At this age, I don't intend to or need to curry favor to anyone, but I can advise this young man with my "opportunist" experience that he should not worry.

Another example that astonished me is that daily Hürriyet writer Yalçın Doğan came on stage with piercing shrieks.

In his article titled, "Which gene, what coup, what relations." he said these kind of magnificent observations were invalid. Pointing out that I was involved in internal accounts, he also said, "I and my left segment friends approach events from the class point of view. We don't approach them as secular, religious or any other whatever," bringing an extremely scientific (!) point of view.

So, that means, the leftists and the democrats have never winked at the putschists. Have never desired it. Have not somersaulted in front of the military.

Don't do it Yalçın, for God's love. Take a look at those articles and stories you have written in that period. If not satisfied, read Hasan Cemal's book explaining Cumhuriyet daily's stance during March 12. Please let us not fool each other, the major portion of the secular segment, except those true democrats, carry much of the blame. We know each other very well.

Why don't you ask the commanders?

I have a suggestion for my friends who oppose my views about the secular segment: They should ask the following questions to top level commanders who were active during the periods March 12, Sep. 12 and Feb. 28:

- Which businessmen, which academic, which politician came to you and offered ideas on staging a coup? Or even asked for it?

- Which journalist said, in private conversation, that this can only be solved with a coup?

Watch this space. Ask and see which names you receive.

Let them explain, how those politicians who had no chance of winning an election knocked on their doors saying, "Oh commander, don't leave this country to these men."

C'mon, the commanders would make the best witness and the best referee.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

END OF THE 'MUSLIM DEMOCRACY' BALONEY

KADRİ GÜRSEL

The Economist British magazine, the one that calls on Turkish voters to vote for the Republican People's Party, or CHP, in its latest issue, introduces our country to the world in almost all its articles as a "Muslim democracy."

This is the product of a systematic effort. The aim is clear also: To create a window of perception by putting side by side the words "Muslim" and "democracy" and to facilitate through that window the adoption of a Turkey model by those Middle Eastern Muslim peoples who have a negative perception of secular democracy.  

Putting the Turkish model in a "Muslim democracy" package looks like a good intention at the first glance, but when examined deeper it is a marketing effort with consequences that will not be positive regarding the present and the future of democracy in Turkey. And the prestigious British magazine The Economist is maybe the only significant media outlet orchestrating this marketing effort, not only in the Anglo-Saxon world but also in the West in general. This zeal has to be confronted with a counter effective ideological effort, but, as it seems, the problem is being solved through its natural course.

Look, they have asked the votes to be cast for a secular party for the sake of the "Muslim democracy." The nonsense has been denied by those who have created it. Now, imagine a Turkey who has solved its major democratization problems, starting with freedom of belief. If such a Turkey is ruled by a modern social democrat party, would The Economist editor define this country as "Muslim democracy" again?

No way. Then, even the crows would laugh at that.

First, democracy cannot be defined based on a religion or depicted side by side with a religion. In that case, the democracy ceases becoming a democracy. Because democracies, by definition, are secular and this fact does not change by those who have been elected call themselves "Christian democrat" or neo-Islamist.

The reason the Economist editor defines Turkey as "Muslim democracy" is that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is in power, the party has evolved from a classic Islamist into its present state. The stress on the "Muslim" is for this reason.

Thus, if the AKP was not in power, the "Muslim democracy" baloney would not have been created.

Now, let's assume again the voters listen to the Economist's call and vote for the CHP on June 12 in masses to stop the "Turkish Muslim Democracy" transform into an authoritarian regime. And all of a sudden we see the CHP in power.

But if the CHP takes power, The Economist will not be able to keep on calling Turkey a "Muslim democracy." I explained the reason above. They will forget "Muslim democracy."

Well, if the CHP comes to power, will Turkey take a break from being Muslim? If the AKP takes power again four years later, will it go back to being Muslim? Nonsense, isn't it?

Now, let's assume the public shrugs off The Economist's call "to vote for the CHP" and the AKP gains 330 or maybe more than 367 seats in parliament on June 12. At the end of this, a "one man autocracy" is formed, thus the most feared comes true, the nightmare of The Economist and of course those who think like us, what will the British editors replace in place of "Muslim democracy?"

Will they call the authoritarian regime "Muslim?" The Islamic authoritarian regime?

Look at this tragicomic situation: The Economist asks Turks to vote for a secular party to save the so-called Muslim democracy from its so-called founders.

The rescue recipe of "Muslim democracy" is for the AKP to stay in power but with such a number of seats it will not be able to change the constitution alone.  

Thus when the AKP is balanced [by a secular party when] in power, the vigilant editors will be able to market the Turkey model under the name of "Muslim democracy" to the Middle East. Yes Sir. This is your intention.  

Meanwhile, Turkey's secular democracy will be damaged.

Because the concept of "Muslim democracy" is injecting the message in a subconscious level that the AKP rule is permanent and this is unfair. Change of power by public vote is a virtue of democracy and this is always possible.

Second, this nonsense attributes legitimacy to the AKP's Islamic traditionalism program and the increasing presence of wide masses that have not adopted secularism even in its most liberal definition possesses a serious problem from the point of sustainability of democracy.

*Kadri Gürsel is a columnist of daily Milliyet, in which this piece originally appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

E-COLI OR E-TAPES, WHICH ARE MORE DEADLY?

YUSUF KANLI

It is always great looking at Turkey from a distance.

As if in a few days time millions of Turks will not go to polls, there are no such issues among Turks living in Belgium. And mind you, there are lots of Turks around here. For example, I spent more than an hour in the heart of Brussels inadvertently listening to people shopping, talking Turkish with green grocers, butchers and retailers while chasing my luggage mistakenly grabbed at the airport by another Turk apparently having an identical piece.

The man was not of course bad intentioned and I am faulty as well. Why don't we place name tags on our luggage? Anyhow, though I missed my article because of that nasty ordeal yesterday, it was indeed a nice experience. Had the luggage incident not happened, I would not have been able to stroll through the streets of Brussels, which resembled indeed not a European city at all, but rather a central Anatolian city such as Çorum or Yozgat.

Put aside "foreigners" even Turks abroad were apparently not at all interested in "Turkey's crucial election" as we tend to describe it. Entire discussions were focused on the E-coli deaths, which reported to have reached 22 in Germany.

Though Spaniards might be happy that vegetables it exported to Germany and other European allies were cleaned of the charge of being the source of the deadly contamination, top news on many European news channels yesterday was, besides the success achieved at the European Organization for Nuclear research, or  CERN, center close to Geneva in storing for the first time ever for more than 16 minutes what is called the "antimatter," was the tons of tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables destroyed because of e-coli contamination claims.

The Ankara I left behind, however, was boiling with election frenzy. Indeed, I must be honest, not the entire Turkish capital or the entire country has been gripped with election frenzy, only those segments of the Turkish society contaminated with the virus-politicus is indeed interested in politics. For the rest of the Turkish society, very much like their comrades in Europe it is as if teams of two distant towns will be playing a soccer match and they just wonder what the score would be.

With at least 22 people having lost their lives and thousands suffering at some degree from the impacts of the e-coli contamination, of course European societies and governments are panicked and are in serious search of the causes of this contamination with a view not only to put an end to it but to prevent its recurrence.

For those who might not have grasped the meaning of what has been happening in Europe let me put it more plainly, somehow vegetables of some unknown origin were contaminated with human or some kind of excrement, that is e-coli virus.

The e-virus, Turkey has been suffering for some time, is being generated with a similarly dirty source, at least a very dirty mind. The sex-tapes released in the middle of a night on the web like a bullet fired from a gun poised at the head, have devastated political fortunes of almost a dozen of senior politicians since May last year, 10 of them this last May.

Which is more deadly? The e-coli or e-tapes viruses? The source of the e-coli contamination will be found, measures will be taken and its recurrence, I am sure, will be firmly prevented. Whereas, the e-tapes are a product of greedy and dirty politics and unfortunately as such dirty efforts serve those in power or those wishing to obtain more power, contamination will continue and perpetrators will manage to remain at large.

Thus, the answer is clear, e-coli is deadly and has been the cause of so many deaths and sufferings but will be stopped and firmly resolved. E-tapes, however, this way or the other, will continue as long as, rather than seeing the bigger picture and the manipulation of politics to serve interests of local or international political game setters, most people prefer to bury their heads in sand like ostriches.

As I have been trying to say all through the election campaign period, Turkey will not be electing a new government in the Sunday's elections. The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is almost certain to continue in government with a comfortable majority.

The question, however, will be how comfortable of a majority it will have in the parliament. Will the AKP produce 367 deputies that is a 2/3 majority in the 550-seat parliament and obtain the power to change constitution without risking a referendum? Will it produce at least 330 deputies and acquire the power of amending the constitution through referendum? Or will it produce less than the minimum number and either shelve writing the new constitution or reluctantly engage for a change in a reconciliation effort and opt to produce a new constitution through establishing a consensus with other parties, particularly the Republican People's Party, or CHP?

The e-virus, or sex-tapes that contaminated Turkish politics very seriously were a tool to push the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, below the 10 percent national electoral threshold and help Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan acquire the parliamentary strength to single handedly write a new national charter declaring him the elected sultan and deliver the kiss of death to the secular and democratic Turkish republic.

Which are more deadly, the e-coli or the e-tapes?

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

VICTORY AT LAST

 

In the world of sports, dramatic victories are only occasional events. Geo Super has scored a superlative one. Hearing a petition put before it by the country's first sports channel, a three-member Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has ordered that a license be issued to the channel immediately and a compliance report be issued to the court within three days. The firm SC orders leave no doubt that in its actions to block Geo Super transmissions, the government has been guilty of victimisation – using the flimsiest excuses and violating orders already issued by the Sindh High Court. The court also made no bones regarding its anger over the whole affair. The acting chairman of Pemra, Dr Abdul Jabbar, was told to 'go home' if he lacked the authority to issue a license as he claimed, and instead, allow the real chairman to resume charge. The astonishing stance by Pemra, that the owner of the Geo Super network posed a security threat, brought open derision from the court given that the Jang Group and Geo, under the same ownership, run a host of newspapers and news channels.


What we have seen is one of the most shameful attempts in our history to muzzle the free media and clamp down on it. The prolonged campaign by the government against Geo Super, using Pemra in a frontline role as its key goon, is an obvious attempt to punish the group for its exposures of corruption and mismanagement within the running of the administration and the wrongdoings of various officials. We must be grateful the attempt did not work. The consequences of this, in terms of the right to access information, would have been grave. We can also be thankful that we have an independent judiciary. In the light of the past, we have a distinct picture before us of what happens when courts are subservient to politicians. The fact that this is no longer the case allows us all to breathe a great deal more freely, with Geo Super obtaining the justice it deserves, and the ludicrous nature of the government's vindictive allegations against it laid out in the open for all citizens to see and draw their own conclusions about the intentions behind a campaign which affected tens of thousands of viewers of the nation's favourite sports channel.

 

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

FLOOD REPORT

 

The findings submitted to a three-member Supreme Court bench by the commission set up by it to examine the numerous breaches of embankments along the River Indus which aggravated the damage inflicted by last year's floods, have revealed a little bit more about the manner in which our administrative set-up works and the favours that are meted out to the influential at the cost of ordinary people. The four-member commission headed by Muhammad Azam Khan has pin-pointed acts of negligence by the irrigation departments of both Sindh and Balochistan, with the report detailing the poor upkeep of key dykes, and corruption which has permitted people to obtain land based along the structures, thus encroaching on areas meant to hold heavy spill-overs of water. Mismanagement has been particularly noted in the case of the breach of the Tori Bund near Jacobabad, which led to massive flooding that ravaged vast areas in neighbouring Balochistan. The failure to build drainage channels while constructing roads has also been taken into account.


It is vital that the recommendations made in the report be implemented. The court has already issued orders in this regard. The government should follow them without delay and must not disregard the matter. Past records of administrative work indicate that this could well happen, leading to more havoc should another calamity strike. Preventive measures to avoid this have clearly been identified in the findings. The court and the commission have done us all a favour in undertaking this task. The rest now lies in the hands of the government and especially the irrigation department which needs to close the many loop-holes that exist in our flood-safety situation.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

HAJ AFFAIRS

 

Through a short order on petitions against allocation of quota under Haj Policy 2011, a full bench of the Lahore High Court has deemed illegal the clause in the new policy that limits the selection of Haj Group Organisers (HGOs) to those who provided services in last year's Haj or preceding years. Around 60 petitions were filed by tour organisers who held that the ministry of religious affairs allotted the quota to private tour operators on the basis of personal liking and political influence despite clear directions from the courts to make the decision on the basis of merit. In its judgement, the bench has observed that there was no restriction on the Pakistani government under its agreement with Saudi Arabia against allowing other qualified organisations to provide services during this year's Haj.


As per the court's orders now, the government must ensure that all applications for allocation of the HGO quota are considered and competitive selection takes place in a transparent manner and in accordance with the law. The policy must aim to help all qualified HGOs rather than those that have the ear of influential persons. The federal cabinet's decision to check Haj freebies and corruption of various kinds was welcomed in most quarters. Denying journalists, party loyalists and parliamentarians 'free rides' for the next three years and ensuring they pay for themselves could make Haj policies more equitable and corruption-free. It is thus very important to ensure that this latest court decision is implemented to bring further improvement in Haj arrangements. Already, the legendary scam in Haj arrangements has shocked many. The culture of freebies and favours must be abandoned and it should be ensured that behind-the-scene attempts to break rules and get favours are thwarted.

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

FREEDOM'S PRICE  

TANVIR AHMAD KHAN


The horrifying murder of Saleem Shahzad is a powerful reminder that Pakistan has become a highly dangerous country for journalists and, perhaps, all those who go beyond the authorised versions of various parties engaged in a deadly conflict raging in the country. The return of democracy has not stopped our descent into barbarism; in fact, violence against media people has noticeably increased. No longer confined to the murky world of tribal badlands it has established itself all across the country. As the distinguished novelist Mohsin Hamid notes, Pakistan is being silenced.


Another writer, Vaclav Havel, the dissident intellectual who became Czechoslovakia's president, once wrote that in every one there is some longing for humanity's rightful dignity, for moral integrity, for free expression of being and a sense of transcendence over the world of existence. Life, he argued, "moves towards plurality, diversity, independent self-constitution, in short, toward the fulfilment of its own freedom". In the increasingly polarised world of Pakistan there is a wilful denial of all the norms of a civilised existence that Havel flagged in that essay. One of the several victories the terrorist aims at is that the state and society also embrace his choice of wanton brutality. We have hardly any evidence as yet who perpetrated the terrible atrocity on Saleem Shahzad but the perception that the State of Pakistan is in the business of controlling the media has already led to unsubstantiated allegations against its security apparatus. It is a view that easily gets amplified on the international scene.


In Pakistan's case, the greatly expanded print and electronic media is passing through an intense competitive phase; it can survive only by providing instant explanation of matters which arouse popular concern. There is the hunger for truth but the market forces also demand more and more disclosure. Even as the media shapes the attitudes of the people, the people shape the media. There is an unprecedented premium on investigative journalism. Its exponents often find it self-intoxicating and venture further and further into it. Saleem Shahzad was easily one of them.


As a compelling story, Afghanistan is thirty years old. But few people had followed the trail that mapped the degeneration of the anti-Soviet Afghan struggle into murder and mayhem in Pakistan itself more assiduously than him. In a recent post on Facebook, Saleem Shahzad advised his friends to read his book. He had walked into the inner heart of terror without considering how many enemies he could make across the dividing lines. The last time I saw him was when he visited the Institute of Strategic Studies not long ago. He had an easy smile and he carried his prodigious knowledge of the troubled north-west without an iota of professional arrogance. He looked just too robust to allow thoughts of fatal dangers.


He is gone but the struggle for freedom of expression will go on. In Pakistan, there has all along been a special self-awareness in the media of being the only effective torch bearer of truth. From the early years when larger-than-life personalities like the great poet, Faiz Ahmad Faiz took up journalism to assume this responsibility to the present day, there has been a continuous tradition of trying to live up to this high calling. The natural instinct of a true journalist is to tell it all. If the state wants him to exercise restraint on sensitive issues of national security, it would have to develop sophisticated means of conveying its message. Amongst the means would be a compact to protect the media and the people who work in it.

The writer is a former ambassador and foreign secretary. Email: katanvir@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE BEGGARS' BUDGET

HUZAIMA BUKHARI AND DR IKRAMUL HAQ

 

Budget 2011-12 was finalised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in meetings held with Pakistani officials in Washington and Dubai in May. This revelation by a TV channel is not the basic cause for concern, because it is merely a reconfirmation of the adage that beggars cannot be choosers. The truly worrisome thing is that even under the watchful eyes of the IMF, the trio of corrupt politicians, incompetent tax bureaucrats and Western-educated technocrats managed to keep the rich outside the tax net and failed to bring any meaningful structural change in the existing oppressive economic system. As a result, neither can the fiscal deficit recede to a manageable level nor can sustainable growth be achieved. Peasants and workers, the real creators of national wealth, will remain underfed, economically deprived and dispossessed.


Not a single progressive tax has been proposed in Finance Bill 2011, despite the fact that in the media an effective campaign was launched prior to the budget announcement, aimed at forcing the ruling elite to correct the imbalance between direct and indirect taxes in Pakistan. The rich are not paying income tax on their colossal incomes – the total number of people showing incomes exceeding Rs1 million is below 750,000 million. This is an ugly joke – in fact a national scandal.


As a result, our tax-to-GDP ratio is one of the lowest in the world – just 10.2 percent according to the official estimate. Over 75 percent taxes collected are indirect, many even under the garb of income tax in the form of presumptive taxes.


As expected, the tax officials sitting in FBR managed to retain the powers to issue notifications (the infamous SRO system), even bypassing the laws passed by parliament. This discretion available to them is the root cause of massive tax leakages and corruption in Pakistan. Despite the IMF's desire that the FBR surrender this power, the powerful lobby backed by businessmen-politicians frustrated it, knowing that this was their financial lifeline. The FBR has skilfully protected – with the support of political manipulators – the means of tax evasion. The business houses collect sales tax from people, but with the connivance of tax men deposit only a fraction of it in the government treasury. This helps businessmen conceal the real quantum of their income. If sales tax is properly enforced, income tax collection will automatically improve.


The role of FBR high-ups is the same as that of the East India Company during the Raj. A handful of people in the ministry of finance and in the FBR have likewise over-empowered millions of persons. There are remarkable similarities in the operations of the IMF-FBR duo in Pakistan and those of the East India Company and its crony rulers during the colonial era. The control over resources and masses is exerted through an oppressive, inequitable, tyrannical, unjust and anti-people tax system.


The existing tax system and policies are reminiscent of the British period when the East India Company's henchmen would go to peasants' hovels and snatch away most of their produce. The East Indian Company's tax collectors used to take away one-half to two-thirds of the crops. Therefore, the peasant's life was extremely miserable during the colonial period. The present rulers, by taxing the poor and exempting the rich, have returned Pakistan to the days of the East India Company.


The East India Company destroyed the indigenous industry of the Subcontinent to promote the products of England. In the same manner, the FBR, under the dictates of the IMF-World Bank, is destroying local industries by creating artificial shortages of electricity and gas, blocking refunds worth billions of rupees owed to exporters to ensure the success of the IMF's agenda aimed at crippling local industry, in particular the export industry. They want to capture the huge consumer markets of populous countries like Pakistan, India and Central Asia. This can only be done if the indigenous industries of such countries are either destroyed or taken over by the multinationals, which are actually controlling the policies of the IMF and the World Bank.

The FBR stalwarts are not interested in the collection of taxes from the rich. They are acting like mansabdars (local revenue officials) of the IMF-World Bank who want their money back with interest. The word gumashta (agent) was invented by the colonial rulers for their local lackeys, who for the sake of exercising their control over the native population, joined hands with them. In matters related to revenue collection they unleashed a reign of terror on the locals, closely followed today by the IMF's "gumashtas" in the ministry of finance and the FBR.

Due to corruption and inefficiencies, the FBR is facing a revenue shortfall of billions of rupees. It was supposed to collect Rs1,680 billion in accordance with the original target fixed in the 2010-2011 budget. Later, the target was reduced to Rs1,588 billion, yet the FBR is lagging behind by at least Rs50-70 billion. This year's target of Rs1,952 will also be reduced in May 2012. This is window dressing to show wrong figures of fiscal deficit to meet the IMF's capping of 4 percent of the GDP. The real revenue potential of the country is not less than Rs4,000 billion, provided taxes are levied on the rich and taxation is properly enforced after the stakeholders are taken on board. Since the rich and mighty are not paying income tax and are guilty of illegally remitting untaxed money abroad, Pakistan has become indebted to the extent that now 55 percent of tax revenues are going towards debt servicing alone – in budget 2011-12 the allocation for debt servicing is Rs1.07 trillion against the revenue target of Rs1.952 trillion.


The sovereignty of a state is measured by the power it enjoys in imposing taxes on its people – responsible governments utilise revenues for the benefits of the less privileged and for the welfare of the citizens. On the contrary, our rulers are utilising the moneys for their own luxuries. They are destroying local industries and opening markets to foreign goods. Look at the free and abundant availability of smuggled goods everywhere. This has paralysed our local units.


How ruthlessly the so-called people's representatives of the day are destroying Pakistan. Obviously they want the perpetuation of their own rule and they know that this can be done only if they unquestionably follow the command of their foreign masters. The foreign masters are only looking for economic benefits, as they are no more interested in our physical subjugation.


The Pakistani ruling elite represents a mafia of tax dodgers and plunderers of the national wealth – proven beneficiaries of the NRO. We are being mistreated by the United States and the IMF because, at the expense of national sovereignty, our ruling elite opted against the payment of taxes. We have no right to accuse the US, the IMF and others for this self-destructive path our own rulers have chosen for us. We have long been moving towards self-annihilation. Budget 2011-12 will certainly bring more miseries for the poor segments of society and further debt enslavement for the Pakistani state.


The writers are tax lawyers and adjunct professors at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Emails: huzaima@huzaima ikram.com, ikram@huzaimaikram.com

 

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

BACKING THE COMMISSION

ISMAIL KHAN

 

The commission formed to investigate the May 2 incident is a welcome development, and should be treated accordingly. Even though there has been considerable criticism of the procedural mechanisms, the commission has the potential of exposing and thereby fixing flaws within Pakistan's security institutes and even a set of policies which allowed the incident to take place. A lot, however, depends on how we seek to understand the May 2 incident and how far the incident is stretched by our imagination.

Ever since the announcement of its formation, the commission to look into the May 2 incident has served largely as an item against the government's poor performance. The PML-N, the leading opposition party, has reprimanded the government for ignoring the opposition view concerning the appointment of members to a parliament-backed commission. One appointee, Justice Fakharuddin G Ebrahim, withdrew his own nomination on the grounds that he was not consulted by the government prior to his nomination.

The PPP-led government is surprised and defensive over the response to its formation process. It relates Ebrahim's nomination with a demand by the Nawaz League. Viewed from an institutional context, the commission showcases a diverse set of people, including a former police officer, ambassador, and a military officer, with no controversy surrounding them.

The idea of the commission itself materialised after the Nawaz League rejected the earlier idea of a military probe into the Abbottabad raid and vowed to pursue an independent probe.

Both failing to detect Osama's presence in the country and failing to detect US helicopters in Pakistani airspace raised considerable doubts about the efficacy of military alarms. These in turn have led to a popular demand that the government look into and correct grave errors such as these.

Notwithstanding the need for consensus, controversies surrounding the appointment of commission members should not be accepted as an excuse for the commission's natal burial.

In the absence of a synchronised timeline, half-baked stories and multiple narratives about the state and its institutions abound. Pakistan is already at the vortex of such a rumour pool with even officials often drawing wrong comparisons. Before the US drone attacks had killed Baitullah Mehsud, some officials reportedly expressed the belief that the US was backing the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

While the agenda of the commission is to be charted out after an agreement on the formation of the commission is solidified, commentators want to know the causes of the inability to detect US helicopters and the intelligence failure that allowed Osama to remain tucked away in Abbottabad.

In the eyes of some, the two areas of failure are intertwined. After all, despite the blame game, Pakistan and the United States have jointly pursued and nabbed many a militant from the urban areas of Pakistan. That is, contrary to what is being speculated about the state's dilly-dallying on the subject of the commission, there are reasons to believe that even the military would want the commission to get a green signal to cast off the embarrassment that Bin Laden left behind.

While the military has come under scrutiny for not severing links with several groups enjoying a foreseeable significance in the region, its punitive actions against the "foreign fighters" have been equally noteworthy. Former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf's memoir "In the Line of Fire" still attracts buyers by telling them that his (Musharraf's) forces caught "Six hundred and seventy members of Al-Qaeda in the mountains and cities." Even Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, during her recent press conference, discarded the involvement of top officials in concealing Osama's presence in the country – although she didn't rule out collaboration at lower levels.

This brings up the issue of the time stretch within the mandate of the commission. Notwithstanding the importance of the day, exploring too much in that single day will result in a different kettle of fish with only the water at the top being tested. The result will lean too much on defence unpreparedness.

Instead, should the commission be able to dig its hand in the tunnel of Bin Laden, it will earn some much-needed international credibility for Pakistan. Of course, that depends on the ability to play it cool instead of challenging the world. The fact that the world's most wanted terrorist was ensconced in an urban area of Pakistan is an important puzzle that needs to be solved - not only for the benefit of international stakeholders but for the sake of Pakistan itself.

The focus of the commission should be to seriously revisit the policy through which OBL was able to get inside the country and weave a network here. The hope is to expose flaws in order to reset the reformation of institutes - this much is accepted by Rehman Malik and General Pasha alike; both, however, may differ over whom to blame ultimately. This single potential of exploring flaws within the instruments and institutes makes a strong case for its existence.



The writer is a graduate in International Relations from Boston University. He teaches foreign policy and is an independent analyst. Email: ismkhan84@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

WAR BEHIND TALL BARRIERS

KAMILA HYAT

 

While the attention of the media and most Pakistanis remains firmly focused on the war pitching the Taliban and affiliated groups against state forces, another dangerous civil war being fought in the country has been largely ignored.


The events in Balochistan do occasionally make the front pages of newspapers, but the full horror of the situation in the province has not been recognised – perhaps because it has become lost amidst the swirling chaos of political developments and the periodic dramas we see as militants break into bases or drones kill top militants in tribal areas.


The brutal killing last week of Balochistan University's Dr Ghulam Hussain Saba Dashtiyari drew some comment in the national press. But the depth of mourning in Balochistan, where Dashtiyari held the status of a hero, has simply not been reflected outside the province. We could, for all practical purposes, be living in two different countries – the events in Balochistan as insignificant to most of us as, say, those in Mongolia or Burkina Faso. In Balochistan, Dashtiyari, a teacher of Islamic studies, was a much respected poet and writer.

During his 31-year career as an academic he had done a great deal to preserve and promote the Balochi language, setting up a library in Karachi where he was born and educated. He also spoke out vocally in favour of nationalist causes and for the missing people of Balochistan. Students at the university eagerly sought him out. Many in the province believe this is precisely why he was gunned down. They mention that the dead bodies of nationalists turn up virtually every week, in the towns of a province which occupies a horror zone more terrifying even than that which has come to engulf more and more tracts of the country



The death of Dashtiyari, 58, shot dead as he set out on a routine evening walk along Sariab Road in Quetta, was initially reported as yet another killing of a teacher. Two dozen men and women, many of them settlers, have been killed since January 2008. The murder was then "claimed" by the previously unknown Ansarul Islam – but the credibility of such claims runs low. Websites run by Baloch nationalists state with conviction that the much-admired Dashtiyari fell to the bullets of state agents.


The voices from Balochistan reflected on these websites can now be reached only with much difficulty; the ban imposed on Baloch and some Sindhi nationalist websites under Musharraf, with the use of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, remains stringently in place – and this muffling of opinion only makes matters still worse, hiding much of what is happening in Balochistan and the nature of the vicious civil war being fought there from much of the country. The natural pre-occupation of people with a whole host of other problems makes this easier.

But behind the tall walls that hide reality, small children in towns such as Khuzdar and Noshki chant Balochi national anthems. Steeped in the beliefs of those around them, they speak of freedom, or death, with a passion hard to imagine elsewhere in the country. Indeed, the peers of these children in Punjab, in Karachi or elsewhere would have trouble even identifying the majority of the 27 districts of Balochistan.


The province has been badly let down by all the institutions of state. The government, the courts and the military have all failed it. Only a handful of the 61 or so points included in the package for Balochistan announced in 2009 have been implemented. No political dialogue aimed at creating a consensus has been initiated. Killings such as those of Dashtiyari continue. Most missing persons have not been found. Their families claim some who have returned have suffered so much brutality in captivity that they are now disabled, physically or psychologically. Releases come with warnings for the victims to maintain a permanent silence.

The situation is at least as bad as that in some of the South American dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s. Yet too few in the country are sufficiently concerned or even aware of the full reality; even fewer speak out about it. Senior members of the Balochistan government are understood to have warned the prime minister that things could easily spiral out of control. The response has been inadequate. We have heard frequent accusations of Indian and Afghan intervention, but this rhetoric does nothing to address the problems that lie within the province itself and can only be solved there.


The tales of death come from other places too. In April this year four members of the Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz were killed when their car mysteriously caught fire while traveling through Sanghar. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has stated after a fact finding effort that allegations made in this case need to be more thoroughly investigated. The same holds true for other deaths. Such an investigation has not taken place.

It is perfectly true there are many groups involved in all kinds of violence in Balochistan: settlers – some who have lived in the province for generations, teachers and security personnel are gunned down by increasingly desperate nationalists. In terms of nuance, differences exist as far as their own ideologies go. But their broader vision of independence is unanimous.


Extremists kill Shias or the Hazaras who they accuse of being US agents and intelligence personnel wage their own battles against "anti-State" elements. But if state actors replicate the same patterns of violence we see from non-state players, we have a faster drift towards anarchy. Such actions will only act to create a more dangerous cycle of violence rather than helping to end it.


For now, events in Balochistan may seem to be taking place in a faraway place. The distance between the province and the centre of control continues to grow. The repercussions of what is happening there could in time prove to be extremely dangerous for the country as a whole, as a civil war that has so far gone more or less unnoticed boils over and reaches out from beyond boundaries of that turbulent province.


The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. Email: kamila hyat@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

KARACHI'S POWER WOES

MUHAMMAD UMER

 

Patience is wearing thin in Karachi where an electricity crisis exacerbated by the searing heat of summer and the KESC's controversial plan to lay off around 4,500 low-grade employees is disrupting life almost on a daily basis now. At least seven people, including a head constable of the Rangers, were killed and 13 vehicles torched as violence broke out on Thursday night last week on the eve of a wheel-jam strike that continued into the following day.

The strike had been called against prolonged electricity outages and the retrenchment plan. The violence came amid power outages unprecedented in the city's history. Several areas have had to live without electricity for days at a stretch. Hours-long supply cuts are a routine most consumers have resigned themselves to.

As students sit their exams and patients writhe with pain in hospitals in the hot and humid weather, the Karachi Electric Supply Company seems preoccupied with a task it considers more important than ensuring an uninterrupted power supply – how to fire the 4,500 or so non-core staff it believes it does not need. While the privatised power utility is within its right to right-size itself and maximise its profits, its eagerness to achieve these goals before doing its main job, i.e. to keep the financial hub of the country supplied with electricity, has only compounded the situation. In fact, the standoff between the KESC management and the workers shows how faulty the power utility's handling of the lay-off issue has been.

In January this year, the KESC announced its decision to lay off the non-core staff, sparking protests that crippled its ability to maintain the electricity supply. But it had to reinstate the sacked workers after the federal and provincial governments intervened when things appeared to be getting out of control. However, the power utility was in no mood to relent. No sooner had it withdrawn its decision than it put the non-core employees in a surplus pool, triggering off a crisis that is proving to be intractable. This has allowed political parties to take sides and exploit the issue for political mileage. Last week's violence showed the issue was no more confined to the KESC and might be settled on the streets of Karachi.

Even if the KESC were able to resolve the issue, it would still be struggling with a host of more serious problems. Despite its denial that it owes the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) no dues, the latter has threatened it with suspension of the supply of 600 megawatts from the national grid should it fail to clear dues to the tune of Rs28 billion. With the circular debt dispute being allowed to drag on, and the parties caught in the vicious cycle contenting themselves with blaming each other for the problem, the cash flow necessary to keep things going is likely to remain elusive.

Then, there is the issue of transmission and distribution losses, which currently sand at around 34 percent. The KESC's claim that it has succeeded in checking these losses to some extent rings hollow when power failures have become more common than ever. Since taking over the power utility in September 2008, its management has not significantly improved its power-generation capacity. It heavily relies on the national grid – a source which is always under threat from the issue of the payment of dues. It increases durations of power outages whenever it receives a reduced gas supply, a problem which now resurfaces frequently.

The result is the KESC is short of around 400 megawatts when the city's demand peaks at 2,500 in summer. This supply-demand gap will only widen if action is not taken on a war footing and the necessary investment is not made in time.

The KESC is in the business to make profit and not provide jobs. But as a private entity it is also expected to protect the rights of its consumers. The provision of a quality service is not a gift but a right for which it charges them. The practice of 'collective punishment' under which the power utility punishes an entire neighbourhood where electricity theft is rampant is unethical. How can it punish consumers who do not steal electricity and pay their bills regularly if there are some who pilfer in the same area? Catching such thieves is its own responsibility; why must it put the burden on honest consumers?

With unemployment rising and the economy struggling to stay alive, the sacking of over 4,500 workers could entail more trouble than feared. Job loss might force many families into starvation and turn many towards militantcy. It is the responsibility of the government to address the situation immediately. Failure to do so could make the KESC a classic example of a privatisation attempt that backfired.



The writer is city editor of The News Karachi.

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

SECURITY SUMMITRY

DR MALEEHA LODHI


The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.

The Shangri La Dialogue has established itself as the premier inter-government security summit in the Asia-Pacific offering a unique opportunity for high-profile defence diplomacy.


Named after its venue, the tenth Dialogue organised last week by the International Institute of Strategic Studies assisted by Singapore, showed how this forum has evolved. The three-day meeting brought together top military and civilian officials from 27 countries, over a dozen defence ministers and scores of participants from the world's defence community.


For the first time Beijing sent its defence minister, General Liang Guanglie, who is also a state councillor. He made a wide-ranging address explaining the principles and parameters of China's international security cooperation and engaged in a candid exchange with the audience.


The diverse nature of participation as well as the varied issues on the agenda meant that the Dialogue had no single focus. It's plenary and special sessions discussed a number of challenges facing the region including maritime security, tensions in the South China Sea and over North Korea. If a dominant theme emerged it was the dynamic between the evolving role of the US in the Asia-Pacific region and the impact of China's growing power and diplomatic assertiveness.

Those who expected a replay of the Sino-US verbal clashes that punctuated the summit in previous years were disappointed. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and his Chinese counterpart both sought to emphasise the stability in bilateral relations, with the retiring Pentagon chief saying that military ties will continue to improve under his successor, due to take charge at the end of June. Gates also rejected suggestions on the summit eve that Washington was trying to contain China saying: "China has been a great power for thousands of years. It is a global power and will be a global power".

These mutual assurances reflect the more positive trajectory in ties following President Hu Jintao's state visit to Washington in January this year. This helped to re-set ties after months of turbulence. The previous two years saw strains as both countries clashed over a number of economic and security issues ranging from trade and the value of China's currency to tougher sanctions against Iran and US arms sales to Taiwan, with the row over the Google affair also complicating ties.

That relations steadily stabilised despite continuing differences was a measure of the growing interdependence between the world's two most powerful nations who have equities in each other's economic future. This symbiotic relationship is today the pivot of the global economy. Mutuality of interests provides compelling reasons to both sides to not allow differences to spin out of control.

This does not mean that mutual suspicions about each other's long term strategic intentions have disappeared. But as the Singapore summit reaffirmed, both have a shared interest to ensure their relations remain cooperative.

As the Malaysian prime minister pointed out in his key-note address at the conference, it no longer makes sense for the world's major powers to engage in confrontation because they simply have too much to lose. Prime Minister Najib Razak also went to some length to stress that China's rise should not be a cause for anxiety. Economics is why the world should not worry about China's growing military and economic might; he told the audience which also included Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. "You cannot make war on the world's largest market," he added.

Mr Najib's historical recall of how the US laid the foundations of its relations with China had special resonance for the small number of Pakistanis in the audience. He said next month marks the 40th anniversary of Henry Kissinger's secret trip to Beijing, which paved the way for President Richard Nixon's pivotal 1972 visit. It was Pakistan that facilitated this 'opening' to China that proved to be a seminal development that ultimately altered the course of the cold war.

In his speech to the first plenary Gates spoke about efforts to build "a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship" with China. For his part General Guanglie reiterated the defensive nature of China's military modernisation and said that neither this nor its growing economic power poses any threat." "China has not been and will never be a hegemon". And he called for mutual respect and equality in international cooperation while rejecting "power politics and a cold war mentality."

Afghanistan was a notable omission in Gate's wide ranging address on strategic challenges intended to convey America's enduring commitment to the region's security. This was all the more surprising as a decision by the White House is only weeks away on the start of a US troop drawdown this summer. Also Gates went directly to Afghanistan from the Singapore summit for farewell calls to American troop bases.

Only in response to a question from a Pakistani participant did he comment on Afghanistan and the prospects for negotiations to forge a political solution. His answer reiterated the familiar Pentagon view – shared by the outgoing top US commander in Afghanistan, General David H Petraeus – and struck a note at variance with the thinking in the White House and the State Department about the timing and terms of an Afghan 'reconciliation' process.

He said, "the generally accepted view" was that "nearly all conflicts of this kind eventually come to a close with some kind of political settlement." But he argued that "prospects for a political settlement do not become real until the Taliban.... begin to conclude they cannot win militarily." For that to happen, military efforts were needed to "expand the security bubble" and sustain gains already made. And then, "perhaps this winter, the possibility of some kind of political talks on reconciliation" might open up.

He acknowledged that the Taliban are "part of the political fabric of Afghanistan" but insisted that they will have to agree to three conditions – sever ties to Al-Qaeda, accept the Afghan Constitution and lay down their arms – for talks to take place. This qualified support for the peace talks and the suggestion that the Taliban first accept these conditions lays bare the gap that seems to persist between the Pentagon's views and those of President Obama's civilian advisers. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has already clarified that Washington's three redlines are not pre-conditions, but the outcome sought from negotiations.

The view Gates voiced at the conference of continuing military operations in Afghanistan reinforced the confusion that continues to characterise US policy. He stated this more explicitly when he reached Kabul where he called for staying the counter-insurgency course. This together with hints from other American representatives attending the Singapore summit that another season of fighting may be needed raised anew the question whether the US still wanted to kill its way out of Afghanistan or negotiate.

This produces a conundrum for Islamabad. Is the American expectation that Pakistan kill, capture or encourage Taliban leaders to join the reconciliation process? It cannot be all of the above. If the expectation is that senior Taliban leaders should be eliminated who will be there to talk to? A closed session debated this among other questions but the deliberations were off the record.

For the authorities in Pakistan the Shangri La Dialogue was a missed opportunity as there was no official to represent the country or make its case on any of the region's security challenges. In not sending any official to the summit, civil or military, Islamabad failed to utilise a chance to reach out to the international community. Considering Pakistan's only strategic relationship lies in this region– with China – it is especially ironic that Islamabad is bereft of any 'Look East' strategy or framework for wider engagement in what is now acknowledged as the world's most dynamic and fastest-growing region.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

NEGLECT THAT LED TO FLOOD HAVOC

 

THE Flood Inquiry Commission set up on the orders of the Supreme Court has submitted its report stating that Tori Bund near Jacobabad in Sindh suffered years of neglect and lack of maintenance which eroded its height to a dangerous level and led to the unprecedented damages in Sindh and Balochistan. It has been stated in the report that the last minute misdirected attempt to remove earth from its crest to fill deep pits on the riverside of the bund further reduced its height while the public saw it as deliberate attempt to cause a breach.

It is a fact that most embankments along the rivers in the country are not being maintained properly as required because of the irresponsible attitude of the bureaucracy, diversion of maintenance funds to other heads and corrupt practices. It is mandatory for the departments concerned particularly the National Flood Commission to ensure before the onset of monsoon season that all the embankments and dykes were strong to withstand the pressure of floods but as the culture of responsibility and accountability has eroded, it is being taken as a routine matter and ignored. Since there had been no major floods after 2006, encroachments cropped up in the katcha areas and when the swollen rivers breached their water courses, they caused heavy losses. The illegal encroachments are still going unchecked by the authorities concerned due to negligence, corruption and poor management. Another gross violation pointed out by the Flood Commission was that some of the governments were selling acquired lands in pond areas to raise revenues. Under the law no construction of any infrastructure was allowed to be erected within a distance of 200 feet from banks of the rivers/streams. As for the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, the Commission was of the view that had Munda Dam been constructed, there would have been minimal damage downstream in Charsadda, Peshawar and Nowshera. It is unfortunate that construction of major dams has been politicized by vested interests and the country suffers. Had there been dams, flood losses could have been avoided and the wasted water could have been used for irrigation and power generation. However no body cares for the losses of the country and the poor because the influential people are not affected by such calamities. We hope that the Report of the Inquiry Commission would serve as a warning for Flood Control Commission and Provincial Governments and they would ensure that every thing was in order to avoid the flood havoc that the country witnessed in 2010.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

US TO WRAP UP SOON

 

THERE are a number of developments that clearly indicate that the US administration is thinking in terms of speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan in the face of growing cost and number of body bags. Though the US authorities are not publicly acknowledging but the fact remains that the only super power of the world has, perhaps, learnt the same lesson that erstwhile Soviet Union learnt ie Afghanistan cannot be occupied for long and Afghan war is un-winnable.


Though President Obama had declared about a year back that he would start troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan beginning July 2011 but as per original plan the reduction was to be nominal rather symbolic. However, there are now demands in the US that it should be steeper particularly because of escalating cost of the war, which the American tax payer is becoming weary to pay, and killing of Osama bin Laden in an operation in Abbottabad. President Obama held an important meeting on Monday to discuss the possibility of accelerated withdrawal in the backdrop of happenings that provide sufficient face-saving excuses to do so. A report appearing in New York Times has also lent credibility to reports that the national security team of the US President was favourably considering to wrap up the aggression at the earliest. British ambassador to Pakistan too has hinted at such a possibility by laying stress on political solution of the Afghan imbroglio. There are also reports that Americans have established direct and indirect contacts with a number of Taliban leaders and are even ready to enter into a dialogue with Mullah Omer. Separately, there is a move at the UN to delist several Taliban leaders from the so-called list of terrorists. We fully support the dialogue track as it is the only option to succeed in Afghanistan but at the same time it is queer that the United States is not ready as yet to allow Pakistani authorities to do so in a bid to normalize volatile situation in the country where bomb blasts and suicide attacks have become order of the day. Irrespective of what Americans think or desire, it is time that Pakistani leadership should review the ground realities and come out with a fresh thinking.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

SCOURGE OF HAJJ AND OTHER QUOTAS

 

A FULL Bench of the Lahore High Court headed by Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry on Monday declared illegal and unlawful the Hajj quota allotment to private Hajj group Organizers (HGOs) as envisaged in the Hajj Policy 2011. Ministry of Religious Affairs had limited the award of Hajj quota to the persons and companies that had rendered the same service in the year 2010 or in the preceding years and the court held the restriction as illegal and without lawful authority.

Though the court has not touched the quota system itself and delivered the verdict on the basis of restriction imposed for the purpose but the development is welcome in that it would encourage and promote merit in such cases. We believe that the quota system is a curse that amounts to deny people their due rights and therefore, all types of quota must be abolished without any discrimination. This is particularly so in the case of Hajj process, which is a sacred religious obligation but has been rendered controversial because of flouting of rules and regulations and even corruption that led to incarceration of Hamid Saeed Kazmi, former Minister for Religious Affairs. Quotas — be they in employment, admissions in educational institutions, issuance of arms licences or allotment of plots – are used as political bribe and create a lot of resentment among people. We have witnessed in the case of job quota that dull candidates from certain areas get precedence over brilliant candidates from some regions just because of the quota system and as a consequence the quality of the civil service is badly compromised. Therefore, barring quota for women and handicapped in government jobs, all sorts of quota should be abolished and a merit based system introduced in every sphere of life, as this would not only meet demands of the justice but also help the society excel.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

A BUDGET FOR MASSES OR ELITE?

SHAUKAT MASOOD ZAFAR

 

Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh has unfolded the budget of Pakistan for the year 2011-12. In Budget 2011-12 the main debating point is, how the government handles the huge fiscal deficit and the degree up to which the economy boost. According to the estimates, the budget outlay for the coming year is set at 2.767 trillion rupees ($32 billion) i.e. 14.2 per cent greater than last year. The total budget amounts to Rs. 3.7 trillion, out of which 933 billion is expected to go to provinces while 2.7 trillion would be for federal allocation.

The security related expenditure has been raised by 15 percent to Rs 835 billion. The huge sum of Rs 786 billion consumed by interest repayments on public debt does not include repayments of the principal amount, funds for which will be financed through local and external borrowing. It is also surprising that no provision has been made for the repayment of IMF loan installment becoming due in February next year. Fiscal deficit is being targeted at 4.3 percent of the GDP. This is what has been agreed to with the IMF. The proposed budget has an allocation of Rs.730 billion Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) for the year 2011-12. The federal component of the PSDP is Rs.300 billion, while the component of provinces is Rs.420 billion. Defense budget is around Rs 495 billion.

The budget deficit has been estimated at four per cent of the GDP, or Rs. 850 billion. Recommendations have been given for a 15 per cent increase in government employee's salaries. Tax increased to 17% from 16% on fertilizer, machinery, tractors, plant, machinery and pesticides; Exemption withdrawn and 17 percent tax imposed on buses, trucks, dumpers, trailers, prime movers and road tractors Due to massive dwindling of foreign inflows, economic managers have faced with the difficult choice of relying heavily on domestic borrowing to bridge the fiscal deficit of more than 4 percent of GDP in the next fiscal year 2011-12. For some reason, the Budget is silent on specific poverty figures, but low GDP growth, decrease in income, rise in unemployment, are clear indicators that poverty has swelled to an unmanageable level. Yet, at the same time, it has been claimed in the Budget that per capita income has risen to $1,254 which is absolutely misleading.

Agriculture growth has gone down at 1.2 percent in 2010-11 against the target of 3.8 percent, Nothing special; No clarity on direction or future vision and it is totally directionless budget, for whom, why and what is the impact. The current budget is no different from previous budgets presented during the last three years. Mr. Hafeez Shaikh, in his short budget speech highlighted the same old trade deficits and the same old missed export targets and the same old difficult economic conditions. Enhancing revenues to minimize dependence on external finances, cutting down the government expenditures, enhancing growth through a new growth strategy and job creation have not been featured in the budget.

In the last 3 years, essential commodities including petrol prices have shot up and the Government instead of controlling inflation, is rather making people habituating to it. The poor people are not beggars to get Rs.1000 per month of BISP which even does not suffice to meet the vegetable inflation cost per month. Think on taxing the political assets and privileged classes who earn 10 folds more than employed persons and still don't pay tax. As usual Taxes are readjusted/ imposed to be collected from the poor. Rich once again remains inadequately taxed or untaxed. The budget has brought no cheerful news to most of Pakistan's toiling masses. The power rates have already gone up and will increase in the months ahead. Gas prices are slated to rise; it may also be denied to domestic consumers this winter. The economic mangers of the government have tried to fool the masses by twisting the figures.

The percentage of inflation is much higher than what is projected at the national level by the Government. For common man, inflation means rise in the prices of wheat and flour. The poverty-stricken people are committing suicides in the country at an alarming rate. The Pakistan Government failed to provide employment to its vast population. Controlling inflation and taking a stand on disinvestment of loss sustaining public enterprises is not found on the cards with some solid proposal, and any opinion on implementation of Direct Taxes Code replacing the inflationary Indirect Taxes has been shown. To pull up some socks budget has taken some commodities and services presently free of excise duty to tax regime further fueling the already high inflation prevailing in the country.

What Pakistan needs is a radical new approach towards the economy. Pakistan's strengths lay in its huge agricultural landscape and its mineral resources. No positive suggestion is available in the budget regarding measures to expand the economy. Pakistan's economy (GDP) is $164 Billion, Israel and Singapore with populations smaller than Lahore have economies larger than Pakistan. Pakistani budgets follow no consistent policies and the poor continue to get poorer. Interesting things to watch out is that the budget has not addressed the cause of fiscal consolidation, rather than launching worthless schemes. The Budget does not speak something on how we will overcome energy deficit and how we align our industries on to alternate technology to bring about inclusive growth.

Most of the industries have remained sick for many years but there is nothing in the budget to rehabilitate them. If they become operational there may not only be job opportunities but it may increase the supplies of goods in the country. Pakistan should have a budget that can fund an agricultural led industrialisation. Such a policy will allow Pakistani industry to cater for its agricultural strengths and at the same time allow it to convert its immense minerals into material that can drive an industrial revolution in the country. This in turn will create millions of jobs and increase national wealth.

Inflation cannot be brought down merely by fiscal measures, although they are very crucial. No significant proposal have been made in the Budget to overcoming the energy crisis, improving security situation, lowering of interest rates, reducing the cost of production and increasing exports, in the absence of which we cannot expect to achieve and sustain a higher growth rate in manufacturing, services and agriculture.

The Budget this year has aimed no focus on inclusive growth and ensuring food security. There is nothing in the budget improving investment climate, strengthening infrastructure and fiscal consolidation. No steps can be seen in the Budget to control the emergence of double digit food inflation badly affecting the common man. The Government should have set in motion steps to bring down the inflation and ensure better management of food security. The current system sucks all economic activity out of the economy as it is not a budget for Pakistan, but a budget for a few opportunist politicians at the behest of the IMF and the US. The current system in Pakistan will continue to fail the people as it is designed to cater for a handful of elite.

IMF is influencing Pakistan to maintain a "vigilant" attitude on monetary policy in order to avert a stimulation of inflation. "The relaxation of the fiscal policy stance, electricity tariff increases and the rebound in oil prices will add to inflationary pressures. Moreover, the present round of wage increases in the public sector, if not managed properly, may trigger an economy-wide realignment of wages, with attendant effects on inflation and competitiveness," said the IMF in its report. Currently, shaky business environment, the food & power shortages and rising prices are putting an extra burden on the economy. Formulation of an appropriate policy is not as important as its successful implementation; however it is a bit hard job for State Bank of Pakistan to achieve its monetary policy targets in the current economic situation.

Nowadays, Pakistani economy is under the heavy burden of macroeconomic imbalances with extremely high foreign and domestic debts, high budget and current account deficits, low foreign exchange reserves, high inflation, high nominal interest rates and low economic growth. The average economic growth over 40 years is around 4 per cent.

Thus, the main focus of any policy should be to achieve a sustainable growth pattern. However, due to various macroeconomic imbalances such as: high budget deficits, extremely high indebtedness, low savings and investment rates, lack of fiscal discipline, undeveloped financial markets, unstable exchange rates along with high population growth and huge defense expenditures made this task almost impossible.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

ECONOMIC MANAGEMENT

MALIK M ASHRAF

Economic management of an economy is the most arduous assignment—owing to the socio-economic complexities and the linkages of the economy with the outside world— that the modern governments have to handle. Monetary and Fiscal Policies choreographed by the central banks, Trade and Commercial policies and Budgets are the tools that are employed for Economic Management. Budget, however, is the most important and potent instrument through which resource mobilization and growth strategies are implemented that have a direct bearing on economic development of the country well being of the masses.


Resource mobilization is done through levy of taxes. Economist and Economic managers around the world are unanimous in their view that for the health of an economy and ensuring a sustainable growth, a broad-based and equitable taxation system having greater reliance on direct taxes is absolutely essential. Unfortunately the taxation system in Pakistan is bereft of all these ingredients. It is neither broad-based nor judicious. What a shame that in a population of more than 170 million only 1.5 million people file income tax returns. The successive regimes have failed in their duty to broaden the tax net and have invariably relied more and more on indirect taxes that confronted the country with a perennial phenomenon of spiraling prices.

In a political system of graft and entitlement, the leadership never tried to break this vicious circle or shall one say did not show any interest in alleviating the sufferings of the masses groaning under the weight of the burgeoning poverty. They without any exception relied on prestige projects motivated by political considerations rather than dictated by the economic realities. The governments determined their development and non-development expenditures first and then went for raising resources. In the absence of the availability of necessary resources they relied excessively on borrowing from the international institutions, friendly countries and the banking system within the country. The result is before our eyes. The yawning budget deficit of 6-7% of GDP is a cumulative effect of this undesirable practice over the last six decades. The present government which inherited this legacy, also perforce had to rely on borrowing initially, to defray expenses on the war on terror, providing succor and rehabilitation to the people affected by the unprecedented and devastating floods last year and catering to the developmental and other needs of the country.

It is however heartening to note a paradigm shift in the economic management of the country by the present government in the light of the past experience, in recognition of the economic compulsions and realities and an irresistible sense of fairness and connectivity with the masses. The reduction of the budget deficit from the inherited figure of 6-7% to 5.3% of the GDP during the current financial year itself is a ranting proof of the success of this approach. During the next financial year it is contemplated to be brought down to 4%. A very significant departure from the past in regards to taxes in the budget for 2011-12 is the shifting of emphasis on direct taxation and broadening of the tax base as well as reduction in the number of the taxes to be paid by the people. The budget envisages to bring 2.3 million more people into the income tax domain and nearly 700000 people potential tax payers have already been identified, who own billions but have never paid any tax.

Reportedly, in response to notices issued to these people, a major chunk of them have already agreed to pay taxes after completion of the assessment process. This is only the tip of the iceberg. But as they say one step in the right direction brings the destination nearer. The imposition of 16% GST is also a daring and pragmatic policy initiative on part of the government. This tax is prevalent in more than 150 countries of the world. It will help in the documentation of the economy and bringing more sectors into the tax net. These two initiatives will have a far-reaching impact on the prospect of resource mobilization.

In regards to reducing number of taxes, the government has withdrawn regulatory duties on 392 items out of 397, abolished special excise duty on 100 items, abolished Federal Excise Duty on 12 out of 15 items and rescinded custom duty on 31 items. The strategy of targeted subsidies also is in line with the concept of social justice and their withdrawal from the affluent segments of the society will generate extra resources for the government. These measures will have anti-inflationary impact and considerably contribute to towards easing the economic situations of millions besides raising the level of vitally need resources for the government. Raise in the salaries and pensions of the government, increase in the allocation for the schemes in the Social Security Net, provision of Sugar and Atta on cheaper rates through Utility Stores and enhancing the slab for taxable income from three hundred thousand to three hundred fifty thousand, will provide adequate relief to the poorer sections of the society.

In regards to nudging growth process, the government has allocated Rs.730 billion for the PSDP as compared to Rs.466 billion last year. The focus on tackling the energy crisis and improving the communication infrastructure are also steps in the right direction. The contemplated privatization of Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs) is an imaginative and realistic decision that will save the government Rs.300 billion that it is spending annually, on running them. Another very prudent initiative in regards to encouraging investment and improving job scenario in the country is the decision to allow five years tax holiday to the investors who set up new industries without borrowing from the banking system.

The budget may not have fulfilled the expectation of many as is usually the case with every budget, but realistically speaking, in the present economic environment, the government has indeed taken very courageous and people friendly decisions that will show their real impact in the times to come.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

SIGNALS FROM WESTERN FRONT

ABID LATIF SINDHU

 

Situation in the complete region is changing with every passing day. It is not the mere volatility which is becoming the hallmark on both sides of Durand line; it has many more undercurrents. Recently three things happened; one, a debate has started in US that the drone attacks or at least the frequency of it is reduced; second, the drone attacks have started on the jackpot rate of three to four strikes a day; thirdly the symbol of terror vis –a-vis the threat perception in the Pakistani context, Ilyass Kashmiri is dead due to the same jackpot drone strike rate. All of these three things (happenings) are inter-linked. These acts are political with military ramifications or one may say these are military acts with political effects. Whatever, the cumulative result is the squeezing of political space for Pakistan.


For sure every drone attack, every suicide bombing, or every act of terror is basically a political happening, as it is directly denuding the Pakistani state of its authority. This war can therefore be called the first purely political war of the world. A set of another interesting things, although of little different intent are taking place, a military commander with on ground experience of Afghan war is about to take over the office of CIA chief, the one of the most ablest generals of American army, Dempsey is going to be the joint chiefs of staff of USA's army, a post responsible to look after the overseas operations and the grand strategy of US forces.

Pakistan-US relations are also at the most trickiest moment of its history. The relations are difficult because these have lost a sense of contemporary alignment within the mechanism of mutuality. On the home front the terrorist attacks have increased, resurgence of insurgency at already fought out places are resurfacing. The attacks against armed forces have gone more calibrated and synchronized to have the maximum effect of demoralization and material deprivation. Mehran naval base is now the case study on the subject. Who is going to take the stock of complete situation, the political leadership, the people of Pakistan, the armed forces of Pakistan or the combination of all of them – this combination is actually lacking.

This war is not a thing which can be done with by indenting it as being a non serious business. Few steps if taken can still recover the state from the ever increasing influence of the obscurantist: one, to make clear in unequivocal terms that Pakistan is not a rentier state, it is as sovereign a state as anyother. These aspersions against states are only made once the political leadership shrinks from their basic responsibility of remaining vigilant against unfounded allegations and misnomers by international players. These players are both the judge and the jury, only the goodwill can ward them off.

Secondly a policy at national level for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism is to be formulated without even wasting an hour. Policy for such things is not a mere whitepaper or a concept paper which is to be read and reread at different forums to gain personnel applause. It is to be a comprehensive document with identifiable interface between different departments of state to fight this menace. Mao can be taken as an example who gave different lines of operations to fight such things, being himself an uprising leader; his advices from the pages of history are to be taken seriously. Practicable fusions between different organs of the state are to be accentuated. Thirdly, economy has to be revived. No state on earth can afford such a protracted war. Long wars are fought on the basis of sustained economic viability, the hundred years' Spanish war is an example, same way whence this principle is ignored in recent past then USSR was disintegrated into economically viable zones. First thing therefore an enemy of state endures is to cripple the economy.

Fourthly, changes on ideological grounds are to be the mainstay of any such policy. It is an area where people do not feel comfort to really move into. Ideas and ideology are usually left of being the sphere of extreme right in the society. Concept of Jihad, the qisas, insurrection and takfir etc are to be defined by the prominent clerics and the people of sagacity in the field of Islamic jurisprudence. Fifthly the structural-cum-legal changes are also very much necessary. Whatever is happening, it is happening along Durand line, what is the status of this border, can't the snags be rectified? Same way the anomalies of FCRs is to be addressed, a law made by the colonial master as an ad hoc arrangement to govern the inhospitable area is still the law of the land. The system of governance through political agent and the Malik of the area is no more effective as the political power of both has been taken over by the extremists.

Pakistani society is being rendered ineffective by the pull and push of forces which are inimical to the very idea of Pakistan. Media being the third wave of influence is comfortably placed to bring a positive change in the society. The managers of this wave if incorporated in the grand alliance of national sooth seekers, will surely bring a positive change and will also prevent a half baked national counter terror or counterinsurgency policy. Changes in the region is not a thing which triggers unnecessary alarm bells, but prudence demands that at least the veracity of these be checked as and when these happen.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

THE REAL FACE OF INDIA

AFSHAIN AFZAL

 

There may be only one or two odd people in India who have actually met Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar but why India has so much regard for these Mujahideen. A serious question bothers many in the west as well as east that why tens and hundreds of Muslim leaders throughout the worlds who have contribution for the cause of Islam are unknown to the Muslim world and why Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar have attained publicity and importance all over the world?. One can recall that few years back Indian mothers use of feel pound in keeping their newly born sons' name after Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar.

Probably, it has noting to do with the achievements of these two leaders or hatred towards the west. The important thing is that western governments due to their narrow mindedness had always been critical to Islam and Prophets of Islam but on the other hand one would not find any Muslim challenging the character, life and teachings of Jesus Christ (Hazrat Eassa Alhe Salam) or Marry (Hazrat Marian Alhe Salam). It is not the Muslims who fought Crusades and massacred innocent civilian without trial but narrow minded religious extremists who are even today ruthlessly elimination Muslim population in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. In fact Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar have become a symbol to resist injustice and war against state sponsored terrorism.

The immediate reaction from India over the claimed death of Osama bin Laden was that the Indian Muslims unanimously condemned the incidents and branded US and allies as terrorists. Interestingly, it is not only the Muslims of India but many non Muslims who did not support the cold blooded murder of Osama bin Laden as a result of 2nd May 2011 US intrusion in Pakistani city of Abbottabad were most vocal and critic of western terrorism. In this regard, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, Imam of Jama Masjid, in a statement said, "When did any court of law in the world convict Bin Laden of terrorist activities?

It is only America's assertion and that of NATO that he was one. Why should we believe them? As for the government of India's reactions, I would like to know their views on what is happening in Palestine even now when thousands of Muslims are being killed by Israel with US help and the killing in a continuation of US interference in Libya, Iraq and Palestine."Interestingly, Maulana Arshad Madani, President of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind also disagreed that Osama Bin Laden was a terrorist. He said, "I do not believe he indulged in terrorism. The question to be asked is why did US come into Afghanistan in the first place? Who created Osama? Americans did to exterminate the Russians. Now that their need has been fulfilled, they term Osama, who was at one point their best friend, a terrorist. It is symptomatic of the American way of functioning of their constant use and throw policy with countries and people. Jamaat Islam-i-Hind President Jalaluddin Umri said, "It is only America's contention that Osama was a terrorist. There is no reason for us to take their words at face value. As for his having been killed inside Pakistan by American forces that is something Pakistan should get worried about…" Interestingly, Asghar Ali Imam Mehdi Salafi, General Secretary of the Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadees Hind said "This is a conspiracy of the enemies of Asia and of Islam to paint Muslims in a bad light."

It would be really an eye opener for the western government to know what Indian thinks of Washington dirty play against the Indians. Imam Bukhari said "I am not saying Osama was a terrorist but the fact that outfits like JeM and LeT have bank accounts in the US show that US and ISI jointly sponsor the acts of terrorism in India." It is not hidden fact that CIA agent. US has also some supporters in India. Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, All India Muslim Personal Law Board Vice-Chairman who is also an important Shia leader in India said that Pakistan has become the US slave. He refused to accept Osama as an Muslim, saying the way he killed innocent people in the world showed that he was not a Muslim as Islam never allows killing of innocent people. There are only one or two odd groups especially among those who associate themselves with Muslims to have US and west supportive ideas.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani , top Kashmir leader who is regarded as voice of Kashmiris on the both side of Line of Control (LoC) appealed to all Imams, religious scholars and people of India to offer special prayers for the last rites in absentia after the Friday prayers for the Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan by a US terrorists on 2 May 2011.Syed Ali Geelani described Osama as a martyr, but added that 11 September attacks on twin towers in New York was handiwork of Osama bin Laden and was a terrorist activity. One really wonders when the west blames Pakistan of extremism and hatred toward west what they would term the sentiments of Indian Muslims. It is time for the west to stop undue interference in the affair of other countries and shun state sponsored terrorism around the world.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

SHOULD (COULD) PAK, US BOND BE BROKEN?

MARK MAZZETTI

 

America's tormented relationship with Pakistan has long had the subtlety of a professional wrestling match. So when frayed relations turned openly hostile in recent weeks, it was hardly a surprise to see Pakistani officials flirt publicly with China, America's biggest rival in Asia. Within days of the American raid deep inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistani officials travelled to Beijing and asked their "Chinese brothers" to operate a strategic port on the Arabian Sea. They also said the two countries were planning oil pipelines, railroads and even military bases in Pakistan for the Chinese Navy.

The Pakistani officials had already advised their neighbours in Afghanistan — where Americans have committed billions of dollars and lost more than 1,500 lives since 2001 — that Afghanistan would be better off placing long-term bets on an ascendant China, rather than a declining United States. But even then, there would be limits on how much America might suffer. Some experts say that a network of new regional relationships with Pakistan actually might help America pursue its deepest interests in the region. Don't expect an open break tomorrow, of course. For the moment, the United States and Pakistan remain bound to each other. As long as war rages in Afghanistan, the United States will rely on routes in Pakistan to ferry in military supplies, and to keep pressure on militants in Pakistan's tribal areas. And the Pakistani government still needs the billions that come each year from Washington to, among other things, keep pace in its arms race with India. Once the war in Afghanistan winds down, though, the relationship could change. Some analysts foresee a new Great Game for dominance in the region, with stakes like billions of dollars in mineral wealth in Afghanistan, access to vital shipping lanes, and a need to monitor the longstanding tensions between India and Pakistan.

Some experts say that a bit of breathing room in the American-Pakistani relationship — managed responsibly — might be just the right therapy for the partnership. In the 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001, both the Bush and Obama administrations have made dozens of official visits to Islamabad to implore, lecture or demand that Pakistan sever ties to militant groups, even attaching strings (without ever really pulling them) to billions of dollars in annual aid. Pakistan's reaction seems to have been little more than resentment of its dependency on Washington, and a determination to pursue an independent course, whether by hiding some of its intelligence agency's activities or by openly hinting at taking another partner, like China.

One question, however, is whether China sees such a partnership quite the same way. Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations said that on a recent trip to Islamabad he was struck by how openly Pakistani officials talked about China as a promising strategic alternative to the United States. But he also said that travelling to Beijing made it clear to him that the Chinese didn't return the sentiments. "The Chinese are simply not interested in playing Pakistan's game, and they don't want to be played as a card against the United States," said Mr. Markey. What they might be willing to do, however, is cooperate in creating new opportunities to stabilise the region. Instead of the United States, China and others being at cross-purposes there, the regional powers might team up not only in trying to keep a lid on Pakistan's combustible dynamics, but also on the thorny problem of the endgame in Afghanistan. As much as India, China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia are all jockeying for influence inside Afghanistan, most experts believe that they all fear a rushed American military pullout and a chaotic power vacuum that might follow. These fears have as much to do with economics as security. India, China and Russia, for example, have been exploring ways to tap vast mineral reserves in Afghanistan, and have supported major road projects that could again make Afghanistan a regional transportation hub. But that goal could be reached only when the shooting stops, and all the powers therefore have an interest in pushing the Afghan government, the Taliban, and some of the other warring Afghan parties toward a peace.

If such a patch of common ground could be cleared, it might also be used for influencing Pakistan to exert leverage over the Taliban, Haqqani network and other Pashtun groups with which it has historical ties. From the American point of view, that would mean turning Pakistan's years of double-dealing to positive effect. Some people who have spent time in the trenches of United States-Pakistan diplomacy said that as tempting as it might be just to walk away from the headaches of the relationship, a far better approach would be to bring others into the game. Vali Nasr, who left the State Department in April after working for the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, said that the "wheels have jammed" in the alliance: Because neither side trusts each other, the United States cannot exert any of the leverage it has with Pakistan. As he sees it, the United States could help escape the pathologies of the alliance by convincing China, Saudi Arabia, and other nations like the United Arab Emirates that it would be truly ugly if Pakistan were to implode.

It's a scare tactic, he admits. But, with a battle for Pakistan's soul being waged among its Islamists, the security establishment, and a moderate middle class, Mr. Nasr says he believes that an unravelling in Pakistan is a clear possibility. At the least, he said, this approach might allow America to co-ordinate its efforts with countries that Pakistan is more eager to listen to. He also wants to ensure that the alliance can survive in the future. "We're behaving as if killing Bin Laden was our last piece of business in Pakistan, and that's incredibly dangerous," he said. After all, the United States beat a hasty exit from the region when the Soviets left Afghanistan, with chaotic results. This time around, the region is armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, and it could become far messier.

— Courtesy: The New York Times

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

TUTU IS WRONG ON ISRAEL BOYCOTT

THE Jewish state is far removed in every way from Soweto.

Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu played an outstanding role in opposing apartheid in South Africa and helping reconcile the nation after majority rule. But such experience in his own country does not qualify him to meddle in other complex conflicts. In praising the Greens-controlled Marrickville Council in Sydney's inner west for its boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, the Nobel laureate has lent unwarranted credibility to an absurd, unjust policy. His interference promotes the falsehood that life in Israel is akin to South Africa under apartheid. In reality, the 20 per cent of non-Jewish Israeli citizens, including 1.1 million Muslims, enjoy the same voting, property and employment rights as the Jewish majority, with whom they live side by side. Such equality was unheard of for the black majority under apartheid in South Africa and few Muslim women enjoy the same freedoms elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Australian opposes construction of settlements on the West Bank that take further Palestinian land. But until the Palestinians, including the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hamas that controls Gaza, recognise Israel's right to exist and stop seeking its destruction, it is unreasonable to expect concessions. In recent decades, serious attempts by Israel to find a peaceful two-state solution have been rebuffed, often with hostility. In 2000, then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat, unwilling to be seen to give up the fight with Israel, foolishly rejected an offer by Ehud Barak to set up an independent state in Gaza and 95 per cent of the West Bank, and territory from Israel proper to compensate for the remaining 5 per cent. An even more generous offer, including much of East Jerusalem, was made by Ehud Olmert in 2008 and rejected by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Recently, Mr Abbas claimed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's promise of "a far-reaching compromise" if the Palestinians recognised Israel's right to exist was a "declaration of war".

The Marrickville campaign, which was opposed by all political leaders including senator Bob Brown and which would have cost ratepayers dearly, was thankfully dumped. On the ABC's Q&A on Monday, Greens senator-elect Lee Rhiannon made a fool of herself talking up the boycotts and claiming Palestinians were subject to apartheid. Archbishop Tutu should be wise to such nonsense.

 

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    THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

SOLAR REBATE IS DAYLIGHT ROBBERY

NSW Premier has dropped the tough talk and backed down.

Barry O'Farrell has performed a double backflip that comes with a twist for NSW households -- higher electricity bills. After promising to be bold, the Premier has retreated at the first sign of resistance. This does not augur well for the future.

Mr O'Farrell inherited an overly generous rebate scheme that paid households 60 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity produced from solar panels. The scheme's cost has blown out from $355 million to $1.4 billion and the new government decided to rein it in by cutting the rebate to 40 cents.

Despite an initial backlash from the 110,000 participating households, the Premier promised to proceed with this necessary cost-saving measure. He argued, correctly, that the scheme forced up electricity costs for all taxpayers in order to subsidise a privileged cohort of solar households. The Australian applauded Mr O'Farrell's stand because despite the issues of retrospectivity involved, we take seriously the findings of reputable studies that show these inefficient green subsidies are on track to inflate electricity prices by as much as 30 per cent over the next decade. Typically, the benefits are enjoyed by those who can afford to make the initial investments, and perhaps assuage their green guilt, while most taxpayers are simply left with the higher costs.

Defending his decision to wind back the solar scheme, Mr O'Farrell wrote in these pages last month: "These have been tough decisions but we also know people voted for real change . . . doing nothing is simply not an option."

Just a few weeks later, it seems doing nothing has become the easiest option. Faced with resistance from the minor parties in the upper house, the Premier has retreated. He continues to blame the cost blowout on the Labor Party and says NSW families will suffer, but he has not even put the matter to the test. Before shirking the issue, surely he could have forced a vote in the upper house, where his failure at least could have come only if Labor was prepared to vote again to preserve its faulty and unfair scheme. For now, the tough talk has gone: "I am a realist and there is no point putting up legislation to the upper house which is going to be rejected." The double backflip has been completed all too easily.

Given the Premier's massive mandate, voters might have welcomed a bit more of a splash.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

GILLARD ON RIGHT TRACK TO PROGRESS NT INTERVENTION

THE practical challenges in Alice Springs are enormous.

Julia Gillard's visit to Alice Springs was a useful opportunity for her to see and hear the problems and progress of indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory firsthand. It was especially useful that the Prime Minister spoke with community leaders who understand better than anyone how federal and state policies are impacting on the people they are designed to benefit. Her overview would have been even more complete had she visited those who live in tents and shacks without power or bathrooms in squatters' camps outside the town.

Coinciding with Ms Gillard's visit, the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council finding that reading levels are improving among indigenous students in Year 3 and Year 7 but that Year 9 students are not achieving reading benchmarks is a reminder that practical reconciliation often involves two steps forward and one back.

Face-to-face contact between political leaders and remote residents is important, but if Ms Gillard is to realise her aspirations and theirs, one of the hardest challenges will be improving service delivery by the NT government and bureaucracy. Indigenous voters have remained loyal to the ALP for years in the Territory, but their support has been taken for granted. Since at least 2006, federal allocations for indigenous services have been underspent by hundreds of millions of dollars. And despite indigenous disadvantage remaining the NT's most acute problem, the issue barely registered in the last election campaign. Even when governments have the will, bureaucratic inertia is hard to beat. In Queensland, where Noel Pearson's Cape York Partnerships program has enjoyed the support of former premier Peter Beattie and the incumbent, Anna Bligh, progress has been frustratingly slow. Ms Gillard is broadly right when she says the government's approach is on the right track, but if she is to step up progress, she must lever greater co-operation from Territory authorities. Local MLA Alison Anderson, who quit the NT cabinet after complaining about rorting of state and federal government indigenous housing schemes, is right when she says politicians should not be afraid to admit the truth and some conditions are getting worse.

Although Ms Gillard refused Tony Abbott's proposal that they visit the area together, the leaders share a broad agreement that there is no alternative to continuing the intervention, albeit with more consultation that should help local communities and leaders become more involved in practical reconciliation. Despite the slowness in overcoming social and economic disadvantage, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has shown commendable determination in persevering with the main planks of the intervention, which was established by the Howard government and refined by Kevin Rudd, who initiated a worthwhile metrics-based approach to monitor performance in the most important areas such as life expectancy, health, education and child welfare. However slow the improvements, there is no alternative for either side of politics but to persevere.

The Opposition Leader was right when he called for bipartisanship to redress our nation's biggest failure. After decades of underinvestment, this is not an area for point-scoring but for constructive, dedicated effort.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

REBATE BACKDOWN SHOWS SHORT RESOLVE

WE KNOW resolve is precious in politics - in short supply and greatly treasured. We don't, therefore, arrive with unrealistic expectations that a new administration will apply it liberally just because its predecessor did not. The failure of the O'Farrell government to stare down opposition to its steep curtailment of the Labor-engineered solar power rebate scheme should disappoint even the more politically hardened, however.

When Barry O'Farrell said on Monday, ''There is no point putting up legislation which does not have widespread support'', he was signalling the government was indisposed to corrective actions that might provoke short-term voter discontent. What other could he have meant by lacking widespread support? Sure, the Brian Harradine mimics whose upper house numbers the government needed were unimpressed with the application of retrospective legislation. But would their discomfort have turned to hostile opposition? We now won't find out because the government squibbed when electoral heat persisted, just as it did in exempting police from its new public service pay regime.

Retrospectivity should never be lightly applied. In this case, however, it was necessary to absolve the government from contractual obligation to the 110,000 NSW households that signed up to such an overly generous rebate scheme. That's not the fault of the households, of course. They entered in good faith a scheme to be paid 60¢ a kilowatt hour for the solar energy their panels captured. They weren't to know the scheme would prove very expensive indeed for the other 2 million households left with an unfunded liability of about $1.4 billion. Caught in this pincer, the new government could breach the trust of participating households by cutting the rebate by a third, thereby knowingly destroying the financial rationale for scheme membership. That's what the government proposed. Or it could sit on its hands and do nothing. That is what it now chooses.

Without seeking to arbitrate on which choice was preferable - both are distasteful - the issue became a test of this administration's ability to withstand kitchen heat, to weigh up tough choices and profound duties. To argue the choice was made appreciably easier by a review that lessened the public liability by about $450 million is a cowardly retreat. If defence of the larger sum was proper, so too is the sparing of $1.4 billion for essential government services.

The government is not three months into a four-year term. If it cannot do the tough things now, with a historic parliamentary majority, don't hold your breath for when times are less amenable.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

NEW PHASE, SAME OLD WAR

THE death of Osama bin Laden, and uprisings in Arab countries against oppressive regimes which began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Libya and beyond look like convenient historical markers. On this view, one event closes an era in Islam's relationship with the West, the others open a new one. What used to be called the ''war on terrorism'' thus appears to be largely over, and a new phase of domestic upheaval in the region has begun - one which presents less of a threat to Western interests. Indeed, if the popular uprisings produce democratic governments, particularly in Egypt, the Arab world's leader, they may usher in a new, positive period for the West.

Unfortunately, the appearance of change is deceptive. As the director-general of the Australian Office of National Assessments told a conference on the decade since 2001, the death of bin Laden will not end terrorism. Nor, it can be said, does the progressive weakening of al-Qaeda through the gradual elimination of its leaders. In fact what superficially appear to be two phases spring from the same causes: the poverty and oppression Muslims suffer, often in wealthy countries, and their antipathy to the West or to ruling groups, often aligned with it, which perpetuate that oppression.

For Western countries, too, engagement in the second phase of this revolt looks much like the first. The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, warned on Sunday that his country's involvement in Libya might continue for months. And if the Gaddafi regime's collapse produced continuing chaos, British troops might be needed in the country as peacekeepers perhaps for years. Bit by bit, as happened in phase one in Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain and its allies are being dragged into another long engagement. And after Libya, where? Syria is in turmoil. Yemen has just lost its leader - a weak one, certainly, but supposedly pro-Western. The peoples of Bahrain and Jordan have been showing the same impatience with their leadership.

Divide and rule, the old imperial formula for difficult regions, no longer works. Discord could be fostered once because distance kept unpleasant consequences far from the great power centres. In the age of instant communication through the internet, ideas, images, grievances and strategies can be shared in seconds. Prejudices can be stoked into conflagrations - or cyber warfare. Failed countries breed whole generations of deprived individuals whose anger can be given instantaneous effect across the globe.

While ever the material circumstances in Arab and Muslim countries remain the same, periodic outbreaks of discontent are inevitable. The West needs a new approach.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

TROOPS POORLY SERVED BY FLAG-DRAPED LEADERS

The lack of clear-eyed leadership carries a high price.

NATIONAL leaders are the last to admit that a war may not deliver victory as promised. The public usually faces facts long before the politicians and generals. This happened with the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, where withdrawals came long after the public had turned against missions whose goals mutated almost unrecognisably. The war in Afghanistan, in its 10th year, appears to be on the same course.

Julia Gillard has attended 11 funerals for soldiers killed in Afghanistan in 11 months as Prime Minister. The news yesterday that a 27th Australian soldier has died - the fourth in two weeks - means Ms Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will attend three more funerals at least. Defence chief Angus Houston yesterday acknowledged a shift in public opinion but said the war was being won. The political line, in Ms Gillard's words, is that ''we best honour their sacrifice by seeing the mission through''.

Yet this mission and its prospects have changed greatly over the decade. Indeed, if there is to be blame for failure, it attaches to political leaders who turned their attention away from Afghanistan before the war's objectives had been secured. Australian troops were withdrawn in late 2002, as war clouds gathered over Iraq, only to be redeployed in 2005.

There is an unhealthy tendency to question the patriotism of anyone who questions a war and the achievability of its goals. To do so is not to dishonour the dead and their sacrifice, unless the majority of Australians who want our troops withdrawn this year are all guilty of being unpatriotic.

In the US, support for the war leapt 12 percentage points after the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden - one of the coalition forces' original targets - but still a majority says the war isn't worth fighting. Three in four Americans want large numbers of troops withdrawn from July, as President Barack Obama promised 18 months ago. The last US combat troops left Iraq to fulfil an election promise, just as the Rudd government withdrew Australian troops in mid-2008.

Before the 2007 election, John Howard had vowed that troops were in Iraq ''for the long haul''. Last week, Ms Gillard echoed his reasoning by saying that a security vacuum in Afghanistan ''would be filled by terrorist groups around the world''. Yet who would now change the decision to end combat operations in Iraq last August when the job was certainly not ''done'' (535 people died in the preceding month, the bloodiest in two years)?

Ms Gillard unwittingly made the key point: terrorists operate around the world, whatever happens in Afghanistan. The conflict is getting worse, Afghans resent the long occupation and coalition losses have escalated. The toll stands at 2514, including 711 deaths last year and 108 in the past two months. Most of them are US troops and Americans are no longer willing to accept the loss of lives and financial costs.

As the bill for the two wars approaches $US1.4 trillion, the debt-laden US government must stem the financial bleeding. Whatever our leaders might say, when the US has had enough, that will be the end of the mission. When the US declared an end to combat in Iraq, The Age called for a more realistic reassessment of Afghanistan. It appears that Australia's leaders intend to leave this process, and the tough decisions, to the US.

Any such decisions are no reflection on the soldiers' service and sacrifice. If troops always stayed until the job was done, they would never have left Vietnam, Iraq or Gallipoli, where 8141 Australians died. Poignantly, the evacuation of the Gallipoli troops has been described as the most successful operation of the campaign, but the diggers of 1915 were certainly not dishonoured.

Each time Australians go to war, they are reminded of the cliche that truth is the first casualty. However, those who suffer most from the human casualties, the ordinary Australians who are families and friends of the dead, are owed at least some honesty about where this war is going.


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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

GENDER JUSTICE TOO LONG DELAYED

EQUAL pay for men and women should not be a matter of contention in a modern democracy that renounces gender discrimination. Yet it has taken almost 40 years for the principle that men and women should receive equal pay for work of equal value to gain more than notional acceptance in Australia. That principle was adopted by the former Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1972, extending its 1969 judgment that men and women performing the same work should receive the same pay. Since then, however, the gender gap in earnings has not closed. Women, who comprise more than half the population and about 45 per cent of the workforce, on average earn 83¢ in the male dollar.

This is not because there is formal discrimination: the law forbids it. As the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission's contemporary counterpart, Fair Work Australia, recognised in a landmark ruling last month, however, rates of pay for ''caring'' work traditionally regarded as female have remained low because the skills and experience required in those jobs are undervalued. Gender, a full bench of the Fair Work tribunal held, was ''important in creating the gap between pay in the SACS (social and community services) industry and pay in comparable state and local government employment''.

The ruling has implications for professions such as teaching, which is 70 per cent female, nursing, which is 90 per cent female and, above all, occupations that are more than 98 per cent female and among the worst-paid: early childhood education, family day care and preschool aides. As we report on the Focus page today, the Australian Services Union, which represents many of the 150,000 mostly female workers likely to be affected by the ruling, will today hold rallies around Australia in support of its case. The union has been set Friday as a deadline for filing revised pay claims, but Fair Work will hear submissions in August from the Gillard government and other interested parties.

The case will be strongly contested, with critics of the tribunal's ruling already portraying it as a stealthy return to industry-wide pay claims, and, inevitably, as the imposition of a crippling cost burden on employers. In the history of wage-fixing, redressing injustice has usually been deemed too expensive by those who might have to pay, yet rarely have their worst fears been realised. So it is likely to be again. The merits of specific wage claims will always be arguable, but Fair Work's ruling opens the way to fulfilling the promise of 1972.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

THE NEXT IMF BOSS: INSIDE JOB

The IMF to hold an open contest, otherwise the choice will be between two poor candidates

Ever since Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned last month as head of the International Monetary Fund there have been two related arguments. The first is that his replacement must come from Europe, on the grounds that only a European politician would be able to get up to speed with the intricacies of eurozone debt crisis and negotiate with the continental heavyweights. The second argument is that it must be someone from Asia, Africa or another part of the developing world, on the grounds that it was time for a non-European to have a pop at running one of the world's most important international financial institutions.

In both cases, nothing more is required of the candidate than that they bear the right passport. What has been notable about the feeble debate aired in the papers and on broadcast media over the past few weeks is how little it gets beyond questions of nationality and the vague, and vaguely offensive, notion of "representation". And the result is clear this week. The one European candidate to have thrown her hat in the ring is Christine Lagarde. The one developing-world runner to have left his blocks is Agustin Carstens. Neither is suitable, and both show just how poor the process is.

First, Ms Lagarde, the candidate of choice for David Cameron, Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy. As advocates point out, the French finance minister is a poised performer. She has also had a role in the eurozone bailouts of the past year and so, friends claim, is well qualified to take up the biggest task that any new IMF boss will inherit. One might equally well argue that the utter mess the eurozone packages have become shows how ill-suited Ms Lagarde is for the job. The French minister has stuck up for the rights of banks and making implausible demands of bust countries.

Mr Carstens also makes a lamentable candidate. From Mexico, which most economists would no longer think of as part of the developing world (unless, of course, a job at the IMF depended on it), his record is poor. Senior at the IMF from 2003 to 2006, he was a key player in a period which the fund has itself described as characterised by "a high degree of groupthink, intellectual capture, a ... mindset that a major financial crisis in large advanced economies was unlikely". More recently, as central-bank governor of Mexico he has been disastrously hawkish on monetary policy.

Rather than choose a boss on the grounds of nationality, it would make more sense for the IMF to hold an open contest. And it would be sensible for observers to debate what role they want the fund and its head to play. Otherwise the choice will be between two poor candidates – which isn't much of a choice at all.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … WINTER FUEL PAYMENTS

They have warmed hearts who like to think state action can make a difference

Free money is a reliably popular policy, although not necessarily a good one. When Gordon Brown first wrote elderly people cheques for the winter, the priests of the technocracy lined up to dismiss a shameless con. Two-brained Tory David Willetts said he'd treat pensioners as grown-ups by doing away with the bung, and rolling the cash into the basic pension. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, meanwhile, suggested that piling yet another payment on to a creaking benefit system would achieve nothing more than alliterative headlines about Mr Brown's winter warmer. Well, a decade on, the institute has shown its characteristic determination to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and reached some startling conclusions. In the world of the wonks, people are assumed to possess the single-minded rationality of a robot. As such, they should recognise that every pound is the same, and spend it the same, wherever it has happened to come from or whatever it is said to be for. But the IFS found that if you give a pensioner a £100 fuel payment, they will spend well over a third on keeping warm, as against a mere 30th if the cash was not labelled this way. Doubts linger about the affordability of spraying cash on well-to-do 62-year-olds who use it to settle their Wine Society bill. But fuel payments have, at least, lent winter some real warmth. In the process, they've warmed hearts who like to think state action can make a difference, and to imagine people are something more than desiccated calculating machines.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

COUNTER-TERRORISM: PREVENTION AND CURE

The coalition has fudged its answer to the conundrum of how to contain threats to democracy without damaging democracy itself

If there was a single area that might have been predicted a year ago as a major test of the unity of purpose of the coalition, it was domestic counter-terrorism strategy. Yesterday's unveiling of the new approach comes nearly six months after it was first promised. That indicates just how hard it was to hammer out an agreement that squared the old circle of containing a threat to democracy without damaging democracy itself. The result is a fudge. It is not all bad for the Lib Dems. In areas such as proscription of extremist groups, some sharp edges have been filed down. In other areas, the deliberate lack of clarity will leave organisations like schools, prisons and universities making sensitive judgments in a fog of uncertainty. And at its heart is an illiberal intolerance of ideas that amounts to a new curtailment on freedom of speech – one that will do nothing to end, among law-abiding communities, Muslim or otherwise, a damaging sense of exclusion.

For the last election, the Conservatives built a detailed counter-terror agenda around the idea – made explicit for the first time by David Cameron in his Munich speech in February – that multiculturalism had failed. Instead of mutual respect for difference, integration should be at the forefront of the strategy. At the same time it should be recognised that non-violent extremist organisations contributed to a climate where violent extremism became acceptable. Tories wanted Islamist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir to be banned (still no progress there), along with any other organisation that supported attacks on British troops or incited hatred. They demanded a much more robust line on excluding visitors with extremist views, and deportations of those who incited hatred from here. After the election Lib Dem negotiators, reassured by a common resistance to Labour's control orders and detention without trial, signed up to most of the Tory programme. But then came Mr Cameron's Munich speech and the differences were launched into the public space. Nick Clegg went to Luton to argue for engagement rather than exclusion. The result of the trimming that followed is a convenient fudge over the precise definition of extremism that will leave some flexibility of implementation for Lib Dem ministers, and allow them freedom to pursue their policy of engagement at conferences where other speakers might be classed as extremists.

But what works at the top may create problems on the ground. Too hazy a definition of "extreme" will place a heavy burden on the university administrators Theresa May accused of being slack in an interview on Monday. More support to help schools and prisons identify the vulnerable is welcome, and it is true that earlier choices of groups that were selected for their capacity to represent parts of the Muslim community turned out to be plain wrong. But now funding choices will be made on the basis of a willingness to subscribe to "British" values, which puts politicians in the role of theological arbiter and risks sending the most challenging groups deeper into the shadows.

Counter-terrorist strategies are, inevitably, a continual process of reconstruction. Yesterday's sensible decision to separate out community cohesion programmes – whose inclusion in earlier Prevent packages had led to accusations of spy networks – is welcome. But the warning from MPs last year that a well-meant project to support Muslim social institutions had become tainted by negative association with counter-terrorism illustrates the difficulties of intervention in this area. Yet yesterday's proposal that NHS workers should be alert to terrorist activity among colleagues suggests the lesson hasn't been taken on board. It risks outlawing people who express legitimate opposition to foreign policy. By stifling debate it diminishes the chance of winning the argument. If this is the muscular Liberalism Nick Clegg promised last month, it is speaking through a muffler.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

FUKUSHIMA INVESTIGATION

The Kan Cabinet on May 24 established a third-party panel to investigate the accidents at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The move was extremely tardy, coming 2½ months after the start of the nuclear crisis and nearly one month after Prime Minister Naoto Kan's announcement of his intention to create an investigation body. The panel met for the first time on Tuesday.

It is strongly hoped that panel head Mr. Yotaro Hatamura — a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and an authority on study of errors and dangers — and the rest of the panel members will thoroughly investigate all important points related to the nuclear crisis because it is a matter of great concern not only for Japan but also for other countries.

There are more than 430 nuclear reactors in 30 countries. Naturally their operators and the governments concerned are carefully watching the events unfolding at Fukushima No. 1. Some governments are worried about the spread of radioactive substances from the plant. The accidents that have occurred at Fukushima No. 1 are extremely grave and must not be forgotten. A large tsunami knocked out all power sources for the reactors — an event unprecedented in the history of nuclear power generation — thus rendering the reactors' emergency core cooling system inoperative.

A Tepco simulation shows that large-scale meltdowns occurred in the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 reactors. The simulation shows that all or most of the fuel became molten and collected at the bottom of the reactors. It is also feared that the pressure vessels of these reactors have sustained holes. It is also feared that the suppression chamber of the No. 2 reactor has been damaged. Hydrogen explosions occurred in the Nos. 1 and 3 reactors, and separate explosions occurred in the Nos. 2 and 4 reactors. The resulting radiation leaks have forced the evacuation of some 100,000 Fukushima residents.

The panel's main task should be to draw a detailed, full picture of the accidents by finding out how and why Tepco and the government failed to contain the situation, thus allowing it to develop into a major disaster. The panel should also study the degree of radioactive contamination and its possible effects on human health.

Some people may want to see criminal punishment meted out to people in management positions who failed to bring the accidents under control. The ultimate purpose of the panel's investigation, however, should be to gather and disseminate lessons from the accidents to help prevent future nuclear power-related accidents not only in Japan but also abroad. The panel should make it clear that it will not leak or submit to courts any testimony, information and material that it collects in the course of its investigation. This will encourage people involved to speak openly and honestly to panel members.

The government should immediately order relevant personnel and organizations to keep all information and documents related to the accidents safe. The strong possibility also exists that the government itself does not have a written record of important decisions that it made. If this is the case, it could hamper the panel's investigation.

The panel does not include anyone who has ties with the nuclear power establishment to ensure the neutrality of its investigation. But it should consider getting help from nuclear safety and regulation experts from abroad. This would help increase the objectivity of the panel's investigation and make the results more acceptable to governments and nuclear power plant operators and regulators abroad.

The panel should investigate all the relevant organizations involved including the Kan Cabinet, Tepco, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), the Atomic Energy Commission and the Nuclear Safety Commission.

The government says that the panel will be able to question anybody it views as indispensable to the investigation, including Mr. Kan, his aides and trade and industry minister Mr. Banri Kaieda. But the panel has no legal power, and some people may balk at cooperating with it. The government should immediately enact a relevant law to give the panel teeth.

People have many questions about the nuclear accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. The panel should strive to resolve questions such as:

• To what extent did the tremors from the March 11 earthquake damaged important reactor pipes?

• Was the timing of the steam venting and sea water injection into the reactors correct? Could an earlier venting and injection of sea water have prevented the accidents from becoming more serious?

• Why did Tepco and the government accept foreign help to contain the accidents in a slow, piecemeal manner?

The panel plans to issue an interim report by the end of 2011 and a final report by the summer of 2012. The panel should not unnecessarily delay its investigation, and each time it has discovered important data or reached an important conclusion it should promptly disclose the information.

On May 25, a group of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency started their own investigation into the nuclear accidents and, on June 1, submitted a summary report to the Japanese government. This indicates the international community's strong interest and concern about the nuclear crisis. The Japanese side, especially Tepco and NISA, should fully heed the team's recommendations.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DIAL MLADIC FOR MASS MURDER

BY RAMESH THAKUR

CANBERRA — The old saying about the importance of justice appearing to be done as well as being done is perhaps even more relevant to international than national politics.

This is so because we operate in a world order in which the institutions of international criminal justice have been set up well in advance of any signs of the other two branches of world government, namely a parliament and an executive. Thus there is less of a distance separating judicial activity from raw politics in world affairs than within countries.

With the recent killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, we now know that he and his companions were unarmed when shot by U.S. SEALS. As he was never tried and convicted in any court of law, it is difficult to argue that justice was done. Vengeance, yes, but not justice.

However, given the totality of the historical record and evidence, the scale and gravity of the 9/11 infamy, and the need for emotional closure by the deeply traumatized American people, it is just as difficult to contest the proposition that justice has been seen to be done.

Weighing up the two claims — of justice appearing to be done despite an objective assessment to the contrary — we would be justified in inferring that in this case perceptions matter more than reality.

What if the same equation holds with Ratko Mladic, but in reverse? What if justice will be done, but will not appear to be done by the one group that matters most, namely the Serbs.

The first part is easy to establish. The Srebrenica massacre in 1995, in which 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were slaughtered, was the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II. Not all the detergents of the world will wash away the stain of U.N. complicity in the mass murder. There is massive evidence placing Mladic at the center of that to establish direct command responsibility.

In any case, all this will be tested at the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the Hague. Its proceedings demonstrate high standards of fairness and its verdicts have been exciting developments in the extension, deepening and broadening of international humanitarian law and international criminal justice.

If anything, the court bent so far backwards to accommodate the late president of Serbia and Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic that many felt cheated by his death: he escaped conviction. On the other hand, since to be free and fair a trial must always include the possibility of a not-guilty verdict, we may just as well conclude that Milosevic died without being able to clear his name and establish his innocence.

We should not underestimate the significance of this progressive development. There was enough substance to an old joke to make it a bitter truth for far too many victims: kill one man, you will be sent to trial for murder. Kill 20, you will be sent to an insane asylum. Kill 20,000, you will be sent to Geneva for U.N. peace negotiations.

So to have Mladic arrested, taken to The Hague and tried by the ICTY marks a continuation of the progressive trend in international criminal justice that has seen a significant claw-back of sovereign impunity in practice as well as in theory.

The problematic element in this comes from the fact that while all this is being done in the name of universal justice — under the principle of international humanitarian law known as universal jurisdiction, where jurisdiction is determined not by where a crime was committed but by the nature of the crime — in reality some countries are more equal than others in the international criminal justice system currently in place.

Far from being a disinterested neutral mediator or adjudicator, NATO was one of the parties in the Balkans war. This has a twofold relevance to the upcoming Mladic trial. First, the ICTY is sited in a NATO country, was set up by the U.N. Security Council in which NATO countries are disproportionately dominant and its expenses are mainly paid by them. The indictment of Milosevic in the middle of the war, on the basis of evidence supplied by NATO, meant that tribunals had progressed from being victors' justice after the war into an instrument for ensuring and accelerating victory during war. The enforcement of the tribunal's indictment of Milosevic was also totally dependent on the same NATO powers.

Second, no NATO general or politician has ever been prosecuted by the ICTY. The belief that NATO commanders and leaders cannot commit war crimes is neither congruent with the facts nor with others' perceptions of some of their acts in the midst of wars. Prosecutorial decisions are based on the national characteristics of the accused, not on objective assessments of the evidence on the use of cluster bombs, wanton destruction of property, and intentional targeting of civilian infrastructure that killed civilians.

In Serbian eyes, the supposedly independent ICTY prosecutes only those whom Washington wants prosecuted. During the war, Washington used the threat of ICTY prosecution to secure compliance from political actors in the Balkans. Since the war Europe has used the carrot of EU membership to secure Belgrade's cooperation in capturing indicted suspects for trial at The Hague.

In an appearance before the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 20, 2000, the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms declared emphatically that "No U.N. institution — not the Security Council, not the Yugoslav tribunal, not a future ICC — is competent to judge the foreign policy and national security decisions of the United States."

So long as Americans believe that they are above the law and the institutions of international criminal justice pander to that belief, the selective justice delivered by them will lack universal legitimacy.

That being so, many Serbs will continue to disclaim collective political responsibility for the atrocities committed in their name.

Ramesh Thakur is a professor of international relations, Australian National University and an adjunct professor, Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law, Griffith University.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ARE WE PREPARED FOR A MULTIPOLAR ECONOMY?

BY JUSTIN YIFU LIN AND MANSOOR DAILAMI

WASHINGTON — At a time when the global economy is suffering from a crisis of confidence, structural imbalances, and subdued growth prospects, looking ahead 10 years to predict the course of development requires careful modeling and something beyond sagacity. What is needed is a multifaceted approach that combines a sense of history with careful analysis of current forces such as the shift in the balance of global growth toward the emerging world.

Such forecasting also requires an understanding of how advanced economies are coming to grips with that shift, and how the international monetary system will adjust as a result. Having studied these factors, we believe that the world economy is on the verge of a transformative change — the transition to a multipolar world economic order.

Throughout history, paradigms of economic power have been drawn and redrawn according to the rise and fall of those countries best equipped to drive global growth and provide stimulus to the global economy. Multipolarity, meaning more than two dominant growth poles, has at times been a key feature of the world economy. But at no time in modern history have developing countries been at the forefront of a multipolar economic system.

This pattern is set to change. By 2025, six emerging economies — Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Russia — will collectively account for about one-half of global growth. The international monetary system is likely to cease being dominated by a single currency over the same years.

As they pursue growth opportunities abroad and are encouraged by improved polices at home, emerging-market corporations will play an increasingly prominent role in global business and cross-border investment, while large pools of capital within their borders will allow emerging economies to become key players in financial markets.

As dynamic emerging economies evolve to take their place at the helm of the world economy, a rethink of the conventional approach to global economic governance is needed. The current approach rests on three premises: the link between concentrated economic power and stability; the North-South axis of capital flows; and the centrality of the dollar.

Since the end of World War II, the U.S.-centered global economic order has been built on a complementary set of tacit economic and security arrangements between the United States and its core partners, with emerging economies playing a peripheral role. In exchange for the U.S. assuming the responsibilities of system maintenance, serving as market of last resort, and accepting the international role of the dollar, its key economic partners, Western Europe and Japan, acquiesced in the special privileges enjoyed by the U.S. — seigniorage gains, domestic macroeconomic-policy autonomy, and balance-of-payments flexibility.

Broadly, this arrangement still holds today, though hints of its erosion became evident some time ago. The benefits that emerging economies have reaped from expanding their presence in international trade and finance are but one example of this.

An increasingly multipolar global economy is likely to change the way the world conducts international business. A number of dynamic emerging-market firms are on a path toward dominating their industrial sectors globally in the coming years — much in the same way that companies based in advanced economies have done for the past half-century. In the years ahead, such firms are likely to press for economic reforms at home, serving as a force for increased integration of their home countries into global trade and finance.

So the time may be ripe to move forward with the sort of multilateral framework for regulating cross-border investment that has been derailed several times since the 1920s. In contrast to international trade and monetary relations, no multilateral regime exists to promote and govern cross-border investment.

For now, the dollar remains the most important international currency. But this dominance is waning, as evidenced by its declining use as an official reserve currency, as well as for invoicing goods and services, denominating international claims, and anchoring exchange rates.

The euro represents the dollar's strongest competitor, so long as the euro zone successfully addresses its current sovereign-debt crisis through bailouts and longer-term institutional reforms that safeguard the gains from a long-running single-market project. But developing countries' currencies will undoubtedly become more prominent in the longer term.

The size and dynamism of China's economy, and the rapid globalization of its corporations and banks, makes the renminbi especially likely to take on a more important international role. In Global Development Horizons 2011, the World Bank presents what it believes to be the most probable global currency scenario in 2025 — a multi-currency arrangement centered on the dollar, euro, and renminbi. This scenario is buttressed by the likelihood that the U.S., the euro zone and China will constitute the three major growth poles at that time.

Finally, the international financial community must live up to its responsibility to ensure that the development agenda remains a priority. Countries with global economic clout have a special responsibility to accept that their policy actions have important spillover effects on other countries. Monetary-policy initiatives that emphasize increased collaboration among central banks to achieve financial stability and sustainable growth in global liquidity thus would be particularly welcome.

Despite the considerable progress that developing countries have made in integrating themselves into international trade and finance channels, there is still much work to be done to ensure that they share the burden of maintaining the global system in which they have a rapidly growing stake.

At the same time, it is critical that major developed countries craft policies that take into account their growing interdependency with developing countries. More and more, global governance will depend on leveraging that interdependency to strengthen international cooperation and boost worldwide prosperity.

Justin Yifu Lin is chief economist of the World Bank. Mansoor Dailami is lead author of "Global Development Horizons," and manager of the Emerging Global Trends Team of the Development Prospects Group at the World Bank. © 2011 Project Syndicate

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THAILAND INC. VERSUS THAKSIN

BY KEVIN RAFFERTY

HONG KONG — Thailand is preparing to go to the polls on July 3 in an election that is supposed to mark the restoration of full democracy to the country, one of the liveliest, best-endowed and most promising countries in Asia. But the way the campaign is going, the chances are that Thailand will face another coup or dictatorship before long.

Opinion polls — for what they are worth in a land also renowned for vote-buying and corruption — give the opposition Pheu Thai Party a 47 to 40 percent lead over the Democrats, the main party in the government.

For all the colorful jamboree of election posters and blaring campaign music, it is a measure of the lack of progress that the election is seen, correctly surely, as a continuing contest between the nouveau arriviste elite around ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the older entrenched elites of monarchy, military, bureaucrats and rich Chinese businessmen.

Thaksin himself is not contesting. He is sitting in luxurious exile in Dubai on a passport issued by Montenegro , with a jail sentence if he returns to Thailand. In mercurial interviews he protests that all he wants to do is return and teach, play golf and give guidance to his children in their business endeavors.

However, his protests that it is time for "reconciliation" in Thailand indicate that he still sees himself as a player in the reconciling.

Thaksin never left Thai politics. He is in constant close touch with his key lieutenants and through video links with the masses of his "Red Shirt" supporters who have never forgiven the military for ousting Thaksin in a bloodless coup when he was in the United States in 2006 or for the deaths in last year's bloody Bangkok street protests.

If anyone doubted Thaksin's guiding hand, it was shown in the choice of his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to lead the Pheu Thai Party. She is a 43-year-old business executive with no political experience and no record of any political views. She has been derided as a "clone" of Thaksin.

The cruelty is that the description is Thaksin's own. In an interview with ABC of Australia, he protested that it did not mean that she was his puppet. "She worked for me from the beginning. So I teach her, I train her, the working habit style is nearly exactly like me ... Clone means this same culture, the same background, the same ideas, the same attitude, the same thinking." (Quotes from the ABC transcript.)

It does not say much for the democracy of the Pheu Thai that such a political greenhorn was shoehorned in as leader without debate, election or murmur. The only excuse is that many experienced Thaksin supporters have been disqualified. The more likely explanation is Thaksin's need for loyalty.

Asked about becoming prime minister again, he replied, "My youngest sister is already there, so no need for me to go back as a prime minister." But he did not answer when asked if he would never be prime minister again.

Does anyone doubt that if the Pheu Thai won the election Thaksin would be itching to come back, with all his sentences remitted and $1.4 billion of his fortune sequestered by the government returned? Or that the other elites, the royal ultra-loyalists and the military especially, would do their utmost to subvert the wishes of the people to prevent his return to power?

It would be a fascinating struggle, too bad for the used and abused Thai people caught in the middle. Thaksin should not be underestimated. He won elections in 2001 and 2005, the latter by a landslide in spite of subsequent allegations of corruption and abuse of power. In office his strength and his weakness was his ruthless opportunism. He treated Parliament and even his Cabinet as a rubber stamp, was deaf to constructive criticism that might have improved his policies, and sacrificed thousands of lives in crackdowns against drugs and Muslim dissidents in the south.

Thaksin remains a popular figure, not only in his native northeast but also among farmers and poorer people who regard him as the only politician who has tried to improve their lives.

But he is hardly a man of the people. He comes from the Thai-Chinese business elite with good political roots, and cleverly parlayed these connections plus others through his career in the police to build his business empire and to use it as a springboard to politics. His genius was to shrug off his elite background and present himself as a populist politician opposed to the old order from which he had sprung, but he was prepared to manipulate and enlist malleable members of the elite to his side.

By contrast, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva suffers from being seen as a prisoner of the old elites.

No matter how much he protests — correctly — that he got the job through legitimate vote in Parliament and has held it by defeating votes of confidence against him, critics claim that the old guard moved the goal posts by banning Thaksin's parties plus politicians whom they could not bribe to change sides.

Abhisit's position has become more uncomfortable because both the yellow-shirted loyalists and the army seem determined to hem him in. Assertion of Thai claims to the 4.6 square km around the Preah Vihear temple in Cambodia and a military-backed campaign to uphold strict lese-majeste laws have left Abhisit looking weak and only in charge of part of the government by military permission.

The military indeed is more royalist than the King Bhumibol, who famously said in 2005, "If the king can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down on him because the king is not being treated as a human being." With the king ailing, it is a dangerous time to try to shut up all discussions of the role of the monarchy. Perhaps the generals are afraid that their privileges might be called into question.

The efforts of Abhisit and his finance minister Korn Chatikavanij to put the economy on a sounder foundation and to institute reforms that are more widely spread than the largesse that Thaksin handed out are paying dividends, but the prime minister is not reaping the benefit because he is perceived not to be the real ruler.

Meanwhile, Yingluck so far is ahead in the political debate by refusing to debate with Abhisit. She just smiles and recites the platitudinous slogans of her brother, a path that could be equally perilous for her.

Kevin Rafferty was editor in chief of Business Day Thailand

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

A GOOD START

The decision by the Supreme Court – the supreme ethical supervisor of Indonesian judges – to suspend Syarifuddin Umar, a bankruptcy judge at the Jakarta Commercial Court, in the wake of a series of corruption charges against him, deserves a big thumbs-up and full support of the nation.

The Court will also give the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) the liberty to uncover the potential involvement of other judges in similar corruption cases, including the Court's own justices.

The Court's latest move will not only set a good precedent for the country's law enforcement, but also an ideal example of good governance practices amidst waning public trust in the government's commitment to combating social illnesses, particularly rampant corruption.

Whether we like it or not, the 2010 survey by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) ranked Indonesia as the most corrupt nation among 16 investment destination countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The decision to temporarily dismiss Syarifuddin was issued last Wednesday, but was only announced by Supreme Court Chief Justice Harifin A. Tumpa on Monday. The Court's letter of dismissal was issued hours before the KPK arrested Syarifuddin last Wednesday evening as he was caught red-handed accepting Rp 250 million (US$29,250) in bribes from Puguh Irawan, a curator in the confiscation process of PT Skycamping Indonesia, which had gone bankrupt.

Syarifuddin is the second judge to be arrested by the KPK after Jakarta State Administrative High Court judge Ibrahim was eventually sentenced to six years in prison for receiving Rp 300 million in bribes from a palm oil businessman in August last year.

Syarifuddin's dismissal and arrest were in fact not groundless, as Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) had disclosed facts detailing his controversial track record – helping exonerate 39 corruption suspects, including the recent acquittal of Bengkulu Governor Agusrin M. Najamuddin, who is also a member of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party. Syarifuddin is also facing another accusation over his controversial decision in his capacity as the presiding judge earlier this year to reject a lawsuit filed by Lily Wahid and Effendy Choirie against the National Awakening Party (PKB) for dismissing the two as House of Representatives lawmakers.

The move by the Supreme Court to temporarily dismiss Syarifuddin follows a popular Indonesian proverb Menegakkan batang terendam (Erecting a submerged stem) to describe efforts to uphold good practices of consistently upholding laws and regulations. It often happens here that one who is implicated in a criminal or corruption case will continue serving their terms in office despite having been declared a suspect in a criminal case.

Excuses, in the name of upholding the legal principle of presumption of innocence, have frequently been used by suspects in criminal cases – and their lawyers – so that they can continue serving their terms in office, although it is against another noble principle of avoiding conflict of interest, as he or she might use the opportunity of still being free to tamper with evidence, as has often been the case.

The Supreme Court has made a good start. The only question is whether others will follow.

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THE JAKARTA POST

UNPRETENTIOUS ATTITUDES TO OUR SOCCER

SOLICHIN M. AWI

Speculation has been rife that high politics is at play ahead of an election congress that the Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI) must organize by June 30; a result of the May 20 meeting that ended in deadlock.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but my common sense leads me to atmospheres around the decision of Agum Gumelar to cut short the May 20 congress in Jakarta without electing a successor of former PSSI chairman Nurdin Halid. Agum chairs the Normalization Committee, which is mandated by the world soccer governing body (FIFA) to hold the congress.

I understand if Agum lost his patience facing the arguments of the congress participants who were eager to catapult Army chief Gen. George Toisutta and businessman Arifin Panigoro to the PSSI top chairs, even though their candidacies were vetoed by FIFA.

Prior to the upcoming congress, the last chance given to PSSI, many have continued to push for the duo's nomination.

Why are they so stubborn supporting Toisutta and Arifin? Can they guarantee that PSSI under Toisutta and Arifin will restore Indonesia's performance in international competition?

A business tycoon and former Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician, Arifin was a key figure behind the breakaway Indonesian Premier League (IPL). Although the IPL has not secured a FIFA license, Youth and Sports Minister Andi Mallarangeng, who is a patron of the ruling Democratic Party, supports the league that has run since January this year.

It is a positive development to see that IPL promotes certain good points, including professional management of the participating clubs without reliance on regional budgets, as clubs joining the FIFA-sanctioned Indonesian Super League (ISL) do.

However, as PSSI deems IPL illegal, the "revolutionized mind of the game" is running outside FIFA's prevailing system and rules. Some might say IPL was just a plot to topple Nurdin, a Golkar Party member, from his PSSI top post. If only it were true, the mission has been accomplished, hasn't it?

In response to the PSSI crisis, FIFA's accounts have gone further than just about Nurdin. It is more about the indirect challenge to its authority by the IPL. However, FIFA must keep its credibility before its members by not tolerating any rebellion to its rule of the game. Should FIFA acknowledge the IPL, it would open the door for other national associations to follow suit.

Toward the IPL case and alleged government interference, FIFA has remained lenient. Instead of straightly banning Indonesia, FIFA opted to dismiss Nurdin's reelection bid over perceptions of incompetence without perusing the accusations of graft.

Is the FIFA formula a win-win solution to the deepening crisis of Indonesian soccer? The common sense says it could be.

FIFA does not have the final word, but has ordered the PSSI to hold a congress by June 30. Without undermining our dignity, but taking into account our position in the map of world soccer and potential market in the global soccer industry, Indonesia should be careful in dealing with FIFA's prescription to avoid the sanction.

All parties therefore need to end the unnecessary debates, which only lead to confusion. Better to think globally without trapping Indonesian soccer in narrow nationalism for the sake of the national soccer's achievements and whoever might lead the PSSI. Embrace the prevailing system for the sake of national soccer rather than pursuing self-centered agendas.

In this crisis, it is not a sin to follow the wise Indonesian saying, lebih baik pandai merasa daripada merasa pandai, or, better one is clever in sensing rather than feeling clever.

Let others, including FIFA, judge what you thought to be rightly the best. Pressing others to accept arguments might be counterproductive and be perceived as merely ambitious and "hungry for respect".

This year the national soccer team must compete in the World Cup 2014 qualifications and SEA Games, while Persipura Jayapura and Sriwijaya FC Palembang have qualified for the second round of AFC Cup. Can we imagine if those matches were dropped because of a FIFA sanction on Indonesia?

Just remember, the Indonesian soccer community waited far too long for laurels from the soccer pitch.

The writer is a freelance editor and media consultant.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

WHY ARE CENTRAL BANK RESERVES SO BIG?

PAUL DONOVAN

Trade protection is an ever present threat in the current economic climate. Politicians have become animated about currency "manipulation", unlevel playing fields, and other obstacles to export led recoveries. One barometer that is often watched closely is the level of foreign exchange reserves accumulated by central banks around the world.

Because foreign exchange reserve accumulation is (broadly) a consequence of intervention in markets, the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves is often used as a proxy for "unfair" competitive practices. The accumulation of foreign exchange reserves is often cited by European and American politicians in their complaints against Asian trade and foreign exchange market practices.

That global foreign exchange reserves have increased significantly is beyond doubt — though in a higher risk environment this may simply reflect the realities of modern international trade. One reason central banks may want to hold more reserves simply to protect themselves and their economy against the risks of problems with trade finance, or problems in short term foreign currency funding.

It makes sense for a central bank to hold a higher level of foreign exchange reserves than has been considered normal in the past, if there is an increased risk that the domestic economy will need foreign cash. Looking at other possible drivers for this reserve accumulation, however, produces some interesting results.

The obvious place to start in looking at foreign exchange reserves is with current account surpluses. Countries that run fixed or managed exchange rate regimes (including many Asian economies) have, collectively, increased their foreign exchange rate reserves significantly in recent years. Those countries that chose not to operate managed regimes are unlikely to have significantly added to their stock of reserves (barring shocks to the system, as with Japan recently).

Therefore, it is the managed exchange rate regimes of the world that are of most concern. When we look at the countries with managed or fixed exchange rates, we find that they were running a collective current account surplus of around half a trillion dollars in 2009 (which was, generally speaking, a bad year for trade — which makes the size of the surplus all the more remarkable).

This would seem to support the contention of trade protectionists, who argue that central banks are building reserves in order to suppress the value of their currencies and boost their current account surpluses. However, current account surpluses are not the only motive for accumulating foreign exchange reserves.

Monetary authorities that are seeking to manage their exchange rates will have to offset not only the current account position, but also any capital inflows are directed towards their country. To some extent, capital controls can contribute to the manipulation of capital flows by changing the risks and incentives to invest in a specific economy, but that may not be sufficient.

Capital flows into those countries with fixed and managed exchange rate regimes have been significant in the recent past. In 2009, portfolio flows (buying financial instruments, like shares) and foreign direct investment (investing in factories for instance) accounted for roughly half a trillion dollars. In other words, the capital inflows into countries that manage their exchange rates are exactly as important as the current account surpluses of those countries.

Of course, private sector outflows by local investors buying overseas assets may offset these capital inflows to some extent, but there is still a need for these capital flows to be compensated for if the monetary authorities of an economy wish to maintain a fixed or semi-fixed exchange rate regime.

Only half of the reason for building foreign exchange reserves is the current account surplus. The other half of the reason for building foreign exchange reserves in those countries than manage their exchange rate is that international investors want to invest in those countries.

This highlights a critical issue for the debate surrounding foreign exchange reserves, exchange rate regimes and trade protection: current account surpluses are not the overwhelming cause of reserve accumulation by those countries that seek to manage their foreign exchange rates. Capital inflows into fixed and managed exchange rate regimes assume as much importance as current account balances.

Foreign exchange reserve accumulation may still be a signal that a currency is undervalued — but it might be undervalued from a capital account perspective, rather than a current account perspective. That is to say, controlling the exchange rate may make assets appear cheap to foreign investors, which may be more important than making domestically made goods appear cheap to foreign consumers.

It is perfectly possible that the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves could be curtailed through capital controls, or shifts in expectations about asset market returns, without there being any noticeable rebalancing of current account positions.

The writer is managing director and deputy head for global economics at the UBS Investment Bank

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

HIV/AIDS FIGHT: ASIA-PACIFIC GAINS 'FRAGILE'

FRANCOISE BARRE-SINOUSSI

Thirty years ago, US scientists identified the first case of an immune system failure that we (Luc Montagnier, myself and colleagues) found two years later to be caused by HIV.

Twenty years later at a landmark UN General Assembly Special Session, world leaders declared that AIDS was a "global emergency" and called for an "urgent, coordinated and sustained response" to the epidemic.

Now, three decades into the epidemic, what is the global scorecard for the AIDS response?

From June 8-10, world leaders will convene in New York City at the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS.

The gathering of heads of state and other leaders from government, the scientific community, civil society and the private sector offers a unique opportunity to chart the future course of the global AIDS response.

The meeting comes at a critical time.

According to a recent report of the UN Secretary-General, more than six million people were accessing lifesaving antiretroviral treatments in low- and middle-income countries at the end of 2010 — up from just 400,000 in 2003. In the past 10 years, the number of people newly infected with HIV declined by nearly 20 percent.

And in 2009, more than 50 percent of HIV-positive women were able to unsure their babies were born HIV-free.

In the Asia-Pacific region, there have been significant gains.

The number of people living with HIV appears to have remained stable for the past five years and estimated new infections are 20 percent lower than in 2001.

Thailand, Cambodia and India have turned their epidemics around by providing services to their most at-risk populations.

Cambodia is one of only eight countries worldwide to have reached universal access to antiretroviral therapy and Thailand has reported 80 percent coverage of prevention of parent-to-child transmission services.

But Asia-Pacific's great strides are fragile, as they are in the rest of the world.

Despite incredible efforts, the HIV epidemic continues to outpace the response, with an estimated two new HIV infections for every individual starting treatment. AIDS resources have flat-lined, and critical sources of leadership and accountability remain untapped.

In Asia-Pacific, communities most vulnerable to HIV — sex workers, drug users, men who have sex with men, transgender people —are not being well enough reached for HIV prevention and treatment.

And 90 percent of the countries in the region have laws or practices that hamper access to HIV services for people living with HIV and/or people from key affected populations.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Cambodia to discuss the national progress on HIV. Here, the dichotomy of success and challenges are clear.

Although Cambodia has seen some of the most significant achievements in the region for halting and reversing the spread of HIV — the country was presented with a MDG award to that effect at the United Nations Millennium Development Goal Summit earlier this year — the success of Cambodia, continues to be challenged by high infection rates amongst most-at-risk populations including injecting drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

HIV prevalence among injecting drug users, for example, is 24.4 percent, a stark and sobering figure when compared to Cambodia's HIV prevalence of 0.7 percent among the general population.

Clearly, tailored, focused efforts are needed — and those that address not just the communities themselves, but the external legal and social pressures that make accessing services even more difficult.

In Cambodia, I saw some key examples of how such efforts are being rolled out — for example, programs partnering law enforcement officials, the health sector, local authorities and community members to ensure key affected populations can access health services and put into practice effective HIV prevention measures, without fear and harassment.

Size and scale are critical factors. Cambodia's Methadone Maintenance Therapy Program in Phnom Penh is showing that methadone patients appear to be committing less crime after they enter the program and are more likely to protect themselves from HIV.

But such programs are small and need to be hugely expanded to ensure universal access to HIV services, to turn the tide on HIV once and for all.

Expansion cannot come without resources and in the Asia Pacific region a rapid increase of domestic funding for HIV is needed. Estimates suggest international funding accounts for more than 50 percent of AIDS spending in the majority of the region's countries — including Cambodia where 90 percent is from outside funds.

"Game-changing" findings released recently prove that HIV transmission can be prevented when people living with HIV are taking antiretroviral early, consistently and correctly. The implications of this alone underline the dramatic importance of ensuring treatment sustainability and the resources to make this a reality.

A sustained "prevention revolution" is also a necessity.

Can Asia-Pacific do what it takes to move towards the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths outlined by the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)?

The evidence is clear — reversing and stopping HIV is possible in this region, but leadership is the deciding factor.

At this "pivot point" in its AIDS response, and as leaders prepare to gather in New York, Asia-Pacific countries need to reaffirm their commitment and redouble efforts within the new global direction for AIDS.

Thirty years of AIDS is thirty years too many. Let us reshape the response make AIDS a thing of the past.



Prof. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi is a Nobel laureate (Physiology/Medicine 2008) and cochairperson of the UNAIDS High Level Commission on HIV Prevention. She recently visited Cambodia to discuss progress in the national response to HIV with political leaders, policy makers, programmers and researchers

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

SBY FIGHTING FOR PARTY UNITY

ROHMAD HADIWIJOYO

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently made an unnecessary move to come out and defended his Democratic Party following the brouhaha surrounding the party's former treasurer, Muhammad Nazaruddin, who fled to Singapore to evade justice, but this move would only create further unnecessary drama.

It was not really necessary for the President to comment on a trivial matter like text messages sent from a number registered in Singapore, which contained malicious rumors about the Democratic Party, soon after Nazaruddin fled to the island state just one day before the immigration office slapped a travel ban on him. That Yudhoyono took time to respond to the hateful messages himself only shows his distrust with his aides.

The undefined attacks on Yudhoyono and his Democratic Party in the wake of Nazaruddin's dismissal as the party's treasurer seemed to worry the President so much. Although the origin of the malicious text messages had not been found, the party's reaction demonstrated its internal division to the public.

The infighting plaguing the Democratic Party is surely the core problem Yudhoyono is currently facing. Following the election of Anas Urbaningrum as the party chairman, Yudhoyono has his party fractured into three groups, those behind Anas, those in support of Yudhoyono's favorite-but-failed candidate Andi Mallarangeng and those in favor of House of Representatives Speaker Marzuki Alie.

The problem grew more complex after the case of Nazaruddin came to the fore, because it now involves a bribery and corruption case that is likely to implicate other party executives.

If Yudhoyono can not address this problem immediately, it will certainly dampen his party's performance in the 2014 elections, not to mention because he rallies around his anticorruption campaign.

In this situation, three models of problem solving proposed by Larry L. Cummings and Donald L. Harnett could be offered to solve the Democratic Party stalemate: i.e. tough bargainer, soft bargainer and equalizer. A tough bargainer is for problems with high internal control and high risks. Soft bargainer, meanwhile, are used when the source of a problem is external. Therefore, a leader needs to consult others and build trust from others before making a decision. An equalizer is a model to balance power and therefore is taken to satisfy all needs.

Yudhoyono is good in practicing all these problem solving models. Yudhoyono rightfully takes the tough bargainer model on party issues where he acts like a parent and treats party executives like his children.

He is also good at using the soft bargainer model, but he does his best when playing an equalizer role, especially when he manages his coalition of parties.

Responding to the internal party problems surrounding Nazaruddin, Yudhoyono opted to take the tough bargainer model. He summoned party executives to his private residence in Cikeas, Bogor, and told them to unite and avoid division.

Yudhoyono also used the tough bargainer tactic when he fired Nazaruddin from his position as the party's treasurer. But, equally, he needs to take another tough bargainer stance now to appoint a new treasurer quickly because the post is a crucial part of his portfolio. He must pick a replacement who has a clean track record if he wishes to rebuild public trust.

A party treasurer should at least meet three requirements. First, he or she should know the rules of financial trust, where donors are comfortable contributing to the party without worrying about legal repercussions in the future. Second, a party treasurer should understand underlying transactions so that all donations can be legally accountable. Finally, he or she must be able to distinguish public from party or private interests, so there are no opportunities to swindle money.

Only if Yudhoyono can select a party treasurer who meets these criteria will he begin to mend the party's faltering image.

And only when he manages to maintain the party's unity will he pave the way for the party's back-to-back win in the upcoming elections in 2014.

The writer is the executive director of the Center for Information and Development Studies (CIDES)

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

WHY SL AND PAKISTAN VULNERABLE TO INT. PRESSURE?

Pakistan was the principal country that raised protests on behalf of Sri Lanka (SL) against the UN panel report at the UN human rights Council (UNHRC) . Pakistan had always been a country on the side of SL in trials and triumphs. Pakistan confirmed this again at the UN human rights Council (UNHRC) :  'the International community must support national efforts to win peace in Sri Lanka , 'said  Pakistans Ambassador Zamir Akram speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic conference. Akram was quoted by Agency reports , as saying that 'the report by the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was primarily based on second hand information that was never verified ….'

Some time prior to the appointment of the panel by Ban Ki-moon to investigate SL war crimes ,a parallel panel was appointed at the behest of Pakistan to investigate the assassination of its Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Former Indonesias Attorney General Marzuki Darusman was a member of the Pakistan panel while he was a member of the SL panel as well. Unlike the SL Govt. however, the Govt. of Pakistan requested Ban Ki-moon to appoint a panel to investigate Bhutto's murder. Accordingly, after the report was compiled, the Pakistan Govt. decided to mete out punishment under the laws to those liable for the crime. But so far Bhutto's assassination remains an unsolved murder despite the report having been released some time ago. Pakistan Govt. disbursed US $ 5 million to secure  the report of the UN panel appointed to investigate Bhutto's murder. In relation to SL however, Ban KI Moon appointed a panel to investigate SL's war crimes despite SL Govt.'s opposition to it. Pakistan which accepted the UN panel report pertaining to Bhutto's assassination has however sought to reject the UN panel report based on investigations into SL war crimes. Each of these two panels was comprised of three members, and Marzuki Darusman was appointed a member in both panels.

Pakistan Govt. is supposedly reluctant to take action based on the UN panel report because the latter levels charges against  its Security division and  secret espionage services for alleged shielding of the terrorist Organizations  . At that time, Zardari, husband of Benazir Bhutto accused that the first Govt. of the  PPP party of Bhutto ,and which is now in power was paid monies  by Bin Laden , the leader of Al Qaeda to overthrow that Govt.  and charges were levelled that Bin Laden was behind Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Yet, during the tenure of office of Zardari's Govt.  ,the secretive  nucleus  of the Pakistan 's security in Abbottabad served as a hideout  for Bin Laden.

Both SL and Pakistan are under International pressure because of their wrongdoings. If Pakistan had effectively controlled terrorism in that country, America would not have ventured to trespass on Pakistans air space and kill Bin Laden by aerial attack. Now, Pakistan is gripped with the fear psychosis that India too may intrude into its air space like America and aerially launch attacks on the terrorist hideouts within its territory. Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir threatened India that there would be  a 'catastrophic' response if India were to attempt an Abbottobad operation.

But the armed assault and siege carried out by the Tehrik e Taliban on highly secured Pakistan Navy's Meheran Air base in Karachi has raised fundamental concerns about the continuing failure on the part of Pakistan's intelligence and security agencies , including the Army to pre-empt and prevent such attacks on its military  and intelligence infra structure and personnel. This failure raises doubts about the State's capability to protect its nuclear infrastructure from terrorist networks which have grown considerably in their strength , capability and experience since 2007. The attack raises serious questions about Pakistans capability to protect its strategic assets, including the nuclear facilities. An attack of this magnitude on nuclear power stations and other nuclear facilities could prove to be cataclysmic. The fact that the terrorists chose to specifically destroy two  PC –Orion 3 maritime Reconnaissance aircraft parked at the Naval base reveal their intention to damage military assets and expose security vulnerabilities. At least three nuclear weapons facilities – at Wah, Sargodha and Kamra – have in the recent past been attacked by terrorist groups.

The biggest fear and threat besetting India today is the monumental cataclysms  that can be precipitated in the event of Pakistans nuclear power passing into the hands of  that country's terrorist groups. America too harbors that apprehension. Pakistan is being blamed internationally because the Pakistan Govt. is not making a concerted effort to  combat terrorism .

As regards SL , international pressure is mounting against it , since it has not progressed duly on  the reconciliation process after the conclusion of the war. India is apprehensive that this might militate against the political climate of Tamil nadu and de -stabilize it , while Americas concern is , it can constitute a threat to the security in that region.

In the circumstances, if Pakistan engages duly in the task of annihilating terrorism in that country , and SL establishes reconciliation among all ethnic communities duly , the need for these countries to kowtow or subjugate to international pressures will not arise.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

GOING OVER THE GOLAN

Fissures in the Middle East are exploding. The clashes on the Golan Heights border town, in which Israel used force to disperse Syrian protesters, were not an isolated incident.

This could become an order of the day as the Arab population in the conflict zones is in a state of flux. Syrians who are facing the barrel of the gun have been trying to sneak into the bordering countries, and the recent clashes on the Lebanese border are a case in point. However, this clash in the Golan Valley is different from the perspective that people here chose to stage a rally to defy the artificial lines of demarcation, and to vent their anger against Israeli occupation of their territory. The event coincided with the 44th anniversary of the 1967 Middle East war and henceforth Tel Aviv's encroachment of the strategic heights. Though it is untenable to believe that unarmed protesters could pose even an iota of challenge to the Israeli might, it goes on to prove the simmering unrest that has not been addressed for decades, and how serious this could turn out to be.

The 300 or so odd Syrian agitators are just a stark reminder of geopolitical upheavals in the making, and which are getting compounded this time around with unrest at home and on the international front. With volatility in the region on the rise, it seems to be a perfect time for addressing the inevitable. US President Barack Obama has made a strong point by advising Israel to go back to the borders of 1967, and make permanent peace with its Arab neighbours. The fact that none of the Middle East nations who have a territorial dispute with the Jewish state have objected to the new roadmap should be read as an encouraging and feasible route to peace and security. Israel neither has any moral locus standi nor any more rabbits to pull from its hat in confronting this new equation. Trading land for peace is sine qua non and cannot be dispensed with. The sooner it is done, the better. At the same time, it would be futile for Damascus to play to the gallery, especially at times when a serious uprising for fundamental rights is raging right under its nose. Sympathising with the Palestinians is justified but not before putting to rest the concerns that Syrians nurse on their own turf. Going over the Golan shouldn't merely be a stunt. Israel can best be confronted when Arab countries are on the same wavelength and without any skeletons in the cupboard.

Khaleej Times

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

PENSION FIASCO: A CHASTENED AND CHASTISED REGIME?

The tension and hiatus over the pension bill and the killing of the Free trade Zone worker Roshen Chanaka is subsiding following his burial on Saturday, the withdrawal of the pension bill and the promise by the regime to consult with stakeholder representatives before another version of it is mooted.  That the particular scheme, now withdrawn, was badly conceived and blatantly unfair is beyond dispute.  It seemed to be a scam at the expense of workers. Whether it was conceived by the regime under IMF pressure, as some have alleged, or by the regime acting on its own to meet the requirements of the IMF, is not known.  We should know. This is the job of our legislators in parliament – they are elected by us to protect and advance our interests by checking and balancing executive power and action.  Unfortunately, their record in this respect has not been satisfactory.

The pros and cons of a private sector pension plan and for an ageing workforce aside, questions of accountability arise with regard to two dimensions of this particular pension plan - its design and drafting and the violence it aroused. 

Much has been made by the regime of the unprecedented nature of the IGP's resignation as an example of accountability in government in recent times.  Others have argued that the IGP was to retire anyway, and that he was sacrificed by the regime at little cost and much publicity, obscuring the real issue of accountability within the regime for the violence that was unleashed. Yet others have agreed with the regime and applauded the apparent deftness of the president's handling of the entire issue –withdrawal of the pension scheme, arrests of police officers, identifying the JVP as the source of the violence, financial compensation to Roshen Chanaka's family, even the proposal, as reported, to send victims of the violence abroad for medical treatment which in one fell swoop indicted not only the police but the medical profession as well!

Who indeed is responsible for what happened? Who gave orders to carry live ammunition and to open fire?  Did the unprecedented tearing down of the large cutout of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa have any bearing on the reaction of the police? Are these questions in the terms of reference of the most recent Tilekeratne commission and will this commission also end up in the same way as previous commissions?  Were the minister and the secretary involved in any of these decisions, given the political sensitivity of what was involved and given the tight control maintained over the defence establishment?

The last question may be seen as treading into taboo territory since it goes to the heart of the regime. It does nevertheless raise the question of responsibility and accountability in respect of matters of law and order involving the security and defence establishment and of the pros and cons of the chief executive holding the ministerial portfolios.  In this instance the chief executive holds the two ministerial portfolios directly involved – defence and finance.  By all accounts the pension bill came out of the finance ministry – the labour ministry had to defend a piece of proposed legislation directly and sensitively related to their subject area without their participation in its design and drafting.  How is legislation in this country prepared?

What role did the chief executive, in this capacity, and as minister play in the design and drafting of the proposed legislation?  Did he approve of it?  What role did he as chief executive and minister and his brother as secretary play in the actions of the police?  Like in the case of the joint communiqué with India for which the minister still continues to get flak and abuse even though he was accompanied by the ministry monitor and could not have signed the communiqué without the his boss's approval, the chief executive appears to be favoured by a political immunity from criticism.  This is underpinned, no doubt, by the constitutional immunity granted to the holder of that office and his personal popularity on account of defeating the LTTE.  Good governance?

There are a host of other questions arising from media reports regarding the funeral arrangements and as to the material damage and financial loss to the companies in the zone and to the apparel industry.  The German ambassador has voiced his concern about the impact of this on investments from his country in Sri Lanka.  Do we need reminding that we lost GSP Plus on the question of human rights protection?  Media also reported that UPFA MP Duminda de Silva charged with the responsibility of monitoring the defence ministry was seen leading a gang of thugs armed with poles in the vicinity of a demonstration in Colombo, in sympathy with the workers!  This ministerial monitor has yet to be called to book.

It is too early to definitively deem these events a watershed in the fortunes of the regime and chief executive.  Spontaneous mass protest, not politically sponsored and engineered, has forced the regime to withdraw proposed legislation and to think again.   Perhaps this will be both a chastening as well as chastising experience for the regime.   It is being tried and tested on other fronts as well on the question of violence and accountability and has miles to travel before it can realistically conclude that it is out of the woods.

How will it proceed? - more, smoke and mirrors, bread and circuses for the masses, offence as the best form of defence, or governance?

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

BUILD A TRULY MULTI-ETHNIC NATION

If the Rajapaksa regime is sincerely committed to the vision of building a new Sri Lanka from the blood and ashes of the war, then it must be a truly mult-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation where we see lasting unity in diversity. Like the human body or a flower garden, the beauty lies in the diversity where different communities work in different ways but with one common vision.

Regrettably at this year's victory parade on May 27, though the main speakers proclaimed that the event united Sri Lanka as a Nation many observers and analysts noted that the scenes of May 2009 were not seen in the streets of Colombo. No crackers as such and certainly no kiributh.

Yet thankfully any division over the victory parade was not based on ethnic lines.  Even some from the majority community both the Sinhala people and Buddhists did not appreciate the manner in which victory day was celebrated, especially the heavy expenses at a time when millions of people are struggling to live. Several are the reasons. This event coming soon after this year's special week-long Vesak celebrations which coincided with the 2600th anniversary of the enlightenment of the Buddha –  caused much inconvenience for the people. We saw traffic jams and the waste of expensive fuel on the roads. Public sector institutions and schools in the city were closed that day causing delays in urgent work.

Above all the Victory Day focused mainly on the war won by the security forces whereas those on the other side of the divide – the victims of the war  are still suffering in the Wanni. Another negative factor was that the man who led the war and was once described by government leaders as the best army commander in the world is languishing in the Welikada Jail and is being hauled to courts regularly though his health condition is known to be serious.

Those in the Wanni are wounded and hurting and they need help. Most analysts believe that if these people are not looked after in the Wanni, the Tamil Diaspora will continue to plague the Government of Sri Lanka. Independent analysts also say the government has to offer a genuine peace package. It must also not forget hundreds of thousands of people from minority communities are still in the country and are not part of the Diaspora. Therefore if the Rajapaksa regime is sincerely committed to nation-building the country must take on board all  people especially the hurt and wounded minorities. This calls for a paradigm shift from the euphoria of May 2009 and the celebrations in May 2010 and 2011. Otherwise there will be questions as to whether Sri Lanka is a united multi racial nation.

Such a state of affairs would not be good for sustainable economic development. Sadly some of the big development projects so far have been personal or family centered. Development does not appear to be for the whole country. Religious leaders have to come in to monitor nation-building and economic development.

Magnanimity in victory is essential for it to bear fruit and open the doors for a just and lasting peace.

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

NO ESCAPE FROM TELEMARKETERS  

 BY MEENA MENEZES

I have lost my patience with telemarketers. I am beginning to think they keep tabs on me because the phone starts ringing, barely minutes after I get home from work.

I am not sure how effective this practice is, of cold-calling people to try to sell products or services, but I am frustrated.

The services range from free estimates to replace doors or windows, air-duct cleaning, ways of reducing energy bills, credit cards, magazine subscriptions, special offers for a gym membership, you name it, they are selling it.

The worst one is being congratulated as the lucky winner of a free cruise. I have never entered a draw but they insist I did and continue to tell me how I can go ahead and claim it.

Now I am really annoyed and snap back saying there is no such thing as a free ride."

"Believe me madam, it is free, just bear with me..."

Well, I am in no mood to bear with anyone so I disconnect the line.

Seriously, after an eight-hour work day, I am tired and hungry and my patience is wearing thin.

Initially though, I couldn't bring myself to just hang up so I listened and politely said I was not interested.

However, after enduring endless calls, I decided to try a different tactic, based on an article I read on this issue.

So the next time someone called and started by asking how I was, I replied "terribly sick". It caught him off guard and there was a three-second silence, before he said "sorry to hear that" and then went on to market his product.

But I was prepared, so I interrupted his constant attempts by complaining about my condition, coughed into the phone several times, put him on hold and eventually hung up.

At one point I cheekily asked if he was selling anything for the flu, because I would be very interested.

I could tell he was not amused, but this was his job, I was the customer and although he probably would have loved to slam the phone, he had to be polite and continue trying to convince me to buy the product.

Of course, this whole exercise was time consuming too, but it was entertaining.

The next time a telemarketer called and asked to speak to the owner of the house, all I said was "hold on" and left the phone on the table.

A few seconds later, I heard the expected, "hello, is anyone there?" and he stayed on the line for a few more seconds, before hanging up.

On the flip side though, I do realise that telemarketing is a tough job. Customers can be very difficult, rude and downright obnoxious and it is unfair to shoot the messenger so to speak.

The caller is probably underpaid, overworked and doesn't even enjoy what he does but is just trying to make the best of it.

However, it is annoying when the calls continue, despite short of begging, I have repeatedly asked to be taken off their calling list.

But I then found out that there are several lists you could be on, so there really is no getting away.

I have run out of ideas and am tired of indulging in petty conversation which is an utter waste of time.

I have now resorted to saying, "thank you, but we are not interested," knowing only too well it doesn't change anything.

I will be getting a similar call soon, with a salesperson pretending to be excited about a special promotion being offered.

It's a no-win situation - I might as well just accept that.

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SUDAN'S LEADERS AREN'T LOOKING FOR A FIGHT

BY SIMON TISDALL

 

Like myriad starbursts exploding in a night sky, violent armed clashes and humanitarian crises are erupting across the map of central Sudan as the country prepares to divide into two separate states early next month. But beyond the confusion and screams of pain, the gritty wider context is a fierce, two-sided competition for resources, territory, international diplomatic support and, most especially, oil, that is intensifying by the day.

To the name of Darfur, a watchword for bloodshed and misery, may now potentially be added the less familiar names of South Kordofan, the Nuba mountains, Abyei, and Blue Nile. All these areas are to some extent disputed between Khartoum and Juba and, like South Sudan itself, face debilitating internal divisions. The nightmare now is that these numerous flashpoints could somehow fuse together to spark a third Sudanese civil war.

As usual, the northern government of President Omar al-Bashir is blamed for the deteriorating security situation by western governments and media. Last month's occupation of the Abyei border region by the Sudanese army, in which about 100 people reportedly died and up to 45,000 were sent fleeing, brought a sharp but familiar weekend rebuke from the UN security council.

Condemning what it called a "serious violation" of previous agreements, the council demanded that "Sudanese armed forces ensure an immediate halt to all looting, burning and illegal resettlement" and warned that those breaking international law "will be held accountable".

The U.S.-based Enough Project went further, saying it had seen satellite evidence suggesting northern troops had committed war crimes in Abyei, and had submitted it to the International Criminal Court. John Prendergast, co-founder of Enough, said governments had a duty to invoke the "responsibility to protect" doctrine applied elsewhere in Africa this year.

"Sudan's north-south and Darfur conflicts have produced more dead, wounded and displaced persons than Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Ivory Coast combined," Prendergast wrote in the Washington Post. "How long is the international community willing to tolerate this deadly dictator? ... We must proceed before Abyei ignites the next Darfur."

Bashir is also catching flak for clashes, reviving this week, in the Nuba region of South Kordofan state, which is controlled by Khartoum and contains most of the north's oil reserves. The south's ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, claimed Bashir's militia proxies, directed by the state governor Ahmed Haroun (another unapprehended Darfur war crimes indictee), were stoking Abyei-style tensions between pro-south Dinka Ngok tribespeople and northern Arab Misseriya nomads. Khartoum is also accused of backing tribal-based militias in Blue Nile state, further to the east, to pressure local, southern-allied armed groups that fought Khartoum during the civil war that ended in 2005.

To all these many charges, Bashir resolutely pleads not guilty -- and he has a case. Khartoum maintains the latest trouble in Abyei began when northern troops came under attack from southern forces, a claim supported by the UN. It describes the occupation as a temporary arrangement, pending a resolution of its status. Khartoum has proposed a rotating administration in Abyei, with a joint committee taking control before independence day on July 9. It has also suggested a demilitarized zone along the length of the common border.

"We were able to arrive at an agreement to end the war that started in 1955 and so there should be no issue too difficult to solve through negotiations," Bashir said last week in comments undermining his ogre image. "It's better than we sit and discuss and consult. We want brotherly ties between the north and the south." Bashir made similar conciliatory noises when interviewed by the Guardian in April. Southern leaders have responded in kind, saying they do not want a fight. Talks on all these issues are ongoing.

Those in the west prophesying another civil war or a Darfur-style repeat genocide misunderstand what is happening -- which is not a countdown to war but a negotiation. Abyei and similar disputes had become bargaining chips, said International Crisis Group analyst Zach Vertin in a recent briefing.

"Despite dangerously high rhetoric over the course of the last year, both north and south have calculated that the cost of a return to war far outweighed any potential gains," Vertin said. While both sides were endeavoring to attain the upper hand, they actually needed each other more than they would admit, especially if oil revenues, crucial to both, were to be maintained.

It is delicate balancing act -- and Sudan is nothing if not volatile. It could yet go badly wrong.

Simon Tisdall is an assistant editor of the Guardian and a foreign affairs columnist.

(Source: The Guardian)

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ATTACK ON YEMENI PRESIDENT WAS A FOREIGN PLOT

BY MOHAMMAD REZA FORGHANI

 

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's long-expected exit from power finally happened last Friday after the attacks on the presidential palace.

But there are some points that must be examined in order to analyze the current situation of the country in the wake of this incident.

In recent weeks, the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) presented several plans to the Yemeni government in order to help it solve its problems. However, the plans failed due to Saleh's objections. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the most powerful nations in the PGCC, were very disappointed by the complex situation created by the unrest in Yemen.

The second point is that the attack on the Yemeni presidential palace created many questions and ambiguities. It is not clear whether the attack was conducted by opponents of the government or was planned by external powers. The attack was carried out using heavy mortars and other military weapons, and it could not have been conducted without well thought-out plans.

Bearing all this in mind, we can make a better analysis of Saleh's departure from power. Given the failure of the PGCC's proposals, the six-nation council was very discouraged by the situation in Yemen. This shows that there was a high possibility that the attack on Saleh's residence was organized by external actors. That's why the injured president quickly left for Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to receive medical treatment.

Therefore, it was an organized attack meant to control the crisis in Yemen and gradually pave the way for Saleh's departure since the unrest could result in an armed conflict, like what is currently happening in Libya.

Now the situation is relatively calm and the PGCC plan is finally being implemented. Ali Abdullah Saleh is gone and his vice president is in charge.

The United States is also happy about the course of events because it appears that there is no chance for Saleh to return. And the U.S ambassador in Sanaa has already met the vice president.

The possibility of a civil war in Yemen depends on the actions of the vice president in the coming months. If he tries to meet the demands and fulfill the wishes of the opposition, Yemen will gradually emerge from the crisis. However, if he wants to continue the policies of the previous government, the opposition will also continue the uprising, and the probability of civil war will be greater than ever.

Mohammed Reza Forghani formerly served as Iran's ambassador to Turkmenistan.

 

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PICK YOUR POISON

BY JOEL S. HIRSCHHORN

 

One of the hardest truths to accept is that for most sources of pain hitting humans there seems to be nothing effective for government to do. Nowadays, those of us who do not gobble various distractions but work to stay connected to reality see two dreadful conditions. Nature seems mad as hell. People are dying or suffering from earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, extreme heat, huge snow storms and more. While some idiots keep trying to deny the reality of global climate change, those of us who have lived a long time see firsthand that killer weather events are more prevalent than ever.

While you may be fighting your paranoia about being victimized by foul weather the other ugly reality already devastating the lives of so many people is a dismal set of economic conditions. Contrary to all the usual lies by politicians about the economic recovery, a mountain of data shows non-delusional people that only the wealthy have escaped economic pain.

According to a recent Pew Charitable Trusts poll, 55 percent of Americans still rate the national economy as poor, and just 47 percent believe their kids will have a higher standard of living than they enjoy. If more people paid closer attention to the facts, those percentages should be more like 80 or 90 percent.

The U.S. has recovered just 1.8 million of the nearly 9 million jobs lost in the downturn versus an average 5.3 million job gains in the same period of the 1970s and 1980s recoveries. The number of people with jobs has barely changed since June 2009 -- up just 0.4 percent. Many economists say the turnaround shows no signs of generating the 300,000 to 400,000 monthly payroll additions needed to rapidly lower the unemployment rate. There are probably about 50 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or no longer trying to get decent jobs, or who are close relatives of them. The rise of the official unemployment rate in May, 2011 (the real level is twice as high) and a paltry new number of jobs just rubbed salt in the wound. There simply is no basis for believing that many millions of new, good jobs will be created for many years.

Add the latest news that the housing market has turned even worse again, leading to the distressful conclusion that a double-dip recession has hit housing, which portends even wider economic pain. Single family home prices dropped in March, 2011 to their lowest level since April 2009. Millions of home foreclosures will be followed by even more. Of all homes with mortgages 23 percent are worth less than what is owed.

And don't forget that there are enormous numbers of Americans fighting hunger even though 68 percent of Americans are obese or overweight. Forty four million Americans are getting food stamps.

Meanwhile higher prices for key necessities show that inflation is eating away at quality of life and living standards. Gas prices climbed 52 percent over the past two years, according to the Department of Energy, and are only now decreasing a little as many Americans have cut back on their driving. Food costs are also rising just like health care.

Nothing the government has done worked for ordinary Americans. Many billions of dollars spent on reviving the economy have mainly helped the business sector and the rich. Congress and President Obama have shown themselves to be utterly useless. They mostly serve corporate interests.

Both the economic and climate futures look bleak, because they are bleak.

Pick your poison. We are living in a time when natural and economic conditions are out of control and frightening. But wait, there is some good news!

According to a new report by Boston Consulting Group, the number of millionaire households in the world grew by 12.2 percent in 2010, to 12.5 million. Here is how millionaires are defined: Those with $1 million or more in investible assets, excluding homes, luxury goods and ownership in one's own company. Can you relate? Even better news: The U.S. still leads the world in millionaires, with 5.2 million millionaire households.

An even bigger truth is this: The world's millionaires represent just 0.9 percent of the global population but control 39 percent of the world's wealth, up from 37 percent in 2009. Even more truth about economic inequality: Those with $5 million or more, who represent only 0.1 percent of the population, control 22 percent of the world's wealth, up from 20 percent in 2009. The rich are really getting richer.

If you face reality, remember that Obama promised back in February 2009 that his $830 billion stimulus plan would unleash "a new wave of innovation, activity and construction" and "ignite spending by businesses and consumers." Did not happen.

And in June 2010, Obama announced that the recovery was "well under way" and that it "is getting stronger by the day." More poisonous propaganda.

A couple months later, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote a New York Times op-ed headlined "Welcome to the Recovery." More self-serving garbage.

In reality, two years after the recession officially ended there are few places beyond the stock market and corporate profits that have shown improvement, but even now the stock market is hurting. The rich and powerful have not suffered. But over the past decade, real private-sector wage growth has been a terrible 4 percent, just below the 5 percent increase from 1929 to 1939 during the Great Depression.

The Republicans who grabbed so much power in the last midterm elections show no capacity whatsoever to fix anything. That Sarah Palin just as Donald Trump can grab so much media attention demonstrates how decrepit our nation is.

What is to be learned? No member of Congress or the President deserves to be reelected. Neither does any other Republican or Democrat. Like extreme weather calamities, economic evils will continue to poison our lives. Those who deny climate change and economic injustice are either stupid or delusional. Waiting for divine intervention makes as much sense as anything, except that all the awful stuff happening, if God's will, suggests such hope is folly. Pass the poison. Or wait for a tornado, home loss, or financial ruin to hit. More bad news is coming. But have you ever seen pictures of tornadoes destroying McMansions?

(Source:delusionaldemocracy.com.)

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WILL WASHINGTON FOMENT WAR BETWEEN CHINA AND INDIA?

BY PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

 

What is Washington's solution for the rising power of China? The answer might be to involve China in a nuclear war with India.

The staging of the fake death of Osama bin Laden in a commando raid that violated Pakistan's sovereignty was sold to President Obama by the military/security complex as a way to boost Obama's standing in the polls.

The raid succeeded in raising Obama's approval ratings. But its real purpose was to target Pakistan and to show Pakistan that the U.S. was contemplating invading Pakistan in order to make Pakistan pay for allegedly hiding bin Laden next door to Pakistan's military academy. The neocon -- and increasingly the U.S. military -- position is that the Taliban can't be conquered unless NATO widens the war theater to Pakistan, where the Taliban allegedly has sanctuaries protected by the Pakistan government, which takes American money but doesn't do Washington's bidding.

Pakistan got the threat message and ran to China. On May 17, Pakistan's prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, as he departed for China, declared China to be Pakistan's "best and most trusted friend." China has built a port for Pakistan at Gwadar, which is close to the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz. The port might become a Chinese naval base on the Arabian Sea.

Raza Rumi reported in the Pakistan Tribune (June 4) that at a recent lecture at Pakistan's National Defense University, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the US, asked the military officers whether the biggest threat to Pakistan came from within, from India, or from the U.S. A majority of the officers said that the U.S. was the biggest threat to Pakistan.

China, concerned with India, the other Asian giant that is rising, is willing to ally with Pakistan. Moreover, China doesn't want Americans on its border, which is where they would be should Pakistan become another American battleground.

Therefore, China showed its displeasure with the U.S. threat to Pakistan, and advised Washington to respect Pakistan's sovereignty, adding that any attack on Pakistan would be considered an attack on China. I do not think China's ultimatum was reported in the U.S. press, but it was widely reported in India's press. India is concerned that China has stepped up to Pakistan's defense.

The Chinese ultimatum is important, because it is a WWI or WWII level of ultimatum. With this level of commitment of China to Pakistan, Washington will now seek a way to maneuver itself out of the confrontation and to substitute India.

The U.S. has been fawning all over India, cultivating India in the most shameful ways, including the sacrifice of Americans' jobs. Recently, there have been massive U.S. weapons sales to India, US-India military cooperation agreements, and joint military exercises.

Washington figures that the Indians, who were gullible for centuries about the British, will be gullible about the "shining city on the hill" that is "bringing freedom and democracy to the world" by smashing, killing, and destroying. Like the British and France's Sarkozy, Indian political leaders will find themselves doing Washington's will. By the time India and China realize that they have been maneuvered into mutual destruction by the Americans, it will be too late for either to back down.

With China and India eliminated, that leaves only Russia, which is already ringed by U.S. missile bases and isolated from Europe by NATO, which now includes former constituent parts of the Soviet Empire. A large percentage of gullible Russian youth admires the U.S. for its "freedom" (little do they know) and hates the "authoritarian" Russian state, which they regard as a continuation of the old Soviet state. These "internationalized Russians" will side with Washington, more or less forcing Moscow into surrender.

As the rest of the world, with the exception of parts of South America, is already part of the American Empire, Russia's surrender will let the U.S. focus its military might on South America. Chavez will be overthrown, and if others do not fall into line, more examples will be made.

The only way the American Empire can be stopped is for China and Russia to realize their danger and to form an unbreakable alliance that reassures India, breaks off Germany from NATO and defends Iran.

Otherwise, the American Empire will prevail over the entire world. The U.S. dollar will become the only currency, and therefore be spared exchange-rate depreciation from debt monetization.

Gold and silver will become forbidden possessions, as will guns and a number of books, including the U.S. Constitution.

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury in the Reagan Administration, Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, Senior Research Fellow in the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and held the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University. He is the author or coauthor of nine books and has testified before committees of Congress on thirty occasions.

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CONTINUING BAHRAINI STATE TERROR

BY STEPHEN LENDMAN

 

For months, Bahraini and Saudi security forces targeted nonviolent protesters and activists wanting the repressive Al Khalifa monarchy replaced by constitutionally elected government, political freedom, and social justice, what Bahrainis never had and don't now.

Still functioning despite authorities terrorizing people brutally, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) provides regular updates on the ground, expressing great concern about King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's ruthless:

"actions and arbitrary penalties against citizens who it believes participated or supported the peaceful protest movement in February and March, whereas, Bahraini authorities (unleashed) great violence (against them, resulting in) dozens of deaths, especially after" thuggish Saudi and Emirati forces also suppressed them.

On March 15, martial law was declared (the so-called State of National Safety), now lifted but nothing changed. Daily state terror continues unabated against all sectors of society, including opposition leaders, independent journalists, human rights and political activists, students, trade unionists, and other civil society sectors and institutions, targeting women and children as brutally as men.

Moreover, thousands of workers were arbitrarily fired. On May 29, the General Federation of Bahrain trade unions listed 1,724 sacked. In fact, many more are affected, their numbers increasing daily. Many were at the state controlled Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO) and Aluminum Bahrain (ALBA), including anyone suspected of anti-regime sympathies.

Some weren't given reasons. Others were asked whether they participated in peaceful protests and about their political affiliation.

These, in fact, are revenge firings, punishing workers for their views, political activities and sectarian affiliation in violation of the International Labor Organization's Convention No. 111 on Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation. Its Article 1 prohibits it based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, as well as violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Even Bahrain's labor law was violated, allowing dismissals only in cases of excessive numbers of unreasonable absences, preceded by sufficient advance warning in writing.

Mass Arrests, Disappearances and Torture Continuing

As of June 1, BCHR reports over 1,000 detentions and/or disappearances since imposition of martial law State of National Safety harshness. Many are missing and unaccounted for. Moreover, at least 35 were killed since mid-February and many others injured. In addition, 68 or more journalists were threatened, fired, and/or arrested for revealing information the regime wants suppressed.

Online activist Zakariya Al Aushayri was detained and killed. Others have harmed also, including reporters Faisal Hayyat, Hayder Mohammad, Ali Jawad, and many more, as well as warrants issued to arrest others. As a result, some fled the country for their safety, thankful to get out alive.

BCHR calls Bahrain "a dangerous zone for the freedom of press and journalists." Those arrested "could die in view of the current security laws (the emergency law,)" as well as arbitrary brutality unleashed against anyone with anti-regime sympathies, especially human rights and political activists, as well as independent writers and bloggers. Many were arrested and/or threatened, including:

-- BCHR's Sayed-Yousef Al-Mahafdha on March 20;

-- BCHR President and Vice Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Nabeel Rajab on the same day;

-- Mohammed Al-Masqati, President of the Bahrain Youth Human Rights Society (BYHRS);

-- Abdulhdi Alkhawaja, former BCHR President;

-- Naji Fateel, BYHRS board member;

-- Salman Naji, member of the Committee for the Unemployed;

-- Abdul Gani Khanjer, head of the Committee of the Victims of Torture; and

-- many others for supporting equity and justice over tyranny.

Military Trials and Sentences

On June 2, BCHR updated proceedings against over 60 targeted individuals. Through May 31, all were unjustly tried and sentenced, some