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Month july 02, edition 000874, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
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- WORK IN PROGRESS
- RESTORING THE BALANCE
- PARTYING WITH POLITICS - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
- BENGAL'S TRANSITION BETWEEN DYSTOPIAS - UDAYAN NAMBOODIRI
- KILLING FIELDS OF BENGAL - SAUGOR SENGUPTA
- CRIMINALISATION OF CPI(M) A FACT OF LIFE - KSHITI GOSWAMI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- THOSE ANGRY OLD MEN
- GLOBALISATION'S DISCONTENTS - SUNIL KHILNANISUNIL KHILNANI
- IN TUNE WITH THE TIMES
- WARPS CRICKET OUT OF SHAPE - DEEP K DATTA-RAYDEEP K DATTA-RAY
- A RESISTANCE HERO CASTS A SPELL - DILEEP PADGAONKARDILEEP PADGAONKAR
- SNUFFING OUT THOSE LIVES
- GUILT THAT WEIGHS HEAVY
- A NOTE ON HOW TO KEEP ANARCHY AT BAY - PRATIK KANJILAL
- DAUGHTER INDIA - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
- HERE COMES THE MAN - PANKAJ VOHRA
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- HEART OF THE DEAL
- THE MIZORAM WAY - RIVER SUTRA
- STOP SHIRKING REFORMS - BAIJAYANT 'JAY' PANDA
- HE'S STILL THE ONE - DESH GAURAV CHOPRA SEKHRI
- WHEN CEOS ARE INEFFECTIVE - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- A POLITICAL MATCH THAT LOOKS FIXED - SURJIT S BHALLA
- BACK-TO-BACK - RUCHIKA TALWAR
- GREAT PARTY, BUT WHERE'S THE COMMUNISM?
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- CURRENT ACCOUNT IS SOLID
- CAN'T CELEBRATE CAIRN
- CONGRESS MOLE IN THE BJP? - SURJIT S BHALLA
- BRIC UP A NEW MONETARY SYSTEM - BL PANDIT
- MOROCCANS VOTE ONNEW CONSTITUTION
- TO THE LIMIT
- THE TIDE OF WARIN AFGHANISTAN - REMOVINGBARRIERS
- U.S.-BACKED ROAD MAP FOR SYRIA LEAVES ASSAD IN PLACE - IAN BLACK
- LOKPAL BILL AND THE PRIME MINISTER:V.R. KRISHNA IYER RESPONDS
- TAGORE AND THE IDEA OF COOPERATION - ANANYA MUKHERJEE
- SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON THE ARIKAMEDU FINDS - A. SRIVATHSAN
THE ASIAN AGE
- DEPLORABLE VERDICT IN DENMARK
- DE-GREASING INDIA - FARRUKH DHONDY
- MR PM, BUCK DOESN'T STOP HERE - SHOBHAA DE
- SOLITARY REAPERS - SUMAN SAHAI
- NUKE WAIVER IN PIPELINE
- PM ASSURED
- CONGRESS AND CORRUPTION CULTURE - BY ML KOTRU
- DIFFICULT TIMES AHEAD - BY ARUN NEHRU
- GOOD MONSOON MAY NOT HELP IS CHECKING PRICES - BY ARABINDA GHOSE
- THE HANSI-BUTANA ROW
- SOFT VERDICT IN GROVER CASE
- WOMEN UNDER DURESS
- BEGINNING OF THE ENDGAME - BY H.K. DUA
- POOR 'WORKMANSHIP' - BY HARISH DHILLON
- LOKPAL NEEDS TEETH TO BITE - JAGDEEP S. CHHOKAR
- THERE IS CONFLICT OF INTEREST
- FOCUS, OR DE-FOCUS? - T N NINAN
- CALL OF THE WEST - KISHORE SINGH
- ODE TO THE CHAVANNI - GEETANJALI KRISHNA
- A LAW AND ORDER PROBLEM - SUBIR ROY
- IF GETTING TDS CERTIFICATION BECOMES EASIER, MORE DEDUCTEES MIGHT COME FORWARD TO FILE A RETURN - INDIRA RAJARAMAN
- CRUDE DECISION
- CAIRN-VEDANTA DEAL: WHEN UMPIRE TURNED BATSMAN - RAGHUVIR SRINIVASAN
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- AT LONG LAST
- SHOCK FROM GUJARAT
- FACEBOOK, FACE CHINA
- WHY POSTPONE AGRI REFORMS?
- GIVE A NEW DEAL TO MICROFINANCE - K C RANJANI
- LABOUR DIVIDEND OR DEFICIT? - DILIP MODI
1. MISSED CALL: GREAT INDIAN TRICK
- DEPLORABLE VERDICT IN DENMARK
- DE-GREASING INDIA
- THE RAISED DEBT CEILING CAN CRACK TOO
- FLAPPING WINGS
- 'MILITARY BALANCE'
- MESSAGE TO INDIA
- INDIA'S SILENT CRISIS - RAJINDER PURI
- THE COLD, HARD FACTS ABOUT SCOTT'S LAST DAYS
- KATHY MARKS
- OFF LIMITS - SEEMA MUSTAFA
- THAIS NEED NOT STAY DIVIDED
- A VERY MIXED RECORD - SHIV KARAN SINGH
- 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
- DEADLY FLAWS
- LOOKING THREE WAYS - : RRAMACHANDRA GUHA
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- EU: UNJUST AND UNFAIR TO TURKEY
- EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION STILL BREWING - HALA ELKHOLY
- WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH AFGHANISTAN?
- A DON QUIXOTE TILTS AT YALIKAVAK WINDMILLS
- THE STUPIDITY OF BOYCOTTING PARLIAMENT
- TURKEY, EVOLUTION TOWARD A REGIONAL POWER
- CHERIE BLAIR NOT SO WELL – VERSED ON TURKEY
THE NEWYORK TIMES
- THE PENTAGON AFTER MR. GATES
- WHAT GOV. CUOMO LEFT UNDONE
- ONE FINE DAY - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
- SLAVERY IN THE MODERN AGE
- HEMINGWAY, HOUNDED BY THE FEDS - BY A. E. HOTCHNER
- PAY WORKERS FAIRLY AND SAVE MONEY - BY JANICE M. NITTOLI
- MAKE FOOD CHOICES SIMPLE: COOK - BY MARK BITTMAN
- CONSERVATIVE CASH CROP - BY TIMOTHY EGAN
- RS780M A MONTH!
- SHUT-UP TO TIP
- YET MORE GRIM
- IS DEVOLUTION TOO DULL? - AFIYA SHEHRBANO
- DE-RADICALISATION - IKRAM SEHGAL
- TIME TO MOVE ON - RAOOF HASAN
- MEDIA'S 'ARMY BASHING' - BABAR SATTAR
- MEMO FROM USA - ANJUM NIAZ
- TASK BEFORE ABBOTTABAD COMMISSION
- INDIA ESCALATES TENSION
- NWA: PLEASE TAKE THE NATION ALONG
- ON GOING TO THE RATS! - KHALID SALEEM
- PAK-RUSSIA RELATIONS: NEW DIMENSIONS - JAWAD RAZA KHAN
- HEADING TOWARDS A SHOWDOWN - GP CAPT RAB NAWAZ CH (R)
- ROOTS OF ISLAM IN PAKISTAN - AFSH AIN AFZAL
- LIBYA: RUNNING OUT OF OPTIONS - GWYNNE DYER
- AN UNREAL PERFORMANCE FROM A PM UNDER PRESSURE
- LIFTING THE QUALITY OF DEBATE
- A POSTMODERNIST PARLIAMENT
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- THE SPREADING CLOUDS FROM ATHENS
- LIGHT UP A HELMSMAN
- THE BANK AND THE BANKNOTES: WHERE WILL THE BUCK STOP?
- DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN: THE HUMAN STAIN
- POLITICS: SCOTLAND'S MIXED MESSAGES
- UNTHINKABLE? RETIRING CLICHES
THE JAKARTA POST
- INTEGRATED TRANSPORTATIONS
- SCHOOL CHOICE: DO PARENTS REALLY CHOOSE SCHOOLS? - ZULFA SAKHIYYA
- DOES PARENTING MATTER? - TIRTA SUSILO
- CHALLENGING OPPORTUNITY FOR AGING POPULATION - ROBERT FLETCHER
- GET INVOLVED IN ACTION FOR JUSTICE NOT PARTY POLITICS
- THE IMPORTANCE OF SPEAKING IN ONE VOICE
- FLAWED MEDIUM AND MESSAGE
- THE UNTOLD SIDE ON WAR CRIMES
- MINIMAL CHANGES TO EXISTING LAWS ADEQUATE TO FIGHT CORRUPTION
WORK IN PROGRESS
HENCE, DO NOT EXPECT PM TO ACT!
Eventually Mr Dayanidhi Maran will have to resign from the Union Cabinet for his questionable role as Telecom Minister in UPA1. He has clung on tenaciously to his Ministry for weeks since he came under a cloud of suspicion, claiming innocence. That will need to be established by the due process of law. Meanwhile, if he has managed to stay on it is because of the indecisiveness of a Prime Minister who is not his own man. Mr Manmohan Singh may insist that he acts promptly but this episode proves, though not for the first time. to the contrary. With the Government already under attack over a string of scams and scandals, he was expected to ask Mr Maran to resign from office soon after the latter's alleged involvement in extending favours to a telecom firm became public. But not only did Mr Singh fail in this task, he also maintained complete silence on the issue. Even during his much-publicised interaction with a group of editors this week, he was less than forthcoming on the charges against Mr Maran and his inaction in the matter. This shows that he does not have the courage to even ask a Minister to put in his papers. But since the charges against Mr Maran cannot be brushed under the carpet, Mr Singh cannot gloss over them either. In this situation, perhaps he expects Mr Maran to either quit on his own; if he doesn't do so, Mr Singh can always use the promised Cabinet reshuffle to exclude him from the Council of Ministers. But that is not quite the same as Mr Singh showing grit and determination by issuing marching orders to a Minister who stands accused of abusing authority and is likely to face prosecution in the coming days.
The Prime Minister's inability to act swiftly and firmly before the situation spirals out of control indicates the drift in governance: Mr Singh is not seen as directing events but allowing events to direct him. This is not the first time that Mr Singh has preferred prevarication over action. For over two years he lived with the knowledge that A Raja as Telecom Minister was blatantly flouting guidelines to favour a select group of operators. He failed to summon the courage to either demand an explanation or crack the whip. It was only when the Great 2G Spectrum Robbery became public knowledge and the Supreme Court stepped in that Mr Singh asked a recalcitrant and defiant Raja to resign from the Cabinet. Tragically, Mr Singh has time and again failed to do what commonsense would suggest is the right thing to do. For instance, commonsense would suggest that a Prime Minister should not be seen as reluctant to communicate with the people. Mr Singh, on the other hand, has chosen to maintain silence on issues that are uppermost in the minds of the people. When he finally broke that silence this week through his interaction with carefully selected media representatives, it was at the behest of the Congress. It is not surprising that his responses to questions were tailored to please the party high command instead of reassuring the people of the country that the Government he heads is mindful of their concerns and working towards addressing them. Instead, the impression that was conveyed, wittingly or otherwise, is that it's a lame duck Government which is clueless about popular aspirations and mounting anger. Under his tutelage, the UPA regime remains a "work in progress"!
RESTORING THE BALANCE
PRANAB DOES A FINE JOB DURING US VISIT
At a time when bilateral relations between India and the US have suffered minor setbacks, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's recent visit to Washington, DC, was saddled with much anticipation and loaded with expectations. After all, not only is Mr Mukherjee the most experienced Minister in the Cabinet, he is also the only Minister who has handled the whole gamut of policy areas with the US — from defence to economic relations and foreign policy to bilateral trade. Thus, even though the official reason for Mr Mukherjee's trip was to conduct talks with his American counterpart, Mr Timothy Geithner, under the auspices of the India-US Financial and Economic Partnership programme, a lot more was expected from his trip and most of it was in terms of some serious damage control. Diplomatic ties between the two countries took a knock recently when India's Consul-General in New York, Mr Prabhu Dayal, came under the scanner of US authorities for allegedly ill-treating his housemaid. South Block believes that Mr Dayal was specifically and unreasonably targeted and it made no secret of it, as the Ministry of External Affairs put out a terse letter of reprimand. That the Dayal episode came close on the heels of the Krittika Biswas fiasco only made things worse. Ms Biswas is the teenaged daughter of India's Vice-Consul in New York who was arrested under false charges in violation of her diplomatic immunity. Though she is now suing New York City authorities for wrongful arrest, the Government, on its part, has not taken the matter lightly. In turn, the US Administration has responded by refusing to let the India open a Consulate in Seattle, Washington, which is home to a large Indian population. This despite the fact that the establishment of the new Consulate was part of an agreement signed between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former US President George W Bush way back in 2008.
Additionally, there has also been much heartbreak on both sides over visa issues: Washington complains that new laws prevent those from the US military-industrial complex from travelling freely to India while New Delhi points out that the other side has responded harshly by clamping down on student visas. Moreover, India's decision to shortlist a French company and a European conglomerate, while ignoring US firms, for its 126 multi-role combat aircraft deal has clearly not gone down well with the Americans either, and they too are making no secret of that. Against this background, only the financial aspect of India-US bilateral relations remains in good health. Mr Mukherjee has tried to restore the balance, and he has done so with a certain finesse which others in the Government lack.
PARTYING WITH POLITICS
'Civil society' representatives lack experience in dealing with politicians, political parties and political systems and hence have gone wrong in their basic approach.
The current confrontation between some political parties — primarily the Congress — and a section of the 'civil society' (read those led by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev) — has raised questions about the roles of both. Both discharge important functions and, ideally, should be complementary to each other. According to FG Bailey in Stratagems and Spoils, a political system comprises a political structure consisting of institutions of governance like the legislature, executive and the judiciary, and the political environment in which the political structure functions. The political environment, again, comprises the values, morals, opinions, practices, rituals embodying the cultural and social heritage of the country. These in turn are perpetuated and articulated in a multiplicity of fora by a number of entities including religious bodies, social organisations like clubs, non-government organisations, professional bodies, human rights organisations and media, and define the moral and practical frontiers within which the political structure must function. Many of these organisations as well as tall eminences of the academia and professions like law, medicine and so on, constitute the 'civil society'. The latter draws its sanction from public opinion and the moral universe that defines politics.
A political structure is, in the long run, shaped by the political environment. It changes, violently and suddenly or peacefully and gradually, in case of a sharp and irreconcilable dissonance between the two. The 'civil society' and the political structure interact creatively in a stable and vibrant democracy, in which political parties are vitally important institutions of governance. They play a critically important mediating role between the political structure, through the institutional mechanisms of which they acquire and exercise power, and the political environment, in which they operate and from which they derive their power and mandate. A parliamentary democracy is plunged into crisis if they degenerate to the level at which they undermine the political structure or function in a manner that is contrary to the spirit of the political environment. This also happens when a political party, which does not believe in democracy and wants to establish a dictatorship, manages to capture power through election and pursues its destructive agenda. What the Nazis did in Germany and the Fascists in Italy in the last century remain classic examples of this.
Interaction between the 'civil society' and political parties is often not smooth even in countries where both have been active for a long time. The sometimes-violent protest against the Vietnam War in the United States in the last century is a striking example of some of the confrontations witnessed. Most often, however, the contention is conducted through the judicial process. India's vibrant parliamentary democracy is young and evolving; so is its 'civil society'. While there has been a growing dialectic between the two, neither has much understanding of the quotidian dynamics of the other or expertise in negotiating with it. A favourite, and sometimes very effective, weapon of the 'civil society' has been public interest litigation which has halted in their tracks a number of land acquisition bids, environmentally damaging industrial or infrastructural projects, and led to the liberation of bonded and child labourers.
While lawsuits can provide relief in specific cases with specific goals, and can punish the guilty and provide relief to the victim in individual instances of corruption, a campaign to eradicate the evil from society and the political structure is an entirely different matter. Requiring both legislative and administrative action, it calls for strategic and tactical interaction both with the political parties and the political environment. Unfortunately, the highly-respected and eminent representatives of the 'civil society', who have been conducting the dialogue with the Union Government on the Lok Pal Bill, lack experience in dealing with politicians, political parties and political systems and, hence, have gone wrong in their basic approach from the very start. The result is failure to make headway in the talks despite the fact that the country is seething in anger against corruption at all levels, from that of the patwaris and village officials to the highest corridors of power.
They should have recognised at the very beginning that a confrontationist stance against the political structure as such was bound to be counter-productive, and, faced with wholesale condemnation, political parties and leaders could close ranks against them, and that their venture would reach a dead end when this happened. One can argue that they had no desire to be confrontationist at the start and their posture became such, if at all, because of intransigence and worse on the part of the Union Government. Their failure to anticipate such an eventuality, if this, indeed, has been the case, clearly reflects their lack of political experience, particularly of the tactics of stalling and diversionary moves that politicians and political parties employ.
The 'civil society' leaders perhaps hoped that the Union Government would bend to their will because of the strong and widespread public support they enjoyed. Unfortunately, public support, however massive, does not automatically ensure victory against a recalcitrant Government. The modern state wields enormous powers. To prevail in the teeth of these, public support has to channelled into a powerful organisation, with tentacles reaching out all over the country and oriented toward prolonged struggle. It not only requires leaders who are strategically and tactically sound and well versed in the methods of mass mobilisation, but a cadre of activists who can gather and hold support at the ground level and are strong and resilient enough to stand up to prolonged repression.
The current movement against corruption does not have such an organisation. Nor will it be easy for its leaders to build one. They must, therefore, find a way of operating within the political structure. It would be totally untrue to say that all political parties and leaders are corrupt. There are many politicians who are honest and well-intentioned. The 'civil society' leaders must reach out to them and, through them, to their parties. Their chances of being heard are strong because their campaign has highlighted corruption as a central issue in the country's political discourse. Simultaneously, they must try to build a countrywide mass organisation through mobilisation over specific grievances that touch the common people. In this, they need to follow the methods of one of the greatest mass leaders the world has seen — Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
BENGAL'S TRANSITION BETWEEN DYSTOPIAS
The CPI(M) desertified Bengal by concealing murder and plunder in a democratic garb. Mamata Banerjee's panacea is to make the mill stone of democracy heavier for the Bengali neck by reviving bicameralism and promoting unwieldy committees
One of the many clichés used as a balm by liberal intellectuals to soothe India's mass discontent with everything that comes with bad governance is "in a democracy, people have the power to change a government". Actually, this is worse than an untruth — it's a conspiracy.
The modern state of West Bengal is where all this nonsensical talk began —in the heyday of the freedom movement — and it i s there that Saturday Special travels this week to understand the method behind this madness. To 85 million Bengalis, 0democracy is a mill stone around the collective neck. Between 1977 and May 2011, the CPI(M) carried out unspeakable crimes against humanity but collected kudos from the national chatteratti of Delhi through an effortless system of packaging terror in a democratic garb. They were cheered for "devolving" power to the panchayats, but little did the innocents in the national capital understand the macabre rites of the village soviet process which the CPI(M) transplanted on Indian soil.
One wonders today how many Bengalis remember Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, their first chief minister. Dr Roy was a shining beacon for the rest of India, a giant of a man in every sense of the term, who navigated modern West Bengal from the hell of partition to numero uno status among states.
Today, Mamata Banerjee goes around North Block and Yojana Bhawan with a begging bowl, seeking "special consideration" for West Bengal, as if it were some north-eastern or backward state. In Dr Roy's time, many Bengalis wished for poorer neighbor Bihar to merge with West Bengal so that the two could form a formidable economic powerhouse. Of course, the idea was decimated by the democratic process.
"Democracy" has reduced West Bengal to a basket case today. If the villages were carpet bombed by corrupt panchayats who mouthed rhetoric about "democratic devolution", the huge industrial complex bequeathed by Anglo-Indian enterprise and consolidated by Dr Roy was systematically destroyed in the name of "labour rights." With time, there were no more CPI(M) Bengalis and non-CPI(M) Bengalis. There were only Bengalis who chose to leave West Bengal and Bengalis who surrendered to the "system" and stayed on.
The bigger tragedy is that even after succeeding in throwing off the CPI(M) yoke, the new rulers seem to be seized by a greater compulsion to install "perfect representation" rather than address poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and the other legacies of Communist rule. Mamata Banerjee is bent on reviving the bicameral legislature system in the state which was scrapped in 1969. Now, as if a Rs 2.3 lakh crore debt stock and 3.7 per cent tax to SDP ration were not bad enough, her zeal for "perfection" in democracy seems certain to land the people of West Bengal with a new parasitical organism with 57 legs (MLCs) which would need salaries, perquisites, free railway passes, pension and, who knows, its own residences and clubs?
Simply put, the proposed Vidhan Parishad is a death wish. But it would suit the political and intellectual elites fine, because poverty is the spring well of Indian democracy. The CPI(M) came to power as the ideal democratic force, replacing a draconian Congress regime under Siddhartha Shankar Ray which played football with people's basic rights in the 1973-77 era. The Marxists moved fast to institutionalise elections to rural local bodies because it was seen as an ingenuous way to expand the power base and install a gravy train which would ensure allegiance over an indefinite length of time. Of course, we found out what the agenda was only later, much later.
Rajiv Gandhi's famous statement about only 15 paise from every government Rupee actually reaching the aam admi was actually a national average; in Communist West Bengal it was only about 1.5 paise. The rest of the money was sucked up by an efficient siphon which transported these funds to the CPI(M)'s private coffers which made the party the most propertied entity in India —and also the biggest employer considering there are over 2.6 lakh "whole timers" who have to be paid.
None of this would have been possible without the collusion of intellectuals. They are the only people who knew what was going on, but maintained strategic silence. On June 4, the result of their crimes was all too apparent. In Benichapra village under Gorbeta block in West Midnapore villagers forced a police party to dig up a trench located close to the ancestral home of former minister Susanta Ghosh. From it emerged the remains of an uncertain amount of people, all of whom were evidently massacred.
These are believed to the remains of a large number of Trinamool Congress supporters who vanished on September 22, 2002. It does not require extraordinary imaginative skills to realise that happened to them — like in countless other places of the state in the 35-year period, they were shot Einsatzgruppen style after being forced to kneel on the edge of ditches. While DNA tests would reveal the true number of the deceased and their identities, the people of West Bengal would not care to wait for a long-winded, technical process to deliver the retribution they yearn for. And they are getting it.
In numerous villages across West Bengal since the fall of the CPI(M) on May 13, the hunter has become the hunted. In the words of Biman Bose, the party's all-powerful state secretary, "thousands" have become "ghor chara" (refugees) and are fleeing from place to place, often with wives and children, in search of shelter. This is a different Biman Bose from the one who functioned like a middle-aged Sanjay Gandhi through most of the 35 years of CPI(M) rule. When Congress, Trinamool Congress and BJP supporters were living on railway platforms or under the shade of trees in Kolkata's parks, Bose laughed at the suggestion that there could be "ghor chara" in liberal, progressive West Bengal.
While the CPI(M) banished people for questioning their power and authority, the Trinamool is merely seeking revenge. It is a sad commentary on the value of Indian democracy that this mindlessly savage system is not bursting on the national centre stage, but merely being treated as a provincial side-show. It was similar indifference which led to the flourishing of countless private arsenals across the state in the 1977-2011period. As Saugor Sengupta's (Lookback) article reveals, the CPI(M) literally implemented Mao Zedong's "power flows from the barrel of a gun" maxim. Why did the CPI (M) need Ak-47s, "hand cannons" and explosives if it was in the business of perfecting democracy? This is a question for its champions in Jawaharlal Nehru and Delhi universities to answer. Now that the Trinamool supremo is turning the state and its people over to a new laboratory, how long would it be before another democratic dystopia consumes the Bengali?
The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer and author, Bengal's Night Without End, New Delhi, 2006
KILLING FIELDS OF BENGAL
The CPI(M)'s terror machine, the secret behind its three-decade-long electoral success, is now on display in West Bengal thanks to daily "unearthing" — a musket yesterday, a skeleton today
At times, an exhumed skeleton can speak louder than one tumbling off the closet. In post-poll West Bengal such a predicament has hit the state's former political masters, the CPI(M), with full force.
Since May 13, hardly a day has passed without a huge stockpile of weapons, both sophisticated and crude, being discovered in the backyard of a party office, or in a hole embarrassingly close to a CPI(M)-outpost, or, worse, in the home of a party functionary. The people were just about getting used to these "unearthing" when the limit of endurance was hit. Human skeletons — probably a dozen in all — were found buried in a trench on the ancestral property of former minister Sushanto Ghosh in Benichapra village under Garbeta block in West Midnapore district. Sheikh Safiul, a CPI(M) goon arrested this week, conceded that he had dumped bodies at Palashia and Benachapra at the instance of some party leaders. These bodies were then severed from their heads and buried separately.
While the police still work out on the figures an initial estimate puts the total find of firearms to about 8,000 — including a small quantity of those belonging to the AK 47, Insas and 9MM series — found from or around the CPI(M) party offices. Hand cannons, the Stinger missile of the Bengal comrade, which was often used for "area domination", were also found.
All this underscores the terrifying underbelly of the Stalinist rule which the people of West Bengal finally managed to throw out through the 2011 Assembly election. "Red Bengal" had truly been squatting on a powder keg. The contention gets strength from the recovery of more than 19,000 rounds of ammunition in Purulia, West Midnapore, East Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly districts. And, if an Inspector General of Police formerly in charge of these areas is to be believed, then this is but the tip of the iceberg as more than two-thirds of the total weaponry at the disposal of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his predecessor, Jyoti Basu, are yet to be seized.
Equally, he said, the other parties of Bengal, have not been found wanting in the department of violence. Violence is a way of life for Bengalis and the dubious credit for formalising that culture must surely go to the CPI(M) as not only has that party been found possessing the largest quantum of weapons, but also because being the rulers of the state for 34 years, it was their duty to ensure that the hoary tradition, which they once claimed to have inherited from the Congress of the pre-1977 era, was snuffed out.
Caches of deadly weapons have been discovered in North 24 Parganas, Sougth 24 Parganas, East and West Midnapore, Bardhaman — everywhere including Kolkata. The original impetus in terms of police action against arms hoarders actually came from detachments of central police which spread out in the state before the election. Even before the polls began, more than 1,500 guns and muskets of various calibre and 14,000 rounds of bullets were unearthed.
It was only a matter of time when faces began to be put to each of these discoveries. And, when that happened, the appearance of the persona of Sushanto Ghosh was only a matter of time. Since 2000, when the CPI(M) began its campaign to "recapture" the villages under Panskura Lok Sabha constituency, which the Trinamool Congress won through a by-election that year, Sushanto Ghosh had straddled the region as an Osama bin Laden. His guerillas surrounded villages, then went from door to door seeking out political opponents who they dragged to close by ditches and executed.
There was no question of police intervention in Marxist West Bengal. The force was 100 per cent politicised and there was no way a political activist opposing the CPI(M) could get justice. The same fate awaited supporters of the CPI, Forward Bloc and RSP, constituents of the Left Front, who often protested the "big brother" (CPI-M)'s high-handedness.
Ghosh was the unquestioned king of the Jangalmahal region, which comprises West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura. In 2004, one of his former confidential assistants, Debashis Pyne, who had deserted him, made a dramatic revelation to Bartaman newspaper. He admitted that in 1999-2000, he had personally carted guns and bullets in Ghosh's official car. After that Pyne disappeared, never to be heard of again.The CPI(M) cadres' modus operandi was simple. One of their erstwhile operatives who has now joined the Trinamool Congress, informs: "Whenever a 'target' was fixed an elaborate discussion would take place within the local committee among select members.
Most often the consensus was that the recalcitrant villager, or dissident trade unionist, whatever, was to be browbeaten into silence. In some cases, the decision was in favour of driving the nuisance maker out of the village. But when no other method of intimidation worked, such characters were chosen as "targets" and the party's killer squad alerted.
A decision to carry out a killing need not have involved superior leaders. Even district-level leaders were sometimes informed after an operation. The cold fact that emerges is this: a local committee secretary (commonly known as LCS) had the power of life and death over common people in West Bengal.
Unlike the Maoist ways of doing thing, the CPI(M)'s motive behind such murders was not to create visual terror but to control whole territories through systematic elimination of subaltern leaderships. In fact the Marxist leaders today put forth the same allegation at the direction of Mamata Banerjee, accusing her Trinamool supporters of "driving out" their cadre from villages. Clearly, the boot is on the other foot.
"Today we have more than 13,000 comrades in exile and 19 of them have already been murdered in the past one month," complains Biman Bose, the Left Front's chairman. "They are either killing our men or driving them away or framing them in false cases by associating them with arms recoveries. Are the CPI(M) men so foolish as to wrap their guns and bullets in red flags?"
The question naturally arises: Who supplied the weapons? According to the State police's intelligence sleuths, the weapons were imported mostly from Munger in Bihar and sometimes also from Bangladesh. In fact this arms trade was a two-way traffic. Prakash Singh, former Uttar Pradesh DGP and a counter-terrorism expert, says that a sizeable number of arms came from Yunnan. "Arms are purchased from Yunnan, brought down to Burma and from there to Bangladesh. From Bangladesh, its porous border with West Bengal is chosen to pump arms into the country. Once in West Bengal, the outfits smuggle it to other parts of the country as and when required," he adds.
Now with a change of guard at Writers' Buildings, one wonders whether the chemistry between the arms and the man would change or it would continue to be the same as it used to be in the Red era. Only time will tell.
-- The writer is The Pioneer's Special Correspondent
CRIMINALISATION OF CPI(M) A FACT OF LIFE
Professional criminals were drawn into the party fold because the Left Front government was fully aware that it was not delivering on governance. It was through terror that they dominated the democratic process and even Front partners were not excluded from this strategy
The large-scale recovery of arms and ammunition after the elections is quite disconcerting. I am sure it is not a good advertisement for Bengal which wants to invite investment. What has made matters worse is the bunch of skeletons dug out from various places, particularly from a place at Garbeta in West Midnapore, which has witnessed a number of bloody clashes over the past one decade.
The discovery of arms and skeletons is a source of embarrassment for the Left Front, especially the CPI(M) which is the biggest party in the Front and which took all major decisions when in government.
Though a section of the media and the Opposition attribute all the source of arms to the CPI(M) there is much exaggeration in their story as it is hard to believe that the CPI(M) cadres would be so naïve as to wrap such huge stockpiles of arms in party flags. The strategy is to put the local Left leaders behind the bars and take hold of the areas.
Having said that, the criminalisation of the CPI(M) cadre base cannot be denied and it is the leadership of the party which must take the responsibility for such degeneration. When I say criminalisation I have no hesitation to state that it took place in various layers. First a large section of goons came under the umbrella of the ruling party. They were involved in all kinds of crimes but the local party leaders ignored their backgrounds as it was decided to deploy them at different places for area domination and other political purposes.
The second layer comprised non-criminals who maintained liaison with the goons and who gradually took to promoting (building) business and utilised the party, goondas and the police to suit their own ends.
These were the people who joined the party perhaps over the past decade and extracted its juice and gave it the bad name. Here again, the leaders were responsible for having ignored their increasing influence in the party just because they were bringing funds and helping in area domination.
Incidentally, domination of an area is needed when your performance level falls. And there is no denying the fact that our level of performance fell drastically over the past 10 years. Lack of performance and ballooning arrogance affected the CPI(M) and with it the entire Left Front.The problem of politics is that it is the honest and dedicated cadre and not the leadership that have to pay the price of the flawed steps taken by the party. And if thousands of party men are today rendered homeless or are subjected to inhuman torture or even death it is the CPI(M) leadership and no one else that has to be blamed.
The CPI(M) cannot evade responsibility in the Netai firing case or the Nandigram firing incident where the party men were directly involved. These incidents did a big damage to the Left Front. Questions have been raised on a number of occasions regarding my integrity as a Left leader. Many people have asked me as to why I did not come out of the Left Front government or why my party did not take up the several issues which cropped up within the Left Front during our years in power.
The fact is, I did often publicly criticise Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on a number of occasions and also stopped attending to my work at Writers' Buildings after the Nandigram massacre of March 2007. But then even in my own party I was cornered as the general opinion of the members was that we being a small outfit would not be able to survive independent of the Front or the CPI(M) as the Trinamool Congress would lick us off. So we did what a small partner would do: remain silent after registering our protests.
Within the CPI(M) too there were rumblings, but only one senior leader dared to speak out — land minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah. But soon he was reduced to a minority of one and was subdued. Even today he is being gagged whereas the party's lower level leadership would like him to assume a decision making position.
There is also a question as to why I did not take up things up with Jyoti Basu. In fact I did. I personally complained to him about how ruthlessly the CPI(M) behaved inside the Front and even outside it.
I asked for his suggestions and he said that the Front was made after years of struggle and that it would be wrong to break the Front. He said that most leaders of his generation had passed away and he was also on his way out. So he wanted us to remain united and try to steady the Front from within instead of breaking it. He also said that the irresponsible and foolhardy leaders would one day give way and a new leadership would come up. I wish that day comes soon.
-- The writer is a RSP leader and former Minister
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THOSE ANGRY OLD MEN
He's back. He's old. And he's angry. Madder, in fact, than a hen left out in the monsoon rain. Hail the new 'kid' on the block - the oldie in a fury. Make no mistake, people - this is no achy-breaky elder sitting you down over chai and telling you how his hair didn't whiten in the sun. This is a lean, mean senior machine, fed-up and fully ready to match wits, kicks and bytes against yours. Anytime, baby.
Leading this mature brigade is Bollywood superstar Amit-ji himself, all neon-clad thunder and hip-swinging cool in his latest release sweetly titled Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap. The Biggest 'B' of them all has a blast mouthing lines from antique hits, delivering blows that put our jawaan stars to shame and scorching up reels doing the shimmy with pretty little things in feathers and furs. And you thought age was a Deewar to that sort of thing! Following down the epochal Agneepath is our venerable prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who proved this week maun vrats are for kiddies. Throwing his customary silence to the winds, the prime minister let rip, commenting caustically he'd be happy to step down whenever certain 'younger people' wish to take over. But while he's inhabiting the PMO he has a job to do and would like to get on with it, thank you very much.
The PM making his stand apparent - Kabhi Kabhi but crystal-clearly - isn't the only annoyed elder tramping across the political jungle. At the opposite end of the ideological spectrum is Anna Hazare, who may look like a cuddly clan head about to produce laddus, legends and a hundred rupees. But he in fact produces hunger strikes - with acidic sound bytes - quicker than you can say, 'Anna-Nana, maan jao.' Another elder having trouble swallowing his annoyance is finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, stuck with 16 pieces of 'chewing gum' recently pasted across his office. A third senior's found a really magical way to express his angst - by vanishing. After Mamata's Duronto Express derailed the Left in Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's saying it with sullen silence.
Someone who can't hush things up though is veteran parliamentarian P C Chacko, just announcing his house had been burgled when he was informed he'd been robbed - again. This time, the intruder made off with even the bathroom taps! No wonder our venerable look a bit edgy these days. But check out the bright side; we never let our senior citizens know a dull moment. And to their credit, huffing, puffing and blowing the House down, they make sure we understand clearly - retiring quietly is for fuddy-duddies. Politely put - Buddhe honge pehle aap. Move over angry young man - you're passe and went out with the 1970s. Make way for the angry old man.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
SUNIL KHILNANISUNIL KHILNANI
On a warm night last summer, strolling through Stockholm's central square, i stumbled upon a frightening sight. Ranks of black-dressed youths, some carrying flare torches, all with their right hands angled in the fascist salute, were massed in front of a statue of Charles XII, Sweden's 18th-century warrior king and a hero to Swedish far-right nationalists. Uniformed police formed an orderly barricade around them, keeping back a small group of protesting anti-fascists, and allowing the black shirts to celebrate their hero. I had heard about the rise of the extreme Right in Europe, now i seemed to have stumbled upon its ugly manifestation.
Almost as troubling were the unperturbed local townspeople. I asked an elderly Swedish gentleman what on earth was going on: "Oh, they are just filming a scene for a TV show." I felt an idiot - here was i, imagining the downfall of European civilisation, when nothing more than a historical series for television was being made.
And yet. A few months later, the ultra-nationalist Sweden Democrats party was voted into parliament for the first time. In April this year, the right-wing True Finns party won almost one-fifth of Finland's popular vote. In Denmark, the xenophobic Danish People's Party has for over a decade been a significant force in politics. In each of these nations, known for their liberal political culture, the far-right now shapes the agenda and decisions of coalition governments.
So what? Why do these goings-on in small countries far away matter? Because they presage the growing centrality of a ubiquitous problem: in an era when capital, goods and services circulate globally with unprecedented intensity, what criteria should determine the movement and location of people?
What unites Europe's extreme-right parties is antipathy to immigrants (many received as workers or refugees) and a rejection of Europe and the EU, as embodied in such commitments as free movement of people across Europe. Why, they object, should these rich, settled societies have to pay for the train wrecks and basket cases of elsewhere?
The Great Pacification that the European Union was designed to effect is today in some crisis. Two of its cornerstones, a common currency, and unrestricted movement of people across the 27-country Schengen zone, are the object of populist anger from both extreme right and left. In poorer or austerity-hit parts of Europe, protesters in Athens's Syntagma Square, in Spain, and in London and Paris are also anti-EU. But their gripe is that it favours the bankers and financiers in the rich states of the Union.
It's the unevenness of European social and economic development that flares this street anger. Eurozone and Schengen were creations of an era when the ideology of globalisation dominated, which believed in convergence, in a flattening effect produced by economic markets and technological interconnection.
This is the most delusive of recent globalisation myths: that it can bring rich and poor, developed and developing regions, onto an equal footing. Globalisation's exigencies are quite the opposite: it is a perpetually destabilising process that keeps the world atilt, and requires continual competitive adjustment. Globalisation, it seems, is intrinsically bound up with effects like structural imbalances - which feed volatility, and in turn can foster extremist political upsurges. Far from creating universal bonds or homogeneous identities, it spreads a sense of self-pride and victimhood - and incites local resentments.
Globalisation changes economic geography not only between countries, but also within nation-states and large unions. So, some parts of a country rise, others fall behind, giving incentives to people to move. Yet, while international movement is controlled at borders, within them - at least in liberal democracies - citizenship has also meant the right to free movement. And that is the case in the great market democracies: the US, India (despite the best efforts of our own Shiv Sena), and now the EU. (In authoritarian China, things are quite different, with citizen movement controlled by government licence, but even that provides no solution.)
Even as globalisation changes the life conditions of many millions, it raises a basic philosophical question: where in the world do people rightly belong?
There are three types of answer. The first, oldest, and in some ways most powerful, is the conservative belief that people should remain essentially where they were born: that culture, language and tradition describe the natural boundaries of their rightful domain. The second is the liberal conviction in markets - people should be at liberty to move to wherever the market decides it needs them, wherever capital is willing to employ them. The third, radical view, is set in the language of justice and ethics: people should be entitled to choose to be where they believe they can lead the best lives - and be free to escape conditions which (whether due to war, oppression, poverty or social calamities) hinder that possibility.
In the years ahead, clashes between such arguments will intensify: as the requirements of capital, the claims of belonging, and the demands of justice all collide. Intellectual arguments will not themselves determine such a vexed, emotive issue. But in the absence of intellectual efforts to grapple with the question, we will be left to the ministrations of bureaucratic regulations and visa regimes (the arbitrary mysteries of H1-Bs and Tier 2 permits), and to the instinctual anger of populist right-wing and nativist movements - everywhere, an effort to control borders more tightly, even as the rhetoric is of interconnectedness and global flows. The historical dramas on Swedish TV may be telling us more than we'd like to know about the future.
The writer is director of the India Institute, King's College, London.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IN TUNE WITH THE TIMES
The International Cricket Council's decision to do away with runners for batsmen in all cricket formats is a step in the right direction. Despite the objection of a few former players like Sunil Gavaskar, the move reflects the realities of the modern game. Cricket rules have evolved with time. Such flexibility is to the credit of the game. This allows for innovation such as T20, which is vital if cricket is to chart new territories and reach out to younger audiences.
Rule 2.1 of the cricketing laws stated that if a player was injured or fell ill at any time after the nomination of players, he would be eligible for a runner while batting. However, the rule has been frequently misused. In a match against Australia, former English captain David Gower asked for a runner, but on the very next ball inadvertently took off for a run and sprinted faster than his running substitute. A similar comical incident involved former Australian cricketers Ian Healy and Dean Jones at Trent Bridge. The 2009 Champions Trophy match between England and South Africa, where English captain Andrew Strauss denied South African skipper Graeme Smith a runner on the ground that the latter was only cramping up and not seriously injured, also highlights the difficulty in implementing the rule in a fair manner.
It is far better to do away with such complications and abolish runners altogether. Most batsmen themselves don't want to rely on runners. There's a problem of coordination, as batsman and runner may not be in accord about when to take runs. Such throwbacks to earlier times - when blue-bloods would do the hitting and command plebeians to do the running - are too clumsy for an era when sport has become a high-stakes television spectacle. Fitness must be emphasised over an archaic tradition. Like in other sport, a player who is injured should simply withdraw from the game.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WARPS CRICKET OUT OF SHAPE
DEEP K DATTA-RAYDEEP K DATTA-RAY
It appears that the ICC's express intent is to mangle cricket. They may have succeeded in their unrelenting search for ratings, but the cost is that the 'gentleman's game' is being transformed into a gladiatorial contest. It would be much less painful if they left cricket alone and simply invented a new sport.
The most odious change is to do away with runners for injured batsmen. Runners have been a part of cricket for at least a century. They epitomise the game's emphasis on skill and not brute force. Not anymore, though. Now a skilled batsman - but unable to run - won't be able to either demonstrate his craft or entertain the fans. Furthermore, the ICC decision complicates a delicately balanced playing field. Sunil Gavaskar's trenchant criticism hits the nail on its head: Why do away with runners when bowlers get nice little refreshing drinks every hour? Nor is the decision logical. Since the aim is to turn cricket into a crude Roman era contest, then the entire team should bear the brunt of the ICC's efforts. Since the emphasis is now on brutality rather than skill, the players who get injured the most - fielders - should be made to persist. Why not carry the reform through to its logical limit and get rid of substitute fielders as well?
The ICC will appeal, no doubt, to honourable sentiments. For instance, that tired batsmen may occasionally make up excuses to get a runner. The ICC will also claim that the changes reduce the scope for controversy like the one that scarred the 2009 Champions Trophy. Then Andrew Strauss declined to believe that Graeme Smith genuinely needed a runner. But such issues could well be managed by giving greater powers to the umpire to decide. After all, the umpire isn't just the judge, but also the arbitrator.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A RESISTANCE HERO CASTS A SPELL
DILEEP PADGAONKARDILEEP PADGAONKAR
The only way to avoid a violent revolution is to stage a peaceful one. That, in substance, is the message that Stephane Hessel, a grand old man of 94, issued in a slim pamphlet published in October last year. Entitled 'Indignez vous!' ('Time for outrage'), its first edition of 8,000 copies sold out within days. By Christmas the number rose to close to a million. Translated in more than a dozen languages, it has almost tripled today. The phenomenal success - achieved without any advertising - has changed the fortunes of the two-member publishing firm - which operates from the attic of their home - overnight. Hessel asked them to donate his royalty earnings to causes dear to him: an end to the dictatorship of the financial markets, the ransacking of the earth's resources, mercantilism that has gripped politics and culture, cuts in social welfare, degeneration of education and public health, human rights abuses by authoritarian and democratic governments alike and so forth.
His audiences latch on to every word he utters. I witnessed one such event in Dijon, the city famed for its assortment of mustards, two weeks ago. It is hard to think of another individual in France who commands such instant awe and respect. One reason for the adulation surely relates to the fact that the sort of things Hessel says sounds like music to French ears exasperated as they are by the self-serving rhetoric of politicians. But what gives his clarion call to youth to express their indignation against injustices and engage in activism a ring of authenticity is the extraordinary life he has led.
He was born in Berlin in October 1917 to a Jewish father and a Protestant mother. Both the parents were well-known in Germany's cultural milieu - the father as a writer and translator, and the mother as a journalist. When young Stephane was seven, they moved to Paris where they quickly befriended the cream of its intellectual and artistic community: the poet Apollinaire, the American sculptor Alexander Calder, the painters Picasso, Matisse and Marcel Duchamp. This is how Hessel developed a passion for the arts, and especially for poetry. He needs a mere hint to recite poems in French, German and English and has in fact published a book of his favourite ones.
A precocious child, he completed his high school studies at 15 and went on to gain admission to the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure where he struck a life-long friendship with Jean-Paul Sartre. After the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he was mobilised by the French army. A year later he was captured by the German army but managed to escape. He headed for London to join the Free French Forces led by General de Gaulle who recruited him in the intelligence services and dispatched him to France. His struggle against the occupation forces is a saga of repeated captures and evasions, internment in concentration camps, where he was tortured, experiences that turned him into a life-long foe of all forms of oppression.
But he was no armchair or flag-waving activist. Associated for decades with the United Nations ever since he joined the French foreign service, he worked on the draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, and went on to serve in several national and international commissions set up to redress social and economic inequities. He has however not been immune to criticism. For his denunciation of Israeli oppression of Palestinians, French Jews accused him of anti-semitism in the most insulting terms. The charge was later dropped.
One nugget in his autobiography, published in 1997, has also endeared him to the French. When his parents moved to France, his mother, who disdained bourgeois morality, left her husband, with his consent, to live with his best friend, Henri-Pierre Roche, a French writer. Roche published a thinly disguised fictional account of the triangular affair which was later turned into a film that is hailed as a masterpiece of the French New Wave cinema: Francois Truffaut's Jules et Jim. Stephane Hessel holds no grudges against his parents or against Roche. On the contrary, he takes pride in their defiance of the social mores of the day, a defiance that has added, much like a Dijon mustard, a zing to his own eventful life.
SNUFFING OUT THOSE LIVES
The death of 18 children in 36 hours at the BC Roy Hospital in Kolkata, an 'apex' referral hospital for children, is shocking beyond belief. It proves yet again that India's public health infrastructure has not only collapsed but has also lost the capacity to learn from past tragedies. In 2002, 18 babies, and in 2006, 22 died in the span of two and three days at the same hospital. But no one thought that lives are precious enough to learn anything from those man-made deaths. Though West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has ordered a probe (blaming the previous Left Front government), fixing the calamitous situation is going to need something much more drastic. Bengal has the dubious record of being one of the states with the highest infant mortality rate. Ms Banerjee will also have to look into other pressing issues such as filling up vacant posts of doctors and nurses, employing specialists and setting up specialised units in the state's hospitals. Along with seeing to the need for basic training meted out to medical staff in government hospitals — training that must include a professionalism that incorporates the very basic trait of caring.
Every year, 40,000 children die in Bengal. The daily mortality figure is 140 (1-6 years). Bengal, however, is not the only state facing such a condition of criminal neglect. In Rajasthan recently, scores of women died because of contaminated intravenous fluids. It is pertinent to note that in the Kolkata incident, most of the children could have been saved if basic facilities were in place and basic procedures were undertaken. In India, nearly 60,000 women die every year during pregnancy and childbirth and around 1.7 million (under-5) children perish due to the lack of basic infrastructure and medicine. So much for the rising economic power called India. The initial reaction to such deaths is: blame the doctors and the support staff. While there have been many cases of negligence on the part of the doctors and the support staff — exacerbated by their indifference towards people coming from the lower strata of society — the health professionals are also handicapped by the sheer number of patients and variety of diseases they have to handle every day with limited resources. Referral hospitals like BC Roy Hospital are forced to handle so many cases only because the hospitals at the district level and public health centres at block levels are not equipped to solve even the very basic problems.
It is imperative to increase the budgets for health services in states and to simplify spending and disbursal mechanisms. Only infusion of funds, however, won't improve matters. What is also required, perhaps in much stronger doses, is structural changes that allows the allocated money to spent much more effectively and in a timely fashion.
GUILT THAT WEIGHS HEAVY
Like the state of the country and the mood of its people, which swings wildly from ecstasy to despair, the story of Indian sport is no different.
Cricket is an elixir people happily consume, even if it is poison at times, while more demanding and better known international sports are littered with scams and administrative corruption rather than on-field achievements. What stands out in this vast unfathomable sea of hopelessness are stories of people swimming against the tide to compete with, and even beat, the best in the world.
Saina Nehwal or Abhinav Bindra may be exceptions, but of late we started believing a revolution was taking place in Indian athletics, especially if the performance of the women in the Commonwealth and Asian Games were an indication.
The legend of Milkha Singh draws sustenance as much on his fourth-place finish in the Rome Olympics as from his gold-winning run in the Cardiff Commonwealth Games — the lone champion for India until Delhi 2010, where everything changed. Or so we believed.
Flattered to deceive
The image of Mandeep Kaur running like there was no tomorrow, her mouth opening and closing like a piston as she anchored India's sensational 4x400 metre relay gold is one of the unforgettable moments from the Delhi Games last year.
Yet, today, revelations that three out of the four runners from that golden quartet were on performance-enhancing drugs have shattered the hope of a great athletics future for India.
When athletes achieve timings far above their best, doubts always crop up about the fairness of the results. Even more so in India, given our drug-tainted history involving athletics and weightlifting. However, living in denial, we ignored our suspicions as we watched these athletes redeem the 2010 Commonwealth Games somewhat by helping us forget about scandals and money-laundering.
It is naive to presume that when the administrators are self-seeking leeches, those in whose glory they seek refuge in would remain untouched by their treachery. When winning absolves us all of our crimes, why would anyone not be tempted to use foul methods?
Who do you blame for the mess?
It has been shown worldwide that whenever athletes have been caught of a wrongdoing, they have been aided by people desperate to wield power. The Italian czar and head of the world athletics body in the 1980s, Primo Nebiolo, was famous for his mafia links. Closer home, we have our own Nebiolos as well. Some of them are already behind bars. That you may call justice, but when athletes themselves become part of a larger design of winning at any cost, whom do you punish? It's a guilt that should weigh heavy on the collective conscience of a nation.
A NOTE ON HOW TO KEEP ANARCHY AT BAY
Two secrets have decided to stay secret. Kim Davy, the alleged mastermind of the Purulia arms drop, will not suffer the rigors of Kolkata's jails, and we shall never know who was the end user of the tonnes of military hardware he unloaded on startled villagers in 1995. And an exhausted Kapil Sibal has declared that the government shall never again involve civil society in drafting legislation. It will remain an exercise conducted behind closed doors leading off from the corridors of power.
Two months ago, Davy deposed that the drop was conducted to destabilise West Bengal's Marxist government, with the blessings of the Centre. That's not completely incredible, but it doesn't matter any more. The CPI(M)'s dadagiri has bowed out to Didigiri. And the Ananda Marg, for whom Davy is believed to have conducted the drop, is now an obscure organisation. In 2011, 16 years after the event, Davy can keep his secret.
But what about the government's decision to keep the drafting of law private? Kapil Sibal's impatience is understandable. His government keeps throwing him at whatever is making the noisiest trouble. Perhaps they think, "Lawyer hai, argue kar lega." He'll run rings around the slogan-wallahs by hook or by crook. But sometimes, they run him right out of the ring.
Like on the closing night of Ramdevlila, when a sarkari Ravanlila broke up the yoga entrepreneur's Barmecide's feast at Delhi's Ramlila grounds. It took the circus flavour out of the movement for a meaningful Lokpal Bill, but it also harmed the government's image by suggesting that it was desperate to hide something.
The activists' movement has featured many absurdities, but it has succeeded in forcing the government to address an issue which it evaded for decades. It's now being seen as anarchy, as usurpation of legislative powers. But equally, when no one in authority listens, when decisions are perceived to be taken behind closed doors, the door to anarchy is rightfully opened.
Last Sunday, the hacktivist group Lulz Security disbanded after an anarchic 50-day riot at the public expense. On political grounds, it had attacked targets ranging from the US Senate, Sony and police servers to pornography peddlers and outed the personal data of lakhs of people. When it was gone, there was relief. Also, an eerie sense of loss. Globally, attitudes to public participation in policymaking changed after the invasion of Iraq, which millions opposed. No one listened and when WikiLeaks exposed the ugly reality of war the hacker, formerly regarded as a troublesome anarchist, was transmuted into a white knight. Something similar is happening with the lokpal bill. The popular demand for anti-corruption law was held off until someone hacked the government system and got in.
If Sibal finds civil society difficult to manage, there is an alternative — directly involving the people. The government has invited public comments on some bills, like legislation for the National Identification Authority of India, before they went to Parliament. But did it act on the response? It's not clear. If the government consults the public while drafting bills and responds explicitly to suggestions, a compromise could be struck. It's necessary to break the present impasse. Because if the public wants a say and the government won't listen, anarchy must follow.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine. firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed by the author are personal
The name Katherine Mayo is unlikely to mean much to our generation.
It did, to the India of the 1920s. And very negatively. When that American writer travelled to this country in 1925-26 as an "unsubsidised, uncommitted, and unattached" private observer to write her notorious book Mother India, she was two years shy of 60. There was no other shyness about her. She came to record and report on life in this land. "They call their country 'Mother India' do they ?" we can imagine her saying, "Let me check out the mother's daughters first". And she proceeded to tour the country observing in particular how it treated its women.
Mayo was a good observer. But she has so ruined her acute observations by her obtuse biases that she has become a byword for bias. In fact, for malice.
Gandhi's unforgettable description of the book is well-known. He called it the "report of an inspector of open drains and their stench". That remark is taken to have dismissed the book. Gandhi disliked the book; he did not dismiss it.
Not so well known as the 'drains' quote is Gandhi's further comment in the same response published in Young India of September 15, 1927: "… it is a book that every Indian can read with some degree of profit. We may… not repudiate the substance underlying the many allegations she has made. It is a good thing to see ourselves as others see us. We need not even examine the motive with which the book is written."
Why did he say that?
There was one good reason. The book gave us, with its deplorable bias no doubt, some bitter truths about the young woman in India. In fact, about the girl. Such as: "…the girl looks for motherhood nine months after reaching puberty — or anywhere between the ages of fourteen, and eight. The latter age is extreme, although in some sections not exceptional; the former is well above the average. Because of her years and upbringing and because countless generations behind her have been bred even as she, she is frail of body. She is also completely unlettered, her stock of knowledge comprising only the ritual of worship of the household idols, the rites of placation of the wrath of deities and evil spirits, and the detailed ceremony of the service of her husband, who is ritualistically her personal god.
As to the husband, he may be a child scarcely older than herself or he may be a widower of fifty, when first he requires of her his conjugal rights…"
As I was re-reading that quote in the context of a talk that I have to give, came this news item from Namakkal in Tamil Nadu: "On a tip-off that a man in his 40s had married a 14-year-old girl who had attained puberty a few weeks ago, Tahsildar T Tirugnanam and sub-inspector of police Palaniammal rushed to the village. But when they began making inquiries, they were encircled by a mob and held captive. Three hours later, they were let off with the warning that they should never be seen in the vicinity again."
This is more than eight decades after the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, known as the Sarda Act after its prime mover Rai Bahadur Harbilas Sarda came into being.
Mayo writes of debates in the Central Legislative Assembly in 1926 in the context of the Bill in the Central Legislative Assembly culminating in that Act that fixed the age of marriage for girls at 14 years and boys at 18 years. The Act applied to all of British India, not just to Hindus. For that time, the age-refixing was revolutionary.
Several members of the Central Assembly, from all parts of India, opposed the reform. But Mayo tells us of a remarkable member from "the Panjab" who backed up reform most sturdily. The gentleman was Sardar Bahadur Captain Hira Singh Brar, described by Mayo as "an old Sikh fighting man", who told the House: "Is it not a sin when they call a baby of nine or ten years…a wife? It is a shame. (Voices: "No, no!")... a misfortune for this generation and for the future generation...Girls of nine or ten, babies themselves who ought to be playing with their dolls rather than becoming wives, are mothers of children… I feel ashamed...". And the good legislator then said, "I think, Sir, the real solution for preventing infant mortality lies in smacking the parent who produces such children, and more so, in slapping many of our friends who always oppose the raising of the age..." Thank god for Harbilas Sarda, thank god for. It is believed Mayo's damning book catalysed the Sarda Act. While she hated almost every part of India that she saw, Mayo had a soft corner for Punjab. If she were to visit us today, she might well ask us in Punjabi: "Ay, ki mein jhutthu boliyan?" We would hate her for that. But can we counter her?
Pre-natal medical technologies for the identification of the sex of the unborn child did not exist in Mayo's time. But she may not have been shocked, if told, that such a future tool would lead, in India, to the horrors of female foeticide and female infanticide. But not even the jaundiced Mayo could have visualised the report in Hindustan Times (June 26, 2011) of the hideous misuse of surgery through genitoplasty to 'convert' girls into boys in Indore. India's daughters must not have daughters who may become mothers of daughters.
Our laws cover a great many sins. They have learnt of, taken note of, and apportioned punishments for a large spectrum of crimes. The Indian Penal Code can leave the world's most imaginative pervert aghast at the comprehensiveness of India's criminal imagination. But even the most proactive of laws can be dodged by the fox called grey area. The cynical misuse of genitoplasty, bringing the most unimaginable distortions in the lives and personalities of the 'girl -turned-into-boy', is a grey area.
Will our Parliament take note of this unlegislated territory and enact a new law? Who will goad it? The National Commission for Women? The Medical Council of India?
Or perhaps a new Katherine Mayo, minus her bias, minus her animus, but with a mind as searing, eyes as scorning, and words as scorching as that India-baiter's.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor. The views expressed by the author are personal.
HERE COMES THE MAN
The prime minister's interaction with five editors of his choice on Wednesday could have been his way of sending a clear message to his own party that he was in total control of things and had no immediate plans to step down. The reiteration on Manmohan Singh's part assumes significance, as there have been some party functionaries who have been obliquely suggesting that the time has come for Rahul Gandhi to take over the top job.
In this context, one has to look at the earlier statements made by Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh and home minister P Chidambaram. On June 19, Gandhi's birthday, Digvijaya had stated that the 41-year-old Congressman and fellow general secretary was ready and would make a good PM. A few days later, Chidambaram commented that all those above 60 should not be part of the Union Cabinet. In political circles, the two observations were understood to be the party's signal to the prime minister — who entered his eighth year in his prime ministerial office on May 22 — to see the writing on the wall this year. The perception created was that pressure was being mounted on Singh to step down. Singh's silence was being seen as his weakness and willingness to 'toe the party line'.
But with time and experience, Singh has evolved as an astute leader. Since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections victory where he was projected as the prime ministerial candidate by the Congress and the UPA, he has been conscious of the mandate, which was as much for him as it was for the governing UPA. In every press meet since, he has always made it clear that he was in no hurry to step down, and if 'younger people' wished, he was willing to take them in his Cabinet. In other words, he was going nowhere and the maximum he could do was to accommodate Rahul Gandhi in his team.
There have also been reports that the relationship between UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Singh is not as cordial as it was when the UPA government took over in 2004. There are important functionaries who readily admit that the meetings of the two are not as frequent as they used to be. In addition, the party has been critical of some of the actions of the government, such as the reception given to Baba Ramdev on his arrival in New Delhi when four senior ministers went to receive him at the airport. The party has been setting the agenda and the PM's silence has been construed as his endorsement of the viewpoint.
But Wednesday's press meet was probably a method deployed by the PM to change the rules of engagement. Instead of following what the party would say, he has devised a mechanism in which the party may be forced to endorse whatever he says 'every week' during his proposed continuation of this interaction process with the media.
On Wednesday, Singh took the ownership of his government's initiative while dealing with Anna Hazare and Ramdev, thereby disregarding the Congress' view on the subject. He also, in a lighthearted manner, cautioned his party and its allies that no one wanted a mid-term election. The PM is conscious that a mid-term poll at this stage will be to the detriment of the Congress. So those trying to destabilise him should stop doing so.
There were several options before him if he had wanted to make his views on various subjects public. He could have addressed the nation directly or he could have held a proper press conference. But the new-found method of engagement with the media in a controlled environment is with a clear purpose: to send out the signal to his party that he would be setting the agenda. He knows that the Congress now needs him more than he needs the party. So was Wednesday's event finally a show of asserting himself?
T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".
Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."
No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.
Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
HEART OF THE DEAL
The Cabinet Committee for Economic Affairs has finally met and approved the Cairn-Vedanta deal, with a few conditions attached. The deal, a fairly standard corporate merger, did not seem to have had mechanics or consequences requiring it to be held up for the months and months that it was. It sent a poor signal, reinforcing the perception that the Central government is frozen in some kind of policy paralysis. It also gave new legs to the concern that UPA 2 has worryingly regressed towards a statist, controlling, 1970s mentality, in which even normal market activity needs to be "cleared" and is part of a "concession" of some sort. The effects of this have been startling. Remember, essential foreign direct investment in India declined by $12 billion between 2008 and 2010. Expected growth numbers, too, have weakened, even as inflation has stayed persistently high.
It is necessary for this state of affairs to change, and hopefully the cabinet's decision on Thursday marks that change. Naturally, there is much pending legislation that needs pushing through: most notably, insurance, pension and banking reform, which have been in place to be passed for some time. The UPA has allowed a situation to develop in which it has become difficult to reach across the aisle and get these reforms, which the BJP also supports, passed. The prime minister has once again said these are on the agenda, and that the BJP should lend its support. Congress floor managers should work on making that happen.
But more than that, we should be provided with a clear sense of what else this government intends to achieve in the near and medium term. Even if big-bang reforms are more long-term — in, say, non-corporate sectors such as agriculture and labour — there are many ways in which the UPA can tweak governance such that administrative efficiency increases. Public-sector productivity continues to be held back by excessive Central control. That is something overdue for correction, and would help revive India's growth story. And, above all, administrative decisions, such as the recent clearance of coal mining in some "no-go" areas, should not be unduly delayed. That, even more than the failure to pass major legislation, has been the cause of the perceptions of drift and statism that have begun to plague the UPA government.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE MIZORAM WAY
Half-a-century ago, a devastating famine that the then-Assam administration was unable to handle had sparked the bloody 30-year separatist Mizo insurgency, which has had the unparalleled record of inviting an air force bombing on Aizawl. Mizoram's handling of its affairs since the Mizo Accord of 1986 marks how far the state has come and why it is one of India's most conspicuous success stories. Now, on the occasion of the silver jubilee of the Mizo Accord, Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, a former insurgent who had later joined the mainstream, emphasised a "peaceful environment and good governance" for progress. Hailed by the CM as the "most successful" accord in the country, the Mizo Accord offers lessons for tackling insurgencies across the country.
There are cracks even in the most sanguinary of militancies through which the light of democratic reconciliation and peace comes in. Waging a long armed insurrection against the state, spanning decades and involving the murder of civilians, has inherent faultlines which in the long run exhaust and disillusion the militants. The democratic state must lie in wait for such moments and catch them on the wing. India saw that happen in Punjab and Kashmir, and has recently witnessed Assam fit in a similar groove with most of the senior Ulfa leadership. Some day, the same should be the story of the Maoist insurgency. However, such moments do not come without a pro-active, multi-prong engagement from the state.
Nevertheless, a successful turn of events as in Mizoram is easier said than done. While keeping our finger on the pulse of an insurgency and being patient, it is important not to cast elements like the Maoists in a dangerously soft light. India's history of dealing with insurgencies shows how right the combination of a calibrated armed response and political initiatives (such as developmental packages) is. Diplomatic channels of communication — reaching out to the more moderate among insurgents — along with force, are key to disarming and mainstreaming militants. The Mizo Accord indeed has been without precedent and emulation, literally ending a long and violent phase at the stroke of a pen. Imitable or not, it remains the benchmark.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Uma Bharti has returned to form after six years of growing obscurity, as she tries to enlarge the BJP's presence in Uttar Pradesh before the 2012 assembly election. And going by her first big move, the party might fall back on the same identity politics tack, combined with her own special talent for theatrics.
Bharti has launched a full-scale agitation to restore the Ganga to its fabled glory, choosing splashy self-denial and penance to try and get her own way. As part of her "Save Ganga" campaign, she will shun cereals and survive on fruits until the Centre takes substantive action on checking polluting projects on the river. (The last time she tried this tactic was over the Sethusamudram project.) Now, Bharti alleges large-scale irregularities in the funding and implementation of these works on the Ganga, and says that the muck and pollution in the river was now even deterring devotees. While the cause, aimed at
galvanising Hindu emotion, could make a sound environmental point, Bharti's reputation for gimmickry precedes all her actions. The BSP government asks why the BJP just woke up to the Ganga's sorrows, given that they had led governments at the Centre and in UP, and why this concern didn't extend to other states. (Swami Nigamananda recently died after a similar fast in BJP-ruled Uttarakhand.)
Bharti faces the unenviable task of making the BJP a real contender in UP, after its collapse in recent elections. The party has only a fraction of the mindspace it used to have. Along with the attempt to win back OBC voters, Bharti's campaign will also try to rally the faithful, and mobilise the Hindu vote. The Ganga stir is a soft, more palatable reminder of her old fire — and its success or failure will be telling of the political utility of such appeals, and of stunts like extended fasts.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
STOP SHIRKING REFORMS
BAIJAYANT 'JAY' PANDA
Sometimes it is easy to forget that 20 years ago India was a basket case. Now, caught up in the hype of being a BRIC country and our growing international clout, it is easy to succumb to complacency on further economic liberalisation. Indeed, it is more than complacency: it is also hubris, the kind that wrongly believes that India's resurgent destiny is inevitable, which has led to political torpor.
There are those, of course, who refuse to acknowledge the benefits of liberalisation. Nevertheless, as Professor Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University said in his speech in Parliament last December: "After a considerable debate, it is now generally accepted... that the growth which followed India's liberal reforms actually pulled as many as 200 million (people) out of poverty. By contrast, consistent with common sense, the preceding quarter century with abysmal growth rate witnessed no perceptible, beneficial impact on poverty."
Apart from the broad-brush impact that liberalisation has had on reducing poverty, there are lesser-known but very significant effects on specific target groups. Economist Amartya Lahiri and his colleagues have concluded that Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes "have seen a sharp improvement in (their) relative economic fortunes." This is corroborated by others, such as Lant Pritchett, Devesh Kapur, and D. Shyam Babu, who studied the fortunes of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh from 1990-2008: between 38 per cent (western UP) to 61 per cent (eastern UP) of them reported that their food and clothing situation was "much better".
That is not to say that poverty is vanquished, nor that liberalisation has been without hiccups. India continues to have "more poor people than anywhere else on earth" (Bhagwati). But that is hardly a reason to denounce the course correction which has delivered the most improvement. It is, instead, the reason to persist with more liberalisation, not less.
Among the biggest hurdles to more reforms is the lack of widespread media coverage of such validating information. In fact, many people confuse the abuse of positions of power — "rent seeking" in economist speak, "corruption" for the rest of us — with liberalisation. Some of the leading lights of the ongoing agitation against corruption have clearly said as much. But nothing could be further from the truth. The essence of economic reforms is the replacement of discretionary powers with transparent, rule-based systems. Thus the biggest source of corruption 20 years ago, industrial licensing, is today a long dead curiosity.
Twenty years and considerable success should have convinced us as a nation to stick to the trajectory of reforms. Instead, we continue to grapple with it at every step, with much still remaining to be done. Contrast that with China's unwavering commitment to see what sustained liberalisation can achieve. When Deng Xiaoping started opening up China's economy in 1978, its per capita GDP was about the same as India's; today, it is four times as much. In case you think China's 12-year headstart can explain that, you'd be wrong: even in 1991, India's per-capita GDP was still 90 per cent as much as China's, as against today's 27 per cent.
Of course, despite India's relative decline vis-à-vis China, we have grown compared to almost everyone else. And in absolute terms, we are a much larger economy today, with commensurately increased respect in the world. Even more importantly, this growth has fuelled a sharp rise in governmental revenues, and expenditure, and has given our leaders the luxury to shirk from the unfinished agenda of reforms.
This complacence is compounded by the huzzahs from around the world, recognising and welcoming India's ascendance. Earlier this year The Economist hazarded a prediction that India's growth rate could overtake China's by 2013. The International Monetary Fund has gone a step further and said that India has just done that, albeit beating China's growth last year of 10.3 per cent by the proverbial whisker of an additional 0.06 per cent. As ephemeral as that may be, it is more than sufficient to reinforce the hubris that completes our vicious cycle of inaction.
There are real dangers to this mindset. Even those who cheer India's resurgence warn that it is not inevitable; that it requires resolute continuation of reforms; that China's plateauing comes after three decades of double-digit growth, which India has not experienced; and most importantly, that India's oft touted demographic dividend of a youthful population is a double-edged sword, which could trigger explosive problems without the economic opportunities that can only come from sustained growth.
There is a broad consensus among economists about the unfinished agenda of liberalisation that India needs to tackle. Among the most important of these are agriculture sector reform; removal of sectoral caps for foreign direct investment; and the holiest of holy cows, labour sector reform. Undertaking these would result in the most significant boost to the economy till now, and provide the structure and means for more equitable opportunities for all Indians. Yet, mired in complacency and hubris, the political will is lacking. There is also an element of taboo: all three are remnants of an earlier era when the conventional wisdom was that it would be political harakiri to touch them.
Were it not for the NDA's spectacularly ill-advised campaign in 2004 — "India Shining", whose failure erroneously convinced many politicians that reforms couldn't be sold to voters — these taboos would have melted away by now. Since then, the passion for reforms has cooled even among its original architects. But there is hope on two counts. First, at a regional level, several political leaders have kept on getting re-elected while simultaneously ushering in reforms and spectacular growth in their states. Surely this must now be obvious to Delhi.
Finally, India seems to work best when pushed into a corner. Now that the government has its back to the wall on other issues, perhaps it can at last dare to take its chances with the next round of liberalisation.
The writer, a Lok Sabha MP from Orissa, belongs to the BJD
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
HE'S STILL THE ONE
DESH GAURAV CHOPRA SEKHRI
Roger Federer's loss at the Wimbledon quarter-finals does not indicate his waning star. In fact, if anything, this loss can be attributed to the depth in men's tennis, as can Federer's recent Grand Slam "drought". So, the question of whether or not Federer has handed over the baton or torch to the next generation is one that does not merit an answer until one can find a clear-cut successor with a track record of longevity and consistency, or until Federer can no longer make it to the business end of a Grand Slam — clearly not the case yet. Truth be told, the days of the "big three" or the "awesome foursome" are gone.
Younger, fresher perspectives and minds can wear down the best across any sport. Golf is undergoing a similar metamorphosis with McIlroy, Schwartzel, Donald, and Villegas leading the young brigade. Even in women's tennis a traditionally predictable upper echelon has given way to new faces and young champions like Kvitova, Pironkova and Azarenka, or veteran but unexpected, Li Na and Schiavone.
Rafael Nadal ("Rafa") is a great champion and a great sportsman, and if he can stay healthy while keeping the young guns at bay, he has every opportunity to attain a baker's dozen of Grand Slams or more. But Rafa has a limited window of dominance, and as the gluten-free version 2.0 Novak Djokovic showed during his 43-match streak in 2011, Rafa is beatable, even on clay. But, this isn't about Rafa, or any speculation on how long he will be competitive. This is purely about Federer and his so-called inevitable decline. The receding dominance of Federer is linked to his Grand Slam drought — his last victory was at the Australian Open 2010. Also, there are claims, somewhat valid, that he has lost his aura of being unbeatable. That the world's number 3 player with one final, two semi-final, and three quarter-final showings in the last six Grand Slams is considered to be on the decline is premature at best, but in all fairness this is linked to his earlier supremacy. His lost aura however is a reality — his opponents do think he is beatable. But then, barring Rafa's surreal dominance at Roland Garros, there are very few unbeatable players at any venue.
Federer's loss record against Rafa, Andy Murray or even Djokovic is sometimes discussed as indicative of how he isn't even the greatest player of our time, let alone of all time. Keep in mind, however, that Federer has played against the very best across generations, and by the time Rafa and friends emerged on the scene, he had already been dominating tennis for a significant time period. And, there is no player in today's game that he has not beaten, or is unlikely to beat on any given Sunday.
Let's look at Federer's performances in Grand Slams in the last 18 months, especially his losses: to Rafa, Djokovic, Soderling, Berdych and Tsonga. Rafa and Djokovic have been playing at an outstanding level in the last 18 months, and Soderling, who beat Roger at the French Open in 2010, is also the only man to have beaten Rafa at Roland Garros. Federer's 2010 blip was effectively erased this year when he ended Djokovic's streak in the semi-finals, and then gave Rafa all that he could handle in the finals.
The loss to Berdych, a career under-performer, at Wimbledon in 2010 was worrying — the loss to Tsonga not so much. Already this year, Tsonga has beaten Rafa on grass at the Queens, and narrowly lost to Murray in the finals. He holds a career edge over Djokovic, has beaten Federer before, and handed Rafa his worst loss in a Grand Slam — a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 demolition at the 2008 Australian Open. Against Federer, he took advantage of a flawless serving performance, and playing textbook grass court tennis. Nevertheless, Federer should have won the match, and Wimbledon 2011. His serene complacency may have been the cause of this early exit, and the pressure of once again being the favourite in a Grand Slam could have also led to undue pressure that he exerted on himself.
Federer is likely to win at least a few more Grand Slams, depending on timing and luck. Perhaps he will thrive more now in an underdog setting without a target on his back — as was the case at Roland Garros 2011. Federer plays the beautiful game, is a tennis connoisseur's prototype, a brand ambassador for the sport, and is about to complete a decade at the pinnacle of men's tennis. Appreciate that these are the last few years where Federer will grace the game with his elite and unique style and spirit, and treat the next Grand Slam victory, if and when it comes, as further indication that we are witnessing the greatest tennis champion the world has produced. One whose star is clearly not dimming in the near future.
The writer is a sports attorney
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WHEN CEOS ARE INEFFECTIVE
Do public-sector companies work on autopilot mode? It would seem so. The Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB) website this week shows 15 vacancies for top jobs in public-sector companies. That number has remained the same, more or less, for most of this year. These are part of 63 vacancies for board-level appointments in PSUs.
Of late the speed of appointments has tapered off, as political uncertainty at the Centre has worked on the pace at which PESB operates. But when one compares the functioning of the companies with these delays, the numbers show very limited correlation with the presence or absence of a CEO.
Essentially this means that there is no reason to expect the performance of these companies to swing with the presence of the top man. The companies in the 243-member club certainly do see peaks and troughs in their operations, but those occur independent of changes in the boardroom.
This is possibly a very comfortable thought for shareholders in these companies as more and more of them enter the stockmarkets. Data shows that since 2009-10, when the top-listed public-sector companies, along with their private-sector peers wobbled with the impact of the global financial meltdown, the highs and lows of their performance have been pretty much in sync with the rest of their sector. This is as one would expect. But, in the same period, several of them have seen their chairmen depart. But — unlike their private sector counterparts — these have not made any changes to their fortune.
In a sample of the 60 largest public-sector companies in India, one of the five with the highest return on net worth is the National Mineral Development Corporation. The company has a 26.61 per cent return ratio— better than Coal India at 25.54 per cent. And, even on the longer-term ratio, that of returns on net assets it beats its competitor: 24.15 against 22.17 per cent. NMDC has been without a CMD since December last year while Coal India changed captains early this year.
If you think that was slim basis for comparisons, watch how two commodity-producing companies largely focused on single states have performed with and without CMDs. Neyveli Lignite Corporation in Tamil Nadu is headless, while Nalco, operating from Orissa, has an acting chairman — since the last incumbent faces a criminal case. Both the companies have pretty close returns on net worth, of 12.6 per cent and 8.08 per cent. Neyveli actually does better, showing how deeply the chiefs matter to these companies.
The best evidence, of course, comes from the oil sector. The company which outperforms ONGC, IOC, BPCL and HPCL is the smaller Oil India. The company has been without a guy at the top since January, but it is generating more value for its shareholders for each rupee they have ploughed in than its bigger competitors. At 22.6 per cent return on net worth, the company is doing better than mighty Reliance Industries Limited in the private sector.
Of course this line of argument does not mean the best days of the public-sector employees are those when they do not have a chief. But it does show the companies are not dependent on their leaders in a very significant way.
But even if one uses other measures, the conclusion is that public-sector chiefs are not a key ingredient to the performance of the companies.
As the chart shows, of the top ten PSUs listed in the BSE, the price-to-earnings (PE) ratio of all of them have trailed the Nifty as on March 31, 2011. These companies have all had their chairmen in the saddle; but, head-to-head, they have underperformed the markets. Of course there is a reason in the wider economic environment for their lack of steam. The oil companies, for instance, have bled because of the government's subsidy policy for the sector — and NTPC has been held back by the return of crisis to the state electricity boards. But this is precisely where one would expect a chief to make a difference.
Yet neither have successive chairmen of oil companies been able to take an aggressive line with the ministries, since the government is the majority shareholder; nor have power companies been able to argue about the need to allow them to aggressively tender for equipments from abroad, to cut the cost of generation.
This picture of a chairman-agnostic sector is unlikely to change soon. The problem reads bigger when you factor in that almost all the top companies in our chart are Navaratna companies — which means in theory they have just that much freedom that a dynamic chief can bring in differences. Possibly we also need to do a more detailed analysis of how this is playing out, plotting the ratios on a longer timescale. But even the limited numbers here show just how indifferent the performances of PSUs are to board-room directions.
This is a pity — as the period since 2009 was a fantastic window of opportunity to do better by these companies.
The writer is Executive Editor (News), 'The Financial Express'
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A POLITICAL MATCH THAT LOOKS FIXED
SURJIT S BHALLA
There is a pattern, and one stronger than that in the Sensex. Ever since its birth in May 2004, the Congress-led UPA government has been buffeted by one scandal after another. In its much vaunted second term, after its self-heralded victory in May 2009 (which the Sensex joined in with a 17 per cent gain on victory day itself), the performance of the UPA has been nothing short of disastrous — perhaps the worst of any government in India's short 64-year history. If this description is broadly accurate, and it is, one would think that the Congress party would be in deep trouble. Think again.
On every single occasion that the Congress has been in major trouble, it has been bailed out by its major "opposition", the BJP. The Congress has had a charmed life and any forecast of it being in danger has to consider the distinct possibility of it being the only cat in town. Consider first, the politics of the nuclear deal in 2007-08. The BJP, under Vajpayee's leadership, had changed the course of India's foreign policy from the genuflecting, anti-America and pro-Soviet Union ways of the Congress. It had won the support of most non-Left parties — except the Congress. There was much talk of a new relationship with the US, and a nuclear partnership to cement the future.
The May 2004 election saw the BJP lose, and the Congress changed course and became an ardent supporter of Indo-US cooperation. So what did the BJP do? It became, inexplicably, an ardent opponent. This was so transparently opportunistic and nonsensical that the BJP lost considerable credibility — and handily lost the May 2009 election.
But something else happened. The BJP's opposition to the deal was so boundless, and desperate, that it indulged itself in the "cash for votes" scam, the truth about which was to come out at precisely the time when the Congress would be the most vulnerable.
The Congress party started its steep decline in popularity in 2010. Over the last eight months, not one single word has been uttered by anyone, not even its supporters, in favour of the party. Yet, at every twisted turn, the Congress comes out looking no worse than the BJP. How come? Consider the following.
The country is abuzz with corruption scams galore — the Commonwealth Games, the 2G scam, and much more. So what does the BJP do? It rants and raves, but fails to clean its own frontyard. Its own chief minister in Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa, is alleged to have been involved in several scams, but is kept going strong. Meanwhile, the Congress-led Central government brings corruption charges against its allies and individuals in charge of the Commonwealth Games and telecommunications. Why couldn't the BJP make similar face-saving arrangements?
The gang that cannot shoot, let alone shoot straight, starts to walk in January 2011. The crescendo against corruption is in full swing, but perhaps because of Yeddyurappa, the BJP decides — you are going to love this — to march to Kashmir to hoist the national flag on Republic Day, January 26. That's it — we love our country, etc. Except a terrorist few, most love their country anyway, so what's the big deal with the march?
Then came WikiLeaks. All governments are shown in a bad light. In a full-throated delivery, Sushma Swaraj claims that the Indian government "has lost all moral responsibility to govern." And then came more WikiLeaks. It turns out that the BJP had got its own politicians, and willing TV channels, to film a supposed "bribe" to other politicians who would cross over and support the Congress in a trust vote in Parliament. This in 2008, in the age of the Internet, a hundred 24/7 news channels and smartphones. It takes a lot of talent, and old-age stupidity, to think that one can keep such hot secrets for long.
And then came civil society, Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, to fill the Congress-BJP vacuum. The BJP wholeheartedly supported these efforts but those being supported have been found to be less than appealing. Civil society has displayed the same hubris, and contemptuous arrogance, as the pre-scam Congress. So when evidence is uncovered about the not-so-clean nature of civil society, tongues go wagging. Considerable wrongdoing is uncovered in the spiritual yoga camp (since when are these gurus experts on anything besides religious prayers and yoga?). Not to be deterred by rapidly declining support for the "good causes" like the much flawed Lokpal bill, the BJP celebrates not by dancing in the streets, but dancing at Rajghat, the samadhi for Mahatma Gandhi.
Note that at each step, the BJP falters, and does so in an inexplicable fashion. It is as if there was match-fixing going on. There have been so many opportunities for the BJP to show leadership, to show vision. Both are lacking within the Congress. But no, the BJP has to oppose whatever the Congress proposes, even if the proposal is to support motherhood. Some mothers are corrupt, the BJP says — hence our principled stand is not to support motherhood. Mother's milk — some of it can be contaminated, so we cannot comment on it at present. Support against terrorists — yes, but only if we march to Kashmir. The poor Indian voter is not confused. He does not like the Congress, and she does not like the BJP. Nitish Kumar in 2014?
The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
The MQM pulled out of the PPP-led coalition once again. Daily Times reported on June 28: "The MQM has decided to quit the governments in the centre and Sindh after having six months of see-saw relations as a coalition partner with the ruling PPP. 'The MQM has reached the conclusion it is difficult to go along with the PPP in the centre and Sindh in view of its autocratic and dictatorial actions,' top MQM leader Farooq Sattar told a hurriedly-called news conference in Karachi, the party's political base... ' It is not possible for us to partner with the PPP any further because of its brutal, ruthless and disloyal character to its partners,' added the party's deputy convener."
The Express Tribune added on June 28: "Differences between the PPP and the MQM emerged after the postponement of AJK elections for three seats representing the Kashmiri diaspora in Karachi and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Sattar said the PPP had repeatedly pressured the MQM to give up one seat from Karachi in PPP's favour. 'We were told in unequivocal terms that if the MQM did not withdraw its candidate, elections in Karachi would be postponed,' he added."
PoK assembly elected
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) swept the assembly elections in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir amidst rigging allegations, The News reported on June 27: "The PPP has won 21 seats, PML-N eight, Muslim Conference four and independent candidates have taken two seats in the 41-seat [AJK] assembly... Fierce clashes between supporters of the PPP and PML-N were reported from various constituencies in which two persons, including a PML-N supporter and several others, were injured." The PML-N, Daily Times reported on June 29, demanded fresh elections for the assembly. On June 29, The News quoted PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif as saying that free and impartial elections "couldn't be expected in the presence of Asif Ali Zardari."
Another new Taliban
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Islami (TTI), led by Fazal Saeed, a former Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander from Kurram Agency, announced he was parting ways with the TTP and along with his 500 men. "We abhor killing innocent people through suicide attacks and bomb blasts, attacks on our own army and destruction of social infrastructure. The new organisation will not attack our own security forces," Saeed said in a statement on Monday. Saeed condemned "suicide attacks at mosques, markets and other civilian targets". An editorial in Daily Times on June 29 explained the genesis of the new faction: "It is important to note that Saeed vowed to continue jihad against foreign forces in Afghanistan and anti-Islam elements within Pakistan. Even though Saeed's splinter group might not have much of an impact on the TTP's terrorist activities, it is an indication that the TTP is not a solid and cohesive organisation."
Ties in the air
US-Pakistan relations have been further strained since Osama bin Laden's killing in Abbottabad in May. Questions have been asked in Pakistan about the breach of their territorial sovereignty and aerial attacks by drones in the tribal areas. Pakistan's defence minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, was quoted by Dawn on July 1 as having made a futile attempt at telling the US to discontinue using an air base in Balochistan from where drone attacks are launched. "The US is rejecting demands from Pakistan that American personnel abandon a military base used by the CIA to stage drone strikes against militants... US personnel have not left the Shamsi air base and there is no plan for them to do so, said a US official familiar with the matter... 'We have been talking to them (on the issue) for some time, but after May 2, we told them again, Mukhtar said... When they will not operate from there (Shamsi base), no drone attacks will be carried out.'
In keeping with the provisions of the 18th Amendment to Pakistan's constitution, the PPP-led government announced the completion of the third and final phase of the devolution of 17 earmarked ministries. Ten ministries had been wound up (devolved or reassigned) earlier while the remaining (environment, food and agriculture, health, labour and manpower, minorities affairs and women development) were devolved in this phase. Effectively, this means the government has abolished the concurrent list and the charge these ministries has been passed on to the provinces, thereby making them autonomous.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
GREAT PARTY, BUT WHERE'S THE COMMUNISM?
There is little question that the Chinese Communist Party has come a long way since it was founded 90 years ago by 12 delegates representing roughly 50 members.
Yet however insignificant it may have seemed back then, there was no question about its ideology, identity and mission. Inspired by utopian Marxism, the party represented China's idealist leftists, nationalists and the downtrodden. Its mission was to end social injustice and Western colonialism.
Today the party is a political behemoth, with 80 million members and control of the world's second-largest economy. At home its grip on power faces no organised challenge; abroad its leaders are accorded a respect Mao and Zhou Enlai could not have dreamed of.
Indeed, we should give the party its due for having abandoned the Maoist madness of its first three decades in power — the mass terror, famine, brutal political campaigns and vicious power struggles — and for radically improving the material lives of China's 1.3 billion people.
Yet if asked, "What does the Communist Party stand for," few Chinese leaders today could give a coherent or honest answer.
This much we know: It no longer stands for a utopian ideology. If there is one ideology that the party represents, it is the ideology of power. The sole justification for the party's rule is the imperative to stay in power.
Nor does the party stand for China's masses. Despite efforts to broaden its social base and make it more connected with China's dynamic and diverse society, the party today has evolved into a self-serving, bureaucratised political patronage machine. It is undeniably an elitist party, with more than 70 per cent of its members recruited from government officials, the military, college graduates, businessmen and professionals.
So for all its apparent power, the party is in fact facing an existential crisis and an uncertain future. Apart from staying in power, it has no public purpose. The crisis is not only ideological, but also political; it explains much of the cynicism, corruption and insecurity of the party and its elites.
As the party has firmly rejected democratisation, its only strategy for survival is to maintain the course it has embarked on since the Tiananmen crackdown in June 1989: drawing political legitimacy from economic growth but relying on repression to crush challenges to its monopoly of power. Although this strategy has worked well since Tiananmen, its effectiveness and sustainability are increasingly in doubt.
On the economic front, growth is about to slow down. Demographic ageing, resource constraints, stalled economic reforms and environmental degradation are almost certain to depress China's growth potential. An optimistic World Bank forecast predicts a growth rate from 2016-2020 of about 7 per cent annually — a respectable number, but a 30 per cent drop from today's rate.
China's economic revolution is also unleashing powerful social forces that will make maintaining a one-party state more tenuous. The party's governing philosophy and organisational structure make it difficult to incorporate China's growing middle-class politically. The convergence of an economic slowdown and rising political activism will challenge the party's rule from several directions.
Now that the Chinese Communist Party has been in power for 62 years, its leaders might also want to note that the record for one-party rule is 74 years, held by the Soviet party, followed by the 71-year rein of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party.
So when Chinese leaders toast their party's 90th birthday, they should harbour no illusions that the party can beat history's odds forever.
The writer is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
CURRENT ACCOUNT IS SOLID
The balance of payment numbers released by RBI for 2010-11 on Thursday sprang a surprise, with the current account deficit moving down to 2.6% of the GDP. This is a welcome reversal of the trend of the previous four years, when the deficit had almost trebled from 1% in 2006-07 to 2.8% in 2009-10 (with some forecasts saying it could touch 4% by 2013). Such a substantial improvement in trends was unexpected, as the higher trade deficit and the lower surplus on the invisible account had more than doubled the nominal current account deficit in the first half of the year. The lowering of the deficit will give both RBI and the finance ministry the confidence to allow Indian industry larger foreign exchange exposure. This will also make easy for Sebi to ask for higher limits for investment by individual foreign investors into our stock markets, from the current $10 bn. The lower deficit opens up room for the conflict between ensuring higher liquidity in the markets and the higher external debt that this would create. The external debt data released simultaneously shows that the percentage of short-term debt to total debt stock has climbed to 21.2% in the same period, and will surely go north as the country liberalises more. There is no alternative to this. This week, Sri Lanka has allowed renminbi as a currency to square off cross-border transactions. India can scarcely afford to not push the rupee centrestage, too.
The disaggregated data reveals even more positive strands. There was a strong pickup in both merchandise and service sector exports in the second half of the year. Particularly encouraging was the reduction in the trade deficit that, in sharp contrast to the earlier projections, has now steadily declined for the third successive year. It was 9.8% in 2008-09 but has eased to 7.6% in 2010-11. On the services front, the biggest gains were made in business services as well as software exports. The only segment that failed to keep pace with the overall improvements in the current account was private remittances by NRIs. In fact, remittance inflows picked up by just about $2 bn to $55.8 bn in 2009-10, far short of the $7 bn added in the previous year. In capital accounts, the net inflows have improved marginally from $53.3 bn in 2009-10 to $59.7 bn in 2010-11, more or less demonstrating the confidence of global capital in the India growth story.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
CAN'T CELEBRATE CAIRN
The Cairn Vedanta deal will, in all likelihood, not be a template for future deals involving Indian oil and gas assets. There are two reasons for this, despite Thursday's Cabinet clearance for it. One is the difference in the production sharing contracts between the pre- and post-NELP phase. The other is, of course, the shortage of oil-bearing assets from the pre-NELP days. So there is little that can be taken forward from this deal, except the most critical point, which concerns the 11 months taken to approve the deal. Delays can often be part of mergers and acquisitions deals. But that a group of ministers should be involved to sort out a corporate battle is a new pattern that has been established by the Indian government. This, of course, opens up massive arbitrage opportunities. In terms of money, on a head-to-head comparison, the gain was insignificant. Allowing ONGC's royalty payment to be considered as an expense will lower profits and so cut government's share as well, by $800 mn. At net present value, the cost of royalty over the lifetime of the project will be around $2 bn on the revenue stream of Cairn. This means the net difference the government has earned for itself and ONGC is about $1.2 bn or R5,000 crore. This is something the public sector company could possibly have gotten even through an arbitration award, which it was strangely reluctant to pursue. Instead, by acting the local toughie on ONGC's behalf, the government has shown how Indian business conditions are to be negotiated. In fact, by asking Cairn to drop its arbitration proceedings against ONGC on cess payments, the government has sort of underlined how the equation stands between itself and the courts.
As the Indian economy expands, the scope of buyouts will obviously rise. The best role the government could enact in the face of growing deals would be that of a scrupulously standoff player. Instead, by getting involved in commercial disputes, it has opened up unsavoury possibilities. Cross-country deals are, in any case, difficult to do from India. The telecom sector, for instance, found out that restrictions on dual listing make the cost of deals higher. As a result, companies have resorted to off-border shell companies to route such deals, which, in turn, necessarily raises costs. The Cairn-Vedanta deal will now also travel to the Competition Commission of India for clearance; but this, as well as Sebi and home ministry clearances, will obviously come through more smoothly. But at a time when the India story is suddenly looking less bright, the prospect of the government playing the heavy is not a happy one.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
CONGRESS MOLE IN THE BJP?
SURJIT S BHALLA
There is a pattern, and one stronger than that in the Sensex. Ever since its birth in May 2004, the Congress-led UPA government has been buffeted with one scandal after another. In its much-vaunted second term, after its self-heralded victory in May 2009 (which the Sensex joined in with a 17% gain on victory day itself) the performance of the UPA has been nothing short of disastrous—perhaps the worst ever of any government in India's short 64-year history. If this description is broadly accurate, and it is, one would think that the Congress party would be in deep trouble.
On every single occasion that the Congress has been in major trouble, it has been bailed out by its major "opposition", the BJP. The Congress has had a charmed life and any forecast of it being in danger has to consider the distinct possibility of it being the only cat in town. Consider first the approach to the passage of the nuclear deal in 2007. The BJP, under Vajpayee's leadership, had changed the course of India's foreign policy from the genuflecting, anti-American and pro-Soviet Union ways of the Congress. It had won the support of most non-Left parties—except the Congress. There was much talk of a new relationship with the US, and a nuclear partnership to cement the future.
The May 2004 election saw the BJP lose, and the Congress changed course and became an ardent supporter of the Indo-US nuclear deal. So what did the BJP do? It became, inexplicably, an ardent opponent. This was so transparently opportunistic and nonsensical that the BJP lost considerable credibility—and handily lost the May 2009 election.
But something else happened. BJP's opposition to the deal was so boundless, and desperate, that it indulged itself in the "cash for votes" scam, the truth about which was to come out precisely at the time when the Congress, in 2010, would be the most vulnerable.
The Congress party started its steep decline in popularity in 2010. Over the last eight months, not one single word has been uttered by anyone, not even its supporters, in favour of the party. Yet, at every twisted turn, the Congress comes out looking no worse than the BJP. How come? Consider the following.
The country is abuzz with corruption scams galore—the Commonwealth Games, the 2G scam, and much more.
So what does the BJP do? It rants and raves, but fails to clean its own frontyard. Its own chief minister in Karnataka, BS Yeddyurappa, is alleged to have been involved in several scams, but is kept going strong. Meanwhile, the Congress-led government brings corruption charges against its allies and individuals in charge of the Commonwealth Games and telecommunications. Why couldn't the BJP make similar face-saving arrangements?
The gang that cannot shoot, let alone shoot straight, starts to walk in January 2011. The crescendo against corruption is in full swing, but perhaps because of Yeddyurappa, the BJP decides—you are going to love this—to march to Kashmir to hoist the national flag on Republic day, January 26. That's it—we love our country, etc. Except a terrorist few, most love their country anyway, so what's the big deal with the march?
Then came WikiLeaks. All governments are shown in a bad light. In a full throated delivery, Sushma Swaraj claims that the Indian government "has lost all moral responsibility to govern". And then came more WikiLeaks. It turns out that the BJP had hired its own politicians, and friendly TV channels, to film a supposed "bribe" to other politicians who would cross over and support the Congress in a trust vote in Parliament. This in 2007, in the age of Internet, 100 24/7 news channels and mobile video phones. It takes a lot of talent, and old-age stupidity, to think that one can keep such hot secrets for long.
And then came civil society, Anna Hazare and Guru Ramdev, to fill the Congress-BJP vacuum. The BJP wholeheartedly supported these efforts but those being supported have been found to be less than appealing. Civil society has displayed the same hubris, and contemptuous arrogance, as the pre-scam Congress. So when evidence is uncovered about the not-so-clean nature of civil society, tongues go wagging. Considerable wrongdoing is uncovered in the spiritual yoga camp (since when are these gurus experts on anything besides religious prayers and yoga?). Not to be deterred by rapidly declining support for the "good causes" like the much flawed Lokpal Bill, the BJP celebrates by not dancing in the streets, but dancing at Rajghat, the samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi.
Note that at each step the BJP falters, and does so in an inexplicable fashion. It is as if there was match fixing going on. There have been so many opportunities for the BJP to show leadership, to show vision. Both are lacking within the Congress. But no, the BJP has to oppose whatever the Congress proposes, even if the proposal is to support motherhood. Some mothers are corrupt, the BJP says—hence our principled stand is not to support motherhood. Mother's milk—some of it can be contaminated, so we cannot comment on it at present. Support against terrorists—yes, but only if we march to Kashmir. The poor Indian voter is not confused. He does not like the Congress, and she does not like the BJP. Nitish Kumar in 2014?
The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
On April 15, 2011, leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and China met in Brasilia to continue talks on what these countries want to see happen, which is a multi-polar world with a multi-currency international monetary system. This multi-polarity is aimed at interdependence among countries, without the hegemony of any country as the most powerful one. The five-country group of BRICS, with South Africa as the new member that came aboard this year, proposes to function as a network of equals rather than a pyramid with a hierarchical order. The movement for a united Europe is almost as old as the serious divisive propensities and nationalistic animosities betwixt European nations. Nevertheless, the current financial crisis and rebalancing of global power seems to be applying the much-needed glue for forging a possible united front.
Simultaneously, efforts are on for a future Euro-BRICS summit, which would bring together at least the core of the European Union, namely Euroland countries on the one hand and Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa on the other. Such a formidable combination of three and a half billion people will, directly or indirectly, bring together four continents. In general, the current global financial crisis is being observed to mark the end of the systems and power relationships that have dominated the world since the end of the Second World War. Also as a fallout of the crisis, international relations in areas as diverse as finance, trade and strategic diplomacy have been subjected to unprecedented rebalancing too. Of course, an overhaul of international financial structure is advocated as part of a wider institutional reform in governance at the global level.
It is now acknowledged without exception that one important reason for the global financial crisis is that the international monetary system has been dollar-centric for too long. As a result, the domestic financial crisis of the US turned into a global crisis. The huge current account deficit of the US and the various fluctuations in the US economy following the onset of the crisis, in fact, make the change in the international monetary system imperative. In November 2010, the World Bank President Robert Zoellick suggested an international monetary system that better reflects the emerging economic conditions of today. Along with the dollar, euro, yen, pound and renminbi should all be used as international reference points of market expectations about future currency values. This will set in motion the process of recognition of these currencies as future reserve currencies.
In the meantime, the European Union and BRICS have scaled new heights with respect to their share in the world GDP and world exports. The share of the European Union in world GDP in 2010 is the highest at 25.99% while the figure for the US is 23.6%, and for BRIC excluding South Africa, it is 17.8%. In respect of percentage share in global exports in 2010, the European Union is at 36.6%, BRIC at 16.51% and the US at 8.51%. These data clearly indicate that through time, and especially after the current crisis set in, there is a decisive change in the international economic scene, which calls for a change in the international monetary system.
BRICS countries as such are regional leaders in their own right. These countries represent different civilisations but have similarity of views on international economic issues. No country among the BRICS pursues hegemonistic policies. The current global crisis did not dent the economic fortunes of BRICS the way it influenced the fortunes of the European economies. All the same, Europe has many strengths. It is the world's largest trading block, thanks to the high creativity of its people and a strong industrial base. The proposed Euro-BRICS summit could herald the unfolding of a host of opportunities, including registering progress towards a multi-polar international monetary system. For that to happen, the currencies that are to be potential reserve currencies have to be completely convertible. And, more importantly, countries like China, for example, will have to codify their civil laws with respect to property rights and also make these laws subservient to international property rights.
The author is Reserve Bank of India Chair Professor, ICRIER, New Delhi
MOROCCANS VOTE ONNEW CONSTITUTION
Moroccans voted on Friday on whether to adopt a new Constitution that the King has championed as an answer to demands for greater freedoms — but that protesters say will still leave the monarch firmly in control.
The referendum on the Constitution is near certain to result in a resounding "yes" vote, like all past referendums in this North African country and generally throughout the Arab world.
Moroccans started heading to the country's nearly 40,000 polling stations at 8 a.m. (0700 GMT). Preliminary results are expected after polls close on Friday night.
A popular tourist destination, this generally stable, Muslim kingdom is a staunch U.S. ally in a strategic swath of northern Africa that has suffered terrorist attacks — and in recent months, popular uprisings against autocratic regimes.
Morocco, like the rest of West Asia, was swept by pro-democracy demonstrations at the beginning of the year, protesting a lack of freedoms, weak economy and political corruption.
King Mohamed VI, however, seems to have managed the popular disaffection by presenting a new Constitution that guarantees the rights of women and minorities, and increases the powers of the Parliament and judiciary, ostensibly at the expense of his own.
Protests have continued nevertheless, and the February 20 prodemocracy movement has called for a boycott.— AP
TO THE LIMIT
In about a month, if nothing is done, the federal government will hit its legal debt limit. There will be dire consequences if this limit isn't raised. At best, we'll suffer an economic slowdown; at worst we'll plunge back into the depths of the 2008-9 financial crisis.
So is a failure to raise the debt ceiling unthinkable? Not at all.
Many commentators remain complacent about the debt ceiling; the very gravity of the consequences if the ceiling isn't raised, they say, ensures that in the end politicians will do what must be done. But this complacency misses two important facts about the situation: the extremism of the modern G.O.P., and the urgent need for President Barack Obama to draw a line in the sand against further extortion.
Let's talk about how we got here.
The federal debt limit is a strange quirk of U.S. budget law: since debt is the consequence of decisions about taxing and spending, and Congress already makes those taxing and spending decisions, why require an additional vote on debt? And traditionally the debt limit has been treated as a minor detail. During the administration of the former President, George W. Bush — who added more than $4 trillion to the national debt — Congress, with little fanfare, voted to raise the debt ceiling no less than seven times.
So the use of the debt ceiling to extort political concessions is something new in American politics. And it seems to have come as a complete surprise to Mr. Obama.
Last December, after Mr. Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts — a move that many people, myself included, viewed as in effect a concession to Republican blackmail — Marc Ambinder ofThe Atlanticasked why the deal hadn't included a rise in the debt limit, so as to forestall another hostage situation (my words, not Mr. Ambinder's).
The President's response seemed clueless even then. He asserted that "nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse," and that he was sure that John Boehner, as Speaker of the House, would accept his "responsibilities to govern."
Well, we've seen how that worked out.
Now, Mr. Obama was right about the dangers of failing to raise the debt limit. In fact, he understated the case, by focusing only on financial confidence.
Not that the confidence issue is trivial. Failure to raise the debt limit — which would, among other things, disrupt payments on existing debt — could convince investors that the United States is no longer a serious, responsible country, with nasty consequences. Furthermore, nobody knows what a U.S. default would do to the world financial system, which is built on the presumption that U.S. government debt is the ultimate safe asset.
But confidence isn't the only thing at stake. Failure to raise the debt limit would also force the U.S. government to make drastic, immediate spending cuts, on a scale that would dwarf the austerity currently being imposed on Greece. And don't believe the nonsense about the benefits of spending cuts that has taken over much of our public discourse: slashing spending at a time when the economy is deeply depressed would destroy hundreds of thousands and quite possibly millions of jobs.
So failure to reach a debt deal would have very bad consequences. But here's the thing: Mr. Obama must be prepared to face those consequences if he wants his presidency to survive.
Bear in mind that G.O.P. leaders don't actually care about the level of debt. Instead, they're using the threat of a debt crisis to impose an ideological agenda. If you had any doubt about that, last week's tantrum should have convinced you. Democrats engaged in debt negotiations argued that since we're supposedly in dire fiscal straits, we should talk about limiting tax breaks for corporate jets and hedge-fund managers as well as slashing aid to the poor and unlucky. And Republicans, in response, walked out of the talks.
So what's really going on is extortion pure and simple. As Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute puts it, the G.O.P. has, in effect, come around with baseball bats and declared, "Nice economy you have here. A real shame if something happened to it."
And the reason Republicans are doing this is because they must believe that it will work: Mr. Obama caved in over tax cuts, and they expect him to cave again. They believe that they have the upper hand, because the public will blame the President for the economic crisis they're threatening to create. In fact, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that G.O.P. leaders actually want the economy to perform badly.
Republicans believe, in short, that they've got Mr. Obama's number, that he may still live in the White House but that for practical purposes his presidency is already over. It's time — indeed, long past time — for him to prove them wrong.— New York Times News Service
G.O.P. leaders don't actually care about the level of debt. Instead, they're using the threat of a debt crisis to impose an ideological agenda.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
THE TIDE OF WARIN AFGHANISTAN
"The tide of war," President Barack Obama said of Afghanistan earlier this month, "is receding." The storming on Wednesday of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, which claimed the lives of 12 civilians, was a sharp riposte. Believed to have been carried out by a suicide squad despatched by the Taliban-affiliated warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, the assault isn't the most lethal the country has seen this summer: suicide attacks, bombings, and ambushes continue reaping the lives of Afghans in ever greater numbers. In a report released this week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said violence in Afghanistan caused 2,950 civilian casualties, including 1,090 deaths, in the last three months — up a dramatic 20 per cent from the number for the same period in 2010. It said anti-government forces were responsible for eight in ten of the killings; one-tenth were caused by Afghan and allied forces; and a tenth could not be attributed to either side. Noting that "suicide attacks have increased significantly since March," the report observes that "abductions and assassinations of Afghan citizens also rose." Fighting has escalated in the country's east, and jihadist groups like the Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan are reported to have an increasing operational capability in the north, an area long considered relatively peaceful.
Earlier this month, Mr. Obama announced a schedule for the withdrawal of 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer, a precursor to a final pullout. His claims notwithstanding, Afghanistan is being left to its fate: none of the strategies intended to lay stable foundations for the future has worked. Last year's surge of troops did cause heavy attrition among the Taliban, but failed to contain violence. The United States and its allies, which have now held three rounds of meetings with interlocutors for the Taliban in Europe and the United Arab Emirates, also hoped the surge would push the jihadists into agreeing to a peace deal. However, secure in the knowledge that its superpower adversary is leaving, the Taliban have good reason to escalate violence — suffering attrition in the hope of demonstrating to its supporters that it drove the U.S. out, and to its enemies, that its rise is inexorable. Islamabad, in turn, continues to shelter and fund the Jalaluddin Haqqani network as well as other Taliban elements, in return for their help in battling jihadists seeking to overthrow the Pakistani state. In the months to come, more blood will be spilt as both Afghan jihadists and their adversaries compete to secure their positions in anticipation of the final U.S. pullout. Barring a miracle, Afghanistan has little to look forward to other than a rising tide of blood.
Creating an enabling environment for people with disability should be among the foremost policy concerns for India, as it makes large investments in infrastructure. The national approach to the question of improved accessibility and opportunity for the disabled has — barring a few exceptions such as access to polling booths — been one of half-measures. Last year, the Centre took the welcome step of constituting a committee to draft a new law to replace the ineffective Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 but failed to press ahead. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment should hasten the framing of this law with emphasis on removing barriers that affect people with disabilities of different kinds. This is no doubt a demanding task but the World Report on Disability by the World Health Organisation offers comprehensive resources for policy-making. The overarching goal must be to help the disabled achieve physical mobility, social interaction, and gainful employment.
Universal design is the core principle guiding accessibility. For that to become the norm, India must adopt a culture of accessibility at all levels of government. It must also set mandatory standards. The benefits of changes produced by such measures as friendly footpaths, properly designed toilets, ramp-equipped public buildings, and easy-to-use transport will not be confined to the disabled but will cover a broader range of citizens, including parents with small children and the elderly. Transport access brings new opportunity, and in the case of people with disability the entire travel chain has to be considered for modification. Mainstreaming these goals would require a robust law and a regime of audits and certification. For existing public facilities, an active retrofitting programme will be necessary. Information and Communication Technology has immense potential to assist the disabled, and legal standards would make many more gadgets accessible; the United States has laws that lay down such requirements for telephones, television, and information kiosks. Beyond physical and systemic barriers, though, there is the attitudinal. A glaring example of prejudice is discrimination in employment, which the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities prohibits. These are major challenges, but there is no reason why they cannot be addressed with sufficient political will, given the assertive national mood seeking measures to benefit different classes of citizens.
U.S.-BACKED ROAD MAP FOR SYRIA LEAVES ASSAD IN PLACE
The U.S. is promoting a "road map" for reforms in Syria which would transform the regime of Bashar al-Assad but leave him in place for now — despite demands for his overthrow during the country's bloody three-month uprising.
Syrian opposition sources have revealed that the U.S. State Department has been discreetly encouraging discussion of the unpublished draft document which circulated at an unprecedented opposition conference held on June 27 in Damascus. The U.S. Ambassador is urging dialogue with the regime, the sources say. Mr. Assad would oversee what the road map calls "a secure and peaceful transition to civil democracy". It calls for tighter control over the security forces, the disbanding of "Shabiha" gangs accused of atrocities, the legal right to peaceful demonstrations, extensive media freedoms, and the appointment of a transitional assembly.
The road map is signed by Louay Hussein and Maan Abdelsalam, leading secular intellectuals in a group called the National Action Committee. Wael Sawah, another member of the group, is an adviser to the U.S. embassy in Damascus but did not sign the text, apparently so as not to discredit it in the eyes of Syrians suspicious of foreign meddling.
Quiet U.S. backing for the road map dovetails with public demands from Washington that Mr. Assad reform or step down. Robert Ford, the U.S. Ambassador, has been urging opposition figures to talk to the regime, said Radwan Ziadeh, a leading exile who insisted the strategy would not work. "They are asking Bashar to lead the transition and this is not acceptable to the protesters," he said. Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, has said Mr. Assad is losing legitimacy and is not indispensable. But the U.S. has not called openly for his overthrow — in striking contrast to policy towards Muammar Qadhafi in Libya.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011
LOKPAL BILL AND THE PRIME MINISTER:V.R. KRISHNA IYER RESPONDS
Lord Acton, the great British jurist, rightly said: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The Prime Minister is the custodian of the considerable state power. He has to be under public scrutiny.
Therefore I have clearly expressed the view that if power is to be subject to public investigation and scrutiny, he has to be within the ambit of the Lokpal Bill and cannot be exempted from it. Likewise, our judiciary is the watchdog of the Executive. People look up to the judges to ensure that the Executive does not misbehave. The judiciary must be accessible to every citizen who has a grievance against the robed brethren. When Parliament resorts to misconduct and violates the Constitution, people appeal to the judges for a remedy.
In this view, the judges are sublime and must have control over the Executive and the parliamentary process. Both these instruments are under the Lokpal's proposed jurisdiction. There is no case of exemption of these authorities.
I am sorry that some high Chief Justices have expressed a different view. I disagree. The greatest menace before India today is that the judiciary itself is corrupt and no action is being taken. There must be a militant, active nationwide movement against corruption. A powerful instrument must be set up for this if the confidence of the people is to be preserved.
The judiciary and the Prime Minister shall be under the Lokpal. The Lokpal itself must be of the highest order and should be plural in number.
The Prime Minister and the judiciary shall be like Caesar's wife: above suspicion.
Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, former Judge of the Supreme Court, writes in the context of the article by Anil Divan headlined 'Lokpal bill and the Prime Minister,' published on July 1:
TAGORE AND THE IDEA OF COOPERATION
"Today, economic power has been captured by a small minority. But it has acquired this power only by accumulating the productive power of others. Their capital is simply the accumulated labour of a millions of working people, in a monetized form. It is this productive power that is the real capital, and it is this power that latently resides in every worker ..." —Samabayaniti/The Co-operative Principles, 1928.
In a compelling set of essays written between 1915 and 1940, Rabindranath Tagore articulated a social vision where exploitation would give way to a just, humane, collectively owned economy. At the core of his thought was the cooperative principle. This is an idea worth revisiting on the International Day of Cooperatives, which this year falls on July 2, and even more so during the lead-up to 2012, which is the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives.
Why cooperatives again? Have they not been tried — and have failed? Well, so have big banks and large corporations. Yet they continue undiminished. The reason they do so with such impunity is that alternatives are hard to come by. With the financial crisis on the one hand, and the (predictable) collapse of the system of microcredit on the other, the need to identify alternative forms of ownership is greater than ever before.
In India, the experience with the century-old cooperative movement has been mixed. There are some stunning successes: Amul, for one. There are others, too, where cooperatives have proved transformational for the marginalised. The problems are also well-known: abuse, politicisation, excessive dependence on the state, and so on. But these are mere symptoms. The real disease lies elsewhere. There is little understanding, much less acceptance, of the cooperative principle and its potential. It is yet to enter the core of our social vision, leave alone public policy. Those spaces are dominated, ever more aggressively, by the competitive principle, the sceptre of 'efficiency' and private gain. This is why India can emerge as one of the top wealth-generators even as 93 per cent of its working citizens toil in the informal sector. That 93 per cent contributes almost half of India's fast-growing GDP. But it has no say over the way that growth is generated — or any voice to claim a fairer distribution of the wealth it produces. The same goes for the majority that survives on the agrarian economy.
Written some eight decades ago, Tagore's thoughts stemmed from these concerns: the growing concentration of economic power and the destruction of rural India. He wrote: "Today our villages are half-dead. If we imagine we can just/ continue to live, that would be a mistake. The dying can pull/ the living only towards death." (fromThe Neglected Villages, 1934).
He was deeply sceptical about the solutions proposed by the elite — such as charity or moral enlightenment of the wealthy. These were like putting out "a raging fire by blowing at it," he wrote. Instead, he sought an ethical model of production.
What would that entail? Tagore's vision went far beyond notions like 'social responsibility' that are in vogue today. To him, ethical production required that resources (such as land and capital) are collectively owned by producers themselves. This would ensure that the produce is also collectively owned, and that all producers have a say in determining their share of value in the product of their work.
The typical small farmer, indebted and impoverished, was much in need of such a structure. "Imagine if all of our small farmers farmed their land collectively, stored their produce in a common facility and sold them through a common mechanism..." Only then can we prevent profiteering; only then can the farmer recoup the legitimate value of her labour, wrote Tagore.
Without such mechanisms, the farmer would never be able to effectively exercise the right to his land, even if he held the title. Structural conditions would make him powerless. Under these circumstances, giving the small farmer the legal right to land was no more than giving him 'the right to commit suicide.'
Indeed, in the cooperative principle, Tagore saw the possibility of challenging power, of altering power relations. Ordinary people, whose work constituted what was 'the real capital,' could only do so if they collectively owned that 'capital.' Many economists may well reject this as the misplaced idealism of an ill-informed poet. But it will resonate readily with the struggles for producer-ownership in the world today, such as Via Campesina. As the clout of agri-business grows, food inflation rises, and informal work becomes the norm, challenging dominant structures of ownership. And power is the central challenge of these movements.
In India, no amount of tinkering can make growth 'inclusive,' unless people have a say in how that growth is driven. Take the case of cotton textiles, a boom sector that has seen much growth. But has it really benefited those who have produced that growth? The cotton growers, for instance — the largest single group within the 200,000 farmers who have taken their own lives in the past decade? Or the millions of women who work the long shifts in export factories? Even worse, the drive for profits constantly pits the growers and workers against one another. When, at the peak of the cotton crisis, cotton farmers received price support from the government, export sector workers were threatened with job losses because cotton had become 'too expensive.' (Ironically, the worst off among the cotton growers did not even benefit from price support.) As long as prices are globally determined, we are told, not much can be done to save those at the bottom. Yet, the past few months have seen global prices hit a big high — and the government sharply restricted cotton exports to favour the textile lobby. This crippled the growers.
This brings us right back to the question of ownership. When global prices fluctuate, who decides how the gains and losses are to be shared? Certainly not the majority of workers and small farmers. But more important, global prices do not operate by magic. They reflect the same concentration of ownership and economic power. Indeed, several movements today urge consumers to use their purchasing power to counter such power. But consumer movements cannot succeed unless the productive economy is differently organised, differently owned.
Can that happen? Yes, if several conditions are in place. First, the competitive principle must be properly applied. Every institution, from schools to universities to hospitals, is increasingly being judged according to that principle, and forced to forgo its social priorities. At the same time, banks and corporations remain blatantly non-competitive, operating like cabals with little discipline or accountability. Second, among the main points of criticism of cooperatives in India has been their need for state resources. But our corporations have been also been heavily subsidised by state resources. While they flourish, cooperatives flounder. Why? Corporations enjoy state support with no interference; cooperatives do not. State support has come with levels of bureaucratic control that are incompatible with a truly autonomous, member-driven movement. Third, cooperatives cannot survive in isolated sectors. Systematic linkages between sectors and across countries are necessary if we are to harness the full political, social, economic power of the cooperative principle.
Here is a story from Peru. From its mountains comes a special brand of coffee called Cafe Femenino, produced by cooperatives of very poor indigenous women. It grew out of the women's struggle to claim their share of the value they produce. As growers of organic Fair Trade coffee they earn a premium over and above the market price. Before Cafe Femenino, the women had no access to this premium, no say in its use. Now they use it to educate their daughters who would otherwise not go to school; more than that they raise awareness against the tremendous gender violence in their communities.
There is more. In Canada, Cafe Femenino is distributed also by a workers' cooperative, creating as a result an entire coffee chain of cooperatives. Finally, as a mark of recognition of the global character of gender violence, Cafe Femenino is distributed free to shelters for abused women in Canada. The Femenino experiment has spread to six countries in Latin America and grows by the day. In India too, various experiments with women's collective enterprises have long been under way, but do not receive the attention they deserve.
As Tagore had foreseen it, the cooperative principle enables the most marginalised people to mobilise their most abundant resource: their productive power and their solidarity. 'Development projects' or paternalistic policy models for 'empowering the poor' cannot achieve this.
The choice is not between textbook theories. The lessons of everyday life have been stark, more so since 2008. The choice is between two different worlds: one driven by hyper-profit and mass distress, the other holding out the promise of shared prosperity and well-being.
(Ananya Mukherjee is Professor and Chair of Political Science/Development Studies at York University, Toronto. Her latest book,Human Development and Social Power: Perspectives from South Asia,was published by Routledge (London and New York, 2008.))
Nearly eight decades ago, Rabindranath Tagore worried about the growing concentration of economic power and
the coming destruction of rural India.
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON THE ARIKAMEDU FINDS
(Clockwise from top) Excavation in progress in Arikamedu in 1947; Mortimer Wheeler; and a portrait of A. Aiyappan at Kerala University, Thiruvananthapuram, where he served as Vice-Chancellor.— Photos: The Hindu Archives, S. Gopakumar
Without pre-medieval archaeological evidence and a firm datum line, south Indian history has for long appeared "like a jumble of words with no consecutive meaning." Excavations at Arikamedu, the once flourishing port town near Pondicherry (now renamed as Puducherry), for the first time provided datable evidences to confirm trade links with Rome that arched back to the first century CE and helped construct a proper chronology of south Indian history.
The credit for establishing Arikamedu's significance is often attributed to British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler and his 1945 round of excavations. Wheeler's own prolific but often self-promoting writings created this impression. At times it even misled readers and tended to eclipse an important earlier contribution that had brought archaeologists there in the first place. This fact would have gone unnoticed but for a report published inThe Hinduin 1941, and the writings of a French archaeologist in 1947.
Though Arikamedu was known to French historians for a long time and important artefacts were found on its sands, no formal excavations were carried out. Four years before Wheeler came there, A. Aiyappan, the Superintendent of the Government Museum in Madras conducted trial excavations for the first time.
Jouveau Dubreuil, the French archaeologist who was residing in Pondicherry then was one of the earliest experts to note the significance of Arikamedu. In the earlier months of 1941, he 'generously' shared some of the artefacts collected at the site with Dr. Aiyappan. After carefully studying them, Dr. Aiyappan was convinced about their antiquity and decided that it was time for a systematic examination and mapping of Arikamedu. He persuaded Dubreuil to take the initiative, and later, at Dubreuil's invitation, commenced the first formal trial excavation.
On March 23, 1941, a few days after completing the round of excavations, in an article inThe HinduDr. Aiyappan provided a factual account of it and described the artefacts found. The article was well illustrated, including with a photograph showing the trench with a pottery ring well. It carried the reconstructed drawing of an amphora (terracotta vessel with two handles used by Romans to carry food). It was this article, as Jean-Marie Casal, the French archaeologist who conducted excavations in Arikamedu in 1947 observed, that aroused "interest in French and Indian archaeological circles" and "brought about visits to the site."
Wheeler was not only less generous, he even recorded the process in a different manner. In his detailed excavation report, published in 1946 inAncient India, a bulletin of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), there is no reference to Dr. Aiyappan's contribution. On the other hand, in the same report Wheeler went some distance to acknowledge some minor excavations that followed.
Even in his later writings, including the widely read autobiographical account titledMy Archaeological Mission to India and Pakistan, published in 1976, Wheeler ignored Dr. Aiyappan. Wheeler recalled how "fortuitously" he had reached Madras on a warm morning of May 1944, only to find the Madras Museum almost deserted. The staff, he observed, like many others in the city, had fled fearing bombing by Japanese aircraft: the Second World War was on. He wandered around in the museum by himself, and discovered a Roman amphora in one of the cupboards. It was his "tireless questioning," he claims, that led to the conclusion that the amphora had been "extricated from a site on the outskirts of Pondicherry."
The truth, on the other hand, was that Dr. Aiyappan had received him as the Director-General of the ASI at the Madras Museum. Wheeler himself briefly mentions this meeting in his memoirs titledStill Digging (1956). Dr. Aiyappan "readily cooperated" and explained to him that the amphora was "found on a site 80 km south of Madras in Pondicherry in French India, where he and others had been carrying trial excavations." It was after this meeting that Wheeler took a night train to reach the site.
What lurks behind these contradictory accounts, apart from a tendency for self-promotion, is Wheeler's contempt for non-specialists undertaking excavation and his urge to emphasise the importance of his own methods.
Dr. Aiyappan was an anthropologist amongst archaeologists. He was trained as an economist but joined the Madras Museum as a curator in 1929. In 1933, he went to the London School of Economics to do his doctoral research under Raymond Firth, the eminent anthropologist. After completing his research in 1937, he returned to the Madras Museum and later became its Superintendent. To Dr. Aiyappan, his interest in Arikamedu was in keeping with his own interest and the long archaeology-oriented traditions of the Museum. He knew the limitations of his efforts and made only modest claims in his article about his findings. He also saw the difficulties in pursuing excavations in Arikamedu that was part of French-Indian territory.
To Wheeler, the Arikamedu excavation was an "evangelical mission." In his view, Dr. Aiyappan and other non-archaeologists, despite their plans for "systematic examination, mapping and protection" of ancient sites, were men "anxious indeed to do well" but amateurs who did not "know what good work is." He probably thought he was fully justified in ignoring, if not erasing, their contribution. As a prolific writer himself, Wheeler should have realised that the printed word would come back to tell the full story at another time.
An article that appeared inThe Hindu in 1941 throws light on the work of
A. Aiyappan in establishing Arikamedu's archaeological significance
THE ASIAN AGE
DEPLORABLE VERDICT IN DENMARK
The high court in Denmark has upheld the verdict of a domestic trial court to not allow the extradition to India of Kim Davy to stand trial in this country in the Purulia arms drop case of 1995. The high court's judgment is to be deplored. The extradition had been sought by the CBI and the Danish government had raised no objections. But the country's judicial system intervened following an appeal by the accused, a Danish national.
Mr Davy is the key accused in the stealth-drop of a large consignment of arms and ammunition that included hundreds of AK-47 rifles, pistols, anti-tank grenades, rocket launchers and thousands of rounds of ammunition — in short, equipment that would typically be used by terrorist or extremist elements to wage war against the state, a crime of extraordinary seriousness in any country, not least one such as India, which is acknowledged worldwide to be run on democratic principles. The crime for which Mr Davy is charged would also typically fall in the category of a transnational crime in which international cooperation would be expected to be rendered, especially between democratic states, even if an extradition treaty or bilateral mutual legal assistance arrangements did not exist. The Danish national committed the crime along with those of other nationalities. This further underlines its transnational character.
The Danish high court's stand is the more regrettable considering that the practice followed internationally in determining jurisdiction — nourished by well-established principles — is fairly straightforward in an instance such as this: the territory on which the crime has occurred has a straightforward case in seeking to hold trial within its own territory. The case is bolstered when evidence and witnesses are also to be found within the same territory, in this case India. Under a certain principle, Denmark too could have sought to try its national within its own jurisdiction in order to uphold a certain morality in law — namely, that it would look upon with disfavour even in the case of its own citizens if there are good reasons to believe that they have taken part in actions that constitute a crime. For their part, the Danish authorities appear not to have considered this and agreed to comply with the CBI request to extradite Mr Davy. Thus, cooperation at the level of governments was indeed forthcoming, and but for the Denmark judiciary stepping in, Mr Davy should have been on his way to India to stand trial. It is pertinent that Denmark agreed to India's extradition request after obtaining sovereign assurances from this country that the death penalty would not be imposed on Mr Davy (Denmark, like several other states, has banned the death sentence) if he was found guilty, and that he would be permitted to serve the jail term — if one was ordered by the Indian courts — in prisons in his own country.
Even so, the Danish judicial system has prevented extradition on the grounds that Mr Davy would risk "torture or other inhuman treatment" in India, and that conditions in Indian jails are not satisfactory. The points raised regarding relatively poor jail conditions and the practice of torture by India's police, although this is outlawed and is known to have attracted punishment for offending police personnel, are valid and are well taken. However, they do not really apply in this high-profile case involving an international cast, especially when India has already made certain assurances to Denmark in pursuit of its extradition request, including transfer of the prisoner to Denmark for serving out a sentence, if there is one. Nevertheless, especially in the light of this case, India does need to work even harder to end the practice of torture by police. But it was expected that the Danish judiciary would keep the larger picture in view of pursuing criminals to the ground, even if they are Danish nationals.
THE ASIAN AGE
"Flavour salt lassi with Worcester Sauce
Mix Chaat Masala in your Bloody Mary
Fry Madrasi keyley as a second course —
When you hear the word 'fusion' be very wary"
From The Hymns of
Feromonus by Bachchoo
At the beginning of the Anna Hazare agitation a young friend of mine wrote a piece in an influential space voicing his disapproval of extra-parliamentary action. He said Mr Hazare and his associates were resorting to blackmail.
They should instead rely on the Indian democratic system to redress grievances. Laws should be made by the ballot box, which has the power to uproot the corrupt.
Losing elections wouldn't mean that these politicians ended up breaking stones at the President's pleasure, but they could be further investigated and punished by the police and courts.
There now seems to be a deadlock in the discussions on the Lokpal Bill and on questions of who should be given the power to do what to whom. My young friend is not alone and his argument has been variously stated. It seems to be the position of all constitutional fundamentalists and with some detail added, the position of the government representatives on the panel.
It's true that what the media calls the "civil society" representatives on the drafting committee have no democratic standing in the constitutional sense. They can even be said, if one wants to call people who have devoted their lives selflessly to reform, to be self-appointed busy-bodies or blackmailers. I have no doubt that Winston Churchill in some private moment characterised Mahatma Gandhi as such.
And yet even though home minister P. Chidambaram and human resources development minister Kapil Sibal have more democratic credentials, the government recognises that they have to speak to the upstarts because there is a very strong public tide that has carried them to that negotiating table.
The government can't take the stance that there is nothing to discuss. The nation and the government recognise that one of the main maladies of the Indian body politic is corruption and it is not just in particular organs but permeates the DNA of the country. The "B word" (Bhrashtachar) is an apt description of government transactions from the procurement of everything paid for out of taxes to the performance of every duty by the arms and bureaucrats of the state and to the operations and deals of capitalism. The B word used to be the oil to make the mechanism go and I have heard the case, however feeble, for turning a blind eye to it. It greased the mechanism of production, consumption, legality and licensing and put a pint of rum in the pocket of the downtrodden policeman. It is now recognised that it is the raison d'etre of most of Indian politics and very much of the capitalist system. The grease is drowning the machinery.
The government representatives in the deadlocked talks which one of the civilists, Arvind Kejriwal, called the "Jokepal Bill" rely on the supreme and pure idea of the Constitution. The elected members are the people's choice and the Prime Minister as the pinnacle of such a system, the chosen by the chosen, should have immunity from investigation and prosecution. Members of Parliament, in the pattern of democracy we inherited from the British, belong to the supreme forum and should not have to be examined by a non-elected panel. Neither do the parliamentarians want an investigative force or one that can prosecute alleged wrongdoers outside of the Central Bureau of Investigation and other existing arms of the revenue and customs departments.
In the larger debates about corruption in India it has been frequently alleged that the physician should cure himself. In other words there are no incorrupt people left to perform the duties of investigation and punishment. No one is entitled to cast that first stone.
This may be true but shouldn't be an indictment of the character of all subcontinentals. Corruption is not in our genes. It is the defect of a democratic mechanism that affords the opportunity for vast and all-encompassing bribery, a black economy and a licence raj, which gets politicians fighting for places in even the Upper Chamber in order to secure some junior ministerial post, which will give them access to corruption. You only have to read the leaked conversation between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and K. Kanimozhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to realise how brazen the pursuit has become.
It may be that a parliamentary democracy that inevitably elects politicians on the basis of the numbers in a caste, sub-caste, religious or regional grouping throws up a truly democratic leadership. The people who elect them know they are crooks but they are "their" crooks! The power of numbers translates into billions in black money and that into more power and patronage. And so shamelessly on!
From the arguments posed by Mr Sibal and the other constitutionalists, it seems that they fear a KGB-type body emerging from the proposals that the civilists are making. Such a body would be, as the KGB was, a law unto itself and there would be no guarantee that it wouldn't fall into the sins it was born to eradicate. In Stalinist Russia the People's NKVD and the KGB were inevitable adjuncts of the state machinery. Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that the Gulags were inevitable because the Stalinist state needed slaves and free labour and those accused of being dissidents became the victims of this necessity.
The Indian state doesn't have any such necessity. It would be justice indeed (and somewhat entertaining) if the corrupt of India were put to hard labour building dams and suchlike, but even that prospect shouldn't lead us to condone the existence of Gulags. Rather, we (and the drafters of the Lokpal structure) should take a leaf out of the dying Lenin's book. Among the last essays, speeches, wishes and instructions he wrote was the idea of a "Workers and Peasants' Inspection". This would be a vast and not-necessarily-Communist-Party institution which could be elected at very local levels and would be convened every month or so in order to censor, oversee, guide and even cancel the work of the Politburo and the Communist Party's governing machinery. It would have greater powers than the Stalinist secretariat and could overrule it.
I wonder if the Communists of West Bengal and Kerala ever took those last essays of Comrade Lenin seriously. Could they have avoided Singur, Nandigram and the humiliating electoral defeat if they had?
THE ASIAN AGE
MR PM, BUCK DOESN'T STOP HERE
Oh Oh — sizzling tennis over our PM's tepid talk show? Ummm… no contest. Tennis has dum. Tennis is about pure, unadulterated testosterone when two beefcakes in shorts sweat it out on a packed Centre Court. How can poor Manmohanji compete with those hunks for eyeballs?
Somehow, this whole new wooing game… reaching out to the media and what not, smacks of damage control at its clumsiest.
A weekly gup shup with hard-boiled, hand-picked "cynics" from the media? Why? What for? Is this latest ploy a hollow PR exercise… or a panic attack? Let's face it — our Manmohan Singh is a mumbler. He is not the world's best communicator. After keeping mum for seven years (three measly interactions with the detested scribe-tribe during this period) Dr Singh's sudden decision to go a-courting sounds suspicious and disingenuous. Unless there is a bigger agenda, of course. This may be a well-thought-out strategy to influence and manipulate voters before the next elections. What better than a monopoly over a potent and powerful medium like television to air the party's ambitions? To define and defend policies. To test the waters before a big announcement. This can be dangerous. Especially in a country that calls itself a democracy.
Our affable Manmohanji trundled along happily all this while without bothering to clarify a single issue — well, at least to the satisfaction of critics. Now, he wants to alter the uneasy equation and meet the very same "accusers, prosecutors and judges" on a regular basis. Maha mistake, my friend. Definitely something kaala in the lentils. Or the man who insists he isn't a lame duck ("langda batak" to you) is under pressure from you-know-who to go out there and do the dirty job others are shying away from. Poor guy. It can't be much fun having to provide explanations for any and every lapse, especially when the buck stops with someone else — the very same person who he sweetly says is "not an obstacle'! Dr Singh sounded heartbreakingly like a hen-pecked husband who has his wife's permission to admit as much in public! Now, if instead of Dr Singh, Sonia Gandhi had taken the bold step of participating in such a dialogue on national television, believe me, Wimbledon or no Wimbledon (Tsonga could have done the full monty after thrashing Federer for all we care), India would have come to a stop and heard the lady out. That's never going to happen — and everybody knows it. So, we have to settle for a person who is not really in the best position to respond to even a simple question like, "How's the weather up there?" Given the state of paranoia, chances are such a query would be over-analysed for hidden motives and responded to by a super guarded, "Depends what you mean by 'weather' and 'up there'…"
Let's be honest — what did our man end up saying that we don't know? Zilch. He sounded defensive and evasive when he blamed the Opposition for virtually all the failings of the government led by him. Though, perhaps, one needs to redefine "led". According to Dr Singh, it's all about propaganda. Everything. Corruption included. He said he was ready to take full responsibility "for all the bad things this government has done". But how? It sounds heroic and noble, but he knows and everybody knows it amounts to nothing in real terms. If he is playing the martyrdom card, even that will backfire. One expects a real leader to assume real responsibility. But Dr Singh sounded apologetic… more like a fall guy, left with no alternative but to take the flak. The time to project a more assertive image was seven years ago, not now. The United Progressive Alliance show is virtually over. What's the point of sabre rattling and baring teeth at this late stage? Sorry, but there are no takers for Dr Singh's newest initiative. It's a little like a reality show that appears fully fixed. Or a recycled talk show that is so embarrassingly awkward, one prays for the host's safety. All talk of stepping down and letting Rahul take his vacated kursi sounds phoney, even if the voice and body lingo are artificially pumped up to display a newly acquired bravado. Dr Singh is no Rafael Nadal. Neither is Rahul Baba. I mean… someone who actually means business, goes ahead and plans actions. What we got to hear on the TV show was some meaningless mewing about corruption having "caught the imagination" of the people. No kidding! Really! So… like… corruption is only about "catching the imagination"… like… the latest book, movie or TV show? Dr Singh went on to say his government would "deal with it". Sure, bro. How? When? Tell us!
We, the people of India, are not gullible schoolchildren who have to be reminded that our Prime Minister does not possess a "magic wand". Hell ya… we know that! You ain't Cindrella's Fairy Godmother! And nobody expects "instant solutions" either. But, please sir, start by offering one — just one — solution. Take your pick from the vast array of problems waiting for solutions — from the 2G, Commonwealth Games and all the other "Ji's" that keep popping up. Today's janata is pretty clued in, and talking in circles does not fool the aam aadmi. This approach may have worked 30 years ago, when our attitude towards netas was one of reverence. Big mistake! We didn't know better back then. But, hello! Today, we do. Public opinion spares nobody and nothing. If anything, our journalists are a bit too polite, well mannered and reverential. Try pulling off such a farce anywhere else in the world. Try talking to those bulldog editors in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, France or Germany. They tear into interviewees mercilessly and confront the person with hard evidence, facts and figures, while demanding straight answers — not obscure explanations, justifications and yes… lame duck excuses.
Dr Singh got away a bit too lightly, a bit too easily, a bit too quickly. And at the end of this round, we, the voters, remain as clueless about his position and views on key national issues, as before.
You know what? The old maun vrat Prime Minister was a better bet. Now it's official — there is indeed a lame duck at the helm of affairs in India. Quack! Quack!
— Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com
THE ASIAN AGE
Some years ago the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) reported after its study on agriculture that roughly half the farmers in the country did not wish to continue with farming. They would quit if they had an alternative. This shameful fact reflects the despair that farmers feel and is based on the fact that agriculture is a loss-making enterprise and the farmers are unable to either feed themselves or turn a profit.
In addition to this, rural India is looked down upon by the well-to-do urban India, including the policymakers, who are seen as part of the urban elite. Whether or not they are, they certainly behave like that. This discrimination strips farming and the farmer of his (and even more so, her) dignity and does anything but provide an incentive to the younger generation to want to take up farming. Raised on a diet of unreal aspirations beamed out through our surfeit of television soap operas and Bollywood films, the rural youth sees neither glamour, money nor dignity in farming. Why would he want to adopt it if there is nothing in it for him?
The tenuous situation with farming is not helped by electoral politics playing with rice and wheat as gimmicks to get votes. In this election the Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala joined the rice politics of the state and promised 35 kg rice at `1 per kg in a month for below the poverty line (BPL) families and at `2 per kg for above the poverty line (APL) families in its election manifesto. Before this, the Left Democratic Front manifesto had guaranteed rice at `2 per kg for all BPL and APL families.
The poor must get the help of the state to overcome hunger and poverty, but the way to do this should be empowerment and fostering self-reliance, not creating dependency through doles. When such support is enmeshed in politics, nobody is fooled and it creates a culture of cynicism and dependence. This has undesirable consequences at several levels.
In the last few months during my visits to the Gene Campaign field station in Jharkhand, I have been encountering a dangerous pulling away from agriculture. In addition to the other work we do on food, nutrition and livelihoods, we also provide training in adapting the fragile agriculture of the dryland to the growing uncertainty of global warming and climate change. These trainings are hands on, with several practical demonstrations and we usually have enthusiastic farmers coming for training programmes, which they have found useful. Although the youth have sometimes been less keen to continue with agriculture, or to invest too much physical labour in it, it is now all farmers who are reluctant to practise farming and are reluctant to come for trainings. If their agriculture has become unattractive, why would they come for training programmes to improve agriculture?
The uncertain rainfall and drought of the last three years has made farming even more risky than before. In Jharkhand, farmers can take only one crop in the year during the monsoon when it rains. Because there is no irrigation, they are unable to plant a second crop in winter season as farmers in the irrigated regions of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh can.
When the monsoon has become uncertain because of global warming and farming remains non-remunerative, the farmers have no incentive to continue farming. Farm losses become even higher if the single rice crop too fails, creating a crisis of hunger for farm families. The coping mechanism in such a situation is to abandon farming and seek work as manual labour since that brings assured income, which farming does not. Abandoning farming now makes economic sense to the farmer.
In Jharkhand, here is how it works for them. In a family with five members, if four go out to seek manual work in mines or at construction sites, they collectively earn about `300 per day at an average wage rate of `75 per person. This makes the average monthly income of the family `9,000 per month, or `1,08,000 per year. This is several times what they can ever dream of earning from farming from the un-irrigated land holdings they possess. In the farmer's calculation, agriculture is expensive, risky and requires back-breaking work, which does not even bring enough to eat, let alone surplus. On top of that, it carries the near certain burden of debt since in order to coax his single crop out of the ground, the farmer needs to take loan to procure inputs like seed and fertiliser, sometimes even water.
In another scenario, the BPL card holder gets 35 kg of rice at `1 per kg and three litres of kerosene oil per month for cooking. This subsidised grain lasts his family for 15 days in the month, for the other 15 days he purchases food from the market with the money the family has earned from manual labour. On the other hand, here is what many farmers recounted about their experience with hybrid rice cultivation. Hybrid rice is promoted aggressively by government agencies although all the hybrid rice seed is being sold by private companies and there is not a single public sector hybrid rice available on the market. Farmers bought hybrid rice seed at about `250 per kg, planted the nursery and at the time of transplantation, the rains failed. Since there is no investment in rainwater conservation, there are no water bodies and life-saving irrigation is not available to save the crop. So, after investing between `3,000 and `4,000, the farmers got about 50 to 60 kg of rice from the entire kharif crop. Compare this with the 35 kg rice that they get for `35 every month. Why would the farmer farm?
The failed agriculture sector combined with wage labour opportunities in the market and subsidised grain schemes, like those for BPL and Antodaya card holders, has made agriculture and food production the least attractive option for the rural community, especially the youth. Food is more easily (and less painfully) obtained by a combination of activities that does not include farming. There is another danger in this scenario, the deskilling of agriculturists. Many youth are forgetting how to farm. They have increasingly little facility with the hoe and plough, do not know how to turn the soil and make the field ready. The younger lot are unable already to read the weather to time the planting of their crop; they do not know which seeds to choose for the particular situation that is currently obtaining. Slipping away too is the knowledge of agricultural practices in special land types, keeping the soil alive, problem solving, seed and grain storage, adding value to local produce and a host of other things. Two more generations of this kind of youth and we may not have enough people who can grow food in this country. And then?
The author is a genetic scientist. She has served on the faculty of the Universities of Chicago and Heidelberg and is
convener of the Gene Campaign
NUKE WAIVER IN PIPELINE
Official circles in New Delhi were somewhat ill at ease with the new guidelines proposed by nuclear cartel, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), for transfer of nuclear enrichment technology to countries that were not signatories to the NPT. India is not a signatory to the NPT, and this issue was part of the overall nuclear discourse between India and the United States before the 123 deal for transfer of technology for civilian use was finally struck. Concern on the issue became apparent when the NSG met in Netherlands recently and tried to push for some more stringent norms for access to enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology by countries which are not signatories to the NPT. Obviously if the NSG goes on to impose new norms and conditionalities, it will adversely affect India's nuclear programme for civilian purpose. Naturally there has had to be movement in official circles in New Delhi to get the matter clarified.
But the controversy has been set at rest by no less a source than the Ambassador of the United States of America in India, Mr. Timothy J. Roemer in a statement to media persons. He said that United States strongly and vehemently supports the clean waiver given to India by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to undertake nuclear commerce. Media has reported him saying, "I want to say that the US and the Obama Administration strongly and vehemently support the clean waiver to India. Not only that, 123 civil nuclear legislation also underscores our support for India to this debate that is going on and our law also points to the clean waiver for India." India's disquiet came from seeing the move of framing new norms as a ploy to undermine the waiver for India. As it is a matter of far reaching consequences for our civilian nuclear programme, New Delhi took quick steps to get into touch with major and more important members of the NSG. India did right to remind them that they need to stand by their commitment of a clean waiver. India had elaborately explained her position in regard to not signing NPT, and her line of argument had convinced major partners of NSG. Apart from that India has rigidly followed the non-proliferation agenda and no complaint on this count has ever been recorded against her. Additionally, Indian nuclear safety and security measures have been endorsed by the nuclear cartel in the wider context of nuclearization of South Asia. Keeping in view India's massive developmental plans and active role in world market economy arrangement, major partners in NSG did recognize the necessity of special treatment of India as a developing country greatly in need of power for rapid industrialization.
The threadbare assurance given by the Obama government that the US strongly favours clean waiver for India, will enable the NSG first to assure India of regular supply of enriched uranium and secondly the transfer of technology of enriching uranium for civilian use. It has to be reminded that signing of nuclear treaty with the United States for civilian use, which came up after prolonged hiccups, is a major milestone along the path of friendship between India and the United States. But the fact is that during past one decade, bilateral relationship between India and the United States has achieved new dimensions and the two countries were never as close at any time in the past as they are now. In the field of intelligence sharing and counter terrorism, the two countries have come very close. But the vision of Indo-US friendship goes beyond these immediate undertakings. Trade and commerce, science and technology, education and social change, international relations and strategies are other broad fields in which the two countries have made substantial progress. The US is India's largest trade partner and the US has made sizeable investment in various ventures in India. The signing of 123 Treaty overarches these attainments. The future promises much bigger strides along the path of mutual collaboration and cooperation to strengthen international peace. The commitment of the US also comes from a realization of the role of India in stabilizing peace in the Asian sub-continent, particularly Afghanistan.
Talking to the editors recently, the Prime Minister reinforced India's expectation that apart from the United States, France and Russia, two other important members of the NSG, too, had made commitment that they would support clean waiver in the case of India if the NSG imposed new and more stringent norms of supply of enriched uranium to countries that were not signatories to the NPT. Interestingly, the Prime Minister revealed what the French President Sarkozy had said in a formal banquet thrown in the honour of Indian Prime Minister when he was on a visit to France in July last. The PM said that in response to his query, President Sarkozy "assured me in front of all the people present that "you can take it from me. I am willing to go public that we (France) stand by our commitment". Likewise, Russia, also a member of NSG, too has reiterated her commitment of supporting the clean waiver for India and supply of transfer technology.
India has bilateral agreements with some of the member states of NSG and, she expects that these commitments will be honoured. The overall scenario augurs well for India to run away with a waiver on the transfer of enrichment technology. Once that happens, it will immensely help India in her transition to modernization on a large scale. Imposition of voluntary moratorium on testing nuclear device has gone a long way in profiling India as a positive actor on international nuclear platform. It is apt to reproduce what the Security Adviser to the Prime Minister said in this context. He said, "We have bilateral commitments from each of our partners. They don't' see it as contradictory". We know that India's adversaries would not want her make great progress in nuclear technology for civilian purpose and they cannot think beyond a spectrum of political rivalry. But responsible states observe world class response to all situations. With hopes pinned in advanced nuclear technology for peaceful purpose, India is at a critical stage of technological and industrial revolution.
CONGRESS AND CORRUPTION CULTURE
MEN, MATTERS & MEMORIES
BY ML KOTRU
One has to be grateful to the Congress Party for having given us in the quickest possible time a replacement for the semi-retired politician Amar Singh, the one-time right hand man of the ever-angry Mulayam Singh of the Samajwadi Party. Unlike Amar Singh who could be funny, rude and abusive, the Congress replacement comes in a seemingly suave package with his credentials marked by three terms as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. You can't dismiss Digvijay Singh lightly, even his party has learned to give him a rope long enough not to be seen as if he is always doing a command performance. Slowly some of his own party men wonder to take him seriously. Even the designated party spokesmen have had a hard time explaining whether Diggy "meant this and not that." Ask Diggy himself for an elaboration and he will curtly ask "tell me which of my party spokesmen has denied what I have said." Diggy probably, sees himself doing no more than scoring points.
Unable to make his ground in Madhya Pradesh - the BJP's man there is currently having his second term as Chief Minister - the Congress Party's big boy surely must make his impact felt elsewhere. And there is no better way to attract notice than for Diggy to demand that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must go. Or, that "Rahulji", whose little sheep he has lately become, is ripe enough to step into the Prime Ministerial shoes.
"All I am saying is that Dr. Manmohan Singhji has been a good Prime Minister but it is time for us to look elsewhere, no farther than Rahulji," or words to that effect. This man who must be a few years older than Rahulji's late father, Rajiv Gandhi has obviously - and rightly, too - hitched his wagon to Sonia Gandhi's son's. Isn't that the right thing to do, a "thank you" perhaps to Soniaji for having made the "ultimate' sacrifice by refusing the President's offer to be the Prime Minister when the UPA won the election. The truth may lie elsewhere: in the President telling her that the opposition would raise ugly questions such as nationality corruption etc. if she were to say yes.
Regardless, the Sonia acolytes have acknowledged her sacrifice by making her not only the UPA Chairperson but also as Chairman of the high profile National Advisory Council, virtually making her the Soviet style boss, say, playing Khruschev to Manmohan Singh's Bulganin. Diggy knows it all; he obviously mistakenly believes that a younger man like Rahul might give the Opposition parties including the BJP, Mayawati, AIADMK a fight to savour never mind the dozens of recent scams that have been the lot of Manmohan Singh's UPA government.
The truth is that Rahul's youth Congress brigade has not been able to make much of an impact these past five years. To share a meal with a poor rural woman in an unlit hut or to cry Jai Bundelkhand is not going to get you many votes.
Diggy would do well to help Rahul on his marathon tours with answers to questions like corruption, price-rise and the beginning of a possible collapse of the economic gains which corporate India, under the stewardship of Manmohan and Pranab Babu, have made. Food inflation hurts no one more than the fixed income middle class: and we have the word of our financial wizards that our growth rate may fall even below 7 percent. Diggy Raja probably believes that with the economy handled by the economist Prime Minister going downhill, Rahul may well improve his chances. If Digvijay's way of playing with words is anything to go by it doesn't particularly impress.
The more worrisome of all is the loss of confidence in the constitutional pillars that have held the country together for these six decades or so. There is not much to choose from the established political parties; none of these inspires confidence. The hands of all the parties and even those whose duty it is to defend the constitutional framework are tainted. Corrupt Ministers have continued to hold high-profile portfolios. The same was true perhaps of the Vajpayee years. But that is not UPA had promised. What this has done is to have legitimised corruption to an extent unknown. From sponsoring a sports jamboree, to the administration of the judicial system, to billion dollar scams have already claimed the heads of couple of politicians, some Ministers and very few bureaucrats. Ministers have literally sold potential national wealth at ridiculously low prices. Judiciary has been under a cloud, but somehow still continues to make one not entirely hopeless. And, the Defence Services which had over the years managed to maintain a clean image have taken to corruption, as ducks to the water.
I remember a Pakistani Brigadier telling over lunch at the Rawalpindi Club some 35 years ago how the Generals and their lower rung minions had parcelled out plots of land from what had once been the prestigious Race Course and built massive farm houses in Punjab and elsewhere. Our Generals and Admirals have shown us that they can outdo their Pakistani counterparts.
I was an eye witness to how the entire officer corps of the aircraft carrier Vikrant virtually cleaning up the electronics bazars of Kuwait, Oman etc. on a "friendly" visit to some Gulf countries in the mid 70's. I was the only journalist on board. Lest I forget the headline in one of the Kuwait papers "Indian sailors clean up electronics Bazar." I saw how happy the lowly sailors were picking up cheap transistors and watches. But for the officers it was mini cinema equipment including 8'x8' screens, fridges, Frigidaire's and TV sets etc.
I had bought from the ship's wardroom a bottle of Royal Salute which, alas, did not touch the Bombay shore on our return. The Captain had called the ship's company to the deck, as we neared Mumbai harbour, to warn everyone against the danger of being caught with contraband of any sort even as others were distributing the Customs declaration forms, before the Customs personnel came on board. I promptly called three or four younger officers to the deck to help me finish the Royal Salute.
And, much to my surprise when the Customs men came aboard they were straight away conducted to the wardroom, feted like royalty, the bundle of false declarations in their bags. I disembarked in Mumbai only to learn that the Customs-cleared ship's company was leaving for Cochin. There was no Customs check there. Wonder why no questions were asked when all those large crates were seen on board the ship.
The problem with us Indians has been that we have taken corruption for granted. C. Rajagopalachari, the first Indian Governor General of independent India had aptly warned the nation of the dangers inherent to the permit-license raj during the post-independence years. "It breeds corruption" - and it did. But the Congress rulers of the day led by Nehru, with their commitment to democratic socialism, persisted with the system and the result have been that corruption became synonymous with the Indian democracy.
Manmohan Singh simply doesn't have the clout to come down on the corrupt, bureaucrats, corporates and politicians. Imagine him, the Prime Minister giving good conduct certificates to A. Raja, the infamous former Telecom Minister now awaiting trial for one of the major scams the country has ever witnessed.
In the early 90's, when the computer and I made a first contact, I was appalled to notice on the Transparency International website that we Indians, with Satyam eva Jayate, as our leit motif and inheritors of the Mahatma's mantle were the world's seventh most corrupt nation. Things haven't changed much, thanks to our political masters. I don't accept it that the Congress is the most corrupt of all political parties, what I concede is that Congress has led the pack because the length of time it has held office, the others including BJP have continued to do their bit, from selling petrol pumps to the early stages of the electronic revolution.
I don't immediately recall the exact figure but it was Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul's father, who dared to admit that out of every rupee spent for the upliftment of the social sector only a few paise (single digit) were used for the intended purpose. Since Diggy Raja was one of the major Chief Ministers at least for part of the time then he would do well to tell this to his ward, Rahul about this home truth.
Manmohan Singh may or may not be the weakest Prime Minster of free as alleged by L.K. Advani, he certainly has ensured that along with economic growth we continue to give free rein to corruption. Unfortunately his political "mentor", Sonia (forget his time as Narasimha Rao's Finance Minister) seems to have let him down badly on tackling this malignant growth. His namby, pamby reactions to the many warnings he had got early on only encouraged the corrupt. Ironically he himself and his loud-mouth Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal used to initially dismiss all allegations of corruption as the price he was paying for observing the coalition dharma. If it was dharma, I don't know what can adharma be. Not surprisingly that Kapil Sibal was the advocate for Justice V. Ramaswamy at his impeachment in the Lok Sabha. Kapil, a simple lawyer then spent six hours in defending the Supreme Court Judge. The spotlight was stolen, though by H.R. Bhardwaj, Mrs. Indira Gandhi's Law Minister, when he rose from the front benches to ask the shocking question: "who is not corrupt these days. Every one is", said the current Karnataka Governor. You don't have to make any guesses: that the Congress which was part of the impeachment motion, chameonlike switched and abstained to save a judge of the Supreme Court who had been damned by a three men committee of brother judges, and who had been allotted no judicial cases by the Chief Justice for almost three months. That should tell you what the Congress culture is about!
DIFFICULT TIMES AHEAD
BY ARUN NEHRU
I had written last week on the likely effects of the US troop leaving Afghanistan and no surprise that a series of suicide attacks have followed in Iraq and Pakistan and now we have a Taliban led attack in Afghanistan on the Intercontinental Hotel and initial reports indicate that 7 are killed and I wonder if this is the beginning of the end of the presence of NATO forces in the country. Helicopter gun ships are used in heavily populated area and what will take place next? The Middle East along with North Africa is in total chaos and look at the death and destruction in Libya and look at the daily violence in Syria and while media attention has waned see how anarchy prevails all over the Middle East and while the USA will talk tough and give the usual sermons their military capability is on the decline. We can expect further violence in Kabul and we will have further violence in Pakistan and Iraq and 'sponsored' regimes cannot survive for very long and as I see it the Western super power syndrome will act in their own interests and 'oil' interests will form the central thinking of their policy as it has in the past and democracy and human rights will be sacrificed at the alter of political expediency. The Middle East will return to media attention and there is many a unfinished story to report on and time to high light the fight for democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen , Syria and in the Gulf States like Bahrain. We have two sets of rules for the Western World and another one for the others and I wonder how the BRIC countries will act in the future? We are directly affected by these changes and keeping silent is no longer a viable option.
I cannot see how the price of oil is going to stabilize at a lower level and releasing the strategic oil reserves is 'shock' therapy and is welcome but shocks cannot be sustained in the long term and we look at difficult times ahead. Inflation is a global virus, prices escalate and will settle at much higher levels for almost everything and we are clearly in 'conflict zone' both on political and economic issues. I had written earlier that 2011 is a very difficult year and on current trends I think it is going to get much worse and more then ever before our economic team will be tested. The UPA2 has done the right thing on fuel prices with a limited price increase and a duty reduction in excise and customs but this is the time for both the government and all of us to exercise restraint and austerity as we face very difficult times ahead and all of us have a role to play. The States are reducing VAT and other taxes and the scheme given by CM Delhi which gives benefit on LPG cylinders only to the poor is very welcome as it is absurd for all of us to get this 'subsidy' and I sincerely hope that the Petroleum Ministry can find a viable method to solve the kerosene issue where in the name of the poor and deprived there is a thriving black market and criminality. Good to know that the PM will have increased media exposure and this is a welcome sign but will this result in better governance? There are no miracles and the PM does not have a bag of magic tricks with the exception of good governance and a will to tackle increased criminality in the system. The media cannot be 'managed' any longer and there are few things hidden from public view for either the Congress or the Opposition.
My political instincts indicate that the public mood is 'sullen' on all things political and besides inflation which affects everyone the issue of corruption and increased criminality is a matter of serious concern and in this situation it is very difficult to make any form of predictions on future trends. Increased criminality and low level corruption is resulting in Mafia formations as the legal system is unable to render justice within a acceptable time frame and can anyone except a 'criminal' can wait for ten years for justice? We talk of the rule of law but where is the rule of law except in a few cases? The Supreme Court is our last hope for the future as political authority and credibility is being compromised by the increased unexplained assets of the political system both at the Center and in the States. We see high profile cases like the 2G scam getting attention from the Supreme Court and there are daily hearings and this is good but millions of cases languish for a decade or more and only those who are guilty benefit from this delay.
We see today on Headlines today Coal being looted from a freight train by the Coal Mafia and this off course is nothing new but it would be nice to know what the Coal Minister is doing about this and does he have the will to fight the Mafia? We have seen a gang killing in Mumbai and the police has done well to identify the killers and we all see the chilling episode on TV. We have two CMO shot on the streets and one Deputy CMO is murdered in jail and I wonder what will happen next as Mafia interests spread to every part of our daily existence. I see dark days ahead and these isolated instances can become a regular feature and only a matter of time till those who are fighting the criminals are singled out and eliminated by vested interests. High profile cases get media attention and look at the miracle the media has bought about in cases like Jessica Lal , Nitesh Kataria and Priyadarshi Muttoo and do we need high profile RTI social activists to get killed to spur the governments across the country into action. Internal gang wars are inevitable as business conflicts take place and since they have penetrated the political system and are contributing a substantial part of the finances of the party we will see greater violence in the corridors of power.
I see very difficult times ahead in 2011 and if the UPA 2 does not tackle criminality then change is inevitable and it will not wait till 2014. We must wish the government well as they have a difficult task ahead and plan initiatives for the future.
GOOD MONSOON MAY NOT HELP IS CHECKING PRICES
BY ARABINDA GHOSE
The first showers of the south-west monsoon in Kerala is normally the signal for farmers and other Indians to celebrate the occasion, for it is the harbinger of good kharif production of the main food grains, paddy and pulses besides jowar, bajra, and some millets. Unfortunately, the setting of the monsoon this year has not brought cheers to the people at large, because they, more than anyone else know that bountiful monsoon or devastating drought mean nothing to them, since prices of essential items, particularly food grains, will not come down under any circumstances.
Food grains prices are ruling high all over not only India but most parts of the world. And no less a person than the newly-elected Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Jose Graziano de Silva of Brazil had said it on taking up the assignment June 26 at Rome
The FAO food prices index had hit an all time high in February this year. Although it has come down slightly since, experts such Grazino de Silva has said that food prices remained far too high for many poor communities. India obviously has a large number of such poor communities.
FAO has put the number of hungry people in 2010 at 925 million, the majority of them being in developing countries. In India no less a person than Mr. C. Rangarajan, Chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council said on Sunday that the Government decision to raise the prices of diesel, cooking gas and kerosene would inevitably push up inflation into double-digit zone.
Making it obvious that good monsoon would not bring down prices, Dr. Rangarajan said that "due to the hike, inflation could be close to 10 per cent by July". The overall inflation was 9.06 per cent in May up from 8.66 per cent in April. The Reserve Bank has already said that it expected inflationary pressure to remain high, at an average of nine per cent till September on account of high global commodity prices.
Although certainly welcome, good monsoon and higher production of food articles are not going to keep prices down according to several experts. Said Deloitte, Hamim and Sells director Anis Chakravarty; "Going ahead, the rate hike (of petroleum products) will adversely affect the inflation situation. While we expect inflation numbers in June to remain above 9 per cent, the real pinch would be felt in July when it may even touch double-digit".
Food Inflation touched a two and a half months high of 9.13 percent for the week ending June 11 and experts said rising food prices would also impact the headline inflation.
The diesel price hike would impact the essential items the prices of which would rise by five per cent at least. The transporters have raised the charges by eight per cent in the wake of the diesel price hike. According to Ramesh Agrawal, President of the All India Transporters Welfare Association, who gave detailed presentation of the impact of the hike in diesel prices, truck owners have raised the transportation costs by eight per cent in view of the fact that diesel prices were raised only a few months earlier too.
The hike in diesel prices would have the most adverse impact on vegetables and fruits. The most expensive would be the vegetables that come from the northern states of the country. Other items of daily requirements just such as wheat flour, pulses, rice etc would all become expensive, almost out of reach of the poor. While the Government contemplates action against traders for raising prices, the Government itself has taken steps that would raise the prices of essential commodities, these people say.
Coming back to agriculture, India has banned the export of rice (barring Basmati rice) which may help control runaway inflation. But then, we still lack adequate storage space and the recently harvested wheat is a casualty. Early monsoon rains pose a threat to the safety of the grains stored without adequate cover. This is an old story and one hates to repeat it ad nauseam.
THE HANSI-BUTANA ROW
WATER DISPUTES, FLOODS ARE AVOIDABLE
The onset of the monsoon has revived fears of floods in the Ghaggar and rekindled the political controversy over the construction by the Haryana government of a 16-foot-high concrete embankment along the Hansi-Butana canal, which blocks the natural flow of water, causing floods in Punjab areas. Last year people in 32 villages and crops on 20,700 acres were affected. Punjab political leaders, cutting across party affiliations, have voiced their concerns over the 3.5-km concrete wall. Construction work of the canal embankment was started by Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda during the chief ministership of Capt Amarinder Singh.
Unseemly water disputes have soured the good neighbourly relations between Punjab and Haryana. These touched a new low when Capt Amarinder Singh's government unilaterally terminated the inter-state waters pact in July, 2004. The inter-state bickering over the Hansi-Butana canal issue gets louder during the rainy or election season. Small-time politicians try to raise passions by using inflammatory expressions. Water is a sensitive and emotive issue and should be handled deftly. Recently, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal wrote a letter to Hooda protesting against the Haryana action. The matter has also reached the Supreme Court. Haryana Irrigation Minister H. S. Chatha, however, says that the issue is being politicised unnecessarily ahead of the elections in Punjab.
The larger issue is the leaders of the two states should thrash out the water disputes as also the Hansi-Butana canal issue in a spirit of give and take, preferably under the supervision of the Central leadership. The decisions of the courts on such matters are often not accepted by the losing party and the sense of injustice remains. Water resources can be best managed through inter-state cooperation as rivers cut across state boundaries. River floods and pollution can be controlled. Instead of indulging in the blame game and kicking off needless controversies the representatives of the people in the two states should focus on rainwater harvesting, which can help replenish the fast-depleting water resources. The Centre's Rs 1,150 crore initiative, announced earlier this year to tame the Ghaggar, is a welcome step in this direction.
SOFT VERDICT IN GROVER CASE
KILLING WAS UNUSUALLY GRUESOME
Usually, crime stories do not have a happy ending. Going by the verdict announced on Neeraj Grover's gruesome killing, this one does, for the culprits. A local court in Mumbai let one of the two accused, Maria Susairaj, walk free on Friday. The court convicted her only for destruction of evidence, for which the maximum punishment is three years of imprisonment, time she had already served as an undertrial. The verdict on this much-talked-about killing for its heinousness has triggered sharp reactions. The ambitious, glamour-struck, small-town, small-time Kannada actress Maria, who was already in a relationship with a former Navy officer, Emile Jerome Matthews, started dating Neeraj Grover, a senior TV executive, hoping to get a ladder for her TV career. While Grover was murdered by her fiancé Jarome, Maria helped him chop his body into 300 small pieces, and stuffed these into bags to be dumped and burnt. She also went to a neighbouring mall to buy a butcher's knife, two big sports bags and borrowed a friend's car to dump the body. All this, certainly, was not the doing of an innocent mind.
Telephone conversations established the fact that Grover had come to help her settle in her new flat. In her confession, she said, Grover started 'acting funny' on May 7. When Jerome, who was then in Cochin, called her, he found Grover was with her in her flat. Without informing her, he took a flight to Mumbai, entered her flat early morning on May 8, found Grover sleeping in her bed and killed him with a kitchen knife. The brutality with which the two disposed off the body after what the court termed as not a pre-meditated murder, had shocked the nation.
Jarome received only 10 years of imprisonment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Perhaps, how a body is treated after being killed holds no relevance in the eyes of the law. The court held them guilty of lesser offences as the motive behind the crime remained inconclusive. The course of law is long and winding, but, as they say, what goes around, comes around.
WOMEN UNDER DURESS
MUST BE ENABLED TO COPE WITH STRESS
Traditionally women have borne the brunt of many social changes. Now as societies in emerging markets are in the throes of transition it seems women are not only experiencing freedom and emancipation but also paying the price for it. While stress is a universal phenomenon and cuts across gender too, it is distressing to note that Indian women are most stressed. A survey spanning 21 developing and emerging countries has revealed that a staggering 87 per cent of Indian women feel stressed most of the time and 82 per cent have no time to relax.
Stress might seem like an innocuous phenomenon and in small doses can actually enhance performance and motivate people to do their best as well as meet challenges. However, if it becomes an all-consuming aspect of one's life, it is not only debilitating but also has many health hazards. More so since studies have pointed out that woman respond to stress differently. Work-related stress doubles their risk of heart attack and other cardiac problems. It's not work alone that generates stress but also demands of home that exacerbate duress. Often, women find it to tough to do the balancing act. The superwoman model fuelled by the media puts additional pressure on women to excel on all fronts. Working women constantly feel the need to prove themselves at the workplace without forsaking their responsibilities as mother and wife.
The independence that women have gained has also brought in financial stability and more opportunities for them as well as their daughters which is without doubt a heartening development. Since the clock cannot be turned back to the time when roles were clearly divided on the lines of gender, society has to create mechanisms to help women cope with stress. While both society, particularly family and co-workers, must create support systems to help women, the fairer sex too need to identify the causes of stress and learn to be more organised and systematic. Besides, they should not strive to be perfectionists and set realistic goals. To err is human, women included.
BEGINNING OF THE ENDGAME
EVEN A SUPER POWER CANNOT HAVE ITS WAY
BY H.K. DUA
Even super powers, real or presumed, come to realise, sooner or later, that there are limits to their power and ability to shape events abroad.
Nowhere else has this proven true than in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. Historical precedents apart, the Soviet Union, in recent times discovered to its cost that it could not sustain its influence, or armed intervention, in Afghanistan for long.
Now the mighty United States has discovered that the war in Afghanistan has shown up once again to its embarrassment that there are limits to its power in this part of the world. International implications apart, its Afghanistan venture has also begun to affect domestic politics.
After a decade-long engagement in Afghanistan, Washington has come to recognise that it cannot sustain a state of war against the Taliban. Mighty armies, equipped with most effective of weaponry, can also suffer from battle fatigue. And scenes of coffins wrapped in the Stars and Stripes are never welcome in US homes.
The US has been going through an economic recession during the last few years, and the $2 billion a week it has been spending in Afghanistan cannot bring comfort to the people as well as the US administration.
Electoral compulsions have always influenced war-and-peace decisions in the US. President Barack Obama's Democratic Party has told him that it simply does not want him to continue fighting in a distant land. Both in his party and among the people Obama's popularity graph has been soaring after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and beginning a pull-out from Afghanistan will now serve Obama's bid for a second term in the White House.
No one in the world is hence surprised about President Obama's announcement that the US will begin pulling out troops from Afghanistan this month. He will call back over 30,000 troops in a year's time; and, if all goes well, would like to complete the withdrawal by 2014.
While pulling out troops from Afghanistan will save the US a lot of money and help him win the next election, President Obama cannot afford to convey the impression that the US during his tenure is becoming an isolationist power, or is giving up on its strategic responsibilities in the world.
Hence, the spin in his address announcing his plans last week is on "drawing down" of the US troops, not on a "withdrawal" of troops. What apparently is being sought to be conveyed is that the US would call back the troops in measured instalments to be completed in 2014. He is trying to impress on the international community and the voters at home that the Supreme Commander of the mighty US Army is not running away from what has come to be known as Obama's war. Apparently, he does not want pullout from Afghanistan, regarded as Obama's Vietnam.
Nevertheless, guessing games are already on in many world capitals as to what happens in Afghanistan after 2014 when the US and NATO countries would have completed their withdrawals. The vital issue is: Will there be a vacuum in Afghanistan and who will fill the vacuum?
In a weak country like Afghanistan, and strategically placed, filling the vacuum can be tempting for other nations in the neighbourhood — immediate and otherwise. Geopolitics still matters a great deal even if the world order is said to have become fairly global.
Washington is perhaps aware of the danger of the Taliban again filling the vacuum in Afghanistan, wiping off whatever gains the US-NATO made in the war waged against it during the last decade. The Taliban is certainly looking eagerly towards 2014.
Also, Pakistan has been wanting to fill the vacuum in Afghanistan through the Taliban. Islamabad may be, or may not be, giving up its fascination for acquiring a "strategic depth" in Afghanistan, but it would certainly like to see someone amenable to its advice take over in Kabul.
So are perhaps the Russians, the Chinese and the Iranians who have always been wanting the US to reduce its presence in the entire region.
Geopolitical and strategic reasons apart, Afghanistan's minerals, its closeness to the Arabian Sea and the oil-rich Persian Gulf make it vulnerable to an inter-play of conflicting ambitions.
President Obama and his advisers are perhaps aware of the post-2014 situation. That is why the US will decide not to withdraw totally from Afghanistan even in 2014; the character of its presence in the country will change in a big way, instead.
Come to think of it, last week's announcement means that only 30,000-odd troops are returning in a year's time and Barack Obama will still have more troops there than he inherited from George W Bush Jr. He cannot afford to risk all the gains getting frittered away. Hopefully.
Indications are that the US, while pulling out most of its troops, will establish military bases in Afghanistan. These will be more than just garrisons, meant to project the US military presence in the region and also to prevent Moscow, Beijing and Teheran from pulling Afghanistan into their area of influence.
Whether the five military bases will wield authority in the rest of the country remains to be seen. The Taliban groups are not going to relish the presence of American troops within the boundaries of military bases. After all, President Obama has struck a blow against Osama bin Laden; he is yet to gain a big success against the Taliban.
There are shortcomings in the American strategy, dependent as it is, based on launching an occasional drone attack out of the military bases at Taliban positions. It would be again a prolonged hide-and-seek extension of the war, and eventuality President Obama would not like.
May be, that is why there are reports that Washington is already talking to the Taliban, although at lower levels directly or through the British. Didn't Obama once say that there were "good" Taliban and "bad" Taliban. He had not defined what makes a "good" Taliban. In diplomacy, loose definitions are convenient, to be suitably adjusted for exigencies.n
The writer is a senior journalist and now a Member of Parliament.
BY HARISH DHILLON
There was a time when people took such tremendous pride in their work that examples of poor workmanship were extremely rare. It was just work ethics: if you were doing something you did it to the best of your ability. The rare examples of poor workmanship that did occur were because of a lack of experience and expertise. The workman admitted his mistake and was ready to redo the work all over again. Not anymore.
My first recognition of this change came in the late sixties. A friend I had gone to visit in Poona bought me a length of material for a pair of trousers. We went to the best drapers in town. Imagine my horror when I went to try them on and found that they were extremely tight at the crotch, the left leg was longer than the right leg and the waist was at a point well below my navel on one side at a point half way up my chest on the other. They said there was nothing they could have done about this as that was the way my body was shaped. I do have a very lopsided body and was left with no leeway for an argument. I never wore that pair of trousers.
The second memorable instance of this occurred when I was Principal at YPS, Patiala. For some reason the geyser in my bathroom would not work. The school electrician tinkered with it without success. I let the matter ride till one day I touched the flush cistern and almost burnt my back. I realised that the geyser did work but that the hot water came only to the cistern. The electrician found an ingenuous solution to the problem - he connected a pipe to the cistern which would draw the hot water out for my bath into a bucket. At the same time he warned me not to touch the cistern.
The final instance happened just last month. While at my sister's farm I developed a terrible toothache. It was the second tooth from the right and I knew I could afford to lose it without it making any difference to my denture, which was anchored on the last tooth. I was given a pain blocker and the dentist pulled my tooth out. I can see him vividly even now, looking down at the tooth he had extracted in a kidney tray and saying that it could have lasted a little longer. I realised that he had pulled out the wrong tooth. He did a second extraction to deal with the offending tooth. The result was that my denture no longer had the tooth that anchored it and I could no longer use it. When I finally returned home, my little granddaughter, Inaaya, took one look at me and ran screaming out of the room. I know now that till this poor workmanship is rectified, I have little chance of winning back the interest and attention of the little child.
LOKPAL NEEDS TEETH TO BITE
THAT THERE WILL BE A CONSENSUS ON LOKPAL IS NOT IN DOUBT. THE REAL ISSUE IS WHAT KIND OF LOKPAL WILL GET A CONSENSUS — PERHAPS NOT THE ONE THAT MIGHT HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE TO THE FUNCTIONING OF THE ESTABLISHMENT
JAGDEEP S. CHHOKAR
The empire strikes back", 'Divide and rule' triumphs". These could well be the headlines towards the end of British rule in the subcontinent. Interestingly, substituting "empire" with "establishment" could make it a headline appropriate for the situation today. Having succeeded in first propping up Baba Ramdev, thus dividing what was labelled as a "civil society", then discrediting him and now in hyphenating Ramdev and Anna Hazare, the glee in the "establishment" is hard to miss.
Who or what is this "establishment"? In most discussions on the issue, it is often referred to as "the government". Even an editorial in The Tribune on June 14 ends on a pious note, saying "The country must be tired of the daily discourse on corruption and probity in public life. It is time to act and the government will do well to forge a consensus among all political parties on how to combat corruption before Parliament's monsoon session begins."
Lifting the veil
Using the corporate law provision of "lifting the corporate veil" in which the persons actually behind the artificially created corporations are identified in exceptional situations, it is time the nation looked behind the corporate veil of the government: where does the government come from? It comes from Parliament because members of the political executive come from amongst the members of Parliament.
Continuing with the lifting of the veil, where do the MPs come from? Yes, in theory, "We, the People" elect them but before "we" can vote for or against the candidates contesting elections, who decides who can be candidates? Yes, in theory again, anyone can be a candidate but in practice, one needs the nomination of a political party to become a candidate with a realistic chance of being elected. So, behind "the government", there are political parties.
So, does "the establishment" consist only of political parties? Not really. Only one section of society, however powerful, cannot hold society to ransom, to use a strong expression. "The establishment" actually consists of the political parties in collaboration (collusion will again be a strong expression) with the bureaucracy and big business.
The glee, therefore, is not confined to the government; it extends to all political parties, the bureaucracy and business. This is what the Jan Lokpal Bill is up against. Yes, a Lokpal Bill will be introduced in the monsoon session of the Lok Sabha, and it might even be passed, even unanimously, with "consensus among all political parties", as the editorial on June 14 advised. But what is that likely to be? Let us look at some examples of issues on which there has been a consensus among political parties in the past.
Instances of increasing the MPLAD Fund amount and the salary for MPs are too obvious and well known to be mentioned. So let us stick to three instances arising out of personal experience.
The first was in 2002 when the Supreme Court ordered a mandatory disclosure of criminal, financial and educational antecedents of the candidates contesting elections to Parliament and state assemblies, and the Election Commission issued orders to implement the Supreme Court's decision.
It was decided at an all-party meeting on July 8, 2002, that this would not be allowed and the Representation of the People Act will be amended in that very session of Parliament. The amending Bill was ready by July 15, in seven days flat, but could not be introduced as Parliament was adjourned due to the petrol pump scam when Ram Naik was the Petroleum Minister. The government was not deterred.
The Cabinet decided to issue an Ordinance. When the newly elected President, Abdul Kalam, "returned" the Ordinance without signing, it was sent to him again, and he had to sign. The Ordinance was finally declared "unconstitutional…null and void" by the Supreme Court on March 13, 2003.
The second instance was in 2007-08 when the Income Tax Department refused to provide copies of income tax returns of political parties in response to an application under the Right to Information Act because political parties objected to it. The objections were despite the fact that political parties were claiming, and getting, 100 per cent exemption from income tax under a law that Parliament had enacted.
In the hearing of an appeal to the Central Information Commission (CIC), ten lawyers showed up to represent various political parties, including some who had flown in from outside Delhi, to oppose the disclosure. Fortunately, the CIC decided that copies of IT returns had to be given.
The third, and the latest, started in 2009, and culminated on June 03 this year. The Committee on Ethics of the Rajya Sabha instituted a "Register of Interests" of members, in which the financial, business and other commercial interests of members were to be recorded. The stated purpose of the register was to avoid potential conflicts of interest while members of the Rajya Sabha participated in debates in the House and in the formation of standing committees on various issues.
When copies of the register of interests were requested under the RTI Act, these were refused. The response of the Appellate Authority in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, received on November 23, 2009, to the first appeal was that "the Committee on Ethics, Rajya Sabha,…taking a unanimous view claimed exemption from furnishing the desired information…the decision not to allow the information asked for is that of the Committee on Ethics, Rajya Sabha, which has the endorsement of the Chairman of the Committee" (italics added). Once again, the CIC, on second appeal, decided on June 03, 2011, that the information should be provided.
Politics of consensus
These three instances prove, beyond doubt, that our political parties have no problem in arriving at a consensus and acting unanimously provided (and this is critical) the issue is of their interest. And obviously, these are not the only instances. Consensus and unanimity are also visible when 17 Bills are passed in eleven minutes. What that shows about the application of mind and the quality of scrutiny and discussion is a separate issue.
That there will be a consensus on a Lokpal Bill is not in doubt. The real issue is what kind of a Lokpal will get a consensus: one like a plethora of existing institutions that have acquiesced in corruption becoming rampant at the behest of the establishment, or the one that might have the potential to make a real difference to the functioning of the establishment, and an "effective" Lokpal with teeth that can actually bite.
The writer is a former Professor, Dean and Director of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
THERE IS CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Now that there are two Lokpal Bills -- the Jan Lokpal Bill (JLB) and the Government Lokpal Bill (GLB) -- what is likely to happen? Political predictions obviously are always unreliable and also hazardous, but one plausible scenario is the following. Both the Bills will be presented to the Cabinet. The Cabinet has members of parties other than the Congress too. Depending on the clout of the non-Congress Cabinet members (which is not overwhelming, if it is there at all), there might be some changes in the GLB.
The Cabinet will decide which one of the Bills, or both of them, should be put first to the all-party meeting, and then to Parliament. All-party meetings, particularly on crucial national issues, usually do not produce a consensus as we saw again on the women's reservation issue, and it seems unlikely that the opposition parties will like to allow the UPA to get credit for introducing a credible Lokpal.
A big risk unlikely
That will leave it to the UPA to decide what to put before Parliament. Given the complexity as well as delicacy of the current socio-political situation, and going by its past record, the UPA is unlikely to take a big risk by taking a definitive stand.
Even if the above scenario is unlikely, let us for the moment assume that the two Bills, the JLB and the GLB, are put to vote in Parliament. Which way is the vote in Parliament likely to go?
Before the above question can be answered, let us continue with the "lifting of the veil". What is Parliament? It is comprised of its members. But who are its members?
With due respect to Parliament as the highest democratic institution in the country, some bitter facts stare us in the face. On the basis of data taken from sworn affidavits submitted by members of Parliament as part of their nomination papers while contesting elections, 162 out of 543 members of the current Lok Sabha (2009) have criminal cases pending against them in which charges have been framed by the court of law and the punishment for which is two or more years of imprisonment. This number, based on the same source, was 156 in the earlier Lok Sabha (2004).
The same source shows that there are 315 crorepatis in the current Lok Sabha (2009), whereas this number was 128 in the earlier Lok Sabha (2004). While estimates differ depending on which economist one consults, the proportion of people who are below the poverty line (which is around Rs.12 per day) is said to be between 37.2 and 77 per cent. If we combine it with the fact that almost two-third of the members of the current Lok Sabha (2009) have been elected with more votes cast against them than for them, reasonable, if not serious, doubts arise about the representational legitimacy of such members.
Given the above characteristics, how does one expect the vote in Parliament to go? Expecting parliamentarians to vote against their personal and party interests, in the so-called national interest, seems highly over-optimistic and idealistic. We do not live in an ideal world; we live in a practical and real world. And this is what creates a national conflict of interest.
Is there a way out? There has to be, else we, as a nation, would be doomed to sink deeper and deeper into the morass created by the all-pervasive corruption, large and small. There seem to be only two options. One is an opportunity for the elected representatives, however questionable their representative legitimacy be, to regain lost ground and establish their legitimacy by giving primacy to the national interest by voting in a strong and effective Lokpal Bill, even independent of and combining the best of both, the JLB and the GLB.
If that does not happen, then possibly the Rubicon would have been crossed. There may then be no alternative but to ascertain the opinion of "We, the People" by way of a referendum for which we do not have a provision…yet. But then, don't extraordinary situations require extraordinary responses?
— Jagdeep S. Chhokar
FOCUS, OR DE-FOCUS?
IS THERE ONE RIGHT BUSINESS STRATEGY FOR A MARKET LIKE INDIA, WHICH IS STILL EVOLVING, OR DOES IT DEPEND ON THE COMPANY'S CONTEXT?
T N NINAN
The late C K Prahalad's theory on companies developing core competences has frequently been interpreted to mean that companies must keep a tight business focus, and stick to a single product or family of products. The purist reading of the theory says that companies that have core competences should be able to use them profitably across product categories. But the experience of the last 20 years shows that many multi-product conglomerates have lost their way while single-industry giants have emerged and done well.
The examples cited have included Reliance, Ranbaxy, TCS, Bharti, Maruti and others that have climbed the sales charts, and been rewarded by a stock market where foreign institutional investors have tended to look suspiciously at conglomerates. Indeed, Ratan Tata started his stewardship of his sprawling group by announcing that he would shed companies and move out of sectors (Tata Steel was on the endangered list once) and focus on a few businesses. DLF, in turn, moved out of making electric fans and focused on real estate development. It was left to Krishna Palepu of Harvard Business School to ask whether the "focus" business strategy that worked in developed markets was appropriate for emerging markets too.
The question pops up when one reads what the press has been writing about ITC, which is celebrating its centenary year. Chairman Yogi Deveshwar has talked of getting into new product categories, and of making an already diversified firm (cigarettes, hotels, paper, personal care products, foods) even more diversified. Tata itself has been busy venturing into new fields – like DTH services – while individual firms like Titan and Tata Chemicals have moved into new product categories, like gold jewellery and water.
Like these last two firms, Reliance interpreted Prof Prahalad's thesis to say that its core competence was not a product but a set of attributes, and decided that its own core competence was project execution (demonstrated in the move into telecom); but then it stretched the logic to move into an unrelated field like retailing. Even new, single-entity groups like Bharti have tried their hand at insurance, retailing and agri-exports. And Hindustan Lever (as it was at the time) first adopted Unilever's global strategy of pushing "power" brands, only to give up the idea — thereby giving substance to Prof Palepu's argument that what works in developed markets may be the wrong strategy in an emerging market.
Somewhere along the way, has the argument against diversified conglomerates broken down? Are single-focus firms like Ranbaxy, which are manifestly subject to the growing uncertainties of the global pharmaceutical market, riskier ventures than more diversified enterprises like ITC? In any case, what core competence did the GMR group have when it came to the complex business of airport management by bidding for Hyderabad airport? Yet the group has now won airport contracts internationally.
But then, not all the diversifications have worked either. Bharti has pulled out of insurance, and in none of the other diversifications has it repeated its telecom success. ITC still makes the bulk of its profits from cigarettes. And while it has made a success of hotels and paper, its earlier diversifications into seafood exports and edible oils are best forgotten. When considering its diversifications, did Reliance with its "Only Vimal" background ask itself whether it really understood branding and retail marketing (needed for acquiring customers in businesses like telecom and retailing)? In short, is there one right business strategy for a market like India, which is still evolving and will grow manifold in the next decade, or does it depend on the company's context — and a true understanding of its core competences? The question is bound to get a variety of interesting answers in the coming years.
CALL OF THE WEST
University admissions this year have taken their toll on our neighbours and friends vying for the best courses and colleges for their children. In all the excitement about Delhi University's 100 per cent marks and high cut-offs, the newspapers seem to have missed the real story about how Indian middle-class education budgets are keeping the economies afloat in the Western hemisphere. Obama doesn't need to fear being Bangalored any more because Bangalore and Gurgaon and small town Bihar have taken over both Ivy League as well as nondescript colleges with a population that seems intent on doing the bhangra at their prom parties.
"My daughter's off to New York this fall," said my sister-in-law, on a visit to our home in the capital that coincided with my aunt-in-law, grumpy that her own brood had to settle for an Indian degree, declaring open war that the college her nephew was going to attend in Washington was better than anything the Big Apple had to offer. Before the kebabs could be flung at each other, my daughter said that her cousins – whether in NY or in DC – could hook up with her friends, all of them, it appeared, majoring and minoring in the US. Ranging from Frisco to Boston to Manhattan, they were out of town and country to study finance, fashion, aviation and filmmaking, slogging and pubbing in equal measure while mocking the resident desis for their parochial ways.
It's no wonder everyone's so not in saddi Dilli right now, even though the universities will open only a couple of months later. Anushka's parents have taken an apartment in London for the entire duration their daughter in doing a summer course at the London School of Economics, to ensure she doesn't drink, mistakenly eat beef or date a gora. Some lucky ones whose semesters include a stint, or exchange, in Spain, or Greece, or Singapore, have found their families descending on them with backpacks and sleeping bags to camp in their hostel rooms. Other mummys-daddys have taken to touring the US, or Europe, "to help the poor child acclimatise" two long months before they'll step into a classroom, before which they've already browbeaten deans and those others in positions of authority, ensuring their ward isn't polluted by sharing a room with a student who is "low-caste, north Indian/south Indian, East European, or even from another country — though Asian is all right, I suppose."
Right now, therefore, all our friends, and some of the family, are away, checking out the availability, and prices, of contact lens solution and Lipton tea in Southall, overcoats and boots in Primark, the call rates on different cards and wi-fi Skype on campus, wondering how much basmati they can ask visiting friends and relatives to carry against IOUs of duty-free liquor on the home leg. The price of mangoes and buying dahi in a tub might pinch, but there's the possibility that everyone from dada-dadi to chacha and taiji will visit them during their studies, so it might make sense to rent a place in a reasonable suburb from where one can run a part-time business while sundry relatives keep the bachcha-log kipped out in paratha and pulao.
None of our friends seems to want to send their baba-log to Ozland for fear their mobiles could be stolen, accompanied by an unfortunate punch in the gut, but the visiting Kiwi prime minister would have been pleased to learn that at least one family is considering a grad course in any course, in any college, in Wellington. Why New Zealand? "For the scenery, stupid!"
ODE TO THE CHAVANNI
I can't even remember how long back it was when I last used a 25 paisa coin. Yet, when I heard that the humble chavanni was going to be demonetarised from June 30, it felt like the end of an era that had long gone anyway. Like most Indians over 40, I had fond memories of a 25 paisa coin being enough for an orange bar, a plate of chaat and more. In fact, until 10 years ago, these coins were still in use in small towns. I remember collecting quite a few when I lived in Mirzapur 10 years ago, where seasonal vegetables often cost a rupee or two. Very often, the person who ironed our clothes gave us change in 10 and 25 paisa coins. And thanks to a longstanding coin collection habit, we soon found ourselves with a piggy bank full of coins of small denominations.
However, when we moved to Delhi with our shiny nickel treasure, it proved to be little more than fool's gold. Nobody, not even vegetable vendors, was willing to accept small change. "I don't even encourage 50 paisa coins," said my local veggie guy loftily, "for vegetables have now gone beyond paisa rates now! With the cheapest of them costing at least Rs 15 for a kilo, where is the scope of buying them with 25 and 50 paisa coins?"
Eventually we decided to go to a bank to convert our small change into big money. The bank manager was politely shocked: "Would it not be better to give them as alms?" he suggested, "or perhaps to a temple? Maybe people there could find some use for all this small change…" We stuck to our guns, for even beggars on the road were openly refusing to accept small coins. Finally, when we received some 200 rupees in exchange for all the coins we'd collected in Mirzapur, it was with no small sense of achievement.
Between that day and today, I've watched the demise of smaller coins and the birth of the 10 rupee coin with some interest. To a large extent, this state of flux indicates how prices have risen in the last decade. Many readers would remember the often very unhygienic drinking-water carts that once sold glasses of drinking water for a paisa each. As demands for cleaner water grew, the carts upped their rates to 10 paisa, then 25, 50 and finally, a rupee. Today, chances are high that most of us quench our thirst on bottled water at a minimum of Rs 10 a swig. Even temples that once customarily took offerings of Rs 1.25 (the sava rupya prasad was considered extremely auspicious, especially in Hanuman temples on Tuesdays), today raise their eyebrows at such mean offerings.
And who can forget the chavanni-class seats (front rows only) in movie halls of yore? They used to be the best seats in the house for everyone who enjoyed audience comments as much as the movies themselves. Today, with the cheapest movie tickets in metros costing Rs 50, all that has disappeared into history and our collective memories.
Will the 50 paisa coin also soon disappear into oblivion following the demise of the 25 paisa coin? Maybe. After all, most things that once cost half a rupee – bus tickets, orange bars, postage stamps and more – cost ten times as much today. Maybe we'll witness the birth of the 50 rupee coin in the near future. Who knows? Meanwhile the changing face of Indian currency will continue to highlight the woes of people like them, as they struggle to make ends meet
A LAW AND ORDER PROBLEM
My friend in Delhi was not his usual ebullient self on the phone the other morning. When I asked why the day had begun poorly for him, he said the reason was not he but the fellow who washed his car. Such people not turning up once in a while was par for the course, I said. No, he has turned up but he almost didn't make it, replied my friend.
The fellow had gone to New Delhi railway station to see off a relative the previous night. It was at the peak of the Jat agitation and all trains in north India were getting delayed. After what seemed like ages, the train finally left and our man walked out hoping to catch a late-night bus. But that was not to be. A couple of men in dreaded wardi stopped him, quizzed him and demanded to see his ticket. He was in luck, he thought, and fished out the platform ticket. But this is valid for two hours and you've been loitering here for four hours now, they said.
What to do saab, the train was delayed. Nothing doing, pay up or else we will put you in the lock-up, they threatened. His protestation that he was gareeb fell on deaf ears, his pockets were searched and he was relieved of all the 20-odd rupees he had. Result? Sans bus fare, he had to trudge on foot all the way back to Punjabi Bagh. Thoroughly shaken by his ill luck, he decided not to tempt fate further by dozing off and being absent from work. So there he was washing the car as on any other morning.
My cell phone kept ringing and it was a while before I realised that I was not dreaming that it was and picked it up in the wee hours of the morning. Baba, said my agitated daughter from the other end, please tell these policemen that I am not eloping with Aaftab and his friend but we are all going to Mussoorie for a long weekend. My blood froze, as would of any parent whose young daughter lives alone in Delhi, eagerly pursuing her career.
But why at this hour, I asked in suppressed worry and anger. Naturally, she said, in the tone reserved by grown-up children for their parents, and added, office got over at six, we took a while getting started and we are now just outside Dehradun. As she spoke, my fear that she was in some kind of trouble subsided and anger rose over the policemen detaining them.
In the curtest tone that I could employ, I asked the policeman what the matter was and his reply only raised my blood pressure further. You know what is happening saab, he said. That was a period when the papers were full of stories about eloping couples chased by enraged relatives and militant panchayat leaders dead against a union that broke some social code.
I raised my voice a little and asked if they looked like scared youngsters fleeing outraged relatives. They were working grown-ups on a holiday. The insincerity in the policeman's voice was palpable as he explained that he was only doing his duty in ensuring that eloping couples were safe. My aggressive tone and the mixture of tact and firmness on the part of my daughter enabled her and her friends to escape the grasp of the policemen without paying anything.
The experience of our son late one night in a working-class area of Mumbai was of an altogether different order. His auto-rickshaw was stopped, he was asked to alight and after a few perfunctory queries one of the policemen asked him whether he was a mussalman. He said no and the cop asked in a tone of admonishment why he wore that dirty-looking beard. Their interest dwindling, one of them saw his laptop and asked where he was returning from. Work, he told his sceptical interlocutors and added, I write scripts for films.
The atmosphere was transformed. The cop called the other policemen in the party, introduced our son and the group immediately launched into a pattern-less discourse on scenes and aspects of recent films. One of them had a nephew who was an assistant film editor and our son, a decent actor in his own right, showed he was impressed. He then promised to incorporate some of their ideas in his next script and left.
But none of these experiences can equal mine when I was stopped just outside the Ashok hotel in Bangalore a few years ago at what must have been close to midnight. The round table with bankers had gone off well and a few of us seniors had relaxed a bit too long over too many drinks. I didn't need a policeman to tell me I was drunk and ought not to be driving in that condition. As he got ready to book me I did the usual — identified myself as a journalist who was returning from "work".
His expression changed. He started protesting that journalists got away with murder. It was clear that he was there not to actually chalaan lawbreakers but to fleece those coming out of the hotel at that hour. He was also clear that come what may, there would be no personal gain for him from me. As I slowly drove off, I thought this was the one time when I could have been booked nice and proper and not had a leg to stand on, or two wobbly ones to be precise.
IF GETTING TDS CERTIFICATION BECOMES EASIER, MORE DEDUCTEES MIGHT COME FORWARD TO FILE A RETURN
In the current discourse about black money, let us not lose sight of the honest taxpayer in India, whose good intentions are severely tested every year by procedural obstacles. Among the worst is getting certification for taxes already paid through deduction at source.
A total of 34 million income tax returns were filed in 2009-10, by Report 26 of 2010-11 of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). The same source also reports 96 million PAN card holders, although it is not clear if this number nets out duplicate cards. Whatever, there clearly remains a huge distance between the number of filers, and the universe of those with taxable potential.
Tax withholding at source from income tax payable is universally endorsed as the key structural corrective for filing failure. Tax deducted at source (TDS) signals to the tax authority the existence of an income recipient with taxable potential. It also achieves another very important purpose, which is to yield revenue to government as and when incomes are earned, thus evening out the revenue flow over the year.
TDS signalling can be achieved even through a system of final withholding, whereby tax is withheld at the lowest slab rate, and is not refundable. This system does not encourage the recipient to file for refunds due, if any, but a good information network will register the existence of a taxpayer with additional taxes potentially due, by virtue of the low rate of withholding, and give the tax authority a basis on which to follow up if no return is filed.
In India, we have provisional withholding, whereby refunds on TDS (along with other advance payments) can be claimed. This carries a greater incentive to file a return, and is fair to deductees whose income falls below the taxable threshold. TDS on salary is unlikely to be refundable, since the deduction is calibrated to the marginal rate payable on each slab. So refundability arises largely in respect of non-salary payments like interest. And TDS on interest is where all the problems arise, for taxpayers and deductors alike.
Banks are expected to pay TDS on interest due every quarter. So if there is a fixed deposit (FD) with interest cumulated every quarter, TDS is deducted from gross interest, and the net amount cumulated for the next quarter. So far, the procedure is understandable, although deductees do not actually receive any income. They are only deemed to have received income by virtue of the quarterly cumulation of the FD. But let that pass.
There is further complexity. Suppose there is an FD maturing on September 18, which is then renewed for a further period of, say, one year. The bank records the gross income payable on the new FD for the 12 remaining days in the quarter ending on September 30, and pays TDS on that, then carries the net interest forward into the next quarter. This violates the principle of quarterly cumulation. And it adds further to the workload of bank staff. If the bank overestimates TDS due by error, it cumulates its way into the gross interest payable in subsequent quarters.
Unlike a monthly salary statement from which salary earners receive full information on tax deducted each month, information on TDS from bank interest is not conveyed to FD holders every quarter. The TDS certificate is issued only after the conclusion of the financial year. Furthermore, the burden of extracting this certificate lies on the deductee. After much effort, the aspiring filer can expect to wave it triumphantly only by the middle of June. There is further harassment involved for those individuals wanting to file electronically, if TDS is not electronically uploaded.
The TDS rate itself can change in the course of the year, without any information to deductees. For example, up to September 2009, TDS was deducted at 10.3 per cent, inclusive of cesses. Then it was changed to a flat 10 per cent. Fortunately, this kind of mid-year change should not happen anymore with the new Direct Tax Code, which prescribes TDS rates in its Third Schedule.
Annual Reports of the finance ministry provide only an aggregate figure of gross TDS collected, with no breakdowns. Annual CAG reports did provide separate figures for TDS from corporate and non-corporate taxpayers up to report CA 21 of 2009, which covered 2007-08, but not thereafter. From that last report, TDS is relatively insignificant for corporate taxpayers, but accounts for over half of gross collections from non-corporates (mostly individuals). Clearly, for individual taxpayers, taking credit for TDS paid is an important part of their tax-filing exercise.
Category-wise details of TDS by source are available only in aggregate across individual and corporate taxpayers, even in that last report for 2007-08. Interest accounted for roughly 20 per cent of gross TDS collections. Refunds amounted to 40 per cent of gross TDS (this last figure is still provided in subsequent reports, and seems to have come down in 2008-09 to 30 per cent).
Refunds are not specific with respect to income category, but clearly interest income is more susceptible than salary. The numbers, even at the reduced refund rate, suggest that TDS from interest income prompts the deductee to file only when a refund is due.
If this is true, TDS is not playing its signalling role in the manner it is meant to. Clearly, the TDS mechanism itself needs to be rationalised for this to happen. One immediate simplification possible is for banks to pay TDS only when interest payments actually fall due, as happens for cumulative taxable bonds. This would get rid of calculations for quarterly interest, and for interest on pieces of quarters. The reduced work load on bank staff should free them to take on the burden of providing TDS certification more readily. In that case, more deductees might willingly come forward to file a return, even when no refund is due.
The author is the honorary visiting professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi
The Government's handling of the case, right from its inception, reflects rather poorly on its adherence to the sanctity of contracts entered into.
Ten long months after the Cairn Energy-Vedanta deal was originally proposed, the Government has taken a position which clearly favours the maharatna, ONGC. The Government's handling of the case, right from its inception, reflects rather poorly on its adherence to the sanctity of contracts entered into. This should ideally have been an open-and-shut case with the Petroleum Ministry giving the deal its go-ahead, while asking ONGC and Cairn India to settle their disputes in the proper legal forum. Instead, it turned into an international embarrassment with the authorities ignoring established dispute resolution mechanisms and sending out rather undesirable signals to potential foreign investors. Layer after layer of government pored over the details of the deal, sought umpteen clarifications and conveniently passed the buck. The matter was finally referred to a Group of Ministers which, after further delays, sent its recommendations to the CCEA for final approval.
The final nod has now come but with conditions that are blatantly partisan. The much-debated dispute on royalty sharing between ONGC and Cairn is essentially a commercial one, which could easily have been settled through arbitration or in the courts. Making the deal contingent on Cairn and Vedanta agreeing to royalty-sharing is regressive, and militates against the government's mandate of being an impartial approving authority. Worse still is the condition that Cairn withdraw all ongoing cess arbitration cases, which smacks of contempt for established arbitration mechanisms. By using the deal as a bargaining chip and interfering with ongoing legal processes, the Government has swapped its credibility for what is, at best, a pyrrhic victory for ONGC. Paradoxically, it was the government that originally put ONGC at a disadvantage so as to attract foreign investment into the Indian hydrocarbon sector. In any case, if it felt it had a case fit for redressal, ONGC should have pursued legal proceedings, instead of firing over the government's shoulder.
On their part, the conduct of Cairn and Vedanta too has been far from spotless. From setting "strict deadlines" which received more than one extension, to going ahead with an open offer despite not receiving government approval for the deal, to using the highest levers of international diplomacy, their attempts to hustle the government into granting an approval have been more than apparent. Finally, though, they seem to have agreed upon the virtues of practicality over posturing. In this entire saga, however, it is the country's image as a trouble-free destination for foreign direct investment with watertight laws, time-bound procedures and a decisive polity to deal with complicated issues, that has taken the sharpest knock.
CAIRN-VEDANTA DEAL: WHEN UMPIRE TURNED BATSMAN
The decision to grant conditional approval to the Cairn-Vedanta deal seems to have been influenced by the Government's position as owner of ONGC rather than by its larger role as industry regulator.
It is just as well that the Cairn-Vedanta deal is finally out of the way. The soap opera has dragged on for too long, 10 months to be precise, and it has done nothing for the reputation of all those concerned with it — ONGC, the Government or Cairn Energy.
Of the three, the Government has probably come out the worst from the episode, not just because it has shoved an unpalatable deal down the throat of a reluctant Cairn Energy but also because of the way it went about its job as regulator of the industry ever since the deal was announced in August 2010.
If there is one fundamental problem that the Cairn-Vedanta drama has exposed, it is that of the government being the umpire and also a player in the oil industry. This was one instance where the conflicting rights and responsibilities of the two roles surfaced and worked to the disadvantage of Cairn and Vedanta.
The Government, as the dominant shareholder in ONGC, had to protect the interests of the company and also fight for it. As the regulatory authority for the industry, it also had to grant approval to the deal between two private companies. Rather disappointingly, the decision to grant conditional approval seems to have been influenced by the Government's position as owner of ONGC rather than by its larger role as industry regulator.
How else can one justify the two rather unfair conditions imposed on Cairn and Vedanta for approval of the deal? The dispute over royalty could have been settled legally and the Government could have cleared the deal while simultaneously directing ONGC to proceed against Cairn through the courts. Cairn India, after all, will continue to be a legal entity, albeit with a new owner, in Vedanta and will be answerable for all contracts signed in the past.
If this is bad, the condition that Cairn has to withdraw the arbitration cases it has filed, over the cess payable on the production from the Rajasthan field, is worse. These are cases filed long ago and Cairn India has been paying the cess of Rs 2,650 for every tonne of oil produced, under protest.
The Government has simply used its powers as regulator to push through conditions that will benefit ONGC, where it is the dominant shareholder. This is a misuse of its powers and this is not too different from what happens in Russia, where the government regularly bats for its companies, overturning otherwise perfectly legal contracts.
If the conditional approval is unpalatable in itself, the delay in granting it makes it worse. "In view of the huge implications, we took time…. We wanted to be fair to the investors without sacrificing the interest of the Government of India," said Mr Jaipal Reddy, Petroleum Minister, on Thursday night. What "huge implications" is he talking about? This is, after all, a commercial deal between two companies, where the underlying assets — Rajasthan and other oilfields — will remain in India. It is not as if Cairn or Vedanta are going to deprive the country of the oil and gas from the fields.
The dispute was commercial in nature and, as with all such disputes, could have been settled through due process of law. That is no reason, though, to drag the approval process for almost a whole year. The decision that was conveyed to the two parties on Thursday could have been delivered many months ago.
Where was the need for the government, including a Group of Ministers and the Cabinet, to expend so much energy and time on what is a straightforward commercial deal? Surely, our senior, learned Ministers have more important matters to attend to than sit in judgement over the small issue of a dispute on royalty payment between two companies? Just imagine the impression we are conveying to the outside world, where an entire government sits in judgement over whether or not to approve a commercial deal for a whole year, and at the end delivers a judgment that is wholly in favour of itself!
One suspects that the Government may not have granted its conditional approval even now, but for the fact that ONGC's follow-on public offer is waiting for launch. Continued imbroglio over the deal would have surely cast a shadow over the pricing of the offer and also its subscription.
That said, Cairn Energy has also not played its cards well. The moment it sensed the Government's resistance a couple of months into the deal, it could have renegotiated with Vedanta, the way it did this week, and sacrificed a part of the valuation. The deal was certainly less than fair in terms of the non-compete fee which Cairn Energy stood to gain over other public shareholders. In the event, it is poetic justice that it has now been forced to forego this.
Yet, with some tactical thinking it could have arrived at such an arrangement much earlier and been richer by $6.02 billion by now. The Government's stance may have been unfair but once assumed in public, there was no chance of Cairn having its way on the dispute. One would have thought the Scottish company would have been wise to this.
As for ONGC, the less said the better. Company officials are crowing about the financial gain for ONGC from not having to bear the royalty but the fact is that it is not a benefit secured through fair means. One expected better from a $26-billion maharatna company than this.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
AT LONG LAST
APPROVAL FOR THE CAIRN-VEDANTA DEAL IS A WELCOME BREAK FROM POLICY LETHARGY
It is welcome that the government has, at long last, cleared the Cairn-Vedanta deal. The almost one whole year it has taken for the government to vet the proposal for Vedanta Resources to acquire a controlling stake in the India operations of the UK-based upstream oil specialist Cairn Energy, is way too long. That said, the conditions that have been attached to the approval can hardly be said to be onerous. Many things have changed since the 1990s, which have made things far more benign as compared to the original terms on which Cairn had signed up to explore in India. The riders attached to the government's approval undo only a portion of these additional gains. The approval condition is that royalty and cess from the Barmer field, (a 70:30 joint venture between Cairn and ONGC) would be deductible from its revenues from when it started production and Cairn would have to withdraw its arbitration proceeding. Note that thus far Cairn has been paying cess under protest and ONGC footing the entire royalty bill.
It is true that the production-sharing contract (PSC) entered into in the mid-1990s required that the joint venture pay no royalty or cess on its output. It was a policy sweetener alright, with the objective of incentivising redevelopment of exploration acreages then available with ONGC on a nomination basis, by tapping international expertise. But the point remains that the limited opening up of the upstream oil and gas sector then also envisaged limited upside in the resultant output, as a matter of policy. The PSC, for example, did allow ONGC to obtain up to 40% equity, risk-free, in an oil find. Further, the provision was to split the remaining 60% between the Centre and the contractor, with the former entitled to 25-50%. And on the remaining portion, up to 48% corporate income tax was payable. The tax rate has significantly dropped since. More important, Barmer is no longer about redevelopment of a prospective field. In 2004, it was actually the biggest oil find globally. Hence the clear need to review the terms of the original contract. A policy review for all pre-NELP contracts and unfettered marketing freedom for the Barmer operation are now in order.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SHOCK FROM GUJARAT
SUPREME COURT MUST ACT AGAINST EVIDENCE BEING DESTROYED IN CASES IT SCRUTINISES
The disclosure that the Gujarat government has destroyed certain records related to the communal carnage in 2002 is shocking. The state government's explanation is that this was done as part of a procedure to destroy 'irrelevant police documents' after five years. Yet, the reported list of what was destroyed — telephone records of the police control room, registers of attendance and movement of senior police officers and vehicles as well as intelligence reports et al — suggests it was crucial evidence about the riots and how the state machinery conducted itself. If this elimination of evidence was deliberate, it would mean a criminal attempt to shield officials who might be guilty of inaction or, worse, complicity in a veritable slaughter. The larger question is whether directions to conduct themselves thus were issued to police officers from the top levels of the state machinery. Finding answers to those questions should be the primary aim of investigations into the riots. Not only should the Nanavati Commission probing the riots order an inquiry into this reported destruction of evidence, but the Supreme Court too, since it is directly supervising the investigations through its appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), must act forthwith to probe and punish the culprits.
The immediate worry is how on earth documents and records pertaining to an ongoing investigation, under the supervision of the highest court in the land, can be thus destroyed. But that also posits the larger question the nation faced after the 2002 riots: how to deal with a situation where the entire machinery of a state can be seen to be potentially complicit in acts of communal violence? If existing laws aren't being implemented, or are just being plainly subverted, what course can justice take? Part of the answer would lie in enacting laws as proposed in the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, 2011. Justice and compensation for victims of all forms of communal violence, and actually aiming at eliminating the latter altogether, are critical to preserve the very idea of a democratic and pluralistic India
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FACEBOOK, FACE CHINA
BEFORE FB'S MUCH-HYPED US LISTING OMINOUS PORTENTS ROLL IN FROM THE EAST
After yet another private equity fund bought into Facebook, before it goes public , its founder Mark Zuckerberg became $18 billion-rich. Richer than Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Many investors, waiting for FB's listing, will let out a collective gasp in anticipation of immense riches to come. They should just resume breathing normally. Hyperventilation before the IPO might run into a wall of hype. Yes, a lot of people use FB, but the last technology bubble taught us that eyeballs matter, but profits matter much more. And more often than not, it's hard to convert one into the other. Myspace, which was bought by media magnate Rupert Murdoch for over $580 million in 2005, was sold recently for $35 million, at a loss of 94%. Social networking optimists argue that FB and similar products like the recently-listed LinkedIn, are different. Maybe, but to justify valuations as high as FB's staggering $70 billion, social networking sites might need to diversify into making jet engines or producing oil to generate earnings.
For many things, China has been a weathervane and prospective investors in social networking should look east for early warnings. Chinese data suggest that the number of social network users is plateauing out. First, the average Chinese youngster is spending 13% less time on social networks, compared to six months ago. Second, data from Alexa which monitors traffic for Chinese sites Renren, Kaixin001 and Douban shows that in the six months from July to January this year, average daily traffic for the first two were flat, only the last grew marginally. Naturally, investors who piled into Renren when it listed in America at $24 a share, have pummeled the stock down to $7. It might be better to lose face, and FB, rather than lose your shirt.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WHY POSTPONE AGRI REFORMS?
THE FARM SECTOR CRIES OUT FOR REFORM. AND WE MUST START BY AMENDING THE MARKETING AND LAND LEASE LAWS
In the rapidly transforming Indian economy all the attention has consistently centered on the emerging sectors, almost by default. Though not by design, agriculture has ended up a much neglected sector despite the fact that more than 60% of the population still depend on it for their livelihood. It's time we relooked at the sector in the context of new priorities like controlling food inflation, managing food security, improving productivity, reducing wastages and increasing farmers' income.
Economic reforms have done wonders for various sectors in terms of productivity, income generation and consumer welfare. It does not make any sense to deprive agriculture of similar benefits any longer. Since it's not possible to go into all the issues facing the sector in this piece, I would rather limit myself to two most critical areas in the sector crying for reforms. While one relates to the marketing and distribution of agricultural produce, particularly for fresh produce; the other relates to the structure of ownership and leasing of land in the country. Laws and regulations governing these areas were created long time back in a different environment, and were probably relevant at that time. Ironically, a large section of these laws were originally created to protect the small farmers from unscrupulous landlords, moneylenders and traders. They have largely turned dysfunctional and counterproductive in the changed environment. Presently, they are working against the interest of both the farmers and consumers. In fact, agri produce is the only sector where one needs a licence to purchase through the Adhtiyaasin the mandis.
First, let's look at trade in agricultural products in the country. Since farmers are prohibited by regulation to sell directly to aggregators, food processing companies and retailers, they are compelled to sell their produce to the middlemen at the mandis. The worst part of this arrangement is the lack of transparency in the price discovery process. Small farmers invariably fall prey to the middlemen and Adhtiyaasworking in tandem. The plight of the farmers is aggravated particularly in the case of perishable produce like fruits and vegetables. Distress sale remains a common phenomenon given the farmers' inability to store or transport products at will. Lack of adequate cold storage network in the country clearly remains a big hurdle.
There is a very strong case for amending the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) Acts in different states to exempt fruits and vegetables and other perishables like fisheries from the ambit of the law. Exempting them from the restrictions will help streamline the distribution channels of the products, shortening the distance between the producer and consumer. Reducing the number of hands through which the product passes through will have a direct impact on the degree of wastage. It's worth mentioning here that about 25-40% of India's agri produce goes waste due to improper transportation, storage, warehousing and lack of cold chain infrastructure. Eliminating the middlemen's margins and reduction in wastage can have a twin impact; increasing realisation for farmers and decreasing consumer price. Reforming the APMC Acts to allow big organised retailers to buy directly from farmers, I believe, will lead to bigger investments in the cold chain infrastructure in the country. There is a strong case to give complete freedom to farmers to sell perishable produce directly to wholesalers, aggregators, food processing companies and retailers, in addition to selling in mandis.
Fragmentation of landholdings in the country is another serious problem facing the sector today. The average size of landholding in the country has declined progressively from 2.63 hectares in 1996 to 1.06 hectares in 2004-05. Around 60% of the households today possess less than one hectare of land for cultivation. This has seriously affected the scale of operations, crop diversification and scope of aggregation of farm produce. Subsistence and marginal farming has unfortunately become the norm. A possible solution to the above problem lies in legalising the leasing of agricultural land on long tenure basis through legislation. Fear of landowners about losing ownership rights while leasing it out to another party remains the biggest obstacle to leasing. Hence, one focal point of any proposed legislation should be to ensure that the landowner is not dispossessed of his land in the process of leasing and that the lessee has no tenancy rights.
Prolonging the lease period to 10-15 years and removing any ceiling on size of lease would be two other important requirements for the private sector to contemplate entry into agriculture. Long duration and large size of leases will enable corporates to invest in technology to make the farms more productive. It's time the central government introduces a model land leasing Act in line with the model APMC Act. The state governments also need to align their own land tenure and tenancy Acts accordingly.
Proper utilisation of farmland resources will help augment rural employment opportunities, which are generally not available, particularly for women. These opportunities will emerge both in cultivation and food processing. Growth of food processing in particular holds important implications for rural employment and income generation, besides acting as a key instrument against ruralurban migration.
India has completed two decades of economic reforms. By and large, reforms have taken roots in large swathes of the economy. But the process will clearly remain incomplete as long as the long-overdue reforms in the agri sector are not completed. They are all the more important for being the most powerful instrument of inclusive growth in the country, a clear and unambiguous priority for the government today.
RAKESH BHARTI MITTAL
VC & MD, BHARTI ENTERPRISES AND CHAIRMAN, CII NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR AGRICULTURE
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GIVE A NEW DEAL TO MICROFINANCE
K C RANJANI
The microfinance sector in India is battling for life ever since the political backlash suffered by it in October 2010 in Andhra Pradesh. The industry has survived by downsizing. However, as loans from commercial banks get repaid in the coming months and with no replenishments of funds in the offing, the downsizing is likely to accelerate. The net worth of the microfinance institutions (MFIs), built up painstakingly, is likely to erode soon, making them technically ineligible to borrow. The MFI clients at the bottom of the pyramid will be forced to go back to local moneylenders whose current lending rate starts at 60% per annum. This is a time for introspection for all the stakeholders of the sector, including bankers.
The loss of confidence in the MFIs in AP has ensured that the funding tap has been literally closed for this industry, which services 18 million unique low-income families, employs over 150,000 people — 50% of them undergraduates from low-income families —provides at-least one additional financial service apart from credit and has built credit history among the unbanked by inculcating financial discipline. Till recently, the sector has been financed largely by commercial banks in a winwin scenario — banks meeting their priority sector lending requirements while MFIs building sustainable businesses with community connect. The microfinance sector cannot survive without sensitive and responsible handling by bankers who have specialised knowledge of the sector and the underlying risks. Banks need to consider following key factors for a positive engagement with the sector which, even today, holds out the promise of financial inclusion for 60% of the unbanked Indian population:
Catch the vision: Without vision, the microfinance industry can perish. MFIs should not be treated as the last-minute dumping ground of loans to claim the benefits of priority sector lending targets by banks. They need to be treated as what they are: priority. It is important to know that 75.6% of India's 1.2 billion people live below an internationally accepted benchmark of poverty, at $2 dollars, per day. This segment of the population has the potential to be the core customer base in the future for the banks even as the top 20% of the market is moving towards saturation. Credit appraisals: They cannot be outsourced. Rating reports are useful but are no substitute for own homework and market intelligence.
Avoid herd mentality: Back MFIs lead by people, who are there for the long-haul. Herd mentality will not work. Bankers need to be bold to take independent view and stand apart, if required, with a select few co-lenders and investors, and go for the old fashioned long-term, steady growth approach.
Build incentives: The incentives must be for deeper penetration in underserved areas, e.g., loan funds for remote rural districts should cost less to MFIs. This will help off-set their high operating costs to serve these areas while adhering to interest rate caps.
The strict "no's" for a banker lending to the microfinance sector are the following:
Sound growth alert: Fast growth can be a road leading to disaster and hence a red alert for any MFI projecting over 50% year-on-year gro wth, going forward. Growth is fine but where is this growth coming from is the key question. Geographical heat maps need to be created and studied. KYC norms: MFIs using agents for distribution of loans and collection practices must be a strict 'no'.
Ensure community connect:
Big is not necessarily the most bankable proposition. Mid-segment MFIs with good track record and efficient processes — that are located in underserved areas and with local leadership — may prove to be better adapters to change and provide the community connect that is so essential for the microfinance industry.
Learn from subprime crisis:
It is important to remember the lessons from the US subprime crisis. Microfinance industry should not be viewed as a sector for earning fat incentives, driven by fast growth fuelled by dumping irresponsible amount of loan or equity funds.
This is the time for banks for responding to a call for banking our micro-entrepreneurs. To work towards creating a nation, which will ensure opportunities, wealth-creation and well-being, for all strata of society. Can we bank on our bankers to deliver some responsible banking for the people who need it the most?
(The author is managing director of Dia Vikas Capital)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LABOUR DIVIDEND OR DEFICIT?
Between 2001 and 2026, India's population is projected to increase by 371 million. About 83% of this increase will be in the 15-59 agegroup. In the next 15 years, as a vast population enters the working age group, it is expected that they would be setting up their own households and consumption units. Vast opportunities can then arise, boosting various types of productive and investment activities. A relatively young population also implies declining dependency ratios and higher savings rate. Together, it can have a positive correlation on per capita GDP growth as witnessed in countries like Japan (1950s) and China (1980s). This is referred to as India's demographic dividend.
To reap the benefits out of this, India first needs to create the additional employment opportunities. And not just quantity, but the quality of jobs are also equally important. If the jobs created fail to ensure better wages, the majority of the population will not move out of poverty and growth will not become inclusive. For this, we rapidly need to improve the skill-sets and education base of our labour force.
So, let us look at how India is poised vis-à-vis all these. The first upfront question is, are we creating enough jobs? The answer is no. The 1990s witnessed a complete stagnation in formal employment opportunities. Most of the jobs created were in the unorganised sector and not clearly visible. In the next decade, the scenario was only marginally better. With India's workforce growing annually at around 2.4%, the requirement is far greater — 12-13 million new jobs every year just to keep unemployment frozen where it is.
Moreover, employment elasticity in India is very low, at around 0.15, according to the Planning Commission. This means that every 1% growth in GDP results in only 0.15% growth in jobs. So, even if we grow at 10% in the next 15 years, we would still be creating at least 100 million less jobs than the addition to the workforce by 2026. Next is the quality of jobs created. In India, the quality of majority of the jobs created is extremely poor. This is borne out from the fact that roughly 92% of the workforce is employed in the unorganised sector. They remain outside the purview of labour legislations, thus bereft of social security benefits, credit access, training, etc. As a result, they perhaps earn enough to make sustenance but not enough to pull their families out of poverty levels. The explosion of the unorganised sector is largely attributed by economists to avoid irrational labour legislation.
In fact, our labour force will be staring at two very hard realities in the 2020s: widespread unemployment and poor employment. Although education is not the same as skills, what about education levels of the would-be workforce that can ensure them better wages? National Sample Survey Organisation data shows that over 233 million Indians will still not have access to formal sources of education or would not have crossed primary school levels in 2020, while only 164 million will complete higher secondary education or more, of which barely 88 million will be graduates.
The education sector is characterised by poor infrastructure, low-quality teaching, irrelevant content, missing courses, and a host of other malaise. Its impact is first felt in employment markets and in turn has an adverse affect on India's objective of rapid and equitable progress.
What about skills-sets that increases employability? Various Planning Commission reports have documented that 5-8% of India's labour force possessed skills, compared to 60% in developed and emerging developing economies. In India 97% of the working population (in age group of 15-60 years) have no technical education. Of the working age bracket, a meagre 0.3% has a technical degree. Again, hardly 7% of the population in the age group of 15-29 receives vocational training. Of this, 4% gets only non-formal training, i.e., training outside formally established institutes. Are we in a position to alter the scenario? In other words, can the quality and skill-set of the would-be workforce be improved drastically?
The India Labour Reports by Teamlease makes the point that both the educational and vocational training institutions are incapable of addressing the supply imbalance — both in terms of quantity and quality. Further, 80% of new entrants into the workforce would have no opportunities for development of skills. While there are 12-13 million new entrants into the work force every year, the existing training capacity is around 3 million a year.
The education-employability link is important to take care of the 300 million new entrants to the workforce by 2025, and this is presently negligible. Learning for earning needs to be the new mantra. Or else, we risk our demographic dividend to turn into a demographic deficit, where corporate India will be unable to find skilled employees for its growth while there will be score of youngsters who will be unable to find jobs that pay them enough to live respectably.
(The author is president ,
MISSED CALL: GREAT INDIAN TRICK
THE ANTI-CORRUPTION BRIGADE JUST FOUND AN INNOVATIVE WAY TO SPREAD THE WORD
One of the most common Indianism is the phrase "give me a missed call". It is right up there with "prepone" a meeting, or "repeat again please". But the missed call is less a linguistic twist than a real practical application. It is the classic Indian jugaad, i.e. using a technology in the most unexpected way. For example the top loading washing machines sold by the dozens in Haryana and Punjab, not because of laundry, but because they were ideal to make wholesale quantities of lassi. Who would have thought washing machines would be used to make lassi? There are hundreds of examples of such jugaad (innovations) like usage of car batteries to light up rural households, or using a scooter engine to run a portable dal mill. Remember Phunsukh Wangdu's school in the last part of "3 Idiots"? Various examples of jugaad simply prove that Indians of all strata are very comfortable adopting and adapting technology.
The best examples of course come from telecom. The growth of cellular telephony in India proved many pundits wrong. The amazing growth numbers were way beyond anybody's expectation. Mobile usage today wasn't supposed to happen until 2019. One of the most unexpected growth was in SMS. The revenues from messaging are so large, that an entire industry of reality television shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati and Indian Idol thrive on messages. Another unexpected growth is in ringtones and music downloads. Today the biggest music company is not HMV or T-Music but Bharti, a telecom company.
And then there is the missed call. This is not a revenue opportunity for the telecom company. But an entire system of morse code, and communication system is built around the zero paisa missed call. In this era of intense competition, the price of a phone call, of an SMS or a song download is coming down continuously. But nobody can beat a free missed call. I give you a missed call saying that I am downstairs. You give a missed call back, saying I am coming down. A whole conversation can take place!
The most innovative application of the missed call has been in enlisting support or subscription for telecom based services. A couple of years ago the telecom regulator (TRAI) responding to consumer complaints set up a "Do Not Call" registry. If you did not want to be bothered by pesky telephone marketers, or nuisance calls, you simply had to register your name with DNC registry. But very few telecom users (from the hundreds of millions in India) bothered to register. So the regulator changed the policy, and made it even more difficult for telemarketers. They instituted an "opt-in" policy. That is people who wanted to receive those pesky calls, or hundreds of advertisement SMS's had to register themselves. Often the registration required you to send an SMS. Who would bother.
This is when they discovered the business value of the missed call. A Mumbai based telecom technology company (Netcore) among others offers a service to telemarketers, where it can capture a missed call as a "vote" to be opted-in. That caller then gets registered as a willing recipient of the marketing calls and SMS. It is much easier to "give" a missed call and register yourself. The software can track unique numbers, their originating geography and many other details. You can also devise a mechanism to get "delisted" by another missed call. Easy!
The most unexpected application of this is in mobilizing wide citizen support for instant referendums. This week the Anna Hazare led India Against Corruption campaign reported that they have received 1 crore missed calls registering support for the Lok Pal bill. All these are going to be active and passionate campaigners, and will regularly receive material and alerts via SMS. The same technique has been used to enlist support during citizen election watch activity in various states. The missed call is suddenly a political tool.
DEPLORABLE VERDICT IN DENMARK
The high Court in Denmark has upheld the verdict of a domestic trial court to not allow the extradition to India of Kim Davy to stand trial in this country in the Purulia arms drop case of 1995. The High Court's judgement is to be deplored. The extradition had been sought by the CBI and the Danish government had raised no objections. But the country's judicial system intervened following an appeal by the accused, a Danish national. Mr Davy is the key accused in the stealth-drop of a large consignment of arms and ammunition that included hundreds of AK-47 rifles, pistols, anti-tank grenades, rocket launchers and thousands of rounds of ammunition — in short, equipment that would typically be used by terrorist or extremist elements to wage war against the state, a crime of extraordinary seriousness in any country, not least one such as India, which is acknowledged worldwide to be run on democratic principles. The crime for which Mr Davy is charged would also typically fall in the category of a transnational crime in which international cooperation would be expected to be rendered, especially between democratic states, even if an extradition treaty or bilateral mutual legal assistance arrangements did not exist. The Danish national committed the crime along with those of other nationalities. This further underlines its transnational character. The Danish High Court's stand is the more regrettable considering that the practice followed internationally in determining jurisdiction — nourished by well-established principles — is fairly straightforward in an instance such as this: the territory on which the crime has occurred has a straightforward case in seeking to hold trial within its own territory. The case is bolstered when evidence and witnesses are also to be found within the same territory, in this case India. Under a certain principle, Denmark too could have sought to try its national within its own jurisdiction in order to uphold a certain morality in law — namely, that it would look upon with disfavour even in the case of its own citizens if there are good reasons to believe that they have taken part in actions that constitute a crime. For their part, the Danish authorities appear not to have considered this and agreed to comply with the CBI request to extradite Mr Davy. Thus, cooperation at the level of governments was indeed forthcoming, and but for the Denmark judiciary stepping in, Mr Davy should have been on his way to India to stand trial. It is pertinent that Denmark agreed to India's extradition request after obtaining sovereign assurances from this country that the death penalty would not be imposed on Mr Davy (Denmark, like several other states, has banned the death sentence) if he was found guilty, and that he would be permitted to serve the jail term — if one was ordered by the Indian courts — in prisons in his own country. Even so, the Danish judicial system has prevented extradition on the grounds that Mr Davy would risk "torture or other inhuman treatment" in India, and that conditions in Indian jails are not satisfactory. The points raised regarding relatively poor jail conditions and the practice of torture by India's police, although this is outlawed and is known to have attracted punishment for offending police personnel, are valid and are well taken. However, they do not really apply in this high-profile case involving an international cast, especially when India has already made certain assurances to Denmark, including transfer of the prisoner to Denmark for serving out a sentence, if there is one.
"Flavour salt lassi with Worcester Sauce Mix Chaat Masala in your Bloody Mary Fry Madrasi keyley as a second course — When you hear the word 'fusion' be very wary" From The Hymns of Feromonus by Bachchoo At the beginning of the Anna Hazare agitation a young friend of mine wrote a piece in an influential space voicing his disapproval of extra-parliamentary action. He said Mr Hazare and his associates were resorting to blackmail. They should instead rely on the Indian democratic system to redress grievances. Laws should be made by the ballot box, which has the power to uproot the corrupt. Losing elections wouldn't mean that these politicians ended up breaking stones at the President's pleasure, but they could be further investigated and punished by the police and courts. There now seems to be a deadlock in the discussions on the Lokpal Bill and on questions of who should be given the power to do what to whom. My young friend is not alone and his argument has been variously stated. It seems to be the position of all constitutional fundamentalists and with some detail added, the position of the government representatives on the panel. It's true that what the media calls the "civil society" representatives on the drafting committee have no democratic standing in the constitutional sense. They can even be said, if one wants to call people who have devoted their lives selflessly to reform, to be self-appointed busy-bodies or blackmailers. I have no doubt that Winston Churchill in some private moment characterised Mahatma Gandhi as such. And yet even though home minister P. Chidambaram and human resources development minister Kapil Sibal have more democratic credentials, the government recognises that they have to speak to the upstarts because there is a very strong public tide that has carried them to that negotiating table. The government can't take the stance that there is nothing to discuss. The nation and the government recognise that one of the main maladies of the Indian body politic is corruption and it is not just in particular organs but permeates the DNA of the country. The "B word" (Bhrashtachar) is an apt description of government transactions from the procurement of everything paid for out of taxes to the performance of every duty by the arms and bureaucrats of the state and to the operations and deals of capitalism. The B word used to be the oil to make the mechanism go and I have heard the case, however feeble, for turning a blind eye to it. It greased the mechanism of production, consumption, legality and licensing and put a pint of rum in the pocket of the downtrodden policeman. It is now recognised that it is the raison d'etre of most of Indian politics and very much of the capitalist system. The grease is drowning the machinery. The government representatives in the deadlocked talks which one of the civilists, Arvind Kejriwal, called the "Jokepal Bill" rely on the supreme and pure idea of the Constitution. The elected members are the people's choice and the Prime Minister as the pinnacle of such a system, the chosen by the chosen, should have immunity from investigation and prosecution. Members of Parliament, in the pattern of democracy we inherited from the British, belong to the supreme forum and should not have to be examined by a non-elected panel. Neither do the parliamentarians want an investigative force or one that can prosecute alleged wrongdoers outside of the Central Bureau of Investigation and other existing arms of the revenue and customs departments. In the larger debates about corruption in India it has been frequently alleged that the physician should cure himself. In other words there are no incorrupt people left to perform the duties of investigation and punishment. No one is entitled to cast that first stone. This may be true but shouldn't be an indictment of the character of all subcontinentals. Corruption is not in our genes. It is the defect of a democratic mechanism that affords the opportunity for vast and all-encompassing bribery, a black economy and a licence raj, which gets politicians fighting for places in even the Upper Chamber in order to secure some junior ministerial post, which will give them access to corruption. You only have to read the leaked conversation between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and K. Kanimozhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to realise how brazen the pursuit has become. It may be that a parliamentary democracy that inevitably elects politicians on the basis of the numbers in a caste, sub-caste, religious or regional grouping throws up a truly democratic leadership. The people who elect them know they are crooks but they are "their" crooks! The power of numbers translates into billions in black money and that into more power and patronage. And so shamelessly on! From the arguments posed by Mr Sibal and the other constitutionalists, it seems that they fear a KGB-type body emerging from the proposals that the civilists are making. Such a body would be, as the KGB was, a law unto itself and there would be no guarantee that it wouldn't fall into the sins it was born to eradicate. In Stalinist Russia the People's NKVD and the KGB were inevitable adjuncts of the state machinery. Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that the Gulags were inevitable because the Stalinist state needed slaves and free labour and those accused of being dissidents became the victims of this necessity. The Indian state doesn't have any such necessity. It would be justice indeed (and somewhat entertaining) if the corrupt of India were put to hard labour building dams and suchlike, but even that prospect shouldn't lead us to condone the existence of Gulags. Rather, we (and the drafters of the Lokpal structure) should take a leaf out of the dying Lenin's book. Among the last essays, speeches, wishes and instructions he wrote was the idea of a "Workers and Peasants' Inspection". This would be a vast and not-necessarily-Communist-Party institution which could be elected at very local levels and would be convened every month or so in order to censor, oversee, guide and even cancel the work of the Politburo and the Communist Party's governing machinery. It would have greater powers than the Stalinist secretariat and could overrule it. I wonder if the Communists of West Bengal and Kerala ever took those last essays of Comrade Lenin seriously. Could they have avoided Singur, Nandigram and the humiliating electoral defeat if they had?
THE RAISED DEBT CEILING CAN CRACK TOO
In about a month, if nothing is done, the federal government will hit its legal debt limit. There will be dire consequences if this limit isn't raised. At best, we'll suffer an economic slowdown; at worst we'll plunge back into the depths of the 2008-09 financial crisis. So is a failure to raise the debt ceiling unthinkable? Not at all. Many commentators remain complacent about the debt ceiling; the very gravity of the consequences if the ceiling isn't raised, they say, ensures that in the end politicians will do what must be done. But this complacency misses two important facts about the situation: the extremism of the modern Grand Old Party (GOP) and the urgent need for US President Barack Obama to draw a line in the sand against further extortion. Let's talk about how we got here. The federal debt limit is a strange quirk of US budget law: since debt is the consequence of decisions about taxing and spending, and the Congress already makes those taxing and spending decisions, why require an additional vote on debt? And traditionally the debt limit has been treated as a minor detail. During the administration of former President George W. Bush — who added more than $4 trillion to the national debt — the Congress, with little fanfare, voted to raise the debt ceiling no less than seven times. So the use of the debt ceiling to extort political concessions is something new in American politics. And it seems to have come as a complete surprise to Mr Obama. Last December, after Mr Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts — a move that many people, myself included, viewed as in effect a concession to Republican blackmail — Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic asked why the deal hadn't included a rise in the debt limit, so as to forestall another hostage situation (my words, not Mr Ambinder's). The President's response seemed clueless even then. He asserted that "nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse", and that he was sure that John Boehner, as Speaker of the House, would accept his "responsibilities to govern". Well, we've seen how that worked out. Now, Mr Obama was right about the dangers of failing to raise the debt limit. In fact, he understated the case, by focusing only on financial confidence. Not that the confidence issue is trivial. Failure to raise the debt limit — which would, among other things, disrupt payments on existing debt — could convince investors that the United States is no longer a serious, responsible country, with nasty consequences. Furthermore, nobody knows what a US default would do to the world financial system, which is built on the presumption that US government debt is the ultimate safe asset. But confidence isn't the only thing at stake. Failure to raise the debt limit would also force the US government to make drastic, immediate spending cuts, on a scale that would dwarf the austerity currently being imposed on Greece. And don't believe the nonsense about the benefits of spending cuts that has taken over much of our public discourse: slashing spending at a time when the economy is deeply depressed would destroy hundreds of thousands and quite possibly millions of jobs. So failure to reach a debt deal would have very bad consequences. But here's the thing: Mr Obama must be prepared to face those consequences if he wants his presidency to survive. Bear in mind that GOP leaders don't actually care about the level of debt. Instead, they're using the threat of a debt crisis to impose an ideological agenda. If you had any doubt about that, last week's tantrum should have convinced you. Democrats engaged in debt negotiations argued that since we're supposedly in dire fiscal straits, we should talk about limiting tax breaks for corporate jets and hedge-fund managers as well as slashing aid to the poor and unlucky. And Republicans, in response, walked out of the talks. So what's really going on is extortion pure and simple. As Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute puts it, the GOP has, in effect, come around with baseball bats and declared, "Nice economy you have here. A real shame if something happened to it". And the reason Republicans are doing this is because they must believe that it will work: Mr Obama caved in over tax cuts, and they expect him to cave again. They believe that they have the upper hand, because the public will blame the President for the economic crisis they're threatening to create. In fact, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that GOP leaders actually want the economy to perform badly. Republicans believe, in short, that they've got Mr Obama's number, that he may still live in the White House but that for practical purposes his presidency is already over. It's time — indeed, long past time — for him to prove them wrong.
PM FAILS TO CONVINCE
HOW does a lame duck tell the world it is not lame? It hops on one leg and flaps its wings. In the circumstances, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would have been well advised to steer clear of avian analogies when he chose to defend himself from charges of inefficiency and inertia to a group of media representatives. In choosing to pick the duck ~ so named because of its ability to bend low as if to get at something ~ and not the drake, which might have been the correct word to describe the adult male of the specie, and usage which at least etymologically might have suggested that he was ready to spit fire, or his venom, the PM made things a tad worse for himself. Because judged on what he said, and taking every word at face value, Dr Singh offered a poor, indeed a lame-duck defense.
But he was not helpless, the Prime Minister asserted; this impression had gained ground because of clever propaganda by the Opposition and media that reveled in playing accuser, prosecutor and judge. A few breaths later (or was it earlier?), he told his audience he had no hesitation in bringing himself under the Lokpal's purview but "many of my Cabinet colleagues feel that bringing the institution of Prime Minister under it will create instability." We must note he said "many", not "all" or "most" and wonder whatever happened to Prime Ministerial fiat. On the 2G scam, his conscience was clear, but he may ~ just may ~ have been "soft". In any event, once a Cabinet colleague assured him of transparency, it was not for him to sit in judgment. The logic was tortuous, the conclusion unavoidable that he had failed in his task of keeping Ministers in rein. On his being controlled by Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the Prime Minister spoke of the "maximum possible cooperation" he was getting from the Congress president whom he met one-on-one every week and that she had never been an "obstacle to things we want to do". Just how that was supposed to reassure the nation that he is a man with his own mind, and that the government is not remote-controlled by the party president, Dr Singh did not explain.
It was in facing the charge of his government being the most corrupt ever that the Prime Minister offered a most breathless defense. The cases of graft, he said, were aberrations; institutions such as the CAG and Parliament considered "post-facto" developments, whereas government decisions were taken in a "world of uncertainty, and ex-facto". So much then for established conventions of checks and balances, of due diligence and institutional integrity; corruption, by this reasoning, is ex-facto, its discovery post-facto and never the twain shall meet. To harp on the instances of corruption which in any event were aberrations was to create an atmosphere of cynicism that would stifle the "entrepreneurial impulses of our people". Perhaps we are reading more into the Prime Minister's statement than we ought to, but the conclusion is inescapable. Dr Singh would have our entrepreneurs ~ many of whom are in his government ~ give flight to their impulses, and to have us view the consequences when discovered with genteel optimism. A respected contemporary has likened the transcript of the Prime Minister's question-and-answer session to the viva he might have undergone for his Ph.D. To this we must add our belief that at the end of the session, an unbiased examiner would have said, "Brave effort, Mr Singh, but do try again. You haven't told us anything we didn't already know."
NO CAUSE FOR GLOATING
FLIPPING their wings in smug glee would be the hawks in the domestic establishment over the candid confession of Pakistan's defence minister that the military balance now so favoured India that it could sustain a war twice as long as his country. More sober strategists would, however, accept that as an acceptance of a ground reality that has long been an open secret: they would also caution against both complacency and the tendency of most politicians to perceive India's defence requirements in a purely Pakistan context. A key element of Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar's analysis was its focus on a full-blown conventional conflict: are such World War II campaigns relevant today? Even in 1971, as in 1965 and 1948, there was tremendous international pressure on India to disengage. Had Gen JFR Jacob not "conned" the Pakistan forces in what was then East Pakistan into surrendering (Niazi has levelled that charge), the UN Security Council would have voted for a cease-fire. And the Soviets had indicated a reluctance to use their veto power yet again. So what chances are there today of a long-drawn-out, six-week campaign, particularly since the international community now deems the sub-continent a nuclear flashpoint? It would be unrealistic not to accept that GHQ Rawalpindi and the ISI have long been aware of reality, hence their opting for the proxy war, sponsored-terrorism/insurgency alternative. Which, to be honest, has well served Islamabad's skewed interests. For all its presumed "staying power", India did not actively respond to the terror strikes in Parliament House and Mumbai ~ Operation Parikrama (after the first) was actually an "own goal". Was Mukhtar's statement a clever bid to win the beleaguered Pakistan military a little public sympathy, and perhaps some boosting of its war machine? After all, the projection of India as the prime adversary and "live" threat has even been the fulcrum of Pakistani statecraft. It would also be myopic to ignore the China-factor when assessing Pakistan's military muscle. The China factor would also be cited by India to explain its massive military purchases in recent times. The forces would contend they are still playing catch-up, after decades of limited funding. Fair enough. Yet it would be relevant to query if the focus on hi-fi combat jets, long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, unrequited desire for heavier artillery, aircraft carriers et al will help thwart the immediate foe ~ the jihadi infiltrator.
MESSAGE TO INDIA
SUU KYI APPEALS FOR SUPPORT
THE two developments in parallel ~ political and cultural ~ are two sides of the Myanmar coin. Suu Kyi has advanced a forthright message to India, notably that this country "should do more to support the democratic movement in my country instead of putting its trade and strategic interests in the forefront". The allusion was distinctly to foreign minister, SM Krishna's recent visit to Yangon ~ essentially a trade mission that calculatedly skirted the core issue of Myanmar's tryst with democracy. India's fear of an impact on the North-east has cut no ice. Delhi's studied silence on the movement for democracy may have suited the junta's agenda; but Suu Kyi on her release has eventually exposed the inherent contradiction in the foreign policy of the world's largest democracy. Once again, the junta is set to tighten its overwhelming control over dissent. That stranglehold can even assume bizarre proportions, now extending to the cultural domain. The junta has targeted an actress for her acting! Michelle Yeoh was refused entry at Yangon airport for the incredible reason that she had portrayed Suu Kyi in the film, The Lady by the French director, Luc Besson. This is the first time that an actress has been barred from entering the country ~ a victim of repression that is far more sinister than cultural policing. Michelle, who had wanted to enter Myanmar to meet Suu Kyi, was put on the next flight out and will be barred from re-entering the country. Not that film personalities in democratic India have not been victims of the culture cop; post the 2002 pogrom, at least two films had been banned in Gujarat. But a performer has never been victimised. The junta in Myanmar presides over an increasingly ruthless and intolerant democracy. India must react.
INDIA'S SILENT CRISIS
THE PRESIDENT MUST BE ALLOWED TO FUNCTION
THERE has been criticism of the civil society members protesting against corruption. Some criticism is justified. There has been praise of the members. Some praise is justified. But although the judgment of the members may be questionable, their motives are not considered suspect. They are articulating the widespread public revulsion against brazen corruption. But are they not missing the wood for the trees? Corruption is not the cause of the national malaise. It is the result. It is the symptom of the basic malaise in our system which negates effective governance.
Lack of governance has led to insurgencies, terrorism, crime, communalism and absence of law and order. The public does not respond to some of these crises because their results are not immediately visible although these weaken and destroy the nation as much as corruption. There is a common thread running through all these crises. These occur because the law of the land is violated. The law is violated because of ineffective governance. Ineffective governance results from a weak executive. The challenge before civil society is to create an executive that effectively deals with all these problems by ensuring that laws are upheld.
The creation of the Lokpal is not the answer. The concept of the Lokpal envisaged by civil society members violates existing constitutional norms and has no chance of obtaining parliamentary approval. The problem is wider than corruption and the rot goes deeper. For an effective remedy India should draw a lesson from post-World War II France.
In 1949 France adopted its post-war Constitution. It created a parliamentary system with a weak Prime Minister. There was great instability. Governments changed frequently. France was beset with problems accentuated by its inability to successfully withdraw from its colony in Algeria. In desperation the nation turned to its war-time hero, General De Gaulle. De Gaulle insisted upon changing the Constitution to allow effective governance. He got his way. In October 1958, the Fifth Republic of France was created with a new Constitution that enhanced the powers of the President to allow effective governance. France diagnosed the problem and adopted the remedy.
Is it not time that India did the same? France has one religion and one language. India has all the major religions of the world and over a dozen languages. Roughly India is five times bigger than France in area with a population that is seventeen times as much. India's density of population is thrice as much as that of France. Far greater than the Algerian crisis in France are the problems confronting India. The government is battling with terrorism, insurgencies, separatism, foreign infiltration, corruption and crime. Does not India require an effective executive that can address these problems? Can any Prime Minister and cabinet that are part of coalition governments, forever under threat of being toppled by realignment among the multiple parties governing different states, ever provide effective governance? It is time to get real.
Ironically, while the Jan Lokpal would be outside the constitutional framework there exists within the present Constitution an office more powerful than one envisaged by Team Hazare. To utilize that office neither laws nor the Constitution need change. The Constitution needs to be observed. This powerful unutilized office of course is that of the President of India. Article 53 (1) of the Constitution states that executive power is vested in the President, which may be exercised "either directly or through officers subordinate" to the President. Even the 42nd and 43rd Amendments to Article 74 (1) perversely introduced to curb the President's powers apply only to steps initiated by the cabinet. Nowhere does the Constitution prevent the President from taking the initiative in other matters. Nowhere in the Constitution is it stated that the President is merely a titular head. There are occasions when the cabinet's advice may neither be sought nor tendered.
By invoking Article 78 (a) the President can order the Prime Minister to periodically communicate "all decisions of the affairs of the Union and proposals for legislation". By invoking Article 78 (c) the President can direct the cabinet to consider any subject not discussed by it. By invoking Article 86 (1) and (2) the President can address both Houses of Parliament and offer advice. By invoking Article 263 the President can urge Parliament to give substance to the dormant Inter-State Council for settling disputes between States and the Centre to give teeth to India's federalism. The President can monitor the appointment, transfer, promotion and demotion of all government officials implemented in the President's name to ensure that these are done according to prevalent rules and laws. The President can sanction prosecution of the Prime Minister. All this the President can perform within the Constitution. Why should civil society hanker after a Lokpal outside the constitutional framework that would be much less powerful?
Mr Anna Hazare has acquired a following among the urban middle class. Baba Ramdev has followers in rural India. To succeed, "India's Second Freedom" would require commitment far above that to any individual or institution. All would have to join hands. Civil society has a potential mass support. It has the issue. It lacks the appropriate agenda. One would urge its members to reappraise their demand and widen its scope. India needs a systemic change. It can be accomplished not be changing the Constitution but by observing it. That is what the struggle should be all about. In her recent visit to the capital, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa advocated a strong executive that could effectively address the problems of corruption, security and foreign policy. She was voicing the opinion of most thinking people. One urges civil society to heed given advice because of two factors. First, the silent crisis in India is much graver than what most people believe. Secondly, there is no constitutional remedy except that of allowing the President to function as its makers had dictated before their intent was distorted by Pandit Nehru who was mesmerized by the British political system.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
THE COLD, HARD FACTS ABOUT SCOTT'S LAST DAYS
SYDNEY, 30 JUNE: For more than 50 years he was Scott of the Antarctic, an indomitable British hero who perished after planting the Union Flag at the South Pole. In the 1970s, though, Robert Falcon Scott's reputation was battered by a series of books portraying him as a reckless bungler. Now a major international exhibition, planned to coincide with the centenary of his death, is expected to help to redress the balance.
Scott's Last Expedition ~ which has just opened in Sydney and will travel to the Natural History Museum in London next January ~ reveals the contribution that his team made to Antarctic science, an achievement often overlooked because of the drama surrounding his ill-fated final journey.
Indeed, as he and his four companions battled blizzards, hunger and exhaustion on their trek back to the Cape Evans base camp in early 1912, they paused to study the geology and collect 30 lb of rocks, which were found in their tent, beside Scott's body. "Effectively, this man died for science," says Nigel Watson, executive director of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Perhaps Dr Manmohan Singh does think that he is contributing greatly, but has been unable to dispel the notion of being weak and inconsequential to a great extent
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh did not achieve much by meeting five select editors. If the purpose of the exercise was to establish himself as a communicative Prime Minister, it did not really work as the editors are certainly not representative of the huge media establishment in the country. It is not clear why he is so afraid of larger interactions; in fact, he ought to have held a larger Press conference as a representative of the people of India to state his case. If not that, then he could at least have invited the Editors Guild of India, which it can be argued is a representative body and includes his chosen five editors.
So, what did the Prime Minister say? He confirmed the war between the country's foreign minister and home minister. It is not a happy day for a government when its finance minister and senior-most Congressman fears that his office is being bugged by the home minister and so bypasses the latter, calls in a private company through the Central Board of Direct Taxes to debug his office, and then writes directly to the Prime Minister informing him of the same. And it becomes worse when the Prime Minister takes cognisance of the complaint and writes to the Intelligence Bureau, bypassing the home minister, to check it all out. What's going on? This distrust at the top level of government is not just unhealthy, it is crippling. Surely the quiet Dr Singh as the first among equals is required to take action? If the home minister is indeed behind a shadowy Chewing-Gum Gate kind of operation he should be sacked. If he is not, then the finance minister should be treated for acute paranoia and given a sabbatical from the job. The point remains ~ did someone bug the office of a senior minister of the Union? And what action is being taken against those guilty? Is anyone guilty? Or was it all the handiwork of a frequent gum-chewing visitor to Mr Pranab Mukherjee's office?
The media, admonished by both Mr Mukherjee and Mr P Chidambaram, has almost dropped the issue. For the media, or at least owners, do not like to offend the Establishment. But this is a very serious issue and the country needs to be told the facts. Also, governments cannot function if its ministers are at war with each other, and instead of being partisan as Dr Singh clearly is, he must take the steps necessary to sort this out. Clearly, Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi is quite happy with the state of affairs, as the war within keeps her feeling secure, but the basic functioning of the government, not just day-to-day but also on policy matters, is adversely affected.
Dr Singh also spoke of corruption. He admitted there was corruption but was happy that every bureaucrat had not yet succumbed to it. And if one takes the rest of his answers in context then the following deductions emerge from the Prime Minister's conversation: 1) there is corruption, but it is exaggerated; 2) the media is sensationalising, and trying and hanging the accused without trial; 3) his allies might be a problem but Dr Singh cannot say how much of an issue on this front, really; 4) the guilty have to be punished, of course, but not a word about who the guilty are; 5) instead, a full-fledged attack on the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) for speaking out of turn and holding a Press conference on the corruption within government.
In other words, the government will do all it can to resist efforts to identify the corrupt, the scale of corruption and action against those found guilty. There was not a word that the Prime Minister said that could give hope that the government was on top of the situation and would be cracking down very soon, by tackling the reasons for growing corruption as well as the symptoms. He insisted that persons such as Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar had written to him protesting about the money being spent on the Commonwealth Games and not about the corruption. But, surely, that should have been evident to the government with its clout and information network?
It is not very confidence inspiring when the Prime Minister of a country makes it clear that he might have to step down any day, any moment, to make place for a dynasty. Dr Singh, in response to questions, was clear that he was in the post today but could not speak for tomorrow. And that he would step down the minute Mr Rahul Gandhi wanted the job. And that the only reason he was in office was because Mr Rahul Gandhi did not want the job just as yet. What is worse, he has no idea whether he would last the term as he does not know Mr Rahul Gandhi's mind (who perhaps does not know his own) and the day for stepping down could be tomorrow or a year later.
Ironically, when asked if he was a lame duck Prime Minister, Dr Singh emphatically denied it. It is all propaganda by the Opposition, he said, adding that history would tell the truth. Perhaps he does think that he is contributing greatly, but has been unable to dispel the notion of being weak and inconsequential to a great extent. The fact is that Dr Singh has not been able to acquire sufficient weight in the Congress to influence decisions and policies. The little that he managed in the first term of the UPA has dissolved in the second, with even his middle-class constituency deserting him totally. From being a middle-class darling who could do no wrong, he is regarded as a weak Prime Minister who can do nothing, wrong or right. He is right in saying that the Opposition is carrying out a campaign against him, but what he did not add was the fact that the Congress party rarely defends him. Except for the odd comment when asked by reporters, party spokespersons reserve the strong statements and the high drama for defending only Mrs Gandhi and her son Rahul and not the good doctor.
The Prime Minister will have to be far more proactive, rather than meeting five editors at a time, if he wants to re-project himself as a communicative, responsive leader. A couple of the editors spent considerable time television studio hopping the same evening and insisting that Dr Singh was very sincere and honest, but then, the question has never been about sincerity. It is about capability and ability. The Prime Minister remained unconvincing on this front, and clearly, the extra years in office and his undelivered promises have robbed him of much of his shine. A lacklustre performance, all told.
The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman
THAIS NEED NOT STAY DIVIDED
Thailand's parliamentary election on Sunday, 3 July, is looking like a continuance of unfinished business. This would be the least helpful scenario for a governance process already muddied in recent elections by military interventions and constitutional tinkering. The opposition Puea Thai party, which leads narrowly in the polls, will relish victory as vindication for its absent putative leader, Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, whose sister Yingluck is carrying the banner. Mr Thaksin was deposed in a coup in 2006 and two associates who became Prime Minister after him were removed in court challenges. He also has a prison sentence for a graft conviction hanging over him.
For the Democratic Party incumbent, Mr Abhisit Vejjajiva, victory will formalise a mandate many Thais regard as not quite legitimate as it had been conferred not in an election but by parliamentary vote just under three years ago. He nursed the economy back from a contraction in 2009 to 8 per cent growth last year. He feels he has done enough to win the voters' approval, the better to ward off pressure by some interfering generals and their yellow-shirt minions in the People's Alliance for Democracy.
But the intentions of the military are decisive in post-election situations. It has been so ever since Mr Thaksin burst on the scene. The army has said it will respect the people's choice. But a Puea Thai win may prove unacceptable if it is accompanied by a general amnesty for dissidents, which the party suggests it would declare. It should think hard. Mr Abhisit protests that this would amount to a whitewash for Mr Thaksin and others convicted of corruption. The probability of the army stepping in again would then be great.
Thailand need not go down this old path of coups and constitutional blocking moves. The Democrats have been inclusive in governance and moderate in ideology. This is the legacy of its last Prime Minister, Mr Chuan Leekpai, who won office without aristocratic or military blessings. A decade later, the party has managed, though with some difficulty, to keep these power centres at arm's length. Crucially, there are similarities in social and economic policies that unite Puea Thai and the Democrats. Both emphasise a duty to close the divide between urban and rural areas. Both wish to "detoxify" the nation's politics, a word Mr Abhisit chose to describe putting an end to old attitudes that divide. Whichever party wins on Sunday, the defeated side should rise above its disappointment to support the new government in seeking national reconciliation. This would deny meddling Generals and the Bangkok chattering classes an excuse to second-guess the people.
the straits times/ann
A VERY MIXED RECORD
SHIV KARAN SINGH
Mr Vivek Sahai, chairman of the Railway Board through a period that witnessed Miss Mamata Banerjee going from railway minister to chief minister of West Bengal, retired yesterday. Mr Sahai's tenure, though, was marked by an administrative oddity ~ he continued in the key post of member, traffic, even as he headed the Railway Board and despite there being no obvious paucity of other eligible officials. Railway Board meeting minutes justified the dual charge citing austerity ~ "as a measure to contain expenditure from the top of the organisation (sic), it was decided that the post of Member Traffic, Railway Board, may be vested with Chairman, Railway Board, till June 2011," state the revised minutes of a 3 November meeting. It was during this period, incidentally, that questions were raised in Parliament on unfilled posts in the Railway Board.
The speculation in Rail Bhawan was that it may have been more than a coincidence that the decision to allow Mr Sahai dual charge and the consequent concentration of power in his hands turned out to be till the election to the Bengal Assembly was done and dusted. Speaking to The Statesman in May, Mr Sahai had clarified he had no say in holding both posts and, as such, had been rewarded by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet for his good work, including increasing freight revenue. He added that it was an austerity measure too.
There is no doubt that as member, traffic, Mr Sahai hiked freight rates of iron ore in keeping with international market prices, thereby netting an extra Rs 1,700 crore by the time the last railway budget was presented. This decision, which caused little decrease in loading, does expose the work of previous occupants of the member, traffic, post. For, rates for exported ore were deliberately left unchanged during the boom right up to May 2008. Indeed, the allegation is that during the tenure of Mr Lalu Prasad as railway minister during 2004-05 and again during 2007-08, the various members, traffic, acting on political instructions, enriched the iron-ore mafia by at least Rs 17,000 crore. Yet, for all Mr Sahai's achievements, it is apparent that the underlying factors that cause the railways losses of tens of thousands of crore rupees each year were not addressed.
The destructive turf war between departments over control of personnel and finances has continued unabated. The railways still has no transfer policy, and transfers have remained the primary tool used by senior officials to suppress independent voices and punish whistle-blowers. The 1985 amendment to the Railway Protection Force (RPF) Act was supposed to have ended the "punishment posting" syndrome using the deputation route, yet the IPS lobby still lords over RPF. The Santhanam Committee (on corruption) made its recommendations way back in 1964, but railway vigilance remains subservient to the Railway Board, which The Statesman's reports have shown is not exactly a good idea. None of the general managers involved in recruitment-corruption during Mr Prasad's tenure, some of whom were raided by CBI, have been punished.
Further, despite the comptroller and auditor general (CAG), the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the Competition Commission and the railways' own vigilance investigations, not to mention the committee of secretaries on procurement, having highlighting the systemic corruption, rampant cartelisation and gross inflation of rates at times up to 10-times market prices in supply contracts, no changes in procurement procedures have resulted, no officials punished and no company taken to task. The railways lost at least Rs 5,000 crore in supply contracts last year alone. With the railway vigilance department having been instructed to back off at the bureaucratic level, cases being investigated on ministerial initiative as a fall-out of The Statesman's reports on these issues are with an under-staffed CBI which remains outside the purview of the RTI Act.
Information obtained from the CVC also shows how Mr Sahai allegedly scuttled investigations into the 1,000 crore Wagon Investment Scheme scam, which saw blatant corruption in allotment of licences to the iron-ore mafia during the boom. The CVC has recommended a major penalty for a certain traffic official involved in this first-come-first-served scam, who has been allowed a convenient resignation. Case notings with The Statesman show Mr Sahai as member, traffic, recommending no action in this regard.
Austerity can obviously be used as a very irregular verb in Indian Railway.
The writer is The Statesman's Bhopal-based Principal Correspondent
100 YEARS AGO TODAY
FIRE AT SULKEA
Jute Press Burnt Down
A fire broke out early on Friday morning in the West Patent Jute Press, Sulkea, Howrah, and damage to the extent of two and a half lakhs is reported to have been done. In the building, which is a single storied godown, wee stored 3,000 bales of jute. The fire is said to have originated near the engine room. Information was sent to Lal Bazar, and Chief Engineer Phillips with two motor engines, as well as the Howrah brigade, proceeded to the scene of the conflagration.
The Calcutta brigades were subsequently reinforced by the Port Commissioner's Fire Float. Twenty-one powerful jets were directed to the burning godown and the fire was brought under control. In the meantime, however the roof and the walls had collapsed.
The Port Commissioner's Fire Float and the Howrah engine are standing by. The damage to the jute is estimated at a lakh and a half while the damages caused for the building will amount to one lakh.
The death occurred at Tinnovelly on Sunday of Rao Bahadur M.R. Ramakrishnaier, leader of the Tinnevelly Bar, and Secretary of the Tinnevelly Agricultural Association. The deceased was a well known figure in the district. In recognition of his noteworthy services in the cause of agriculture, the title of Rao Bahadur was conferred on him on New Year's Day. One of the last public acts of the late Mr Ashe was to visit him in his sick chamber and present him with the Sanad
In all the horror stories that spew out of West Bengal's hospitals with predictable punctuality, the tale of babies dying rapidly within a few hours is always among the most horrific. That 18 babies died within 36 hours since last Tuesday night in the Dr BC Roy Post-Graduate Institute for Paediatric Sciences is terrible enough, but what is worse is that this is not the first time. In 2002, 18 babies had died in three days, and again, in 2006, 22 babies had died in less than 72 hours. The only difference with earlier times that has emerged from among the piteous grief of parents and the raging grievances of relatives is that someone has taken moral responsibility. The hospital superintendent offered to resign. He said that he had been trying for the last few years to avoid this kind of a situation, but these deaths showed he had failed. Why had he thought this might happen?
The BC Roy Institute is the state's chief referral hospital. Critically ill babies pour in from the districts, most being carried for miles over often rough roads. This is obviously a common occurrence; it is the sudden rush that became tragic. The superintendent's apprehension can be traced to two obvious things. The district hospitals are simply unequipped to deal with critical cases. There is an established network of hospitals, but it has become almost ineffectual through neglect and corruption. On top of that, even the major referral hospital in the city does not have adequate infrastructure. It has 360 beds but eight ventilators, no blood bank and no arrangement for CT scans. It needs to be asked whether there is an adequate number of trained staff to deal with emergency rushes like the last one. To go by reiterated reports, medical personnel are rude and dismissive, not even trained enough to know how anxious parents of ill babies should be spoken to. Or maybe they are just overworked.
Many of the babies may have been rendered even more fragile because they were undernourished, or because their mothers were anaemic. This is the other vast area of darkness: pre- and post-natal care in rural Bengal. Primary health centres should be especially efficient, since the woman in Bengal's rural families is not a privileged being. Yet the primary health centre is, as yet, a neglected institution, something the chief minister may succeed in improving. Mother and child care is as important as the revitalization of district and subdivisional hospitals, and staffing them with those who know their jobs and are willing to do them is as important as having a working set of basic equipment in each hospital. None of this is easy, but it will have to be done — planned with realities in mind and then carried out. Similarly, city hospitals must be brought up to their full working capacity and all unfinished projects — such as the trauma centre in Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital or the operation theatre complex in the Nilratan Sarkar Hospital — completed and made functional as soon as possible.
LOOKING THREE WAYS
THE DUET OF PRIME MINISTER AND PARTY PRESIDENT IS NOT WORKING POLITICS AND PLAY: RRAMACHANDRA GUHA
On May 23, the president of the Congress, Sonia Gandhi, laid the foundation stone of a bridge being built across the river Ravi, linking Jammu and Kashmir with Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Ten days later, she was in Rajasthan, inaugurating the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. For both trips she had to travel far from her place of residence, which — given her position — would have involved careful planning beforehand, as well as deployments of security personnel along the route to her destination.
In the last week of May, the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was in Addis Ababa speaking at a summit which brought together African nations with whom India wished to cultivate closer ties. The bandobast for this visit must also have been extensive — as it always is for trips abroad by the country's prime minister. Given Singh's age, and his indifferent health, the flight to and from Addis Ababa must also have involved a certain physical and mental strain, for which he had to prepare himself.
Infrastructure and rural livelihoods are crucial to India's economic growth. A more visible footprint in Africa is a core element in India's foreign policy. These initiatives are necessary, and important, although one might ask why Sonia Gandhi should always be invited to inaugurate flagship programmes that are launched under the auspices not of the Congress, but of the government of India.
But that — at least for the purposes of this column — is a minor criticism. The more important point is this — why were both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi so silent about the happenings in New Delhi in the first week of June? Why did they not speak or act before or after the meeting of the four cabinet ministers with Baba Ramdev at the Delhi airport, before or during the fast announced by him, or immediately after the police evicted him and his supporters from the Ramlila Maidan?
My answer to these questions is as follows. Although Manmohan Singh is, in theory, head of government, he has absolute authority only in one sphere — foreign policy — and substantial authority in one other sphere — namely, economic policy. On matters such as relations between India and Pakistan, and the government's position on nuclear proliferation, Sonia Gandhi has no wish to shape the government's policy. We do have a foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, but on these questions he too is happy to defer to the judgment of the prime minister.
Before he joined the Congress, Singh was an economist, not a diplomat. His first (and most successful) assignment in politics was as finance minister of the government of India from 1991 to 1996. However, as prime minister, while he has complete autonomy in foreign policy, in the realm of economics he shares his powers with the finance minister and the Congress president. When it comes to macroeconomic issues such as trade policy and monetary policy, Singh has a substantial say. When it comes to welfarist measures such as food distribution and fertilizer subsidies, he has to often bow to the wishes (and political compulsions) of the party president.
As for Sonia Gandhi, it is now increasingly apparent that her public statements and public appearances are directly linked to their presumed electoral benefits. If she can appear as one who, by the grace of her personality, helps the citizens of India live a more stable and economically secure life, then she will speak and show herself in public. Thus, a scheme that puts money or foodgrains in the hands of the poor will be inaugurated by her, but so also a bridge or airport which facilitates travel for the middle class and the affluent.
Despite his title, domestic politics is largely excluded from Manmohan Singh's portfolio. How to manage social conflict, how to renew our education system, how to put more doctors in rural areas — these concerns are naturally the preserve of specific ministries. Normally, a prime minister would at least exercise overall authority, guiding ministers along preferred paths or warning them against faulty ones. But this oversight is rarely, if ever, exercised, by Singh.
It is widely believed that in both the first and the second UPA governments, the Congress president had a major, perhaps a decisive, say in the composition of the cabinet — in who was chosen and how the portfolios were allocated. Afterwards, she continued to exercise some oversight, even if this be not substantial. At any rate, most ministers are more worried about her censure than that of the prime minister, and more appreciative of her praise as well.
In both party and government, Sonia Gandhi thus enjoys more authority than the prime minister. However, she exercises this authority in public only when it is likely to bring her sympathy and support from the electorate. All governments have, however, to sometimes make decisions that are controversial and unpopular. When these decisions are made, Sonia Gandhi has nothing to say.
The prime minister's silence on matters of major importance is a consequence of his greatly attenuated powers. The Congress president's silence is selective — she speaks or appears when she can be seen as a fairy godmother, but stays in seclusion if the short-term consequences of a particular policy are anger and hostility among sections of the population. Then, in the absence of prime minister and party president, it is left to senior ministers and party functionaries — such as Kapil Sibal and Digvijay Singh — to make statements that have a shelf-life of roughly 24 hours, before they are denied or rebutted by some other minister or party functionary.
Two words best capture the reaction of the current government to crises such as the Telangana, 2G, and Hazare/Ramdev affairs. These are confusion and inaction. Both are a consequence of a near-total abdication of responsibility, when it comes to domestic policies, by Manmohan Singh, and a selective abdication by Sonia Gandhi. Hailed by many commentators when it first presented itself in 2004, this jugalbandi of a prime minister with status but no authority and a party president with authority but no formal position in government has been exposed as unworkable. One wishes the prime minister had, at least in 2009, the courage to stand for a Lok Sabha seat — which he would have won, permitting him to enjoy the real respect of his colleagues in government. Or else the party president should, at least in 2009, have become prime minister herself, to take on the responsibility directly, to thus expose herself to public criticism as well as public praise.
By the standards of Indian politics both Singh and Ms Gandhi are decent people. Neither is sectarian, and both, I believe, have a genuine concern for the welfare of their compatriots. But the weakness of the one and the insecurity of the other have combined to produce an administration that is inept and incompetent beyond words. This has deeply damaged the credibility of Singh and Ms Gandhi, the credibility of the Congress, and the credibility of the republic of India itself.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
EU: UNJUST AND UNFAIR TO TURKEY
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was in Istanbul on Friday to meet his Turkish host Ahmet Davutoğlu. The two ministers met with different agendas in mind. Westerwelle wanted to discuss regional matters like Syria, Iran, Libya; as a long time friend, Germany wants to make use of Turkey's expertise and knowledge in the region. When it comes to make use of Germany's leverage for Turkey's long journey to membership to the European Union; there is not much to say nowadays and that is why Davutoğlu wanted to talk about the painful relations between Turkey and the EU.
The same day it was almost clear that the EU was going to enlist Croatia among its members. That is good news for Zagbreb, but there is nothing to enjoy for Ankara. On the contrary, it is almost clear that there will be no mention of Turkey in the EU's budget covering the next nine years up until 2020. There is no place for Turkey's growing economy in the minds of the leaders of the contracting economies of European countries.
It is not only Greece, on its way to be saved from bankruptcy with German and French and Swedish taxpayers' money; and only if the Greek people will swallow the bitter pill. Spain is the big nightmare of the strong, central and northern economies of Europe; because there is no one else to pay the bill.
It is hard to believe in the 21st century that the main reason why Turkey is kept out of the EU harbor, but always anchored at a safe distance, is religious and cultural differences. The obvious justification for denial is Cyprus. Because of the Cyprus problem, Turkey cannot open new chapters of negotiation with the EU. Especially after a shortsighted decision by the union to take in the Republic of Cyprus, as if they represent the Turkish Cypriot Republic and its people too, ignoring the United Nations' ongoing talks to reunite them.
That is not going to be easier under the circumstances. The Greek Nicosia hasn't got any motivation to make peace with the Turkish Nicosia, or Lefkoşa; they are pretty safe and sound as long as the status quo is sustained. And things might get worse when Greek Nicosia takes over the EU term presidency in the second half of 2012 - that is a year from now.
Will the EU be a stronger organization in political, economic and cultural terms with or without Turkey? Or is this a meaningless question? Then why cannot Brussels ask Turkey to, say 'Withdraw all troops on the island, a member country, withdraw your recognition and support from the Turkish Cypriot Republic, or the EU will cut all ties with Turkey, including membership talks?'
This is not a just and fair kind of relationship. And it is turning into a lose-lose game.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION STILL BREWING
What began as yet another event to honor the young lost lives of the Egyptian revolution and their families, gave rise to a brutal confrontation in Tahrir Square with riot police. The original event reportedly took place in another part of Cairo and was gate crashed by a small unidentified crowd of people. Next thing we know there were tens of thousands in the famous square under attack.
The events of Tuesday night in Tahrir Square alarmed many. They also happened hours after a court decision to dismantle all local government councils in the country. Rumors were it might be some of them instigating the events. There might be additional explanations. Whatever we choose to believe, it is certainly not in Egypt's best interest to exhaust its energy in pure chaos or to reinstate an environment of fear.
Since Tuesday night, many have been trying to get a clear picture. Nevertheless, the scenes of heavy tear gas, choking bodies and sounds of shots brought back memories of similar nights in January and February. It was disturbing. Who were those people, why was the police response so heavy? There were no real answers. There was much speculation.
Are we being paranoid? The immediate response to the events as they erupted Tuesday night from one of my younger activist friends was: "They want to steal our revolution but we won't let them." Leaders of the youth coalitions were swift to the scene and managed to get the interior minister to order his troops away from the square in the early hours of Wednesday. Was this show of police force deliberate to undermine the mobilization underway for the rally of millions on Friday, July 8?
Is there an organized attempt to destabilize the country as both the Military Council cautioned in its formal announcements against an organized attempt to destabilize the country? Political analysts pointed fingers at the invisible hands that want to see the rift increase and become confrontational between the military and the people. The prime minister called on the youth to safe guard their revolution against those who insist on creating chaos in the country. Even the interior minister, responsible for the brutal attack, called off the troops early Wednesday morning and requested everyone to restrain themselves. The thousands in the square demanded he step down.
The sequence of events certainly doesn't rule out familiar old guard strategies. Hooligans dispersed again to instigate violence and disrupt the revolutionary process. They have used sectarian strife many times, they have rumored lack of safety on the streets with staged and fictitious stories often enough and there is no reason to ignore the fact that they could very easily use the volatile emotional condition of the Martyr families to instigate more chaos and instability. Many are well aware of how the deposed regime maintained stability.
On Wednesday evening, in parallel to Tahrir another massive event with a very different flavor was taking place. An estimated 100, 000 Egyptians were gathered at the Cairo Stadium to watch the football match of the season. The previously scheduled meeting of the titans, Egypt's two top football teams, was first postponed early Wednesday morning, on account of the unclear events brewing all night in Tahrir. An hour later, the decision was reversed. The game was played and was well attended. Uniformed police and the military secured the event. Football matches have always been used for distraction. Was the match, without incident, a sign of stability or one of control, one may only wonder what it means.
Regardless of the many questions without answers, Egyptians will deal with the consequence. Investigations underway will shed more light in the days to come. The sure fact is the Egyptian revolution is still brewing and quite alive.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH AFGHANISTAN?
Afghanistan was in the news again. But this time, it was different. This time I am not referring to any kind of a terror attack on anywhere but the root cause. The governor of the Central Bank of Afghanistan announced his resignation from his home in Washington's suburbs. That is what I got from the news reports. Mr. Abdulkadir Fıtrat first left Afghanistan for the United States and then made an announcement regarding his resignation somewhere in northern Virginia. The announcement is further proof that the Kabul Bank scandal of last year was not only a bank failure but a government failure. I saw the problem with Afghanistan one more time when I read the news story. Let me tell you about the problem I saw in Afghanistan.
The problem with Afghanistan is not about the failure of an Afghani bank which was owned by close relatives of Afghani political elites. That we can see in any normal country. It is also not about connected lending that brought about the demise of Kabul Bank last year. Excessive lending to the owners of a bank can occur in any country. That was one of the reasons for the Turkish banking crisis in 2001, for example. It is also not only about regulatory failure on the part of banking watchdogs. Look at the situation in the U.S. and European banking failures! What struck me again was the fact that the former governor made his announcement at "his home" somewhere in Virginia. His family has already been living there and not in Afghanistan. I think this is the reason for the failure of all the efforts at state building in Afghanistan so far.
You can outsource many governmental services, but you cannot outsource basic governmental skills on a temporary basis. Are you following the development debate nowadays? A country's performance is a function of its capabilities. The level of development of a country depends very much on the quality and variety of the capabilities it has managed to put together. The latter involves both the skill sets of the labor force and the quality of institutions together with situation of infrastructure in the country. Afghan reconstruction has failed at enlarging the Afghani capabilities set so far despite billions of dollars spent by foreign donors. You can build hospitals with cutting-edge technology, but you still need skilled labor to make them operational. The Afghan case has also taught us that you cannot provide these services properly with temporary workers who plan to leave the country for their "home" as early as possible.
This feature of Afghan reconstruction struck me a few years ago, when I first visited Kabul. In every ministry I visited, I saw two types of Afghanis: Plump guys in western business suits and slim ones in traditional Afghani attire. The former are in the decision-making posts while the latter are only walking around. Then I learned that the former have two different passports and dual citizenship, while the latter have only one; the families of the former live abroad, while that of the latter are residing in Kabul. I think that makes a difference, a significant one.
However, deficiency in basic administrative skills is a bigger issue. Solving the problem by increasing the number of bureaucrats with two different passports does not work. They should definitely see Afghanistan as their home, not their temporary office. If you ask me, that is why Afghanistan's reconstruction is not working.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
A DON QUIXOTE TILTS AT YALIKAVAK WINDMILLS
The sleeping dogs along the yacht-lined waterfront are the mascots for the mood in this pastoral town at the tip of the Bodrum Peninsula. A bit of sand. A placid sea. Only a boy running tea to the barbershop momentarily breaks the leisurely pace of the marketplace, the "çarşı içi" here.
Which is why the contrast is so unsettling, an almost violent transformation. Depart the reality of the Aegean summer, enter that of Zen Art, a cafe of sorts turned improbable art gallery. Step off the path along the sea and into a room that explodes in colors, that visually challenges the precepts of faith, the justice of urban life, the illusion of freedom.
Impressionistic skyscrapers rise up on one acrylic landscape, a tyranny reigning over the tiny pushcarts below… Istanbul? New York? Tehran? Galloping horses, broken reins streaming about their heads as they plunge out of cyclone of dust… is this freedom? Or is it birth? A high and narrow temple, rendered in hues of gold and red incorporates hints of all the monotheisms… why does it also convey so much pain? There are the classic scenes of fishing boats bobbing at anchor, seagulls circling overhead. But why are most of the fisher folk in this space of light and shadow lashed to the rudder, steering into the gale or struggling to avoid a sweep against the rocks?
Nature's gray and a white paint chip fleck Zeki Kaba's beard. He doesn't answer my questions. He pops a match to light his cigarette, and that of another classmate from so many years ago, Melih Metiner. Rather than answer, Zeki goes back to that day of fading memory, back to the strike he led at Boğaziçi University to end a grading system we all hated.
"That time we won," Zeki recalls. "Back when there was democracy at universities."
Melih orders a plate of chicken wings, the specialty at Zen Art. Zeki fills in the intervening years. We pull our greasy meal apart and wash it down with beer.
The shop at the Maçka hotel that didn't last long. The foray into Iran, and the plan to bring farm technology from Spain that was foiled by the Iran-Iraq war. The discovery of the art of miniatures, the tiny engravings on pieces of bone, motifs handed down from the ancient shamans. The marriage that didn't quite work out. The son soon to graduate from studies in animation. The tax changes that ruined a business in the 1980s. The change of government that ended an agriculture cooperative among 11 villages a decade later. The good years in America and the decorative candles for the Lucy Maxym Collection which sold at Gum's and Macy's.
And then in 2006, Zeki was broke. Again. He wound up in Bodrum. He had never painted before, miniatures were his realm: "I learned to make things bigger," he said. He sold them on the streets. One at a time. In 2008, business was brisk enough to open the gallery. Last year, he exhibited in Istanbul, at Toprak Sanat Galerisi in Nişantaşı. This year there will be a show in Dijon, France, another next year in Palm Beach.
Zeki doesn't answer my questions about the paintings. He answers the ones about his life. I realize they are one and the same.
"I like my paintings," Zeki tells me. "But more importantly, my paintings like me."
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE STUPIDITY OF BOYCOTTING PARLIAMENT
Things looked quite promising just three weekends ago. Turkey had its general elections, all smooth and fair, with an amazingly high turnout. Four big parties passed 10 percent national threshold, whereas smaller ones almost all vanished, maximizing the "representative power" of Parliament. The triumphant winner, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, declared his victory with a message of modesty and reconciliation, and many people believed that we were at the dawn of a softer era in Turkish politics.
But this is Turkey, and you always have to expect the worst here. No wonder it took just a few days to realize that we were actually on the brink of a new crisis. Three of the four parties that made their way to Parliament, the Republican People's Party, or CHP, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, had several candidates who were in jail as terror or coup suspects. Their expectation was that being elected to Parliament would bless these candidates with immunity, and open their way to Parliament. But, the courts disagreed, saying, effectively, "well, we got them in prison, and we don't care whether they are elected or not."
Locking the deadlock
So, all these opposition parties have missing seats in Parliament now: Six "terror suspects" from the BDP, two "coup suspects" from the CHP, and another "coup suspect," a retired general, from the MHP.
But that is the least of our problems. For two of the parties in question, the BDP and CHP, now refuse to join the Parliament "until this crisis is resolved." The BDP team even refuses to come to Ankara, and is rather meeting in Diyarbakır, their future would-be capital. The CHP deputies, all 135 of them, walked into the Parliament building, but refused to take the oath that they must take to become a functioning member of the legislature. (It is an absurd oath, as I have pointed out, but still a legal necessity under current laws.)
Now, as my title suggests, I think this is simply a stupid tactic for the two parties in question. First of all, the cause of their problem is the judiciary, and not the Parliament. So, there is no sense at all in boycotting Parliament, to which they have been sent by their millions of voters.
Second, if there is going to be a solution to the crisis, it will come from nowhere but Parliament, which might pass a law covering incarcerated suspects if they are elected to Parliament. By refusing to join the only institution which can unlock the deadlock, these two opposition parties, as a headline in the Turkish press put it, "locked themselves in a room, and threw away the key."
The MHP, who also has an empty seat – that of Gen. Engin Alan, who is a suspect under arrest in the controversial "Balyoz" (Sledgehammer) case – seems to be more logical here as it has joined Parliament out of "respect for the national will."
Brinkmanship at its purest
The BDP and the CHP has their reasoning, of course. They believe that the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, can exercise a sort of hidden hand over the court decisions that keep their deputies in jail. But the AKP, in return, says that the judiciary does its job and that it is preposterous to expect them to give orders to judges to set the deputies in question free. The AKP also has a counter-argument: that these parties, particularly the CHP, knew that a crisis would arise because of these jailed candidates, and they supported them intentionally.
Right now, the two sides seem to be playing brinkmanship at its purest. The CHP and BDP threaten the AKP and effectively say, "You will do something to rescue our candidates, or otherwise we will block the whole system." (Senior CHP figure İsa Gök even said, "We will bring the AKP to its knees.") The AKP, in return, implies, "Well, this is your problem, not ours, and we will just do what we do, no matter what you do."
I would like to have seen constructive dialogue, mutual concessions, and cooperative solutions instead of this confrontation. But I know that one would be a bit naïve to expect that in Turkey. I also know that the CHP is just shooting itself in the foot: the boycott will do no harm to the AKP, but will only marginalize the CHP, or lead to intra-party disputes, or bring them, in their own words, "to their knees."
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
TURKEY, EVOLUTION TOWARD A REGIONAL POWER
Whether the West lost Turkey was one of the main discussion topics in Washington as of last year. Turkey's close Iran relations, and its vote against the strong will of the U.S. at the United Nations Security Council in the case of sanctions against Iran, appalled many observers at the time. Terrible relations with Israel were another element of Turkey's foreign policy that the U.S. administration took great issue with.
Since the Arab Spring began, discussions about Turkey have changed dramatically in Washington. Turkey's Muslim background and multi-party democracy ushered it in as an actor that is most valuable in the East for the West, and versa. President Barack Obama's frequent calls to Ankara or U.S.' constant embracing toward Ankara's Syrian policy are two current samples to prove that value.
While Turkey is enjoying its regional popularity, the region's other rival powers in the region, such as Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel, appear to be on the losing side of the big transformation. Egypt, as the largest Arab country, is going through a revolution itself and will be extremely busy in years to come to sort out its complicated political, economic, security issues and many others.
Iran, for a while, tried hard to cast itself as supportive of the protesters in relatively distant places, such as Libya or Egypt. Although its rhetoric suddenly became a gross hypocrisy when it backed the Syrian regime's cracking down on the same demands of freedom. Sanctions continue to weaken the Islamic regime, as the increasing demand for democracy in the region sheds more light on Iran's own democratic deficits.
The Arab Spring also isolated Israel further by pushing out Hosni Mubarak, its stable ally. Now, while Israel is trying to stop Palestinians from going to the U.N. for recognition, it feels great pressure under Obama's moderately tough 1967 line rhetoric.
Gen. Brent Scowroft, national security adviser to presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, in an interview in his office a block from the White House, told me that the "dissent or the growing hostility [against U.S.] in the region really comes from what they [Arabs] see as U.S. support for Israel as much as anything else. We are identified with our support to Israel's subjugation of Palestinians."
According to Scowcroft, as he reflected the thoughts of an important part of foreign policy elite in Washington, "because of injustice that the Arabs and Palestinians perceive, while they try to get rid of oppressive regimes through protests in various states, they also appear to want to get rid of this injustice... I think that sense of injustice is a deeper sentiment of the Arab Spring than the demands for democracy." Israel has increasingly felt like "a rejected son of Middle East" throughout the revolts, as one well-placed Israeli expert stated this week.
On Iran, Scowcroft finds Turkey's policy "complex, but at its heart, not that different [from the U.S.]. Turkey benefits economically from this relationship, however, fundamentally, Tehran and Istanbul are opposite poles. You cannot just wish this fact to go away. Turkey might help us more through working with Iran rather than reflecting U.S. hostility on them."
Scowcroft, whom until a year ago was the chairman of the American-Turkish Council, thinks that Turkey is finding its natural course and the U.S. should support and understand it. Atatürk, Scowcroft argues, took the Ottoman religious/political state and tore it apart, and established a secular democracy in its place, "which he felt that he had to impose this to take the Turkish attitude to a more normal state."
Scowcroft has also many misgivings over the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, mixed performance over freedom issues and seemed not sure which direction Turkey is going: more democratic or more authoritarian. And he doesn't think that after almost a decade of AKP rule, this enigma is not unusual.
Needless to say, this evolution can be completed only if/when Turkey solves its own constitutional questions and elevates its own democratic standards.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
CHERIE BLAIR NOT SO WELL – VERSED ON TURKEY
We recently met with Cherie Blair, the spouse of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, at the Istanbul home of Arzuhan Doğan Yalçındağ, the chairwoman of Doğan Holding and former president of the Turkish Industry and Business Association, or TÜSİAD.
I am fully aware.
It does gross injustice to refer to Cherie Blair as 'the spouse of former Prime Minister Tony Blair,' for Cherie Blair is the last person who would need her husband's title.
She is a competent attorney specializing in European Union law, human rights and public law, in addition to being a women's rights activist.
She set up a foundation under her own name in 2008 to support small – scale female entrepreneurs in developing countries.
The Cherie Blair Foundation has managed to reach out to some 5,000 women from North Africa to the Middle East and India within a short time span of about two years.
It is an old amity between Cherie Blair, who was invited to Istanbul by the Vodafone Foundation, and Yalçındağ, who received her at her home in Kandilli on a slightly rainy afternoon.
Both women are members of the International Advisory Board for Milano Expo 2015. And it is another matter of interest that all 15 of the board members are women.
The women of Milano Expo 2015
As far as I understand it, Cherie Blair is utilizing this fact about the advisory board to the advantage of her foundation in the name of 'women's solidarity.'
She expounds, for instance, that they were able to market their products thanks to the advisory board for Milano Expo 2015, while supporting small – scale agricultural enterprises owned by women in Kenya.
That is a crucial point, as it is nearly impossible for a small entrepreneur in Kenya to enter the European market all by herself.
The foundation's principle task is to provide mentorship, Cherie Blair further explains.
Guiding female entrepreneurs on which products are more profitable and how to market them is what they essentially do.
She suggested that we also take on an effective role in the 'Mentorship Platform' while we were chatting.
That a woman must be strong and stand on her own feet was something she learned very early on, Cherie Blair commented.
"When my father left home, my mother was left all alone with her two little daughters and no money," she said.
That her father abandoned a woman with two kids was something that empowered her throughout her entire life, as far as I can discern.
Technology, however, provides other ways to empower women, according to Cherie Blair.
Do Turkish women provide a role model?
The reason for her visit to Istanbul, in fact, is the campaign initiated by the Vodafone Foundation to close the gender gap in cell phone ownership.
It is a truism, as Blair mentions, that cell phones and the internet have a transformative effect on the lives of small – scale female entrepreneurs. But on the other side of the coin, is it not the underlying cause behind this campaign that a world giant like Vodafone wants to expand their markets by reaching out to women as well?
My second point of contention in my chat with Cherie Blair came about in regards to her comments about Turkey. Is it possible to agree with her claims that Turkish women could provide a role model for the Muslim world?
How did the 'role model provided by Turkish women' come about with all the talk in the foreign press about the notion of how Turkey could provide a role model for those countries in the region that started the 'Arab Spring.'
Do Turkish women have any presence in politics? No... The last general elections on June 12 did not even double the nine percent rate for women in the Parliament.
Are Turkish women participating sufficiently in the economic sphere? In comparison to the rest of the world, they are all the way in the backseat with a rate of 24 percent.
Honor killings, on the other hand, are abound, with a couple of women being killed each day.
And we are record breakers regarding the rate of child brides.
Then how exactly will Turkish women provide a role model?
One wishes Cherie Blair had better prepared for her trip to Istanbul.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE PENTAGON AFTER MR. GATES
Robert Gates was already a 40-year veteran of the national security establishment when President George W. Bush summoned him to assume command of a demoralized and embattled Pentagon in late 2006. He inherited incoherent spending priorities, a broken procurement process and two disastrously mismanaged wars.
Mr. Gates left office with a well-earned reputation for having met these challenges smartly and successfully.
In four-and-a-half years, under two very different presidents, a Republican and a Democrat, Mr. Gates began refocusing military spending around rational, 21st-century priorities. He demanded better accountability from top officers and military contractors. He started an urgently needed discussion on burden-sharing in NATO.
Mr. Gates presided over the successful withdrawal of roughly 100,000 American troops from Iraq, making it possible to devise new and better-resourced strategies to try to bring enough stability to Afghanistan so American troops will be able to come home from there, too.
The challenge for Mr. Gates's successor, Leon Panetta, is not just to build on that record but to go much further. He will need to press for more reforms to a military budget that accounts for roughly 50 cents of every dollar of federal discretionary spending. This can and must be done without endangering America's vital interests.
Mr. Panetta has the right credentials to do it. He made his name as a budget-cutter in Congress and in the Clinton White House and as a foreign policy moderate respected by both parties. Most recently, he ran the Central Intelligence Agency for President Obama.
Most of Mr. Gates's success in reordering the Pentagon's spending priorities has come from shifting money from cold-war-inspired programs that are no longer justified, like the F-22 fighter, to urgently needed new ones, like mine-resistant troop vehicles.
But when this year's fiscal crunch demanded real spending cuts, Mr. Gates resisted. Mr. Panetta must deliver the $400 billion in further savings (over the next 12 years) that President Obama has already called for and find ways to cut even further.
In a time of ongoing wars and other dangers, reductions cannot safely be applied across the board. They need to reflect a realistic reassessment of America's global priorities and strategies. Those are not matters for the Pentagon to decide on its own. But Mr. Panetta needs to play an active role in making sure military leaders are heard in the White House and in seeing that the president's decisions are faithfully carried out.
He must also stretch American tax dollars by increasing pressure on NATO and other allies to contribute more effectively to future military operations. And he must help the Obama administration devise a safe and honorable exit strategy from Afghanistan. American interests, not budget pressures, should drive that strategy. And an exit from Afghanistan will not mean an exit from global military responsibilities. The United States must be ready to intervene unexpectedly, in places like Libya, and cannot afford to ignore China's military ambitions and prowess.
As Robert Gates so often stressed, the Pentagon's focus must be on fighting today's wars and tomorrow's, not yesterday's, and fighting them alongside allies capable of doing their share for the common defense.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHAT GOV. CUOMO LEFT UNDONE
Gov. Andrew Cuomo showed that it was possible to get New York's chronically inert Legislature to approve several of his top priorities this year. He made history, getting the new law allowing same-sex marriage passed. He started the clean-up of Albany's tainted government with an ethics bill that requires more transparency. And he prevailed in getting a more rational tuition plan to help the state's public universities.
The budget package he pushed through, however, will devastate many cash-strapped communities and hurt low-income families.
Needier New Yorkers will soon start to feel the deep cuts made to health care and education in Mr. Cuomo's budget. He refused to extend a tax surcharge on the highest earners, which would raise about $4 billion in revenue a year and reduce the need for some cuts. He campaigned especially hard for a 2 percent annual cap on property taxes that will hobble poor districts in the state.
There is still plenty left for Mr. Cuomo and the legislators to do. Instead of waiting for the January session, they should return by mid-September to finish their work.
¶New York needs an independent commission to draw new political districts in time for next year's elections. The state's redistricting process after every census is notoriously slow and unfair. Mr. Cuomo's bill, introduced in February, would create a bipartisan group to draw districts based more on criteria like having near-equal populations and lines that are contiguous with county boundaries. A laughable proposal by State Senate Republicans puts off the whole problem until 2022.
¶Mr. Cuomo should push harder for a cleaner campaign financing system for the 2012 elections. That would mean lowering the contribution limits, banning the unlimited contributions to party "housekeeping" accounts and phasing in public financing for state office races.
¶The governor needs to get the State Senate to approve a bill to create new health care exchanges to serve small businesses and individuals. A delay in passing the law could cost the state millions of dollars in federal financing for this program.
¶Mr. Cuomo announced a smart set of proposals last month to reduce the ballooning costs of state and city pensions. His proposal would only affect new hires, but if he used his political skills to bring the Legislature around, these changes could save $30 billion over 30 years for the city and almost $100 billion for the rest of the state.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
ONE FINE DAY
Last week, there was a day I hesitate to call perfect only because I would hate it if the perfect day had already come and gone in my life. But when that perfect day comes at last it will probably resemble the one last week. The western breeze had cleaned the sun and purified the light, which fell moteless on the farm.
I recognized the day. It's the one that's inconceivable in mid-winter. It's also the one in which mid-winter itself is inconceivable — an antipodal day. The entrances to the hives were yellow with pollen rubbed off as the bees came and went, jodphured with the stuff. It was a woodchuck day, too, with all of them out, heads high, looking like grass-otters. As I walked up from the barn, a pair of blond kit foxes — raised on my April chickens — spilled out of the culvert and scampered up the fence line.
Life seems raw and irrepressible on a day like that. Every niche is fully occupied. At dawn, I walk through one spider trap after another, trailing silk. Any object I move, I discover a colony of creatures behind or under or inside it. This is a farm of overlapping settlements and empires, and I plod through undoing the ant and earwig nations just by moving a five gallon bucket or a fence rail.
I take refuge in the chaos of life here. It is what we have — "we" meaning the kinship of all species. The strange part about being human is that "life" so easily comes to mean a quantity of time, an allotment of experience. We note that we are alive, without recognizing that we are, for a time, indomitable organisms sharing a planet with indomitable organisms of every other kind.
These are pure-sun, western-breeze thoughts, steam rising from compost. But on the day I mean, it seemed like a tossup. Either everything was sentient along with me, or we were all sharing a vital insentience. That was the kind of day it was.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SLAVERY IN THE MODERN AGE
Anyone who thinks slavery ended with the 13th Amendment is not paying attention. According to the latest State Department statistics, as many as 100,000 people in the United States are in bondage and perhaps 27 million people worldwide. The numbers are staggering.
These victims of human trafficking are vulnerable men, women or children coerced into servitude for sex or labor. They might be transported from Russia to Europe, from the Philippines to Dubai, or held in their hometown.
The stories are heartbreaking. The Cambodian girl sold to a brothel who was stabbed in the eye by the brothel's owner when she fought back. The Middle Eastern woman hired as a domestic in London whose employers seized her passport and locked her away in the house. The teenager in Dallas forced into prostitution.
In 2000, the United States enacted an antitrafficking law and the United Nations adopted the Palermo Protocol. Both call for countries to criminalize trafficking, punish offenders and provide shelter to victims.
In its 2011 trafficking report, the State Department concluded that last year only 32 of 184 countries fully complied with the standards set by the American law. The number on the list of the worst violators rose to 23 from 13. Two close United States allies, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, joined that list of shame.
There has been progress. In the last decade, 146 countries signed the protocol and 128 of those passed laws banning human trafficking. That reflects a growing and encouraging acceptance of a problem once denied.
There is still much to do. All nations should sign the protocol, pass tough national laws and work vigorously to ensure their implementation. Abusers, including firms that hire trafficked employees, must be prosecuted and victims protected. No human being should be enslaved.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
HEMINGWAY, HOUNDED BY THE FEDS
BY A. E. HOTCHNER
EARLY one morning, 50 years ago today, while his wife, Mary, slept upstairs, Ernest Hemingway went into the vestibule of his Ketchum, Idaho, house, selected his favorite shotgun from the rack, inserted shells into its chambers and ended his life.
There were many differing explanations at the time: that he had terminal cancer or money problems, that it was an accident, that he'd quarreled with Mary. None were true. As his friends knew, he'd been suffering from depression and paranoia for the last year of his life.
Ernest and I were friends for 14 years. I dramatized many of his stories and novels for television specials and film, and we shared adventures in France, Italy, Cuba and Spain, where, as a pretend matador with Ernest as my manager, I participated in a Ciudad Real bullfight. Ernest's zest for life was infectious.
In 1959 Ernest had a contract with Life magazine to write about Spain's reigning matadors, the brothers-in-law Antonio Ordóñez and Luis Miguel Dominguín. He cabled me, urging me to join him for the tour. It was a glorious summer, and we celebrated Ernest's 60th birthday with a party that lasted two days.
But I remember it now as the last of the good times.
In May 1960, Ernest phoned me from Cuba. He was uncharacteristically perturbed that the unfinished Life article had reached 92,453 words. The contract was for 40,000; he was having nightmares.
A month later he called again. He had cut only 530 words, he was exhausted and would it be an imposition to ask me to come to Cuba to help him?
I did, and over the next nine days I submitted list upon list of suggested cuts. At first he rejected them: "What I've written is Proustian in its cumulative effect, and if we eliminate detail we destroy that effect." But eventually he grudgingly consented to cutting 54,916 words. He was resigned, surrendering, and said he would leave it to Life to cut the rest.
I got on the plane back to New York knowing my friend was "bone-tired and very beat-up," but thinking he simply needed rest and would soon be his old dominating self again.
In November I went out West for our annual pheasant shoot and realized how wrong I was. When Ernest and our friend Duke MacMullen met my train at Shoshone, Idaho, for the drive to Ketchum, we did not stop at the bar opposite the station as we usually did because Ernest was anxious to get on the road. I asked why the hurry.
"They tailed us all the way. Ask Duke."
"Well ... there was a car back of us out of Hailey."
"Why are F.B.I. agents pursuing you?" I asked.
"It's the worst hell. The goddamnedest hell. They've bugged everything. That's why we're using Duke's car. Mine's bugged. Everything's bugged. Can't use the phone. Mail intercepted."
We rode for miles in silence. As we turned into Ketchum, Ernest said quietly: "Duke, pull over. Cut your lights." He peered across the street at a bank. Two men were working inside. "What is it?" I asked.
"Auditors. The F.B.I.'s got them going over my account."
"But how do you know?"
"Why would two auditors be working in the middle of the night? Of course it's my account."
All his friends were worried: he had changed; he was depressed; he wouldn't hunt; he looked bad.
Ernest, Mary and I went to dinner the night before I left. Halfway through the meal Ernest said we had to leave immediately. Mary asked what was wrong.
"Those two F.B.I. agents at the bar, that's what's wrong."
The next day Mary had a private talk with me. She was terribly distraught. Ernest spent hours every day with the manuscript of his Paris sketches — published as "A Moveable Feast" after his death — trying to write but unable to do more than turn its pages. He often spoke of destroying himself and would sometimes stand at the gun rack, holding one of the guns, staring out the window.
On Nov. 30 he was registered under an assumed name in the psychiatric section of St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minn., where, during December, he was given 11 electric shock treatments.
In January he called me from outside his room. He sounded in control, but his voice held a heartiness that didn't belong there and his delusions had not changed or diminished. His room was bugged, and the phone was tapped. He suspected that one of the interns was a fed.
During a short release he twice attempted suicide with a gun from the vestibule rack. And on a flight to the Mayo Clinic, though heavily sedated, he tried to jump from the plane. When it stopped in Casper, Wyo., for repairs, he tried to walk into the moving propeller.
I visited him in June. He had been given a new series of shock treatments, but it was as before: the car bugged, his room bugged. I said it very gently: "Papa, why do you want to kill yourself?"
"What do you think happens to a man going on 62 when he realizes that he can never write the books and stories he promised himself? Or do any of the other things he promised himself in the good days?"
"But how can you say that? You have written a beautiful book about Paris, as beautiful as anyone can hope to write."
"The best of that I wrote before. And now I can't finish it."
I told him to relax or even retire.
"Retire?" he said. "Unlike your baseball player and your prizefighter and your matador, how does a writer retire? No one accepts that his legs are shot or the whiplash gone from his reflexes. Everywhere he goes, he hears the same damn question: what are you working on?"
I told him he never cared about those dumb questions.
"What does a man care about? Staying healthy. Working good. Eating and drinking with his friends. Enjoying himself in bed. I haven't any of them. You understand, goddamn it? None of them." Then he turned on me. I was just like the others, pumping him for information and selling him out to the feds. After that day, I never saw him again.
This man, who had stood his ground against charging water buffaloes, who had flown missions over Germany, who had refused to accept the prevailing style of writing but, enduring rejection and poverty, had insisted on writing in his own unique way, this man, my deepest friend, was afraid — afraid that the F.B.I. was after him, that his body was disintegrating, that his friends had turned on him, that living was no longer an option.
Decades later, in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the F.B.I. released its Hemingway file. It revealed that beginning in the 1940s J. Edgar Hoover had placed Ernest under surveillance because he was suspicious of Ernest's activities in Cuba. Over the following years, agents filed reports on him and tapped his phones. The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary's Hospital. It is likely that the phone outside his room was tapped after all.
In the years since, I have tried to reconcile Ernest's fear of the F.B.I., which I regretfully misjudged, with the reality of the F.B.I. file. I now believe he truly sensed the surveillance, and that it substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.
I was in Rome the day he died.
I did not go to Ketchum for the funeral. Instead I went to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, one of his favorite churches, and said goodbye to him there. I recalled a favorite dictum of his: man can be destroyed, but not defeated.
A. E. Hotchner is the author of "Papa Hemingway" and "Hemingway and His World."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PAY WORKERS FAIRLY AND SAVE MONEY
BY JANICE M. NITTOLI
DESPITE persistent unemployment and stagnant wages, few believe that our cash-strapped government is likely to simply create better-paying jobs. But there is a way for this country to get more from the millions of jobs we already finance with federal dollars, while reducing the cost of entitlement programs.
Our government shops for half a trillion dollars in goods and services each year. Nearly one of every four workers is employed by a company that receives federal contracts. But many government contractors routinely violate minimum-wage and maximum-hour laws. A 2010 study of the 50 largest wage penalties by the Government Accountability Office found that half were against companies that received federal contracts in the 2009 fiscal year. This meant not only that workers received less than their due, but also caused a drain on tax dollars, as they turned to Medicaid and food stamps to make ends meet.
President Obama should mandate, in an executive order, that all federal contractors obey the wage and hour laws already on the books.
Although they are already supposed to obey these laws, companies frequently break them; the penalties are minimal, while enforcement is sporadic. If employers had to certify to the government that they complied and risked losing multiyear, multimillion-dollar contracts if they were caught lying, they would be much more likely to follow the rules. Certification would function as a self-enforcement mechanism, and would be more effective than the existing policing system, which relies heavily on understaffed state and federal labor agencies.
We have for too long turned a blind eye when the companies we buy from shortchange their workers.
In 2009 the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-backed research organization, estimated that nearly 20 percent of all federal contract workers earned less than the federal poverty wage of $9.91 an hour. About 400,000 of these workers earn less than $22,000 a year, the federal poverty line for a family of four. A 2006 study of federal apparel contractors estimated that for any factory with 100 employees, that shortfall resulted in a bill to taxpayers of $292,000 for public assistance.
Making this change need not await the conclusion of an endless Washington debate. Mr. Obama could mandate it tomorrow. (President John F. Kennedy did something similar for equal employment opportunity, in 1961.)
The simplicity of this proposal is an advantage over previous plans for so-called high-road contracting. Some were too complicated; others foundered because they were back-door attempts to raise minimum wages or mandate employer-sponsored health insurance, laudable but controversial goals. Conservatives often object to anything that strikes them as excessively generous to labor, but mandating that our laws be observed should be something everyone can agree on.
The number of workers affected by such an executive order would be huge. They include skilled workers who make stealth helicopters and infrared goggles, and also those who sew Army uniforms, clean and guard federal offices, serve food in cafeterias, mow lawns at military bases and do laundry.
Too many of them depend on public assistance to supplement their wages. As taxpayers, we pour money into this leaky bucket and end up paying twice for services we get once. Safety nets are important, but we should also seek to lay out trampolines to lift workers into a growth economy. One act of leadership could make our federal spending part of the solution instead of the problem.
Janice M. Nittoli is the associate vice president and a managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MAKE FOOD CHOICES SIMPLE: COOK
BY MARK BITTMAN
Mark Bittman on food and all things related.
Is there enough food? How do we get it to people? What is its quality? These common questions all concern supply; people spend a lifetime addressing them, and if you closely examine any one, you're ensnared in a complex web.
Yet we don't spend enough time discussing what happens to food once it's in the home. Or what doesn't happen. Which is cooking. And that part is pretty simple.
Not long ago, cooking was a common topic. Weekly food sections of newspapers were filled with it. Churches self-published cookbooks by the pile. There were even real cooking shows and cookbooks.
Now, if it weren't for the vibrant but dwindling community of bloggers, we'd hardly see actual cooking discussed at all. There are but a fraction of the food pages there once were in newspapers, and most cookbooks are offshoots of TV "cooking" shows, almost all of which are game shows, reality television shows or shows about celebrities.
Like many professional urbanites with grown children, I often succumb to the temptation to work late and eat out with friends. That experience, effortless and pleasurable in anticipation, is usually expensive — even when it's at a theoretically inexpensive restaurant — and frustrating; more often than not it's unsatisfying. (Note that this means it's also sometimes satisfying, which is why I keep doing it; it's a gamble.)
When I cook, though, everything seems to go right. I shop an average of every two weeks in a supermarket, and make a couple of trips a week to smaller stores. I'm aware that my choices are mostly imperfect, but I rarely conclude that I should make a burger and fries for dinner or provide a pound per person of prison-raised pork served with fruit from 10,000 miles away, followed by a cake full of sugar and artificial ingredients. Yet, for the most part, that describes restaurant food.
This time of year, I'll buy local greens and local fish and wind up eating half or less of the food I would have if I had eaten out. Dessert only happens if someone else buys or makes it because I won't do either; I might schlep home a piece of watermelon. The starter, if there is one, might range from bread with butter or oil to homemade hummus or other bean dip to home-roasted or fried nuts, or some salami or ham, hunks of which remain in the fridge for weeks.
That's pretty much it. The investment is minimal: A quick shopping trip takes me a half-hour, including the walk or drive. It takes me about half or three-quarters of an hour to cook, not including the time that it took to make that bean dip or bread, both of which last for days. The time spent eating is relaxing and uninterrupted by the insipid ritual: "Is everything tasting to your liking?" or "You guys O.K.?" It takes 10 minutes to clean up.
Compared with a restaurant, the frustrations and annoyances are minimal, the food is as good or better-tasting, unquestionably healthier and more environmentally friendly, and much less expensive. Saturday night, for example, I fed four people a dinner of nuts, a small frittata, fish, salad and watermelon for far less than two of us would have spent at Applebee's.
It's not that I'm unconcerned about the supply side. I can't help bugging myself with questions about whether the food I buy is "good" enough: pesticides? fertilizer? endangered fish? carbon footprint? fair pay for farmworkers?
But these are shopping questions, not cooking and eating questions. Shopping is the time to be critical. (Eating is the time to enjoy.) Buy things that you feel answer to your standards, and you'll be a cut above most restaurant food in every category. You'll know exactly what you're putting in your mouth and how much of it. (Who buys 20-ounce steaks for one person at home?) You'll move in the right direction, cooking and eating less meat and junk and more plants.
In most restaurants, the questions are pointless because you relinquish all control. At McDonald's, the main goals seem to involve making the food safe and consistent, not producing it ethically. (They would surely argue with this, and, perhaps, they've made some progress. But really?) In pricier restaurants, the goal seems to be to impress you with presentation, originality and glamour.
I recognize that I'm privileged, though, in fact, I have friends who are better cooks than I am, who have access to better food and who have more leisure. I recognize, too, that there are many people for whom time and money and skills and even access are challenges. The thing, though, is not to discount this argument simply because not everyone is in a position to benefit from it, but rather to use it to benefit those it can, and to create the same possibilities for everyone.
A version of this article appeared in print on July 2, 2011.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
CONSERVATIVE CASH CROP
BY TIMOTHY EGAN
Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.
The media jackals have been all over Representative Michele Bachmann for misstatements, zany ideas and alterations to history as she kicked off her presidential run in Waterloo, Iowa, home to serial killer John Wayne Gacy — not the actor John Wayne, as she said in her evocation of dreamy small-town life.
From her contention that eliminating the minimum wage would mean full employment to her assertion that "almost all" people in the "gay lifestyle" have been abused, these things can be explained. Bachmann has a worldview that requires constant reshaping in the face of real life. However, if God is writing the script for her campaign, as she says, He needs a fact-checker.
When pressed this week on her unique view of American origins — that "the very same founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more" — Bachmann doubled-down, citing as her only proof the abolitionist John Quincy Adams. Given that Adams was just 8 years old when the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, 10-year-old Sasha Obama should be remembered for killing the world's top terrorist.
All of the above only fortifies Bachmann's position with a Republican base that would eat dog food for breakfast if the government said you should not.
But what is more troubling is the issue raised by taxpayer payments for various Bachmann family enterprises. This is where rigid ideology meets mushy reality. The Bachmann family farm in Wisconsin got $251,000 in federal handouts from 1995 to 2009, according to the invaluable table of subsidies put out annually by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research organization.
There's no story there, Bachmann insisted this week, because she and her husband didn't get a dime from the farm. It went to her late father-in-law, she said. If that were so, why did she list herself and husband as financial partners in the farm for every year that she has been in Congress? Are her Congressional disclosure forms accurate, the ones with a handwritten declaration of earning "farm income" of up to $102,500 from the Bachmann limited partnership?
Her husband, Marcus Bachmann, while farming the government one way through the business of his parents, tills another field of federal money with his mental health clinic in Lake Elmo, Minn., which offers "quality Christian counseling" for the troubled. The clinic has collected Medicaid payments of roughly $137,000 since 2005, NBC News reported this week, on top of $24,000 in state funds to train the clinic's staff.
Fine. It's all legal. Wouldn't every small business love to have a stream of reliable government revenue. And the hypocrisy of a socialism-hating Tea Party leader professing to own a piece of a farm that has been engaged in the nation's most indefensible socialist scheme is just standard behavior for a politician worthy of the calling.
Bachmann's fabrications show a brain fevered in cognitive dissonance. She has to believe that the founders were perfect and divinely inspired — not flawed men who rose to greatness. Not, in Thomas Jefferson's case, even much of a Christian, and an owner of slaves valued as 3/5 of a person in those same heaven-sent blueprints.
So she tells a fable, and like Sarah Palin when caught in a lie, refuses to admit the mistake. Her supporters cite Barack Obama, the candidate, who mentioned that he'd been to "57 states" in the 2008 campaign. See, he makes stuff up, too! The obvious difference is that Obama did not continue to insist on the accuracy of the error.
Farm subsidies are at least consistent with modern Republican ideas on wealth concentration. But, in every other way, they make a mockery of Bachmann's political philosophy.
Even in times of bumper crops and record prices, rich landowners reap a harvest of tax dollars. Many of them, like those self-described partners in agriculture Michele and Marcus Bachmann, seldom get any dirt under their fingernails. About 90,000 checks went out last year to landowners who live in cities. Ah, to be a therapist with a field of federally fertilized corn.
Nationwide, 10 percent of the subsidized farms get 76 percent of all the handouts: $447,873 per recipient over the last 16 years, the database shows.
These payments assure protection from the cruel swings of the free market. Bachmann herself has pressed for even more farm socialism. In 2009, she praised the Agriculture Department for injecting money into the pork industry in an effort to keep prices up — and she urged further government intervention.
"You don't privatize your profit and socialize your losses," she said this week, to a big cheer. If only it were true on the Bachmann family farm.
A version of this article appeared in print on July 2, 2011.
Note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly implied that Jefferson helped write the Constitution; that has been corrected.
I. THE NEWS
RS780M A MONTH!
It is hard to imagine a more ludicrous situation. The government is paying the enormous sum of Rs780 million a month to the Turkish power-rental ship Karkey, under an agreement reached in 2009. This came to light during the hearing of a petition involving eight power companies and proposals to raise power tariffs. At present, Karkey is producing only 30 megawatts of power, against an agreement to add 231 MWs to the system. According to a report in this newspaper, the government has failed to supply oil to the company, since commercial banks have refused to extend additional credit to it to finance the power sector. Crippling circular debt adds to the problems being faced. Meanwhile, there are allegations of massive corruption and mismanagement in the power sector that have been circulating for a very long time. It is not an irrelevant fact that the representative in Pakistan of the company owning Karkey is Raja Babar Ali Zulqarnain – the son of Azad Kashmir president Raja Zulqarnain Khan of the Muslim Conference. While ordinary consumers have been forced to pay more and more for a power tariff that continues to rise, money from all kinds of dodgy deals is obviously going into the pockets of influential individuals. This is something the country just cannot afford.
There are many other uses that come to mind for the Rs780 million currently being paid to a foreign company – with nothing gained in return. The worsening parity with the dollar only makes things still more difficult. The whole issue of power-sector deals is one that needs to be looked into. We already have a great deal of evidence that things have gone seriously wrong. The time has come to save citizens from the consequences of mismanagement and corruption. They currently face these both in the form of rising rates for the utility and the price hike that has already caused grave economic losses and added considerably to the growing burden of unemployment. It is also essential that action be initiated against those responsible for the loss of public money. It is important that an example is set so that those who wield power are aware that some mechanism of accountability exists. The belief that they are immune from this can only add to acts of wrongdoing and to the burdens they place on a nation that is already struggling in a sea of troubles.
I. THE NEWS
SHUT-UP TO TIP
The National Corruption Perception Survey (NCPS), which lists countries on the scale of corruption, is generally launched in June every year. Except this year, arm-twisting by the PPP-led coalition government has prevented Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) from producing its annual Pakistan survey. The administration of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), which conducted the survey last year, was reluctant to do it this year because the Institute's students and researchers were allegedly harassed by the government for their work last year. TIP-government relations soured after successive reports showing the present PPP regime as being among the most corrupt in the world. Indeed, NCPS 2010 showed that 70 percent of Pakistanis perceived this government to be more corrupt than the previous one. According to the NCPS 2010, overall corruption in 2010 more than doubled to a staggering Rs223 billion, from Rs195 billion in 2009. And between 2008 and 2010, Pakistan had graduated from being the 47th most corrupt country in the world to the 34th. We had come to know all this thanks to – who else? – Transparency International.
Despite the fact that a so-called democratic government has been elected in the country, things remain the same. In fact, instead of taking measures to check corruption, the government has started using all kinds of pressure tactics to bar independent international organisations from exposing its wrongdoings. TIP chairman Adil Gilani has received threats and himself been entangled in a corruption case. In a democracy, public leaders must be accountable to the people they serve. Accountability necessitates that public leaders provide logical and acceptable explanations for their actions and decisions. In Pakistan's case, not only do the leaders refuse to be held accountable, they are also taking all kinds of corrupt measures to conceal their corrupt practices. This is so because successive governments in the past, both military and civil, have done little against corruption, and because of their inaction helped solidify a culture of institutionalised corruption in the country. Pakistan doesn't just require short-term leadership changes; what it needs is long-term, incremental changes in government and institutional structures. Administrative, economic, political, and judicial reforms will never yield the desired results if they are entrusted to corrupt leaders. But if the current institutional context itself remains unchanged, power will inevitably, and repeatedly, end up in the hands of those who have a record of abusing it. This is why structural change is key.
I. THE NEWS
YET MORE GRIM
The horrors refuse to end in Balochistan. A new report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, based on the findings of a mission that visited the province to review matters there, warns that things may be even grimmer than we thought and that the province could be spiralling downwards into a state of chaos. According to findings put forward by HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf and other representatives of the commission at a press conference in Islamabad, forced disappearances continue in Balochistan. The bodies of 140 missing persons have been found. Another 71 remain missing. Recovered bodies, found on streets, often bear signs of torture. The HRCP has made a significant point; the problem is not one of law and order – it is political in nature. The fact that the provincial government barely exists in the lives of people adds to the sense of anarchy. The involvement of security agencies in the "picking up" and illegal detention of people only complicates matters further.
Over the past few months, many different warnings have come in of the state of affairs in Balochistan. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has highlighted the issue of targeted killings in the province. The Supreme Court too has commented on growing anarchy and has demanded that it be tackled. The latest report from the HRCP should act as a reminder of the urgency of the situation. The organisation, which has been monitoring the situation in Balochistan for many years, has made a set of recommendations. These need to be heeded and other necessary measures need to be taken to ensure that there is a return to normalcy in a province where stories of horror surface at regular intervals.
YET MORE GRIM
The horrors refuse to end in Balochistan. A new report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, based on the findings of a mission that visited the province to review matters there, warns that things may be even grimmer than we thought and that the province could be spiralling downwards into a state of chaos. According to findings put forward by HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf and other representatives of the commission at a press conference in Islamabad, forced disappearances continue in Balochistan. The bodies of 140 missing persons have been found. Another 71 remain missing. Recovered bodies, found on streets, often bear signs of torture. The HRCP has made a significant point; the problem is not one of law and order – it is political in nature. The fact that the provincial government barely exists in the lives of people adds to the sense of anarchy. The involvement of security agencies in the "picking up" and illegal detention of people only complicates matters further.
Over the past few months, many different warnings have come in of the state of affairs in Balochistan. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has highlighted the issue of targeted killings in the province. The Supreme Court too has commented on growing anarchy and has demanded that it be tackled. The latest report from the HRCP should act as a reminder of the urgency of the situation. The organisation, which has been monitoring the situation in Balochistan for many years, has made a set of recommendations. These need to be heeded and other necessary measures need to be taken to ensure that there is a return to normalcy in a province where stories of horror surface at regular intervals.
I. THE NEWS
IS DEVOLUTION TOO DULL?
One of the most forceful influences of globalisation has been the free-flow of information. This in turn has carved out a new and compelling role for a whole host of new age information-providers – these include junket journalists, PhD students, fellows at various think tanks, anthropology teachers at foreign universities, novelists who have green cards but also vacation houses in Pakistan, even the tableeghis and pietists who run seminars and counsel overseas Pakistanis while on tour. All these have become sources that often speak and write representatively for and about Pakistan at international levels.
Simultaneously, the hunger for more and speedy information which must be updated on the internet face page every hour, has injected a new confidence in foreign correspondents who have embedded themselves in Pakistan over the last decade. Their coverage of what could possibly be sexed up as the last 'ideological war' as opposed to the routine, intrastate ethnic or material based civil wars being fought around the world, has anointed correspondents a special status in the media world.
Often, routine situational analyses have morphed into blogs and then graduated into career-enhancing publications on and about Pakistan. These tend to be based on their embedded experiences along with some quotes from the native chattering class and dependent on sources provided by local journalists. The occasional anthropological factoid is thrown in for effect and this qualifies as the new authoritative work on the country and its society. Nearly all of the above 'sources' focus almost exclusively on Islam and its nexus with politics and the state, specifically the military.
Local authors have caught onto the opportunities afforded by the globalised media that allows anyone with a laptop to become an authority on the political. However, the native journalist and social commentator doesn't have it so easy. Precisely because their dependence is on local readership, they cannot really pull too many exaggerated or misleading stories without getting exposed or risking their legitimacy – even if it is a limited commodity these days – and sadly, in some cases, even their lives. But the local voice is drowned these days with the competition from the sources cited above.
In many cases, the need to counter misrepresentation or narrow interpretations of Pakistani society has led to a whole wave of reactionary or corrective literature that seeks to rescue the 'real Pakistan', the moderate Muslim, the average tea-sipping man in the streets, the small joys of being poor or, reclamation literature exposing our victim-status due to our colonial history and listing the dangers we face from current designs of imperial powers. It has led to supra-nationalism, hyped patriotism, chauvinistic redefinitions of the constitution and historical rewritings of the emergence of Pakistan, while manufacturing paranoid fabrications of who qualifies as its true saviours.
In the opportunism afforded by the global political spotlight on Pakistan, what has completely gone unnoticed is the mundane and ordinary. The peoples' movements in this country, just in the last few years, have been completely overshadowed by the twists and turns of military and foreign policies and the press it gets. Routine every day struggles of the peasants of Okara, the fisherfolk in Sindh, the lawyers movement, the lady health workers, the devolution of the federal powers and major restructuring of the country's governance seem not to warrant any anthropological interest, nor mass prayers, no donor interest, nor plots for stories, not even calendar days by NGOs, such as 'women's day' or 'literacy day' or 'environment day'. As much as a new generation of youthful policy 'experts' mock grand narratives, they also refuse to turn attention to lesser narratives which have tremendous direct and strategic implications for being Pakistani.
The 18th Amendment is an example of a people's demand, just as the movements listed above; it is both secular (by which I mean, neutral as far as religious identity is concerned, even though the committee succumbed and added some irrelevant connection for effect) and democratic (by which I mean it has gone through an imperfect but inclusive and parliamentary process). Interventions by civil society and a legal case thrashed out in court have all been features of this process. Even the argument that the course was not debated enough is testament that the path to devolution is intrinsic to democracy.
To err on the side of caution has become an ailment almost. Every time we inch towards democratic norms and structural changes to the very federation, the recalcitrant insist it's a larger conspiracy and unworthy. This fear of change earlier coloured the response of some commentators towards the lawyer's movement which predated the Arab Spring we see surging today. Yet the call from many a liberal was to be cautious and mark boundaries around the influence of the movement.
Similarly today the process of devolution is being underplayed due to pragmatic and bureaucratic concerns and real as these may be, accountancy is just half the story of devolution. The other part is about power and its distribution and towards that, this moment needs a fairer response, analysis, and plan on how to make it work for us in the provinces.
Post Bin Laden, some hysterical calls for Pakistan to be expelled from the comity of nations (is there a separate orbit in space reserved for bad nations?) simply reinforce the idea that it is our power elite who decide our fate and that the only relevance we have is with reference to our foreign policy.
It's time for us to reclaim our own domestic governance issues and dialogue with our local representatives on how to make livelihoods work. The military and the religious actors have failed us – that is clear. Perhaps it is time for international and local experts to turn their attention away from these and look also towards the relevance of mundane, ordinary local political expression and their direct relevance to the Pakistani people.
The writer is a researcher based in Karachi. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
Pakistan has been in the grip of extremism of one sort or the other – ethnic, linguistic, sectarian and religious – almost since its birth. Six decades after independence, we continue to struggle with basic issues relating to identity, democracy and constitutionalism. Elections are always a saga of fraud and violence. Student militias and weapons were introduced into our universities in the 1970s, the rampant murders of political opponents and deteriorating law-and-order situation transformed Pakistani society into a fertile ground for what has become one of our biggest headaches. Contrary to popular perception, radicalisation is not confined to religion alone. Anyone can be a radical – i.e., a minister, a driver, an officer or a cleric – ignorance being the basic factor behind radicalisation.
Pakistan today is perceived by the international community as one of the most radicalised nations. After driving the Soviets out, the Mujahideen groups, which had poured from all over the world into Afghanistan to fight the infidels, indulged in years of infighting among themselves. Forsaken by their own countries and with nowhere to go, many crossed over into Pakistan and settled in the border areas. They have played a significant role over the years in radicalising local groups. Tribesmen in Fata have been influenced throughout history by events in Afghanistan.
Pakistan's history of political chaos, economic mismanagement and exploitation of religion has spawned disillusionment among the masses. Without a robust political platform, the youth were especially affected. This situation was tailor-made for religious organisations, those with a radical bent, providing a platform leading young people in directions without a sense of balance in their lives. Religious and political extremism has flourished like never before.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas and parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are the most radicalised areas. This malaise is afflicting us because of a weak and outdated system of governance, influence of the Islamist political parties, lack of public participation in political and governance process. Other factors are lack of development and progress, widespread poverty, acute unemployment, inflation, food insecurity and absence of social justice for people. Some structural causes related to the war on terror have resulted in resentment in people and radicalism on both sides of the Pakistani-Afghan border. These include the Taliban's exclusion from the Afghan government and Pakistan's policies as a key US ally are seen as being harmful to Pakistan, the government's failure to halt US drone attacks and the issue of Afghan refugees.
Analysts and counterterrorism practitioners believe that if the extremism and terrorism threatening almost every country in the world is to be defeated, there is a need to go beyond security and intelligence measures. Proactive measures must be taken to prevent vulnerable individuals from becoming radicalised and rehabilitate those who have already embraced extremism. De-radicalisation is the process of changing an individual's belief system, rejecting the extremist ideology, and embracing mainstream values. This concept is manifested in the counter and de-radicalisation programmes to demobilise violent extremists and their supporters in many countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Most of these programmes have been influenced by work on de-radicalisation and reintegration of former terrorists being carried out in Saudi Arabia. The success of the Saudi strategy is composed of prevention, rehabilitation, and aftercare programmes. Increasingly, using unconventional and "soft" measures to combat violent extremism has borne some very positive results. The Saudi authorities claim a rehabilitation success rate of 80 to 90 percent. Only 35 individuals have been rearrested for security offences. Their rehabilitation campaign seeks to address the underlying factors that facilitate extremism and prevent further violent Islamism. Others in the region, including the United States in Iraq, have adopted a similar approach.
To its credit, the Pakistani army has started de-radicalisation programmes on its own. A school has been set up in the Swat Valley aimed at de-radicalising young children who were either forcibly or voluntarily mixing with various militant groups operating in the country. Organisers of this first of its kind boarding school in Pakistan say it is providing a small but valuable window into the backgrounds of Pakistan's young fighters and the ultimate causes behind their joining the militants. The centre is called "Rastoon," meaning "Place of the Right Path." There are other centres in the Swat Valley – another one for men, one for women and one for adolescents. Officers at this school, aided by psychologists, have spent months researching whether and how Taliban helpers and sympathisers could be de-radicalised.
More resources need to be allocated because of the growing number of child fighters. As opposed to people in older groups, children are extremely vulnerable to the militant threat because of their innocence. They can be manipulated and brainwashed by a group's ideology without much effort. In her article "Pakistan's Child Fighters," Kulsoom Lakhani makes a case for this centre, "as a pilot school, to apply best practices from successful programmes of rehabilitating child soldiers in other countries. For example, in Sri Lanka, the government established numerous transit centres as part of a complex programme to rehabilitate former child soldiers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The ICC, along with the Sri Lankan Cricket Association and UNICEF, have partnered a programme using cricket to rehabilitate and engage these children". Before he became adjutant general of the Sri Lankan army, my course mate from 34th PMA Long Course, Maj Gen Ananda Weerasekera, was the head of the Rehabilitation Programme for the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) hardcore who had surrendered at the end of a particularly tough and bitter counter-terrorism campaign in the early 80s. Thanks to him and the late Maj Gen "Lucky" Vijayratna (killed in action) and Maj Gen Siri Peiris, who became chief of the general staff of the Sri Lankan army, two other course mates of mine, I was lucky to have witnessed the programme at first-hand.
An excellent paper on Counter-Recruitment Initiative (CRI) was presented by Hans Giessmann of the Council of Counter-terrorism of the World Economic Forum (WEF), urging global leaders to promote the creation and dissemination of counter-terrorism initiatives within identity-based communities to separate terrorists from the larger groups, especially of ethnic or religious peers which terrorists take hostage for legitimising violence against innocent people and for propagating their case in communities they claim to protect. Promoting tolerance, dignity, respect and empathy, CRI proposes to preventing people from becoming attracted, radicalised and ultimately recruited, by addressing the grievances which make people susceptible to hate speech and the propaganda of terrorist networks.
To win the ideological battle the bane of poverty, one of the prime factors fuelling radicalism, must be addressed. The ranks of militants have swollen because of social and economic inequalities in our society, the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the erosion of the middle class. That radical clerics are behind radicalism may be true, but it is not the whole truth. The government must take pragmatic measures to empower the masses by broadening the country's economic base and addressing the inequalities in society.
(The gist of the paper prepared for the seminar on De-radicalisation organised by the Pakistani army in Mingora, Swat, on July 4-7, 2011.)
The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
TIME TO MOVE ON
The booklet Opportunities in the Development of the Oil and Gas Sector in South Asia, published by the Institute of Strategic Studies in 2004, is based on a speech by Usman Aminuddin. The former minister of petroleum and natural resources is a man of expertise and capacity who is full of ideas. I was struck by the concluding statement in the booklet: "Hydrogen and fuel-cell technology represents a strategic choice for energy deficient-countries like India and Pakistan...The launch of a South Asia hydrogen and fuel-cell technology platform through the South Asian Infrastructure Fund (SAIF) could lead to a long-term South Asian strategy for hydrogen and fuel cells to guide the transition to a hydrogen future in the next 20-30 years...This vision on which many countries of the world are working is a vital area of cooperation between the governments of India and Pakistan. This is a vision of peace and prosperity for the poor masses of both countries."
Fast-forward to June 2011 and Dr Shireen Mazari is giving a talk from the STR platform on "The security route to cooperation." Of the four initiatives, or CBMs as she calls them, the first is intrinsically similar in spirit to the one proposed by Mr Aminuddin back in 2004. After "some movement on Kashmir," of which she discerns signs within the Indian civil society and human rights organisations, and after display of political will by the governments of India and Pakistan for settlements to the Siachin and Sir Creek issues, Dr Mazari unveils the centrepiece of "the security route to cooperation" between India and Pakistan: joint nuclear-power generation. She says by way of explanation: "After all, both Pakistan and India are conventional energy-deficient states and both are overt nuclear powers. So, there is no reason not to cooperate in the field of civil nuclear energy, with both countries sharing joint control of the relevant technology." She also says that "the civil reactors built jointly for this purpose could be along the Indo-Pakistani border which would, in turn, add to their security also. Civil nuclear cooperation is not just a CBM, but an actual economic multiplier."
Interestingly, according to Dr Mazari's paper, the International Atomic Energy Agency has also advocated Multilateral Nuclear Approaches (MNAs) in the field of civil nuclear power generation projects. An IAEA study on the issue was published as a result of experts' deliberations in 2005. The conclusions of this study were very interesting and useful from our perspective. Identifying the twin objectives of "Assurance of Non-Proliferation" and "Assurance of Supply and Services," the report concluded that perhaps "the best way to satisfy both these objectives simultaneously was to adopt multilateral approaches."
Pakistan has repeatedly projected its need for nuclear power generation. At the April 2010 Nuclear Summit in Washington, a Pakistani official stated: "Pakistan has legitimate needs for power generation to meet the growing energy demand of our expanding economy. Civil nuclear power generation under IAEA safeguards is an essential part of our national energy security plan to support sustained economic growth and industrial development...As a country with advanced fuel-cycle capability, Pakistan is in a position to provide nuclear fuel-cycle services under IAEA safeguards and to participate in any non-discriminatory nuclear fuel-cycle assurance mechanism." Almost the same holds true for India in terms of need and competence in the nuclear field. Does it, therefore, follow that the two should proceed further with doing the obvious as a joint venture?
The requirement becomes even more urgent because, according to Dr Mazari, "the present nuclear deterrent between Pakistan and India has moved the two countries out of a zero-sum environment towards a positive-sum environment where both have everything to lose in case of a nuclear war – whatever the causes of the outbreak – and, therefore, both should recognise mutuality of interests, instead of seeking to play a game of brinkmanship with dangerous doctrines like "limited war" and "Cold Start."
Interestingly, it is the US again that is trying to alter the rules of the game in the nuclear proliferation field by seeking India-specific alterations for ensuring its membership of the suppliers' cartels relating to WMD. But, according to Dr Mazari, "country-specific moves for India would ultimately result in criteria-based exceptions, as otherwise such moves would be regarded as Pakistan-specific, which cannot be viable in the long run."
The convergence of ideas between Usman Aminuddin and Dr Mazari is not just coincidental. It has enormous substance to it in terms of a genuine move towards bringing progress to this war-torn part of the world. Whether it is Usman Aminuddin's "hydrogen vision" or Dr Mazari's "security route to cooperation," they add substantially to efforts already underway in the shape of "Track-11" and "Aman ki Asha." We need to review them positively by untangling ourselves from the web of hatred that our leaderships have systematically built around us, burying us under its debris through decades. It is time to move away from enmity and embrace the desire to initiate efforts for relieving the two countries of the burden of an undesirable past and stepping into a future that would unfold the prospect of sustainable peace.
But bilateral cooperation emanates from political will. Unfortunately, of that there is enormous dearth on both sides. While the Indians are stuck with the post-Mumbai mindset and refuse to budge, the Pakistani leadership is mired in the whirlpool of deep-set corruption and its persistent efforts to save itself through means that are mostly unconstitutional and immoral. Time really has come when the right to rule has to be taken away from the traditionally corrupt leaderships which use the instruments of hatred to prolong their hold on power and, instead, pass it to a new generation of transparent and dedicated individuals who come with the desire to serve the cause of the poor and the needy by working for peace.
The writer is a political analyst. He is also an adviser to Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
MEDIA'S 'ARMY BASHING'
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
There are three main arguments against condemning the khaki high command. One, casting aspersions on the institution lowers troop morale and undermines efficiency, as no military can fight without public support. Two, arraigning our military high command at this time will weaken its ability to effectively preserve Pakistan's national interest linked to the future of Afghanistan while negotiating with the US and regional stakeholders as the Afghan war enters end stage. And three, the media is sowing discord within the nation and journalists cannot be allowed the audacity to charge-sheet guardians of our national security.
The first two arguments merit consideration. The third is simply preposterous. That concerns about the adequacy of our security policy and operational tactics are genuine is undeniable. There is need to generate enough heat to make the status quo uncomfortable and encourage reform of our security policy and policy making mechanisms, but not too much that lights a fire and starts to burn the institution down. Who then bears the responsibility to ensure that vital state institutions, that attract public criticism due to their conduct, do not end up being pilloried? At what point does criticism transform into vilification? Is there any objective criterion that can distinguish one from the other, or is it a matter of subjective assessment and personal taste? Has the Pakistani media been reckless in bashing the generals?
Before determining the responsibility of the media in striking the right balance between critique and condemnation let us appreciate the following facts. One, media is not a monolith and does not speak with one voice. Other than the state itself, there are no hidden hands strong enough to influence the media on the whole. That is why, to the chagrin of many, what generally emanates from the media is debate and disagreement as opposed to monotonic lullabies. So when the media does end up speaking with one voice, it is no grand conspiracy but the reflection of a growing national consensus on an issue.
Two, media does not set the agenda for national debate. It is reactive in nature and only responds to events as well as the state's acts and omissions in relation to them. It is for state institutions and the government to put forth a narrative around which the debate revolves. A situation where a variegated media is seen as spearheading national debate can only be the consequence either of a non-existent state narrative or a state narrative so incoherent or flawed that it fails to shepherd pubic debate. It was clearly the failure of our civilian and military leadership to posit a credible narrative in the face of serious questions of security policy reform and military accountability, raised by the dramatic events of the last two months that provoked harsh criticism.
But despite the absence of any reassuring response from the ruling regime and the military, there are already voices from within the media advocating the need to taper criticism. This caution might be sensible, but self-restraint must not be allowed to encumber the constitutionally guaranteed right of citizens to free speech and information. Further, any public office holder exercising state authority is a fiduciary accountable to the people of Pakistan, notwithstanding whether such office holder wears khakis or civvies.
In the past our media has been guilty of indulging in self-censorship and applying a deferential standard when it comes to holding khakis accountable, whether out of fear or misconceived notions of national interest. Therefore a debate on whether there ought to be a debate about national security policy, decisions of security policymakers and actions of law enforcement agencies is in itself a step forward. Discussions about what constitutes our national interest, what is the best way to promote it, and whether law enforcers can be allowed to flout the law and usurp civil liberties under the garb of national security belong squarely within the public domain.
The media and the civil society are now asserting constitutional rights to retrieve vital public space for debate. And this is no passing phase. Questions about national security and the conduct of security agencies are legitimate questions of public importance. We must create and retain a marketplace of ideas wherein the strength of an argument determines its merit without any outside policing of what constitutes acceptable ideas and criticism.
The broad focus of the discussion about security policy and agencies has been three-fold: one, the accountability of individuals responsible for security lapses as well as extrajudicial killings of civilians; two, review of Pakistan's national security policy and need to plug the holes creating external and internal security vulnerabilities; and three, fixing the civil-military imbalance that continues to threaten democracy.
Maybe it is time to get realistic and defer the third objective as the Zardari regime is solely interested in continuing to make hay within a circumscribed sphere and secure another term in office. The constitutionally mandated civilian control of the military cannot take effect so long as the civilian government is not interested in exercising its due authority and accepting the responsibility that comes along.
On the other two fronts there has been progress. Despite initial reluctance, an accountability mechanism has been put in place with constitution of the Abbottabad and Saleem Shahzad Commissions. It is imperative that our civilian and military leaders extend unequivocal support to the work of these commissions to ensure that the factual findings of these inquiries lead to individual accountability, and recommendations become the basis of policy and institutional reform.
But this will not happen without vigilant oversight of the media and the civil society. Old codgers - custodians of the warped mindset responsible for our ailment - are once again vocal, stirring up fear and suspicion and counselling that we must not wash our dirty laundry in public, truth must be kept hidden and inquiry reports must not be made public. This argument must be rejected.
History bears witness that there can be no accountability without disclosure. Anytime that a nation has chosen to shroud the truth or impede civil liberties in the name of national security, it has done so at its own peril. The honour and credibility of the Pakistani army will not be sullied because a few of its own are found guilty of crimes and errors, but only if it allows a misdirected espirit de corps to engage in cover-ups and obstruct due process of law.
Pakistan is caught in the middle of a very complex security situation wherein the US and other regional actors have interests that do not necessarily converge with ours. We must have no misconceptions that to the extent the US-led forces fail to accomplish their declared objectives in Afghanistan (which they will), Pakistan will become the scapegoat identified as the villain responsible for such failing. We thus urgently need to define our vital security interests linked to the future of Afghanistan as it will not only impact our external security but also determine the future of the insurgency/militancy raging across Pakistan. And for this we need a vibrant public debate to evolve a national consensus.
Such debate and criticism of the existing security policy must not be viewed as media bashing of generals. And neither should criticism of generals be presented as a manifestation of provisory support for troops. An informed national consensus over our approach toward the US war in Afghanistan and the militancy within Pakistan will strengthen the ability of our military to do its job. So long as our generals do not attempt to expropriate the citizens' right to define what constitutes our national interest, or appear mightier than the law, they will always find the media and the nation standing beside them.
I. THE NEWS
MEMO FROM USA
Remember General Kayani promised to divert chunks of US aid meant for our armed forces towards the good of his people? Let's hold him to it. Except, I fear the cheque with our army chief from Uncle Sam can bounce. Here's why: Zardari is in London; Kayani one doesn't know; Gilani is non-consequential.
Whenever the establishment wants a confabulated message conveyed to the public, it brings out the defence minister from the woodworks, dusts him up and gets him to speak. "No US flights are taking place from Shamsi any longer. If there have to be flights from the base, it will only be Pakistani flights," Ahmad Mukhtar tells the Financial Times.
Here in America, the media is taking Mukhtar's 'order' with a pinch of salt. "Such statements are routinely mouthed by Pakistani leaders to appease their folks at home. Pakistan has not only allowed US access to fly drones but even helps them" say the TV chatterers with a naughty smirk.
As quid pro quo for the drones, shouldn't General Kayani be pushing the Americans to help us with our energy deficit? The Wapda chairman has given his verdict. He has put the people of Pakistan on an 11 year rigorous road to hell. They will get power cuts and most likely little gas and water for the next 4015 days! Wapda chairman Shakeel Durrani spoke out loud and clear before the National Assembly Standing Committee on Water and Power that load shedding will continue till 2018. Unlike Ahmad Mukhtar, Durrani was simply stating a truth. Pakistan's massive blackouts, while a plague for us, is hardly news for Americans. It fails to move the hearts and minds of the American pundits.
Since General Kayani's former boss is wholly responsible for bringing upon us the scourge of load shedding, doesn't it fall on Kayani's soldiery shoulders to rescue the country now? Zardari and Gilani made it worse when they gave the nod to Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to negotiate with the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) offering to meet the energy needs of Pakistan. It was the goose that the government wanted to lay the golden eggs and dutifully hand them over to the PPP biggies.
Ashraf, who rose from humble beginnings as a small time property agent running around the roads of Islamabad on his motorbike to become the water and power minister allegedly asked the IPPs for a hefty commission. Personally, I know of two instances where the IPPs had to flee the country because the top leader wanted his lion's share!
One US-based party that made several trips to Islamabad hoping to land a contract to produce power had to throw in the towel. A nocturnal knock by the party's trusted man and minister for all seasons on the door of the IPP staying at Islamabad's best hotel meant trouble. "Give us 30 percent of commission or get out!"
The party left for the airport never to return; while the other unfortunate IPP took the next flight out to Dubai and lives there in self exile.
"Energy crisis is worse than terrorism" says the president of Pakistan Economy Watch (PEW) Dr Murtaza Malik. He perhaps should send his suggestions to the army chief for immediate action.
Meanwhile, here's my humble suggestion on cost cutting. Send President Zardari the bill that the government has to foot for his private visit to London currently. He's a billionaire and can surely afford to cough up a couple of millions to pay for his board and lodging, medical checkups and his 30 strong entourage. Why should power-starved Pakistanis grilling in the heat have to pay?
The writer is a freelance journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
TASK BEFORE ABBOTTABAD COMMISSION
AS delay in the formation of the Commission to probe into the Abbotabad incident was causing political ripples, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, apparently after his long consultative session with President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday, announced a five member body for the purpose. By doing so, the Government has not only implemented one of the points included in the unanimous parliamentary resolution adopted on May 14 but also avoided a possible show down with the opposition PML(N) that wanted its constitution before the budget session of the National Assembly.
Some circles might still find fault with the names included in the Commission and desirability of inclusion of some others but the fact remains that, by and large, the probe team seems to be balanced and those selected for the responsibility have the potential to come up to the expectations of the nation. We are glad that a towering personality like Justice Javed Iqbal, who is considered to be non-controversial and man of integrity, will head the Commission that has been assigned the task to investigate one of the most shocking incidents in the history of the country. Selection of upright and straightforward Justice Javed Iqbal would lend more credibility to the body and its findings would become more acceptable to the people as they have full confidence in his person. Similarly, though Secretary of the Commission, Ms Nargis Sethi, already has much on her plate, but we are sure that she would add to the efficacy of the Commission as she too is known as a performer and doer. It is also satisfying that the Commission has representation from all important fields – judiciary, defence, police and diplomacy and people selected to represent these field are all capable, honest and enjoy good reputation. In our view, the Commission has an uphill task before it, as, in addition to its four point mandate, there are many other dimensions of the episode. There are endless questions about the circumstances that led to violation of the country's sovereignty by the only super power of the world and how to safeguard our interests in future. It is understood that the investigations would remain wanting without some kind of input from the United States and therefore, we hope attempts would be made to seek cooperation of Washington through American embassy in Islamabad in this regard. It is perplexing that the Commission has not been given any timeframe to complete its task but we hope that it would initiate its work at the earliest and complete it expeditiously. It has been a practice in the past to withhold either entire or part of the findings by such commissions on different pretexts and therefore, we would propose that this time the report should be made public.
INDIA ESCALATES TENSION
AT a time when Pakistan is devoting its attention and energy on eliminating the threat of terrorism that is also a source of concern for the region and beyond, India has chosen to escalate tension on our eastern border. It has not only chosen to carry out military exercises on the border involving tanks, artillery, precision munitions and advance surveillance system but also resorting to unprovoked firing across the border and in one such incident one Pakistani national embraced martyrdom on Sialkot sector.
That Defence Secretary level talks between the two countries on Siachin, which concluded in New Delhi on Tuesday, would make no headway was a foregone conclusion. This is because ever since 1980s when the two sides started talks on the issue, India always sabotaged the negotiations on different excuses. At one point of time, the two countries were on the verge of signing an agreement but it was undermined by New Delhi and since then it is showing no seriousness to resolve it. This is despite the fact that India too is convinced of the irrationality of the long-drawn war that is unlikely to produce any winner or loser at the end. Same is the case with Sir Creek, which is ripe for settlement but India is unwilling to sort it out. This raises the question that if India was not ready to resolve small issues like Siachin and Sir Creek, then how can one expect of it to engage into meaningful dialogue to settle the longstanding issue of Jammu and Kashmir. Any how, Indian posture clearly shows that it is trying to take advantage of Pakistan's difficulties because of its overwhelming commitment in the war against terror. This runs contrary to the oft-repeated pronouncements by some of the Indian leaders including Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh that his country wants peace and stability in the region or good neighbourly relations with Pakistan. Indian policy-makers must bear in mind that any attempt to destabilize Pakistan and add to its problems would have serious consequences for the future of the region.
NWA: PLEASE TAKE THE NATION ALONG
NOW it is almost confirmed and visible that a limited military operation will be launched in North Waziristan Agency which is considered to be a springboard for acts of terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The United States had long been demanding an operation on the pattern of South Waziristan but Pakistan had repeatedly insisted that the timing would be of its own choosing as the army was already overstretched.
The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after her short visit to Pakistan stated that Pakistan has pledged that the long delayed operation would be initiated very soon. After that there have been persistent reports in the media that NWA operation is in the offing. One shudders to think about the consequences of such an operation because the terrorists in NWA would go for acts of suicide bombings and blasts across the country to avenge for the losses they would suffer from the action of security forces. In such a scenario, it is necessary that the entire nation is taken on board and that could be done through a threadbare debate in the Parliament and then a voting on the issue as was done in the case of Swat and Malakand. If the Parliament gives a go ahead then the armed forces should go for a swift and limited operation to cleanse the area from the militants. For that necessary intelligence and appropriate equipment would be required and one hopes that the authorities would ensure that so that the civilian population does not become the target of fighting. The authorities would also have to be extra careful so that there was no large scale dislocation of the civilian population as those displaced from South Waziristan are yet to return and the country could ill afford to look after another around 5 lakh IDPs. A major target would be banned Tehrik –i- Taliban militants who have taken refuge after having been dislodged from the South but the Americans are insisting that it is the main base of the Haqqani network and they must be eradicated. So a tough fight would take place. It will not be an easy task because of the inhospitable terrain and geographic location and there would be consequences for the very future of the country and that is why we stress that the nation must be taken into confidence before launching operation in North Waziristan.
ON GOING TO THE RATS!
Not so very long ago media flashed the news that several planes of the national Airline had been overrun by rats. It was not specified as to rats of what genre made it to the planes in question. They may well have been potential illegal immigrant rodents aiming for greener pastures; or perhaps they could have been rats with dual nationality. Either way, our Airline, that proudly sports the epithet 'International' as its middle name, apparently has an uncanny appeal for rodents of more than one species. Rodents, let it be said, have an uncanny propensity to discern which side their bread is buttered on.
For one thing, rodents are an egalitarian species; no respecters of station or status they! Some moons back, perspicacious readers may recall, our very own rats had virtually taken over the Federal Secretariat in Islamabad (pun intended!). An item published on the front page of a national newspaper had carried the tidings that rats had the run of the Ministries of the government to the utter consternation of the bureaucratic machinery. This is not to say that the bureaucratic stronghold of the Land of the Pure is not teeming with rats as it is (no pun intended). But the situation must have been desperate enough to warrant a major headline in the stringent media. The rodents obviously believe in sharing and sharing alike - a philosophy that apparently the Secretariat staff understandably do not subscribe to. So the situation had all the makings of an impasse, as the French would say.
If the reader has garnered the impression that the situation is peculiar to governmental structures of the Third World, then permit one to humbly clarify that this is definitely not so. Location has little or nothing to do with it. Rodents belong to a hardy and - should one add - a shifty species. Man, with all his technological advances, has yet to come up with a better mousetrap. Meanwhile, rats continue to be one up on man whether he (Man, that is!) likes it or not. Let us take just one example. One wonders when it was that technology buffs came up with the idea of what is known as 'Central Air-conditioning'. With this air-conditioning concept was tied up the corollary of a duct complex within the walls and ceilings of the structures in question.
The ducts in turn provided comfortable, secure and snug quarters for the rodent species. If nothing else, this should explain how our high-living bureaucrats have come to share their offices with the lowly rats. One must not ignore the fact, though, that mice are versatile creatures. You cannot pin them down to modern structures alone. Even old historical monuments are known to harbor them. Not so very long ago, one had read in the papers that rats had invaded the kitchens of Buckingham Palace in London, causing understandable anguish to the British Royal Family.
The United Nations Headquarters in New York, one learns, has its quota of resident (multilateral?) rats! Rodents, it appears obvious, have a penchant to gravitate towards places where they find the greatest comfort. And if the locale also happens to ensure a limitless supply of food, so much the better! Like the lowly cockroach, rodents too appear to have honed up on the art of survival. Most modern buildings with their complement of central air-conditioning vents harbor hordes of rats. By the same token, the modern executive is destined to share his perks and facilities with the resident rodents.
Digressing a bit from the straight and narrow, mention must be made of the never-ending quest of American software giants aimed at producing a newer and better (computer) mouse. From the age-old quest for a 'better mousetrap' to that for a 'better mouse' represents quite a quantum leap. The quest for a better 'mouse' is proceeding, thus, on two parallel planes. Apart from the computer buffs, the indefatigable genetic modifiers are also hard at work. It would appear that the world might well end up with a 'better mouse' in more respects than one!
Let us also not forget that the lore of the West presents the mouse as the biggest bugbear of the fair sex. One reads about the most fearsome specimens of the female of the species being reduced to the level of frightened kittens at the sight of a mouse. Wives, who are capable of reducing their hapless spouses to nervous wrecks with a mere cold glance, shriek with horror and jump onto the nearest chair at the mere sight of a tiny mouse. That classical feminine weapon – the rolling pin – wielded with such telling effect against errant husbands, turns to naught at the appearance of the lowly rodent in question.
All of the aforementioned is or, more accurately, was part of the Western lore. The modern female of the species is said to adore the 'mouse', albeit the one of technological origin. Each female secretary now proudly sports a mouse on her desk thanks to the technological revolution. One should not jump to the conclusion, though, that this has had the effect of closing the credibility gap between members of the two species.
The Western mouse – the genuine article that is – would still be one up on the Western female, should the two were to meet unexpectedly on the floor of the living room. The human female would still in all probability let out an almighty scream and jump onto the nearest chair, while the mouse would sit stunned looking askance at this rather odd behavior. One must not fail to mention here that the equation is not always true in the East where womenfolk, armed with lethal brooms, have been known to chivvy mice around the house without let or mercy!
The rat, meanwhile, quite oblivious of the shenanigans of the human species, continues on its mission based as it is on the dictum 'survival of the fittest'. There is a lesson here for humankind if only they would pay heed. Fat chance, though!
PAK-RUSSIA RELATIONS: NEW DIMENSIONS
JAWAD RAZA KHAN
Creation of Pakistan in middle of the 20th century raised many eyebrows from east to west and north to south. An ideological Muslim state was created between an imaginary line carved by Mr. Henry Mortimer Durand, the foreign secretary of British India in 1892 and an award by Mr. Redcliff during Partition 1947, yet another British. This is article is not at all another endeavor to throw spotlight on unjust division of India rather, it's an attempt to present a consolidated document on the dichotomy and derailment of Pakistan's foreign policy since its very inception. To begin with let's see the ground reality in Indian perspective just after three years of its creation: Mr. Purushottamdas Tandon, the newly-elected Congress Party president, who was in charge of India's foreign policy and Kashmir, while addressing the 56th session of the Indian National Congress at Gandhinagar on September 20, 1950 said that "Congress did not wish India to join either the U.S. or the Soviet bloc, but to maintain friendly relations with both, and to consider every question raised at the U.N. from the viewpoint of justice and world peace; thus India had supported the Soviet policy of admitting Communist China into the U.N., and the Anglo-American policy of naming North Korea an aggressor.
According to Keesing's Record of World Events, Volume VIII, March, 1951 India, Page 11310. The disadvantage of this policy was that no bloc regarded India as a full ally, and many nations were "biased in favour of Pakistan" as a possible future ally. With weaker wicket for India after passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 47, adopted on April 21, 1948, to restore peace and order to the region and prepare for a plebiscite to decide the fate of Kashmir, Pakistan was a hot favourite for strong economic and military alliances. Harrison Salisbury writes for New York Times on November 06, 1955, "Moscow Eyes South Asia from Kabul to Calcutta". "A new struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States is now unfolding on a 7,000-mile front in Asia—the struggle for the "uncommitted third."
As Russians were looking for breathing space during this Cold War era and Indian non alliance attitude in the wake of UN resolution of Kashmir, Pakistan couldn't realize the gravity of a strategic partner in regional politics and in the same year went for SEATO and CENTO. Although, CENTO had little formal structure, but it did give the US and Britain access to facilities in Pakistan, facilities like an airbase outside of Peshawar from where U-2 intelligence flights over the Soviet Union were launched. Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal a research Scholar, School of International Studies Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in his article "Pak- Russo relation A Review" in July 2007 commented about Pakistan relations with Russia as: Russo-Pakistan relations have come through unfavorable circumstances in a phased manner. In a historical perspective, the first significant Soviet–Pakistan aid agreement was signed in March 1961 for the oil exploration in Pakistan. In September 1966, the Soviet Union and Pakistan concluded an agreement for economic and technical cooperation. At the time of Kosygin's visit to Pakistan in April 1968, the Soviets offered to assist in the building of a steel plant near Karachi and an atomic power plant in East Pakistan. Pravda (April 19, 1968) noted that the Soviet Union was giving aid to Pakistan for the construction of 21 large industrial undertakings.
Projects like Steel mills Karachi and oil exploration in Baluchistan were strategic agreements of their time and Pakistan was trying to peep beyond the shoulder of the Big Brother (West), more realistically after the dilemma of 1971. Let's not forget China at this important juncture of Pakistan's Foreign policy memoranda, especially in the context of its relations with Russians. Despite of Pakistan entering into SEATO and CENTO, China realized the geo-strategic importance of Pakistan. History bears the testimony of strong economic and military ties between China and Pakistan. Strategic assets of Pakistan in shape of Heavy Industrial Complex Taxila, Aeronautical complex Kamra, Nuclear power projects in Karachi and Chasma, the 8th undeclared wonder of the world Karakorum Highway, Gawader port and many more are…
On the other hand in the same time and space, for Pakistanis, the United States plays concurrent, exasperating roles as partial supporter, guardian, interrupter and harasser. For more than five decades, the United States has provided armaments, agricultural aid and alliances; every promise has brought enduring difficulties. Military aid supported military dictators, foreign aid brought a huge U.S. presence and the Afghanistan war brought, and continues to bring, millions of refugees, guns and drugs. At the same time, critique seems to accompany every act of seeming generosity: U.S. statements are full of hectoring about the sorry state of Pakistan's economy, democracy and foreign entanglements. For many Pakistanis, the U.S. has always been part of the problem, an inappropriate, self-appointed conscience.
Last 11 years saw great game of Tug of War with Pakistan not as a participant but as rope between the players of the Great Game. Famous carrot and stick policy of west remains the headlines for Pakistan. Following can be put up as the summary of Pakistan's worst years of its history with its so called status of an important US ally in the war on terror. Pakistan picked up more than 40000 funerals of Pakistani brothers both civilians and security officials; Pakistan is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world; Economy has been shattered; The strongest pillar of Pakistan its ideology is now the most confused preposition; Pakistan is now discussed as a failed and dysfunctional state, suspiciously incapable to guard its nuclear installation; Terrorism which was effectively used in this world as tactical weapon, has invented its new facet of strategic terrorism (PNS Mehran).
With all the mentioned benefits accomplished by Pakistan, the world is witnessing yet another paradigm shift in US policy against its own ally, hence strengthening dozens of conspiracy theories, discussed at length regarding dismemberment of nuclear Pakistan. Although Pakistan did joined hands with US for eliminating terrorism from the globe but at the same time also realized the importance Russian influence and importance in the region. Just after 18 months of 9/11 President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf visited Russia on the invitation of Putin (The first visit by a Pakistani leader for 30 years since Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1970s). The visit can be termed as historic as it brought President of Russia for the first time in the history of Pakistan to its soil. This was indeed a great break through which led Pakistan to organize the first ever solo Pakistan exhibition in St. Petersburg in early September 2004. Years of 2004 and 2005 also witnessed some important MoUs signed for oil exploration in Pakistan.
In anticipation of a visit of Putin to Pakistan Indian media reacted very strongly especially when Russian delegation visited Pakistan in late 2000, concurrently when Putin was visiting old friend India. In an article published in Indian Daily The Hindu on September 2000 written by C Raja Mohan "In choosing to be the first Soviet or Russian supremo ever to visit Pakistan, President Vladimir Putin has set in motion a new phase in the Russian policy towards the subcontinent. The move could begin to unfreeze the historically one-sided Russian engagement of the archrivals in the subcontinent, India and Pakistan".
Meanwhile, collaborative actions in Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), grouping organized by China and Russia that also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, offered Pakistan and Russia to understand each other's concerns. Under insistence from Putin, Islamabad's move to join SCO, a regional grouping, dominated by China and Russia further cemented the ties with Moscow. SCO offered Pakistan to join Russia, China and Central Asian States to advance its national interest as well. Most Russian desired that Pakistan joins SCO as a full member. The OBL fiasco from Abbottabad; Parliament's collective voice to reconsider relation with US; No breather from drones; Eve of Strategic terrorism in the back drop PNS Mehran catastrophe; Indian betrayal to Russia in form of cancellation of jets deal has forced Pakistan and Russia to start building up the relations in their best interest. Recent visit of President Zardari to Russia coupled with Russian Army Chief visiting GHQ can indeed be taken as melting of the tip of iceberg. Pakistan and Russia must sieze this opportunity as Pakistan's closeness to China is yet another factor that Russia always takes very seriously.
Ideological nation like Pakistan possesses ideology as the most effective weapon to counter disunity amongst the masses. On the other hand nation's own ideology has nothing to do with the world outside, as far as the political dynamics of modern international relations are concerned. Pakistan's fight to counter terrorism inside Pakistan for the rest of the world and fall of communism after the disintegration of Soviet Union, has left no irritants for Russia and Pakistan to join hands and work for the betterment of the region. This can prove to be a very vital step for a safer and prosperous world living in peace with harmony.
HEADING TOWARDS A SHOWDOWN
GP CAPT RAB NAWAZ CH (R)
A series of drone attacks started unilaterally by US forces inside Pakistan, has killed more innocent civilians than the so-called insurgents. An American requested organized attack of Pakistan army in South Waziristan brought a new wave of hostilities against Pakistan and there started a series of suicide bombers in every corner and small cities of Pakistan, as retaliation to these drone attacks in Northern and South Waziristan.
Americans are now sitting on the hedge in Afghanistan, watching the actual war scenario in Pakistan. However, there is one odd attack here and there by the Taliban contingents in Afghanistan. The expenses of only keeping vigilance in Afghanistan is around 1 billion dollars a month, where Pakistan government share for actually fighting the war is nearly 1.2 billion yearly. Pakistan bears the additional burden from its own resources. Because of this there is a new wave of economic and national insecurity visible at every walk of life causing grave instability in Pakistan.
Osama Bin Laden has been found and killed, a new so-called democratic government installed in Afghanistan since almost five years. The purpose of bringing war to Afghanistan has been achieved. Little bit of trouble here and there should be sorted out with the passage of time. It is time for the Americans to have fresh appraisal of the situation. Chasing Al Qaeda remnants and Taliban in Pakistan is neither their prerogative nor responsibility. Instead it is causing an unnecessary rift between two friends, resulting into a dangerous level of conflict over the sovereignty of Pakistan. There has already been a split of views over the Osama operation. After Abbottabad incident there was a stern reaction from public, and the parliament of Pakistan had to pass some tough resolutions to be followed. The American response was not very conciliatory and two drone attacks immediately followed killing about fifteen people and injuring scores of them. It seemed an intentional violation of the parliament orders. The general behaviour of the American officials was also unfriendly, rather belligerent.
Under the circumstances, Mr. Bush's doctrine, "either you are with us or against us", seems in jeopardy. However, the war is not an option at all. For Pakistan it will be the last, rather a dying course of action. I am sure it will also be very inconvenient for America. It may be a treat to India and Israel who are pushing America to do it, but if they were wise, they would stay away from this. Pakistan has many options to deal with them separately and effectively. As for America, we have tremendous disparity. We might be shown a stone-age scenario yet it would not be very convenient for Americans. They have also one hundred and thirty thousand troops with all the supporting elements in Afghanistan. History is very cruel and sometimes repeats itself. British have a very sad experience of Afghan wars during the 19th century, and they know how many of their fighting troops returned from these hostile hills. Somewhere in 1842, twelve thousand British troops were left to fight in Afghanistan; only one, Dr. William Briden returned or was sent back as a witness. Some skirmishes continued and there was nothing but defeat for the invading forces. It was indeed the continuation of the same journey of history in 1989 which broke up the Soviet Union. This new kickoff after 9/11 was no different. The war was forced on Taliban with an excuse of catching Osama and then after the intention was to finish off the war in a few days. At least this was the message to General Musharaf at that time with the promise that the Northern Alliance would return to Mazar-e-Sharif. The war is on since then and only God knows its conclusion. However, one thing has been identical, the character and behaviour of the tribal's on both sides of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They always fought for and against each other at will but settled down as one entity at the end according to the prevailing conditions.
It is interesting to note that whenever things deteriorate beyond tolerable limits, sometimes our friend Senator John Kerry comes and settles half the score; sometimes Hillary Clinton comes and comforts things with her charm and quick-witted shrewdness. However both are tasked to make fool of our corrupt political leadership whose character ratings are on their fingertips and they sense their inside strength. The Pak army leadership has decided to stay away from power politics because they now understand that all our political angels ultimately make fool of the simple uneducated masses who stand with them to blame the armed forces at the end even when their sincerity is beyond controversy.
After Vietnam, America has not tasted any solid setback from any civil or military force. It appears that they want to break that record of constant achievements. We have been comrade against communism in SEATO and CENTO, coordinated operations against Soviets with U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, and Afghan-Russia war of 1979 with complete success. We needed our friends once in 1971 but were let down. It would be indeed desirable not to make it a habit of betraying friends at all time. Wise is the one who can visualize the future and come out of it with honour, not the one who meets the consequence of doom. I am sure our old friends would not embark upon a suicidal mission, and we of course would hate to take advantage of their vulnerability. Friends do keep regards and semblance of grace even when they are forced through circumstances to end up in a situation like this. People are fed-up of this cat and rat race and like to get out of this position before it reaches a point of no return and becomes susceptible to a dangerous showdown. God bless Pakistan, America, Afghanistan, and Taliban. Let us all fight terrorism together and track down the real source without prejudice. We all know its origin. Talking is the prescription whether it is Al-Qaeda, or Israel. We should stop both of them from walking on the wrong side of the road. Let Mr. Obama be the traffic sergeant and force both Al-Qaeda and Mr. Netanyahu follow the traffic rules. That would automatically reduce tension in most part of the globe.
ROOTS OF ISLAM IN PAKISTAN
If we critically examine the Objective Resolution of March 1949, we would easily be able to conclude that the question of rights of the minorities has been very carefully and exclusively addressed. Minorities are given guarantee that their education and culture would be adequately safeguarded. According to Para 2 (2) of Chapter II – Directive Principles of the State Policy, steps have been specified which should be taken in various spheres of the governmental activities to enable the Muslims to order their lives individually and collectively in accordance with the Holy Quran and Sunnah. While Para (9) recommended that it should be the endeavour of the State to enable, within the minimum possible time, the population of different areas, through training and education, to participate fully in all forms of national activity and service. It is irony that despite the passage of 63 years to our exixtance we are unable to enforce Objective Resolution.
Quaid-e-Azam had guided for an Islamic constitution within 22 months. Thus, immediately after his death, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan formed a committee of the Ulema to decide the Islamic guidelines for Pakistan's Constitution in which The Jamaat-i-Islami led by Manlana Mohammad Maudoodi and other religious parties played an important role in giving an Islamic orientation. Objectives Resolution was the outcome, which was adopted by the Constituent Assembly in March 1949. On the guidelines of Objective Resolution, the 1956 Constitution was passed by the assembly which endorsed Islamic principles and declared Pakistan as an Islamic Republic. However, the ruling class and the elite were quite critical of the new development in the new state of Pakistan as they wanted to build Pakistan as secular state, keeping in mind their Western education and contributions in the freedom struggle. This led to a clash between those possessing modern thoughts and orthodox religious groups. The orthodox religious transformed into political expression when they demanded expeion of Qadianis (Ahmadiyas) in 1953 in the province of Punjab.
Tussle between western educated elites and religious groups led to imposition of martial law for the first time in Pakistani history to bring the situation under control. The Enquiry Commission that was appointed to look into the anti-Ahmediya riots highlighted the internal in-congruencies and contradictions in the ideas of orthodox religious bodies who are presumed to be authorities on matters of religion and ideology. The Commission recommended, "Nothing but a bold reorientation of Islam to separate the vital from the lifeless can preserve it as a world idea and convert the Mussalman into a citizen of the present and future world from the archaic incongruity that he is today..." A new constitution was framed by the General Ayub Khan government in 1962 which removed the label of Islamic Republic by rationalizing that the state could not be theocratic because there was no priesthood in Islam, and as such, it is "theocratic only to the extent that real sovereignty belongs to God.
In the first Constitutional Amendment Act, however, General Ayub Khan reinstated the phrase Islamic Republic of Pakistan under pressure from religious parties. His secular credentials were confirmed when he implemented the recommendation of the 1955 Commission in the shape of the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance of 1961. During the 1965 elections, he took the help of orthodox religious groups to issue a fatwa to de-legitimize the contesting of Fatima Jinnah, Jinnah's sister, for presidentship of Pakistan on religious grounds that a woman cannot become the head of an Islamic state. The orthodox parties demanded Nizam-i-Mustafa. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto got a law passed approving minority status for the Ahmediyas, and also allowed enough leverage to the orthodox parties in the educational institutions to satisfy the religious groups. In April 1977, Bhutto announced a set of Shariat laws banning horse racing and drinking of alcohol, and declared Friday as the official holiday in conformity with Islamic ideology on July 1, 1977. This was followed by the rule of General Zia ul Haq during which additional efforts were made to Islamize Pakistan. Today, if we critically examine sectarianism and extremism we would find that in most cases it resolves around the dispute to create Pakistan as a welfare Islamic state on the pattern of Madia at the times of Holy Prophet (May Peace Be Upon Him) or a secular state on the pattern of India and other non-believer nations. One wonders how still some among us fail to identify Islamic roots in Pakistan and do not comprehend the essence of our Ideology and Objective Resolution. To enforce secularism and evils of the western and non-believer nations there is only one way i.e. to eliminate the overwhelming majority in the country and allow anti-Objective Resolution small minority to live and rule Pakistan.
LIBYA: RUNNING OUT OF OPTIONS
They swore blind that there would never be foreign "boots on the ground" in Libya, but as NATO's campaign against Moammar Gadhafi's regime enters its third month it is getting a lot closer to the ground. It started with Tomahawk missiles fired from over the horizon; then it was fighter-bombers firing guided weapons from a safe height; now it's helicopter gunships skimming the ground at zero altitude. They're getting desperate.
In London on May 25, Prime Minister David Cameron said that "the president and I agree we should be turning up the heat on Libya." Standing beside him, US President Barack Obama declared that, "given the progress that has been made over the last several weeks," there will be no "let-up in the pressure that we are applying."
And you have to ask, what progress? The front lines between Gadhafi's forces and the rebels are still approximately where they were two months ago, except around the city of Misrata, where the insurgents have pushed the besieging troops back some kilometers. Tripoli, the capital, is still firmly under Gadhafi's control. There has been no overt defiance of the regime there for many weeks, and the city is not even suffering significant shortages except for fuel. Are Obama and Cameron deluding themselves, or are they just trying to fool everybody else?
Maybe both — and meanwhile they are cranking up the aerial campaign against Gadhafi in the hope that enough bombs may make their claims come true. They must have been told a dozen times by their military advisers that bombing alone almost never wins a war, but they have waded into the quagmire too far to turn back now, and they have no other military options that the United Nations resolution would allow them to use.
They are already acting beyond the limits set by UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which on March 17 authorised the use of limited force to protect Libyan civilians. It has become a campaign to overthrow Gadhafi, and they hardly even bother to deny it anymore. "I believe that we have built enough momentum that, as long as we sustain the course we are on, (Gadhafi) will step down," said Obama in London. "Ultimately this is going to be a slow, steady process in which we are able to wear down the regime forces." Well maybe so, and maybe not, but in either case that's not what Resolution 1973 said. No wonder Russia condemned the latest air raids as a "gross violation" of the resolution.
Russia did not want to stand by and let Gadhafi massacre innocent civilians, which seemed imminent when the defences of the rebels in eastern Libya were collapsing in mid-March, so it let the resolution pass. So did China, India and Brazil, which would normally oppose any military intervention by Western powers in a Third World country. But it was all decided in a weekend, and they did not think it through.Neither did France, Britain, the United States, Canada and a few other NATO countries, which immediately committed their air forces to the task of saving the rebels. They destroyed Gadhafi's tanks and saved the city of Benghazi, but then what? There was no plan, no "exit strategy," and so they have ended up with a very unpleasant choice. Either they stop the war and leave Gadhafi in control of the larger part of a partitioned Libya, or they escalate further in the hope that at some point Gadhafi's supporters abandon him. The U.S. Air Force had a name for this strategy during the Vietnam war: they were trying to find the North Vietnamese regime's "threshold of pain." They never did find it in Vietnam, but NATO is still looking for it in Libya.
We'll never know if Gadhafi would really have slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians if Benghazi had fallen. He was making blood-curdling threats about what he would do when the city fell, and he has certainly killed lots of people in the past, but with the eyes of the whole world on him he might not have done it this time. evertheless, that threat was what created the extraordinary (though temporary) consensus at the Security Council. It was, for the West as well as for the other major powers that backed the original resolution, a largely humanitarian action with little by the way of ulterior motives. (And don't say "oil"; that's just lazy thinking.)
Gadhafi has been playing by the rules for the last five years, renouncing terrorism and dismantling his fantasy "nuclear weapons programme." He has been exporting all the oil he could pump. He wasn't threatening Western interests, and yet NATO embarked on a military campaign that it knew was likely to end in tears in order to stop him.Let us give NATO governments credit for letting their hearts overrule their heads. Let's also acknowledge that they have been meticulous and largely successful in avoiding civilian casualties in their bombing campaign. But it isn't working.
So what do they do now? They can escalate for a few more weeks, and hope that the strategy that has failed for the last two months will finally succeed. That might happen, but it's not likely to. In which case the only remaining option will be to accept a cease-fire, and the partition of Libya between the Gadhafi regime and the "Transitional National Council" in Benghazi. —The writer is a London-based independent journalist. — Courtesy: The Japan Times
AN UNREAL PERFORMANCE FROM A PM UNDER PRESSURE
As an exercise in how not to govern, the Prime Minister's effort to rename her contentious plan was hard to beat. Her double backflip -- by yesterday she had re-embraced the original nomenclature -- risks damaging her credibility. It has been a bad week for Labor in a bad year. Ms Gillard appears calm, although her tax snafu suggests she may be rattled by polling showing Labor with a 30 per cent primary vote.
The Prime Minister has sometimes shown poor judgment in these matters: her "real Julia" promise during last year's election has dogged her since. Like her carbon comment, it insulted voters, implying they could not tell the difference between authenticity and Alice in Wonderland. Ms Gillard has forgotten the pledge she made last October to step back from the 24-hour news cycle and engage more deeply on issues. Spin is the norm, with no one in Labor apparently able to counsel a more considered and consistent approach.
Such a reactive approach to governing shows an administration unable to pause and assess the consequences of its proposals. High on the list of ideas that could have done with more forethought are the East Timor detention centre and the Malaysian solution. Labor appears to have learnt little from the Rudd years when no one in the "Gang of Four" -- which included Ms Gillard -- seemed to apply the brakes to their then leader. The present Prime Minister is also in desperate need of more experienced advisers. Last month's ban on the export of live cattle to Indonesia highlighted the weaknesses in Labor's modus operandi. That the Foreign Minister was effectively out of the loop when the ban was decided demonstrates the dysfunctional relationship between Kevin Rudd and Ms Gillard. The suspension of exports has caused friction with Indonesia and revealed a lack of diplomatic understanding. While it had little option but to take action of some sort after the images of animal cruelty seen in the ABC TV Four Corners report, the government finds itself in damage-control after reacting to a Twitter and email campaign. This week, the Prime Minister tramped around the Northern Territory, dispensing money apologetically to the cattle industry. Labor's "team Australia" approach to the trade issue is as unconvincing as "real Julia" and her non-carbon tax. A co-ordinated and integrated approach would have been useful when Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig stopped the trade. Now, any talk of teamwork simply draws attention to Labor's lack of it.
Just as in the East Timor and Malaysia exercises, it is hard to believe the Prime Minister thought she could blithely re-label the carbon tax without voters noticing the gap between reality and rhetoric. Earlier this year, Ms Gillard dismissed as "semantics" the idea that she broke an election-eve promise ruling out a carbon tax. Not so. Then, as now, the debate is about more than words. In the age of new media, some in Labor confuse the medium with the message. They imagine a message of 140 characters or less will be enough to convince voters of Labor's policies. It's time for them to stop tweeting and get back to governing.
LIFTING THE QUALITY OF DEBATE
ROSS Garnaut, the Gillard government's former climate change adviser, is entitled to his view that News Limited newspapers, including this one, have fallen short in reporting such a complex, controversial issue.
With due respect to the good professor, we beg to disagree. If, however, the charge is that we have published views at odds with Professor Garnaut's, we proudly plead guilty since good public policy relies on covering all aspects of the debate and keeping the circle of discussion as wide as possible.
Ironically, Professor Garnaut was speaking at the two-day Economic and Social Outlook conference in Melbourne, a high-level economic and social policy forum sponsored by The Australian and the Melbourne Institute. Professor Garnaut lamented that the media's reporting of climate change was inferior to the coverage of the major economic reforms of the 1980s. But unlike the broad consensus back then, the climate change debate involves a greater divergence of political, business and academic opinion, so the coverage reflects this.
The Melbourne conference produced high-calibre discussion about Australia's major challenges, including climate change and the need for a productivity agenda. One of the most significant contributions was the blunt presentation by Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson, who showed that living standards would deteriorate without a new wave of economic reforms. Dr Parkinson's warning that the mining boom had masked a decade-long slide in productivity and that the benefits flowing from the rise of China and India would not fall our way automatically stood in contrast to Wayne Swan's idle boast about "the magnitude of our reform agenda" which, he claimed erroneously, was one of the "toughest" in a generation. Rather than showing that he shared Dr Parkinson's concerns about managing a fall in our terms of trade over the next 15 years, the Treasurer preferred to play politics, claiming that sections of the media evaluated government policies on the basis of "what's bad for the Australian Labor Party."
Two days' debate of a quality rarely heard in our parliaments showed the need for workplace and other economic reform and the importance of a more mature national conversation drawing on a wider range of expertise beyond the political class. Good debate, however, is hampered when major players show their glass jaws.
A POSTMODERNIST PARLIAMENT
IF that was the new paradigm, we must now have entered the postmodern paradigm.
After an unproductive 10 months relying on the support of independents and a Greens MP to form government in the lower house, Labor now faces a Senate where the Greens have the balance of power in their own right. With a postmodern disrespect for the notion of objective truth, parliament has become an unpredictable body where each party deals only in its own perceived version of reality when it comes to weighty issues such as promises, responsibilities and mandates. We jest, in part, but the ability of our politicians to deal seriously with these new arrangements is yet to be seen. Discussing the new "green power", Greens leader Bob Brown has shown hints of a smugness he will need to keep in check. Now is the time for Senator Brown to ensure his party exercises power in the national interest. We have argued that many Greens policies would not be in the national interest and that therefore voters should ensure they are "destroyed at the ballot box". Now judgment time is arriving. The party that took an all-or-nothing approach and deliberately rejected earlier efforts to put a price on carbon now has a chance to compromise on Julia Gillard's carbon tax plan. The Greens can also support Labor's revised mining tax instead of demanding it is raised to a debilitating level. They could put an end to their dalliance with xenophobic fearmongering about the foreign investment upon which our nation's prosperity relies, and drop the jejune anti-American and anti-Israeli sloganism of their foreign policy pronouncements. They could even support some strong budget measures, taxation reform and sensible labour market deregulation to help put our economy on a surer footing. These would all be steps towards proving what Senator Brown refers to as "the hate media" wrong. The Greens leader has revealed in his interview with Dennis Shanahan that he understands the limitations of a balance-of-power party and has grander ambitions. Because of its irresponsible policies, it follows that the mainstream will not come to the Greens -- their best way forward is to exercise their power wisely and move to the mainstream. So far, the indications are they'll pass up that chance and, as Labor is wont to do, abandon the mainstream to Tony Abbott.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
THE SPREADING CLOUDS FROM ATHENS
THE scenes from Syntagma Square for most of the week have illustrated graphically the stresses unleashed when the tectonic plates of global finance grind against one another.
The Greek parliament, under a socialist government with a slim majority, has debated and eventually passed a new round of austerity measures as a preparation for further help from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. A first round sent the Greek economy backwards, to be Europe's worst performer. What will this one do? In anticipation of its effects, demonstrators have marched and rioted outside parliament, while inside it their legislators argued and fought.
Greece might appear like some morality tale: a country which has borrowed too much, lived too well and now must bear the pain as it pays back what it owes. Put like that, it might seem fair and Greece's grim fate like punishment on an almost biblical scale.
Except for this: the pain will not be shared among all alike. Those who borrowed and spent the money will in many cases be able to avoid the pain; those who suffer will be individuals and firms who cannot cheat the system or avoid tax. It is they who will subsidise the excesses of the smarties and the conmen. No wonder they riot.
And Greece is not alone. The economies of Portugal, Ireland and Spain are still wrestling with huge debt burdens. Other EU countries such as Britain, France and Italy are barely growing. In the United States, attempts to reduce an enormous government debt - forecast to reach 100 per cent of gross domestic product in coming years - have proved fruitless.
Earlier this week the Bank for International Settlements warned of continuing systemic risks from the huge accumulation of debt in some economies. Low interest rates, brought in to stimulate economies when the outlook was darkest during the global financial crisis, are now encouraging an illusory and dangerous boom. Optimism appears to be returning, but with such weak foundations it could collapse at any time.
Yet though the images of violence in Greece and the portents from elsewhere look dire - and there is certainly no guarantee that the global financial crisis will not return - there is also some reason to hope it may not. The worst crises come as a surprise, appearing almost out of nowhere, foreseen by few.
The crisis in Europe is not like that. Debt there has been building for some time and the plight of the worst affected economies has been widely studied. Even if the crisis does result in default of some kind, the consequences have already, to an extent, been factored into current expectations.
Some commentators and business people have even called for Greece to default on its loans, pull out of the euro, take the consequences and build again from scratch. It is hard to recommend such a chaotic course which might well be the downfall of the euro itself, but it does suggest that many have imagined the worst and are prepared to sit out whatever comes. That suggests the shock from any such eventuality would be less than if it came on unexpectedly.
Not much consolation, perhaps. But there is more in the Australian economy's relatively loose links to events in Europe. We should be less affected as a result. Of more direct concern for our politicians is how things are looking in Asia, where Australia's fortunes are more closely tied. There the outlook is subdued but certainly not as gloomy as Europe or the US. Japan, with a predicted government debt burden of 200 per cent of GDP, may continue to struggle, but China and India are still forging ahead.
The prevailing cloud of gloom circling the globe from Greece's eruption, though, has helped keep the mood darkened here. Australians are continuing to apply the lesson of the global financial crisis. Confidence is low among consumers, who are restricting their spending, saving for a rainy day or paying off debt just in case the worst happens. It is a rational response. Unfortunately, when everyone stops consuming together and starts to save, the result is not greater wealth, but less.
The trend is revealing the two-speed economy in stark terms. For residents of states such as NSW, where mining contributes less to the economy, talk of a boom is likely to be met with hollow laughter. To be sure this state, along with the rest of the nation, will benefit from the boom as income spreads through the economy.
It just hasn't quite happened yet.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
LIGHT UP A HELMSMAN
SOMEWHAT surprisingly for an editorial about smoking in Newtown, our story begins in a homely mud hut in Yenan, China. It is a sacred site for the Chinese Communist Party, the hut where Mao Zedong lived during the hard early years of communism's struggle to take over the country. According to an ABC report, Chinese visitors eager to explore their country's recent history scatter the simple bed inside it with cigarettes as a mark of respect for the Great Helmsman. (Nice fresh ones, we assume, for his wheezy old ghost to smoke. No butts.)
There is something about this touching yet bizarre gesture which resonates thousands of kilometres away in trendy Newtown. King Street has been given a Cold War-style split by differing council rules about smoking in cafes. On the eastern side, City of Sydney council rules let smokers at outside cafe tables puff away to their heart's content, infecting themselves and those around them with the joy only inhaled carcinogens can bring. On the grim and soulless Marrickville-controlled western side, however, these only-slightly-lethal pleasures are utterly forbidden a downtrodden population of latter-day serfs. As Churchill never quite said, from Macdonaldtown in the north to St Peters in the south, an iron curtain has descended across the city. Mao would understand.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
THE BANK AND THE BANKNOTES: WHERE WILL THE BUCK STOP?
THE polymer banknote has long been hailed as a conspicuous example of Australian technological ingenuity. As of yesterday it is also associated with another first, though not one to boast about. After early-morning arrests in Melbourne, Australian Federal Police Team 20, led by Acting Superintendent Rohan Pike, laid Australia's first foreign bribery charges against two firms, Securency and Note Printing Australia (NPA), and six former executives of the companies. Securency, which is half-owned by the Reserve Bank, makes polymer banknotes and sells them abroad, and NPA, which is wholly owned by the bank, prints the currencies of Australia and New Zealand and also prints notes for foreign central banks, using Securency's polymer. The AFP alleges that between 1999 and 2005 the firms bribed public officials in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam to gain contracts for the printing and supply of banknotes, and the men charged face jail terms of up to 10 years if they are convicted.
The AFP's inquiries were sparked, two years ago, by reports published by Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie of the Age Investigative Unit. They uncovered an extraordinary series of business dealings in which unusually large commissions were paid to overseas agents, some of whom had been cited in corruption inquiries in countries in Asia and Africa, and at least one of whom had a criminal record. NPA ended its use of agents in 2007 because of concerns about the probity negotiations in which they had been involved, but Securency's use of agents of dubious repute continued after this newspaper began publishing Baker and McKenzie's reports, and even after the AFP investigation had begun. The activities in which the two firms engaged, like the scandal involving the wheat marketer AWB and the former Baathist regime in Iraq, raise disturbing questions about the way agencies under the oversight of Australian public institutions conduct business internationally.
The boards of Securency and NPA are controlled by the Reserve Bank, one of whose assistant governors chairs those boards. And yesterday, Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens responded to the AFP charges by saying that none of the RBA's appointees to the boards of the two companies had been accused of wrongdoing, and neither had anyone at the RBA. The six men charged, Mr Stevens said, were no longer connected to the RBA or the two subsidiaries, and he regretted that ''the governance arrangements and processes in the companies at that time [1999-2005] were not able to prevent or detect the alleged behaviour that has led to today's charges''.
Since the matter is now before the courts, it is hardly surprising that Mr Stevens is trying to distance the RBA from what is happening as much as possible. The guarded tone of his remarks is very different, however, from the confidence he expressed, in the RBA's annual report in late 2009, in the way the bank had supervised Securency's activities. As The Age commented at the time, by that extraordinary assertion the bank had effectively opened the door on its own probity.
This remains true, even though the Reserve Bank has, especially in the past year, sought more rigorous oversight of its subsidiaries. Since Baker and McKenzie first revealed Securency and NPA's multimillion-dollar dealings with overseas agents, the fundamental question has been the same: how could these things have happened while the two firms were directed by boards whose members included board members of the most important financial institution in the country? That question is given added force by the fact the two companies, as well as their former executives, were charged yesterday. A company can be convicted of bribery if it is proven that its ''mind and will'' was directed towards the alleged criminal conduct, and if Securency and NPA are convicted it will raise questions about whether the RBA appointees to the companies' boards failed in their duty of oversight.
The Age has resolutely pursued the investigation of the activities of Securency and NPA because Australians are entitled to expect that affiliates of the nation's central bank will comply with the highest standards of probity, good governance and transparency of operation. That is what journalism carried out in the public interest requires. Some other institutions that might have been expected to share a commitment to the public interest have regrettably been reluctant to conduct their own inquiries into the matter. In May 2009, when the Age reports first appeared, Greens leader Bob Brown sought to have RBA staff questioned by a Senate committee. The result was one of Federal Parliament's rare displays of bipartisanship as Labor and the Coalition blocked the move.
Both major parties might have reasons to avoid association with a scandal affecting the custodian of the nation's financial system: what emerges from the forthcoming trials is potentially embarrassing and humiliating for the Reserve Bank and, perhaps, for those who have dealt with it in government. If this newspaper had refused to follow the story where it led, however, the humiliation for the nation might have been even worse. It matters how these firms do business in Australia's name, and Australians have a right to know it.
DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN: THE HUMAN STAIN
It is important to note that the rush to judge the former IMF chief is now being accompanied by a similar one against the woman
The charge of sexual assault against Dominique Strauss-Kahn reads like something out of a novel by Philip Roth. And Friday's chapter was no exception. After it was reported that the case against him was close to collapse because major holes had opened up in the credibility of the chambermaid – the alleged victim of the assault and the chief prosecution witness – Mr Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest on his own recognisance, and had $6m in cash bail and bond returned. In six weeks, Mr Strauss-Kahn had gone from being the global economy's top bureaucrat, and hot favourite to become the next French president, to a humiliated criminal suspect picked out of the "perp walk", the parading of the accused, and back again to man in a sharp suit with a confident grin on his face, his wife at his side.
But this is not fiction, and the case continues with even greater intensity and publicity than it did before. It is important that the wild rush to judgment that originally tore this man's reputation to shreds, before a word of the evidence against him had been tested in court, is not now accompanied by a similar rush to judgment against the woman. It is possible, as her lawyer Kenneth Thompson continued to claim outside the courtroom yesterday, that she made false statements in her asylum application and was also the victim of a sexual assault in a hotel room, of which he proceeded to give graphic details. The system of criminal justice in America, which allows lawyers to speak freely outside the courtroom about the evidence before it is presented in court, does little to staunch the trial by media to which the case has been subjected on both sides of the Atlantic.
This is now set to get more public as the woman will soon waive her right to anonymity and speak about what she claimed happened to her. Her defence maintains that the only lies she told which directly concern the case are changes to her account about where she fled after the incident took place. However, if – as widely reported – she had a telephone conversation with a man charged with drug possession in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing charges, that alone could establish reasonable doubt about her story, as it could be proved that she had a financial motive for pursuing them.
The resulting case is, as an official said, a mess. It is one which besmirches everyone connected with it. The woman could potentially be charged with lying to a grand jury as well as suffering what she claims happened in the room. The accused, however the case unfolds, has lost his job, his reputation and, in the immediate term at least, a political future.
POLITICS: SCOTLAND'S MIXED MESSAGES
Mr Salmond's elegantly concealed nationalist pitches reach out to the independents while massaging the moderates
Opening the newly elected Scottish parliament in Edinburgh yesterday, the Queen began by observing that Scottish politics will never be for "the meek, the passive or the faint-hearted". She then, with rather conspicuous meekness herself, delivered a speech which avoided any reference to the United Kingdom, to the union of England and Scotland or to the likelihood that this Scottish parliament will vote to set in motion the possible constitutional separation of Scotland from the British state. Given the conventions which surround her position, the Queen's avoidance of controversy was very proper. Yet it was political shadow-boxing in the Edinburgh sunshine. Given that the Scottish National party now commands a majority in the Holyrood parliament, it was bizarre that independence was the issue that dared not speak its name there yesterday.
Unsurprisingly, rather fewer scruples applied to the speech which the SNP first minister Alex Salmond made in reply. No one would ever accuse Mr Salmond of being meek, passive or faint-hearted. Yet he was far too canny and polite to speak the I-word in the royal presence yesterday. In other respects, though, Mr Salmond's message was hard to miss. He delivered a stylish speech studded with nationalist implications: that the Queen's recent visit to Ireland as a "firm friend and equal partner" also had resonance for Scotland's independent future; that the works of great writers like William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Dylan Thomas and the late Edwin Morgan were shared across the islands but were rooted in distinct nations too; and that the best way to articulate their nation's distinctness lay along a constitutional path that it is for Scots to choose.
By making such elegantly concealed nationalist pitches, Mr Salmond is attempting to massage moderate Scottish opinion towards treating independence as not such a big deal after all. By sucking up to the Queen as he did yesterday, the first minister hopes to tell independence sceptics that it is possible to have it both ways. He reckons that it is possible to dissolve the Act of Union 1707 while maintaining the regal union of 1603, with the Queen as head of state of an independent Scotland. Mr Salmond has chosen to frame the independence campaign in the message that it is possible to separate while maintaining British links from the crown to the NHS. It is a clever message and the opponents of independence will have to be much cleverer than they have yet been, if they are to rebut it effectively.
The opponents will, though, find something to steady their nerves in the result of Thursday's Westminster byelection in Inverclyde. The important news from Inverclyde, which Labour retained with an only slightly reduced share of the vote, is that the SNP is not all-conquering after all. After the SNP's Holyrood landslide in May, this had looked to be a possibility. Mr Salmond clearly thought the Holyrood tide would carry his candidate to victory this week. He put everything into the effort, visiting seven times. In the end, though, Labour's vote held up strongly, while the Conservatives and, in particular, the Liberal Democrats, collapsed to the nationalists. The SNP result was very much par for the Scottish Westminster byelection course in recent years. Labour, still stunned by the May result, was surprised at its own success. It looks as though a lot of Labour voters are happy to vote SNP in Holyrood contests but will stand by Labour in UK-wide contests.
As the two dominant parties in Scotland, Labour and the SNP must weigh the implications of this discriminating electoral behaviour with care. Both can take some comfort from it. But it also presents both of them with problems. Labour's Inverclyde win cannot disguise the scale of its May election failure. Mr Salmond, meanwhile, still faces an uphill task to persuade a sceptical electorate to follow him along the Royal Mile to independence.
UNTHINKABLE? RETIRING CLICHES
The House of Lords should 'avoid cliches like the plague'
The other day the Lords debated the revolutionary proposal that peers who have had enough of the place should be allowed to quit, and even discussed whether the House should have a retirement age. Let us step straight up to the plate and endorse the view of the peeress who acknowledged that while we could simply "wring our hands" about the house being too large, it was in fact high time to "bite the bullet, grasp the nettle and accept that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs". For while it is always true that people who act in haste may repent in leisure, it's perhaps even more on the nose that a stitch in time saves nine, and they who hesitate are lost. Some peers suggested that to sugar the pill a lump sum might be paid to those who had passed their sell-by dates, but this was firmly resisted by the leader of the house, Lord Strathclyde, who as a Scot is well aware that many a mickle makes a muckle (or is it the other way round?). Riding roughshod over those who thought it best to kick any such notion into the long grass, the Lords agreed, on the principle of striking while the iron is hot, to let the proposal proceed. Yet if peers who are past it need to be told to quit, shouldn't this kind of clapped-out metaphorical ironmongery be sent to the scrapheap as well? Is it really too much to hope that Messrs Cameron and Clegg might now circulate to ministers the advice that used to appear long ago in a Manchester Guardian stylebook? "Avoid cliches," it said, "like the plague."
THE JAKARTA POST
A plan by the Jakarta city administration to launch the operation of Transjakarta feeder bus routes is a small but important step toward an integrated public transportation system in the city. Such an integrated system is badly needed in order to facilitate existing users and encourage the millions of motorcyclists and private car owners to convert to public transportation.
Jakarta Transportation Agency chief Udar Pristono said Monday that three feeder routes would begin operating in August. These would be followed by operation of four additional routes later this year.
The three feeders will serve the West Jakarta municipal office to a busway shelter on Jl. Daan Mogot in West Jakarta; Tanah Abang railway station to a Transjakarta shelter near City Hall in Central Jakarta; and Sudirman Central Business District (SCBD) to Senayan, also in Central Jakarta.
Why is the feeder service important? It cannot be denied that improved public transportation service is the only answer to daily Jakarta gridlock, as the existing roads can no longer accommodate the increasing number of vehicles. The existing integrated transportation system is part of the reason residents are reluctant to shift to public transportation.
There have been efforts by private companies, particularly housing developers in satellite cities such as Bekasi, Tangerang and Bogor, to facilitate their respective residents with bus services — known as feeders — which are connected to the Transjakarta busway. There have been efforts by Transjakarta busway and the railway company to connect their services, similar to what has been pioneered at the Sudirman station in Central Jakarta.
Additional connections among public transportation modes will not only facilitate the needs of people who use public transportation, but would also provide benefits to the operators, as they would feed each other.
However, the city administration needs to remain consistent with its plan to open more feeder services to facilitate the shift to public transportation. The city administration might cooperate with existing private bus operators for opening new feeder routes.
But, of course, it will not be enough. There are still many things to do — both by the central government and the city administration — to improve the condition of public transportation in the city. The city administration has to deploy more buses to all corridors of the Transjakarta busway, assuming that busway passengers will increase after opening the feeder routes. Without more buses in operation, the Transjakarta busway service will worsen.
On the other hand, the central government needs to go ahead with efforts to improve railway services, as they have become the backbone of commuter transportation.
Apart from service improvements to existing public transportation, both the central government and the city administration also need to be consistent with their plans to develop additional modes of public transportation, including Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), monorail and others.
With the commitment of all parties on improving service, public transportation is expected to become the main instrument of mobility for people in Greater Jakarta. An improved system will surely ease the city's overburdened roads. Most importantly, it will help prevent the city from experiencing total traffic gridlock, which is predicted to be inevitable if the authorities fail to addresss current traffic problems.
THE JAKARTA POST
SCHOOL CHOICE: DO PARENTS REALLY CHOOSE SCHOOLS?
I still remember when my parents sent me to a secondary school almost two decades ago. It was a nearby school. My neighbors would also do the same. Even if parents sent their children to different schools, it was because most schools would set a minimum exam score to filter candidates.
In this decade, however, things have changed. Compared to my nostalgic past, now parents have to "choose" schools for their children. My senior high school teacher told me that my former school had declined in quality since it was transformed into an International Standard School (SBI).
The school set a relatively high tuition and other fees. Some friends of mine told me that they needed to prepare between Rp 5 million (US$580) and Rp 20 million to enter the desired school. This is undoubtedly unaffordable for families with low income.
Other changes in schooling in this era are the emergence of the National Standard School (SSN) and school clustering (cluster 1, 2, etc.). While it is good to see such a development, sadly schools are now labeled and clustered.
School labeling works by attaching a label to a school (international/national label) and clustering them based on the label.
Let us take a look at the case in Bandung. There are three high school levels — first, second and third. The first cluster comprises international standard schools; the second cluster contains national standard schools; while the third cluster is for those schools without any label (rural and disadvantaged schools). Believe it or not, the labeling portrays the current schooling in many cities in Indonesia.
Those labels affect school access. The middle and upper-middle class parents can exercise their choice to send their children to their desired school and ultimately the university they want.
I agree it is a parents' duty to choose the best education for their children. My concern is far too often schools, parents and policy makers act as if the exercise of choice is neutral. In plain English, it means as if all parents, families and individuals have the same level of access to the available choices.
So far as I imagine, choosing schools is just like buying gadgets. Do you choose an iPad or a PC? A cell phone or a BlackBerry? It is up to you, or more substantially, your money.
There is a strong connection between a school's capacities to provide education to children and the economic ability of parents to purchase that educational provision. Consequently, this privileges the wealthy minority and excludes the poor majority.
Not only in Indonesia, school choice has become a popular buzzword throughout the world. In the developed countries, such as the US and the UK, schools are displayed on a league table. The table evaluates each school's performance and displays the results online. This is aimed to assist parents with decision-making. The implication is that schools are in tight competition to attract parents and they are located in circuits. Circuit A for middle-class parents, circuit B for the labor class.
Choice works if there is a level playing field in the onset. Ideally, parents should have the capacity to make and exercise that choice. But, how about families that cannot afford a particular school uniform and book fees?
If this situation continues, the gap between the rich and the poor widens. And I hardly dare to imagine how would Indonesia's education would be in the future.
Our education pioneer, Ki Hajar Dewantara, has cogently cautioned us that "it is quite understandable why we have been so mistaken in our choice. In the first place, much has to be chosen, and there has been so little to choose from".
So, do we really choose schools?
This is, of course, the system which governs our attitude in choosing schools. It is good to hear that the National Education Ministry has restricted the establishment of the SBI.
As parents, we do not have any vehicle to provide our input on educational policies and practices. At least, we need to do something.
First and foremost, we need to change our mind-set — do not believe in school clustering. Let us send our children to the school that places academic achievement as the passing criteria, let's not base our decisions on labels and clusters.
Second, I believe that good parenting at home is also a form of education and character building. Therefore, we do not need to worry so much on choosing the "best" school for our children.
The writer is a postgraduate student at the Faculty of Education, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
THE JAKARTA POST
DOES PARENTING MATTER?
Much ink has been spilled on Amy Chua's extreme parenting style, as told in her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. But almost no one asked the simplest yet most fundamental question in parenthood: Does parenting actually shape children?
The fact that musical parents beget musical children, for example, is usually taken as proof that musical parenting works. But it could also be the case that musical parents passed on genes that predispose their children to music, parenting notwithstanding.
In typical families, the two factors are impossible to tease apart: Parents give both genes and upbringing to their children. To circumvent this problem, scientists have resorted to studying a special population, namely twins.
The trick is to compare identical twins, who share all their genes, and fraternal twins, who share only half. Assuming equal treatment by parents, any excess of similarity between identical twins relative to fraternal twins must be attributed to genes.
It turns out that for a variety of important traits and outcomes such as health, intelligence, educational attainment, family income and personality, identical twins are much more similar than fraternal twins.
This finding, demonstrating substantial effects of genes and not parenting, has been consistently replicated for thousands of twins in Australia, Denmark, Sweden and the US.
Evidence also comes from observations of identical twins reared apart, where one twin was adopted early on and raised in a different family.
Parenting effects should cause identical twins reared apart to be more different than identical twins reared together.
But they're not. Identical twins raised by different parents are just as similar as identical twins raised by same parents, arguing against parenting effects.
The same story goes for comparisons of biological and adopted children in the same family. Parenting effects predict siblings that are equally similar to their parents. Yet biological children are much more similar to their parents than adopted children are.
Taken together, the bulk of the evidence shows that while parents do shape children (via genetic influences), parenting doesn't.
Now it is not the case that parenting is never effective. First of all, some studies have found parenting effects on religious and political affiliations, smoking and drinking behavior, and choice of occupation.
Parenting also has clear short-term effects. Telling your children not to scream in the library, for instance, will surely keep the patrons calm.
And finally, all of the above studies pertain to ordinary middle-to-upper class families in first-world countries. As noted by economist Bryan Caplan in Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, the findings do not apply to children who are raised by wolves or abandoned in Haiti.
But for most families, parenting has no observable effects in determining how well the children do later in life. What Chua and her critics have been debating in the last six months are mostly empty points.
Now you may think I am saying it does not matter how we treat our children. But consider the following question by psychologist Judith Rich Harris in The Nurture Assumption: Does it matter how I treat my spouse?
Parenting matters not because it determines what kind of people our children are going to be. It matters because of the shared experience we enjoy and relish with them.
Good parenting is not about molding children to be our perceived ideals. It is about providing a loving home where our children grow up in joy and happiness.
As is often the case with deep and profound truths, a great sage had it figured out.
In the opening of his poem On Children, Kahlil Gibran says, "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself."
The writer is a researcher in cognitive neuroscience with a background in psychology.
THE JAKARTA POST
CHALLENGING OPPORTUNITY FOR AGING POPULATION
The world is aging rapidly. By 2040, the global population aged 65 and older is expected to reach 1.3 billion, more than double the size of 530 million in 2010 (Source: US Census Bureau International Database, March 2010).
An aging population will result in a severe shortage of labor and falling output, as well as spiraling health care costs, all of which will have profound and enduring economic, social and political consequences.
Extending people's working lives is a key to dealing with these challenges. More than 8.5 percent of 240 million population in Indonesia are 60 years or older according to the Central Statistics Bureau (BPS).
In 2025 this number is expected to multiply by 414 percent, making Indonesia one of the fastest aging societies in Asia.
This will have an impact not only on the nation and the communities but also families who are the primary caregivers for the elderly.
However, economic and societal changes, such as a rapid urban migration, have brought changes in the care of elderly. As people continue to move to cities, driven by economic necessity, there will be increasingly fewer family members to provide care for the elderly.
This is exacerbated by the lack of financial and health support, such as pensions and insurance from the government, which means that the elderly have no choice but to rely on their relatives.
The current approach of providing special health care and building nursing home to managing an aging population is no longer enough.
A more practical approach is to maintain productivity by implementing a strategy that allows longevity of employees in the workforce so that older workers can continue to be a source of manpower, experience and skills to sustain economic growth and progress.
Currently, the mandatory retirement age of 55 in Indonesia has resulted in a situation where people who are still vigorous and able to contribute, end up idling at homes.
Companies can help extend longevity of the workforce by looking at more flexible working arrangements. This can include part-time employment and paying older workers a wage commensurate with their productivity rather than their seniority, so they can continue to stay in the workforce after they reach retirement age.
In addition to that, providing occupational retraining program and educational upgrading will also support older workers to manage and keep up with technological change in the workplace.
For some people, remaining in employment is an economic necessity but this isn't the only reason for continuing to work. In the Philips Index Health & Well-Being Report 2010, a global attitudinal study on health and well-being, respondents are generally optimistic about their life-expectancy.
About 45 percent believe they will live to more than 80 years of age. Compared to their counterparts in Singapore, and similar to people in Malaysia, about half (49 percent) of Indonesians expect to live longer than their parents.
Women are more likely than men to feel this way, while those aged 18-24 and 25-34 are more likely to feel that way than other age groups.
Despite being a young country on average (the median age is 28), nearly four in 10 (37 percent) Indonesians feel they will live to be at least 81 years old.
Health and well-being used to be seen as an issue for individuals and governments. But increasingly, companies realize that they have to invest in their employees' health — not for altruistic reasons but out of self-interest.
If employees are encouraged to take care of their health and change their behavior by eating healthily and exercising more from the time they begin working and throughout their careers, it will ensure that older workers are fitter and can remain longer in active employment.
Health promotion and wellness programs can keep employees working longer by reducing the risks of getting new chronic conditions or the worsening of existing ones.
Many companies are already implementing programs to encourage staff to exercise, make healthier choices and manage their work-life balance to maintain mental well-being.
All the research indicates that investing in employee health reduces medical insurance costs, cuts absenteeism, increases productivity and reduces staff turnover.
Good health is good for business. Ultimately, a healthier, more productive workforce can help drive greater profitability for employers as well as a healthier economy.
Technology also has a vital role in managing the health of an aging workforce. People increasingly want access to health care anywhere, at any time and tailored to their specific needs.
In the Philips Index, access to healthcare facilities is important for 85 percent of the respondents in Indonesia. With an aging population and an explosion in chronic diseases, there will not be enough hospitals to cope with the number of patients who need routine monitoring and screening.
With technology and devices enabling independent living through remote monitoring and better self management of chronic diseases, hospital beds can be freed up for emergencies and some of the pressure on already overburdened health care systems can be alleviated.
Workplace design, an often overlooked area by employers and policy makers, is also important to ensure the needs of older employees are met. With the changing demographics of the workforce, it is timely to start looking into basic things like good ergonomics and better lighting.
Growing older is linked to a large number of changes in the eyes. Under normal indoor lighting conditions, a 60-year-old typically needs 10 times more light to achieve the visual acuity of a 20-year-old. At the same time, the aging eye is more sensitive to light and an aging work force might perceive more problems with bright light sources such as small, very bright LEDs, so that must be taken into account.
The aging work force poses tremendous challenges for the nation and economies. But it is also an opportunity. By focusing on the health of its employees, companies can ensure that their people — one of their major assets — are able to perform better, for longer.
The writer is the president director of PT Philips Indonesia, a global company that focuses on health and wellbeing. The opinions expressed are his own.
Politics has been one of the most misunderstood words. What would immediately spring to our minds, is our understanding of party politics and governance within a democratic framework, besides the deception and double dealing, corruption and the desire for personal gain or glory that are often associated with party politics. Most people will naturally feel it has little to do with them. Still more to the common people, who go about their normal way of life. However when we take a deeper look we discover that every person by virtue of his or her existence needs to be involved in politics. It has all to do with social concerns, social justice and social involvements. Such a person is a model politician.
Politics has a lot to do with our relationship with other people, especially the poor, the voiceless and the marginalised. Nobody could live on earth, free from the influence or support of others. We are all interdependent on each another. Politics is more to do with concern for one's neighbour. We are called therefore to care for, support and answer to the needs of others. Failure to do so would ultimately cause the collapse of society.
The creative force within us is paradoxically more concerned than us, about how seriously we take our civic and social responsibilities, or the lack of it. The transformation of our society and even of our nation is dependent upon the responses of the common man. Our wrong response hinders the creative force that works within, to evolve society and make real that dream of a just and fair society, a dream of a world whose ugliness, squalor and poverty; whose war and hostility, greed and harsh competitiveness, alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counter virtues. This would happen when individually and collectively we exercise qualities of love, forgiveness, humility, generosity and courage. These seeds are not only in the hearts of party politicians, but more so in every man and woman. These seeds however, would bear fruit only in those who are other centered and not in those self centered. Any government however powerful it thinks would collapse like a sand castle unless it is other centered. This is a vital requirement of the creative force.
Every individual life has to be like the yeast in the dough. Each must make their indelible mark in family and society, to enrich it. After all politics is about caring for the weak and the helpless, whom we meet in our daily life.
We may sometimes say that university students should not deal in politics but rather, concentrate on their studies. This may be true in regard to party politics. Yet their legitimate protest could be in obedience to a higher power, more concerned than us, in wanting change for a higher ascendancy of society. Youth's social concern and involvements need to be encouraged. That way, they would feel the need to perfect themselves, their family and society, even in later life. The worst thing for the future generation is to breed those who silently accept selfishness, evil and disorder, as normal vices that grow out of a self centered society. The greatest misfortune is to have people who don't care what happens to others, as long as they are all right.
Government leaders seem to be speaking in many voices in dealing with important national issues. Not only the various constituent political parties in the ruling coalition, the UPFA, but also the leaders of the main party in the coalition, the SLFP make differing public pronouncements.
Interestingly, the media too do not seem to have taken those opposing remarks by the players of the same side of the political divide seriously, apparently because this has been routine in Sri Lankan politics for some time.
For instance, the AFP reported two weeks ago that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had cited constitutional immunity and refused to go before a US court where he is being sued for $30 million over the killing of a Tamil man. It quoted Justice Ministry Secretary Suhada Gamlath as saying that under Sri Lankan laws, the President has immunity and the country doesn't have to respond to such summons. "I have written to the District Court of the Southern District of Columbia of our legal position last week," Gamlath had said.
Mr. Gamlath was responding to a question about a case filed by a US-based Tamil lobby claiming damages from the President as commander-in-chief of the armed forces for the alleged killing of a Tamil man, Raghiar Manoharan. However, later a local newspaper quoted the same official as stating that the Attorney General's Department will retain a lawyer to oversee the President's interests in the US Court which had issued the summons on the President.
This contradiction may be due to a mind change by the Government following perusal of the situation. However, sometimes more acute divergent opinions on same issues could be witnessed among the members of the ruling party. Among them is the question about the video footages that have been shown recently by the Channel 4 of the UK on the alleged war crimes.
Many Government leaders had out rightly rejected this film claiming that it had been doctored by the channel. But at the same time, some groups within the Government contested the claim by the channel 4 that a journalist called Isipriya had been killed by the Sri Lankan security forces and contended that she was a trained LTTE cadre.
Needless to say that these two claims were contrasting and one may question as to why should one contest only one scene in the film, if the whole film had been doctored. In the meantime the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a constituent party of the UPFA has come up with a new stance on the highly controversial issue.
Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, who is also the public face of the JHU, in his weekly column "Doramandalawa" in the Sunday Lankadeepa last week had to say this. "We do not know whether the scenes in the Channel 4 video film were authentic. However, one cannot say that unlawful killings, abductions, torture, and rape did not take place in the course of anti-terrorist struggle. The policy that we have to follow in this regard is the one that was pursued following the Premawathie Manamperi murder during the 1971 insurrection and one following the killing of students in Trincomalee. That is to penalize the perpetrators."
President Rajapaksa during his meeting with the media heads on Tuesday made several remarks that run counter to what many ministers profess. He said that he would accept any solution to the ethnic problem that would be recommended by the Parliamentary Select Committee that has been proposed. However, Government Ministers have been talking about a solution that would go beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Minister Dinesh Gunawardene said in March that the Government would present a fresh Right to Information Bill to Parliament and demanded the Bill on the subject presented by UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya be withdrawn. But the Government did not keep its promise. When it defeated the second Bill on the matter by the UNP last week Ministers again said that they would bring their Bill later. However, President told the media heads that there is no need for such a Bill as people in the country have access to information. People do not seem to question these differences of opinion within the Government as they apparently think that it is futile in the face of the popularity of the Government. Also Opposition parties can be shouted down using the two-thirds majority power the Government enjoys in Parliament, if the Opposition questioned the contradictions within the Government. However, with these contradictions being increasingly apparent Government's credibility would gradually be eroded locally and internationally.
If regular elections and a constitutionally mandated separation of powers have been the traditional hallmarks of democracy, frequent and effective communication between leaders and citizens is surely a key ingredient of a modern republic. In India, however, our principal political leaders seldom speak without the prop of a prepared text. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh fields questions when he travels abroad but has held only two press conferences and two interactions with editors in Delhi in the past seven years. As for interviews, he has allowed himself to be questioned by an Indian newspaper only once and never by an Indian news channel. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, too, has not really been heard from at close quarters except for the briefest of triumphal soundbites just after the Rajya Sabha passed the Women's Reservation Bill. These are extraordinary facts by any yardstick. They speak either of our leaders' lack of confidence or their lack of concern for addressing the sort of questions a democratic polity throws up from time to time. This absence of communication is made worse by the dissonance generated by disparate voices from the ruling party and government. If Dr. Singh bemoans the media helping to create an "atmosphere of cynicism" all around, he and the government and the Congress have only themselves to blame.
The Prime Minister's interaction with a small group of editors was intended to clear the air on issues like corruption but his answers will likely have the opposite effect. Dr. Singh sought refuge in the claim that the decisions for which his government is being pilloried now "post facto" were taken under conditions of "uncertainty" and that the accusations of wrongdoing and corruption would paralyse the government and discourage "entrepreneurial impulses." Nothing could be further from the truth. There was no uncertainty about true prices, for example, when bloated contracts were awarded to companies during the Commonwealth Games. And the CBI's charge sheet makes it clear that 2G spectrum was not distributed by the Telecom ministry under uncertain conditions at all: Former minister A. Raja and his associates and the companies that allegedly colluded with them knew very well what the true value of the licences were. Dr. Singh's biggest blunder, however, was to upbraid the Comptroller and Auditor General, one of the few state institutions that the public at large still has faith in. Since it is thanks to the CAG report on 2G that the criminal investigation into the telecom scam really got moving, ordinary Indians are likely to view the Prime Minister's remarks as further evidence of the unwillingness of this government to seriously tackle the problem of graft.
"When one kills another he is sentenced to the gallows. When another kills 20000 he is re-elected President of the US' Rawalpindi Joke, circa 2004
After the carnage they are welcomed as honored guests in Geneva, Berlin, Oslo, Sattaship and Hakone for peace negotiations. That's like inviting your own killers for dinner for a chit- chat.
Colombo Joke, circa 2004
Is the choreography being reset for a second coming after a failed bid to enter by an armed intervention on a beach front near Nandikadal Lagoon? This time it is not an amphibious landing by US Marines in camouflaged fatigues but well-oiled inmates from judicial homes of elders in moth balled suits, entering a courthouse with a blinded scale of justice and a sharpened hatchet in either hand: impatient to tweet a judgment.
Attempt for a military intervention failed by a narrow squeak. Roberto Blake made a thrust on the Ministry of Defence - deflected with a neat glide of a possible blood bath with an unpredictable Prabhakaran and of geo-political complications surrounding the seas around India; undeterred Blake rushed to India House to meet High Commissioner Alok Prasad to place a proposition to insert the Marines.
New Delhis South Block were aghast of an American military flotilla berthed in their private swimming pool in this part of the Indian Ocean. Mildly put, Blake ended with egg in face. Embassy Street, twitters, Blake did not take the rebuff well and holds it against Sri Lanka for sending him down a blind alley to look a silly. That probably speaks for his attitude on Sri Lanka.
After a transition from an authoritarian to a democratic regime or from war to peace, to supposedly test accountability, provide justice and foster reconciliation, a mechanism branded 'post conflict justice a.k.a transitional justice' has been designed.
This is a 'on your marks-get set' position to await the sound of the starters gun to fire, to run for an international judicial intervention. In a nutshell to create an opening for foreign interference (post conflict) in the domestic sphere in the name of humanitarian laws now compressed and canonized as R2P.
This time there is an eerie silence on the part of the normally local-vocal NGO stalwarts to raise a clarion call, leaving it to their mentors and sponsor's abroad to sound the bugle. Local names and faces calling for international intervention normally raises blood pressure levels of native residents just as raising a red rag would do to infuriate a resting bull.
In military terms its 'tactical withdrawal for strategic reasons' that reads in humanitarian mumbo-jumbo as 'making a hasty retreat to a safe house.' Can local NGO chapters walk the streets carrying a board called traitor? It's safer to be a rabbit resting in a warren hiding in a corner nibbling an imported acorn.
There are two forms of tribunals to deal with such situations-international and domestic. It's a toss up between restorative and retributive justice. The school that favours retributive justice places the chopper at the feet of individuals or a gun at head of governments and security services. The purpose is accountability to deter future conflict but the eventual striving is to reach peace and reconciliation.
The conflict in Sri Lanka is unique where one side to the conflict was wiped out without a trace. Mind you, it was a universally recognized terrorists outfit that refused any peace overtures. Therefore elimination was a pre-requisite to commence a meaningful reconciliation process. Negotiation was word the LTTE never understood especially after the death of Balasingham.
In the reconciliation process the accountability factor will attract only Sri Lanka as a party, the minimal offender by the harshest yardstick of the two contenders, alleged of evils. The same party has made- a once war thorn nation, secure in peace and the most stable in region with total control in the acts of reconciliation.
How realistic will a reconciliation process be where the reconciler stands alone in the dock to face charges for ushering peace and democracy and ending terrorism? Will an arm be extended if the head is to be chopped?
Sri Lanka has experienced foreign interferences to prevent the elimination of terrorism. The accusers insistence, to seek a peaceful resolution instead of being engaged in an armed conflict, established as a proved failure, after exhausting it to the maximum while suffering the consequences of its ill-fated attempts, reveal where the heart and mind lies. Those that can give such ill-advice are the same that cry for foreign judicial intervention. Where is their credibility? Where is the confidence in them?
Any foreign judicial intervention will be resisted by the people who would look upon it as a punishment for ignoring the commands of West that were in their view, made mala fide as subsequent events proved. In Sri Lanka, even those that opposed war (except for a few hardline leftists and elamist) are now celebrating the war victory overwhelmingly. Even the political parties opposing government will raise both hands to keep foreign elements out of war crimes for their own political survival, except for the TULF/TNA, living it up on the Diaspora diet.
A call for a referendum (with foreign observers present to determine it is a free and fair) to determine the need for inquiry on war crimes, will display a mammoth negative reaction- the trump the President holds in his hand. For an affirmation on the need for reconciliation both hands will be raised. The need for genuine reconciliation precedes all other considerations –the prime norm of international humanitarian laws in dealing with post war conflicts.
Sugarcoated capsules or arm-twisting threats coming from foreign sources may send saccharine levels high or shivers down spines but the predominant factor is to maintain sustainable peace and drive hard towards reconciliation.
This does not absolve the obligation of the government to create the environment for reconciliation, where much has to be done. They have failed to assuage the Tamils of their grievances sufficiently, most of which remain untouched. Look and Learn Commission from whom much is expected has failed to issue an interim report outlining the required avenues of reconciliation. Why are they failing to Look at the prime issue and give the benefits of their Learning after hearing the sayings of the People for so long? Are we twiddling thumbs as foreigners are trying to scorch us on tires after we put out the fire?
Come September we will be in more trouble if unattended.
The controversy over the Lok Pal refuses to die down. Coupled with the Baba Ramdev's aborted fast over unearthing black money, particularly that which is stashed away in overseas tax havens, Anna Hazare's continuing call on a 'Jan Lok Pal bill' has received immense media attention in the country and inspired the middle class, which is wedded to the cause of quick but clean governance. The Government is seen as having scuttled the early flurry of Ramdev, and has contested the suggestions made by Team Anna on the proposed Lok Pal bill, saying that not all provisions in their draft Bill is amenable to the existing constitutional scheme. Independent of what the Government of the day, and even other sections of the polity may have to say over issues of corruption and black money, where they are often seen only as offering lip-service, there seems to be a lot of sense in the recent utterances of the four-member ministerial team on what is described as the 'Jan Lok Pal bill'.
Post-negotiations, the Government seems to be dragging its feet even more by declaring that whatever was agreed upon was by the ministerial team, not the Government per se. This is in contrast to the haste with which the Government began working with Team Anna on the one hand and Baba Ramdev on the other, without considering the constitutional consequences. It seemed wanting to minimise, if not avoid the political/public embarrassment, and nothing more. For their part, neither Team Anna, nor Baba Ramdev for that matter, seemed to know where to draw the line that they should not cross, or have a strategy to produce results, not just news clips and sound-bites for the day. In the coming weeks, it is not impossible that the focus is lost on the very cause, and the diatribes and discourses centring on details could render the entire proceedings tiresome for the people.
The basic reservations of the Government team to the bill drafted by Team Anna relates to the latter's insistence on the inclusion of the Prime Minister, the parliamentary conduct of members and also the higher judiciary under the proposed law. The Government, or the four-member ministerial team that negotiated with Team Anna, has pointed to the impossibility of including the three sections to schemes such as the Lok Pal. By including the Prime Minister under such a scheme, particularly without having to go through prior clearance for prosecution of any kind from the President, has the potential to hit at the very basis of our constitutional scheme. The very idea of introducing prior clearance for prosecution of 'public servants' was to avoid frivolous and motivated complaints and petitions being conferred the honour of a serious charge.
Yet, the Supreme Court's judgment in the 'Antulay case' clearly expanded the scope of the term 'public servant' under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) to include the political class in power. Subsequent amendments to the PCA brought in benamis and operational frontmen of such 'public servants' under the scheme. This would show that the existing scheme has been applying correctives and expanding the scope of the existing law without external pressures. At the same time, memories from the damage caused to the institution of the Prime Minister by the media hype and the political war on corruption launched on the basis of the 'Lakhubhai Pathak case' is still fresh. Years after the late P V Narasimha Rao had stepped down as Prime Minister, the court acquitted him of the charges made by a pickle-trader, but the damage had been done. No questions were then asked, or since, as to why Lakhubhai Pathak then said what he had said. He was dead by then.
Under the Constitution, and through various court rulings, the parliamentary conduct of individual members have been kept out of judicial scrutiny though the pieces of legislation that they pass in the process could still be challenged for their legality and constitutional validity. This is aimed at ensuring that members of Parliament, and also the State legislatures are guaranteed the freedom to engage in debates without any reservations or apprehensions. It may be another matter that not every one of them has utilised the right with prudence but that cannot be cited as a reason to vitiate the basis of our democracy. The less said about the need for inclusion of members of the higher judiciary under the Lok Pal the better. Even while considering the need for introducing a law to hold members of the higher judiciary accountable, successive Governments at the Centre have been circumspect about the methodology, as it should not be seen either as Executive vindictiveness, or as excessive interference by the Executive and the Legislature in the independence and ordinary functioning of the higher judiciary. Under the constitutional scheme, the judiciary is the watch-dog, and it has acted when other pillars of democracy had weakened or wilted. The Supreme Court's handling of the 2-G scam and the CWG scandal are a case in point.
Travesty of law and practices
The role assigned to the higher judiciary in choosing the Lok Pal(s) is a travesty of existing laws and established practices. The proposed bill has included the Chief Justice of India and also other Judges for participation in the choice of the Lok Pal. Independent of the choice of the Lok Pal, both the proceedings in the choice and the subsequent proceedings before the Lok Pal could be contested before the courts of law. Where the choice itself is under question, the Supreme Court would be called upon to sit in judgment over the choice made on its behalf. Similar is the case with the proposed inclusion of other constitutional authorities like the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and the Comptroller and Auditor-General in the selection panel. It is another matter to include their offices as the investigative arms of the Lok Pal, considering their existing, defined roles. These are basic tenets of the law, which the learned members of Team Anna seem to have overlooked.
The 'Jan Lok Pal bill', or the bill drafted by the civil society representatives under social activist Anna Hazare, has likewise used undefined and unquantifiable terms such as 'impeccable integrity' and a 'record of public service, particularly in the field of fighting corruption' as eligibility for members and chairperson of a Lok Pal. In recent weeks, we have seen as to what use, misuse or abuse the phraseology, 'impeccable integrity', as defined by the Supreme Court in the 'VineetNarain case' was put to, in the choice of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). By confining the choice to civil society members fighting corruption, a new class of persons is being created under the law in its aftermath. It will be seen as the civil society organisations in the field, now and later, sub-serving their institutional interests in the matter.
To be continued...
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