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Month july 09, edition 000880, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com
- ALLIES DRIFTING APART?
- A SLEAZY TABLOID DIES
- INDIA'S SOCIETY, CHINA'S STATE - ASHOK MALIK
- ECONOMIC 'REFORM' TO REFORM OF ECONOMICS - S GURUMURTHY
- A NEOLIBERAL TWO-INDIA REALITY - JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
- LIBERALISATION THROUGH STEALTH STILL PREFERRED - TATHAGATA ROY
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- ONE FOR THE ROAD
- HENRY KISSINGER'S ODE TO CHINA - NAYAN CHANDANAYAN CHANDA
- IT'S THE REALISATION OF A DREAM
- WHAT ABOUT THE BOREDOM? - AJAY VAISHNAVAJAY VAISHNAV
- BREAKING LIVES, BREAKING NEWS
- IT'S BEEN QUIET A WHILE - BARKHA DUTT
- COURTING DISHARMONY - ANIL DHARKER
- TRIAL BY TAMASHA - NAMITA BHANDARE
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- RETHINK THE REFLEX
- MORE THAN MEDALS
- END OF THE 'WORLD'
- THE SUPREME QUOTE - SHEKHAR GUPTA
- A STRONGER DOSE - ASHOK AHUJA
- SUPREME COURT VERSUS THE STATE? - SURJIT S BHALLA
- GOD'S OWN KINGDOM - M.G.S. NARAYANAN
- BEST-SELLING, EVEN AFTER 70 - C. UDAY BHASKAR
- IS THERE A 'SCARCITY' STATE OF MIND? - DAVID BROOKS
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- BROADCAST THIS AUCTION
- DOPE VS HOPE
- SUPREME COURT VERSUS THE STATE - SURJIT S BHALLA
- NEMESIS CHASES MURDOCH'S HUBRIS - PHILIP STEPHENS
- A LANDMARKVERDICT
- TRUTH TO POWER, SANGAKKARA STYLE
- AUSTRALIA SHUTS DOWN GAS PROJECT
- EARTHY REALITY NEEDS SOARING RHETORIC - S. ARUN MOHAN
- THE PROVENANCE OF THE TEMPLE TREASURE - T.S. SUBRAMANIAN
- RISE OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
- A NEW NATION IS BORN - BAN KI-MOON
THE ASIAN AGE
- TELANGANA: MANY QUESTIONS REMAIN
- PLUG IN AND PLAY - FARRUKH DHONDY
- GET WELL SOON, MR AZAD - ANTARA DEV SEN
- FATAL STING IN THE MEDIA TALE - KISHWAR DESAI
- NEW POWER POLICY
- CONTRACTUAL TEACHERS
- PAK TO EMPOWER PROVINCES
- INDIA'S UNEMPLOYABLE GRADUATE POOL - BY M. N. MINOCHA
- 2G takes its toll again
- MAKING YOUTH EMPLOYABLE
- NEWEST NATION
- CONFUSING POLITICAL SCENARIO - BY S. NIHAL SINGH
- THE LINGUIST DOGS - BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI
- HOW TO SURVIVE THE AGE OF DISTRACTION - JOHANN HARI
- THE LOST ART OF READING - DAVID L. ULIN
- NOW FOR A TMK? - T N NINAN
- VOLATILE TIMES - PARTHASARATHI SHOME
- BLOOMSBURY'S INDIAN IDOLS - SUNIL SETHI
- LIVING IN A BLUNDER LAND - K NATWAR SINGH
- LITERATURE AS LIBERATION - V V
- BUSINESS AS USUAL - ADITI PHADNIS
- CAN THE CAG COMMENT ON POLICY? - SUKUMAR MUKHOPADHYAY
- WHY THE GREEK BANK DEBT EXCHANGE PLAN WON'T WORK - SATYAJIT DAS
- REGULATING MICROFINANCE
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- BANKS ARE SPECIAL
- EXPORT PRICE FOR ORE
- DOPEY ON DOPE?
- EMERGENCY'S LESSONS FOR DEMOCRACY
- SOUTH CHINA SEA CALLS FOR NUANCED APPROACH - RUP NARAYAN DAS
- THE CLOCK CAN'T STRIKE 13 - RAJIV JAYARAM
- GOLD, SWISS BANKS AND KERALA TEMPLE
- TELANGANA: MANY QUESTIONS REMAIN
- PLUG IN AND PLAY
- DEBT DEAL: WHY IT'S HARD TO TRUST OBAMA
- NEW NATION, NEW HOPE
- END THIS DECEIT
- ENGINEERS ALL
- VANISHING RANGES
- ALIENATION TO COOPERATION - BY SUBRATA MUKHERJEE
- 'SOMEDAY, I WILL NAME HUSAIN BAITERS'
- INDIA'S SECRET DOPING SCANDAL! - RAJINDER PURI
- FLEET STREET FUNERAL
- GIVE SOME, TAKE SOME - K. DATTA-RAY
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- BOUNCING BACK TO A SOLUTION
- THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB IN A NEW CABINET
- WHY BUSINESS AS USUAL BETWEEN ISRAEL AND TURKEY
- DOUBLE STANDARD DEPENDING ON SUSPECT'S IDENTITY - MEHMET Y. YILMAZ
- DEMOCRACY, 3,000 YEARS AGO
- 'ERDOĞAN, TURKEY, MUSLIM!'
- THE CAUCASIAN WINTER - ZAUR SHIRIYEV
THE NEWYORK TIMES
- THE NEW STATE OF SOUTH SUDAN
- SAFE, NOT SORRY, ON DRILLING
- HOW TO PROMOTE A MERGER
- PERILS OF SMOKING, ON GRAPHIC DISPLAY
- THE D.S.K. ENDGAME - BY ROGER COHEN
- FROM THE GUTTER, INTO THE SEWER - BY A. C. GRAYLING
- MURDOCH'S FATAL FLAW - BY JOE NOCERA
- DEATH PENALTY, STILL RACIST AND ARBITRARY - BY DAVID R. DOW
- UNDER THE RULE OF DEATH
- MORE ON SHAHZAD
- WHAT HAVE WE ACHIEVED IN FATA? - AYAZ WAZIR
- OBAMA'S OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLE - SALEEM SAFI
- GOOD, BAD AND VERY UGLY - CHRIS CORK
- THE DECLINE OF COMEDY - MUSHFIQ AHMAD
- THE DON OF THIEVES - BABAR SATTAR
- MEMO FROM USA - ANJUM NIAZ
1. WHO IS BEHIND KARACHI KILLINGS?
2. RIDICULOUS CHARGES OF ADMIRAL MULLEN
3. ALARMING RISE IN FOREIGN DEBT
4. SELF-INFLICTED AFFLICTIONS - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
5. MEDIA ONSLAUGHT TO DEFAME ARMY & ISI - ASIF HAROON RAJA
6. AFGHAN TALKS — NOW AND THEN - HAMID ALVI
7. BEST PILOTS GET TOUGHEST MISSIONS - AIR CHIEF MARSHAL JAMAL A KHAN (R)
8. CREATING A NEW ERA OF TRANSPARENCY - DAVID CAMERON
- PURPOSE, NOT POLITICS, THE REAL TEST OF CARBON TAX
- A GOOD RESULT FROM THE BER
- SOUND OF ONE-SIDED DEBATES A DISTURBING TREND
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- MURDOCH SHOCK IS NO REAL SURPRISE
- HOW MULTI ARE OUR FUNCTIONS
- NEWSPAPER GOES, DOUBTS LIVE ON
- NEWS INTERNATIONAL: LIFTING THE VEIL
- SOUTH SUDAN'S INDEPENDENCE DAY
- UNTHINKABLE? STOPPING SPACE TRAVEL
THE JAPAN TIMES
- A NEW FACE AT THE IMF
THE JAKARTA POST
- PRICING JAKARTA'S ROADS
- PSSI'S SURAKARTA CONGRESS: FINAL HOPE FOR SOCCER REFORM - MIKAEL DIAN TEGUH
- DEFENDING DIRECT ELECTIONS - PAN MOHAMAD FAIZ
- THE INCREASE IN MOBILITY - ARIS ANANTA
- RIGHT TO INFORMATION BILL AND THE PP JAMES'S 50 YEAR LIFE IN PRISON
- DELICATELY POISED
- GAMES WESTERN EMBASSIES PLAY
GULF DAILY NEWS
- IS INDEPENDENCE ONLY FOR AMERICA?
- GERMAN-SAUDI TANK DEAL 'CYNICAL' - BY JULIO GODOY
- STL INDICTMENTS CANNOT FOMENT SECTARIAN STRIFE IN LEBANON - BY HOSSEIN RUIVARAN
- INDIA'S TEMPLE TREASURE PROMPTS TEST OF FAITH - BY RAJA MURTHY
ALLIES DRIFTING APART?
MULLEN'S COMMENTS COME AS A SURPRISE
Mullen's comments come as a surpriseThe day the body of missing journalist Saleem Shahzad was found floating in a canal — his ribs were broken, he had been beaten black-and-blue with rods — the buzz went around that he had been abducted, brutally tortured and killed by the Pakistani Army's Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, infamously known as the ISI. Those familiar with the smash-and-kill tactics of the ISI insisted that the agency's thugs alone could have committed the crime. Others, including Shahzad's professional colleagues in Pakistan, said he had paid with his life for daring to take on the Government, the Army, the ISI, the Taliban and Al Qaeda, all part of that country's military-jihadi complex, and write withering reports about the evil nexus that tied them together. The horrific murder was both a punishment and a chilling message: Journalists in Pakistan should not cross the line which stops short of the Islamabad-Rawalpindi Establishment; everything else is fair game. Apparently, Shahzad crossed that line with his explosive report on how jihadis who had infiltrated the Pakistani Navy were behind the stunning terrorist strike on the PNS Mehran naval base in Karachi. The ISI, predictably, has repeatedly denied any role in Shahzad's abduction (from a high security zone of Islamabad), torture and murder. Equally predictably, outraged Pakistani journalists have failed to produce any evidence linking the Army or the ISI to their colleague's slaying. Or, as has been suggested in certain quarters, they have taken the 'message' seriously and do not wish to end up floating in a canal or dumped in a field. That would be understandable; fear can dampen the strongest of spirits.
But the allegation of the Islamabad-Rawalpindi Establishment having had a hand in Shahzad's gruesome death has persisted, and now with US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen publicly stating that the Pakistani Government had "sanctioned" the killing, it is bound to gain traction. According to Admiral Mullen, he has not "seen anything to disabuse the report that the Government knew about this". He believes officials were complicit in the death of the journalist who was abducted two days after he wrote that Al Qaeda had infiltrated the Pakistani Navy. The Government of Pakistan has rubbished Admiral Mullen's comments; in any event, he has nothing to prove that his assessment is not wrong, so it really means nothing unless what he has disclosed is a teaser and more is to follow. At another level, by seeking to lend credibility to popular belief, Admiral Mullen has indicated that the breach between the US security forces and intelligence agencies and those of Pakistan is increasingly becoming irreparable. Indeed, even as the US State Department is desperately trying to paper over differences between Washington, DC and Islamabad that have been accentuated by the American raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad and the elimination of the world's most wanted terrorist, Pentagon and the CIA appear to be pushing for a tough line. This could be part of a strategy adopted by the Obama Administration so as not to be seen pandering to Pakistan as Republicans on the Hill call for a reversal of policy. Whatever the reasons, the fracturing of US-Pakistan relations is now obvious to all. Whether the fracture can be healed in the coming days remains to be seen.
A SLEAZY TABLOID DIES
BUT ITS SCANDALOUS CONDUCT WILL HARM MEDIA
It hacked into the voicemail of a murdered 13-year-old so that it could gather information for a salacious crime story, and when that mailbox filled up, it promptly deleted old messages so as to free up space for new messages; it hacked into the phones of relatives of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan for material for a sensational story; it even hacked into the phones of those who had lost their loved ones in the 7/7 terrorist bombings. A scandal sheet that has survived by feeding its readers a steady diet of murder stories, reports of sexual indiscretion and sensational court-reporting ever since its inception way back in 1843, News of the World was never known for journalistic ethics or moral values. For the past 168 years, Britain's largest selling Sunday tabloid has been determinedly philistine and often vulgar much like its barely literate working class readers to whom it originally catered. Yet, what is now popularly referred to as the phone hacking scandal had taken News of the World to the realm of the obscene. Thursday's announcement that the weekly would publish its final issue on Sunday only points to the fact that it has now been consumed by its own brand of yellow journalism. In its closure and the shameful legacy that it leaves behind lies an example of what constitutes reckless journalism peddling that which should shock those not entirely denuded of ethics and values. The phone hacking scandal shows News of the World had hit rock bottom, and couldn't possibly sink lower in its pursuit of readers and profits. Its flagrant violation of privacy laws and shameless participation in a series of criminal activities have not only resulted in its own inglorious end but also inflicted irreparable damage on Britain's fourth estate.
By prescribing to the most irresponsible and sensationalist brand of journalism possible and by undertaking criminal means to achieve its lowly goals, News of the World has significantly hurt the cause of media freedom as was frightfully evident in the recent speech made by British Prime Minister David Cameron who has promised to set up two inquiries, one that will investigate the specific case of the tabloid, and another that will probe into "bad Press behaviour" in general. This, along with the fact that Mr Cameron has also spoken of establishing a new media regulatory body, is particularly worrying for the British Press which has been relatively free of any form of censorship since the 17th century. Today, there is a very genuine fear that the phone hacking scandal, which has also caught politicians red-handed, including Mr Cameron's friend and former communications chief who had served as News of the World's editor, will be used as a legitimate excuse to put into place controls on Britain's media. That could encourage other countries.
INDIA'S SOCIETY, CHINA'S STATE
India and China can learn from each other's models. China needs to consider political liberalisation. India needs to reflect on its governance.
When the world hears of the Chinese economic miracle, it thinks of the efficiency of the Chinese state. When it hears of the Indian economic story, it thinks of Indian private enterprise, which thrives in spite of the state. Have the two models influenced the relative importance of the state in China and civil society in India? Alternatively, are India and China institutionally hardwired to follow different models?
The Chinese state represents one of history's longest-running, near-continuous state systems. Other than for short periods — such as the 100 years between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries that the Communist Party of China describes as the "period of humiliation" — the Chinese state has generally been domestically robust.
In contrast, for much of its history India had no unifying state. There was the Maurya Empire just after Alexander; but it was only in the 16th century that the next great pan-Indian empire, the Mughal Empire, consolidated itself. Through this period the land we today call India was united by civilisational and cultural commonalities, by religion or perhaps religious ritualism — but only sporadically by one state.
As such, the principal marker of identity for a Chinese person was and remains a sense of state. For an Indian person, there are multiple markers — there is region, community, religion and ritual, even caste, and somewhere along the line there is also the state.
Have these varying perceptions influenced contemporary policies? Take three examples:
· The economic models;
· The relationship between the mother country and the diaspora; and,
· The broader understanding of the other country.
The Chinese export-driven model is built on the back of corporations that are substantially state-owned or state-incubated. The Indian model is dependent on private corporations. They take business decisions autonomous of the imperatives of the Indian state.
How does this distinction play itself out? Infrastructure is a good measure. China has a robust infrastructure advantage over India. Its Government has poured money into roads and airports and highways. There is willingness to build an over-capacity. The same logic applies to initially under-pricing exports in an attempt to capture markets. China did this successfully with textiles in Europe and America. There was a degree of state subsidy.
In contrast, the Indian private sector is much more careful or — depending on how one sees it — short-termist. Between 2007 and 2010, GMR, the infrastructure company, built a new airport in New Delhi. It has a capacity of servicing 60 million passengers a year. GMR also has rights to adjoining land that can easily allow it to double the size of the airport.
However, less than two-thirds of current capacity is being used. It obviously made no sense for GMR to borrow capital, pay interest, and build excess capacity. When traffic volumes climb and the airport gets crowded, it will start constructing new terminals. Not earlier. For better or worse, the Chinese state thinks otherwise.
Move to the relationship between the mother country and its diaspora. China has made a very conscious effort to incorporate overseas Chinese into its economic development. Its first special economic zones were set up to draw investment from overseas Chinese in Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong. They were located in provinces of the mainland that had family ties with specific migrant groups. A concerted effort has also been made to attract investment from Chinese settler communities in Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, the United States and elsewhere.
India has no such parallel. Yes, some overseas Indians have invested in India but far greater investment has come from Indians at home and non-Indian origin entities abroad. Non-resident Indians have helped in the subscription of bond issues — especially the Resurgent India Bond series of 1998 just after the Pokhran-II nuclear tests. Even so, they were promised rates of interest they would simply not have earned elsewhere.
As such, for the overseas Indian, India is the cultural and religious homeland. For the overseas Chinese, there is also an economic and political connection. Those who put their money in China have a stake in the Chinese state, since the continued prosperity of the country has been linked to the stability of that state.
Does this political affinity have overt manifestations? An example from Australia may be instructive. In the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, Tibetan protesters came out on the streets in many countries. In Australia, there was an organised counter-mobilisation of the Chinese community — both Chinese citizens working and studying in Australia and Australian citizens of Chinese origin. In one case, 10,000 people turned up in Canberra for an anti-Tibet demonstration.
The gathering was unusually large for tiny Canberra. Many of the Chinese demonstrators had come from Sydney and Melbourne. Somebody had paid for their travel and mobilised them. It was later found officials of the Chinese Embassy were involved.
It is inconceivable that an Indian diplomat would put together such a public protest. Even if he tried, would non-resident Indians show up in response to Indian Embassy summons?
Come to point three: The broader understanding of each other that India and China share. Indian middle-classes tend to look at the Chinese state with a certain conceit. They believe only the worst about it — and of course there is a lot that is disagreeable about the Chinese state.
Yet there are also solid achievements of the Chinese state. The Chinese citizen of today — at least in the booming east — is probably wealthier and freer than any of his ancestors. He cannot vote, but other than that he enjoys social liberty and economic choice unheard of in Chinese history. Indians don't always appreciate this. Rather, they look at Chinese society through the prism of the Chinese state.
When the Chinese turn to India, they see a chaotic democracy that has just not allowed its competitive politics to let it achieve its economic potential. They see an argumentative, factionalised public sphere, where each policy change, even change that is patently needed, undergoes wrenching debate. For the Chinese, this makes no sense; and they tend to see the Indian state through the prism of Indian society.
Both India and China can learn from each other's models. China needs to consider the political liberalisation it cannot avoid forever, especially in the context of its ethnic minorities. India needs to reflect on its governance. It does not require an authoritarian state, but it certainly requires an authoritative Government.
Now if only drawing those lessons were so simple…
ECONOMIC 'REFORM' TO REFORM OF ECONOMICS
Twenty years ago this July, a monsoon of outdated, discarded ideas for the economic and industrial rejuvenation of India hit the nation. Its effect still stresses the politico-socio-economic fabric of the country, but the panacea continues to be worse than the disease
Socialism was always incompatible with the culture and traditions of India. But the Congress party had thrust it on the people of India through catchy slogans like Garibi Hatao. But, in the year 1990, Russia itself lost belief in the socialist order, forcing the Congress government here to begin undoing the damage caused by its juvenile pursuit.
This undoing of deforms caused by socialist pranks was popularised as "reforms" in 1990s; the guilty deformers became heroes as 'reformers'! But the catch came later. Besides undoing the damage, the 'reformers' endeavoured for 'next generation' reforms, to marketise the Indian economy, particularly the financial sector, on the American — read Anglo-Saxon — model. But this process, sold as deepening the reform, pushed vigorously from within and outside, did not take off sufficiently.
The reason is that the elite reformers, trained to think, speak and live like Americans, could not understand that without creating a 'market society' on the US model, they could not create a 'market economy' of the US type. But, this significant mismatch was never debated in the Indian economic discourse. Understandably the Indian reforms on the US model had hit roadblock in early 2000.
But meanwhile crisis after crisis hit the world — the Asian Crisis in 1997, the Dot.Com crisis in 2000, the 9/11 terror in 2001 and finally the global meltdown in 2008. Yet even as the US/West has slowed into a low, Asia, particularly India and China, has risen and continues to rise, threatening to shift the balance of global power from US/West to Asia. The 2008 crisis is also changing the very discipline of economics and rewriting the textbooks and theories of economics. So much has happened in the world and in India in the last two decades that it calls for a review. Here is an illustrative analysis of a vast subject.
The ideas and principles of Indian economic reforms were imported principally from the US in SKD (Semi-Knocked-Down) condition and assembled here by the Singh Parivar — Narasingha Rao, Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Alhuwalia — and marketed as economic reform in India. The instalments of SKD imports were branded as next generation reforms.
Take some of the marketing techniques of the reform like (a) that without foreign investment India would not develop and, on a capital output ratio of 4:1, India would need foreign investment up to 8 per cent of GDP to add 2 per cent to our GDP to increase it from 6 per cent to 8 per cent on a capital output ratio of 4:1; (b) that India's infrastructure needs exceeded $400-700 bn which India could not finance with domestic savings; (c) that India cannot develop only by domestic markets and it needs to access foreign markets.
The un-admitted assumption was that Indians could not build India. Many Indian manufacturers were indirectly told that manufacturing was not their cup of tea and Indians were essentially traders; so, let the MNCs do the manufacture and let us do trading. (But today, the proposal is to hand over trade itself to the MNCs through retail FDI!) Now back to the sequence.
The experience of India in the last decade has totally disproved the marketing assumptions. First, the net FDI into India for the last 20 years adds to less than 2 per cent of the total national investment against the projected 8 per cent to post a GDP rise from 6 per cent to 8 per cent and yet India has achieved more than 8 per cent growth in GDP. So FDI did not drive India's growth.
Second, India's exports have always been less than its imports. It is only its domestic demand which is sustaining the economic growth. India's domestic consumption is almost 60 per cent against which, for example, export dependent China's is less than 40 per cent. So, exports did not drive India's rise. Third, Indian domestic savings rose from 23 per cent of GDP in the early 1990s to over 35 per cent of GDP now, despite huge interest cuts to promote consumption.
According to the Goldman Sachs Global Economic Paper No. 187 (2010), India's infrastructure investment in the next decade would exceed $1.4 trillion. But, for financing such huge infra cost, the domestic savings generated by Indian families would suffice and India would not need any FDI. The Goldman Sachs paper says that India would be generating over $800 billion of cash savings, which would be more than all the bank advances of today put together!Viewed cumulatively, domestic consumption and domestic savings and investment, constitute the core drives of India's economic rise.
And yet the economic debate in India still centres round the very SKD ideas imported from the US, which haven't worked. And, despite the tectonic changes taking place in the very discipline of modern economics, India still copies from the economic theories of US/West developed in the last three decades. Read on for a brief on the drastic debates in US/West for changes in macroeconomics that is hardly noticed in India.But, the near collapse of the world financial order during the crisis of 2008 has raised fundamental questions about the US-led theories and model of economics.
It has caused civil war within the guild of economists over the macroeconomic theories deployed in and by US/West on which the Indian financial reform is largely founded. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate in economics, virtually howled, "Much of the past 30 years of macroeconomics was "spectacularly useless at best and positively harmful at worst"; Barry Eichengreen, the prominent American economic historian stated in disgust, "The crisis has cast into doubt much of what we thought we knew about economics" Larry Summers, Former US Treasury Secretary lamented, "Economics has forgotten a fair amount that is relevant and it has been distracted by an enormous amount"; Bradford Delong, Professor of Economics University of California at Berkley, confessed, "Economics (is) in Crisis".
If US economic schools faced civil war within, Europe (mainly France and Germany) began a war on the "Anglo-Saxon financial model". France threatened to walk out of the G-20 meeting in April 2009 unless the theories of financial freedom — called 'Casino Capitalism' — were revised and/or rejected. With the US-devised financial model losing sheen, Japan, which was consistently derided by the West as promoting and operating the inefficient bank-centric financial market, has proudly claimed, in March 2009, that while the Western — read Anglo-Saxon —world's finances were in shambles, its own financials were stable.
The British Prime Minister admitted in the G-20 meeting in April 2009 that the old Washington Consensus, which became the foundation of free market globalism, free convertibility of currencies and particularly financial capitalism, was over. The IMF, which had championed free convertibility of currencies based on the Washington Consensus, ultimately had to give up the idea explicitly and accept, in 2010, capital controls to be part of the policy-mix. The global trends question the very character of the reforms set by the Indian economic establishment in 1990s. So, the 2008 crisis seems to call for a review and reform of the reform process itself.
QED: The pillars of what was considered as economic reforms in the 1990s and till 2008 collapsed in 2008. With the result that while till 2008, the global agenda was "economic reforms", the agenda now is "reform economics". It needs no seer to say that India should "reform economics" before moving ahead with further "economic reforms".
The writer is a commentator on politics and economics
A NEOLIBERAL TWO-INDIA REALITY
Saturday Special looks back at 20 years of liberalisation and economic reforms
The liberalisation of the Indian economy began in the 1980s when some policymakers realised that India was falling behind the Asian Tigers. It was Rajiv Gandhi, who wanted a real breakaway from past policies and initiated the process.
But the 1991 economic crisis necessitated the introduction of a package of structural economic reforms which comprised drastic changes from past policies as a condition for receiving IMF loans for bailing out India. These were aimed at trade, industry, infrastructure, disinvestment and policies towards the financial sector, and FDI.
The economic liberalisation that followed has unshackled India in many ways. There are gleaming airports, shopping malls, high-rise buildings and highways that one can be proud of. The middle class has grown to a size of 350 million and India is one of the biggest markets in the world. Indeed famous brand names are vying with each other to open shops in India because a great many Indians have the spending power and craving for branded goods.
In the 1990s, the licence raj was dismantled and imports and foreign investments were freed from past restrictions. Private enterprise was encouraged and today private enterprise constitutes about 20 per cent of the economy.
The telecom revolution was also ushered in after 1991 leading to the phenomenal growth of mobile phones. More Indians have mobile phones today (about 860 million) than they have access to sanitation and toilets. Similarly, there has been a big increase in the number of cars and the automobile industry has grown rapidly. Other industries that have flourished are pharmaceuticals, software and biotechnology.
India's GDP growth rose from an average of 3.1 per cent in the past to an average of 7 to 8 per cent in the last one decade. Exports have grown at a rapid pace and per capita income has also risen much faster than before. Imports have led to an improvement in the quality of domestic goods and greater competitiveness in international markets. But imported inputs have also led to higher product prices and cuts in subsidies have led to higher fuel prices as they are now linked to the international oil price. Higher international food prices have impacted on domestic prices.
In the last two decades, there has been a rapid rise in urbanisation. Urban infrastructure has become inadequate as a result and though India has world class airports and shopping malls, and a sizeable number of dollar billionaires and millionaires, the power situation and the quality of water in big cities remain typically third world.
Full-fledged liberalisation, which began in 1991, was carried forward by the BJP Government and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee endorsed it. He continued with privatisation, reduction of taxes, sound fiscal policy and liberalisation of imports.
Today India is a picture of a nation in transition in many ways. More people are traveling abroad than before, spending more on entertainment and eating out. The middle class is buying up a variety of consumer goods and durables but are also saving more. The saving rate has gone up in recent years to 38 per cent of the GDP. But the quality of public service has not improved, especially in health, education, infrastructure and judiciary.
Culturally also there are disturbing trends. While in clothing and fashion, Indian men and women are getting
westernised rapidly, the greed for property, dowry and wealth has also increased. Inexplicably it has led to increase in female foeticide in some of the rich states resulting in an imbalance in the sex ratio. India is expected to see a 20 per cent surge in the number of young men in the future. More males than females would translate into social tension because India has the second highest rate of marriage (75 per cent) in the world.
The aspirations of the youth who now comprise more than half the population have been raised. Though they lack the proper qualifications, they nevertheless aspire for the same rewards as others with college degrees and training. This has led to frustration and an increase in crime.
Unemployment remains high, especially in villages and those without jobs are joining the Maoists. Roads in rural areas remain underdeveloped even though they have mobile phones, consumer goods, motorcycles and STD booths. Agriculture is beset with problems and public investment in storage, irrigation and roads has not been sufficient to lift more people out of poverty. There has also been tardy growth in agricultural productivity.
Thus, unless some important and critical areas are addressed, India's growth story could be interrupted. There is already an unprecedented increase in corruption, lawlessness and lack of proper governance. Corruption is one issue which is at the heart of much public discontent and would remain so unless the Lokpal Bill and the Swiss money questions are settled. More opportunities to defraud the government have arisen with liberalisation and globalization and people in high offices who are without scruples are doing so regularly.
Neo-liberals also point out that India needs a change in labour laws. Out of a workforce of more than 400 million, 92 per cent are in the informal sector. They are without capital, assets, insurance or any safety net to fall back on. Their incomes are far lower than in people employed in the corporate sector. They need health care and education for their families. Unless there is a social safety net, the labour laws cannot be changed to facilitate easy 'hire and fire' policies in factories.
If India has millions (more than 300 million) still living in abject poverty then it is clear that liberalisation has not yielded the desired 'trickle down'. Liberalisation has benefited those with capital, education, assets, property, skills and contacts. Working for multinationals has increased the salaries of some people manifold and they have access to lifestyles parallel to their counterparts in the West. On the other hand people living in slums are contracting diseases due to congested spaces, shared toilets, water borne diseases and lack of access to primary health care. Public hospitals are overcrowded with people queuing for hours to see specialists.
Thus, liberalisation has given birth to two Indias. One which is prosperous and living first world lifestyles and the 'other' India in which people are living without human dignity and suffering multiple deprivation. Regional disparities have also led to disparate standards of living. Some states have more lawlessness and lack of governance than others.
A key feature of liberalisation — land acquisition for building real estate, factories, EPZs or for mining has also been anti-poor as they have not been adequately compensated. Liberalisation has brought immense wealth to some people but it has pauperized large sections of the population. A balance has to be reached through better governance and a dedicated leadership.
The writer is the author of 'A Nation in Transition: Understanding the Indian Economy'
LIBERALISATION THROUGH STEALTH STILL PREFERRED
Has India liberalised its economy? The answer is bound to be "yes and no" because while a lot has been done since the process began in 1991, a lot still remains to be achieved. And at what rate are we going about this business, trying to complete what is left to be done? The answer can only be, by fits and starts, because we don't seem to have made up our minds about how fast we want to liberalise.
And why is that? Because the driving engine behind liberalisation is not the will of the people, as it should be in a democracy, but considerations of macroeconomics. It is indeed sad that while the principal all-India parties, the Congress and the BJP are broadly in agreement over the need to liberalise, neither has considered it necessary to educate the public of this need. As a result socialism, whether of the pale-pink Nehruvian or of the deep-red Maoist or of the amorphous jholawalla variety, remains a holy cow which should be occasionally paid tribute to.
And so long that happens, we shall continue liberalisation the way we so far have, more by fits than by starts.The late C Northcote Parkinson, a person whom this author holds in great reverence, had remarked in the preface of his book, Left Luggage: from Marx to Wilson, that the virtues of socialism are more often presumed than proved. Probably nowhere is this truer than in India, where it was indeed a holy cow through the reigns of Nehru and Indira and began to be challenged very meekly, very half-heartedly, by innuendo rather than by so many words, during the Rajiv Gandhi era. It really began when our balance of payments problems forced us to go to the IMF in 1991, and they insisted that we must liberalise.
So it was the big bad wolves (or Wolfensohns) who told us to do it, and the powerless third world country that we were, begging bowl in hand, we obeyed. Left to ourselves we would have gone ahead with our Commanding Heights theory, our public sector culture, our 15 per cent bank interest rates, our infinite job security, our Licence-Permit-Inspector Raj, our 'Hindu' rate of growth!
But why? It need not have been so! We could have looked around and seen the rest of the world for ourselves and derived the appropriate lessons. We could have observed that while in 1945, the closing year of the war, India was virtually untouched, with a reasonably good infrastructure and manpower, a manageable population, a stable political structure, and a solid sterling balance, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan were just a heap of ruins! South Korea was a decrepit new nation resembling present-day Afghanistan till 1953. Why and how could these ruined countries stand up on their own two feet, start running, then flying and finally overtake economies like the US?
Why indeed? And the answer lies in an overworked French expression, laissez faire. And why did we keep on plodding at our Hindu rate of growth? Why did we not wake up even when the great Soviet Union, our beacon with its planned economy, with its Vodka bottles labeled 'Distilled by the Ministry of Liquor', collapsed under its own weight? Why not even when China changed from Mao to Deng, who said, "It's glorious to be rich" and the country, so far plodding like us, suddenly started flying?It's something we will perhaps never know. We wasted the first forty-five years of our new nationhood cashing a chimera. It is this that is the forgotten aspect of liberalisation. We have not taught our countrymen to love liberalisation, we have not told them in unequivocal terms them that socialism is indeed baloney, (and the less said of charkha, cottage industry, the better). But all is not lost. Let us begin now.
Let us have a consensus, written, spoken or unspoken, between the two major parties (you do not expect Mayavati and Mamata Banerjee to have an economic policy) whereby we can proceed to tell the people that you cannot spend more than you earn, and the more you work the more you will be rewarded; that you will not get according to your need (unless you are ill, disabled or old) but only according to what you earn; that the government has no business to go into business, but has a duty to create an atmosphere, including an infrastructure, conducive to business. We have to tell people, teach people these truths. Economics is not learnt intuitively.
And only after we have been able to engender in the people a rudimentary faith in the basics of laissez faire shall we be able to progress confidently with liberalisation.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
ONE FOR THE ROAD
The Mahatma isn't just in fashion when netas visit Rajghat. Rather, the Father of the Nation is father of present-day fashion, sartorial, cinematic and political. Check out the khadi and topi politicos wear, usually at election time. Consider the reel-life Gandhigiri of Lage Raho Munna Bhai. And don't forget anti-corruption crusaders' resort to the fast, long associated with Gandhian protest. Bapu had raised hazaaron khwaishein - a thousand hopes - winning the freedom struggle. Civil society now raises Hazare khwaishein. Aren't we still to gain Independence from graft? Long live satyagraha.
Then there's kurta-clad Rahul baba, Gandhi-style marcher on foot in a land under Mayaraj, if not British Raj. You needn't look through the Mahatma's iconic spectacles - gone missing anyway from Wardha's Sewagram Ashram - to see that a surname's not all Rahul shares with him. From the Mahatma's preference for rural rather than urban arcadia to Rahul's kisan championship, it's a path already well laid out. And it's leading right to poll-bound UP. Now, if CM Mayawati once raised hackles calling the older Gandhi a "natakbaaz", Rahul's detractors dubbed his padyatra a "nautanki". Trust jittery politicians to have a heightened sense of drama.
So what if a political yatra is what Bengalis call jatra, or street theatre? Great treks do have uses as deft footwork in political face-offs. Recall Mao's rise after an epic Long March (1934-35), when Chinese communists traversed war-torn China. Nearer home in 1930, Gandhi's Dandi March raised a rallying cry: free India was worth its non-taxed salt. Why, from socialist Chandra Shekhar to Congress's Sunil Dutt or YSR, many trudged to woo the masses or spread "mahashanti". So what's new about Rahul trying to walk his pro-farmer talk, save that Maya might view it as uncivil disobedience?
Now, the Congress may have miles to go before UP voters indulge it as they did before Mandal-mandir became the blockbuster road show of the 1990s. Which brings us to that yatra-on-wheels which, for BJPwallahs, was a triumphal march till it encountered a speed bump named Lalu at Samastipur. Toyota-turned-rath, Advani's odyssey would transform saffron fortunes, besides leading to a pretty un-Gandhian aftermath. Not that a repeat journey will impress Indians today. They'd rather chase after college seats and jobs than chariots of ire.
Netas, trust us. The best political voyage is across divides: a unifying discovery of India. This journey has little to do with socially divisive road rage. Or with electoral mileage, sought to be gained by pitting village huts against city high-rises. Rather, it's about trying to deliver on the thousand hopes of all: bijli-sadak-paani, fair price for land, business-friendly skies or India on the moon. So, respected padyatris, stop foot-dragging on removing the potholes you risk falling into. In the 21st century yatra, we don't march in reverse.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HENRY KISSINGER'S ODE TO CHINA
NAYAN CHANDANAYAN CHANDA
Ever since his secret trip to Beijing 40 years ago opened the way to US-China normalisation, Henry Kissinger has emerged as one of the world's most prominent diplomatic commentators on the inscrutable Middle Kingdom. His much-anticipated book, On China, has thus occasioned quite a bit of media flurry. His admiring account of a sophisticated foreign policy rooted in China's ancient culture and tradition, however, delivers less than the weighty 586-page tome promises. In retrospect, the great diplomatic strokes that Kissinger applauds produced only short-term gains for Beijing; many of these have since been reversed. One of China's undeniable successes in his account, though, is how Beijing played unwitting Washington like a fiddle.
Kissinger sees Maoist China's diplomacy as being guided by an enduring game of wei qi - called 'go' in Japanese - in which a vast board is composed of competing black and white pieces pursuing a strategy of eventual encirclement. "At the end of a well-played game, the board is filled by partially interlocking areas of strength," Kissinger says. Chinese action in the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1954-58, its border incursion against India in 1962 and its invasion of Vietnam in 1979 are offered as examples of China's brilliant policy. Kissinger says that Mao decided to attack India in order to deter New Delhi's forward policy. China's strategic plan was for "a massive assault to produce a shock that would impel a negotiation or at least an end to the Indian military probing for the foreseeable future." Before launching the attack, Mao managed to secure an assurance of support from Moscow, which was preparing for the Cuban crisis - this support vanished as the crisis abated. The invasion certainly jolted India but created a bitterness that lingers to this day, not helping in negotiation but pushing India closer to the US. Kissinger reveals how, just before the India attack, China manoeuvred to secure US assurances that it would not support a diversionary Nationalist Chinese offensive.
Kissinger offers an adoring account of the shrewd Chinese plan to "teach Vietnam a lesson" for invading its ally in Cambodia. By making a high-profile visit to the US prior to attacking Vietnam, Deng Xiaoping created the impression that its action against Vietnam enjoyed Washington's tacit blessing. Kissinger praises China's "meticulous analysis of their strategic choices, daring execution and skilful diplomacy" in carrying out the invasion and discounts the heavy losses China suffered at the hand of the Vietnamese. In the end, though, Vietnam continued to occupy Cambodia for a decade. Kissinger seems to believe Chinese claims that Hanoi was part of Moscow's expansion plans and needed to be stopped. The charge is in fact a mirror image of an earlier American justification of its intervention in Vietnam to halt Chinese expansion. "The rulers in Hanoi are urged on by Peking," as Kissinger, without irony, quotes Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Yet, Vietnam's millennial history of resistance against Chinese domination has proven its fierce independence. Nothing perhaps proves the fallacy of the reasoning for America's disastrous intervention and that of China's in 1979 than the fact that Vietnam's continuing tension with China has since turned it into an eager friend of Washington.
Kissinger shows Chinese success in winning over President Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. He quotes the latter - "We could not collude formally with the Chinese in sponsoring what was tantamount to overt military aggression" - and then chuckles, "Informal collusion was another matter." He seems to take pleasure in pointing to Carter's championing of human rights and his unwitting alignment with China to support the murderous Khmer Rouge. While American officials publicly claimed they "cannot support Pol Pot", Kissinger notes: "This sop to conscience did not change the reality that Washington provided material and diplomatic support to the 'Cambodian resistance' in a manner that the administration must have known would benefit the Khmer Rouge."
In trying to "explain the conceptual way the Chinese think about problems of peace and war", Kissinger has left out instances which may not have shown Beijing in as flattering a light as he would like to present. Beijing's entanglement with tar babies like Pol Pot and Kim Jong-il has gone unremarked. Kissinger believes China, with all its ancient wisdom and daring execution, should merge its efforts with the US "not to shake the world, but to build it".
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IT'S THE REALISATION OF A DREAM
Advances in medical technology mean doctors may dramatically increase our lifespans. Indeed the person who'll live to a 150 years has probably already been born and the person to live to a thousand years will, in a couple of decades. So argues Aubrey de Grey, an English bioscientist who studies ageing.
Mankind is unified by the desire to live forever. Ancient man sought to grasp immortality by performing great feats which would be remembered forever. Soon medicine may deliver the real thing, or at least something close enough to it in today's terms. De Grey believes doctors will be able to control ageing just as they control most infectious diseases. The future may see people having periodic repairs at the molecular level to remove contagions before they cause damage. Such therapies would make the issue of ageing populations and the question of who pays to maintain them irrelevant. That's because periodic check-ups would ensure people are healthy and active for not just far longer, but for a far greater fraction of their lengthened lives. Such medical advances would revolutionise what it means to be alive because we'd have so much more time to realise our dreams. A lifetime, after all, is rarely enough to realise a lifetime's ambitions.
But what of the environmental impact? Longer lives will actually help protect the environment. That's because living for a long time will inculcate a long-term perspective on planet Earth. Thousand-year lifespans make it essential to think of the future. Furthermore, a new culture of care is bound to take hold since longevity is predicated on caring for oneself. In short, people will be encouraged by their long lives to preserve the planet, just as they work to preserve themselves by undergoing 'maintenance' therapy.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WHAT ABOUT THE BOREDOM?
AJAY VAISHNAVAJAY VAISHNAV
Why this addiction to living long, when it's the quality of life that really matters? There's something unhealthy about lusting after thousand-year-long lifespans beyond the natural cycle of childhood followed by youth and old age - it seeks to make vampires out of us. What we ought to ask ourselves is whether the prospect of living for hundreds of years is really attractive. Even more importantly, are we prepared to cope with the economic and social ramifications of an ageing society, with lifespans stretching endlessly into the future?
Science is not omnipotent. Even if it manages to stretch lifespans, it doesn't follow that older people tomorrow will enjoy the same vitality and fitness as young people do today. An extended lifespan conjures up a nightmarish vision of a vulnerable society composed of generations of sick and weak old people. Far more important than the quantity of life is quality. Otherwise there wouldn't have been a worldwide movement in favour of euthanasia, to deal with predicaments when life continues but is not worth living. But let's stretch a point and assume that people remain fit and active even as they age. How does one deal with the crashing boredom of living to a thousand years when even 20-year-olds today are subject to bouts of ennui and despair?
Besides, there is the environmental impact that needs to be factored in. As things stand, the earth's population is slated to reach nine billion by 2050. This figure will go up even further if the death rate dramatically slows. An earth teeming with tens of billions of people would be a grim place indeed. The balance of life on earth would be damaged beyond repair, wars would break out over limited resources, other species would be wiped out, perhaps mankind itself would come close to being rendered extinct. That's a high price to pay for pursuing infantile dreams of immortality.
BREAKING LIVES, BREAKING NEWS
Bolder, raunchier scoops may sell papers, but muck-raking comes at a grave human cost
Bolder and raunchier scoops may sell papers, but muck-raking comes at a grave human cost
Much has been written about the inevitable and impending demise of the newspaper, especially in the West. None of those oft-repeated reasons for going out of business will, however, apply when the 168-year-old News of the World downs its shutters after its last edition on July 10. A weekly tabloid whose infamy and fortune have always depended on its muckraking skills, the Britain-based newspaper sold 2.6 million copies every week, and was generally regarded to be the parent company News Corporation's most profitable venture. The end of what was undoubtedly a dream run, given these tight times, came from the newspaper's rapacity for bolder, raunchier scoops that led its journalists to outsource the hacking of voicemail messages on mobile phones to a private investigator. The revelations of the identity of these targets shocked all: a teenage girl who was murdered in 2002, relatives of British servicemen killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and survivors of the 2005 terrorist attacks on London.
The propensity to get mileage out of other people's misery caused widespread revulsion and disgust, with advertisers pulling out as a mark of censure and a readers' boycott on the cards.
Given the predatory, ruthless and avaricious reputation that News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch has earned over his life and career, it was but expected that he would bear much of the ferocious backlash. And yet even while he was being accused of pulling a fast one by closing the paper instead of fixing guilt and responsibility where they lay, sending his staff as the proverbial lamb to the slaughter, other British tabloids remained largely silent, almost as an admission of their complicity in using similarly dubious methods to unearth new sensations. The market craves an endless supply of sleaze, longing for a vicarious peek into the bedchambers of the rich and famous and these were but ways and means of satisfying that insatiable appetite.
And yet the means employed by News of the World to stay commercially afloat -phone hacking, covert filming or using agents provocateur -are disturbingly similar to what unfolds all around us under vastly different circumstances. In 2010, Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who was secretly filmed by his roommate during a sexual act, jumped to his death, unable to bear the public spectacle that an intensely private moment had become. Closer home and earlier that year, Shriniwas Ramchandra Siras, a professor at Aligarh Muslim University, was hounded out of his job and eventually committed suicide after being caught on camera, having sex with a rickshaw-puller. Long ago, the prying eyes and ears of modern technology had deemed our lives and actions to be fit fodder for public entertainment.
Through our mass acquiescence, we have precluded all possibilities of settling that account.
IT'S BEEN QUIET A WHILE
For those of us who still believe in the political process and the Idea of India, these are lonely times.
On the one hand, sundry and smarmy interlopers have hijacked the political discourse and trivialised it with their hyperventilation. But on the other side, the absolute surrender of robust, honest leadership by the government — and the fact that it appears to have totally lost its way — has thrown open the highway for freelancers and self-styled Robin Hood figures. The problem now is that no matter who you hitch a ride with, you end up in a place that isn't of your choosing.
So yes, while we can — and do — cite the huge voter-turnouts in the recent assembly elections to make the point that the sweeping anti-politician sentiment is still an elitist, urban phenomenon, the bare truth is that the UPA has not done anything to restore the country's sense of confidence. So, if you are not an Anna Hazare acolyte, and you are exasperated by the lethargy of this political leadership, who do you turn to? And what do you believe in any longer?
Why is it — I asked Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan — that though the UPA has secured the resignations of more ministers and high-profile politicians than perhaps any other ruling coalition, the overwhelming impression is still one of paralysis and ineffectiveness. She conceded that at least part of the problem was being on the losing side of the perception battle. And yet in a week when the world's most powerful politician just wrapped up his first 'Twitter townhall', the prime minister's team continues to regard the very notion of direct communication as an airy-fairy, new-age concept that has no real relevance, except to the English media.
Sophocles first warned that silence only strengthened the "accuser's charge". But it was philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, an inspiration for the French Revolution, whose words captured the depth of its damage when he wrote "absolute silence leads to sadness. It is the image of Death".
Indeed, two years into its tenure, the UPA has begun to resemble a drowning man who is barely managing to come up for air. And the prime minister, despite his essential decency, has come to be perceived as a sad and listless caricature of himself.
When the government did accept the overwhelming criticism of being seen but never heard, it reacted in an extraordinarily tepid manner that took the shape of the prime minister meeting a handful of senior newspaper editors. Quite aside of the botch-ups that made their way into the official transcript released after this meeting, was this mediated and controlled interaction really the best way to reach out to the people of India?
All right, the prime minister may think that Twitter is banal and TV even worse. But across the world, leaders have other ways of reaching out. They use State of the Nation broadcasts or regularly drop in on their favourite radio show, or better still, work their way into a crowd, clasping the hands of their constituents in a perfect Clintonian moment of communication.
Here, culturally, politics remains trapped in a 'Mai-Baap' template of patronage by the powerful for the poor. Our leaders sit aloof on a stage that stares down at an impoverished but eager sea of people, kept at suitable distance from them behind wooden barricades and gun-toting, safari-suited security officials. Rahul Gandhi's padyatra politics is finally a more informal and friendly attempt at mass contact. But even he restricts himself to the villages of Bharat, ignoring for the most part, the ordinary folk of Middle India.
However, even by Indian standards of stodgy communication, the prime minister is bewilderingly silent. Even inside Parliament, his interventions are irregular and mostly triggered by political crises or assaults by the Opposition.
It was agricultural expert YK Alagh who first famously called Manmohan Singh an "overestimated economist and an underestimated politician," a line that self-described "loose cannon" Digvijaya Singh would repeat in the course of several TV shows. But where is the political dimension to the prime minister buried today? Does he appear unassertive because he is invisible? Or is he invisible because he does not have the freedom to be assertive? Is the sense of disarray his government conveys a function of Manmohan Singh's diffident personality, a result of his losing control or a by-product of the intrigue within his team that has pitched minister against minister in barely disguised turf-wars? It's probably a combination of all three.
But the prime minister — known to be a reflective man — must ask himself a tough question. During his first tenure as the head of this government he was willing to resign rather than see a nuclear deal he had invested his legacy in fall by the wayside. If he is unable to come out and take charge of an unravelling situation, are the reasons to preserve his legacy not far more crucial now?
And while we are on the subject of America — why can't the PM borrow a lesson or two from President Barack Obama? Come and talk to us — your citizens — and admit that mistakes were made. Concede as he did that you have got a "shellacking" or two and promise us that you will now lead from the front and not hide behind the opaqueness of "coalition politics". Do not be a stranger to your own people.
Otherwise, Manmohan Singh needs to remember that tears in a fabric can be held together by safety pins only for long. After a point, when the threads start coming loose, it's sometimes best to get yourself a new set of clothes. The problem with the UPA is that it doesn't seem to want to fix anything, unless it is already broken beyond repair.
Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed by the author are personal
Does the Supreme Court of India want to be the Government of India? Or do the judges of the apex court want to assert their right to be considered as ordinary citizens?
Today's buzz phrase is 'civil society'. It occurs everywhere, in print, on TV, in everyday conversation. The context is the same: civil society is always pitted in an adversarial position vis-a-vis the government. It's a recent development, probably beginning with 26/11 when the terrorist attacks in Mumbai showed up government unpreparedness and incompetence as never before.
In the last couple of years the focus of antagonism has shifted from security almost completely to corruption. With good reason too. The scams that have been unearthed in the last few years are of such staggering proportions that all earlier cases appear to deal in small change. The government's obvious inability and, worse, seeming unwillingness to deal with these cases has taken us, the members of civil society, beyond a point of no return, so that we are no longer willing to be passive bystanders.
Has the Supreme Court reached that stage too? Its recent order stemming from the Hasan Ali income tax-hawala case seems to suggest that. Not content to rebuke the government for moving too slowly in the matter, it's taken over the role of the executive by appointing a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under two retired Supreme Court judges to look into the issue of black money. Astonishingly, the court order goes beyond the specific case of Ali: the SIT, reporting directly to the court, has been asked to "prepare a comprehensive action plan, including creation of necessary institutional structures, that can enable and strengthen the country's battle against generations of unaccounted monies, and their stashing away in foreign banks or in various forms domestically".
If Anna Hazare and his team had made such sweeping demands, we would have dismissed them as good intentions overcoming good sense, perhaps caused by a failure to see the different roles assigned by the Constitution to the 'three estates'. But these aren't vague social reformers talking; this is an order of the Supreme Court.
The order you see above is one that should have come from the ministry of finance. The apex court order, in effect, takes over the governance function of very many executive agencies such as the Reserve Bank, the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Board of Direct Taxes. Incidentally, by an amazing coincidence, on the very day the court issued this order, the finance ministry came out with the proposal of making the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau as the nodal agency for all economic offences, with all enforcement agencies compulsorily reporting to it. Isn't that the correct way of going about it, rather than the judiciary's approach of taking over the case completely?
This, of course, isn't the first time that the Supreme Court has intervened in this way. The 2G probe, for example, is now being conducted solely under its directions. A look at the daily newspaper will tell you how our courts seem to be overstepping the constitutionally assigned role for the judiciary in different fields. There's the recent Supreme Court judgement that virtually tells the government how to fight the war against the Maoists in Chhattisgarh. Local issues are not exempt either. These are examples picked up at random on a single day: 'High Court orders probe into pollution near Taloja jail'; 'Court raps BMC for squatters near water pipelines'. Where are the questions of law that are being resolved here? Aren't these matters for the executive alone?
Apart from the question of propriety, these interventions also take up the courts' time. Meantime, the arrears of pending cases mount daily, denying justice to lakhs of people. Should clearing the backlog not be a greater priority for the courts? And without meaning any disrespect to the Supreme Court, why not set up an SIT to look into cases of corruption in the judiciary that have been alleged from an ex-Chief Justice downwards to the lower courts? If the government did that, how would the judiciary react?
Anil Dharker is a Mumbai-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal
ANOTHER DAY - TRIAL BY TAMASHA
Every high profile judgement does not merit a public uproar
Looking at our reaction to the Maria Susairaj-Emile Jerome judgement, I have a suggestion to make. Let's dismantle the judiciary, turn courthouses into museums and pack off judges to retirement homes. After all, with media stalwarts aided by such civil society gems as Mahesh Bhatt, Suhel Seth etc doing such a great job of trying and sentencing cases, why bother with mere judges?
Hours after a sessions court judge ruled guilty -Maria for destroying evidence and Jerome for culpable homicide -and handing down the maximum sentence possible of three and 10 years respectively, the pack was howling at the gates. `Killer walks free' Times Now shouted. At NDTV, there was much chest-beating over the "propensity to turn everything into a tamasha". Outside the studios, Neeraj Grover's friends were organising vigils with placards declaring: "We want justice, not judgement." Indeed.
We will never know what happened that night in May 2008 when Jerome stabbed Neeraj to death and Maria then helped dispose of the body after it was hacked to pieces. However, we do know that a judge has studied the facts of that tragic night.
He has examined the evidence presented to him by the state prosecutor and the police. And he has concluded that this was not a case of premeditated murder -Jerome did not storm into the flat with a weapon; he grabbed a kitchen knife -that this was a `crime of passion', that there were extenuating circumstances and, therefore, was culpable homicide, a lesser charge than coldblooded murder.
In any civilised system, justice works on the presumption of innocence. Of course, judges make mistakes. At play is human error or even something more sinister -political pressure, money or witnesses turning hostile. But for media attention, there would have been no justice for Jessica Lall. It was a Tehelka sting by journalist Harinder Baweja that showed how the accused, Manu Sharma's father had influenced three eyewitnesses to retract earlier statements. The uproar led to a retrial and justice was finally done.
But does every case merit an uproar? Are we now so cynical that we assume that judges are simply incapable of dispensing justice? Are we now a society that demands `justice' -that is, punishment rather than judgements? Is every trial from Aarushi Talwar onwards to be conducted by insinuation?
The problem goes deeper.
We believe that our politicians are crooks. We assume that big business can never be honest. We suspect the media. Now by questioning every case that grabs our imagination, we seriously undermine our judiciary. We may not have a perfect system. Who does? You only have to look at what happened to Dominique Strauss Kahn to realise New Delhi is not that far from New York. Yet, for all its flaws, we have a system that works.
Don't like a judgement? You have the right to appeal, a right that the Maharashtra government has already set in motion.
But judges, all too human, can also be influenced by the court of public opinion.
Harangue a judge long enough and he or she is bound to wonder if a harsher sentence might not be more appropriate. When this happens you have judgement by popular sentiment not necessarily under the clinical light of the statute books and hard facts.
As Indians we can be emotional, given to bursts of outrage and temper. Certainly the manner in which Neeraj's body was disposed of causes revulsion. Certainly Maria's press conference attempt to shore up public sympathy is obscene. Certainly Maria's lawyer Sharif Sheikh's defence (the body was not hacked into 300 pieces but only three) is puke-inducing. And certainly the announcement by film-makers of movies with Maria as a possible lead is sickening.
But put aside the emotion and ask only one question: do we really want to infect every high profile case with this level of drama? Then why bother with a judicial system at all? We can have nightly trials under the glare of television spotlights or the glow of a candlelight vigil. After all, there's nothing like a jolly good hanging to keep the mob happy and TRPs high.
Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer email@example.com The views expressed by the author are personal
T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".
Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."
No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.
Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
RETHINK THE REFLEX
As Dayanidhi Maran, Union textiles minister and the smooth liason between the Congress and the DMK, is forced to resign over corruption allegations, and a cabinet reshuffle is in the works, the DMK is a shadow of its former self. This might be the most politically feasible moment to enact a decisive change in the way ministries are allocated, and to end the pernicious habit of automatically giving allies certain ministries they demand.
A few months back, when A. Raja was forced to resign and Kapil Sibal took charge of the telecom ministry, the DMK immediately clarified that the arrangement was strictly temporary (read: the telecom ministry was the DMK's to run). In its long stint as part of the ruling coalition at the Centre, barring a one-year break in
1998-99, the DMK has been firmly ensconced in Delhi for 15 years now. The party has refined a single manoeuvre — to win the most obviously lucrative "new economy" ministries, from highways to telecommunications and earlier, environment, and use its extractive politics in Delhi to throw money at Tamil Nadu. This purely instrumental logic might make sense for the DMK, but it has had draining national consequences. This time, the Congress must, once and for all, bust the logic that certain ministries are automatically handed over to helpful coalition partners (who often switch sides and cling to these sectors). This does not apply to the DMK's practices alone — Mamata Banerjee's assumption that the railway ministry is the Trinamool's to take, is also problematic. The railways are a classic example of this extended patronage — for too long, it has encouraged the sense that the incumbent minister's state would be the obvious focus of the ministry's favour. Similarly, the mines ministry too has often been seen to be a fiefdom. Allowing certain ministries to be under a single party's dominion only perpetuates bad habits, it encourages the sector itself to settle into rigid, often damaging patterns — as in the highways ministry. Though there is a certain logic in having regional parties manage areas they have special expertise in, ministries often need the bracing oversight of a new dispensation.
More than anything, the practice of coalition allies asserting their claim to certain ministries undermines the principles of parliamentary democracy, where it is the prime minister's prerogative to pick his team and the right person for a particular assignment.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
MORE THAN MEDALS
These have been athletics' darkest decades. Evidence of doping, or the use of banned performance-enhancing substances, has been lengthening its shadow on track and field events ever since Canada's Ben Johnson was stripped of his Olympics 100m gold medal almost within hours of breaking the world record at Seoul in 1988. With improvements in diagnostic tests and more proactive investigations, others too have been retrospectively relieved of their titles — most notably American Marion Jones, once hailed as the greatest athlete of her generation, who lost the three gold and two bronze medals she had won at the 2000 Olympics. The prevalence of doping — or the suspicion of it — is so overwhelming that now even those who have cleared tests are viewed with suspicion, and at the great championships sprinters have lost their celebrity status.
The Indian sport establishment cannot affect surprise at the instances of doping that have come to light these past few days, with one after another athlete testing positive for anabolic steroid use. Among them are Ashwini Akkunji, the golden girl of the moment with her medals at the Commonwealth and Asian Games last year, and her colleagues on the celebrated 4x400m relay squad. With the scale of possible offences growing, coach Yuri Ogorodnik and two of his assistants have been sacked. The athletes claim that they did not intentionally consume banned substances, and that it could be that their nutritional supplements had been contaminated. Cases will, as they must, be investigated individually, but the number indicates complicity and callousness at many levels. In fact, suspicions have been rampant not just about widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs, but also about a systemic support for the practice.
Enforcing a zero-tolerance regime of surprise checks is an obvious requirement. But athletes and their support staff also need to be updated constantly on training practices. Just the other day athletics was India's good news story, a story of aspiration. That it's changing so fast is sad. It must also serve as an alarm that we can no longer postpone the enforcement of best practices.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
END OF THE 'WORLD'
Let me be clear: We will vigorously pursue the truth — and we will not tolerate wrongdoing." Rupert Murdoch may have pronounced that any time this week. Except, that's from a speech he delivered late last year at the Centre for Policy Studies, London, in praise of Margaret Thatcher. The context was journalistic ethics and the role of the press, wherein he also said: "Democracy will be from the bottom up, not from the top down. Even so, a free society requires an independent press: turbulent... inquiring... bustling... and free." Murdoch, who has had his son, James, suddenly and summarily shut (from the top) down his oldest acquisition in Britain, the 168-year-old tabloid News of the World, is a visionary who imagined a future for the business of news, spanning old media and new, that few had dared contemplate, or had the acumen to build.
Today, his own words are flying at his maw. Had News International not tried to be too clever and kill its offending paper to remove the object of rage, there would have been room for nuancing the debate and "vigorously" getting to the bottom of the truth. For a man who often sermonises on credibility in journalism, this is a deep dent. If nothing hurts journalism more than bad journalism, nothing hurts business more than bad business. This has been an instance of both.
Rupert Murdoch is a Charles Foster "Citizen" Kane: nobody knows who he exactly is; his story is told from several pre-prejudiced quarters. But to return to bad business, irrespective of his legendary survival skills, his News Corporation's full acquisition of BSkyB is now on hold, as a direct result of what's happened at and to News of the World. Assets and even laid off employees can move to other outposts of the Murdoch empire, but this "ultimate reverse ferret", as a commentator puts it, may have come a bit too late. With a public inquiry due and former editor Andy Coulson arrested, News of the World isn't dead yet.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE SUPREME QUOTE
The ideological bent of the higher judiciary has never been a significant aspect of the glorious (and sometimes not quite so) uncertainties of democratic politics in India, unlike, say, in America. There are good reasons why it is so. In America, Supreme Court judges are chosen by presidents on ideological grounds. To put it very simply, therefore, if the Republicans get to appoint a few of the judges, you know that the court will tilt to the religious right, or the "right to life" side on the issue of abortion, and if the Democrats are able to appoint theirs, the judges will be "pro-choice". And so on, on other, larger socio-constitutional issues.
In India, judges are not appointed for their political or ideological leanings. That was never particularly the case and in fact it was one of the arguments Indira Gandhi and her Emergency apologists had used to start interfering in judicial appointments: that our judges were much too old-fashioned and conservative (and thank god, some of them were, because they cast our basic freedoms and the sanctity of the basic structure of the Constitution in stone, and emerged as some of the greatest, wisest and certainly the bravest judges of the modern world, not just India). There were threats of bringing in a "committed" judiciary, more in tune with the "socialist ideal" that was used as a brutally cynical excuse for the Emergency. This was the response of an all-powerful, dictatorial state still smarting from a 7-6 defeat in the Kesavananda Bharati case, and the setting aside of Mrs Gandhi's election by the Allahabad high court. The "packing" of the Supreme Court with judges "more in tune" with the establishment's then socialist ideology was launched in earnest by the Emergency cabal. But, fortunately, it was cut short by Mrs Gandhi's defeat in the 1977 election. The cleaning-up of the wreckage of the higher judicial institutions and qualitative reconstruction was launched by the Janata government under the care of who else but Shanti Bhushan, the law minister in Morarji Desai's cabinet.
It was the only time that systematic effort was made to give the higher judiciary a pre-determined ideological slant, and fortunately for our generation and our children's, the voters cut it short. Subsequent and reformist changes in the procedure of a judge's appointment, ushered in by the Supreme Court itself, further ensured that the political class would not be able to either sabotage or "pack" the higher judiciary with their own. Nobody tried to mess with this even during the six years of the NDA.
Indian senior judges, therefore, have evolved as formidable professional jurists. They have built a name over the decades for their clinical interpretation of the law and the Constitution. In the process, the institution of the Supreme Court has emerged as the strongest pillar of our democracy and has built a real (and well-deserved) reputation around the world.
Its ideology, if anything, has been unshakeable constitutionalism and successive generations of judges have established a liberal, democratic and large-hearted tradition. Over nearly three-and-a-half decades from the Emergency, the higher judiciary has evolved in harmony with the larger democratic world: towards social liberalism and economic reform.
Our Supreme Court's record over the recent years underlines this wonderful phenomenon. On economics, society and politics, the bench has stayed way ahead of the executive and the political class, even under reformist prime ministers. On economics, the court's views, ranging from denying strikes as employees' fundamental right to strengthening rights to private property, rulings on contract labour have all been reformist and modern. As is the case with the leadership it took on environmental issues when they were not so fashionable and when Greenpeace wasn't spending tens of crores in India. The Supreme Court brought in CNG, set emission standards for vehicles, protected the Taj Mahal, set new norms for organ transplants and so on and the rest of the judiciary picked up the thread. So we got that landmark, liberal judgment from the Delhi high court decriminalising consensual homosexuality.
In the same heady period the Supreme Court reinforced the independence of the Election Commission, strengthened the CVC, raised the bar on Article 356, thereby strengthening the federal structure, played a stellar role in ensuring investigations into the Gujarat killings, strengthened laws on sexual harassment in workplace and so on. In fact, over these three decades you can see almost no Supreme Court order that does not pass the test of liberal, reformist large-heartedness, and brilliantly so.
That is why some of the recent judgments and orders — in fact over the past week or so — are so significant. You can agree or disagree with the order, but the language used? This paper had a full page of highlighted excerpts on Thursday morning. Not only is the language out of tune with the times, it is also as if the apex court had made a dramatic ideological shift, or almost as if a new president in America had just made a bunch of his own appointments. Large parts of these judgments are just lectures on political economy that makes you ask a legitimate question: what is the job of the judges, to interpret law, or to criticise/ make/ change economic policy? Surely, judges, like you and I, are entitled to their own, strong views on these issues. But if you want to make policy, the message to you has to be the same as to our civil society: go to the people with these ideas, get votes, change policies, and be accountable for the consequences, good or bad.
Or, okay, let us stop complaining about the language in these never-ending lectures on the post-reform "neoliberal" economy having the intellectual depth of a JNU postgrad. Pick an issue with the larger argument, that all this corruption, state (and Maoist) brutality, black money, misuse of land acquisition laws, etc are a consequence of economic reform. Did we generate less black money (as a percentage of our economy) when tax rates were at 97 per cent in the heyday of Emergency socialism, or now? Reform, transparent, non-discretionary regulation and modern laws are not the cause of corruption, but the best antidote against it. And the scams we have seen, including 2G, have taken place not because of too much, but too little reform. Because too much discretion was still left in the system. It is these areas of discretion that the apex court can help eliminate even as it oversees the investigation and prosecution in these scams. Ushering in an entirely new political economy or new socialist revolution may be too much of an ask even for our most venerably redoubtable Supreme Court. And you can add with the greatest humility, this is not its brief, either.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A STRONGER DOSE
The last few days have been troubling for anyone emotionally invested in Indian sports — the doping scandal in track and field sports has disillusioned many Indians, and hurt our reputation in the world. It even overshadows the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) scandal that rocked the US a few years back, and had a huge impact on American baseball. Ben Johnson and Marion Jones are the stuff of legend, their athletic careers cut down after their drug use was discovered.
Today in India, blame has been flung in every direction, foreign coaches to errant chemists, sports administrators and monitoring systems, and most of all the athletes who bear ultimate responsibility. While the methylhexanamine (MHA) issue cast a shadow over the Commonwealth Games last year, this time the issue is steroids, the most common form of abused substance. Seven women, including six quarter-milers, have been caught, and one male athlete. These athletes, who have tested positive for anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS), may have counted on a performance boost, but were perhaps unaware of the dangerous side-effects. Apart from making muscles bigger, anabolic steroids help athletes recover quicker from a hard workout by reducing the muscle damage that occurs during the session. Some may like the spurt in aggression that they experience with the drugs. But they can also lead to other problems ranging from facial hair-growth, changes in voice, infertility and even high blood pressure, liver cancer and heart problems. The offenders' list of Indian sportswomen is now growing — Kunjarani Devi, Pratima Kumari, Sanamacha Chanu, Shailaja Pujari, Seema Antil, Neelam Jaswant Singh, Monica Devi, and others in netball, badminton, etc. In part, the financial incentives that the government now provides for sports excellence creates a strong temptation for athletes and coaches to bend the rules.
An international-level female athlete confessed to me a few months back that she was given testosterone injections by her coach (who happens to be foreign) and advised to use a nutritional supplement explicitly disallowed in the code of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Sadly, she now has to suffer the two-year ban because she has no proof, while the coach suffers no consequences. Meanwhile, another sportswoman claims she was given AAS for pain in the knee, and she has been let off even though any doctor can tell you that AAS does not treat inflamed joints, corticosteroid injections do. Our new National Doping Agency (NADA) clearly needs to coordinate its rules and hearing panels better. More tests are not the answer, as the minister suggests.
Dope control officers (DCOs) with high credibility are required, those who cannot be tempted to switch samples or be manipulated in any way. In fact, one of the DCOs suspended by the Sports Authority of India has been absorbed in the NADA. Where is its national registered testing pool? Why has it not been brought in place after consulting federations and checking their achievements? What is NADA doing at the junior national level where grassroots sportspersons are getting addicted to these banned substances? Why isn't every national event covered? What about inter-varsity tournaments, where you see toilets full of syringes and empty vials of banned substances?
What's more, how does the DCO identify the athlete? He takes the sample of the person who presents herself, with no way of verifying, in the absence of accreditation cards for everyone. Sadly, NADA still has no public profile, and makes no attempt to reach out to sportspersons. It should have a 24-hour service to address their queries, rather than simply screening them before boarding.
And lastly, nutritional supplements might be a popular fad, but there is no scientific evidence that they provide any edge apart from the psychological. In my long tenure with the women's hockey team which culminated in the Manchester Commonwealth gold, we used no supplements but a single recovery drink and iron tablets along with antioxidants. I just made sure that I ate each meal with the girls, updating them on diet, recovery, bio-rhythms and training control. This kind of robust interaction between officials and athletes is also what brought us the coveted gold for the first time in the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
The writer is former head of the department of sports medicine and sports sciences, Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Patiala
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
SUPREME COURT VERSUS THE STATE?
SURJIT S BHALLA
In the Supreme Court's recent black-money order, the case against the state is made as follows. First, by following "neo-liberal" policies, the state has destroyed governance. "The paradigm of governance that has emerged, over the past three decades, prioritises the market, and its natural course, over any degree of control of it by the state."
Second, that this lack of governance has encouraged both the generation of black money and its transfer to tax havens abroad. "The issue of unaccounted monies held by nationals, and other legal entities, in foreign banks, is of primordial importance to the welfare of the citizens. The quantum of such monies may be rough indicators of the weakness of the state, in terms of both crime prevention, and also of tax collection. Depending on the volume of such monies, and the number of incidents through which such monies are generated and secreted away, it may very well reveal the degree of 'softness of the state'."
Third, that not collecting "the large quanta of monies stashed abroad would also indicate a substantial weakness in the capacity of the state in collection of taxes on incomes generated by individuals and other legal entities within the country."
Fourth, that this black money prevents the government from serving the aam admi: "In addition, such large amounts of unaccounted monies would also lead to a natural suspicion that they have been transferred out of the country in order to evade payment of taxes, thereby depleting the capacity of the nation to undertake many tasks that are in public interest."
Fifth, that this generation of black money is not only anti-national, but threatens the security of the state. "The worries of this court are also with regard to the nature of activities that such monies may engender, both in terms of the concentration of economic power, and also the fact that such monies may be transferred to groups and individuals who may use them for unlawful activities that are extremely dangerous to the nation, including actions against the state."
Sixth, and finally, that given these circumstances and tragic reality, the court has to step into a domain not necessarily its own. By doing so, the court is rendering an important service to the nation — stopping the flow of black money, recovering it, and thereby engendering a new order: "The resources of this court are scarce, and it is over-burdened with the task of rendering justice in well over a lakh of cases every year. Nevertheless, this court is bound to uphold the Constitution, and its own burdens, excessive as they already are, cannot become an excuse for it to not perform that task. In a country where most of its people are uneducated and illiterate, suffering from hunger and squalor, the retraction of the monitoring of these matters by this court would be unconscionable." (All quotes are from the order.)
Black money comes via tax evasion; while tax evasion is illegal, sometimes it can be in response to bad laws. When Indira Gandhi instituted a 97 per cent marginal tax rate, practically every bureaucrat who implemented the law was creating black money. That was then; as also was the sad reality when the Supreme Court, in effect, rubber-stamped the imposition of the Emergency.
How valid is the Supreme Court's black-money case against the government? Not very. First, the size of income-tax evasion is relatively small, and much smaller than the Supreme Court's contention of astronomical sums. In 2010-11, total income tax payment, if every individual was fully compliant, and paid all the taxes owed, would have been close to Rs 332,000 crore. Actual tax collected was around Rs 150,000 crore and so black income was around Rs 184,000 crore, or about 2.5 per cent of India's GDP. Not a small amount, $40 billion, but not astronomical.
Most interesting is the distribution of this black money — who generates it? Not surprisingly, the group with the largest aggregate income: the aam admi. The poorest income tax group, Rs 2-5 lakh, accounts for close to 80 per cent of all taxpayers, and close to 63 per cent of all taxable income. It is also the group with a large proportion of self-employed individuals. And also the group with the lowest tax compliance rate — around 36 per cent, or slightly more than one-third of those eligible to pay taxes in this group, actually pay taxes. This group does not come under the TDS automatic-payment system; it comprises of lawyers, doctors, and shopkeepers.
The richest group, the one I infer that the Supreme Court thinks is not paying taxes and sending this money overseas, actually has the highest compliance rate: around 60 per cent. Black income generated in this group? About Rs 37,000 crore in 2010, or only $8 billion annually. Astronomical? By no stretch of the imagination. Even the total amount of income-tax evasion black money generated each year in neo-liberal India is not astronomical.
Well-meaning people often confuse the low level of the population paying taxes with black money. The reason for the former is that India is not a rich country; one has to be in the top 20 per cent of the working non-agriculture economy to be eligible to pay direct taxes. And about 40 per cent of Indians pay taxes, and most of the non-compliant are the not-so-rich middle-income people. The aam admi is the number-one culprit in generating black income, but it is a bit unseemly to make a federal case of this reality.
The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
GOD'S OWN KINGDOM
The temple of Sree Padmanabha, suddenly in the news for the immense treasure found in its vaults, is located in Thiruvananthapuram. You now know it as the capital of Kerala, but it is also the old capital of the kingdom of Travancore. The shrine is first known from the Tamil devotional poems of Nammalvar on the Vishnu temples of Malai Nadu (Malabar). This Alvar, the last of the 12 great Vaishnava saints of the Bhakti movement in south India, lived at the close of 9th century AD, when Kerala was still part of ancient Tamizhakam — both in language and culture.
The huge idol of Padmanabha reclining on a serpent bed, with a padma projecting from his naabhi (naval), is a unique and impressive product of the early Pandyan style of sculpture. The temple, in fact, belonged to the Ay (Yadava) chieftains, who claimed kinship with Krishna of Dwaraka, in the Sangam age. The territories of Ay (Aynad) and Vel (Venad) were finally absorbed in the Kerala kingdom of the Cheraman Perumals in the 9th century. It is to this period that the small granite central shrine belongs. There have been several attempts since, in different periods, to renovate, add or modify the temple structure.
Following the disintegration of the Chera kingdom after the mysterious disappearance of the last Cheraman Perumal Rama Kulasekhara in 12th century, feudatory chiefdoms emerged as independent principalities. Venad and Aynad then combined to become the medieval kingdom of Travancore. It was only in the 18th century that Marthanda Varma conquered several feudal chiefdoms and created a strong monarchy in Travancore. Part of the wealth confiscated by Ramayyan, his Brahmin commander, from temples and palaces, were donated to the Sree Padmanabha shrine. The management of the affairs and properties of the temple had been entrusted to a royal committee of eight Brahmins and the king — called Ettara Yogam. They were armed with great powers, but the temple administration was clearly separated from general administration.
The temples of Kerala were vibrant centres of religious, economic and social life, and they kept the gold, silver and precious stones that were donated. Many people, in fact, surrendered their estates to the temple and accepted the status of tenants for the sake of the security that god's protection guaranteed. The medieval village assembly known as the sabha, met and transacted business on temple premises. The deity of the village temple was the president of this sabha. He was a legal entity, possessed wealth and political powers, and everything was done in his name.
Medieval inscriptions proclaim that violation of temple property shall be equated with the commitment of pancha maha paatakas (five great sins) and punished with confiscation of property, fines and excommunication. Thus civil offences were transformed into moral sins and the fear of god instilled into the minds of the nobility and common people. Temples were turned into forts — the term matil (fort) was employed for them — and developed into autonomous corporations capable of bringing kings and lords to discipline. There are several instances of kings offering expiation for sins like murder and plunder. They were made to offer golden images and surrender vast estates. In fact, the last Cheraman Perumal was made to undertake such an atonement at a great assembly in the Rameswaram temple at Kollam.
Marthanda Varma adopted this model of village temples and assemblies when he became the ruler of a strong kingdom. He surrendered his kingdom to Sree Padmanabha through trippadi danam, that is, a gift at the lord's doorsteps, and governed the country as Padmanabha Dasa, the servant of Padmanabha. Thus he made the monarchy even stronger by invoking divine grace. Wealth and governance of the royal temple was separated from general administration. There are many hundreds of documents related to the temple, called Matilakam Granthavari. A few hundreds have been edited and published by the great poet Ulloor S. Parameswara Aiyar on behalf of the government of Travancore.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the temple enjoyed an annual revenue of Rs 75,000 from its landed estates, besides a large income from donations, gifts of expiation, rent on leased compounds and fields and interest on gold deposits and mortgages.
Claiming the enormous temple wealth as tax money of the people and public money is illegal and unacceptable. In a sense, it is the geographical situation of Kerala at the southern end of the peninsula, far from the path of invaders, which preserved the treasures for a thousand years during which there was no successful invasion of this part of Kerala. Also, the rulers took great care to keep the wealth secure, as revealed by the fortification and detailed documentation. But it does not mean that all of it is to be put back into those black holes. We have the model of Tirupathi temple in using god's wealth for man's welfare. We should envisage a system for making this golden treasure useful.
The writer is a historian and former chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
BEST-SELLING, EVEN AFTER 70
C. UDAY BHASKAR
A familiar figure at New Delhi's India International Centre, Narendra Singh Sarila (born 1927), who died in Switzerland on Friday morning after prolonged illness, straddled many worlds with considerable charm and quiet competence. Diplomat, author, industrialist, part of India's erstwhile royalty and a Ranji cricketer to boot, Raja Sahib was the veritable Renaissance man — who also adapted to social media. Till illness took its toll, he retained a keen interest in India's strategic and foreign policy challenges, and my personal interface with him was due to the high esteem that the late K. Subrahmanyam and he had for each other.
Born in what was then the princely state of Sarila in central India when the British Raj was, like a dying candle, at its brightest flicker, the young Narendra Singh — or NS — grew up in a world that is now part of Indian history and legend. In his wry and self-effacing autobiography, Once a Prince of Sarila: Of Palaces and Elephant Rides, Of Nehrus and Mountbattens, NS reveals his natural talent for insightful personal recollection, and an empathetic connection to the larger historical context — leavened with a sense of the turbulence of the moment.
Thus NS is able to give us the story of India's freedom struggle from the vantage point of a curious young prince, recounting the London Conferences through to the last Delhi Durbar — the meeting of the Chamber of Princes on July 25, 1947 addressed by the viceroy, Lord Mountbatten — where he was deputed to represent his father. The autobiography is rich in detail about NS's own trajectory from the princely India of the Raj to the newly independent, democratic nation led by Pandit Nehru — who in turn, as NS often reiterated, was imperceptibly guided by the governor-general and his wife, Lady Mountbatten.
Independent India saw NS's life moving into its second phase. He was chosen to be ADC to Lord Mountbatten in early 1948, for a very brief period. Soon thereafter NS joined the Indian Foreign Service and had an eventful tenure where he was part of the Indian team at the UN in New York; OSD for Kashmir affairs and joint secretary dealing with Pakistan from 1968 to 1972, during the crucial period of the Bangladesh war. Subsequently appointed ambassador to countries including Libya, Switzerland and France, NS retired from government service in 1985 and moved to the next phase of his career: the corporate world. Joining Nestlé India, he later became its chairman emeritus, and was well-known in Europe for his political and business acumen.
It was in the last decade of his life that NS took up the pen with commendable determination. As he once recounted to me, till then his writing had been confined to the newspaper op-eds and the occasional longer essay. But, after May 1998, as India became, as he noted, "strategically relevant", he returned to a subject of abiding interest and professional expertise for him: Kashmir. Donning the mantle of a researcher at 70-plus, NS tracked primary-source material pertaining to Partition and wrote his best-selling magnum opus: The Shadow of the Great Game: the Untold Story of India's Partition (2005).
The core of Sarila's argument was summed up in one pithy paragraph: "Once the British realised that the Indian nationalists who would rule India after its independence would deny them military co-operation under a British Commonwealth defence umbrella, they settled for those willing to do so by using religion for the purpose. Their problem could be solved if Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League Party, would succeed in his plan to detach the northwest of India abutting Iran, Afghanistan and Sinkiang and establish a separate state there — Pakistan. The proposition was a realisable one as a working relationship had been established between the British authorities in India and Jinnah during the Second World War and he was willing to cooperate with Britain on defence matters if Pakistan was created."
Till as recently as early 2011, NS kept in touch and was always willing to share his experience and insight. Religion, politics, corruption, inadequate governance... there were many current developments that disturbed him, but he retained a distinctive and informed elegance as he patiently studied the world around him, an attitude that NS had acquired as a baby atop an elephant — what he described as "my pram."
"Please do not introduce me as 'Raja sahib', or 'Ambassador'... I am plain Narendra Singh..." that was his last injunction to me, at an IIC round-table discussion.
The writer was formerly director, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
IS THERE A 'SCARCITY' STATE OF MIND?
Over the past 50 years, we've seen a number of gigantic policies produce disappointing results. Many of these failed because they were based on an overly simplistic view of human nature. They assumed that money could cure behaviour problems.
Let's say you want to reduce poverty. We have two traditional understandings of poverty. The first presumes people are rational. The second presumes that the poor are afflicted by cultural or psychological dysfunctions that sometimes lead them to behave in shortsighted ways. Neither of these theories has produced much in the way of effective policies. Eldar Shafir of Princeton and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard have recently been exploring a third theory, that scarcity produces its own cognitive traits.
A quick question: What is the starting taxi fare in your city? If you are like most upper-middle-class people, you don't know. If you are like many struggling people, you do know. Poorer people have to think hard about a million things affluent people don't. They have to make complicated trade-offs when buying a carton of milk: If I buy milk, I can't afford orange juice. They have to decide which utility not to pay. These questions impose enormous cognitive demands. The brain has limited capacities. If you increase demands on one sort of question, it performs less well on other sorts of questions.
Shafir and Mullainathan gave batteries of tests to Indian sugar farmers. After they sell their harvest, they live in relative prosperity. During this season, the farmers do well on the IQ and other tests. But before the harvest, they live amid scarcity and have to think hard about a thousand daily decisions. During these seasons, these same farmers do much worse on the tests. They have more trouble controlling their attention. They are more shortsighted. Scarcity creates its own psychology.
Princeton students don't usually face extreme financial scarcity, but they do face time scarcity. In one game, they had to answer questions in a series of timed rounds, but they could borrow time from future rounds. When they were scrambling amid time scarcity, they were quick to borrow time, oblivious to the usurious interest rates the game organisers were charging. These kids were rushing to the equivalent of payday lenders, to their own detriment.
People are complicated. We each have multiple selves, which emerge or don't depending on context. If we're going to address problems, we need to understand the contexts and how these tendencies emerge or don't emerge. We need to design policies around that knowledge.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
BROADCAST THIS AUCTION
Though the government conducted a hugely successful 3G/BWA auction in 2010, after the 2G scam blew up in its face, ironically, its appetite for auctions also took a big hit. The government's most articulate voice, Kapil Sibal, argued that auctions weren't a great idea, that they raised tariffs for the common man and were, in effect, avoidable—much the same argument, incidentally, made by the 2G scam's main accused A Raja. Indeed, the anti-auction bug was so strong, despite the Ashok Chawla committee plumping for market-based solutions, a leading newspaper reported the committee as saying international experience showed auctions led to losses—clearly someone in the government was leaking selectively. Which is why the government's decision to auction 839 FM radio slots shows a welcome maturity, more so given that many top media firms who are also in the radio business were opposed to auctions. The important thing to keep in mind is that auctions don't raise tariffs, for consumers or advertisers—witness the fall in tariffs after the 2001 telecom auction and after Vodafone paid $11.1 bn for Hutch in 2007. In any case, the real reason for auctions is different—it is the only way to transparently choose when there are more bidders than licences.
Apart from the welcome decision on auctioning, the other FM decisions show the same anti-reform mindset of the past. Hiking FDI limits from 20% to 26% is a good example. What purpose do such low limits serve, ironically at a time when a government discussion paper is arguing for lifting all sectoral FDI caps—curiously, in 2008, Trai was in favour of a 49% cap. Ostensibly, the cap is in keeping with the cap in news ventures like newspapers and TV channels. As this newspaper has argued, the caps in newspapers and TV make little sense in a globalised India, more so at a time when the content of foreign media is freely accessible over the net anyway. In any case, since the government allows 100% FDI in the non-news general entertainment TV segment, why not allow the same 100% for FM radio stations that don't offer news? And what is one to make to the decision to allow FM stations to now offer news, but only that taken from the state-owned All India Radio? Obviously the I&B ministry continues to remain oblivious to the sweeping changes in the rest of the country.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
DOPE VS HOPE
When the Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini Akkunji and Mandeep Kaur quartet blazed to a golden victory at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium last year, they were carrying the baton for the hopes that had stayed sturdy in the face of all the depressing stories ahead of the Commonwealth Games—stories about shameful delays and R4,000 toilet rolls, a collapsed footbridge and a crumpled stadium ceiling, etc. The relay team went on to repeat the feat at the Guangzhou Asian Games. It represented our main athletic medal hope for next year's London Olympics, a hope that's gotten dashed just as surely as Sini, Ashwini and Mandeep have tested positive for banned, performance-enhancing drugs. Before getting into how the Indian sports establishment is responding to this latest reversal in fortunes, let's cast our mind to yet another scandal from Commonwealth days. Among a slew of athletes caught doping then, wrestler Rajiv Tomar was an Arjuna Awardee, which is what Ashwini was also poised to become. We were told athletes' education was a problem, they were receiving substandard medical support, and these issues would get addressed. And this is exactly what we are being told today too. The National Anti-Doping Agency director says his organisation plans to publish guide books in regional languages. Medical outlets near the Patiala institute where most national camps are conducted are being raided for banned drugs, as if the authorities just woke up to this menace. Every time a doping scandal hits us, we act like it's happening for the first time, all over again.
Institutional memory is weak because institutions are weak. What says this better than that the Sports Authority of India's fact-finding mission is headed by an executive director who is actually responsible for the conduct of the camps? A Ukrainian coach has been fired but if he was distributing supplements, shouldn't higher authorities have been tracking this closely? The coach charges that athletes have to buy food supplements from outside because the ones provided by the authorities aren't up to the mark. The coach's critics counter that there is something fishy going on behind the erstwhile Iron Curtain, that athletes like Ashwini seem to return from Ukrainian camps with inexplicably enhanced performances. Against this unseemly bedlam, sports reforms like limiting the age and tenure of leading officials are hanging fire. And without a systemic overhaul, there's a fat chance that Abhinav Bindra will get lots of company in the near future.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
SUPREME COURT VERSUS THE STATE
SURJIT S BHALLA
In the recent Supreme Court black money judgment, the case against the state is made as follows. First, by following "neo-liberal" policies, the state has destroyed governance. "The paradigm of governance that has emerged, over the past three decades, prioritises the market, and its natural course, over any degree of control of it by the State." Second, that this lack of governance has encouraged both the generation of black money and its transfer to tax havens abroad. "The issue of unaccounted monies held by nationals, and other legal entities, in foreign banks, is of primordial importance to the welfare of the citizens. The quantum of such monies may be rough indicators of the weakness of the State, in terms of both crime prevention, and also of tax collection. Depending on the volume of such monies, and the number of incidents through which such monies are generated and secreted away, it may very well reveal the degree of 'softness of the State'."
Third, that by not collecting "the large quanta of monies stashed abroad would also indicate a substantial weakness in the capacity of the State in collection of taxes on incomes generated by individuals and other legal entities within the country." Fourth, that this black money prevents the government from serving aam aadmi. "In addition, such large amounts of unaccounted monies would also lead to a natural suspicion that they have been transferred out of the country in order to evade payment of taxes, thereby depleting the capacity of the nation to undertake many tasks that are in public interest."
Fifth, that this generation of black money is not only anti-national but threatens the security of the state. "The worries of this Court are also with regard to the nature of activities that such monies may engender, both in terms of the concentration of economic power, and also the fact that such monies may be transferred to groups and individuals who may use them for unlawful activities that are extremely dangerous to the nation, including actions against the State."
Sixth, and finally, that given these circumstances and tragic reality, the Court has to step into a domain not necessarily its own. By doing so, the Court is rendering an important service to the nation, i.e., stopping the flow of black money, and recovering it, and thereby engendering a new order. "The resources of this Court are scarce, and it is over-burdened with the task of rendering justice in well over a lakh of cases every year. Nevertheless, this Court is bound to uphold the Constitution, and its own burdens, excessive as they already are, cannot become an excuse for it to not perform that task. In a country where most of its people are uneducated and illiterate, suffering from hunger and squalor, the retraction of the monitoring of these matters by this Court would be unconscionable." (All quotes are from the judgment.)
Black money comes via tax-evasion; while tax-evasion is illegal, sometimes it can be in response to bad laws. When Indira Gandhi instituted a 97% marginal tax rate, practically every bureaucrat who implemented the law was creating black money. That was then; then also was the sad reality when the Supreme Court rubber stamped the imposition of the Emergency, another bad law. And as far as corruption is concerned, nobody seems to be above it. Civil society lawyer Shanti Bhushan has alleged that 8 of the last 16 Supreme Court chief justices were corrupt.
How valid is the Supreme Court's black money case against the government? Not very. First, the size of income-tax evasion is relatively small, and much smaller than the Supreme Court's contention of astronomical sums. In 2010-11, total income tax payment, if every individual was fully compliant, and paid all the taxes owed, would have been close to R3,32,000 crore. Actual tax collected was around R1,50,000 crore and so black income was around R1,84,000 crore, or about 2.5% of India's GDP. Not a small amount, $40 billion, but not astronomical.
Most interesting is the distribution of this black money—who generates it? Not surprisingly, the group with the largest aggregate income, the aam aadmi. The poorest income tax group, R2 to R5 lakh, accounts for close to 80% of all taxpayers, and close to 63% of all taxable income. It is also the group with a large proportion of self-employed individuals. And also the group with the lowest tax compliance rate—around 36% or slightly more than one-third of those eligible to pay taxes in this group actually pay taxes. This group does not come under the TDS automatic payment of tax system; it comprises of lawyers, doctors and shop-keepers.
The richest group, the one I infer that the Supreme Court thinks is not paying taxes and sending this money overseas, actually has the highest compliance rate—around 60%. Black income generated in this group—about R37,000 crore in 2010, or only $8 billion annually. Astronomical? By no stretch of the imagination. Even the total amount of income tax evasion black money generated each year in neo-liberal India is not astronomical.
Well meaning people often confuse the low level of population paying taxes with black money. The reason for the former is that India is not a rich country; one has to be in the top 20% of the working non-agriculture economy to be eligible to pay taxes. And about 40% of Indians pay taxes, and most of the non-compliant are the not-so-rich middle income people. The aam aadmi is the number one culprit in generating black income but it is a bit unseemly to make a federal case of this reality. Case dismissed.
The author is Chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
NEMESIS CHASES MURDOCH'S HUBRIS
The game is up for Rupert Murdoch. The head of News Corp has held sway over Britain's media industry for a generation. Prime ministers have feared and feted him. He has outwitted regulators and outgunned rivals. Now, suddenly, it is all unravelling. The media mogul has lost his touch. These things happen.
News International, Mr Murdoch's London-based company, is under criminal investigation for alleged telephone hacking and illegal payments to police officers. Scotland Yard has 50 officers on the case. Executives have been accused, under the protection of parliamentary privilege of perverting the course of justice. The allegations about the activities at the tabloid News of the World have stirred a wave of public revulsion. With advertisers threatening a boycott and the prime minister endorsing calls for a public inquiry, the company has announced the closure of the best-selling 168-year-old Sunday title. It will probably re-emerge as the Sunday Sun.
Yet from his jet-set swirl of media conferences and cocktail parties in the US, the News Corp chief has inexplicably expressed personal confidence in Rebekah Brooks, the News International chief executive at the epicentre of the controversy. He has offered a few anodyne words about "deplorable" and "unacceptable" behaviour. There was a time when the businessman who built News Corp would have gripped such a crisis at the outset.
The exquisite irony is that this was supposed to have been a good week for Mr Murdoch. David Cameron's government had been preparing to signal approval for an £8bn-plus bid allowing News Corp to buy full control of British Sky Broadcasting. The deal has been trailed as a crowning achievement for the man who pioneered satellite television; everything would be in place for the business's eventual transfer to his son James.
Instead, had Mr Murdoch senior tuned in to his own Sky News channel he would have seen politicians of every stripe in the House of Commons venting their rage at the alleged illegal activities of his media empire. It has been known for some time that the News of the World had hacked the voicemails of celebrities, politicians and royals. The new avalanche of disclosures, however, was of an entirely different order.
Allegations that the newspaper's surveillance extended to interference with the telephone of a murdered schoolgirl and routine interception of the intimate messages of the families of murder and terrorist victims have shocked the nation. It seems that private investigators working for the newspaper may also have tapped into the voicemail of bereaved families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despicable, heinous and disgusting are adjectives that spring most easily to mind.
News International has also acknowledged that it paid large amounts of money to police officers in return for information. Such payments are illegal. Speaking under the protection of parliamentary privilege, MPs have charged executives with lying to cover up criminal activities. Tom Watson, a former Labour minister, has accused James Murdoch and Ms Brooks of perverting the course of justice.
Watching these politicians throw bricks has been to realise that the News Corp spell has been broken. There has always been something faintly hysterical about the charge that British politics has been held helpless hostage to the Murdoch empire. He has never been as powerful as his enemies imagined. For all that, it has been instructive to watch the fears of retribution draining away; and, with them, Mr Murdoch's power.
Mr Cameron has looked at best distinctly uncomfortable. Like his predecessors, the prime minister has been assiduous in courting Mr Murdoch. Andy Coulson, who resigned as editor of the News of the World during an earlier stage in the scandal, was until recently the Downing Street communications director. The error of judgment on Mr Cameron's part has been compounded by a friendship with Ms Brooks. He has been making quite a habit of getting things wrong.
This week the prime minister had no option but to accept a call from the Labour leader Ed Miliband for a public inquiry into the scandal. The talk now in Number 10 is of the need to establish visible distance between the prime minister and News Corp. Mr Murdoch, one aide has been heard to say, may still get an audience with Mr Cameron—as long as he enters by the back door.
Judicious distancing, however, is not going to be enough for Mr Cameron. If there has been a common thread through the expressions of anger and outrage this week it is that Mr Murdoch's empire represents an unhealthy concentration of media power.
Ownership of four newspapers and Britain's second largest broadcaster is simply too much. Some Tory MPs are backing Mr Miliband's demand that the prime minister call a halt to the BSkyB deal at the very least until all the criminal investigations are completed and a judgment can be made on whether News International is a fit and proper proprietor for the broadcaster.
Ministers insist that they must observe the legal proprietaries in examining the bid. But there is room within them for delay. A genuinely penitent company would shelve its bid unless and until its executives are exonerated of the charges of criminal activity.
Mr Murdoch can complain that the News of the World was not alone in acting illegally in pursuit of front-page scoops. Hacking into voicemails was once widespread. Other tabloids hired dodgy private investigators.
So Mr Cameron's public inquiry will have to cast its net much wider than News International.
As always, though, News International operated with a ruthlessness and on a scale that left its rivals behind. Within the industry, the News of the World was said to be "out of control". Mr Murdoch has bungled his response at every turn. Instead of acting decisively when a dam of new allegations burst last year, he backed a failed strategy of evasion and obfuscation. Now he has run out of time. Ms Brooks is beyond saving. So, probably, is Mr Murdoch's last big media dream. Nemesis is fast catching up with hubris.
"Laws cannot remain silent when the cannons roar," the Supreme Court of India declared earlier this week, upturning Cicero's dictum to pronounce a historic judgment on the violent darkness that has enveloped the heart of India in Chhattisgarh. While the State and Union governments have predictably announced their intention to seek a review, the court's decision to disarm and disband the forces of mostly young, barely literate, and poorly trained Special Police Officers (SPOs) deployed by the state in the fight against Maoist insurgents is a blow for constitutional order. "Modern constitutionalism," the court noted, "posits that no wielder of power should be allowed to claim the right to perpetrate ... violence against anyone, much less its own citizens, unchecked by law and notions of innate human dignity of every individual." The burden of the judgment is simple: the country does face a threat from the Maoist insurgency but any attempt by the state to use "lawless violence" as a counter will only perpetuate and intensify the cycle of violence, as "the death toll revealed by the Government of Chhattisgarh" itself indicates. By default as well as design, the SPOs — whether organised under the name of 'Salwa Judum' or 'Koya Commandos' — have become the chief instrument of this lawless and failed counter-insurgency strategy. Innocent tribals have been the primary victims, either as targets of the SPOs or as poorly trained foot soldiers in a bloody war the government is not even prepared to properly finance.
In demanding an end to the SPO system, the Supreme Court has acted as much out of concern for the hapless tribal population of Dantewada as for the tribal youth who were press-ganged by their individual circumstances into becoming "cannon fodder" for the state. Chhattisgarh as well as the Union of India were guilty of violating the fundamental rights of citizens at large and the SPOs themselves. The court has also made the link between Chhattisgarh's illegal counter-insurgency strategy and the wider "neoliberal" approach being followed by the government at the Central and State levels. This approach is spawning disaffection among the poor and giving a boost to insurgency. The Salwa Judum is the illegitimate product of a system that sees nothing wrong in giving tax breaks to the rich and guns to the poor to fight each other, the court said. But the Constitution "is most certainly not a 'pact for national suicide'," it concluded in ordering an end to this state of affairs. These are profound words. Both the Union of India and Chhattisgarh must immediately implement this splendid expression of judicial wisdom, not waste time in seeking a review.
TRUTH TO POWER, SANGAKKARA STYLE
Kumar Sangakkara is regarded in cricket circles as an intelligent man unafraid to say it as he sees it, an original thinker whose thoughts extend beyond the game. At the MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture, which the former Sri Lankan captain delivered on July 4 at Lord's, he trapped lightning in a bottle: never were his ideas more forceful; never was his articulation as lucid and felicitous. In an hour-long speech that earned a standing ovation, he told the evocative story of cricket's transformative power in his strife-torn land. While his discourse was centred on Sri Lankan cricket, its evolution and its uniqueness, it wasn't confined to it. One of the speech's many virtues was that — through the example of Sri Lankan cricket — it addressed the larger problems the world game faces. In confronting the issues of cricket in his country, Sangakkara spoke truth to power. He challenged those in charge to hold themselves to higher standards, indeed to "adopt the values enshrined by the [Sri Lankan] team over the years: integrity, transparency, commitment and discipline." The universality of the message and the courage of its expression will have shaken administrators around the world.
This wonderfully gifted cricketer traced the problems in administration to 1996, when his country won the World Cup. While the underdog saga inspired several young Sri Lankans to dedicate their best efforts to playing the game, the attendant financial success resulted in "the transformation of our cricket administration from a volunteer-led organisation run by well-meaning men of integrity into a multi-million dollar organisation that has been in turmoil ever since." Sangakkara detailed the detrimental effect the power games had on the cricket team: corruption, lobbying, and manipulation for political gains created ill-feeling and distrust in the side, and the world champion crashed out of the 1999 World Cup after the first phase. The debacle acted as a catalyst for change. The cricketers got together to insulate themselves from the machinations of the board and commit themselves to winning. But there was no change in the system — with the problems of greed and narrow-mindedness persisting. Unsurprisingly, the administration has responded with the sort of truculence common to those who have interests to protect. The Sri Lankan Sports Minster's assertion that Sangakkara had to "get permission" to talk about cricket administration isn't merely high-handed; it's also against the principles of free speech. Instead of reacting defensively, those in power in Sri Lanka must introspect and reform themselves. Other governing bodies must act likewise, for, as recent incidents across the world have shown, this is a turbulent time for cricket.
AUSTRALIA SHUTS DOWN GAS PROJECT
Australia's Queensland government has ordered a company to shut down its underground coal gasification (UCG) project in the State's south after finding groundwater at the trial site contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals, the local media reported on July 8.
The State government ordered Cougar Energy to shut down its trial UCG plant near Kingaroy in southern Queensland. The decision was made after the company was found to have contaminated groundwater at the site with cancer-causing chemicals including benzene.
The Department of Environment and Resource Management on Friday downplayed the risk for nearby landholders, saying the contamination was confined to the site.
"There are a number of monitoring bores around the site and none of those indicate any movement of contamination beyond the site," acting director general Terry Wall said.
He said the company would be forced to rehabilitate the site, including decontaminating aquifers, and was facing court action over its activities.
Asked if authorities would ever again contemplate allowing Cougar to operate in Queensland, Wall told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): "Certainly not in respect of underground coal gasification." The department has issued Cougar Energy with a summons accusing it of breaching operating permits by contaminating the site, and failing to promptly notify authorities. Queensland independent Member of Parliament (MP) Dorothy Pratt, who represents the south Burnett region where the Kingaroy trial operated, said the local community is relieved by the decision. She said the case should serve as a warning to other communities near UCG trial sites.
The Kingaroy project is one of three underground coal gasification testing plants in Queensland using new technology to convert coal to gas using heat and chemicals.
Pratt said new mining technologies should not be allowed in prime agricultural areas like the one at Kingaroy because the risks were simply too high. "I don't believe, as yet, the technology is fool proof," she told the ABC. —Xinhua
EARTHY REALITY NEEDS SOARING RHETORIC
S. ARUN MOHAN
In the 1970s, the Supreme Court of India was called upon to decide the constitutionality of Excise Rules that allowed the State of Punjab to regulate the number of days, even hours, when liquor could be sold.
In a judgment peppered with literary references, ranging from Thomas Bacon to Bernard Shaw, the court considered the adverse effects of alcoholism and ruled in favour of the State. "The statutory scheme of the Act is not merely fiscal but also designed to regulate and reduce [the] alcoholic habit," the court wrote, rather provocatively. But the verdict, delivered by one of the most eloquent judges to grace the Bench, was neither an indictment against drinking nor a call for total prohibition. The court intended to situate the case in its socio-economic context, and embellish the legal conclusions with references to literature and even popular culture.
This is no unusual practice: some of the most celebrated judgments in India and in other countries have been richly endowed with observations from sociological studies, political treatises and economic surveys. The most powerful constitutional courts in the world, like those in India, South Africa and the United States, have often used allusions to support landmark decisions and ground them in a rights-based framework.
Therefore, it must not come as a surprise that the Supreme Court's recent decisions in the Salwa Judum, Greater Noida land acquisition and black money matters have been infused with a liberal dose of such ingredients. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has received flak for its observations in these cases for being "simplistic," "too sweeping," and rather ironically, "judgmental." While the rhetoric has certainly soared in these decisions, to suggest that the court's remarks in these cases are tantamount to judicial overreach is ridiculous and far-fetched.
To be sure, the Supreme Court in these verdicts has neither chastised the "neoliberal" policies of the state nor prescribed a course correction. It has merely expressed displeasure over the damaging consequences of these policies, which often result in the deprivation of constitutionally guaranteed rights. The same court that now finds itself in the dock for ideological overtures has in the past quoted Adam Smith with approval, even endorsing the free market economy.
But to construe these observations as affiliation towards a particular ideology or policy is incorrect. If the words of Joseph Conrad and Joseph Stiglitz have found their way into these judgments, it is only to underscore the point that the state's so-called "growth-oriented" policies have led to a gradual erosion of fundamental rights. A remedy to this situation is certainly the business of the judiciary.
InNandini Sundar, the court found that the Chhattisgarh government exercised arbitrarily, and abused its power under, the Police Act to create a militia. By outlawing Salwa Judum, the Supreme Court not only performed its fundamental duty in checking executive power but also upheld the rights of civilians. InRam Jethmalani, the court found the state wanting in its measures to curb the exodus of black money. As with the 2002 Gujarat riots, the Supreme Court was well within its constitutionally defined parameters to appoint a Special Investigation Team when the administrative machinery had been callous or complicit. InGreater Noida Industrial Development Authority, the court quashed hasty land acquisition by the Uttar Pradesh government that violated due process. In addition to upholding the rights of farmers to their land, the court condemned the unjust enrichment of the real estate lobby facilitated through skewed policies.
To arrive at these conclusions, the court cannot, and should not, rely solely on textual interpretations of the law. The Constitution is an organic document that operates not in isolation, but in tune with the lived realities of people. As the custodian of the Constitution, it is the duty of the Supreme Court not only to invalidate any arbitrary actions of the state but also to remind the government that its policies cannot undercut guaranteed rights. The observations of the court, orobiter dicta, are by no means binding on the government, but they often serve as a compass set towards an administrative policy that is in tune with the ideals of the Constitution.
By outlawing Salwa Judum, the Supreme Court performed its fundamental duty by
the Constitution and set the issues in a rich, rights-based framework.
THE PROVENANCE OF THE TEMPLE TREASURE
Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma (regnal years 1729 to 1758 CE)
Several kings of the Travancore dynasty, from Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma (regnal years 1729 to 1758 CE) to Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma who passed away in 1991, would have contributed handsomely to the treasures that have been discovered at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, say scholars knowledgeable about the history of the dynasty and the royal family. An inventory of the fabulous collection, kept in secret subterranean vaults near the sanctum of the temple, is under way on orders from the Supreme Court.
Anizhom Thirunal would have made the most significant contribution, assert scholars.
Anizhom Thirunal, known as the architect of Travancore state, was a far-sighted ruler. It was during his rule that the temple got its present shape. In her bookSree Padmanabha Swamy Temple (1995), Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi, a member of the Travancore royal family, calls him "the maker of the modern Travancore."
Those who hold the view that Anizhom Thirunal made priceless gifts to the temple include M.G. Sasibhooshan, author of several books on Kerala's arts, history and culture; T. Satyamurthy, former Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (Chennai Circle); K.K. Ramamurthy, former Superintending Archaeologist, ASI (Thrissur Circle); and S. Balusami, Associate Professor of Tamil at Madras Christian College in Chennai. Dr. Satyamurthy was Director of the Kerala Archaeology Department from 1988 to 1993, on deputation from the ASI.
Every Travancore king would have made priceless gifts to them: this was their consensus. The kings' commanders, merchants and other devotees would also have made donations.
Another important contributor to the wealth was Bhoothala Veera Marthanda Varma of the 16th century CE. He belonged to the Venad dynasty, a forerunner to the Travancore dynasty, said Dr. Balusami. Bhoothala Veera Marthanda Varma expanded Venad territory by capturing the area around the Tamiraparani river belt in southern Tamil Nadu, and his rule extended up to Kayal village near present-day Tuticorin. He built palaces for himself at Padmanabhapuram and Kalakkad, in what is now Tamil Nadu. There is a sculpture of Bhoothala Veera Marthanda Varma in the Satya Vagisvarar temple at Kalakkad near Tirunelveli.
Even Admiral Eustatius De Lennoy, who led the Dutch East India Company's forces which Anizhom Thirunal's forces defeated in 1741 in the Colachel war, made donations to the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. "That's why you have Dutch coins, Belgium cut-glasses and Portuguese coins in the vaults," said Mr. Ramamurthy. Admiral Eustatius De Lennoy ultimately became the Valiya Kappithan (commander-in-chief) of the Travancore forces of Anizhom Thirunal.
Colonel Munroe, who was the British Resident in the Travancore kingdom during the 19th century, had made gifts to the temple. InSree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi says that Colonel Munroe, in gratitude for a favour done, "submitted to the Temple, along with a gaily decorated horse, a big circular gold-plated umbrella with green glass stones suspended all around the frame. This accompanies the Deities during the Siveli processions at the time of the festivals, even now."
A number of researchers are unanimous in their opinion that the riches were kept in the temple because "the temple was the safest place to do so." The Travancore rulers were great devotees of Padmanabha Swamy and they offered their entire kingdom to him. They took pride in calling themselves "Padmanabha Dasas." Their Hindu subjects were equally devoted to the deity. Since the temple was well-guarded, "royal property was also hoarded there," said Dr. Satyamurthy.
Babu Paul, a former Chief Secretary of Kerala, said: "It is probable that at least over the last 300 years, whatever surplus the State had could have been kept in the temple because it was the safest place to do so."
Fear of fire
Fear of fire guided the decision to keep the riches in underground vaults lined by granite blocks. Fire had broken out several times in the temple, destroying parts of it. "It is only natural that fire will break out because you have the 'vilakku madom' and 'deepa madom' [areas to light lamps] where hundreds of lamps are lit," said Professor Sasibhooshan.
"There is a clear-cut inscription in Vattezhuthu in the Ottakkal mantapam area" in the temple, said Mr. Ramamurthy. "This speaks of renovation after a major fire engulfed it." The sanctum, the vilakku madom and the deepa madom were rebuilt after the fire. Everything was rebuilt on instructions from Anizhom Thirunal, circa 1729/1731 to 1734 CE, the former ASI officer said. There was another fire on October 28, 1934.
Items in vaults
The priceless items in the vaults include a one-foot tall idol of Vishnu, of solid gold, a 10-foot long gold chain, gold pots, bags of diamonds, hundreds of kilograms of gold trinkets, hundreds of Roman gold coins and Napoleonic era gold coins.
Other riches include, authoritative sources said, gold kasu mala (necklace made of gold coins), 'sarapalli mala' also called 'avil mala,' gold waist bands called 'udyanam,' poothali necklace, kolusu vala (anklets), chandra padaka and a big, gold sarapalli mala called 'Bheeman sarapalli mala.' The crowns, necklaces and waist band do not have inscriptions.
The treasure also includes a Sree Krishna idol in solid gold; three crowns studded with diamonds, pearls and rubies; gold staff and plates; Belgium diamonds and emeralds. Other items include a golden 'anki', or full-length dress, for the reclining Padmanabha, made in 16 parts; an ornament studded with diamonds for the deity's chest, two coconut shell replicas of pure gold, and Vijayanagara period coins.
There are French coins and the Dutch East India Company's coins, Roman gold coins called Aureus, Roman silver coins, Venetian ducats, drachmas, and so on. "Five head-loads of Roman gold coins were found in 1858 at a place called Kottayam near Kozhikode. The hoard of Roman gold coins found in the temple vaults may belong to that discovery," said Dr. Satyamurthy.
Researchers agreed that virtually nothing found in the vaults would be war booty. If all the Mathilagam records (in Tamil, Vattezhuthu, and in Malayalam, Kolezhuthu, on palm leaves), which are royal records dealing with the Padmanabhaswamy temple, are transcribed, details of the period to which the riches belong and who gifted them to the temple will be available, they added.
The collection being unearthed at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram principally comprises contributions from the Travancore kings over a long period, say researchers.
RISE OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
Moscow taxi-drivers claim that only three persons in the Russian capital would take no more than 15 minutes to ride from their country residences to the city centre, despite horrendous traffic jams: President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Christian Orthodox Church.
It is only for these VIPs that traffic is stopped so that their stretch armoured limousines, escorted by SUVs with armed bodyguards, can speed through the emptied streets at 150 kmph. The Patriarch's bodyguards are from the Kremlin security services, provided free of charge, which is another thing that puts him in the company of the President and the Prime Minister. The church is separate from the state in Russia, the Constitution says. It also says there can be no state religion. But in reality, the Orthodox Church in post-Communist Russia is as much a pillar of the state as are the army, the police and the courts.
After the collapse of the atheist Soviet Union, state persecution of religion came to an end in Russia. The new law on religious freedom adopted in 1997 identified four religions as "constituting an inalienable part of the historical heritage of the Russian people" — Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. This in itself was a violation of the Constitution, which enshrines equality of all religious organisations. Moreover, the law set the Orthodox Church apart from other religions, noting its "special role" in Russian history. It was probably in line with this special status that Russia's Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar and Supreme Mufti Ravil Gainutdin lost the right to flash car lights several years ago.
The Orthodox clergy claim that religious belief in Russia has been rapidly growing stronger. Indeed, according to pollsters, two-thirds of ethnic Russians now identify themselves as Russian Orthodox believers, up from less than half in the mid-1990s. However, only 10-15 per cent of Russians go to church regularly, and just five per cent seek communion, which is a key act of faith for a true believer. Sociologists say the vast majority confuse their ethnic identity with religious belief.
Notwithstanding the indifferent mood of most Russians, the Orthodox Church, with active state support, has effectively established itself as state religion. Its privileged status is illustrated by the new Kremlin tradition of a newly elected President receiving the blessings of the Patriarch. Both Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev went through the ritual after they were sworn in. Accepting the gift of an icon from the Patriarch in May 2008, Mr. Medvedev crossed himself and said that it was through "joint efforts of the state and the Orthodox Church" that Russia had scaled new heights in its development. The ceremony looks like enthronement, not least because it takes place in the Kremlin's oldest church, former family chapel of the Russian Tsars. It is meant to lend greater legitimacy to the President, as the election process in Russia can hardly be called truly democratic or competitive.
The Church-state nexus has proved mutually beneficial. The Kremlin promotes the Church in order to fill an ideological and spiritual vacuum that the collapse of Communism left in its wake, while the Church uses state support to raise its profile and influence. The Kremlin finds useful the traditional orthodox values extolled by the Church — submission and deference to authority. It hopes that the Church can help control public protests against the massive impoverishment and glaring inequalities that market reforms have created in Russian society. The Church is also a valuable instrument for projecting Russian interests abroad, as the Orthodox Churches of Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus are all parts of the Russian Patriarchate. In 2007, the Russian Orthodox Church reunited with its overseas sister Church ending an eight decades-long split and giving the Moscow Patriarchate a global reach.
The government has helped build new and restore thousands of churches that were used as offices and warehouses during the Soviet era. The huge 19th century Cathedral of Christ the Savior near the Kremlin, which was razed to the ground in 1931 and rebuilt in the 1990s, stands as a symbol of the Orthodoxy replacing Marxism-Leninism. The lavishly decorated 103-metre high cathedral, the size of a football field, is the largest Orthodox Church in the world. It cost a whopping $500 million to build the cathedral and critics said it was largely financed with public money.
Four years ago, a group of eminent scientists, including two Nobel Prize winners, addressed an open letter to President Putin voicing concern at the "growing clericalisation of the Russian society and aggressive penetration by the Church in all spheres of public life." The tendency has only gathered momentum under Patriarch Kirill, who replaced the deceased Patriarch Alexei II in January 2009.
Russia's most charismatic cleric, whose oratorical talent is known to millions of Russians through his long-running television show "Words of a Pastor," Kirill, 65, has worked to dramatically enhance the power of the Church and strengthen its ties with the state. It was largely thanks to his influence that President Medvedev emerged as an even more ardent supporter of the Church than Mr. Putin. When he was still head of Mr. Putin's Kremlin administration and chaired a presidential commission for religious affairs, Mr. Medvedev was instrumental in giving Orthodox theological schools the same status as secular universities. Last year, Mr. Medvedev signed a decree establishing a federal holiday, the "Day of the Baptism of Rus" when Kyiv Prince Volodymyr converted his people to Christianity in the 10th century.
There are now two officially recognised Orthodox holidays in Russia and there is none representing any other religion. Following the approval in December of a controversial law to restore to religious organisations property and assets seized by the state in Soviet times, the Orthodox Church looks set to become the biggest real estate owner in the country, which is what it was before the 1917 revolution. Critics say this is the price the Kremlin is ready to pay the Church for its political support and ideological cover. The law has appalled museums and archives as many will have to vacate their premises in former church buildings and surrender religious artefacts. Art experts point out that Russia may lose priceless icons by Andrei Rublev and other medieval painters because churches lack proper conditions and specialised personnel to preserve ancient items.
Mr. Medvedev has also backed the Church in its long-standing demand to have "Orthodox culture" classes opened in schools. In some regions, the classes are optional but at least in five provinces they are mandatory. This has invited protests from parents belonging to other religious groups.
The Defence Ministry announced earlier this week that "on the instructions of the President," it will establish a military chaplain corps by the end of the year and will train chaplains at one of its military schools.
The current position of the Church is often compared with pre-1917 revolution time, when Orthodoxy was the official religion of the Russian state. The one big difference though is that in imperial Russia, the Church was subservient to the state with the Tsar being the formal head of both, whereas today the Church is the most powerful non-state actor.
Addressing the Council of Russian Orthodox Bishops in February, Patriarch Kirill called for the active involvement of the Church in all spheres of public life. The Council went as far as to authorise priests to participate in elections to local and federal legislatures, even if only in exceptional cases, "to oppose forces … that attempt to use the vote to fight the Orthodox Church."
In contrast to his predecessor Alexei II who was mainly concerned with religious affairs, Patriarch Kirill has established himself as a political figure who passes his verdict on everything from a multipolar world to new regulations for technical inspection of motor vehicles. He has consistently entered the list of top 10 most influential Russian politicians compiled by the Russian expert community and is the only non-government official. Some experts have even suggested that the Medvedev-Putin duumvirate is gradually transforming into a triumvirate with Patriarch Kirill.
"Patriarch Kirill is an absolutely independent political figure who is worthy and capable of leading the country," says political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky. "The only question is when he may be called upon to do this duty."
Flashing lights on his car and Kremlin bodyguards may be an acknowledgement of Patriarch Kirill's new role.
Notwithstanding the indifference of most Russians, the Orthodox Church, with active support from the state, has effectively established itself as state religion.
A NEW NATION IS BORN
Today (Saturday, July 9), the Republic of South Sudan will join the community of nations. Foreign dignitaries will converge on its capital, Juba, to watch the new country raise its flag and inaugurate a first President, Salva Kiir Mayardit.
For the more than eight million citizens of South Sudan, it will be a momentous and emotional day. In January, they voted in an historic referendum to separate from the rest of Sudan. That they did so peacefully is a credit to both the North and South Sudanese leadership. Yet nationhood has come at steep cost: a staggering number of lives lost and people displaced in a 21-year civil war that ended only in 2005. When the assembled presidents and prime ministers board their official planes to return home, the challenges that remain will be daunting indeed.
On the day of its birth, South Sudan will rank near the bottom of all recognised human development indices. The statistics are truly humbling. It has the world's highest maternal mortality rate. Estimates of illiteracy among the female population exceed 80 per cent. More than half of its people must feed, clothe and shelter themselves on less than a dollar a day. Critical issues of poverty, insecurity and lack of infrastructure must all be addressed by a relatively new government with little experience and only embryonic institutions.
I came to appreciate the sheer scale of these challenges, for myself, when I first visited South Sudan in 2007 — an area of 6,20,000 square kilometres with less than 100 kilometres of paved road. Within this larger context, the risk of increased violence, harm to civilian populations and further humanitarian suffering is very real.
At the same time, South Sudan has remarkable potential. With substantial oil reserves, huge amounts of arable land and the Nile flowing through its centre, South Sudan could grow into a prosperous, self-sustaining nation capable of providing security, services and employment for its population.
Alone, South Sudan cannot meet these challenges nor realise its potential. Doing so will require partnership — a full (and on-going) engagement with the international community and, most especially, South Sudan's neighbours.
First and foremost, the new leaders of South Sudan should reach out to their counterparts in Khartoum. Strong, peaceful relations with the North are essential. A priority for both countries is agreement on their common border, sustainable relations to ensure both states can benefit from the oil revenues in the region, and cross-border arrangements to continue their strong historical, economic and cultural ties. Recent instability in Southern Kordofan and Abyei have strained North-South relations and heightened political rhetoric. Now is the time for both the North and the South to think of the long-term benefits of working together, not short-term political gains at the other's expense.
South Sudan must also reach out to its other neighbours. Across the globe — and in Africa, especially — the trend is towards regional partnerships. South Sudan will be strengthened by becoming an active participant in the regional organisations of East Africa and developing durable trade and political ties throughout the continent.
Finally, South Sudan must reach out to its own people. It must find strength in diversity and build institutions that represent the full constellation of its broad geographic and ethnic communities. The basics of any modern, democratic state must be guaranteed: free expression, full political rights, inclusive institutions that extend benefits to citizens of rural areas as well as regions affected by conflict.
In the 21st-century, the international community has increasingly come to recognise the responsibilities of governments to their citizens, including the protection of political space and democratic rights. The popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have shown what can happen when governments are inattentive to the needs of their people.
The United Nations is committed to assisting the government of South Sudan meet its many responsibilities. That is why I have proposed a new United Nations mission in South Sudan: to help build the institutions that the country needs to stand on its own. In doing so, let us remember that the United Nations is only one part of a broader set of partnerships that the government should develop — with the North, with its neighbours in the region and beyond and, most importantly, with its own people.
Today, I will join other leaders in Juba to mark the birth of South Sudan. The last thing a new nation needs is a celebration as it springs into existence, only to then be forgotten until the next crisis. Our purpose is to do more than celebrate this milestone. It is to highlight the international obligation to stand by the people of South Sudan as they seek to build a stable, strong and ultimately prosperous nation.
(Courtesy: UN Information Centre, New Delhi. The writer is Secretary-General of the United Nations.)
On the day of its birth, today, the new leaders of the Republic of South Sudan should especially reach out to their counterparts in Khartoum.
THE ASIAN AGE
TELANGANA: MANY QUESTIONS REMAIN
MLAs of various parties from the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh have sent in their resignations to press their demand for the formation of a new state. However, legislators of the same parties from other regions have taken a diametrically opposite stand. This suggests that the major political parties in the state are in a bind and are unable to come to a clear-cut understanding of the problem before them. Admittedly, the issue is ridden with complexity, and the parties in question are riding both horses.
Equivocation and opportunism come easy to politicians. They wish to be seen on the right side of public sentiment, and there can be no denying that the sentiment for bifurcation appears strong in the Telangana districts.
In the wake of the December 9, 2009 statement of the Union home minister, it is the non-Telangana legislators who had sought to resign. But after the dramatic moment passed, they continue to be in the House. There is, therefore, no knowing if the Telangana MLAs will really press for acceptance of their resignations. To them, in the normal course, that might make sense only when bifurcation is around the corner. In fresh elections in the new state, if one is created, they would not appear to be caught short and seen to be on the wrong side of history. Therefore, for now, one of the reasons that may have impelled Telangana MLAs of parties other than TRS to offer their resignations is that they do not wish to play second fiddle to this party, and keep some of the political initiative in their own hands, although the TRS may have precipitated matters.
The totality of events so far speaks of considerable political jockeying and attempt at pre-positioning by articulators of politics in the Telangana region. But it is too early to conclude that we are on the cusp of a revolutionary departure. That might have been the case if the Andhra Pradesh Assembly were really gearing up for a resolution for the bifurcation of the state under the force of circumstances.
In states which have been divided in the recent past, say Bihar and Madhya Pradesh (producing Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh respectively), there was no one single glittering prize adorned with exclusivity, as appears to be the case with Hyderabad. That made matters easier. Hyderabad falls smack in the middle of the Telangana region, but contributions to its greatness in the modern era have been made not only by the original Telangana people, but by inhabitants of all parts of Andhra Pradesh, indeed people from all parts of the country. Therefore, the status of Hyderabad, if it is going to be altered, is never going to be an easy issue to decide. For a more cogent level of debate to obtain, proponents of a new Telangana can do no better than point to factors other than sentiment that drives their cause. Will the dry and backward Telangana districts have better opportunities in a new state in terms of irrigation, building up of non-agricultural employment opportunities, infrastructure creation, educational and health facilities? Can some of these extremely relevant issues not be effectively addressed, say, under a new authority within the existing framework, underwritten by the Centre? The story of some of the recently established states, Jharkhand in particular, does not give a thumbs up to the promised land of so-called self-governance. In particular, the interest of the poorer sections have suffered from disregard.
Typically, it is certain business interests and the upwardly mobile middle classes, with the participation of political channels that funnel the cause of this aspiring new elite, that tend to drive the politics of change. But their efforts seldom make clear in what manner the interests of all classes will be served under an altered dispensation if new statehood is gained. The Telangana agitation is still to plug that gap. This is not the time for confrontation.
THE ASIAN AGE
PLUG IN AND PLAY
"Space extends and has no middle
Time flows on, it's never too soon
Nothing brings back the cat with the fiddle
Or the cow who leaps right over the moon"
Aria from Bheeda Pereeda
The cry of the Conservative used to be "is nothing sacred?" to which we, the fretful generation, must add "is nothing secure?" Britain today faces a crisis in its ethics of journalistic practice.
Perhaps that's too elitist a way of putting it. The crisis is really one of decency prompted by the behaviour of a newspaper in the Rupert Murdoch stable.
News of the World, the Sunday weekly in question, had a big-wig, an editor-in-chief called Andy Coulson. His paper, moving with the current of the Murdoch press, backed the Conservatives at the last UK election. The Conservatives didn't quite win. They were forced into a coalition with the third most popular party, the Liberal Democrats. British Prime Minister David Cameron formed his government and appointed the selfsame Mr Coulson, the editor of what is no more than a scandal sheet known universally as "The News of the Screws", as his special adviser in Downing Street, presumably to advise on the spin that ought to be put on policy when handling the press. Nothing wrong with that. A Prime Minister needs more friends than the Downing Street cat.
But then Mr Coulson, the watering can to nurture the press, sprung a leak. It was alleged and later proved that while he was editing News of the World his journalists and other freelance "investigators" who were hired by his newspaper were hacking into the phones and computers of royalty, of footballers, movie and television actors, pop-stars and the like. The public were marginally appalled but continued to buy the newspaper which, presumably, was printing the trivia it obtained about celebrity lives through this process. Nevertheless, hacking is not legal and Scotland Yard launched an investigation into the criminality. Two people, one journalist and one freelance "investigator", were detained, tried and convicted for the offence.
It seemed to end there. Though Opposition politicians and some of the Opposition press asked how Mr Cameron could retain Mr Coulson who was in-charge of the paper when it resorted to this crime, Mr Coulson stayed on. He said he was totally unaware that this was going on and Downing Street gave him the benefit of doubt.
More revelations emerged. Some of them through the confessions of the convicted men who alleged that the practice of hacking was not restricted to targeting the royal family, footballers and stars but was also used on the phones of politicians. The scandal grew and Mr Coulson was discreetly, if not a moment too soon, dropped from being at the heart of the UK government.
Then came the most disgraceful revelation of all. In 2008, a teenager called Millie Dowler was abducted, raped and murdered. Her body was discovered several days after she went missing from home. Last week her abductor and murderer was convicted and jailed for life. It then emerged that News of the World's journalists had hacked into Millie Dowler's mobile phone soon after she was abducted and intercepted the messages that her family and friends were frantically sending her, hoping against hope that she was alive and would pick them up.
As anyone who uses mobile phones outside India knows, the phone, when not answered, prompts the caller to leave a message which it records in a voicemail vault. The messages are stored there till the vault is full at which point the prompt tells the caller that no more messages can be left. To accommodate more messages, one has to listen to the ones already there and delete them.
This is what the hacking journalists did, leaving the parents and friends of Millie, who desperately tried to call her, under the impression that if the vault had suddenly acquired space, she was clearing her messages and therefore was still alive. It was a cruel deception.
The revelation has changed the perception of phone hacking once and for all. People didn't much care if a footballer was caught calling his mistress or if a star was detected conversing with prostitutes. The private lives of the publicity junkies were presumed fair game. The argument about free speech and the public interest being served by knowing that their heroes had basic impulses and behaved badly were also trundled out.
The hacking of Millie's phone is obscene and subjected the parents of this murdered child to what can be called mental torture. What did the newspaper hope to gain by it? Why did they want to listen to the voicemail of the victim? The exposure has caused MPs in Parliament to call for the resignation of the current editor-in-chief of all the Murdoch newspapers, one Rebecca Brooks. It has also uncovered the fact that Scotland Yard's policemen were being paid by the newspapers to pass on information. Though Mr Coulson no longer works for Mr Cameron, it is widely known that Ms Brooks is a personal friend of the Prime Minister and Mrs Cameron. There will no doubt be a few cancelled dinner invitations and holiday plans.
The Murdoch chain, apart from having to face a public enquiry into hacking, is being drained of its principal advertisers who have withdrawn ads from the disgraced tabloid.
This hacking of phones for journalistic gossip is the least of the problems which beset our communicative world. All of us who use computers and email have been sent begging letters, supposedly from our friends asking for money to be sent to accounts in Lagos because they are there stranded without cash, cards or a passport. I am ungenerous and have never fallen for the hackers' ruse, leaving my friend stranded in Lagos or Timbuktu.
But these are the fleas and flies of hacking nuisances. There are elephants in the room.
China has embarked on a universal project to hack into the intellectual property of Western governments and companies. This world-dominating economy realises that its present and rising power is dependent on cheap and disciplined labour. When this changes and Chinese workers begin to make more and more demands, the Chinese manufacturing economy will have to generate its own intellectual property or steal the stuff it relies on today. It has begun the stealing process and that reduces the hackers of celebrity phones to mere immoral social nuisances.
THE ASIAN AGE
GET WELL SOON, MR AZAD
ANTARA DEV SEN
Relax. Our health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad means well. He really would like to identify and perhaps cure those suffering from the disease of homosexuality. Feel his frustration.
"The disease of 'Men having Sex with Men' is unnatural and not good for India," Mr Azad lamented at the National Convention of Parliamentarians on HIV/AIDS this week.
And hastened to point out that this was a disease of the West, which "has now unfortunately come to our country". Worse, the disease of homosexuality was "now fast spreading" and was tough to detect. "It is a challenge," sighed the beleaguered minister.
With reason, of course. A disease, especially an "unnatural" disease, is not good for India. As Union health minister, Mr Azad has responsibilities, and it is difficult for a man to tackle a disease that is difficult to detect. Especially when he is innocent of new trends in medical science. One of the new trends — certainly newer than the purported import of homosexuality in India, given that the "condition" has been recorded for centuries in this ancient land — is that homosexuality has not been medically regarded as a disease for about four decades. In the big, bad Western world teeming with homosexuals, it was declassified from the list of mental disorders in the early 1970s.
In India, however, homosexuality was never regarded as a disease, but as a criminal act. Till exactly two years ago when the Delhi high court decriminalised it in a landmark judgment on July 2, 2009. So now we see the rebirth of homosexuality in India as an annoying, insolent disease that cannot be handled by law.
But we must not be annoyed with Mr Azad. He is merely uninformed and uneducated in health matters. In India, we have a glorious tradition of not letting lack of education be a deterrent in ruling the country. But we must help him in identifying diseases, especially social and mental disorders. We must lessen the poor man's frustration.
Dictionaries define "disease" as "a pathological condition of a part or all of an organism resulting from various causes, such as infection, genetic defect, or environmental stress, and characterised by an identifiable group of signs or symptoms". It could also be "illness or sickness in general". Or, more generally, "a condition or tendency, as of society, regarded as abnormal and harmful". As a quick exercise in identifying diseases to assist the honourable health minister, let's take just one example from last week's papers regarding medical matters.
Surgeons in Indore are carrying out sex-change operations on babies and small children, sometimes as young as one year old, to "convert" girls into boys. It's not the fault of doctors, you may say — they have the parents' consent.
Son-seeking parents force their little daughters into this complex surgery, the doctors make money, and the baby girls just suffer this painful procedure as they are cut up and surgically rebuilt and pumped up with hormones. And when the wounds heal, they slowly grow into man-made impotent, infertile men as opposed to naturally healthy, fertile women.
Let's see if the definitions for "disease" fit this scenario. This hankering after sons and violent dismissal of daughters is part of a larger condition, which makes us actively kill the baby girl in the womb or in the birthing chamber, or passively kill her by denying nourishment and medical care after birth. If she refuses to die of malnutrition, untreated health issues and systematic neglect, we deny her education and other rights, limiting her choices of dealing with life. If she still struggles on, we get her married at an early age to a man she may dislike, and kill her if she tries to run away with a partner of her choice. Or her in-laws may kill her in their effort to get more dowry. Or she may just die at childbirth. In short, we exhibit our vicious disregard for women in hundreds of ways, at every step of her life.
Is this abnormal or harmful? Well, it's certainly harmful for the women getting killed or brutalised. And for a society where female foeticide and infanticide has changed the gender ratio and artificially created a dearth of women. And for a society that propagates disrespect for half the sky. And for human rights. And for civilisation in general. Besides, all of this is hugely abnormal, of course. And unnatural. So it does seem that this hankering for a male child or the ill-treatment of women in the name of social convention and other violence against women are symptoms of a severe social disease.
But what is the source of this pathological condition? Infection? Hereditary defect? Environmental causes? Perhaps a mix of all. But we must allow the honourable health minister to sort that out with his team of professionals. Unlike the imagined disease of homosexuality, these social disorders are usually not difficult to detect. The symptoms are flagrant and often predictable. Perhaps Mr Azad could target these and maybe try to eradicate such endemic sickness?
And if he doesn't mind some more education, there are enough studies on social ailments that his team could seek guidance from. Happily for him, many of these are on homosexuality. One study, for example, had shown how families that hugely emphasise certain traditional values, like the importance of religion, marriage and child-bearing, were more opposed to homosexuality. Another found that parents who oppose their child's homosexuality have lower self-esteem, as well as negative attitudes towards women than families who are more accepting of their children's sexual orientation.
Now that Mr Azad is keen to detect and fight social diseases, we have a great opportunity to build a cleaner, healthier society. Let's give him a helping hand.
The author is editor of The Little Magazine. She canbe contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ASIAN AGE
FATAL STING IN THE MEDIA TALE
If Pranab Mukherjee thought that he is the only finance minister being "bugged" he should be relieved. George Osborne, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, has recently been told that he might have been a victim of phone hacking as well. The only difference is, in his case it was a sting organised by the tabloid News of the World (NOTW).
Today as NOTW pays a very heavy price of closure for its wrongful and reckless reconnaissance, questions are being asked as to what lengths the media will go to grab the top spot. And is phone hacking only the next natural step after hidden camera operations? To what extent do the ends justify the means? And what regulations are required to monitor the media?
This story will probably have global ramifications concerning media ethics and privacy as well as about the responsibilities of the proprietors.
From being a champion of the people, known for its explosive exposures of the corrupt and leading social campaigns, the paper has come to being shut down amid squalid revelations of the misdemeanours of some of its staff.
In one of the biggest media scandals to engulf Britain has come the revelation that the 168-year-old NOTW was probably employing private detectives to illegally tap the phones not only of politicians but even of the families of the July 7, 2005 bombings among others. The list of people whose phones had been tampered with is worryingly long, which includes victims of sexual assault as well as their families. The bereaved relatives of soldiers were not spared either. And all this for the sake of a scoop! The paper known for its stories, which "named and shamed" culprits, had journalists pay police officers for stories and hiring investigators to help them get evidence that would make front page news. In a very competitive environment these determined efforts kept the popular Sunday tabloid ahead of the pack.
Of course, many of the scoops dealt with sex and scandal of celebrities among other more serious issues. It is this newspaper, for instance, that broke the story of the "match fixing" that indicted three Pakistani cricketers. It is also the same newspaper that revealed how Sarah Ferguson was using her access to the royal family, especially her estranged husband, Prince Andrew, to make money.
But now it is the newspaper, instead, that is making the news.
Though the fact that phone hacking was routinely used by the paper has been discussed for a while, it was only recently when the real list of its targets was revealed that public opinion began to change, especially on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. A campaign by readers was launched to persuade leading corporates advertising in the Murdoch-owned newspaper to pull out, which many of them did. That in turn led to a fall of nearly three per cent of the stock price, wiping off nearly $1 billion from the News International shares.
However, Mr Murdoch was already ahead by two steps. He knew that the loss of reputation would also begin to hit his other proposed acquisitions — primarily his interest in television in Britain. Thus, he took a harsh decision of abruptly shutting down the newspaper with its tainted brand, causing more than 200 journalists to lose their jobs. This Sunday will be the last edition of NOTW. There has been a collective gasp of horror throughout the country, as much of the team at present working with NOTW was not implicated in the phone hacking. To add to the misery of the sacked staff, the management, which perhaps was responsible for sanctioning and authorising the phone hacking, has been left unscathed. Though there is talk that the other popular Murdoch paper, the Sun, will now begin a Sunday edition to cater to the readers of NOTW, the closure reeks of cynical manipulation and has left the media and media analysts appalled.
But the bonfire from this is beginning to now singe even Prime Minister David Cameron who had hired a former editor of NOTW, Andy Coulson, as his director of communications. Even though Coulson has quit Downing Street, he might face arrest for perjury. Many more arrests are likely. This has given the Opposition Labour Party a rare chance to put Mr Cameron on the mat.
But there is an Indian connection, as apparently there has been an attempt to destroy evidence stored as emails in an HCL warehouse in Chennai. So hopefully Scotland Yard will get there before the emails vanish completely unless some enterprising Indian news crew can hack into them…
Meanwhile, last week it was wonderful to meet Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar in London for a special celebration of the autobiography Kaifi & I, written by Shabana's mother, Shaukat Azmi. It is a powerful tale of a very interesting life: Shaukat Azmi is not just a great theatre actress (I still remember her magnificent role as the madam of a bordello in Salaam Bombay!), she is also a marvellous raconteur — recounting her life with Kaifi Azmi with a gentle humour.
After a very moving reading by Shabana and Javed, made special by a recitation of a poem written by the latter on his father-in-law, Ajeeb aadmi tha voh, we rounded off the evening with dinner at Indali, the "health food" restaurant set up by Dr Kartar Lalvani, also known as a "macrobiotic mystic"! Over "butter-chicken-without-butter" it was good to catch up with friends, including Gurinder Chadha, as she leaves for Los Angeles to work on an animation film about monkeys in Mumbai, with glimpses of the Ramayana in it.
The author can be contacted at email@example.com
NEW POWER POLICY
Year after year, Kashmir observers have been exhorting the State government to address the power shortage issue in the State on war footing. Unfortunately, this had no effect on powers that be. Authorities failed to comprehend the close relation between power generating and power supply and the ground situation in the strife-torn state. Hindsight suggests that there was lack of vision as well as lack of will to pull the state out of power crisis. Whenever hard pressed by public outcry against unscheduled power cuts or total power shut down in any particular area, the authorities resorted to the old and oft-repeated excuse that the reason was pilferage of power or absence of metering which consumers misused. But more recently, another reason has been added and it is the loss of power in transmission to the tune of 70 %. Power Department has been playing truant in owning its responsibility of mismanaging the entire task of power production, supply and management. The result as we witness today sixty-three years after India won freedom, is that there is abysmal shortage of electric power on a wide scale in the entire state, and people are binging out protest rallies against power cut or power shortage. Though power shortage phenomenon is common to almost all developing countries, but our state is its harsh victim because it is a hilly state with large chunks of population living in higher altitudes and deprived of many facilities.
It is for the first time in the history of the state that the ruling coalition has focused seriously on all aspects of the issue and has drawn a comprehensive power policy that will make a big shift from traditional ways of handling the problem to new methodology. The fundamental guiding principle of the new policy as announced by the Chief Minister in his recent press conference in Srinagar is partial privatization of power production and distribution system. Additionally, the new policy envisages outsourcing of revenue collection which is an effective way of stopping pilferage of power. Chief Minister has touched on almost all major aspects of the new policy and the manner in which the government would like to involve the private sector in the enterprise. Often in these columns we suggested that a new and comprehensive power development and distribution policy needed to be devised because a number of other aspects of life, especially the question of unemployment of the youth and the resultant unrest among them, were closely linked to the generation of adequate power in the state. Now that the government has also arrived at the same conclusion, it is heartening to know that it has drawn the outlines of the new policy. Partial private undertakings are bound to boost power generation especially from Chenab and thus bring about a change in entire power scenario in the state. Industrialization being the key to eradication of unemployment, it has to be noted that unless there is regular and uninterrupted power flow industrialization remains lame. More attention needs to be paid to transmission system because as we see it today, the entire system is outdated and unscientific. Underground transmission is the universal norm and also a safeguard against pilferage. It is an expensive affair but at the end of the day, the power department shall have to revert to modern technologies. It has to be modernized and ensured that the loss on transmission is minimal. One big drawback in our hydro power projects has been undue delay in their completion for whatever reason. Cost escalation during the delayed periods adversely affected upcoming of the power project and many were either abandoned half way or left to linger for unspecified time. Some of such projects could not be completed even after a lapse of 13 or 15 years. Under the new policy this aspect, too, has been taken care of. In the earlier policy there was no timeline for completing the projects but now the timeline has been fixed and the Power Development Corporation has been authorized to take action, the CM said. Let us, therefore, hope that with the earnestness with which Omar Abdullah government is pursuing power production issue will usher new phase of development and progress in the state.
In a mood of changed approach to the phenomenon of employment in the state government, a decision was taken some time back to appoint teachers at higher education level on contract as against the established practice of regular employment. The government has many arguments to support this policy. But firstly, contractual appointments have been made not on universal but on selective basis. Employment of teachers comes under the new system of employment. Nobody will dispute the compulsions of the government in adopting a revised policy of contractual appointments. But the question is that even in pursuing the new policy some conventionalities bordering on human rights cannot and should not be ignored. For the state, compulsions can be admissible but not prejudices. A teacher's capability cannot be tested in a five minute interface. Moreover, a teacher's output is subject to a number of conditions and situations. In a phenomenon of prolonged strikes or shut downs when lectures delivered in numerical terms stay below the stipulated level, the students are put to loss which directly impacts their performance in the examination. This cannot be attributed to the teachers and cannot become the criterion for assessing the output of the teacher. In other conditions also, the government should give proof of it being human and just. While the contractual teachers are insisting that the government meet their demands, they should also not rule out a compromise formula. No hard postures need to be adopted on either side. A working formula can be forged through bilateral talks with the educational authorities. Contractual teachers must ensure that they do nothing that would bring more harm to the student community which is already under various pressures. All Jammu and Kashmir College Contractual Lecturers Association would be well advised to negotiate the matter rather than take postures. The Higher Education Department, too, should not try to look at this category of teachers through coloured glasses. Recently the government announced opening of new 22 colleges throughout the state. Thus opportunities for regularization of the service of contractual teachers should become an essential agenda of policy planners in the Government.
PAK TO EMPOWER PROVINCES
For someone with no title to describe himself as a midnight's child - I was born some 18 midnights before the celebrated book "The Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie. I grew up through my pre-teens and teens in a house in Srinagar which had free access to English language newspapers from British India, such as the late Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore, Tribune also of Lahore and since the Srinagar school, run by British missionaries, had English and Urdu as the medium of instruction, our house used to get another Lahore daily "Zamindar", joined later by another long dead newspaper the Indian News Chronicle from Delhi.
So, in a sense, though living in a princely State I had opportunity to read of Qaede-Azam Jinnah joining battle with Nehru, Patel and the Mahatma. I had witnessed "the growing communal bitterness, spoonfed by Jinnah's Muslim League and London. I was in fact in the second year of my college in Srinagar when the Pakistani tribals and regulars, brought together by the British soldier-cum-Pakistan Army chief to invade Jammu and Kashmir, and joined the Muslim and Hindu youths, armed with toy guns and lathis, to chase the tribals out! Of us succeeding in doing that had little chance of success except that the valley was helped by the invaders' greed which led them loot, rape and scoot. The tribals preoccupation with loot and rape, causing a three day delay in Marching on to Srinagar which gave the Maharaja enough time (a) to take all his goodies from his Srinagar Palace to Jammu (b) signing an accession deed to join India and (c) to allow the and a few other Indian Army units to land in antediluvian aircraft at Srinagar airport. That was then.
I moved to Delhi the same year to complete my education although an "Emergency degree" was available for those of us in the college at the time. And all these years it seems there has been a constant in my life as it has been in the life of many Indians and Pakistanis; to promote mutual distrust and making it appear as if Kashmir could exist only as a part of India or Pakistan. I remember some two decades later having written in my paper that "Thank God, for Pakistan and Kashmiri journalists on either side don't have to burn the midnight oil to find a topic for a story, or a short edit. The easiest things to do for most Indian and or Pakistani political journalists has been to give vent to their nervousness and knowlegability on matters concerning the on going Indo-Pak dispute.
A total of six decades after the event that caused the birth of Pakistan and India as separate nations not a day has passed when we have not read or heard about the dispute. For someone like me, having travelled some 30 times to Pakistan, covering top level political exchanges on professional visits on behalf of my papers and to make some lasting friends. I must, sadly, confess that their seems to be no chance to end the Indo-Pak bickering as long as the mindset at the top political and bureaucratic levels doesn't change.
There was the odd occasion when the two seemed close to burying the hatchet but as always - a last-minute hitch. I remember Mr. Buotros Buotros Ghali, the former UN General Secretary, confiding in a different context how he hates to see Indian and Pakistani bureaucrats serving together on any of the committees. "They will fight for hours on the placement of a comma in a paragraph….."
Anyway I was somewhat pleased last Sunday to read the observation by India's outgoing Foreign Secretary and Ambassador designate to the US, Mrs. Nirupama Rao that Pakistani attitude towards tackling terror has altered and India should take note of this "concrete" development. "I think when they speak again the presence of non-State elements in this relationship need to be tackled, that we must look at safe havens and sanctuaries…… (all the persistent complaints).
In any other relationship I would consider the cautious Nirupama Rao's statement as a positive one. But then only 24 hours earlier I heard two of Pakistan's senior Ministers and Mr. Nawaz Sharif of the PML (N) hauling India over the coals.
A most complicated situation, considering the mutual distrust, made worse by Pakistan's State sponsored terrorism in India! It will need a superhuman effort by men and women of vision on either side of the border to undo the damage that we have inflicted on each other, fighting three wars, among other things. Meanwhile, I don't know whether it is a good thing or bad. The National Assembly of Pakistan has revived the 18th Constitutional amendment - which faked us the golden era which Mohammad Ali Jinnah and some of his close associates had foreseen with sovereign democratic provinces making for a stable federation, with most important subjects relevant to the people going to the provinces. Military dictators and their civilian cohorts decided to undo this dream and transfer all such issues to the concurrent list.
Even the present coalition dithered for a year before giving it the nod. One of the problems which Pakistan had really not been able to overcome is its inability to give itself a stable Constitution and to ensure that none dare fiddle with it. After its birth as a federation of "equal" provinces came the ruling elite of West Pakistan to change the founders' vision and taking the extreme step of declaring the entire West Pakistan a single unit, thus with one swish of the rifle butt doing away with the provinces and alienating forever the eastern wing which eventually became Bangladesh.
A Constitution was finally framed in 1973 with the PPP, when it came to power in 2008 promised to return to the letter and spirit of the 1973 Constitution; before that Gen. Yahya Khan, in one of his wisest decisions, abolished the one unit pattern in 1970. Ironically the Pakistan resolution of the Muslim League of the 1940's vintage had spoken of "independent States in which constituent units would be autonomous." The resolution also demanded effective and mandatory safeguards for the minorities, for the protection of their religious and cultural fields.
In reality the Pakistan of the1940 League resolution was never allowed to take shape. The provinces were virtually crushed into submission by the Punjabi majority. Balochistan and NWFP were deprived of most power and Sindh, with its large mohajir population, fared only marginally better. East Pakistan became a distant colony.
The concurrent list framed under the 1973 Constitution was to be amended, with the Prime Minister Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto promising its abolition. Before he could even take the first step to implement his design Gen. Ziaul Haq had toppled, him to be hanged as a prisoner later. Since Islamabad has taken the first step towards ending its dominance over subjects that rightfully belong to the provinces, Pakistani political observers (their fingers firmly crossed) hope that Zardari will live up to implement his belated promise.
A casual look at Balochistan and NWFP tells us graphically how a usurper Federal Government in Islamabad has left them bereft of real power. All that is a Pakistani problem and good luck to the oppressed people in the provinces if their rights are finally restored. Psychologically, it will also deliver a major blow to the larger and most populous province of Punjab. Punjabis who have dominated the Services, the Army and the politics, would suddenly find their oppressive hold on the growth of smaller provinces vanish. They did not oppose the Zardari move in the National Assembly when the Prime Minister announced the decision to implement 18th amendment. This is a good augury. But you can never tell with Nawaz Sharif, the PML (N) Leader and of course the immeasurable vested interest the military has in the economic life.
INDIA'S UNEMPLOYABLE GRADUATE POOL
BY M. N. MINOCHA
Indian corporates have a serious problem on their hands and, for once, it is not of their own making. Fresh graduates joining the India Inc workforce, a new survey has found, are low on soft skills and vocational know how.
The survey, conducted by CVoter for the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), lays the blame at the doors of India's deeply flawed education system. The education imparted to undergraduates in the Arts, Commerce and Science streams is riddled with drawbacks. As a result, graduates churned out by the system are not quite equipped to face the challenges of the real world of corporate management.
The FICCI-CVoter survey on the 'Employability Quotient of Undergraduates in India' has revealed that this lacuna afflicting Gen Y is widespread. Only 30 per cent of the respondents said they are completely satisfied with the new graduates they have hired in the last 12 months.
A total of 1,000 companies from across different industrial sectors were selected at random and were contacted through phone. Finally, altogether 300 companies were surveyed.
The survey was carried out in 22 states, including Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Goa and Assam. Three modes - online, telephonic and face-to-face - were used to quiz the respondents, who were free to opt for the method they preferred. Among the respondents were CEOs, managing directors, HR managers, directors and others. All the respondents were above 25-years of age and were graduates at the very least.
The survey notes that the new graduates fall short of employers' expectations with regard to flexibility, creativity, reliability, integrity, self-discipline, self-motivation, knowledge of contemporary issues, teamwork, willingness to learn, understand and take directions for work assignments, accept responsibility for consequences of their actions, ability to apply knowledge of the respective streams they passed out from, ability to use technology specific to their jobs, ability to identify, formulate and solve workplace problems, good written communication skills, basic computer skills and customer service skills.
The survey reveals that 81 per cent feel that employees should be flexible in terms of work arrangement. Only 57 per cent of them believe that their current employees measure up. Around 83 per cent of the respondents feel that reliability is a key element because trust is of the essence. However, only about 60 per cent of the respondents feel that their employees are reliable enough.
Nine out of 10 respondents are of the opinion that integrity, the ability to make a correct choice between right and wrong, is crucial for an employee. But only seven of 10 respondents seem satisfied in this regard. Similarly, eight of the 10 respondents consider self-discipline a strong attribute for successful performance at the workplace. However, only six of them believe that their employees posses this quality. FICCI commissioned the survey with a view to helping the government (including state governments), institutions, and employers to quantitatively and qualitatively assess the satisfaction level of the corporate sector with the batch of new graduates from general BA, B.Com. and B. Sc. courses offered by universities and colleges in India.
Around 85 per cent of the respondents consider self motivation important at the workplace but only 59 per cent of them feel satisfied.
Only 60 per cent feel that teamwork in their organisations is at the desired level. In contrast, 89 per cent say teamwork boosts productivity and manpower utilisation. Only about 56 per cent of the respondents believe that their employees have empathy for other workers and the management, while around 75 per cent of them feel that empathy is an important attribute to possess. The survey also reveals that more than 91 per cent respondents consider willingness to learn a must-have quality for their employees but only 66 per cent answered in the affirmative when asked whether their latest crop of recruits are endowed with this trait.
Almost 90 per cent of the respondents acknowledge the need to understand and take directions for work assignments a significant quality while only more than 55 per cent of them feel that their employees have this ability. More than 85 per cent of the respondents feel that employees should accept responsibility for consequences of their actions while only 55 per cent of them are of the view that their employees display this quality.
In India, the unemployment rate is 10.8 per cent (as per 2010 estimates). Yet with more than half of its population under 25, the country is short of workers. Obviously, there are too many unemployable job-seekers out there. The problem is clearly not quantity but quality. India needs skilled staff for backroom operations as well as for high-value work. The shortage can also be attributed to the fact that from primary schools to centres of higher studies, our education system still emphasises learning by rote and students are not encouraged to gain practical knowledge or to think creatively and experiment.
About 90 per cent respondents consider ability to identify, formulate and solve workplace problems as extremely important. Yet only 59 per cent of them see this quality in the fresh graduates they have hired. Likewise 84 per cent of the respondents feel that the ability to design a process to meet desired needs is an important skill that employees must have; only 62 per cent feel that their employees have this quality.
It is always an advantage to have good communication skills because employers seek employees who have the ability to write well and interact with the public. When asked about the importance of same, 84 per cent of the respondents considered written communication skills important while 87 per cent voted in favour of the verbal communication skills. However, only around 63 per cent feel their employees have proficiency in written and verbal communication skills.
About 85 per cent respondents view basic computer knowledge as a prerequisite for good performance at the workplace but it is a disappointment that only 70 per cent respondents answered in the positive when asked about their satisfaction level with their present employees' basic computer knowledge.
The survey lays bare the fact that India's higher education institutions and colleges are simply not producing enough skilled manpower. In fact, a large percentage of graduates are of really poor quality. It is only the cream who meet the admission criteria set by the best management and technology institutes and go on to make a mark professionally. The findings also point to the urgent need to upgrade, revise and strengthen course curricula, faculty and infrastructure, besides integrating vocational training with the undergraduate programmes.
2G takes its toll again
Time for DMK leaders to introspect
The resignation of Union Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran from the Union Cabinet was inevitable in the face of the CBI's observation to the Supreme Court that there was "prima facie material to suggest that there was an element of coercion by him" in telecom company Aircel selling its shares to a Malaysian telecom firm, Maxis.
The manner in which mobile phone licences were handed out to Aircel at throwaway prices after it passed into the Maxis group's hands was in apparent sharp contrast to how the erstwhile Aircel owner Sivasankaran was denied the licence for months. It would indeed be difficult for Dayanidhi Maran to stave off allegations of unfair arm-twisting as investigations continue. The bravado that he has been showing is, to say the least, misplaced.
That the CBI is also investigating whether there was a quid pro quo in Maxis investing a substantial amount (about Rs 700 crore) in the direct-to-home and FM radio businesses of the Sun TV group could put Dayanidhi Maran and his brother Kalanidhi (the owner of Sun TV) in an even bigger soup. It is this that apparently prompted the DMK leadership to show Maran the door. All this also raises the question of why the Prime Minister succumbed to DMK pressure in the first instance to give the Telecom portfolio to Dayanidhi Maran when his family had substantial stake in the Telecom sector. This should prompt new thinking on how coalition partners should hold their horses, and how the Prime Minister must assert more in ministry-making.
It is indeed odd of DMK supremo Karunanidhi to shift the blame for the adverse publicity for the 2G scam on the media. Maran's is the second skeleton to tumble out of the cupboard after his successor as Telecom Minister, A. Raja, was forced to quit in the wake of strong evidence of his involvement in the scam. Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi too is cooling her heels in Tihar jail for possible involvement in the same scam. After the drubbing that the DMK received in the recent Assembly elections, Karunanidhi must introspect rather than finding fault with others. As for the UPA, the exit of Maran goes to show that its cup of woes is full to the brim.
MAKING YOUTH EMPLOYABLE
J & K NEEDS TO SUPPLEMENT CENTRE'S EFFORTS
The Centre's Rs 1,000-crore initiative to make educated youth from the troubled Jammu and Kashmir employable is a welcome step taken on the recommendation of an expert group headed by C. Rangarajan. The money will be used to fund corporate training of 40,000 youth in five years. Such training would have been unnecessary had regular educational institutions aligned teaching to the needs of business and industry. Years of militancy have left education, like much else in J & K, in disarray.
The 2011 census shows the state's literacy rate at 68.74 per cent has not grown adequately. The quality of education is not up to the mark, particularly outside main towns. The spending on education has suffered as limited resources have been diverted to fight militancy. Substandard education followed by prolonged unemployment can be frustrating and can drive youth to arms to fight injustices, real or propagated. There is no reliable estimate of the extent of unemployment. Officially, the state had 5.67 lakh youth registered with the employment centres on December 2009.
Development has lagged due to paucity of public resources and private investment. With a population of 1.25 crore — 1.04 per cent of the country's — and 6.76 per cent of India's geographical area, J and K is among the laggard states. Violence has taken its toll on the economy, particularly tourism, which is the mainstay of most people. There is no healthy business climate. Industrial growth has been hit by lack of sound infrastructure. Agriculture and allied sectors have not grown to their potential, shrinking employment at the local level. This has triggered migration to cities in and outside the state, and even abroad. Those who stay back are in constant danger of drifting towards the wrong side of the law or landing in hardliners' welcoming arms. In this context, the Centre's gesture is well thought out. The Omar Abdullah government needs to do more at the local level.
SOUTH SUDAN IS BORN AMIDST HOPES AND TURMOIL
The newest country of the world has joined the comity of nations today, amidst ecstatic but chaotic celebrations in the capital Juba. Citizens of South Sudan have every reason to be in raptures: their dream has come true after two decades of north-south civil war that left at least two million people dead.
Now that the culmination of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 is finally a reality, Africa's country number 54 – which happens to be bigger than Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi combined – hopes to cash in on its immense natural wealth. It produces about 375,000 barrels of oil per day, a bounty which can generate billions a year, provided it can tap the resource in peace, which is at a premium.
President Salva Kiir has got on his head a crown which comes equipped with thorns. Rebels are still fighting in nine of the 10 states. North Sudan is still smarting over the loss of this oil-rich region and is likely to do all in its powers to bleed it to the extent possible. The Muslim north has been in conflict with the majority Christian south for decades and the animosity is unlikely to end even with separation. The pipelines through which its oil goes to the Red Sea port of Port Sudan are located in the north.
The lack of infrastructure in the riot-ravaged South Sudan is appalling. The whole country of eight million boasts of only 50 km of paved roads. A majority of its people live on less than a dollar a day. It will require a lot of international help to come to grips with these harsh realities. The US and China are stepping up their presence in a big way. Perhaps India, from whose Constitution South Sudan has borrowed some features, would also be following in their footsteps. India's first Election Commissioner Sukumar Sen had conducted elections in undivided Sudan nearly 60 years ago. This time Mr Sandeep Shastri, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Bangalore's Jain University, is one of the experts who helped draft the statute of the country.
CONFUSING POLITICAL SCENARIO
TRUE LEADERSHIP QUALITIES MISSING
BY S. NIHAL SINGH
The Manmohan Singh government has reached a plateau. Where it goes from here is the question being debated and fought over by the ruling and opposition parties at various levels.
At one level, Anna Hazare has staked his claim successfully to carve out his space as a citizen because his anti-corruption campaign through the institution of an effective Lokpal — the nature of the ombudsman's powers and role have still to be determined — has caught popular imagination. Baba Ramdev falls in a different category because although the government proved to be embarrassingly deferential to him, the manner of his exit from Delhi and the seemingly political games he was playing left a mixed picture in the public mind.
It has, of course, been a season of scams and, as the government has sought to field the cornucopia of troubles as defensively as it could, its strategy to go in for an all-party meeting on the Lokpal measure brought out the dilemmas of not merely the Congress but also the other major party, the BJP. The problem, of course, was that in the tempest of charges and counter-charges, it was difficult to reconcile the groundswell of popular anger at the prevailing levels of cooperation with the unalterable fact that politicians cannot go beyond the limitations of the Constitution, and any amendments must be carefully thought out and calmly debated.
The rub is that a succession of Lok Sabhas for 40 years and more have been unable to pass a workable Lokpal Bill and some of the suggestions being made can please the proverbial aam admi but do not make sense. Second, while members of Parliament are not always paragons of virtue, it would negate the essence of parliamentary democracy if their conduct in the House were to be circumscribed by an outside authority, however noble that person might be. Rather, the solution to a better House would lie in framing more stringent regulations before a person could be allowed to contest a seat.
Much rhetoric surrounds the question of bringing the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary into the Lokpal net. On the first question, the two main national parties, whatever their postures, know that were the country's chief executive to be hemmed in by restrictions of a new order, he would lose the dignity and effectiveness of his office and lay himself open to being influenced by extraneous factors in discharging his onerous responsibilities.
The Congress suggestion that the Prime Minister should be held accountable for his actions but only after he leaves office is a sound one — rather like the practice followed in France's executive presidency — but has been caught up in partisan warfare. Second, by any criterion, bringing the higher judiciary in the Lokpal's net would be disastrous because it would negate the basic laws of judicial independence. The answer lies in effective judicial oversight of senior judges by their peers.
The BJP, it must be said, seems more interested in extracting the most political mileage out of these issues, rather than in helping surmount a difficult phase in the country's life. Its leaders, including Mr L.K. Advani, have been striking poses on the Prime Minister's accountability and the higher judiciary without any thought for the morrow. Either it believes that it can change its stance before any great harm is done to the country's polity or it is happy to take all the potshots it can at the Congress without thinking of what is to follow.
The tragedy, of course, is that unlike in past decades, there is scarcity of true leadership qualities in today's political class. There is an obvious handicap as far as the Congress is concerned. Dr Manmohan Singh believes in understatement at the best of times and is hamstrung by the twin leadership arrangement in which public perception of real power residing outside the Prime Minister's office hardly enhances his stature. His silences have been long and puzzling and the recent experiment of limiting an off-camera meeting with a few editors while releasing his answers later is a parody of the traditional free-wheeling press conferences Prime Ministers used to hold in the full glare of television cameras.
Mrs Sonia Gandhi has acquired confidence and self-assurance over the years, but her "foreign origin" remains a political issue and it is almost universally taken for granted that her son Rahul is waiting in the wings to be shepherded into the Prime Minister's office. There is much speculation over the inspiration for a prominent party general secretary, Mr Digvijay Singh, giving vent to his view that it was time for Mr Rahul Gandhi to take over. Whatever the reasons for springing this idea on an unsuspecting public, it hardly behoves a party functionary to denigrate his Prime Minister in quite this fashion, whatever his later explanations.
Nor is the situation more promising in the case of the main opposition party, the BJP, eagerly awaiting its chance to return to power at the Centre in the next general election, whenever it is held. Mr Advani's titular role as the senior leader is inhibiting the atmosphere in which Ms Sushma Swaraj is seemingly cancelled out by the other aspirant for the crown, Mr Arun Jaitley. The third leader in the field, Mr Narendra Modi, has ambition and has demonstrated his administrative abilities at the state level but remains tainted by the 2002 Gujarat carnage and retains a streak of intolerance that cannot gel with a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country.
Perhaps the greatest flaw in the BJP is the lengthening shadow of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh over the party. The relationship between the two has always been a symbiotic one, but in the days of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee's leadership, the party was several notches higher than the RSS. All senior BJP leaders paid public obeisance to the RSS, but they exercised their mind in running the party and governing the country for a six-year stint. Today, it would appear to the outsider that the foisting of Mr Nitin Gadkari as the party president was a signal that it was in the power of the RSS to appoint whomsoever it wanted, despite the suitability or otherwise of the person concerned.
The fact that Mr Hazare has encroached upon the space he has, whatever the merits of his specific proposals, speaks volumes for the health of the political party system. One would hope that out of this confused state of our polity the fog will lift in the not too distant future to show the country the way. Let us have an effective Lokpal by all means but let us not sacrifice the gains of the past 60 years and more — and there have been substantial gains — at the altar of political opportunism.
THE LINGUIST DOGS
BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI
Two dogs — Miss Jimmy and Master Kaalu — have adopted us. They come to our front door in the morning, sit all day there and, with sunset, go to place not known to us.
My wife, in the morning, gives them fresh baked rotis along with luxurious dollop of ghee or butter, which they relish. I do not know whether it has increased their triglyceride level or not because they are aam kuttas and like aam aadmi, they are least bothered about their cholesterol concentration.
These aam kuttas, however, are anti — aam aadmi and fiercely bark on all bipeds barring elegantly dressed and uniformed school children. The result is that the newspaperman, postman and the LPG cylinderwala have given the notice of termination of their services to us as long as the growling vermin espouse us. I have, now, to foot a distance to avail of the facilities because Jimmy and Kaalu have decided not to budge despite lots of shoo-shooing on our part.
When I started seeing small smelly pyramids formed on the road, I thought that the dogs had Egyptian influence so I checked on their curricula vitae and found that Master was the son of Miss but, today, they lived as man and wife. This type of incestuous tendency was also present in Egypt where real brothers and sisters married each other; Cleopatra was married to her brother Ptolemy. So, I raised the worth of these guttersnipes by announcing that they belonged to an Egyptian breed.
Then I read that a recent research had disclosed that in Nazi Germany a mongrel had said, 'Mein Fuherer' when asked who Adolf Hitler was. I was excited with the notion that dogs could talk like humans otherwise all of us know that the dogs only bark and, sometimes, to the embarrassment of the owners. Madam Singh had, once, hid a puppy in her bosom that she wanted to smuggle to India. All went well in the channels of the airport till her bosom started barking and then she had to pass through an indescribable exploration by the custom staff. She would have saved herself from the ordeal if her puppy knew how to wail like a child.
I wanted my mutts to know languages more than barking and talk like their German counterparts and so started tutoring their vocal cords to utter 'run away' to be addressed to the all-destroying monkeys but found the Miss and the Master in a friendly 'chatter' with the quadrupeds when they attacked and actually ransacked my kitchen garden. The aam kuttas had learnt the foreign language of the red-faced – a sign of progress towards a pedigreed existence away from the non-entity status in this country like that of aam aadmi dabbling in dear, dear mother tongue.
HOW TO SURVIVE THE AGE OF DISTRACTION
E-BOOKS SALES ARE RISING AND THOSE OF TRADITIONAL BOOKS ARE NOT. YET, BOOKS PRINTED ON PAPER HAVE A FUTURE BECAUSE THEY HELP HUMAN BEINGS ENGAGE IN DEEP THOUGHT AND DEEP CONCENTRATION IN A WAY THAT THEIR ELECTRONIC COUNTERPARTS CANNOT.
In the 20th century, all the nightmare-novels of the future imagined that books would be burnt. In the 21st century, our dystopias imagine a world where books are forgotten. To pluck just one, Gary Steynghart's novel Super Sad True Love Story describes a world where everybody is obsessed with their electronic Apparat — an even more omnivorous i-Phone with a flickering stream of shopping and reality shows and porn — and have somehow come to believe that the few remaining unread paper books let off a rank smell. The book on the book, it suggests, is closing.
I have been thinking about this because I recently moved flat, which for me meant boxing and heaving several Everests of books, accumulated obsessively since I was a kid. Ask me to throw away a book, and I begin shaking like Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice and insist that I just couldn't bear to part company with it, no matter how unlikely it is I will ever read (say) a 1,000-page biography of little-known Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar. As I stacked my books high, and watched my friends get buried in landslides of novels or avalanches of polemics, it struck me that this scene might be incomprehensible a generation from now. Yes, a few specialists still haul their vinyl collections from house to house, but the rest of us have migrated happily to MP3s, and regard such people as slightly odd. Does it matter? What was really lost?
The book — the physical paper book — is being circled by a shoal of sharks, with sales down 9 per cent this year alone. It's being chewed by the e-book. It's being gored by the death of the bookshop and the library. And most importantly, the mental space it occupied is being eroded by the thousand Weapons of Mass Distraction that surround us all. It's hard to admit, but we all sense it: it is becoming almost physically harder to read books.
Encroachment of the buzz
In his gorgeous little book The Lost Art of Reading — Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, the critic David Ulin admits to a strange feeling. All his life, he had taken reading as for granted as eating — but then, a few years ago, he "became aware, in an apartment full of books, that I could no longer find within myself the quiet necessary to read". He would sit down to do it at night, as he always had, and read a few paragraphs, then find his mind was wandering, imploring him to check his email, or Twitter, or Facebook. "What I'm struggling with," he writes, "is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there's something out there that merits my attention."
Need for mental silence
I think most of us have this sense today, if we are honest. If you read a book with your laptop thrumming on the other side of the room, it can be like trying to read in the middle of a party, where everyone is shouting to each other. To read, you need to slow down. You need mental silence except for the words. That's getting harder to find.
No, don't misunderstand me. I adore the web, and they will have to wrench my Twitter feed from my cold dead hands. This isn't going to turn into an antediluvian rant against the glories of our wired world. But there's a reason why that word — "wired" — means both "connected to the internet" and "high, frantic, unable to concentrate".
In the age of the internet, physical paper books are a technology we need more, not less. In the 1950s, the novelist Herman Hesse wrote: "The more the need for entertainment and mainstream education can be met by new inventions, the more the book will recover its dignity and authority. We have not yet quite reached the point where young competitors, such as radio, cinema, etc, have taken over the functions from the book it can't afford to lose."
Regaining the world
We have now reached that point. And here's the function that the book — the paper book that doesn't beep or flash or link or let you watch a thousand videos all at once — does for you that nothing else will. It gives you the capacity for deep, linear concentration. As Ulin puts it: "Reading is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction.... It requires us to pace ourselves. It returns us to a reckoning with time. In the midst of a book, we have no choice but to be patient, to take each thing in its moment, to let the narrative prevail. We regain the world by withdrawing from it just a little, by stepping back from the noise."
A book has a different relationship to time than a TV show or a Facebook update. It says that something was worth taking from the endless torrent of data and laying down on an object that will still look the same a hundred years from now. The French writer Jean-Phillipe De Tonnac says "the true function of books is to safeguard the things that forgetfulness constantly threatens to destroy." It's precisely because it is not immediate — because it doesn't know what happened five minutes ago in Kazakhstan, or in Charlie Sheen's apartment — that the book matters.
That's why we need books, and why I believe they will survive. Because most humans have a desire to engage in deep thought and deep concentration. Those muscles are necessary for deep feeling and deep engagement. Most humans don't just want mental snacks forever; they also want meals.
I'm not against e-books in principle — I'm tempted by the Kindle — but the more they become interactive and linked, the more they multitask and offer a hundred different functions, the less they will be able to preserve the aspects of the book that we actually need. An e-book reader that does a lot will not, in the end, be a book. The object needs to remain dull so the words — offering you the most electric sensation of all: insight into another person's internal life — can sing.
So how do we preserve the mental space for the book? We are the first generation to ever use the internet, and when I look at how we are reacting to it, I keep thinking of the Inuit communities I met in the Arctic, who were given alcohol and sugar for the first time a generation ago, and guzzled them so rapidly they were now sunk in obesity and alcoholism. Sugar, alcohol and the web are all amazing pleasures and joys — but we need to know how to handle them without letting them addle us.
Keeping a digital diet
The idea of keeping yourself on a digital diet will, I suspect, become mainstream soon. Just as I've learned not to stock my fridge with tempting carbs, I've learned to limit my exposure to the web — and to love it in the limited window I allow myself. I have installed the programme "Freedom" on my laptop: it will disconnect you from the web for however long you tell it to. It's the Ritalin I need for my web-induced ADHD. I make sure I activate it so I can dive into the more permanent world of the printed page for at least two hours a day, or I find myself with a sense of endless online connection that leaves you oddly disconnected from yourself.
TS Eliot called books "the still point of the turning world". He was right. It turns out, in the age of super-speed broadband, we need dead trees to have fully living minds.
— The Independent
THE LOST ART OF READING
DAVID L. ULIN
Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.
Here we have my reading problem in a nutshell, for books insist we take the opposite position, that we immerse, slow down. "After September 11," Mona Simpson wrote as part of a 2001 LA Weekly round-table on reading during wartime, "I didn't read books for the news. Books, by their nature, are never new enough." By this, Simpson doesn't mean she stopped reading; instead, at a moment when it felt as if time was on fast forward, she relied on books to pull back from the onslaught, to distance herself from the present as a way of reconnecting with a more elemental sense of who we are.
Of course, the source of my distraction is somewhat different: not an event of great significance but the usual ongoing trivialities. I am too susceptible, it turns out, to the tumult of the culture, the sound and fury signifying nothing. For many years, I have read, like E.I. Lonoff in Philip Roth's "The Ghost Writer," primarily at night -- a few hours every evening once my wife and kids have gone to bed. These days, however, after spending hours reading e-mails and fielding phone calls in the office, tracking stories across countless websites, I find it difficult to quiet down. I pick up a book and read a paragraph; then my mind wanders and I check my e-mail, drift onto the Internet, pace the house before returning to the page. Or I want to do these things but don't. I force myself to remain still, to follow whatever I'm reading until the inevitable moment I give myself over to the flow. Eventually I get there, but some nights it takes 20 pages to settle down. What I'm struggling with is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there is something out there that merits my attention, when in fact it's mostly just a series of disconnected riffs and fragments that add up to the anxiety of the age.
Yet there is time, if we want it. Contemplation is not only possible but necessary, especially in light of all
Excerpted from the article, The lost art of reading, published in the Los Angeles Times on August 9, 2008. The writer, a former book editor of the paper, later wrote a book based on this article.
NOW FOR A TMK?
T N NINAN
One of several jokes doing the rounds these days is about the launch of a new political party, called the Tihar Munnetra Kazhagam (or TMK). With Dayanidhi Maran (and Murli Deora) having resigned, and with Ms Kanimozhi and Andimuthu Raja already in Tihar, it would seem that maladministration if not outright corruption has reached new heights (or, if you will, plumbed new depths). Keeping the members of this new "Kazhagam" company in jail are officials of the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani group, Unitech and DB Realty, and of course Suresh Kalmadi and his principal aides from the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee. For all one knows, more worthies might join this illustrious crowd. There is no scarcity of nervous businessmen in Mumbai and Delhi who fear that their misdeeds might catch up with them, while one or two more members of the Cabinet must be wondering when their own cupboards will be opened for the skeletons to come tumbling out.
It used to be advertised in Davos that India is the world's fastest-growing, free-market democracy, but its political and business worlds look murkier now than at any other stage in living memory. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may claim that no other government has taken action to clean the stables as his has, but much of the corrective action came when there was no alternative, in the wake of damning reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General, or because of the Supreme Court's direct supervision of the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Still, this may well be the darkest hour, before the dawn — and things may now get better. Many (though not all) of the scams that hog the headlines relate to the first United Progressive Alliance government, and to the 2007-09 period when the loot of the system and crony capitalism went way beyond any "normal" level (however defined) that the country had got used to and was, therefore, willing to stomach. What is now in evidence is the backlash against this excess. In addition, the system itself has morphed into one that is less tolerant of corruption. It has developed autonomous watchdogs which are prepared to bark, and even to bite, and even the so-called independent regulators do sometimes act independently. The Right to Information law is a powerful tool that has been handed to ordinary citizens, and the Election Commission is more watchful than in the past, like when it comes to paying newspapers for favourable election-time coverage. This broad thrust towards greater transparency and accountability can only gain momentum as the middle class gains in its share of voice. Such a trend also automatically reduces the scope for those who have thrived on identity-based politics to continue making hay — though Uttar Pradesh's sugar industry (to take one example) may have to continue paying political money every year.
So it is strange that the beleaguered government has yet to announce an active agenda to get on top of the corruption issue. It continues to press for a minimalist Lok Pal, its search for money stashed away abroad has been so lackadaisical that the Supreme Court has been provoked to step in, and it makes no move to clean up political funding, which is the root problem. The only specific promise of action is a new law to clean up public procurement, but even that is mired in committee squabbles. Still, the money-grubbing among our politicians are nothing if not smart, and they will have learnt from the travails of the Tihar Munnetra Kazhagam. Even if all of them don't turn a new leaf, they will be more careful, and less brazen. Small mercies, admittedly, but mercies nonetheless.
BETTER REGULATION OF GLOBAL COMMODITY MARKETS IS CRUCIAL FOR PRICE STABILITY
Regulators and experts recently met in Brussels to analyse market volatility in food and agricultural commodities, fossil fuels and energy, and industrial raw materials, and to debate what regulators can and should do, and how multilateral institutions might respond coherently. French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivered an impassioned speech on why markets should be regulated. A handful of players are controlling large chunks of most markets, driving and determining prices. Further, huge gains are being made from orchestrated price movements rather than availability based on production and weather conditions, or changes in demand for products owing to economic growth or natural disasters. He implied that an intolerable situation was developing and that regulation had become imperative. He indicated that he was giving the speech in anticipation of the following week's Paris meeting.
That G20 agriculture ministers' meeting took place in Paris to discuss measures against volatility in global agricultural markets. The members could not conclude concretely. They, however, agreed to collect comparable information with the Food and Agriculture Organisation's involvement, committing to an Agricultural Market Information System. It is an onerous task since the US, which is the only member that publishes reliable data, remains unwilling to regulate the markets effectively. But data are not enough. It is important to ask how the data would be used for indicators, and if the indicators are meaningful.
Only after the first stage is completed could agreements be meaningfully drawn up on regulation to contain prices and volatility. But volatility is not the only concern. The world is also worried about extreme price rises and, based on evidence, the increased volatility as prices rise. Two explanations follow. First, the rapid change in the nature of market operations, with price determination in commodity markets moving closely with financial markets. And second, the real demand-supply gap in global markets.
On the first, price rise and volatility have been closely linked to the increasing financialisation of commodity markets that Mr Sarkozy denounced, unless regulated. Commodities have become an asset class. They now comprise investor havens for hedging against higher-risk sources, low interest rates and a depreciating dollar. Hedgers take speculative positions on commodities, and exploit arbitrage opportunities in markets through index funds, pension funds, mutual funds and the like. These activities would not have been questioned but for the emergence of instruments that do not necessarily reflect market fundamentals such as hedge funds, swap deals, exchange-traded funds and exchange-traded notes, where passive traders track commodity values and act on them. Thus, commodity index futures are operating much like financial market indexes, creating bubbles intermittently. Their regulation must, therefore, be along the same lines.
The regulatory indicators should, therefore, target such trend spotters who have little or no intent of taking futures to delivery. They ride the wave, accelerating and enlarging both price upswings and downswings. Speculative position limits have to be stipulated to prevent excessive speculation and assist in monitoring potential violations in the market. It can be implemented through surveillance of individual and institutional traders' activities to contain, if not obviate, an oligopoly in market power.
In the absence of full agreement on the course of action, monitoring based on traditional macroeconomic indicators remains in vogue. It cannot be sufficient since links between an economy's macro performance and financial/commodity market-driven global doldrums are tenuous. Unfortunately, there is a stubborn continuation in, and overemphasis on, using macroeconomic indicators such as savings rate, fiscal deficit/GDP, or current account balance as indicators linked to all ills. But fiscal deficits have different impacts – multipliers – reflecting country characteristics. Similarly, the current account indicates net financial flows, while we need gross flows from trade in goods and services to obtain trade in financial assets that comprise the bulk of cross-border financial activity. In fact, gross financial flows make current account positions look small. Claudio Borio of BIS, Piti Disyatat of the Bank of Thailand, this author and others are pointing to the need for indicators that are more directly linked to global market movements.
The problem is that many of them are financial indicators that the US seems reluctant to touch despite the experience of the 2008-09 financial crisis and its continuing fallout. Fortunately, the large trader reporting system has been endorsed by the Dodd-Frank Act, which has accepted the importance of collecting data to implement aggregate position limits for certain physical commodity derivatives. The G20 process must push forward on this issue. While the French chairmanship appears to be a silver lining, the outcome of the Paris meeting is not sufficiently reassuring.
What are the better indicators? These have to be found from observed associations between volume and value in the line-up of global commodity markets measured by indices such as S&P GSCI Commodity Spot, CRB Spot Index Fats & Oils, and others that can be related to prices of corn, wheat, crude and minerals on the one hand, and movements in major asset classes such as the Dow Jones Industrial Share Price Index and FTSE Global Bond Index, and global liquidity such as global money stock (M1) as a percentage of real GDP, on the other. Further, the correlation between the financial asset classes and off-index commodities (commodities not included in commodity indices) will shed more light on the impact of portfolio rebalancing on indexed commodities.
Price stability can be achieved by putting together a framework of triggers based on observed strong associations. Otherwise we are heading for another vortex of price escalation and volatility that would fuel the next global recession. Further, there is a continuing lack of resolve to tighten belts or control runaway financial innovation.
Now to the demand-supply gap — the second explanation on global price movements. Take China. At an overarching level, China is criticised for excessive savings and current account surplus. Yet at the Brussels conference, China was singled out for over-consumption of global resources. China consumes over 50 per cent of the global supply of cement and iron ore, and just under 50 per cent of steel, copper, nickel and zinc. Its per capita consumption of these metals is higher than developed countries'. Hence China is over-consuming. Finally, this author found himself in the awkward position of having to speak on the argument's internal inconsistency. At the macro level, China has too much current account surplus and excessive savings; at the micro commodity market level, it is over-consuming. So, should China stop producing and only import finished products when global demand reflects otherwise? Additionally, that China consumes only 10 per cent of global oil supply was ignored until pointed out. And since oil prices and their volatility are central to the prevailing inflation, price volatility and potential resurgence of global recession, should the solution not lie in rapid fiscal and monetary tightening elsewhere?
I felt a strong desire to escape from the real world and found refuge in Brussel's museums showcasing Bruegel's unreal miniatures and Magritte's surreal vision of the world.
The author is director and chief executive, Icrier, New Delhi. Opinions are exclusively of the author
BLOOMSBURY'S INDIAN IDOLS
They trooped in on a rainy afternoon, a motley group of Indians, mostly Bengalis, tripping on slushy garden paths to the heart of Bloomsbury. The occasion on Thursday was the unveiling by Prince Charles of a bust of Rabindranath Tagore to mark the poet-philosopher's 150th birth anniversary. Out in Gordon Square, tour groups gawped at the homes where Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, Vanessa Bell and others of the Bloomsbury set once lived; but decked in their fine saris and kurtas, members of UK's Tagore Centre were concentrating hard on their welcome speech, Rabindrasangeet and swaying dance moves in the Santiniketan style. The prince came minus his spouse (which took the shine off for the press a bit), gave a handsome tribute peppered with quotes from Tagore and the girls danced on the sodden grass. Then HRH strode off, no doubt to a welcome cup of Darjeeling, leaving everyone to gaze lovingly at the bronze by British sculptor Shenda Amery.
It isn't easy to be permanently installed in a London square. Gordon Square belongs to London University, where Tagore was a student, and where he forgot the manuscript of Gitanjali in the underground. (It was thankfully located in the Baker St Lost & Found some days later.) The university gladly gave permission for a commemorative sculpture.
Tagore could soon have an Indian companion in Gordon Square. London-based Indian author and journalist Shrabani Basu has set up a trust to campaign for a bust of the British-Indian heroine of World War II, Noor Inayat Khan. Basu, who published Spy Princess, the bestselling biography of Noor in 2006, revived the saga of a daring 30-year-old, born of an Indian Sufi and American mother, enlisted by Churchill's special espionage outfit to enter occupied France as a radio operator and mobilise resistance fighters. She performed her dangerous duty with exemplary courage but was hunted down by the Gestapo in Paris, taken to the concentration camp at Dachau and faced a firing squad. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross (the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross) and the Croix de Guerre. Then history turned its page.
A film of the book is in the works but Basu feels that Noor, who lived in Gordon Square, deserves an enduring memorial. "No Indian woman has a statue in London. Noor deserves it because she laid down her life for Britain." Basu's committee has collected a quarter of the 100,000 pounds required for the statue through charity appeals.
Gordon Square's Bloomsbury twin next door is Tavistock Square, another centrepiece of literary London. Virginia Woolf lived here and so did Charles Dickens. But towering in the garden is a large bronze of a seated Gandhi on a pedestal by the sculptor Fredda Brilliant installed in 1968. (Nehru's handsome bust on a lotus pedestal, temporarily beheaded by Sri Lankan Tamil protesters in 2009, is located near India House in Aldwych.) Tavistock Square also has a memorial to victims of the terrorist bombings that ripped London in 2005 and a flowering cherry to commemorate Hiroshima.
It's the season for installing statues in London's squares. A few days before Tagore's bust went up, a 10-foot high bronze of former US president Ronald Reagan went up outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. The US embassy itself is due to move to new premises across the Thames in Battersea for security reasons next year and Westminster Council appeared none too keen to have Reagan adorn Mayfair. It cited the norm that memorial sculptures can only be erected a decade after a person's death but gave permission after pressure from the Ronald Reagan Foundation in California which paid for the bronze. It's three feet taller than Reagan's statue in Capitol Hill in Washington. This has immediately prompted the demand in some quarters that there should be a statue to the man who ended, in Reagan's phrase, the "evil empire". Mikhail Gorbachev is very much around but London likes the idea of idolising him — when the time comes.
LIVING IN A BLUNDER LAND
K NATWAR SINGH
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
-W B Yeats (The Second Coming)
The second United Progressive Alliance (UPA-II) government is not an inspiration. And by no stretch of the imagination can it be called a model. The adamantine fact is that UPA-II is now a national liability. From M J Akbar to Shobhaa De, from The Hindu to Times Now, from one cartoonist to another, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is under siege. Ridicule has replaced respect. A trust deficit has been added to the budget deficit. And the worthy doctor is now derisively labelled as Manmohan-II, who is unable to rein in the supercilious or defend the serious in his government. One pays a heavy price when one holds high office. The trappings of power, a cloistered existence, the isolation and the security shield make leaders lose touch with ground realities. When did the PM last enter a shop? When did he go to a village to have a chat with farmers à la Rahul Gandhi? And when he does condescend to meet five prominent press heavyweights, he falls into a blunder land.
· Consider his atrocious remarks on Bangladesh. His office made things worse by stating that the remarks were off the record. What then were they doing on the website?
· Mani Shankar Aiyar "wrote to me on purely ideological grounds," the PM said. Mr Aiyar says he had pointed out what was going wrong in the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee.
· The PM questioned the mandate of the Comptroller and Auditor General to hold a press conference on its 2G scam report. Will someone in the Prime Minister's Office read the comments that serious newspapers carried about this blunder?
· The PM said the home minister was not informed about the "sweeping" of the finance minister's office. That puts the home minister in his place, who took refuge in the NDTV studio.
· Take the PM's observations on the functioning of his loquacious environment minister. Were they necessary?
To shoot oneself in the foot once or twice is bad enough but to do that five times stretches credibility beyond measure. In recent months, he has displayed a genius for misgovernance.
Dr Manmohan Singh is an untarnished man whose image has been irreparably tarnished — "the dawn was golden, the noon silver, the evening lead." Even his admirers have begun to ask, "Why is he taking all this flak? Why doesn't he quit?" What does one say to such a decent man? Auf wiedersehen or au revoir or goodbye and good riddance? He deserves better but the bells have begun to toll.
A close friend of long standing dropped by the other day. He is endowed with a ready wit and exceptional mastery of linguistic irreverence. He said Dr Singh was walking a tightrope over the cesspool of corruption. According to my friend three types of corruption exist today: petty, retail and wholesale. Petty corruption involves a homeowner being harassed by a New Delhi Municipal Council inspector for extending the kitchen by a foot. Only a going rate of Rs 3 lakh can satisfy the inspector. In retail corruption, the income tax commissioner will reduce the penalty for non-payment of tax by a corporate house in return for Rs 5 crore. In wholesale corruption one eats a helicopter for breakfast, a Boeing 747 for lunch and an aircraft carrier for dinner.
Is globalisation causing disenchantment? Are its discontents gaining the upper hand? One is familiar with the vast range of globalisation. Apart from finance, communications, TV and IT, we now have sartorial, culinary and sports globalisation. Regrettably, one never hears of the globalisation of truth, morality, ethics, virtue or values. It is time we did, considering that we are living in a spiritual wilderness.
The current obsession is the market. In this context, the great Mexican poet and admirer of India Octavio Paz said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, "For example, the triumph of the market economy (a triumph due to the adversary's default) cannot be simply a cause for joy. As a mechanism the market is efficient, but like all mechanisms it lacks both conscience and compassion."
I recently finished reading Civilisation by an energetic and engaging historian, Niall Ferguson. A footnote reads, "The Authorised Version (as the King James Bible of 1611 came to be known) stands alongside the plays of William Shakespeare among the greatest works of English literature. The term of forty seven scholars who produced it were [sic] let down by the royal printers only once. The 1631 edition – known as the 'Wicked Bible'– omitted the word 'not' from The commandment, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery'."
LITERATURE AS LIBERATION
It matters if individuals are to maintain any capacity to form their own judgements and opinions that they continue to read for themselves. How they read, well or badly, and what they read, cannot depend wholly upon themselves, but why they must be read and in their own interest. You can read to pass the time, or you can read with overt urgency, but eventually you will read against the clock… The ideal reader is Dr Samuel Johnson who said that like every other activity of the mind, it must satisfy 'what comes near to oneself, what we can put to use'. Bacon gave the advice, 'read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.' And Emerson who remarked that the best books 'impress us with the conviction that one nature wrote and the same nature reads'. Fuse Bacon, Johnson and Emerson into a formula of how to read: find what comes near to you that can [be] put to [the] use of weighing and considering, and that addresses you as though you share the one nature, free of time's tyranny. Pragmatically, this means first find Shakespeare [and the Western Canon] and let it find you," writes Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities in Yale, in the Prologue to Why Read?
At the age of 80, with almost 40 books behind him, particularly The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages and Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Professor Bloom has now come with The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life (Yale University Press, $32.50). It is "a kind of summing up … my virtual swan song," born of an urge to say "in one place most of what I have learned to think about how influence works in imaginative literature". What Professor Bloom says is that literature, not the scriptures, sustains the mind and the soul. All the ethical dilemmas of life are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy, Schiller and Dostoevsky (and the rest of the "Western Canon") than in the mythical morality tales of holy books.
For Professor Bloom, Shakespeare is "the founder" not only of modern literature but also, in his expansive view, of the modern man's "infinite self-consciousness". "For me, Shakespeare is God," he says at one point and repeats it time and again. In fact, he has a whole section devoted to Shakespeare: The Founder, with eight essays: Shakespeare's People; The Rival Poet: King Lear; Shakspeare's Ellipsis: The Tempest; Possession in Many Modes: The Sonnets; Hamlet and the Art of Knowing; Milton's Hamlet; Joyce ... Dante ... Shakespeare ... Milton; Dr Johnson and Critical Influence.
There are three questions he asks himself as he wades through the great works of the "Western Canon". Why has influence been my lifelong obsessive concern? Why have certain writers found me and not others? What is the end of a literary life? In trying to answer these questions, Professor Bloom shows what great literature is, how it comes to be that, and why it matters to us. Each chapter shows startling new literary connections that emphasise his earlier view that great works of literature do not spring into the world fully formed. They emerge through impassioned struggles with the great works that preceded them.
Professor Bloom believes these intensely competitive struggles offer the key to literary understanding and appreciation, which elaborates the axiom that all great writers compete only with the past. What a great poem means, why it matters and whether it is worthy of the literary canon by investigating how that poem overcame, or failed to overcome, its literary rivals are perhaps the only ways to evaluate the strengths or weaknesses of a poem. With these literary relationships from the seventeenth through the twentieth century, Professor Bloom takes us through the literary universe of the "Western Canon".
Shakespeare and Walt Whitman are Professor Bloom's two points of departure. What is interesting is the "connections" he makes between writers ranging from Milton, Shelley, Tennyson, Browning, Joyce, Lawrence, down to poets of his own generation. "It is the strangeness as well as the sublimity of what remains that matters most, the utter uniqueness of the literary powers" that makes a piece of literature stand out from the rest.
"When you read Dante or Shakespeare, you experience the limits of art, and then you discover that the limits have been extended or broken." This would be true for any discipline because unless you break with tradition and redefine the contours, you cannot make it "new" and unique. The result is an extraordinary feat of criticism and a personal meditation on a life lived through the great works of the "Western Canon".
Literary criticism of this kind usually follows the old tradition of academic studies rendering the subject either boring or incomprehensible, or both. This book by one of the great contemporary scholars of literature is not; it has been written for the common reader, who can go back to it again and again.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
BEING A MINISTER IS IRRELEVANT FOR DEORA SINCE HE WILL ALWAYS HAVE INFLUENCE, IF NOT POWER
In India between the 1960s and the early 1990s, it was essential to know a few phrases if you wanted to do business. When you heard "aapka kaam ho jayega" (your work will be done), no matter how much you might have had to pay, you smiled, returned to the office to tell your boss that it was all clear on the India project and knocked back a healthy Scotch-and-soda or two in the evening to celebrate.
Of course, clearances would never happen automatically. But they were always civil, polite and the work always got done. The rules were made by the facilitators. Mumbai was where the rulemakers lived. The head rulemaker was a man called Rajni Patel: a legend of his time who knew everybody and whose capacity to raise money for political causes was the stuff of Jeffery Archer novels.
One of Patel's younger colleagues was a man called Murli Deora. In the 1970s, the feud between businessmen Ramnath Goenka and Dhirubhai Ambani was at its height. They hated each other but met each other quite civilly at Deora's house for a game of bridge. Deora told journalist Pritish Nandy in an interview: "I settled that feud at my house. Both very close friends of mine. Ramnath Goenka used to tell me, I admire you that you did not leave Dhirubhai when V P Singh was going after his blood. I never leave, I always stand by my friends, wherever they are, rich or poor doesn't matter. When Ramnath Goenka was fighting a war with Rajiv Gandhi, he used to come to my house and play bridge every evening. You must stand by people, that's what humanity is all about."
To be a political fund-raiser, you needed to have a high level of credibility and your record of delivering on promises had to be 100 per cent. Deora never made promises he could not keep. But he was very, very successful at keeping promises he did make. He was president of the Bombay Regional Congress Committee (BRCC) for 18 years. Nothing moved in Bombay without Deora's say. He represented South Bombay (that has, on average, half-a-dozen dollar millionaires per square kilometer) several times in the Lower House. What could you give a constituency that had people who had everything? So Deora launched a campaign – that he funded fully – against tobacco. He also focused on charity: free eye camps, an ambulance service, computer training institutes and so on. Deora has absolutely no enemies and is fond of citing his version of Dale Carnegie: public life's greatest virtue is to influence people and win friends.
But this amiable facilitator was also shrewd. When in the early 1990s, India's controlled-economy regime began being dismantled, Deora slowly began to reinvent himself. Former leader of the opposition in the Upper House, Jaswant Singh always refers to Deora as the "honourable MP for Manhattan" — a reference to all the friends and supporters Deora has in the US. How much of the US investment that came to India in the mid-1990s came because of the potential of the Indian market; and how much because of the last-mile comfort provided by Murli Deora can never be quantified.
For obvious reasons, Deora neither sought nor was given a berth in a Congress government in Delhi: he was just too good at what he did in Bombay and needed too much there. He is one of the few who was catapulted straight to the Cabinet when he was made minister for petroleum for the first time in his political career by Manmohan Singh in 2006.
However, his record as a minister is somewhat mixed. He replaced Mani Shankar Aiyar and seemed to have trouble adjusting to the limelight. Soon after he became minister, the opposition in the Rajya Sabha watched, first politely and then impatiently, as Deora struggled to assemble facts to answer a simple question.
Manohar Joshi, who asked the question, repeated it in Hindi, and when he didn't get an answer, offered helpfully to ask it in Marathi — or Gujarati, if the minister had trouble comprehending that language.
Then, in a reshuffle, he was moved to the ministry of corporate affairs. Here, people expected that as a businessman, he would take steps that were business-friendly. Deora surprised these people. The merger and acquisition rules notified in consultation with the Competition Commission of India (CCI) last month, cut the cost of doing deals but creeping acquisitions were not made fully exempt from regulation like Security Exchange Board of India (Sebi) rules. A lack of synchronicity between the CCI and Sebi could lead to other problems.
But it was a legacy of a previous move as petroleum minister that moved Deora to hand in his resignation – to the Congress president, mind you, not the prime minister – as minister. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) is working on a report about whether the state lost money as a result of the sanction of Krishna-Godavari gas basins during Deora's tenure. Deora says he asked the CAG to look into the matter. But leaks that the CAG might indicate the deal was not kosher has prompted Deora to resign. There is no clarity on his current standing — whether he is or isn't a minister.
But being a minister is largely irrelevant for Deora. He will always have influence, even if he doesn't have power.
CAN THE CAG COMMENT ON POLICY?
THE PM THINKS NOT BUT THE CONSTITUTION CLEARLY MANDATES THE PUBLIC AUDITOR TO DO SO IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES
Recently the prime minister, at a meeting with some newspaper editors, criticised the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) for "going into policy issues that were not a part of its Constitutional mandate" (Business Standard, June 30). He said this against the background of recent controversies, particularly over the allocation of 2G spectrum for telecom and the allotment of the Krishna-Godavari (K-G) gas fields to private developers, in which the CAG examined and commented on certain policy matters.
The prime minister's statement was not entirely correct. There are constitutional provisions that deal with the CAG's role in policy and they are of great significance today. I am not discussing here the veracity or otherwise of the CAG's findings on the issues but only whether it has the power under the Constitution to say that the receipts in the Consolidated Fund of India would have been higher by certain amounts if a particular policy was followed.
The CAG is an exalted post created by the Constitution. Articles 148 to 151 deal with his appointment, functions and reporting system. Under Article 148 (5) the "administrative power of the CAG shall be such as may be prescribed by rules made by the President after consultation with the CAG." Accordingly the CAG's (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act 1971 was passed by Parliament.
For receipts, the crucial section is Section 16 that reads thus: "It shall be the duty of the CAG to audit all receipts which are payable into the Consolidated Fund of India and of each State and each Union Territory having a Legislative Assembly and to satisfy himself that the rules and procedures in that behalf are designed (italics mine) to secure an effective check on the assessment, collection and proper allocation of revenue and are being duly observed ...."
Notice that Section 16 has two portions. The first portion (in italics) gives the CAG the power to satisfy himself that the rules and procedures are designed to get proper receipts. That is to say, he has the power to discuss the design of the rules and procedures. That involves policy. He can say, for example, that it would have been a better procedure to sell something by auction, since in that case the receipts to the Consolidated Fund of India would have been much higher. The second part of the section refers to ensuring that procedures "are being duly observed". This portion is for ensuring compliance.
So, the first part of Section 16 entitles the CAG to examine the merit of the existing rule and procedures and say that an alternative procedure (system) would lead to better and a more just collection of receipts. This type of approach is known in audit circles as "system audit". It has been done for more than three decades.
In fact, this is not the first time the CAG has suggested policy changes. In the early nineties, the extant rule in Customs was to give a refund if it was due. The CAG pointed out that this rule might lead to unjust enrichment of the recipient of the refund since he would have most probably already passed on the burden of higher tax to the buyer. At the insistence of the CAG and the Public Accounts Committee, the law was changed. Section 27 was amended by incorporating a proviso (with effect from December 23, 1991) by the Section 2 of the Customs Amendment Act, 1991. Similarly laws on excise and service tax have amended. Neither the finance minister at the time nor Parliament took exception to the change in the law, which occurred at the behest of the CAG. So it is quite clear that on the receipts side the law is certain that CAG is authorised to delve into and suggest changes in policy (rules and procedures) and he has been doing so for long enough.
On the expenditure side, the relevant section is Section 13 that reads thus: "It shall be the duty of CAG to audit all expenditure from the Consolidated Fund of India and of each state...and to ascertain whether the monies shown in the accounts as having been disbursed were legally available and applicable to the service or purpose to which they have been applied or charged and whether the expenditure conforms to the authority which governs it." This gives the CAG power to audit and to verify if the expenditure is according to the Budget allocation. If the CAG finds wasteful expenditure he is entitled to point it out, since it is against the implementation of the Budget allocation. It is not a policy matter.
The conclusion is that the Constitution does definitely provide the CAG with a clear mandate to delve into policy in respect of receipts but not in respect of expenditure. The 2G issue and the K-G gas field allotment issue concern matters of receipt. So it was well within the CAG's mandate to say that if the policy was different, the receipts would have been so many thousands of crores more.
But if the government strongly feels that the Constitution does not give such a mandate, then the best course would be to make a Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the Constitution to settle the issue once and for all. It would be better than publicly debunking the Constitutional post of the CAG, which does little good to public morale. Above all, Article 38 (1) of the Constitution (Directive Principles) enshrines the provision that the state should promote the welfare of the people. The CAG's reports on 2G and K-G have exactly done that.
The author is former member, Central Board of Excise & Customs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
WHY THE GREEK BANK DEBT EXCHANGE PLAN WON'T WORK
The proposal to extend the maturity of Greek bonds emanating from the Élysée Palace reflects French strengths first identified by Napoleon III: "We do not make reforms in France; we make revolution." Structured to meet a German requirement that private creditors contribute to the Greek bailout, the proposal falls short of what is actually required.
Under the sketchy proposal, for every euro 100 of maturing bonds, banks will subscribe to new 30-year securities, but only equal to euro 70 (70 per cent). Of this euro 70, the creditor bank, in turn, will keep euro 50 (50 per cent) and invest the other euro 20 (20 per cent) in 30-year high-quality zero coupon bonds (via a special purpose vehicle) to secure repayment of the new bonds. The new 30-year Greek debt will carry an interest rate of 5.5 per cent a year with a bonus element linked to Greek growth of up to an additional 2.5 per cent a year, making the maximum interest rate eight per cent a year.
Of the euro 340 billion in outstanding Greek bonds, banks hold 27 per cent, institutional and retail investors 43 per cent and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) 30 per cent. It is not clear whether non-bank investors are willing to participate in the arrangements. The ECB has previously resisted any debt restructuring, including maturity extension.
The French plan assumes that holders of bonds would agree to roll over 50 per cent of their holdings to provide Greece net funding of euro 30 billion. But under the French banking federation's own figures, this would be impossible unless all the euro 60.5 billion (excluding central bank holdings) maturing by mid-2014 is rolled over. This is also inconsistent with the proposal's assumption of investor acceptance of 80 per cent.
The plan assumes that the "voluntary" exchange will not be treated as a "selective or restrictive" default by rating agencies or trigger credit insurance contracts on Greece. Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's (S&P) have indicated that the French plan will "very likely" be deemed a default, albeit for an unspecified "temporary" period, because it constitutes a distressed debt restructuring.
The euro 20 invested in high-quality collateral will need to earn around 4.26 per cent a year to accrete in value to euro 70 to cover the principal of the new 30-year bonds. German 30-year bonds currently yield around 3.75 per cent a year, less than the required rate. Other AAA-rated bonds, such as the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) bonds, might be used to provide the extra return. Given that the EFSF is backed by guarantees from countries with questionable long-term credit quality and who may need a future bailout, the security afforded by such a guarantee is unproven.
Greece must find euro 50 for every euro 100 debt exchanged under the proposal. Given that it has no access to commercial funding, this would have to come from the EU, IMF, EFSF or ECB.
Greece's cost would be between 7.7 and 11.20 per cent a year, since it only receives euro 50 of the euro 70 face value of the new bonds. Assuming the remaining funding is at six per cent, then Greece's blended rate for every euro 100 of finance would be 6.85-8.60 per cent a year, well above that considered sustainable by markets and economists.
Most importantly, the overall level of debt, considered unsustainable, of Greece would remain unchanged.
The exchange scheme seems designed primarily to allow banks to avoid recognising losses on holdings of Greek bond. But even if the principal of the 30-year bonds is considered "risk free", the interest remains dependent on Greece's ability to pay. Valued at a rate of 12 per cent a year for 30-year Greek risk (a not-unreasonable estimate), this would mean that the new bonds are only worth around 64 per ent of face value, equivalent to a mark-to-market loss of around 36 per cent. It is not clear if the authorities will require this loss to be recognised.
History records that in August 2001, the IMF oversaw a debt exchange for Argentina in an unsuccessful, last-ditch effort to avoid default. Indecisive and confused action by European authorities seems doomed to ensure that this restructuring, if it happens, will be followed by others and an eventual messy, disorderly and expensive default.
The French proposal perpetuates the lack of acknowledgment that Greece has a "solvency" rather than a "liquidity" problem. Like the EFSF whose structure has been criticised as nothing more than a collateralised debt obligation (CDO), it uses financial engineering techniques to defer or disguise losses in an unending game of "extend and pretend".
Satyajit Das is author of Extreme Money: The Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk (Penguin India, forthcoming early 2012)
If the Bill hopes to create an enabling environment for the microfinance sector, involving too many agencies may be counter-productive.
If there is one area where the Government is acting with consistency, if not speed, it is in the microfinance sector that has, for the past year or more, taken a severe beating, especially in Andhra Pradesh, which accounts for almost 30 per cent of the total business. It was the State government's legislation against private MFI companies that exposed just how much the sector had grown without consistent oversight enforced by Central legislation. Private companies, once touted as the model for microfinance, and trudging a middle course between the Bangladesh Grameen Bank and commercial banks, were almost put out of business after the Andhra Pradesh government passed the MFI Act.
Now the Finance Ministry means to empower the RBI to regulate and fix what it calls the maximum annual percentage rate to be charged by any MFI. It was the interest rate charged by the private MFIs that had drawn the ire of the Andhra Pradesh Government. The private companies had countered that they did not charge exorbitant rates but what had added to the burden of the actual rate were other charges loaded on to the basic rate. The draft 'Micro Finance Institutions (Development and Regulation) Bill, 2011' has taken this issue into account by defining the 'annual percentage rate' to include interest, processing fees, service charges and any other charges or fees that MFI clients have to pay. Just to make sure that these charges are not excessive, the RBI will stipulate that the rates operate within the 'percentage of margin' to be decided by the apex bank. The Bill attempts to create an overarching structure that would include Nabard, the agency that currently oversees the microfinance sector. Nabard was also a player through self-help groups, alongside private firms that it also refinanced. It could, therefore, oversee private firms only to a certain extent; once the latter began to source funds from equity they became answerable to their shareholders, and were thus obligated to maximise earnings. So the Bill proposes an umbrella-type structure with the RBI as regulator, which will delegate some powers to Nabard. The Bill also proposes a ' Micro-Finance Development Council' to frame policies, schemes and other measures for orderly growth of the sector.
Questions arise at this point. What will the council do that the RBI cannot, with its vast experience and expertise? If the idea is to create an enabling environment for the troubled sector, loading on more agencies than may be required may have just the opposite effect.
(The author is CEO, Advanta India, and Chairman, Association of Biotech Led Enterprises - Agriculture Group.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BANKS ARE SPECIAL
THEY IMPACT THE LARGER ECONOMY AND SO IT IS WISE TO RING-FENCE THE BANKING SECTOR
At first glance, the RBI's move to cap banks' holding in non-financial service companies that are not their subsidiaries at a low 10% (of the company's paid-up capital or the bank's paid up capital and reserves, whichever is lower) might smack of paranoia. That first impression quickly evaporates under closer scrutiny. As the financial crisis, especially the role of shadow banks, has shown, one can never be too careful when it comes to financial stability. The consequences of bank failure are not confined to the banking system but affect the entire economy. Two, given the scope for multilayering of share-holding in companies, it is entirely possible for banks to exercise control or have significant influence even over companies that are not their subsidiaries and thereby engage indirectly in activities that are otherwise out-of-bounds. Therefore, it is only logical that the RBI, as banking regulator, should want to limit such investments by banks. In any case, the 10% cap is not absolute, but can be breached where the additional holding stems from corporate debt restructuring or where the company is engaged in activities permitted under the Banking Regulation Act and the RBI's prior approval has been obtained. Banks are also free to set up subsidiaries for activities that are conducive to the spread of banking in India or are useful or necessary in the public interest. The attempt is to ring-fence the banking system from risks that lie outside. From this perspective, the latest stricture is of a piece with the Bank's keen pursuit of the 'holding company model' for large financial groups and its recent guidelines on registration of Core Investment Companies (CICs). The holding company model envisages banks as subsidiaries of the holding company rather than the other way round, thereby insulating banks from non-bank activities. Likewise, CICs, which do not carry on any trading activity and whose assets are predominantly shares in group companies, call for a regulatory treatment different from that of non-deposit taking, systemically important non-banking financial companies (NBFCs). The message, post the crisis, seems to be that 'banks are special'. For now, few will disagree.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EXPORT PRICE FOR ORE
THIS IS A SENSIBLE IDEA THAT WILL BOOST EFFICIENCY AND THE STATES' ROYALTY
Asteel ministry expert panel on ore pricing has reportedly suggested export prices for domestic supplies, which makes eminent sense. Domestic steel producers would be unhappy. But domestic prices of finished steel have for years now been benchmarked to global rates, and export prices for domestic iron ore would boost value addition in steel. Our output of minerals can but be a fraction of global supplies, and domestic ore prices must reflect appropriate scarcity value. Yet, there is much variance in the price of iron ore meant for domestic and export markets. Public sector mining major NMDC has reportedly hiked the price of iron ore fines to . 2,500 per tonne for domestic sales, but its export price for the same commodity is over . 8,000/tonne. It's a glaring price anomaly. And the recommendation of the committee headed by additional secretary S Machendranathan that NMDC firm-up its ferrous ore prices for domestic steel producers on a quarterly basis, benchmarked to the price at which it exports to Japan and South Korea, is unexceptionable.
The panel has rightly rejected the cost-plus route to fixing ore prices for the internal market. For globally traded commodities, it makes no sense to artificially peg prices and thus provide room for arbitrage and rent-seeking. Besides, working out production costs and profits margins as per a cost-plus formula would be sub-optimal, dicey and prone to misuse. The panel seems to have also dropped the idea of determining ore prices as per supply and demand in the spot market, which can well be distorted and opaque. Notably, the panel finds ferrous ore export prices for Japanese and South Korean buyers the most reliable and transparent. Japan remains the world's leading exporter of steel with its focus on value-added products. Instead of banking on repressed ore prices to boost steel production, Indian producers need to optimise costs, source ore at transparently determined prices and step-up value addition. Proper valuation of ore would shore up royalty, cess and other levies, which in turn can ramp-up development in mineral-rich states.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DOPEY ON DOPE?
WHERE IS PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENT REALLY A CARDINAL SIN?
Several of India's star athletes are in disgrace because traces of performance enhancing drugs have been found in their blood. Such is the state of disempowerment Indian athletes have vis-à-vis their coaches and the sports bureaucracy, sleeping as they do five to a stuffy room and eating the frugal food they are served, it is entirely credible when they say that they knowingly did no wrong. But that is not the nub of the problem. The central question is, under what circumstances should performance enhancing drugs be considered undesirable? Sherlock Holmes, the fabled sleuth of 221B Baker Street, and toast of generations of detective fiction fans, would today be described as a substance abuser. But, hey, could anyone complain about his performance? What would be better, that he led a sedate life wholly devoid of blameworthy stimulants and equally bereft of recovered blue carbuncles and subdued flaming-jawed hounds on the moor, or a self-injecting, opium-loving Holmes, who also foiled the nefarious designs of Prof Moriarty?
Can drugs be devised that enhance performance in the corporate world, or medical research? Should the world shun a cancer cure thought up by a medical student while in that zone of elevated clarity that the standard dorm diet does not provide? Should companies add, for the sake of transparency, a new line in their book of accounts to bring out the earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and performance enhancement? Should ethical investors shun companies that run on super-steroids? Or should the Competition Commission start an inquiry into unlevel playing fields arising from chemical collusion? Or should we simply leave the question of performance enhancement to the literal playing field?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EMERGENCY'S LESSONS FOR DEMOCRACY
MORE THAN THREE DECADES AFTER THE EMERGENCY, THE POLITICAL ELITE'S MINDSET CONTINUES TO DEMEAN THE PEOPLE
In a landmark decision on June 15, 2011, the Central Information Commission directed the President's secretariat to make public all documents relating to the Emergency, including written communications between then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Shortly after the Emergency was declared on June 26, 1975, the Congress government introduced the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution. The Amendment suspended the fundamental rights of Indian citizens guaranteed under Article 19 (1): the right to freedom of speech and expression; the right to assemble peaceably; the right to form associations or unions; the right to move throughout the territory of India; the right to reside anywhere in India; and the right to practise any profession, occupation, trade or business.
Forgive a personal digression: in September 1975, three months into the Emergency, two plainclothes officers from the CID visited me with a neat file of my articles published on the editorial page of The Times of India. When they discovered I was still at university and not a subversive violating the Emergency's censorship laws, they left silently.
The 15 years between 1975 and 1990 were the most traumatic in India's independent history. During this period, two Prime Ministers were assassinated, a pogrom killed over 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi, Punjab was wracked by terrorism, Parliament overturned the Supreme Court's verdict on Shah Bano to appease Muslim fundamentalists and the government opened the locks of the Babri Masjid to allow puja to appease Hindu radicals. The Jammu & Kashmir assembly poll was rigged, creating deep grievances among Kashmiris, laying the ground for Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in the Valley in 1989. As the bloodsoaked decade ended, violent protests against the Mandal Commission made caste as permanent a divisive force in Indian politics as religion.
India in 2011 is a very different country from India in 1975. Literacy has more than doubled from 35% to 74%. GDP has leapt nine times from .8.42 lakh crore to over .70 lakh crore. A large middle-class has emerged. Small towns have surging populations of aspirational young men and women. The media is unrecognisable from the suffocating mediocrity of Doordarshan and All-India Radio.
It is unimaginable today that the entire Opposition can be jailed, journalists muzzled, the Constitution subverted. Today the dangers are more insidious: the nexus between big business and politicians; the proximity between senior editors and political parties; the encroachment of criminal elements into electoral politics. It is this enemy within that is as dangerous today as subversive forces were during the Emergency in 1975-77. The system does not need to be subverted from outside anymore; part of the system has itself been subverted. The result: deep-rooted, institutionalised corruption and misgovernance. The recent decision of the government to remove the CBI from the ambit of the RTI underscores an authoritarian mindset unacceptable in a democracy. And yet cynics rail against the "tyranny of the unelected and unelectable". But the tyranny of the elected — as the Election Commission (EC) will confirm — can be far greater. Nearly 25% of MPs in the Lok Sabha today face criminal charges; 74 of those MPs have serious chargesheets framed against them, including murder, kidnapping, rape and extortion.
Consider the winners in the recent assembly elections: 75 MLAs in West Bengal, 36 MLAs in Tamil Nadu, 8 MLAs in Assam and 2 MLAs in the tiny Puducherry declared in their mandatory electoral affidavits that they have "serious criminal cases pending against them including charges of murder, kidnapping and extortion." In West Bengal alone, 17 of the Congress's recently elected 42 MLAs have criminal cases pending against them. Who does the voter elect when the choice in her constituency is between five criminals from five political parties? Is this not the tyranny of the elected? It doesn't end there: the EC has placed a cap on election expenditure of .40 lakh per Lok Sabha candidate. In reality, candidates from major political parties spend an average of .10 crore each — mostly in cash — per election. Is that the price to become "electable"?
The second argument advanced by the government and fired off compromised media shoulders is that in the Westminster system Parliament is supreme. Of course it is — but only insofar as Parliament itself represents the sovereign will of the people on which the Constitution itself is based. The peoples' collective will is thus supreme. Parliament is answerable to that will. To demand the highest standard of integrity of our parliamentarians is the absolute right of the citizen and the absolute obligation of the state. Tellingly, the infamous 42nd Amendment to the Constitution during the Emergency laid out only the duty of citizens. Citizens today rightly want to lay out the duties of the state through reformist legislation.
Cynics say democracy will be undermined and voters demeaned if activists demand timebound legislation against corruption, black money and other ills. Such pressure does not undermine democracy. It strengthens it. The UPA government labels anti-corruption activists sympathisers of the BJP. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the BJP won 18.80% national voteshare to the Congress's 28.55%. Out of 714 million eligible voters, the turnout was 59.70% nationally — and out of the 426 million Indians who voted in 2009, 78.43 million voted for the BJP. Employing specious innuendo to disparage both anti-corruption activists and the principal opposition party, which represents nearly a fifth of the country's electorate in Parliament, is offensive. Thirty-six years after the Emergency was declared, it is this mindset that undermines Indian democracy and demeans Indian voters.
MINHAZ MERCHANT CHAIRMAN, MERCHANT MEDIA LTD
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SOUTH CHINA SEA CALLS FOR NUANCED APPROACH
RUP NARAYAN DAS
Fresh bouts of turbulence in South-China Sea surfaced with Vietnam holding a live fire drill on June 13 on the grounds that Beijing exacerbated the tension by hindering the operation of the Vietnamese oil & gas operation boat in the Nansha island in the South-China Sea, or the East Sea, as referred to by Hanoi. Relations between Beijing and Hanoi have been strained recently over a long-standing dispute relating to the sovereignty of the resource-rich Paracel archipelago and the Spratly islands in the South China Sea. In the latest spat, besides Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Singapore have joined the bandwagon. The jurisdiction over South China Sea, which has rich natural resources like oil and gas, has been a matter of dispute between China and a number of littoral states in the region, which includes the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, besides Vietnam. A large volume of the world's merchandise pass through the sea-lanes. China has claimed a large number of islands there, which covers most of the sea's 6,48,000 squire miles, including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.
The US State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said recently that the incidents had raised tension and concerns about maritime security. US Senator John McCain has also called on the US military to boost its forces in the South China Sea to counter what he described as China's 'undisputed' claims.
Beijing has displayed some degree of restraint, at least for two reasons. First, it does not want to dilute its recent projection of a responsible power, and second, it doesn't want to provoke other countries in the region party to the dispute. China, however, perceived the Vietnamese act as some sort of challenge to its claimed jurisdiction over the Nansha island. It, therefore, viewed the development as creating new enmity. In a globalised world of mutual inter-dependence, the development in the region puts India in a piquant situation, in the sense that there are expectations in Hanoi for India to articulate a stand or position. Following some bilateral and unilateral naval exercises by India in the vicinity of the South China Sea earlier in 2000, which created some consternation in China, India displayed some restraint, which was reflected in the rather nuanced position of India with regard to South China Sea. Minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur, participating at the Asian Regional Forum (ARF) meeting in Hanoi in July last year, had emphasised the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. The ARF meeting reaffirmed the continuing importance of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea of 2002 as a milestone document between Asean members and China.
India has to calibrate its relationship with China, the US, and the countries of the region with degree of circumspection. No doubt, it's a tight ropewalk, given that some sections of the Chinese strategic community perceive that Washington wants Southeast Asia to form the centre of an Asian strategic alliance that also includes Northeast Asia and India.
India hopes that the temper and tide in the South China Sea will die down sooner than later, because China and Vietnam attach great importance to their bilateral relationship. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met with Nong Doc Manh, general secretary of the Central Communist Party of Vietnam, in Hanoi on the sidelines of the Asean summit meeting in October last year. The defence ministers of the two countries also met on the margins of the annual Shangri La dialogue in Singapore in this June. Both sides agree that the situation should be addressed diplomatically and politically and not allowed to escalate.
It augurs well that in a latest move to diffuse the tension, China and Vietnam concluded a joint naval operation in the Gulf of Tonkin. Following this, Vietnamese vice-foreign minister Ho Xuan Son paid a visit to Beijing in June and, according to Chinese media, a mutual consensus has been reached to solve the South China Sea dispute through friendly consultation only. These positive signs will hopefully de-escalate the regional conflict.
(The writer is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE CLOCK CAN'T STRIKE 13
Edward Bennett Williams, one of the most celebrated American lawyers of the last century, used an analogy to dismiss improbable, unwinnable arguments: the clock in the hall that strikes 13. How could one trust such clock to tell the hour?
Well, you can't, right? And certainly, that's the case with plausible, yet unwinnable, deniability, too. How can one trust someone who cries innocence even if credible — but not conclusive — evidence points the other way? This is the deceit Pakistan has perfected in its public diplomacy over the last two decades. The country's militaryintelligence complex, also known as the "invisible government", thrives on the principle of plausible deniability. Simply put, it means that you commit every transgression — from squelching voices of criticism, sponsoring mass murder and nurturing proxy jihadi groups to double-crossing its patrons, the US, in Afghanistan — but still say, 'no, we're honest; all the tales you hear are lies'.
But new evidence keeps sprouting to prove that this strategy stands on a very shaky ground.
On July 4, The New York Times confirmed a fact every sane observer was, in any case, certain about. Quoting what it described as "classified intelligence… which several [US] administration officials said they believed was reliable and conclusive", its report from Islamabad said that the murder of Saleem Shahzad, the courageous investigative reporter who had uncovered the extent of infiltration by jihadi elements in Pakistan's armed forces, in May was the handiwork of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, once described by military dictator Pervez Musharraf as the "bulwark" of the country's national interests. One of the US officials quoted in the report had a pithy comment about the actions of the ISI: "barbaric and unacceptable".
Then on July 7, without naming the ISI, Adm Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in
an unusually forthright disclosure that he believed that the government of Pakistan had "sanctioned" the killing of Shahzad and that he was "appalled" to learn about the circumstances that led to it. Whichever angle you look at it, this is a devastating indictment of the Pakistani state. One could take it as yet another indicator of the increasing trust deficit in the US-Pakistan ties. Or one could take it as yet another nail in the coffin of plausible deniability. Either way, the highest-ranking military man of the US won't speak just like that.
So, the "bulwark" of national interests? Of course, for a military with grand internal political and regional geopolitical calculations, maybe it is. But for as a democratic nation where rule of law prevails and fundamental rights are safeguarded, it is anything but. It's curious that after suggesting that inferences linking it with Shahzad's killing were made to "malign" the military's reputation as well as its own, the ISI went about calling and briefing Pakistani journalists to mute their criticism of the military-intelligence establishment in the wake of all those tumultuous developments in May that began with the US Navy SEAL's Abbottabad raid. In parallel, the establishment made some perfunctory arrests of military personnel on suspicions of working as Al-Qaeda/Taliban sleepers.
"The gunmen plus the planners, whoever they are, [are] stateless actors who have been holding hostage the whole world." This is President Asif Zardari, the civilian face of the praetorian state, speaking days after the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, in November 2008. It's another matter, though, that the establishment never bothered to ask whether does that mean that those 'stateless actors' should be allowed to freely operate and set up training camps where they can plan and coordinate devastating attacks on neighbouring countries.
Let's grant that plausible deniability worked then. This year in Chicago, the trial of Tahawwur Rana, accused of providing material support for the carnage, revealed that the Mumbai attack was made possible in part by direct support from operatives in the ISI, despite Pakistani government's promises of having severed ties with the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the jihadi group responsible for it. Although Rana was acquitted of aiding and abetting the 26/11 attack — he was found guilty on two other terror counts — the US government's prime witness in the trial David Headley sang like a canary in his testimony to US federal prosecutors. The US authorities have kept a lid of much of what Headley had told them. However, reports in the American media that quoted military and intelligence officials portray the sinister nature of the Lashkar-ISI collaboration. The ISI handlers, including the most widely quoted one during the trial, Major Iqbal, were not simply rogue elements of the agency; and the cooperation between the two was done in a structured, institutionalised way.
It's clear that the Pakistani state has not given up the notion of raising legions of jihadi groups as its 'reserve army' against India. But what's strange is that it refuses to realise that the protection afforded to jihadi thugs to operate, raise funds and set up hate seminaries has a huge, terrible blowback effect on Pakistan itself.
It's time the US told, honestly and repeatedly, Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment that their clock can't strike 13.
GOLD, SWISS BANKS AND KERALA TEMPLE
CAN WE USE PAST RESOURCES FOR FUTURE PROSPERITY? OR WILL THE WEALTH REMAIN FOREVER LOCKED?
In October 1929 the US had one of its worst stock market crash. President Herbert Hoover's policies proved ineffective in battling the ensuing recession. Many people feel that his government's policies made the situation worse. Hence he was defeated by F D Roosevelt in 1932. FDR brought in many radical policies, such as the Glass Steagall Act, curtailing a lot of speculative activity of banks. He introduced pensions and medical care for the elderly. He introduced an economic policy package called the "New Deal", in which government spending played a big role. The construction of interstate highways was a part of this package, sort of an employment guarantee programe coupled with infrastructure creation.
One of FDR's first and very radical step was the outlawing of the ownership of gold. During recession people hold on to assets which are long lasting, and which they believe will not "lose value". The US monetary system was such that forty percent of money supply had to be supported by gold stock. But government had very limited stock, and this too was rapidly declining, as people preferred to convert dollars to gold. Even foreign investors in the U.S. were doing it. So FDR decided to confiscate, or nationalise gold. In April 1933 all privately owned gold became illegal. All citizens were given one month, to convert their gold coins, gold bullion and other forms to dollars at a fixed rate of $ 20 per ounce (later revised to $35 dollars an ounce). This price corresponds to roughly Rs 7000 per ten grams in today's world. Thus gold was heavily underpriced, and forcibly confiscated. But this allowed the US to pursue expansionary fiscal and monetary policies for a sustained period. In fact the next four decades proved to be extremely prosperous for the American public, since employment, output, production, wages and standard of living grew continuously. During this entire period, the US money supply was tied to gold with a fixed rate of $35 per ounce. The ban on gold ownership was relaxed, but the fixed rate gold standard continued. This proved to be a boon to foreigners, since in rest of the world gold prices were tending higher. So you could buy gold cheaply in the US and sell dearly outside, making a clean profit. The US currency was thus artificially strong, which helped Europeans, since their exports to the U.S. soared. But by late 1960s this burden became unsustainable. U.S. started running huge trade deficits, which were compounded by huge fiscal deficits, thanks to huge spending on the Vietname war. Price levels in the US were much higher than rest of the world. The "gold standard", or the fixed value was a millstone around the American neck.
Enter President Nixon. On August 15, 1971 (ie exactly forty years ago) he abruptly ended the gold standard. The dollar "floated", and gold prices rapidly increased to hundreds of dollars. (Today dollar trades at 1500 dollars per ounce). The freebee to the world was over.
Just as FDR confiscated private gold for national good, is it conceivable in India? The country had to go begging in May 1991, even pledging its gold from the RBI lockers. We now learn that all this while our temples have had more than $ 100 billion worth of gold (at current prices). A highly capitalistic country can confiscate private gold, but it is unthinkable in India. We routinely take away fertile land from living farmers, but can't touch the gold given by dead people. We are mulling confiscating wealth from Swiss banks, since that private property was generated through ill begotten gains. But donations to temples given over generations? That's a different story. Who will then benefit from the Kerala (or Tirupati) gold? Can that ever be dematted? Can we borrow it for a couple of generations, for the nation's well being, and return it in, say 50 years?
TELANGANA: MANY QUESTIONS REMAIN
MLAs of various parties from the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh have sent in their resignations to press their demand for the formation of a new state. However, legislators of the same parties from other regions have taken a diametrically opposite stand. This suggests that the major political parties in the state are in a bind and are unable to come to a clear-cut understanding of the problem before them. Admittedly, the issue is ridden with complexity, and the parties in question are riding both horses. Equivocation and opportunism come easy to politicians. They wish to be seen on the right side of public sentiment, and there can be no denying that the sentiment for bifurcation appears strong in the Telangana districts. In the wake of the December 9, 2009 statement of the Union home minister, it is the non-Telangana legislators who had sought to resign. But after the dramatic moment passed, they continue to be in the House. There is, therefore, no knowing if the Telangana MLAs will really press for acceptance of their resignations. To them, in the normal course, that might make sense only when bifurcation is around the corner. In fresh elections in the new state, if one is created, they would not appear to be caught short and seen to be on the wrong side of history. Therefore, for now, one of the reasons that may have impelled Telangana MLAs of parties other than TRS to offer their resignations is that they do not wish to play second fiddle to this party, and keep some of the political initiative in their own hands, although the TRS may have precipitated matters. The totality of events so far speaks of considerable political jockeying and attempt at pre-positioning by articulators of politics in the Telangana region. But it is too early to conclude that we are on the cusp of a revolutionary departure. That might have been the case if the Andhra Pradesh Assembly were really gearing up for a resolution for the bifurcation of the state under the force of circumstances. In states which have been divided in the recent past, say Bihar and Madhya Pradesh (producing Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh respectively), there was no one single glittering prize adorned with exclusivity, as appears to be the case with Hyderabad. That made matters easier. Hyderabad falls smack in the middle of the Telangana region, but contributions to its greatness in the modern era have been made not only by the original Telangana people, but by inhabitants of all parts of AP, indeed people from all parts of the country. Therefore, the status of Hyderabad, if it is going to be altered, is never going to be an easy issue to decide. For a more cogent level of debate to obtain, proponents of a new Telangana can do no better than point to factors other than sentiment that drives their cause. Will the dry and backward Telangana districts have better opportunities in a new state in terms of irrigation, building up of non-agricultural employment opportunities, infrastructure creation, educational and health facilities? Can some of these extremely relevant issues not be effectively addressed, say, under a new authority within the existing framework, underwritten by the Centre? The story of some of the recently established states, Jharkhand in particular, does not give a thumbs up to the promised land of so-called self-governance. In particular, the interest of the poorer sections have suffered from disregard. Typically, it is certain business interests and the upwardly mobile middle classes, with the participation of political channels that funnel the cause of this aspiring new elite, that tend to drive the politics of change. But their efforts seldom make clear in what manner the interests of all classes will be served under an altered dispensation if new statehood is gained. The Telangana agitation is still to plug that gap.
PLUG IN AND PLAY
"Space extends and has no middle Time flows on, it's never too soon Nothing brings back the cat with the fiddle Or the cow who leaps right over the moon" Aria from Bheeda Pereeda by Bachchoo The cry of the Conservative used to be "is nothing sacred?" to which we, the fretful generation, must add "is nothing secure?" Britain today faces a crisis in its ethics of journalistic practice. Perhaps that's too elitist a way of putting it. The crisis is really one of decency prompted by the behaviour of a newspaper in the Rupert Murdoch stable. News of the World, the Sunday weekly in question, had a big-wig, an editor-in-chief called Andy Coulson. His paper, moving with the current of the Murdoch press, backed the Conservatives at the last UK election. The Conservatives didn't quite win. They were forced into a coalition with the third most popular party, the Liberal Democrats. British Prime Minister David Cameron formed his government and appointed the selfsame Mr Coulson, the editor of what is no more than a scandal sheet known universally as "The News of the Screws", as his special adviser in Downing Street, presumably to advise on the spin that ought to be put on policy when handling the press. Nothing wrong with that. A Prime Minister needs more friends than the Downing Street cat. But then Mr Coulson, the watering can to nurture the press, sprung a leak. It was alleged and later proved that while he was editing News of the World his journalists and other freelance "investigators" who were hired by his newspaper were hacking into the phones and computers of royalty, of footballers, movie and television actors, pop-stars and the like. The public were marginally appalled but continued to buy the newspaper which, presumably, was printing the trivia it obtained about celebrity lives through this process. Nevertheless, hacking is not legal and Scotland Yard launched an investigation into the criminality. Two people, one journalist and one freelance "investigator", were detained, tried and convicted for the offence. It seemed to end there. Though Opposition politicians and some of the Opposition press asked how Mr Cameron could retain Mr Coulson who was in-charge of the paper when it resorted to this crime, Mr Coulson stayed on. He said he was totally unaware that this was going on and Downing Street gave him the benefit of doubt. More revelations emerged. Some of them through the confessions of the convicted men who alleged that the practice of hacking was not restricted to targeting the royal family, footballers and stars but was also used on the phones of politicians. The scandal grew and Mr Coulson was discreetly, if not a moment too soon, dropped from being at the heart of the UK government. Then came the most disgraceful revelation of all. In 2008, a teenager called Millie Dowler was abducted, raped and murdered. Her body was discovered several days after she went missing from home. Last week her abductor and murderer was convicted and jailed for life. It then emerged that News of the World's journalists had hacked into Millie Dowler's mobile phone soon after she was abducted and intercepted the messages that her family and friends were frantically sending her, hoping against hope that she was alive and would pick them up. As anyone who uses mobile phones outside India knows, the phone, when not answered, prompts the caller to leave a message which it records in a voicemail vault. The messages are stored there till the vault is full at which point the prompt tells the caller that no more messages can be left. To accommodate more messages, one has to listen to the ones already there and delete them. This is what the hacking journalists did, leaving the parents and friends of Millie, who desperately tried to call her, under the impression that if the vault had suddenly acquired space, she was clearing her messages and therefore was still alive. It was a cruel deception. The revelation has changed the perception of phone hacking once and for all. People didn't much care if a footballer was caught calling his mistress or if a star was detected conversing with prostitutes. The private lives of the publicity junkies were presumed fair game. The argument about free speech and the public interest being served by knowing that their heroes had basic impulses and behaved badly were also trundled out. The hacking of Millie's phone is obscene and subjected the parents of this murdered child to what can be called mental torture. What did the newspaper hope to gain by it? Why did they want to listen to the voicemail of the victim? The exposure has caused MPs in Parliament to call for the resignation of the current editor-in-chief of all the Murdoch newspapers, one Rebecca Brooks. It has also uncovered the fact that Scotland Yard's policemen were being paid by the newspapers to pass on information. Though Mr Coulson no longer works for Mr Cameron, it is widely known that Ms Brooks is a personal friend of the Prime Minister and Mrs Cameron. There will no doubt be a few cancelled dinner invitations and holiday plans. The Murdoch chain, apart from having to face a public enquiry into hacking, is being drained of its principal advertisers who have withdrawn ads from the disgraced tabloid. This hacking of phones for journalistic gossip is the least of the problems which beset our communicative world. All of us who use computers and email have been sent begging letters, supposedly from our friends asking for money to be sent to accounts in Lagos because they are there stranded without cash, cards or a passport. I am ungenerous and have never fallen for the hackers' ruse, leaving my friend stranded in Lagos or Timbuktu. But these are the fleas and flies of hacking nuisances. There are elephants in the room. China has embarked on a universal project to hack into the intellectual property of Western governments and companies. This world-dominating economy realises that its present and rising power is dependent on cheap and disciplined labour. When this changes and Chinese workers begin to make more and more demands, the Chinese manufacturing economy will have to generate its own intellectual property or steal the stuff it relies on today. It has begun the stealing process and that reduces the hackers of celebrity phones to mere immoral social nuisances.
DEBT DEAL: WHY IT'S HARD TO TRUST OBAMA
On Thursday, US President Barack Obama met with Republicans to discuss a debt deal. We don't know exactly what was proposed, but news reports before the meeting suggested that Mr Obama is offering huge spending cuts, possibly including cuts to Social Security and an end to Medicare's status as a programme available in full to all Americans, regardless of income. Obviously, the details matter a lot, but progressives, and Democrats in general, are understandably very worried. Should they be? In a word, yes. Now, this might just be theatre: Mr Obama may be pulling an anti-Corleone, making Republicans an offer they can't accept. The reports say that the Obama plan also involves significant new revenues, a notion that remains anathema to the Republican base. So the goal may be to paint the Grand Old Party (GOP) into a corner, making Republicans look like intransigent extremists — which they are. But let's be frank. It's getting harder and harder to trust Mr Obama's motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right. In fact, if all you did was listen to his speeches, you might conclude that he basically shares the GOP's diagnosis of what ails our economy and what should be done to fix it. And maybe that's not a false impression; maybe it's the simple truth. One striking example of this rightward shift came in last weekend's presidential address, in which Mr Obama had this to say about the economics of the budget: "The government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can't afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs". That's three of the Right's favourite economic fallacies in just two sentences. No, the government shouldn't budget the way families do; on the contrary, trying to balance the budget in times of economic distress is a recipe for deepening the slump. Spending cuts right now wouldn't "put the economy on sounder footing". They would reduce growth and raise unemployment. And last but not least, businesses aren't holding back because they lack confidence in government policies; they're holding back because they don't have enough customers — a problem that would be made worse, not better, by short-term spending cuts. In his brief remarks after Thursday's meeting, by the way, Mr Obama seemed to reiterate the Herbert Hooveresque view that deficit reduction is what we need to "grow the economy". People have asked me why the President's economic advisers aren't telling him not to believe in the confidence fairy — that is, not to believe the assertion, popular on the Right but overwhelmingly refuted by the evidence, that slashing spending in the face of a depressed economy will magically create jobs. My answer is, what economic advisers? Almost all the high-profile economists who joined the Obama administration early on have either left or are leaving. Nor have they been replaced. As the Wall Street Journal recently noted, there are a "stunning" number of vacancies in important economic posts. So who's defining the administration's economic views? Some of what we're hearing is presumably coming from the political team, whose members seem to believe that a move towards Republican positions, reminiscent of former President Bill Clinton's "triangulation" in the 1990s, is the key to Mr Obama's re-election. And Mr Clinton did, indeed, rebound from a big defeat in the 1994 midterms to win big two years later. But some of us think that the rebound had less to do with his rhetorical move to the centre than with the five million jobs the economy added over those two years — an achievement not likely to be repeated this time, especially not in the face of harsh spending cuts. Anyway, I don't believe that it's all political calculation. Watching Mr Obama and listening to his recent statements, it's hard not to get the impression that he is now turning for advice to people who really believe that the deficit, not unemployment, is the top issue facing America right now, and who also believe that the great bulk of deficit reduction should come from spending cuts. It's worth noting that even Republicans weren't suggesting cuts to Social Security; this is something Mr Obama and those he listens to apparently want for its own sake. NYT
NEW NATION, NEW HOPE
Today, the Republic of South Sudan will join the community of nations. Foreign dignitaries will converge on its capital, Juba, to watch the new country raise its flag and inaugurate a first President, Salva Kiir Mayardit. For the more than eight million citizens of South Sudan, it will be a momentous and emotional day. In January, they voted in an historic referendum to separate from the rest of Sudan. That they did so peacefully is a credit to both the North and South Sudanese leadership. Yet nationhood has come at steep cost: A staggering number of lives lost and people displaced in a 21-year civil war that ended only in 2005. When the assembled Presidents and Prime Ministers board their official planes to return home, the challenges that remain will be daunting indeed. On the day of its birth, South Sudan will rank near the bottom of all recognised human development indices. The statistics are truly humbling. It has the world's highest maternal mortality rate. Estimates of illiteracy among the female population exceed 80 per cent. More than half of its people must feed, clothe and shelter themselves on less than a dollar a day. Critical issues of poverty, insecurity and lack of infrastructure must all be addressed by a relatively new government with little experience and only embryonic institutions. I came to appreciate the sheer scale of these challenges, for myself, when I first visited South Sudan in 2007 — an area of 620,000 square kilometres with less than 100 kilometres of paved road. Within this larger context, the risk of increased violence, harm to civilian populations and further humanitarian suffering is very real. At the same time, South Sudan has remarkable potential. With substantial oil reserves, huge amounts of arable land and the Nile flowing through its centre, South Sudan could grow into a prosperous, self-sustaining nation capable of providing security, services and employment for its population. Alone, South Sudan cannot meet these challenges nor realise its potential. Doing so will require partnership — a full (and on-going) engagement with the international community and, most especially, South Sudan's neighbours. First and foremost, the new leaders of South Sudan should reach out to their counterparts in Khartoum. Strong, peaceful relations with the North are essential. A priority for both countries is agreement on their common border, sustainable relations to ensure both states can benefit from the oil revenues in the region, and cross-border arrangements to continue their strong historical, economic and cultural ties. Recent instability in Southern Kordofan and Abyei have strained North-South relations and heightened political rhetoric. Now is the time for both the North and the South to think of the long-term benefits of working together, not short-term political gains at the other's expense. South Sudan must also reach out to its other neighbours. Across the globe — and in Africa, especially — the trend is towards regional partnerships. South Sudan will be strengthened by becoming an active participant in the regional organisations of East Africa and developing durable trade and political ties throughout the continent. Finally, South Sudan must reach out to its own people. It must find strength in diversity and build institutions that represent the full constellation of its broad geographic and ethnic communities. The basics of any modern, democratic state must be guaranteed: free expression, full political rights, inclusive institutions that extend benefits to citizens of rural areas as well as regions affected by conflict. In the 21st century, the international community has increasingly come to recognise the responsibilities of governments to their citizens, including the protection of political space and democratic rights. The popular uprisings in North Africa and West Asia have shown what can happen when governments are inattentive to the needs of their people. The United Nations is committed to assisting the government of South Sudan to meet its many responsibilities. That is why I have proposed a new United Nations mission in South Sudan: to help build the institutions that the country needs to stand on its own. In doing so, let us remember that the United Nations is only one part of a broader set of partnerships that the government should develop — with the North, with its neighbours in the region and beyond and, most importantly, with its own people. Today, I will join other leaders in Juba to mark the birth of South Sudan. The last thing a new nation needs is a celebration as it springs into existence, only to then be forgotten until the next crisis. Our purpose is to do more than celebrate this milestone. It is to highlight the international obligation to stand by the people of South Sudan as they seek to build a stable, strong and ultimately prosperous nation. * The author is Secretary-General of the United Nations By arrangement with International Herald Tribune
END THIS DECEIT
TELANGANA CRIES OUT FOR A SOLUTION
THE mass resignation of members of Parliament and of the Andhra Pradesh Assembly from the Telangana region, cutting across party loyalties, has created a constitutional and political crisis. The Congress-led UPA government seems blissfully unaware that administration in the State has come to a standstill. Hyderabad is burning and Union home minister P Chidambaram claims the situation is "normal." Anguished over the UPA government dragging its feet on the Telangana issue, D Srikanth, a 19-year-old B Tech student in Warangal, committed suicide on Wednesday. Just one suicide, by Potti Sriramulu, was enough to open Jawaharlal Nehru's eyes, to concede the demand of Telugu people and to carve the State of Andhra from the erstwhile Madras Province with Kurnool as its capital in 1952. The area of Telangana was then a full-fledged State; it was called Hyderabad and had its own Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council. Sriramulu and other Telugu leaders who agitated for a separate State of their own never coveted Hyderabad. The merger of the State of Hyderabad with Andhra to form Andhra Pradesh was brought about fraudulently by the Congress at the Centre. Ever since, the people of Telangana have been agitating to annul the unequal union. Every agreement brokered by the Centre to redress grievances of the people of Telangana has been flouted, leaving them no option but to demand separation. More than 1,300 people have laid down their lives in the half-a-century long struggle for restoration of statehood which they enjoyed since the liberation of Hyderabad from Nizam's rule in 1948 by the Indian Army. How many should die?
The troubled waters were muddied by Chidambaram who announced on 9 December 2009 that the government would move the requisite resolution in Parliament to confer statehood on Telangana soon and went on to appoint the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission and gave it one year to submit its report. In a command performance the commission came out with its report last December offering a menu of five solutions and an unpublished secret chapter outlining steps to deny statehood for Telangana. The mischief was brought to light by the Andhra Pradesh High Court. Even after seven months of Justice Srikrishna submitting his report, the government has not taken any decision on the subject. Meanwhile, Chidambaram has mooted the idea of a Bodoland type of solution under Article 244 of the Constitution. That Article was inserted in the Constitution for the administration of Scheduled and Tribal areas. All of Telangana is not a Scheduled or tribal area. Chidambaram's insistence on arriving at a consensus between the people of Andhra and Telangana is misplaced. Andhra will never part with Telengana willingly. The UPA should not forget that it came to power in 2004 by striking a backroom deal with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and grant of statehood was included in the Common Minimum Programme of UPA I. Time is running out and the people of Telangana may not wait much longer.
MORE AND MORE WITH LESS AND LESS
THE All-India Council for Technical Education, under a cloud for lack of transparency, has denuded the benchmark at entry point. The move is breathless to put it mildly, and is bound to have a deleterious impact on technical education on a national scale. The risk of the worth of an engineering degree, in particular from the private colleges, being devalued is substantial. This is a very obvious inference, one that has promptly been articulated by the academic circuit in technological institutions. The disconnect is stark. The Joint Entrance Examination at the state level ~ let alone the IIT's exclusive evaluation ~ is a particularly difficult test to crack. Even after clearing the exam, many among the successful can't gain admission for scoring below the qualifying mark in the school-leaving exam. The AICTE has now effected a conscious compromise with standards. Towards that end, the qualifying mark in the core subjects ~ physics, chemistry and mathematics ~ has been brought down to a ridiculous 45 per cent (general category) and 40 per cent (listed classes). Almost every government decision is substantiated with reasoning, however specious. This time, the underpinning is to fill the hundreds of vacant seats in private engineering colleges that have mushroomed across the country. These are generally considered to be below par, functioning more as money-spinning centres than institutions of higher learning. Indeed, higher education can never excel in terms of quantity. The primary criterion has to be quality whether in the arts, the sciences, engineering or medicine. Which makes restricted admission imperative. The AICTE appears to have been driven by the anxiety to churn out hundreds of thousands of engineers, with a fairly large percentage awfully weak in the basics. It has inflicted its decision despite the standing grouse of the corporate sector that private colleges churn out incompetent engineers. The HRD minister, ever so brimming with ideas, must take a call on this mass production of engineers with scant regard to merit. The council's fatwa has a nationwide application; it will be tragic if Jadavpur University, BESU and equally reputed institutions in other states have to fall in line.
PRICE OF SUSTAINED INDIFFERENCE
"THE more you sweat when training in peace the less will you bleed in war". Critical elements of the Indian Army ~ the men with the big guns in artillery or armoured corps units ~ are progressively finding it more difficult to exploit the lesson of that time-tested military truism. Their firing ranges are gradually disappearing, so chances of them practising regularly are slim. Some experts apprehend that in the days ahead the military will be left with less than a handful of ranges, the ones where the land has been acquired by the defence ministry. Most of the 50-odd others, where the land is merely "notified" by the state governments for a specified number of years, will no longer be available, notifications are not being re-issued. Pressure on land is one factor, obtaining environmental clearances for alternative use of forest land is another. And the general indifference of most state governments to the military's requirement exacerbates the difficulty. This situation is bound to become more intricate, even presently artillery and armoured (tanks) units have to travel long distances every year to reach ranges where they can fire their weapons. Seldom are such facilities available near the place of their deployment. A glance around the Capital confirms that the air-to-ground range at Tilpat and the ground-to-air range at Tughlakabad can no longer be used since they are encircled by the urban sprawl, severe limitations have been imposed on the Nicholson small-arms range in the Cantonment. The story is being re-told across the country: it requires little military knowledge to appreciate the gravity of the implications. While a recent report of the parliamentary standing committee on defence, and certain observations of the Comptroller & Auditor General, have brought the issue into focus once more, the problem is far from new. Way back in the mid-1980s the Army's training directorate had called for more "acquired ranges" across the country, most of the recommendations were held in abeyance. It would be easy for the military community ~ the air force is suffering too ~ to hold the babus responsible for the inaction, but have the brass really pressed the issue? Certainly not with same intensity as they have the procurement of advanced weaponry. Not even with the same fortitude as shown when converting training grounds into golf courses!
ALIENATION TO COOPERATION
PARIBARTAN AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR FEDERALISM
BY SUBRATA MUKHERJEE
ONE major factor that made it possible for the Left Front to rule for 34 years was that the Congress virtually abdicated its role of a responsible opposition, let alone emerge as a viable alternative in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee once called the party the B-team of the CPI-M. This is an appropriate description of a democratic oddity.
Before Independence, the Congress was a weak entity in Bengal. There were three other developments that helped to create the state's alienated political culture. One was the Second World War and its impact. It was felt most acutely in Bengal; the rest of India was hardly affected. The second, a fallout of the war, was the famine of 1943 in which 6 million people perished. The third was the Partition of Bengal; the consequences are being felt even today. The political culture of West Bengal was that of a disinherited state.
The migration from East to West Bengal spawned a large segment of deprived people. They formed a strong base for the emergence of radicalism. This enabled the Communists to play a pivotal role in Bengal politics even in the 1950s. For the first 20 years, the faultlines and contradictions were somewhat overshadowed because of the towering presence of Dr BC Roy. But even during this phase, the Left was engaged in forceful agitprop over a variety of issues, notably the burning of trams over a one-paisa hike in fares.
Post Dr BC Roy, the Congress declined and its split in the 1960s helped the Left to consolidate. Promode Dasgupta was a master strategist; he formed an alliance with the CPI, Forward Bloc, and RSP to ensure the dominance of the Left. This was an important development as both the Congress and the undivided CPI had a similar vote-share. The legitimacy of the Left was reinforced by its symbolic fight against the Emergency and the despotic rule of the Congress in Bengal with Siddhartha Shankar Ray as chief minister.
Three important developments helped consolidate the Left in the late 1960s. The idiom of Bengal politics was different from the rest of the country. The first was the policy of gherao initiated by Subodh Banerjee, the United Front's labour minister. It allowed organised blue collar workers to get their demands accepted by confining senior officers to their chambers. This led to the fight of capital and closure of industrial units. The second was unreasonable trade unionism that the Left supported. Employees of LIC were prevented from using computers. The World Bank chairman, Robert McNamara, was not allowed to visit Kolkata because of his role in the Vietnam war.
When it came to power, the Left's goal was to perpetuate its authority at any cost. Through Operation Barga it consolidated its position in the rural areas, originally the bastion of the Congress. Much as it criticised the Centre's "step-motherly treatment", the CPI-M could never devise a plan of development independent of the Centre.
Its attempt to form a Third Front, equidistant from the Congress and the BJP, came a cropper as the parties concerned had no ideological affinity.
The CPI-M also tried to emerge as a national party. The party's head office was shifted from Kolkata to New Delhi. But that did not help as its presence was confined to West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, a state that sends only two MPs to the Lok Sabha. It never analysed the reasons for its limited appeal and its restricted presence.
Within the party, there emerged two different political cultures, one known as the Kerala line and the other the Bengal line. Its ideological appeal was also limited. The CPI-M's chief minister of West Bengal was always perceived as the CM of the party and not of the state. The ultimate fight in Bengal will be between the Left and a 'better Left'. similar to the theory propagated in the heyday of Communism when it was believed that the struggle would eventually be between the Communists and ex-Communists.
The 'better Left' of the future has never been defined. Bengal has declined in every index of human development. The state's experience has reinforced the general perception that Marxist regimes worldwide are known for their governance deficit.
Despite land reforms, the agricultural growth rate in Bengal has been less than 2.5 per cent, well below the national average. Despite vast tracts of arable land, Bengal has not been able to match the productivity levels of either Punjab or Haryana. The Left Front did not initiate a green revolution.
The overwhelming failure of the Bengal Left is rooted in a failed ideology and a highly centralised party structure. Dissenters like Saifuddin Chaudhury had no place in the party. Unquestioning loyalty replaced honest opinion. The party structure reflected a patron-client relationship.
Liberalisation and globalisation further exposed the party's ideological bankruptcy. No attempt was made to reopen the closed industries. Yet capital-centric industries were invited to invest without providing the proper infrastructure, still less take the people into confidence. The same apathy was reflected in the Dooars where thousands lost their livelihood with the gradual closure of the tea industry.
Into this morass of failure, Mamata Banerjee rose like a phoenix. She has maintained a distance from the national parties without severing ties. Her stint with the NDA and now with the UPA is a re-statement of the BC Roy Bengal. It means that Bengal will have an important presence in Delhi's corridors of power without sacrificing its local identity. The Trinamul Congress is willing to share power with the Congress at the Centre in keeping with the concept of cooperative federalism. Mamata's stint as Railway minister in the present UPA government sent a message to the voters that a paradigm shift is not only desirable but also feasible.
She is aware of the compulsions of national politics. Her party is part of the national coalition, and yet retains its distinctive state identity. This strategy has relegated the Left's policy of confrontation and separate identity to the footnotes. She has convinced the voter that Bengal will flourish and stabilise within the larger framework of a federal India. Bengal's political and cultural identity will be reflected in partnership and cooperation with the Centre. In that sense Bengal has arrived under Mamata Banerjee.
The writer is retired Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi
'SOMEDAY, I WILL NAME HUSAIN BAITERS'
Anjolie Ela Menon, 71, has been painting for more than 50 years. At 15, she had painted 40 canvases and sold quite a few of them. Born in Bengal, she did her schooling in Nilgiri Hills (Tamil Nadu) and later travelled to Mumbai, Delhi and Paris to pursue higher studies. She become a celebrity at 18 when her very first exhibition was a hit. A gifted painter and renowned muralist, her works have been acquired by major museums in India and abroad. She has also represented India at the Algiers Biennale and in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She does not believe in "outsourcing" her work and continues to paint.
In an interview to KARAN BHARDWAJ, she speaks on MF Husain, Indian art and its market, and the fascinating world of creativity and artistic expression.
As a leading artist of India, what is your sense of the prevailing situation in the country? And how much does it impact your work?
I have always been a maverick, unaffected by situations around. I don't follow isms, any fashion or schools. Years ago, when I was in France, instead of getting influenced by Picasso's abstraction and cubism, I went the opposite direction to seek inspiration from the early Christian art of 13th century. In fact, The Statesman had once commented "What's Anjolie Menon doing in the 13th century?" I have always kept a distance from trends.
What is your assessment of India's art scene and people's response towards arts and literature?
The scope is enormous today. When I was young, I don't think there were more than 200-300 full-time artists. Today, there are around 3-4 lakh artists working in this country. Talking about trends, people are also doing kitsch art, a trend that I had set. There is also a great use of video installations. A new genre is emerging which I would call "superrealist bizzarre". Technology is being used for excellent effects. One finds good photography and digitally-enabled work presented with great imagination.
What do you make of the Indian art market? And what about the scope of Indian art abroad?
The Indian art market is very volatile these days. During 1998-2006, there was a boom in the art world. But that can be attributed to art investors, not collectors. Investment in art was done by syndicates. So, our works got packaged and stored. And when they decided to offload it, there was a crash in the art market. It also coincided with global recession...Today, art market is linked to stock market. It is upsetting that we are beginning to be considered as commodities. There are few artists such as Subodh Gupta, Nalini Malani who have made a global impact with museums seeking them out. Indian art is gradually getting increasingly noticed overseas. However, NRIs continue to play a major role in the demand for Indian art abroad.
How has MF Husain influenced your life and work?
He has always been a great friend. Surprisingly enough, though I was so close to him, his style of work never influenced me. He would tease me: "Aap old master kay jaise paint kyun karte ho, haan?" I used to call him Maq. Once, when he had painted Indira Gandhi as Durga, I ran into him in the lobby of Jahangir Art Gallery and said: "Maq, you are joking, na? You can't be serious! You have painted Indira Gandhi riding a tiger. Are you pulling someone's leg?" He replied: "Abhi main aata hoon," and slipped out of the backdoor. I never got the answer. Maq was a karmayogi. He showed that you could work anywhere. So, like him, I too can sit on the floor anywhere and paint.
Husain is dubbed the "Picasso of India". Do you think he was the greatest painter in modern India?
Absolutely yes! It was his overall charisma that made him the greatest modern Indian painter. He knew how to be at the centre-stage. He was the man who would constantly reinvent himself. Though he had a luxurious life style but in a way, he was a sanyasi too. His barefoot wanderings were not just a gimmick.
What is your take on Husain's exile? Do you think it was self-imposed or was he compelled to spend his last days overseas?
I have already stated that I will someday reveal the names of who were after his (Husain's) life. They targeted him deliberately, digging out old paintings. It was Hindutva fundamentalists and some other characters, including a failed painter who could never paint himself. He didn't have the guts to face Husain. These people set the goons on him. They even attacked Jatin Das. Husain was a victim of political conspiracy.
But how do you look at Husain's controversial works?
Those works were never controversial. The Bharatmata painting was never titled by him. That was done by the gallery exhibiting the work to get attention. The controversy was raked up by political parties. Many people had seen those paintings several times before but no one ever thought that anything was amiss until it was pointed out to them that their sentiments should be hurt.
Should there be any line for artists not to be crossed?
I hope Indian artists never give in. It is only owing to our freedom of expression that we have fared far better internationally than our counterparts in neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. We as artists will fight tooth and nail to retain our freedom. We are a very strange nation. On one hand, we don't mind Naga Sadhus wandering nude on streets, worship of phallic symbols, vulgar Bollywood films and dance moves but we raise eyebrows at art which is a far less-visible medium.
I have presented a 20ft x 8 mural to the people of Kolkata. It is placed at the head of a staircase at the Esplanade Metro station. It went missing couple of years ago but was eventually found. However, it has been damaged with another painting hammered into it. I request chief minister Miss Mamata Banerjee to intervene and restore and repair the artwork. Also, I don't understand why the state is called West Bengal. I think the word "West" should be dropped since "East Bengal" is now known as Bangladesh. The state should be renamed as Bengal. I am going to write to the chief minister in this regard.
INDIA'S SECRET DOPING SCANDAL!
India's doping scandal has rocked the entire sporting world. However, this scandal might be just the tip of the iceberg. A usually unreliable source told me there is a much bigger and more sinister doping scandal about which the whole nation is ignorant. He explained to me that while athletes use performance enhancing drugs there are other drugs that create such sense of blissful euphoria as to create complete detachment from the real world. The addicts of such drugs remain very happy despite bad things going on around them. These drugs, needless to say, ruin performance but create bliss. According to my informant there is wide use of such doping in the UPA government.
"It's true that the government appears quite happy even though governance has crumbled. But what evidence is there to support that it is due to doping?" I asked.
"There's new evidence coming up every day," he said. "Just the other day, the joint parliamentary committee learnt that there had been several meetings between Chidambaram (Union home minister) and Raja (former Union telecom minister). But it is not known what was discussed because there were no minutes kept of the meetings. We understand that Chidambaram cannot remember what was discussed. We believe he is speaking the truth. We suspect he was doped."
"But if there were no minutes of the meetings what was the need for the finance ministry to inform the panel about the meetings?"
"We believe that happened because Pranab Mukherjee did it out of forgetfulness. We suspect that he too is being doped! The CBI is keeping watch on the entire cabinet. It seems almost all ministers are being doped."
"This is terrible," I exclaimed. "Why doesn't the CBI inform the Prime Minister about this serious threat?"
"The CBI team did apprise the PM," he said grimly. "That didn't help."
It appears that the CBI team approached the PM after an appointment. "Hurry up and let me know what you want," the PM snapped. "My 18 hours of work are almost over. I must have my six hours of rest."
The CBI advised the PM about their suspicions. "There are too many unexplained lapses, Sir," the CBI official said. "You will recall how your own remark about the 25 per cent Bangladeshis being opposed to India caused a minor crisis! We suspect someone in the PMO goofed by putting it on the website because he too could have been doped. That is why leaders of Bangladesh took exception!"
"Rot!" the PM said. "Nobody from Bangladesh objected. I continue to have the best relations with Mamata Banerjee!"
The CBI officials fell silent. One of them coughed. The PM said: "Well, if that will be all you may kindly take your leave. I suppose you would have to catch your flight to Washington."
" Washington ?" the CBI asked in wonder.
"Yes, Washington ," the PM said impatiently. "You collect information for Washington, don't you?"
"No, no Sir! It seems you have confused us with the CIA! We are the CBI!"
"Oh," said the PM. "The CBI, you say? Hmm! So for which government do you work…?"
The writer is a veteran journalist
INDIA'S SECRET DOPING SCANDAL!
India's doping scandal has rocked the entire sporting world. However, this scandal might be just the tip of the iceberg. A usually unreliable source told me there is a much bigger and more sinister doping scandal about which the whole nation is ignorant. He explained to me that while athletes use performance enhancing drugs there are other drugs that create such sense of blissful euphoria as to create complete detachment from the real world. The addicts of such drugs remain very happy despite bad things going on around them. These drugs, needless to say, ruin performance but create bliss. According to my informant there is wide use of such doping in the UPA government.
"It's true that the government appears quite happy even though governance has crumbled. But what evidence is there to support that it is due to doping?" I asked.
"There's new evidence coming up every day," he said. "Just the other day, the joint parliamentary committee learnt that there had been several meetings between Chidambaram (Union home minister) and Raja (former Union telecom minister). But it is not known what was discussed because there were no minutes kept of the meetings. We understand that Chidambaram cannot remember what was discussed. We believe he is speaking the truth. We suspect he was doped."
"But if there were no minutes of the meetings what was the need for the finance ministry to inform the panel about the meetings?"
"We believe that happened because Pranab Mukherjee did it out of forgetfulness. We suspect that he too is being doped! The CBI is keeping watch on the entire cabinet. It seems almost all ministers are being doped."
"This is terrible," I exclaimed. "Why doesn't the CBI inform the Prime Minister about this serious threat?"
"The CBI team did apprise the PM," he said grimly. "That didn't help."
It appears that the CBI team approached the PM after an appointment. "Hurry up and let me know what you want," the PM snapped. "My 18 hours of work are almost over. I must have my six hours of rest."
The CBI advised the PM about their suspicions. "There are too many unexplained lapses, Sir," the CBI official said. "You will recall how your own remark about the 25 per cent Bangladeshis being opposed to India caused a minor crisis! We suspect someone in the PMO goofed by putting it on the website because he too could have been doped. That is why leaders of Bangladesh took exception!"
"Rot!" the PM said. "Nobody from Bangladesh objected. I continue to have the best relations with Mamata Banerjee!"
The CBI officials fell silent. One of them coughed. The PM said: "Well, if that will be all you may kindly take your leave. I suppose you would have to catch your flight to Washington."
" Washington ?" the CBI asked in wonder.
"Yes, Washington ," the PM said impatiently. "You collect information for Washington, don't you?"
"No, no Sir! It seems you have confused us with the CIA! We are the CBI!"
"Oh," said the PM. "The CBI, you say? Hmm! So for which government do you work…?"
The writer is a veteran journalist
FLEET STREET FUNERAL
Investigative journalism trumped by investigative journalism: such could well read the epitaph to The News of the World. This darling among British tabloids, which was steadily losing credibility — even by tabloid standards — over the past two years, has been finally forced to shut shop, thanks, primarily, to the dogged persistence of one Nick Davies, a reporter with the Guardian. In 2009, Mr Davies broke an explosive story: that James Murdoch, son of the media baron, Rupert Murdoch, who owned The News of the World, had paid £1 million as part of a secret deal to buy the silence of one of the many victims of his editorial staff's devious and illegal activities. The News of the World reporters were hacking into the mobile phones of public figures and gaining access to highly confidential data, including tax records and bank statements. Even after being exposed by Mr Davies, The News of the World neither took any action against the errant journalists nor did it change its editorial policy. Rather, it opted for the easy way out — underhand deals — and, in the process, got increasingly mired in a nexus of criminality, ineptitude, bad judgment and deception. Once a bestselling tabloid, The News of the World began to put off readers, soon there was an advertising boycott on it, and then, at last, came the unceremonious end, with the younger Mr Murdoch admitting to "inhuman" editorial behaviour, which was "without conscience or legitimate purpose".
Will the catastrophic death of The News of the World make Fleet Street a cleaner place? Presumably not — or at least, not anytime soon. Investigative journalists, who can often be confused with secret agents, are known to use phone-tapping, and other such extra-legal means, to gain access to classified information, justifying their intrusion as being in the cause of public interest. Although free circulation of information is the cornerstone of a robust democracy, such a project cannot breach the boundary between the public and the private. Phone-tapping should be the exception rather than the rule, to be used with utmost discretion, and only for the greater common good.
Self-regulation, ethical compunction and respect for privacy never were the priorities on Fleet Street, especially among the tabloids. The decline and fall of The News of the World epitomize the perils of consumerism without limits. It may be a chicken-and-egg question to debate whether tabloids create public taste or simply cater to it, but the fact remains that the two are necessarily entwined. But the end of The News of the World has implications that go beyond questions of readers and journalistic ethics. A momentous event such as this is expected to open a can of worms — involving the police, politicians, public servants and important public figures. It should also encourage new regulatory standards in the British press. The demise of The News of the World does not merely signal the end of an era, but rather, heralds the beginning of the end.
GIVE SOME, TAKE SOME
IT IS IN INDIA'S INTEREST TO BE GENEROUS TOWARDS BANGLADESH SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
Manmohan Singh's warning about Bangladesh reflected Inder Kumar Gujral's advice to Sheikh Hasina Wajed in the 1990s to not sell gas direct to India but via an American consortium. "Let them take their 10 per cent," he said. "Otherwise, we'll both be subject to too much political pressure." Too diplomatic to be specific, Gujral meant Bangladesh's Islamic fundamentalists.
S.M. Krishna's visit confirms the underlying message that neither country can afford to alienate the other. Political shifts and economic growth can change many things but not geography. Bangladesh is surrounded by India with a border of more than 4,000 km and 54 shared rivers. Apart from the Bay of Bengal, its only other outlet is the 193-km frontier with Myanmar. The retired Bangladeshi diplomat who argued in Dhaka's Daily Star newspaper that "geographical compulsion dictates that laying the foundation of friendly relations with neighbouring countries should be the cornerstone" of his country's foreign policy might have been speaking of India as well.
Of course, both countries can transcend geography in an age of advanced science and technology, as one of India's most perspicacious high commissioners told the Dhaka Rotary Club as long ago as 1980 when relations were less cordial. But cost and profit effectiveness make it advantageous to make the most of geographical and other complementarities, all the more when one neighbour's security demands the other's cooperation. The envoy also stressed that "to a very great extent", Indo-Bangladeshi problems are psychological and "this psychology is derived from our common past."
He stopped short of adding what is unfashionable to the point of being unmentionable — that today's subcontinental politics cannot escape the legacy of undivided India's Hindu-Muslim equation from which it sprang. Amen to the prayer of the optimistic Bangladeshi who wrote that Hindus and Muslims have lived peacefully "for over a thousand years and will have to live in harmony for thousands of years more". But that expression of hope wouldn't have been necessary if his premise had not been flawed. Despite Dipu Moni's handsome exoneration, Singh's comment caused a flutter precisely because it hinted at what is nowadays called identity politics.
The apology that he was not being "judgemental" is neither here nor there. If the prime minister is to be faulted, it's that he wasn't sufficiently probing. Hindus there will aver that Bangladeshis don't have to be "in the clutches, many times, of the ISI" to be "very anti-Indian". Apart from instinctive communalism, they can also have reason enough of their own. Even Bangladeshis who "swear by the Jamiat-ul-Islami" (Singh meant the Jamaat-e-Islami) can nurse grievances that secular Awami Leaguers share because they concern water resources or transit rights. Not all complaints can be dismissed as anti-liberation communalism.
If 25 per cent of Bangladeshis are "very anti-Indian", that's the group Indian diplomacy should focus on instead of basking in cozy camaraderie with the already favourable 75 per cent. But the prime minister's arithmetic is puzzling, seemingly exaggerating the importance of a minor electoral player whose 32,09,226 votes in 2008 meant only 4.55 per cent of the total and just two members of parliament against the previous 17. Had Singh said 37.39 per cent, it would have been clear he bracketed Jamaat's senior partner, Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party, in the anti-India camp. Some might also include H.M. Ershad's Jatiya Party (6.65 per cent) for all that he is now Wajed's ally.
But the 25 per cent isn't an empirical figure. In fact, Singh might have erred on the side of caution if he fears that a substratum of Bangladeshi society, cutting across party lines, is susceptible to religious propaganda. Wajed's ultimate refusal (after a tortuous sequence of events involving the courts) to abolish the "state religion" that was Ershad's handiwork and restore her father's "four state principles" (democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism) confirmed that Awami Leaguers aren't immune to populist winds. Islamist protests against the National Women's Development Policy echoed Ershad saying when he was president that Wajed would never be elected because an Islamic head of government must lead the nation in prayers, which is a man's job.
These internal matters don't concern India. But Wajed's ability to deliver may cause concern if she has to make concessions to the Islamist lobby for survival. Discerning Bangladeshis are not unaware of the problem. The Daily Star has published articles recommending inter-religious and inter-cultural cooperation as an "important aspect" of bilateral relations. The author warned of the danger of politicizing religion and demanded that "state mechanisms must be secular in outlook".
Bangladesh's small ruling elite is probably too cosmopolitan to be communal. But the base it rests on isn't. The latter cannot be expected to appreciate the nuances of various disputes either. It's easier to invoke the traditional bogey (which impacts on local Hindus) when India's commitment to provide 250 MW of electricity is delayed than trying to explain that there can be no power without a 100-MW transmission line that calls for a separate purchase agreement and will take two years to build after the contract has been awarded.
Some see Singh's comment not as an innocent generalization but as a devious bargaining ploy in the context of Krishna's visit, to be followed (according to New Age, another Dhaka daily) by Salman Khurshid as water resources minister and Sonia Gandhi before the prime minister goes in September. Connecting all these events, they accuse Singh of setting the stage "to seek a number of concessions from the Bangladesh government." Timothy Roemer's farewell speech as ambassador saying that the United States of America and India are "working more and more closely on issues such as Bangladesh" added fuel to fire.
This is what the former high commissioner called the "small-neighbour-big-neighbour syndrome" in which every attempt to improve relations arouses suspicion. The danger in his time was of sentimentally attached Indians being disappointed when their high expectations were not realized. The emotional fervour of 1971 still lingered in 1980. But it's gone now. Bangladesh may sizzle but it sizzles on a back-burner of Indian priorities. Across the border, however, Wajed's determination to punish her father's killers threatens to explode into a witch-hunt that can trample on the rule of law and drag India into domestic contention. Even a well-meaning retired bureaucrat's "We would like India to be our friend as it was during our liberation war" does that.
It's an involvement India must avoid. But overall cooperation can't await the resolution of particular problems like the participation of Bangladeshi businessmen in the commerce generated by transit to the Northeast, a $3-billion trade imbalance, the illegal influx into West Bengal and the Northeast or the South Talpatti/New Moore island controversy. If relations don't improve, they will stagnate, which means worsen. Pakistan won't be the only beneficiary. In its search for "a compliant, divided periphery" (Henry Kissinger's words), China is ever ready to offer Bangladesh the market access India can't, mainly because of domestic textile interests.
India must make some sacrifices and cut some losses in the greater interest of securing the Northeast and its eastern flank as well as of saving an ideal. Krishna expects Dhaka, which has been helpful in tracking rebels, also to liquidate terrorist bases. Self-interest demands that India, with eight times the population of Bangladesh and more than 12 times its gross domestic product (quoting Bangladeshi papers), should be generous.
This was the gist of the Gujral Doctrine which Nirupama Rao reiterated recently (without attribution) by crediting India with adopting "an asymmetrical and non-reciprocal approach" in strengthening the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation "where we are willing to go the extra mile in order to strengthen regional cooperation". However, that may not be quite as obvious in Dhaka (or Kathmandu, Thimphu and Colombo — Islamabad is another matter) as it is in the external affairs ministry in New Delhi.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
BOUNCING BACK TO A SOLUTION
After hitting the hard surface of the lose-lose game, the Turkish Parliament started to bounce back on Friday to overcome the oath-taking crisis before the summer recess next week.
The new Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek's diplomacy between Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu became more visible yesterday. On Thursday, Kılıçdaroğlu paid a visit to Çiçek to formally congratulate him, after which he said he presented a formula that could open the way for his Republican People's Party, or CHP, to end their protest and take their parliamentary oaths.
The formula, which was also proposed to President Abdullah Gül a week before by Kılıçdaroğlu, was a working group between the party groups in Parliament to find a way to decrease the detention periods, which can go up to an incredible 10 years under the current laws. That actually is the reason of the protest of the CHP. There are eight deputies elected in the June 12 elections by the people – two of them being from the CHP - but they are still in jail even though they haven't been convicted. They've already been behind bars for around two years. That goes beyond European standards and as a matter of fact it is matter of criticism domestically and abroad.
Çiçek had said on Thursday after the meeting with Kılıçdaroğlu that he was planning to call the officials of the parties to discuss the situation and he was sure that a solution would be found under the roof of the Parliament, nowhere else.
On Friday it was Erdoğan's turn to pay a courtesy visit to Çiçek, after which he said that when Çiçek makes the call his Justice and Development Party, or AK Parti, would provide members to such a commission.
It is true that Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu are moving closer inch by inch, but that might be understandable after the exchange of harsh words over the last two weeks.
We have seen yesterday an inch more by Erdoğan when he also complained of the "delayed justice" in the courts and the need to correct the law. Then he went further to say that the crisis might be solved, "God willing," by Monday.
The CHP was ready yesterday to go into Parliament and take their oaths, perhaps with a demonstration of their oath, to be able to take part in rewriting the Constitution. Following a statement by the lawyers of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned-for-life leader of the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, again on Friday, the Kurdish problem focused Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, is also likely to end its Parliament boycott and would like to take part in the constitutional work. The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, had already said they would like to be a part of a reconciliation commission in Parliament for a new constitution.
If there are no big surprises from now, no new political crisis a la Turca, then it seems we are heading toward a solution a-la-Turca. First you have to hit bottom, then bounce back.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB IN A NEW CABINET
With Turkey's new Cabinet announced this past week, there's been no shortage of analysis. In the crush of scrutiny, however, somewhat overlooked was the new job of Erdoğan Bayraktar, at the new Ministry of the Environment and Urban Planning. It could be the most important job in the government.
I assumed when I read the news of this innovative coupling of cities and the environment that it was a Turkish "first." Not quite. Two others preceded him in ministries similarly constructed: Mara Dyoumba in the Republic of Guinea in 1972 and Benin's Luc-Marie Gnacadja from 1999 to 2005.
But the wisdom of two African governments should not detract from the ruling party's profound decision to create this new post. For the "environment" is too often conceived in terms of parks and preserves. It's really about carrying capacity. If we don't have a sustainable plan to accommodate people, we can forget about the rest of the planet.
Many greens will certainly attack this argument. But the more thoughtful ones are moving in this direction. The new discourse in some environmentalist circles began with a 1985 article by architect Peter Calthorpe who was to go on to found the concept of "new urbanism." Back then Calthorpe argued: "The city is the most environmentally benign form of human settlement. Each city dweller consumes less land, less energy, less water, and produces less pollution than his counterpart in settlements of lower densities."
Others have reached the same conclusion, including the authors of a 2003 United Nations-Habitat report, "The Challenge of Slums." Its heretical observation was that the world needs more of them: "…the only realistic poverty reduction strategy is to get as many people as possible to move to the city."
Intelligent urban planning is really the foundation of any kind of generally sustainable environmental planning. For most of the past decade, Bayraktar has headed TOKİ, the government's mass housing administration, responsible for nearly half a million new units of subsidized dwellings. He's been criticized for creating "vertical slums," poorly conceived high-rises destined to become like Paris' violence- and riot-prone "banlieu" which house most immigrants. Perhaps. But unlike most politicians, Bayraktar has publicly acknowledged mistakes and expressed openness to new ways of thinking.
"The social dimension is the most important one for urban transformation," he told a housing conference last February. "But we cannot say that we are thoroughly competent and successful in this regard." Bayraktar went on to ask participants for criticism and ideas, an attitude that should serve him well in his new job.
As with a rapidly urbanizing world, Turkey's transformation of recent decades from an 80 percent agrarian society to a 70 percent urban one is the mega-event affecting the environment. No environmental policy can be successful if this transformation is a failure.
Bayraktar has proved himself a capable and thoughtful civil servant and technocrat. His novel new job reflects deep and promising thinking. He is entering policy territory that is uncharted. But it is the territory through which the only path to planetary sustainability must lead.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
Only six months ago, 2011 began with all Arab leaders starting yet another year glued to their chairs. They persist and insist. Their populations have also been persistently patient for decades. The world called it stability.
Six months down the path of time, the picture is totally different. Stability gave way to chaos. Tunisia opened the door and Egypt came rushing in, followed now by Yemen and turbulences continue everywhere. Hold your judgment please. The puzzle is not yet complete and the pieces not all in yet. The picture is still in the making and will be for some time to come.
The past decades of persistent dictatorship, oppression and exclusion of all others has finally yielded to the determined population. The bursts of change seemed unorganized or at least unfamiliar in their fluid organization. Nothing happens without some form or shape. All the regimes under attack and the ones watching from the sidelines, together with the ones with vested interests, found the fluidity challenging to deal with. Some engaged just to exaggerate the presentation of chaos and in instances even attempted to help it along to defend their own interests of control. Some still do.
If it is genetic determination then we will not have to fear. Both values of perseverance and patience will continue to play the scene. The only difference in the game so far is that the roles have been exchanged. More determined then ever are the ever patient and resilient populations. All over the Arab world, with a few late bloomers, people are coming out in mass and they are determined to change. As the roles of leadership change, the opposite model is called for: Democracy, Justice and Freedom.
The change process unfolds. It begs many questions while everyone seems to be on the look out for the answers. The onlookers are just as impatient and possibly just as determined in the pursuit of the end result. For some, questions seem more wonderful than answers. I wonder, what Egypt will look like in one year, or for that matter, I wonder what the entire region will look like by then. This is not entirely an open field and the games are not without rules, it is exciting to speculate.
A clear road map with less questions and more planned actions designed to illicit its required results might be welcomed by many. Unfortunately, any preplanned road map can only succeed with much flexibility. Like a prepaid phone card, the limits will curtail the openness of the process, more importantly it could also limit the ability to reenergize and to improvise. The power structures are in the making. Can we be patient without feeling powerless?
The change is definitely not about changing a few people at the top or even the ruling gangs. That was only a prerequisite. The real change is the challenging task of changing the many layers of the system. For the change from dictatorship of a few with the exclusion and oppression of the majority, the decision making system will have to change to the rule of the majority in awe and respect for the minority. For Justice to prevail as opposed to lawlessness and double standards, the rights and duties system will have to look and behave differently. The detriment in the change is going to be the cultural system. The value system will take time to eventually emerge. The redefining of stability will be paramount.
It is perhaps, easiest to point fingers at individuals, yet more challenging to point fingers at a dysfunctional system. Egypt, the direct beloved of 80 million inhabitants and many more millions around the globe, is barely moving beyond pointing fingers mode.
So now we have a group of individuals taking the wrap and have arrived at a feel-good conclusion that the whole system is corrupt. In the High Technology computer lingo, we will need to reformat the entire main frame. I understand from those who claim to understand, that technically it would be possible. This is the daunting work ahead.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
WHY BUSINESS AS USUAL BETWEEN ISRAEL AND TURKEY
The well-known secret around town nowadays is the increasing number of contacts between Israel and Turkey. I don't know whether official contacts are working in the right direction. There are rumors, but when in the economy, there are concrete figures. When it comes to the economy; it is business as usual between Israel and Turkey. Let me tell you why...
The Mavi Marmara incident was traumatic for Turkey. For the first time since the fall of the Empire, citizens of Turkey were killed by a foreign army. Let me correct: They were killed by a friendly foreign army. That is the stark reality. So forget about the legality discussions of whether Israel had the right or not: It is bad by definition. You have to understand this to see why it definitely requires an apology. This is fact number one.
However, have you checked trade figures lately? Just do it. Bilateral trade between Israel and Turkey has increased around 30 percent since the incident. Despite all the political rhetoric, early demonstrations against Israel, a heated debate, etc., the connectivity is there to stay. Thanks to the economy. The latter is important in shaping the future of the Middle East. This is the area where we have to focus more. That is why I like to tell my friends from Israel that the best way to look for solutions for our current mundane problems is to try imagining the Middle East 20 years from now. Let me tell you, it is refreshing, gives you a new perspective. I do recommend it.
For instance, 20 years ago, would you ever imagine that Turkey's number one export item to Israel would be electric cars? Today it is the reality. Technology is changing. Economies are changing. So the Middle East may not be the same 20 years from now.
There are three things in common between Israel and Turkey. The first one is widely cited but let me reiterate: Some time ago, I had noted: "There are two types of countries in the Middle East, those that require demonstrations in their Tahrir Squares to initiate change and those that can use the ballot box as a transformational device." Israel and Turkey both belong to the second group. Sharing common values is good. We do.
The second similarity is that both Israel and Turkey are countries in flux. They are changing, and they are changing by migration. Israel is changing through external migration whereas Turkey is changing through internal migration. Newcomers to Israel are more conservative - so are the newcomers to Turkish cities. But I think the aspirations are the same. In both cases the target consumption basket is the average consumption basket of our shared civilization, which is good.
The third element is the private-sector-driven economic dynamism in Israel and Turkey. In both countries, there is no need for a "zero problems policy" to get permission from the political elites for business people to interact (unless it's a huge government contract, of course). It is not "business by design," where politicians need to build bridges and issue permission for businesspeople to interact. It is "business by interaction." Two businessmen from both countries simply come together and trade. Connectivity does not require prior permission in the case of the two market economies of our region. For the other countries in the Middle East, it is business by design. That's where you need Prof. Davutoğlu and his "zero problems policy" and it is understandable. For me at least.
Let me also underline the fact that, despite the incident, Turkish Airlines, the flag carrier of Turkey, continues to operate four daily flights between İstanbul's Atatürk Airport and Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion. The flights are operating at around 90 percent capacity. Good for maintaining the connectivity.
The Israeli-Turkish example attests to the success of business by interaction. Time for "It's the economy, stupid!" in the Middle East. Let's trade more! Let's focus more on the economy.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
DOUBLE STANDARD DEPENDING ON SUSPECT'S IDENTITY
MEHMET Y. YILMAZ
The procedure used during the operation in connection with the Lighthouse e.V. investigation, carried out in Ankara when former Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK, president and current member of RTÜK, Zahit Akman was taken into custody together with the CEO of private channel Kanal 7 Zekeriya Karaman, Kanal 7 top editor İsmail Karahan and two Kanal 7 executives, drew my attention.
Zahid Akman was detained at his home at 8 a.m. The other detentions also occurred at the same hour.
Therefore, it is not a necessity to raid people's homes at the crack of dawn.
Let me recall in all other investigations we know of, there was no issue of consideration.
One other interesting point is Zahid Akman was taken directly to the prosecutor's office without being interrogated by police. However, the prosecutor asked him to be taken to the police station and brought back together with the other suspects.
Let us remind ourselves of other interrogations: We know, from real life witnesses, that suspects were taken to the police first, then kept in unheated cells and were not able to meet even their most essential hygienic needs, then they were interrogated and transferred to the prosecutor's office.
Therefore, it must not have been a necessity to treat people as such, those who have not yet been proved guilty or innocent.
When writing this, I am not saying, "Why the same treatment was given to the suspects of the Lighthouse?"
I am saying this treatment is normal; this is what it should be like in a normal democratic system respecting human rights and rule of law.
In a country where such double standard exists, confidence in both police and the justice does diminish.
Deniz Feneri e.V. finally enters pro-government media
What I was wondering the most when the detentions occurred in the Lighthouse e.V. investigation was how the "pro-government media" would cover this story.
It came out to be just as I had guessed; a shy attitude and an attempt to hide the news.
Let me say Sabah is the one that failed. Detentions start in an investigation that has been ongoing for three years and the story is not on the front page of Sabah. In its Istanbul edition, it is tucked in a corner on the 26th page.
Zaman had it on its front page as a small story at the bottom. Continuation is on the 5th page, a 10 centimeter, three-column small story without any comments. That means, Zaman can have stories without comments, which has particularly attracted my attention.
Yeni Akit (former daily Vakit) featured it as a one-column story on its front page with a framed headline: "5 detentions at Germany Lighthouse case." The reader has the impression as if the detentions were in Germany.
Star Daily had the story on the 1 centimeter band at the bottom of the front page, saying, "4 executives detained at Lighthouse e.V." Who the executives are is unknown. The rest of the story is in on page 19, at the bottom of the page, a 10 centimeter, three-column story and two thirds of the story contains statements of the suspects' lawyers, claiming it was against the law that the suspects were forcefully brought to police.
At Yeni Şafak's front page, the story is featured with the headline: "How many truths does one mistake eliminate?"
There is also an announcement from the Editor-in-chief Yusuf Ziya Cömert in his column: "Deniz Feneri divided my column."
Cömert says he does not believe the suspects were involved is such a robbery, but acknowledges "he does feel an irregularity, a looseness did exist" at the Lighthouse in Germany. Some 17 million euros worth of "looseness."
Let me note that the German court that holds the Deniz Feneri e.V. case and the prosecutors that are waiting for Turkey to act before they open the second case do not agree with Cömert.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
DEMOCRACY, 3,000 YEARS AGO
I read from the papers of the formation of the 61st government while I was on holiday in Kaş.
Kaş is the most southern point of Turkey and although it only brings vacation to mind, it should not be forgotten that it was a part of the Lycian League that, with its federative structure of 3,000 years ago, influenced the United States Constitution.
The Lycian League had the most advanced democracy of the ancient era.
The league was composed of 23 cities and those cities were represented with as many members at the senate according to the population of the city.
It is also known that a president from a different city each year was elected to head the league.
A democracy that runs like clockwork.
For this reason, there are scientists today that claim that the creators of contemporary Western democracy are not the Greeks, but the Lycians.
We also know that the Lycians had a matriarchal social order.
Some traces have been found that at time the head of the union was a woman.
For example, the famous historian of the ancient times Herodotus cites interesting information about the customs of the Lycians.
When a Lycian was asked the question, "To which family do you belong?" he first uttered his name and then his mother's name and surname.
In Kaş, which is full of Lycian tombs, when I read that the only female minister in the 61st cabinet was the Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, Head of the Women's Branch, Gaziantep deputy Fatma Şahin, appointed as the Family and Social Policies Minister, I could not stop but think about this advanced civilization of the antique ages.
One woman against 24 men
Over the same land, when 3,000 years ago a woman had the opportunity to head 23 cities, our new Cabinet announced a few days ago had one woman against 24 men.
I don't think any other words are needed.
Now, let's take a look at Fatma Şahin, the only female minister in the Cabinet.
Deputy President of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, Gülsün Bilgehan sent her wishes for success. Can Şahin truly contribute [to solving] women's issues, among the most important in Turkey?
Şahin is a person who believes that many more women should take their places in the political scene.
Şahin is the person who leads the trainings in AKP to prepare women for politics.
Due to her intense fieldwork before local elections, 1,600 female candidates were nominated and among them 821 women were elected to local governments.
Şahin and her team made a first in Turkish politics with this fieldwork.
I have no doubt that with her businesswoman background, Fatma Şahin, who has been a member of Parliament since 2002, has accomplished significant achievements within the AKP organization to empower women politically.
But when it is the women's issues in question, there are a few other sides to the coin.
Against equal opportunities
Primarily, Şahin does not favor the "positive discrimination" that women's organizations in Turkey fiercely advocate but Prime Minister Erdoğan opposes. In one of her statements she gave as AKP's Head of the Women's Branch, she said she did not believe in positive discrimination and that women should gain positions with their own powers.
Şahin is disregarding the fact that it is not possible to come a long way without the practice of "positive discrimination" that has been practiced in many European countries especially in the Scandinavian countries.
Once she has said that "feminism has not been good to anyone up until today and will not be in the future." I remember Şahin saying at a KAGİDER meeting in Ankara that she believed in "strong family" instead of "free women."
In short, she has many times expressed that she has a traditional view of women's issues in line with the AKP.
As Gülsün Bilgehan said in her message to Şahin, due to the fact that the State Ministry in charge of Women was removed and replaced by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, the name "women" is not present at the state level in Turkey.
Will Şahin be able to produce solutions to women's issues ranging widely from domestic violence to honor killings, from child brides to participation in economic life with her "strong family" policies?
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
'ERDOĞAN, TURKEY, MUSLIM!'
Last week, Turkey's visionary foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, visited Benghazi, the stronghold of the Libyan opposition. Crowds were waiting for him at Tahrir Square, which was quite very reminiscent of its more famous namesake in Cairo. When Davutoğlu merged into the crowd with a smile and a hand in the air, he was welcomed with two interesting slogans. "Thank you, Turkey," people began to chant, adding, "Erdoğan, Turkey, Muslim!"
This is just one of the many signals of the new identity that the New Turkey of the 21st century represents. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Turkey now looks more Muslim than it ever did in the last three quarters of the 20th century. Moreover, it presents a success story based on democratic rule, economic growth, and self-confident foreign policy. Therefore, it looks more and more appealing to other nations of the Muslim world.
For some, the emergence of this "more Muslim" Turkey is a dangerous retreat from the "progressive" secularism that the country was subjected to since the days of its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. For others, including me, it is a "normalization" process, for Turkey's self-styled secularism was already too excessive. No wonder it was imposed by the barrel of a gun. So, pushing secularism back to where it belongs (to the state), and allowing the religious aspirations of the society to manifest themselves, including in politics, is a part of Turkey's necessary and ongoing democratization.
In that sense, the "Muslimness" of Turkish foreign policy should be seen as a bit like the "Judeo-Christianness" of American foreign policy. Both countries have secular states, but also deeply religious societies who see the world partly through religious lenses and expect their governments to do the same. In America, this means a strong alliance with Israel, not only because of pragmatic reasons, but also because of the "Christian Zionism" that echoes in many American churches. In Turkey, the equivalent of that popular sentiment is the feeling of solidarity with Muslim Palestinians and their aspirations for a sovereign state.
In other words, the new visibility of Turkey's Muslim identity is only normal. Moreover, it is very helpful as well, especially for the rest of the Muslim world.
To see the latter point, one has to see the negative impact of Old Turkey in the same world: The excessive secularism of Kemalist Turkey gave a bad name to modernization and created the wrong impression that Muslims have to make a choice between their faith and modernity. That black-and-white picture was one of the key root causes of the rise of Islamism.
The middle way
In Iran, for example, Reza Shah, who was a big fan of Atatürk, went even more extreme in the latter's idea of state-enforced modernization. In the 1930s he banned the veiling all women, ordered his police to patrol the streets to tear the veils off, and executed the ayatollahs who protested the regime's measures. As a response, the first modern Islamist terrorist movement, the Fadayan-e Islam (Devotees of Islam), was born, and it began assassinating the Shah's men. Secular tyranny had created its Islamic mirror image.
The Muslim Middle East has seen various examples of this vicious cycle between these two extremes – secular dictators versus radicalizing Muslims. The would-be middle way, a democracy which would welcome the aspirations of the Islamic pious, was squeezed out. What is invaluable about the New Turkey is that it represents that much-needed middle way.
Finally, I should say that none of this is flattery to the AKP. It is actually more of a reminder and even a warning. Since their self-declared mission to democratize Turkey is so crucial, they should be very careful to realize it in full. First, they should resist the corrupting effects of power, and stick to modesty rather than hubris. Secondly, they should strive for a truly liberal democracy, in which not the Islamic pious but also secular citizens, Alevis, and religious minorities are also protected and elevated. Only then will the New Turkey be truly admirable.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE CAUCASIAN WINTER
The Middle East is at the top of the international community's political agenda: The "Arab Spring" and developments in Libya remain priorities. On June 24, however, the world was looking to the Russian city of Kazan, where the Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijan presidents were meeting to discuss the long-running Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Before the meeting, local analysts had expressed anxiety about a new war. They spoke of a "Caucasus Winter," suggesting that political relations between regional countries were becoming increasingly frosty and that the region might return to the international spotlight. Other analysts have given exclusive focus to the issues raised by the Arab Spring revolutions as they might be transferred to the Caucasus, but the question of this possible "Winter" carries far more urgency.
Before the Kazan meeting, the international community shared these fears about the re-opening of the conflict and Kazan was described as the "last chance for peace." These hopes for the Kazan meeting followed what many consider to be an unprecedented joint statement by the United States, Russian and French presidents, at the G8 Summit in Deauville, France on May 26. The presidents of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan issued a joint statement after Kazan, to say the parties have recorded progress on the Basic Principles of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution.
It seems the main unresolved and contentious issues between the parties involved are the "basic principles" of the "Madrid Principles," proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group in 2007. After years of debate between the relevant parties, there is still some way to go before the "Madrid Principles" are accepted as the basis for peaceful political resolution. However, the procedural parameters for the settlement as described in the Madrid Principles are clear. This is the basic formula that has underpinned all previous attempts to negotiate a deal and which has been publically accepted by the Azerbaijani government, although Baku has attempted to compromise by offering to give Nagorno-Karabakh the "highest level of autonomy" within its territory (much as Tatarstan functions inside the Russian Federation). There is certainly a feeling within government circles in Azerbaijan that the current process is payback for the past years of "failed hopes," and in the absence of pressure on Armenia by the international community, the peace process has served only to support and solidify the status quo. This is why Azerbaijan saw the Kazan meeting as a key opportunity to establish a concrete peace process. The fear was that if this discussion fails to provide any further developments, as they have in the past, Azerbaijan may boycott future meetings.
In order to fully understand the dynamics of the peace negotiations and the current stalemate, it is important to consider the underlying basis of the Armenian position. On a practical level, Yerevan is under pressure from both Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto authorities and the Armenian Diasporas, notably in the U.S. These groups are more nationalistic and less willing to compromise than opposition parties within Armenia itself, due in the former instance to "frontier spirit," in the latter, to the luxury of distance. These groups exercise financial, political and ideological leverage over the Armenian government and are certainly not beholden to its policies. Any pledge by Armenia to withdraw from the districts surrounding Karabakh will face staunch opposition in Khankendi (Stepanakert) and could push the Nagorno-Karabakh separatist's military to launch attacks against Azerbaijan, as a means of disrupting the peace process. The fact that Armenia is building an airport in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan constitutes a real provocation; if Azerbaijan responds with military action, then it will be easier for Armenia to argue that Azerbaijan poses a threat to peace. The risk is that that the resolution framework will be abandoned and replaced by unilateral - and potentially military - approaches by both sides. This was demonstrated in a recent BBC Russia interview with Ter-Petrosyan, former president and the current leader of Armenia's opposition. He argued "the Karabakh conflict has not been resolved because the people of Karabakh demonstrated a maximalist approach - they decided that this was not enough, they could push harder and get more... And not just people in Karabakh," said the ex-president, who was forced to resign in February 1998, less than half a year after presenting his vision for ending the conflict.
It might reasonably be asked: Is this process about delineating the terms of a fair peace agreement, or is it about sustaining the status quo?
Obviously, each time the peace process has been restarted, we have heard the same kinds of hopeful statements from the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs and the same counsel from political analysts. Each time we have been told that those who criticize the Armenian position are "opponents of peace." But each time, this flawed political process has brought us no closer to a workable solution. Perhaps it is time to imagine a different process, one that takes seriously both the security concerns of Karabakh Armenians and the rights of Karabakh Azerbaijanis, as seriously need be. In other words, the ultimate objective of the settlement process is to elaborate and define a political model and legal framework for the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan believes the process of defining any such status shall take place in normal peaceful conditions with direct, full and equal participation of the region's entire population, namely the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities, with constructive interaction with the government of Azerbaijan and within the framework of a lawful and democratic process.
Last but not least, what the peace process procedure needs is a change in its "location"; it does not need to change its current format, only strong support and innovation can lead to resolution. Otherwise, the international political agenda will feature the war of the "Caucasus Winter," war and chaos as seen in August 2008, or a continued silence of "no war, no peace," as is seen internationally. The international community must bring "Spring" to the Caucasus and this means peace, constructive discussion (as in the 2001 Key West and 2006 Rambue talks). What we do not need is fruitless discussion based on copy-pasting of the Arab demonstrations. In the near future, the involvement of the international community in the peace process is a source of optimism; that is to say, the U.S., and France as a representative of the EU could bring a breath of "fresh air" to the process.
* Zaur Shiriyev is a Foreign Policy Analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies in Baku, Azerbaijan and the Executive Editor of Caucasus International journal.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE NEW STATE OF SOUTH SUDAN
On Saturday, South Sudan becomes a free and independent country. It is a well-deserved victory for its people. Under a 2005 American-backed political accord that ended two decades of civil war, the people of the mainly Christian territory voted overwhelmingly in January to secede from the Arab Muslim north.
Still, celebrations in the capital, Juba, cannot obscure a sobering truth: building a functional new country will take decades of hard work. Responsibility falls primarily on South Sudan, but also on the United States and the international community that shepherded it.
Africa's 54th state is at the bottom of the developing world. Most people live on less than $1 a day. More than 10 percent of children do not reach the age of 5. Some 75 percent of adults cannot read.
Meanwhile, festering disputes between north and south are stoking chaos in a land already bloodied by two million deaths in civil war. Sudan on Friday became the first state to recognize South Sudan. Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, author of the murderous war in Darfur, said he would attend the festivities in Juba. But he also said he would continue the fight that erupted last month against forces loyal to the south in South Kordofan, an oil-rich region still under Khartoum's control. Mr. Bashir's decision to order the United Nations to withdraw peacekeepers from South Kordofan is deeply worrisome.
Major elements of the 2005 peace agreement are unresolved — such as which side will control the oil-rich region of Abyei, where fighting has also broken out; citizenship protections for minorities; where final borders will be set; how oil earnings will be shared (the south has 70 percent of the reserves).
The two sides are dependent on each other. South Sudan needs the north's pipeline to get its oil to market. Sudan needs oil money to help pay its bills. Both need foreign investment and the north needs debt relief. They have a better chance of winning international support if they are at peace.
As an incentive, the United States and its partners have offered to convene an international conference in September for South Sudan. That will allow South Sudan's leaders to present their plans for encouraging desperately needed private investment. Washington gave Juba $300 million for education and housing and is promising more. International assistance should go forward only if South Sudan works constructively with Khartoum to bring stability to both countries.
The Obama administration, correctly, is not taking Sudan off its terrorism list and normalizing relations until Khartoum fulfills the peace deal and ends the conflict in Darfur. China, Sudan's main oil investor and arms supplier, should deliver a similar message to Mr. Bashir, who is under war crimes indictment, instead of receiving him with fanfare in Beijing and promising him new oil deals. The international community must persuade the two sides to avoid war and work to build a future for both Sudans.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SAFE, NOT SORRY, ON DRILLING
The Cuomo administration seems prepared to strike the right balance between environmental protection and economic development as it writes the rules that will govern hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technique used to extract natural gas from shale formations.
A long-awaited report issued July 1 by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recognizes hydraulic fracturing's potential dangers to water supplies and recommends a flat ban on drilling inside New York City's sprawling watershed. It would ban drilling in the Syracuse watershed, in aquifers used by other cities and towns, and in state parks and wildlife preserves.
The report, however, is merely a draft. The final environmental assessment and the detailed regulations to follow must be tightly drawn before New Yorkers can be confident that the gas will be extracted with minimum risk.
Nobody doubts the value of natural gas, an abundant, cleaner and more climate-friendly fuel than coal or oil. What worries many people is hydraulic fracturing, in which water, sand and chemicals are blasted into underground rock formations to unlock the gas. The technique has been used, mostly without incident, in hundreds of thousands of wells. But the risks have multiplied as wells are drilled deeper and stretched horizontally to get at remote deposits. A single site can cough up millions of gallons of wastewater laced with carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium.
The department is forming a scientific committee to further assess these dangers and recommend additional precautions. The biggest challenge, most experts agree, is figuring out ways to store and treat the huge volumes of contaminated water that drilling brings to the surface along with the natural gas.
Environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council have already identified one huge defect in the report: it proposes a buffer zone of only 1,000 feet around two major water tunnels that technically lie outside the million-acre New York City watershed but carry millions of gallons a day to the city. These tunnels are decades old and could easily be cracked open by drilling vibrations. They clearly deserve greater protections.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is obviously eager to proceed with more drilling. But the right rules must be in place first. Albany should not rush to finish its final assessment.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
HOW TO PROMOTE A MERGER
It seems surprising that organizations dedicated to advocating for gays and lesbians, African-Americans or teachers could take such a burning interest in telecoms that they would endorse AT&T's $39 billion plan to buy T-Mobile, which is under review by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department.
Yet since it announced the deal in March, AT&T's proposed megamerger has garnered the support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Education Association, among others.
It's hard to tell how much consideration they gave to the impact the merger would have on wireless communications, eliminating the No. 4 player in the market and shackling the cellphone network to a de facto duopoly that would have enormous power.
The N.A.A.C.P. highlighted that AT&T hired members of minorities, contributed to minority groups and bought from minority businesses. Glaad said AT&T had a good track record on issues that matter to gays and lesbians. All three noted that AT&T was a union shop and T-Mobile was not. These are all positive things, for sure, but what have they to do with the cellphone market?
What makes this picture murkier is the money involved. The N.A.A.C.P. got at least $1 million from AT&T in 2009. The N.E.A.'s foundation got $75,000 from AT&T's foundation last year, according to Politico.com. The Columbia Urban League in South Carolina, which supported the merger, got a $25,000 grant from the foundation.
The groups said their enthusiasm for the merger was not driven by AT&T's money. AT&T said, too, there was no quid pro quo. But AT&T can certainly use support from left-leaning groups to influence Democrats holding the regulatory levers. And the money is causing discomfort within some of the organizations.
The president of Glaad, Jarrett Barrios, resigned last month as controversy grew over the organization's support of the merger after it received $50,000 from AT&T. Mr. Barrios also disavowed a letter sent from his office to the F.C.C. last year supporting AT&T's opposition to the agency's proposed net neutrality rules, which would bar telecom companies like AT&T from blocking or discriminating against rivals' data flowing through their wires.
AT&T, by the way, also is the third-biggest donor to federal elections since 1989 — donating more than $41 million. In the 2010 elections, AT&T and its executives made donations of $10,000 and more to 100 candidates for Congress. It spent more than $15 million in lobbying in 2010.
AT&T has the right — as a huge corporation, indeed, the duty — to make philanthropic donations. They are just not a good basis to decide the future of the nation's telecommunications.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PERILS OF SMOKING, ON GRAPHIC DISPLAY
The World Health Organization issued a report on Thursday noting that large pictorial warnings on cigarette packages are effective in deterring smoking. The report, which addresses the global smoking epidemic, validates the recent decision by the United States Food and Drug Administration to require that big, stark images be placed on cigarette packages and advertisements to show that smoking causes death and severe illness.
The nine pictures that will be shown in rotation may be disturbing to some, but they should be more persuasive than the easy-to-ignore text messages that are tucked away on the sides of cigarette packages or in the corners of advertisements.
The images include photos of horribly damaged teeth and lungs, of a man exhaling through a tracheotomy hole, and of a man who needs an oxygen mask to breathe. Starting in 2012, the images and related text must cover the top half of the front and rear panels of a cigarette package and at least 20 percent of an advertisement's area.
At least 18 other countries already have laws requiring large images on cigarette packs. Studies in various countries show that such warnings raise awareness of the severe health risks, increase attempts to quit smoking and, in some cases, lead to an actual decline in smoking.
The evidence is not ironclad because lots of factors can affect smoking rates. But the bolder warnings should help persuade more adults to quit and show young people that the habit is more lethal than cool.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE D.S.K. ENDGAME
BY ROGER COHEN
For almost two months now, the chattering classes in London, Paris, New York and the Hamptons have struggled to talk about anything but D.S.K. The old animalistic elements have exerted their magnetism: power, sex, violence and race.
The 20 minutes from 12:06 to 12:26 in suite 2806 of the Sofitel New York have become the object of a thousand theories and a French-American bust-up. Yes, there's talk of a U.S. default and Greece is a bottomless pit, but those 1,200 seconds spent together on May 14 by Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a Guinean housekeeper trump every geostrategic lurch.
Race was long a subtheme in much of the breathless speculation on the encounter of a powerful white man with an African refugee woman from a country where 70 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. But of late it has merited some French philosophizing. Bernard-Henri Lévy has suggested his friend Strauss-Kahn was the victim of "lynching, in sympathy with minorities, by their supposed friends."
That's a convoluted formulation from a dashing philosopher.
The gist of Lévy's theory is this: New York's travesty of justice cast Strauss-Kahn as the guilty guy because he was rich in post-crash New York, just as Dreyfus was once guilty in anti-Semitic Paris because he was Jewish, while the maid had right on her side because she was poor and black.
Sorry, cher ami, I don't buy it. Facts, not race or prejudice, have dictated events.
In those 20 minutes, Strauss-Kahn's semen ended up on the clothing of a bruised maid. She was in extreme distress, convincing to several Sofitel employees. New York prosecutors and police needed probable cause to arrest Strauss-Kahn before he left the country for France. They had probable cause.
Then came the infamous "perp walk," to which New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken belated exception. But as Police Commissioner Ray Kelly noted, "We have been walking prisoners out of the front doors of station houses for 150 years in this Police Department," adding, "There is no back door."
When there's power, sex and race involved and the guy in the drama walks out the front door, what you get in a free society is a "media circus," or what French intellectuals now call the "media guillotine." Strauss-Kahn got himself into that circus; nobody else did.
So began the cultural wars that, as usual, ended up reconfirming each nation in its preconceptions. To the French, Americans were brutal, uncivilized, brash savages subjecting an international public servant to humiliation that amounted to guilt by association.
To Americans, the French don't get what democracy means: everyone — Strauss-Kahn, Madoff, some Bronx kid — is equal before the law and a Manhattan district attorney does not hesitate to believe a maid over a managing director.
So the D.S.K. affair turned into a Rorschach test revealing old stereotypes. American "freedom," to the scoffing French, was once again the law of the jungle. French "égalité," to outraged Americans, was the usual baloney, a cover for inequality before the law and entrenched male privilege.
Let's get back to the 20 minutes and the facts. The district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., found that the maid had lied about her past (exaggerating or inventing incidents to make her case for getting into the U.S. more persuasive), kept dubious company and had dubious cash deposits. Her word against Strauss-Kahn's began to look like a tough case to make.
Guilt and the provability of guilt do not always coincide. That's how the presumption of innocence and trial by jury work. I don't see, given the facts as they now stand, how there can be any outcome other than a dismissal of the case.
But the story doesn't end there. Tristane Banon, a goddaughter of Strauss-Kahn's second wife, filed a criminal complaint in Paris accusing Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her eight years ago. Her mother says he once confided: "I don't know what came over me. I lost my mind." Questions about D.S.K. and women go well beyond 20 New York minutes.
Dominique Moïsi, a distinguished French political scientist, told me: "On the subject of men and women in France, there will be a before D.S.K. and an after D.S.K. Some behavior once deemed acceptable will no longer be. We may be seeing the last of the 'promotion canapé' — promotions through the couch."
As my colleague Katrin Bennhold has noted, "France ranks 46th in the World Economic Forum's 2010 gender equality report, trailing the United States, most of Europe, but also Kazakhstan and Jamaica."
Vance may be stymied in New York, but he's hit home across the Atlantic. Strauss-Kahn cannot realistically run for president — and won't. The French think it's enough already — he's lost his job and been humiliated — but they're not going to elect him.
He should quit politics and write a great memoir called "The Temptations of Power."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FROM THE GUTTER, INTO THE SEWER
BY A. C. GRAYLING
INTELLECTUALS in Britain have always regarded Rupert Murdoch with suspicion. His rise to prominence on the media scene in the 1980s coincided with a brutal yearlong lockout of newspaper workers, aimed at breaking the traditional hold of their labor unions. In the dominant position he subsequently gained, with four major newspapers and a large stake in television, he began to exercise significant influence over the political scene, and even greater influence on the down-market end of the press.
One anomalous feature of British journalism is its long history of scurrilous, muckraking weekly scandal-sheets, the tabloids or "gutter press," which since the Victorian era have delighted blue-collar readers with stories of murders and sexual misconduct.
Mr. Murdoch's achievement was to take the tabloid press from the gutter into the sewer, widening its range from coverage of celebrity scandals to the performance of criminal acts. Some of the latter, such as hacking into the phones of crime victims and their families, were appalling.
There is no redeeming feature in the scandal that has engulfed Mr. Murdoch's British fief, News International, other than that it has now killed his biggest-selling newspaper, The News of the World. This tabloid made its money by regularly crossing the line of decency; the revelation that it also regularly crossed the line of legality surprises no one, for no one expected any better. What has horrified the British public is the nature of the illegalities. Murdoch journalists not only hacked into the phones of child murder victims and their parents, but of the families of victims of terrorist attacks and of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And in search of sexual and political scandal they hacked into the phones of thousands of others; the London police say they have a list of 4,000 people who might have suffered their attentions.
Discovery of these serious crimes has brought forward a crisis that was already culminating. News International's bid to take control of the television company British Sky Broadcasting, or BSkyB, was, in the opinion of many, a step too far, given that, even before the hacking revelations, its influence on politics and public conversation had become deeply corrosive.
The Murdoch media have influenced every election in Britain since the Thatcher era. Both major political parties have courted Mr. Murdoch in hope of his support, and when he gave it, they flourished at the polls. In return, he was allowed to take control of increasing stretches of the media landscape, meanwhile dissuading government from regulation that would hamper his operations. He already owns 39 percent of BSkyB; his reason for wishing to own it all is, as he has publicly indicated, to make it more like its American counterpart, Fox News.
Mr. Murdoch's influence over successive governments has long been a concern. His hostile attitude toward the European Union and his ingratiating attitude toward China, to name but two examples, have influenced politicians eager to please him. That the former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, was, until the hacking scandal broke, Prime Minister David Cameron's trusted director of communications, is only the latest instance of this unseemly influence. Mr. Coulson is now under arrest for being part of the hacking crimes. Significantly, when the scandal emerged in 2005 under the Labor government, the police did little to pursue it; only now, under public pressure, have they begun to alert hacking victims to what happened back then.
Tabloid practices have always had a corrupting effect on the public conversation, but they reached new depths under the editorship of The News of the World by Mr. Murdoch's much-favored deputy, Rebekah Brooks. The cynicism of tabloid technique is well understood: Splash a rumor as news on the front page, then print a one-line retraction on an inside page two weeks later. By then, the victim has been thoroughly damaged, with other papers, and the graffiti wall of blogs and Twitter, transmitting the allegations globally.
Realists accept that scandal and gossip sell, that conflict is entertainment, and that an adversarial stance attracts spectators. But the Murdoch tabloids have championed this approach beyond the breaking point. The soiling of the public debate, and the distorting influence of one foreigner on the political landscape, were barely supportable before the hacking revelations; they are now insupportable.
No doubt over-optimistically, many in Britain hope that the current scandal will at last persuade their government and fellow citizens alike to end Mr. Murdoch's freedom to poison the well from which they drink. At the very least, they hope that culpable heads will roll. No one believes that senior managers at News International were ignorant of their employees' crimes. Ms. Brooks claims that she was. If that is true, she failed dramatically in her role as manager; if that is false, she and others are liable for criminal prosecution.
If there proves to be a silver lining to this debacle, it would be the defeat of Mr. Murdoch's effort to take control of BSkyB, and a diminution of his influence in British affairs. Alas, the anxiety is that the transgressions of News International will prompt a bout of media regulation that will impinge on press freedoms in the wrong way, making it harder to expose the wrongdoings of companies like News International rather than protecting us from them. If this happens, Mr. Murdoch's degrading influence will have reached well beyond the damage it has already done.
A. C. Grayling, a philosopher, is the author, most recently, of "The Good Book: A Humanist Bible."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MURDOCH'S FATAL FLAW
BY JOE NOCERA
It's often been noted — especially of late — that Rupert Murdoch's entree into British newspapering took place in 1969, when, as a brash young Australian publisher, he bought The News of the World, a spicy Sunday paper that he turned into an even spicier tabloid, a cross between The New York Post and The National Enquirer.
But that's never been quite right. Murdoch's real introduction to British journalism came in the early 1950s, when he was fresh out of college. His father, an editor and publisher in Australia, had died the year before. Murdoch headed to Fleet Street — "the mecca of competitive journalism," as he would describe it many years later — to learn the ropes so he could take over his father's paper in Adelaide.
"I sat in on The Daily Express," he told Esquire magazine in 2008, "and I enjoyed it so much, I thought, I gotta have a job here, just to learn." He remained there for the next five or six months, staying at a friend's apartment. "It was one of the happiest experiences of my life," he said.
Though World War II was long over, a lingering paper shortage meant that all the London newspapers were limited to eight pages a day. "Everything was boiled down to two paragraphs or so," he recalled in the Esquire interview. "Brevity was important. Facts had to be right. And it was exciting."
What particularly enthralled him was the brutal competition for stories — "like it was life or death." An editor would issue a daily critique: "We had 156 stories today, and The Daily Mail had 164. Never let that happen again."
Nearly 60 years later, Murdoch is the head of a $33 billion media empire, the News Corporation, dominated by its holdings in television and film. Yet even though newspapers account for less than 17 percent of the company's revenues, Murdoch still thinks of himself as a newspaperman. And there is still nothing more thrilling to him than a scoop by one of his papers — the more salacious, the better. How those stories are obtained has never been of much concern to him. In Murdoch's mind, at least, it's still life or death.
The kill-or-be-killed culture he created at his newspapers helps explain, for instance, why his New York Post was willing to publish an article last week, based on the thinnest of sourcing, claiming that the hotel housekeeper Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of sexually assaulting was actually a prostitute. (The woman has since sued The Post.) It helps explain why Robert Thomson, the editor of his Wall Street Journal, sent out a memo a few years ago saying that Journal reporters would henceforth be judged not on their ability to report deep, thoughtful stories — long The Journal's strength — but on whether they regularly broke news, even by a matter of "a few seconds," for the Dow Jones Newswires.
And, of course, it helps explain why his News of the World will cease to exist after this Sunday's edition.
The News of the World phone hacking scandal, which has heaped such disgrace not just on the paper but on Murdoch himself, making him the object of an entire nation's disgust and anger, is at once inexplicable and predictable. On the one hand, reporters who work at pressure-packed scandal sheets quickly become inured to crossing lines and destroying lives; it's what they do. On the other hand, it's still hard to believe that not a single reporter or editor at The News of the World had the sense to realize that tapping into the cellphone of a murdered teenager was deeply wrong — no matter how many great scoops resulted. That, however, appears to be the case. The Murdoch culture had stripped them of their conscience.
Even now, Murdoch hasn't exactly seemed remorseful. Yes, he is shutting down The News of the World, but that is largely for tactical reasons: he is desperately trying to salvage a deal — contingent on government approval — to buy the 61 percent of BSkyB, the satellite TV service, that he doesn't own. He refused to fire Rebekah Brooks, the former News of the World editor and one of his top lieutenants. One hears that privately, he places the blame for the scandal not on the actions of his reporters, or the culture he created, but on a vendetta by his enemies.
Most people outgrow their twentysomething selves. As they age, they realize that the impulses and excitements of youth need to be tempered with the judgment, empathy and caution that come with maturity. They get a better feel for the lines that ought not to be crossed. Journalists, in particular, learn that there are stories that ought not to be pursued. Not every scoop is worth it.
Murdoch's essential problem is that he never grew up. His instincts as a journalist are the same as when he was 22. "I love competition," he said at the end of that Esquire interview. "And I want to win."
A little too much, it turns out.
Charles M. Blow is off today and Gail Collins is on book leave .
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DEATH PENALTY, STILL RACIST AND ARBITRARY
BY DAVID R. DOW
LAST week was the 35th anniversary of the return of the American death penalty. It remains as racist and as random as ever.
Several years after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, a University of Iowa law professor, David C. Baldus (who died last month), along with two colleagues, published a study examining more than 2,000 homicides that took place in Georgia beginning in 1972. They found that black defendants were 1.7 times more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants and that murderers of white victims were 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks.
What became known as the Baldus study was the centerpiece of the Supreme Court's 1987 decision in McCleskey v. Kemp. That case involved a black man, Warren McCleskey, who was sentenced to die for murdering a white Atlanta police officer. Mr. McCleskey argued that the Baldus study established that his death sentence was tainted by racial bias. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that general patterns of discrimination do not prove that racial discrimination operated in particular cases.
Of course, the court had to say that, or America's capital justice system would have screeched to a halt. Georgia is not special. Nationwide, blacks and whites are victims of homicide in roughly equal numbers, yet 80 percent of those executed had murdered white people. Over the past three decades, the Baldus study has been replicated in about a dozen other jurisdictions, and they all reflect the same basic racial bias. By insisting on direct evidence of racial discrimination, the court in McCleskey essentially made the fact of pervasive racism legally irrelevant, because prosecutors rarely write e-mails announcing they are seeking death in a given case because the murderer was black (or because the victim was white).
In Texas, though, they do come close. In 2008, the district attorney of Harris County, Chuck Rosenthal, resigned after news emerged that he had sent and received racist e-mails. His office had sought the death penalty in 25 cases; his successor has sought it in 7. Of the total 32 cases, 29 involve a nonwhite defendant.
Since 1976, Texas has carried out 470 executions (well more than a third of the national total of 1,257). You can count on one hand the number of those executions that involved a white murderer and a black victim and you do not need to use your thumb, ring finger, index finger or pinkie.
Well, you might need the pinkie. On June 16, Texas executed Lee Taylor, who at age 16 beat an elderly couple while robbing their home. The 79-year-old husband died of his injuries. Mr. Taylor was sentenced to life in prison; there he joined the Aryan Brotherhood, a white gang, and, four years into his sentence, murdered a black inmate and was sentenced to death. When Mr. Taylor was executed, it was reported that he was the second white person in Texas executed for killing a black person. Actually, he should be counted as the first. The other inmate, Larry Hayes, executed in 2003, killed two people, one of whom was white.
The facts surrounding Lee Taylor's execution are cause for further shame. John Balentine, a black inmate, was scheduled to die in Texas the day before Lee Taylor's execution. Mr. Balentine's lawyers argued that his court-appointed appellate lawyer had botched his case, and that he should have an opportunity to raise issues the lawyer had neglected. Less than an hour before Mr. Balentine was to die, the Supreme Court issued a stay.
Lee Taylor's lawyers watched the Balentine case closely; their client too had received scandalously bad representation, and, they filed a petition virtually identical to the one in the Balentine case. But by a vote of 5-to-4, the justices permitted the Taylor execution to proceed. If there were differences between the Balentine and Taylor cases, they were far too minor to form the boundary between life and death. But trivial distinctions are commonplace in death penalty cases. Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., one of the five justices in the McCleskey majority, retired from the court in 1991. Following his retirement he said he had voted the wrong way. If Justice Powell had changed his mind a year sooner, Warren McCleskey, who was executed in Georgia in 1991, would still be alive.
And because of a vote from a single Supreme Court justice, John Balentine lives while Lee Taylor died. When capital punishment was briefly struck down, in 1972, Justice Potter Stewart said the death penalty was arbitrary, like being struck by lightning.
It still is, and it's the justices themselves who keep throwing the bolts.
David R. Dow, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, is the author, most recently, of a memoir, "The Autobiography of an Execution."
I. THE NEWS
UNDER THE RULE OF DEATH
One thousand Frontier Constabulary troops are being deployed, the police and Rangers have been given shoot-on-sight orders and modern technology will be used as part of the targeted actions the government has planned to restore peace in Karachi, where terror has been reigning since Tuesday when violence broke out in some of the city's most sensitive ethnic fault-lines. But these seemingly serious steps, announced by Interior Minister Rehman Malik after he flew into the city late on Thursday night and by the chief minister, came a bit too late for the families of 67 people whose lives had been cut short by then or for the millions held hostage in their own homes by bands of murderers. Nor did they help prevent further bloodshed on Friday – as these lines are written – at least 29 more people have lost their lives as the MQM observed a mourning day and transporters observed a strike, bringing life to a complete halt across the city. A ban on pillion riding only piled more misery on the hapless people. Most victims were innocent citizens with no political affiliations. No less shocking was the role of the state that watched as a silent spectator as people were mercilessly butchered in Qasba Colony, Banaras, Baldia, Orangi, Nazimbabad, Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Gulistan-e-Jauhar. The police and Rangers took no action as buses were fired at, homes and shops burnt, and families ran out of food and other essential supplies in the western neighbourhoods. In the most gruesome incidents on Thursday, attacks on two buses near Banaras Chowk and in the SITE area left 11 people dead and several wounded, while a six-year-old girl died after she was caught in the crossfire. A day earlier, armed men on motorcycles had shot dead the driver and four passengers on a mini-bus in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. The slaughter of such a large number of innocent people in a few days has instilled fear into the hearts of citizens, who see no hope for justice.
Who is to blame for this madness? The interior minister says he knows the masterminds and the place where the butchery was planned. If indeed that is the case, why on earth has he failed to rein in the culprits, especially when he claims to be in possession of satellite imagery of the places the terrorists are operating from? More forthcoming are the city police chief, who thinks the violence is "political and definitely ethnic", and the Sindh police chief, who is reported to have informed the chief minister of arrests of several suspects, including workers of political parties. Without naming the ANP, an ally, and the MQM, which has parted ways with the PPP-led coalition government, the chief minister has asked the two political parties to restrain their workers from indulging in further violence. The fact that most of the victims are Pakhtuns and Mohajirs lends credence to suspicions that criminal gangs belonging to the two parties have been causing all this mayhem. All this while, the country's major political players have contented themselves with measures aimed more at public consumption than at public good. The PML-N has sought a parliamentary debate on the lawlessness in Karachi, the ANP has called an army operation to deweaponise the city, the MQM has observed a mourning day and threatened a strike, and the ruling PPP has taken steps which are reactive and surgical, rather than remedial. At best, the deployment of law enforcers can prevent further bloodshed for the time being, but it cannot resolve the problem that is essentially political in nature. The failure of the stakeholders to agree on a formula to share the bounties that Karachi offers as commercial hub of the country lies at the heart of this problem. Demographic changes have altered the political landscape of the city over the past three decades or so. Any party unwilling to adapt itself to new realities and insisting on a share bigger than its size would be at fault. And use of violence to claim such a share must be an unforgivable act if peace is to prevail in the city.
I. THE NEWS
MORE ON SHAHZAD
In a first of its kind on-the-record allegation by a high-ranking US official, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm Mike Mullen has said he believes the Pakistani government 'sanctioned' journalist Saleem Shahzad's killing, adding that he did not have a "string of evidence" directly linking the death to the ISI. A few days before Mullen's admission, the New York Times had also reported that the Obama administration had new intelligence implicating senior ISI officials in the attack on Shahzad. The Pakistan government has slammed these allegations, calling Mullen's statement "extremely irresponsible." Shahzad disappeared two days after writing an investigative report saying Al-Qaeda carried out the PNS Mehran attack to avenge the arrest of naval officials held on suspicion of links to the global terror network. The ISI has since denied any involvement in the incident, saying Shahzad's death was being used to malign the agency's reputation.
A commission led by a Supreme Court judge has been set up to investigate Shahzad's death. Anyone who has anything to share on the subject at the national or international level should do so with the panel. This applies to the Americans as well: if they have real information to help fix culpability for Shahzad's murder, they should promptly share it with the inquiry commission, rather than making allegations in the media either through 'anonymous senior officials' or on the record. If the US is genuinely interested in seeing justice being done it should share information through the right forum and not make off-handed accusations – that will only worsen ties between Pakistan and the US – and be perceived as the pressure tactics of an annoyed ally. On the other hand, the intelligence agencies, if they are truly innocent, need to facilitate the investigation and, above all, to demonstrate that they are capable of, and willing to, reform, and work under civilian oversight and within the law. For a security establishment trained to project overwhelming power but not to expect accountability, this is the time to set precedents. As for the government, it must find the courage to press for reform. So far, it has blown every chance to correct the decades-old wrongs.
I. THE NEWS
WHAT HAVE WE ACHIEVED IN FATA?
The army was moved into Fata by dictator Musharraf in total violation of the Quaid's commitment with the tribesmen. The purpose of the army's deployment, as Musharraf boasted then, was to guard against infiltration of militants from across the border into Pakistan and also to save the country from being sent back to the Stone Age by the Americans.
When we look back at all these long years of military operations in Fata we see nothing but death and destruction. We have neither stopped militants from crossing the border into Pakistan nor stopped the tribal areas from being bombarded and shelled back into the Stone Age. But in the process, the army has become bogged down in a quagmire without having any idea how to get out.
Most roads which were open for all kinds of traffic before deployment of troops in Fata have now been closed for security reasons. The few roads on which travel is allowed have numerous barriers and check posts every few miles making travelling hazardous, even during the daytime (night time travel in Fata is not permitted). It is not only cumbersome but also very risky. A small mistake can cost one one's life or even land one in serious trouble with the army.
Having the good luck of hailing from the area I visited recently, South Waziristan, I travelled by public transport like any other tribesman to see for myself the difficulties encountered there. I travelled on the road from Tank to Wana via Gomal Zam Dam and back.
The first check post that one comes across is "Kaur police post", taken over by the army, at the demarcation between the settled and the tribal areas. At this point, all vehicles have to be taken off the road and driven to an open field at a safe distance from the post where passengers await a security check. Here, passengers and luggage are checked after which the drivers queue up to get permission slips from the solitary czar of a sentry on duty. Only then can their vehicles proceed further on the road to Wana. While this happens all passengers, including women, children, the sick, and the elderly, stand waiting under the blazing sun with no arrangements for cold drinking water or shade.
Such checking is repeated at no less than five different places within a distance of twenty kilometres. It is not the inconvenience that overly bothers one but the humiliating behaviour of the security personnel that upsets people, particularly those travelling with their families. Isn't it time they realised that civilians are not the scum of the earth and should be treated with due respect? They should realise that times have changed and such attitudes are no longer tolerated any where.
I had mentioned these difficulties in my article "S Waziristan as I saw it" which was published by May 3, 2010. After that, despite having received assurances from a senior military official that speedy corrective measures would be implemented, I saw no improvement upon my recent visit.
The chief of army staff is busy visiting one area after another in Fata. He takes keen interest in the development of Fata and has inaugurated various projects including the establishment of a Cadet College at Wana, widening of roads, and the construction of dams in that region. The frequency of his visits bears testimony to his interest in the development of Waziristan. This has won him the respect and admiration of the local people. While he is trying to win the hearts and minds of the tribesmen, his soldiers in that area are doing just the opposite.
They extend severe punishment on flimsy charges. The incident of a bus burning at Kaur post a year ago is still fresh in the minds of the people. The poor owner of the bus has approached every one who matters including the corps commander and the governor, but to no avail. To mitigate the injustice wreaked by his soldiers, the least the COAS can do is compensate the poor fellow forthwith.
The security personnel there also create unnecessary hurdles on the roads in the countryside, particularly between villages and the local markets. Movement of just a single soldier on the road brings traffic to a grinding halt. There is no exception made even for those who are critically ill and in urgent need of medical attention. And when there is movement of an army convoy, all hell breaks loose. Traffic is required to get off the road immediately, even at the risk of throwing the vehicle into a ravine if no other safe exit is possible. That way there may be some chances of survival but keeping the vehicle on the road may prove more dangerous. Of late, a new element has been noticed in the security personnel's behaviour towards local people particularly those unable to speak Pashto. They treat the tribesmen with utter contempt, as potential enemies and citizens of a newly conquered territory.
The civil administration also needs to change its behaviour towards the public. Its personnel need to treat the tribesmen as respectable citizens, like elsewhere in the country. They need to make themselves accessible with minimal security restrictions rather than the ones in place these days under which the people are made to walk more than a mile through several check points before being allowed to enter official premises.
Now that the entire gamut of relations in the region is taking a new turn we should also prepare ourselves for coping with the changing situation. We should reassess our policy on the War on Terror and make a paradigm shift in finding a political solution to the problem. If the US can change its stance and work overtime to find the right kind of Taliban to talk to then why should we stick to the old 'order' of eliminating the militants altogether.
If the US can go from seeking a military solution to a political one for its problem in Afghanistan, then what stops us from doing the same? Why are we bent upon continuing with the use of force against our own people? Why shouldn't we look at the problem from a fresh angle?
Again if the US can start a drawdown (retreat) of its troops from Afghanistan and hand over responsibility to the Afghans then what stops us from withdrawing our army from Fata and handing over responsibility to the tribesmen to manage their affairs with the help of the Frontier Scouts who had looked after security of that area earlier and still
enjoy a good rapport with the local people?
The government has to wake up to the new realities that are upon us. It has to take the right political decisions if it really wants to solve the problems that we face in the tribal areas. This is the only way out.
The writer is a former ambassador hailing from Fata. Email: email@example.com
OBAMA'S OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLE
The way President Barack Obama reached the world's top position is indeed sufficient proof of his abilities. In terms of common sense and talent George W Bush and Obama are on opposite ends. Thus, in this part of the world we were very hopeful that Obama's policies in Pakistan and Afghanistan will bring positive change, but unfortunately his policies proved self-contradictory and hopeless. Gen Pervez Musharraf was once the most despised person in Pakistan, but is now praised due to the worse leadership of Asif Ali Zardari. In the same way, the common people in Pakistan and Afghanistan now see Bush as a far better president than Obama. There was much hue and cry about the Af-Pak policy when Obama took over the presidency, but it proved confusing from the very moment of its announcement. In the same breath, sending 30,000 forces and initiating political dialogues surprised and confused the analysts. Now, after two years of massive human and material losses, he has announced the old policy with a new zeal. When he was announcing the much awaited new policy, it sounded nothing more than old wine in new bottle.
For Afghans the only important part could be the numbers of outgoing forces. The numbers are going to be 10,000 by the end of this year and 23,000 next year. The net number game is almost being the same as the number of American forces in Afghanistan in the Bush era. Obama's policy was pushing in 30,000 and troops and then pulling them back in two instalments. The idea behind Obama's sending in extra forces was to force the Taliban to negotiate on US terms. The job of the US troops also was to train Afghan personnel so that the Afghans could be able to take charge of their own institutions when the time came for the exit of US-led Nato forces from Afghanistan. Today what we see is quite the opposite. The boosted morale of the Taliban forces is evident, but on the other hand Afghan institutions are looking around for regional linkages and even more to find some good links among the Taliban.
US relations with the Afghan administration are also at an all-time low. The United States' efforts to defeat Hamid Karzai in the presidential elections and its subsequent failure in this led to more complex relations between the two. Today Hamid Karzai sees the Taliban and Pakistan a lesser threat to him and his government than the United States. In this situation Obama owes some explanation to US citizens and people around the globe. If the forces were to be withdrawn, what was the purpose and rationale in sending them in in first place? After the episode of Osama bin Laden's death, Obama is trying to convince us all that American war objectives have been achieved. But his contentions are not backed by ground realities. Despite Osama bin Laden's death, the Taliban are stronger than ever and have even proved their strength last year in northern Afghanistan.
Now we are left with a ragging question: Why, in comparison with the reckless Bush, the smart Obama faced more failures on the Afghan front? The answer is very simple. The Bush policies were wrong and hostile, but there was not a shred of confusion about them. Obama is surrounded by a team with opposite views on Afghanistan. Vice President Joe Biden is in favour of a speedy withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan while Gen David Petraeus, a Republican by origin, is in favour of a longer stay and brutal use of force in Afghanistan. Gen McChrystal, a person capable of balanced analysis, is sent home, while David Petraeus has been given wider powers and influence. The Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department are not on the same page in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the approval of military expenditures needs approval from Congress, now full of Republicans. All these conflicting factors result in a policy that could not fit in the ground realities. Even the policy on countries neighbouring Afghanistan reflects the same confusion. In Iraq they easily compromised to form a setup favouring Iran, but in Afghanistan the policy is to fight against Iranian influence, as one can observe in the construction of military bases in Herat and Shindand.
The US policy on Pakistan in terms of Afghanistan needs no comments for its confusion and opposite pulls. The Bush policy was clear, Pakistan was an ally. Obama, on the other hand, wishes to achieve everything from Pakistan as an ally and to keep New Delhi happy at the same time. He thanks Pakistan for its contribution in the elimination of Osama bin Laden but at the same time sends negative messages through CIA chief Leon Panetta, Congressmen and the US media. On June 22, in the presidential policy speech on Afghanistan, Obama praised and warned Pakistan in the same breath. On the one hand he allows Afghanistan to negotiate with the Taliban and on other presses Pakistan to use brutal force in North Waziristan.
The whole issue boils down to the fact that the US can't spend any more on Afghanistan. There are 150,000 foreign personnel in Afghanistan. Each costs the US one million dollars per annum (as compared to 12,000 dollars for native soldier). These financial realities are horrible and the Americans realise that by a fraction of such expanses they can finance a ten times larger Afghan force working for the US. But the lure of military presence and its political prestige is great for US policymakers. Because not a single solution is reached, the present policy is for the US to adopt the middle way. Withdraw maximum numbers of military personnel and relocate military bases to important cities of Afghanistan.
Thus huge military bases are being created at Herat, Shindand, Helmand, and Mazar-e-Sharif. Contracts for those military bases are for the next one decade. The runways being constructed on these bases are capable of being used by the largest aircraft. Once this new plan is realised the number games will favour the United States, or at least this is what is envisioned by the policymakers. For the US less military personnel means less dollars to spend and less dependence on Pakistan for its supply routes. Against this backdrop it is very easy to decipher President Obama's reference to Libya in his speech and Leon Panetta's claim that even without Pakistan the United States can win. Once this is realised the Americans could enjoy sitting in their military basis and enjoying coffee or whatever drink they prefer and observe the situation. If the political solution does not suit their interests at any point of time, it would be easier to distribute weapons and dollars among Afghanis to change the situation. Added benefit would be indeed to keep disciplined the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan so the regional agenda of the US must not be disturbed.
The writer works for Geo TV.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
GOOD, BAD AND VERY UGLY
Often we fail to notice the changes that go on around us. We live our lives amidst constant change and rarely remark on it unless it is momentous like a natural disaster. But absence sharpens our awareness of change, and an absence of over two years from Gilgit-Baltistan made me aware of much that had altered or was in the process of doing so.
Starting with the very ugly there is the Karakorum highway, the principal route north for tourists and traders. This has never been the easiest of roads to travel and since my last transit in 2009 it had deteriorated considerably. Most of the road is now unsurfaced north of Raikot Bridge, and is a nightmare for buses cars and trucks alike – of which there are far too many. The KKH was never built for the volume of traffic it now handles, and below Besham is a nightmare of congestion on top of whatever those who are supposed to be upgrading it have inflicted upon the travelling public.
Over time it will presumably all sort itself out, and the dots of finished road will eventually join to become a whole and much-improved utility. Meanwhile the KKH stands as a failure of joined-up thinking to match the fractured road that is a product of that failure. It could take between three and five years to finish, with the Chinese responsible for the rebuilding down as far as Raikot Bridge and the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa south from Raikot to Taxila – work which has yet to start. Not a good sign.
'The tourism industry is not in decline, it has collapsed'. Thus spake an old acquaintance in the business. He is not wrong. As a tourist destination Pakistan has year-round potential both domestically and internationally – G-B in the hot summer months and the rest of the country between October and March. On my first visit here there were – literally – thousands of tourists of all nations in Gilgit in mid-September 1993. In June 2011 there were probably less than a hundred, many of those domestic. Once-busy hotels were empty. Hotels that had been built with long-term bankloans in the '80s and early '90s of the last century now face the prospect of foreclosure, unable to service their debts as trade has declined precipitously since 9/11.
The last of the backpacker hotels that drew young travellers with cheap beds and basic services struggles to stay afloat, and may not make it past this season. Karimabad, tourist magnet and hub for Hunza, was like a ghost town at what should have been the peak of the tourist season.
The reasons for the decline are complex, but our unfriendly visa regime plays a significant part in it. Likewise the failure to promote Pakistan as a destination by the moribund Ministry of Tourism and the international perception of it being a dangerous country to visit – which it is not, at least as far as tourists go. Tourism could and should be a significant revenue generator for Pakistan. That it is not, and has been allowed to wither and now stands at the brink of extinction, is little short of a national tragedy.
Amidst the darkness, some light. Education and its availability to the people of Nagar, north of Gilgit, is something of a success story. In 1995, when I first worked there, perhaps less than 10 percent of school age children actually attended. Today, according to the deputy head of education for Hunza-Nagar it is around 60 percent. Girls, who rarely attended school in the mid-90s, now throng the roads in the morning as they go to schools which never existed sixteen years ago.
A girls' college is due to open in September. It is hoped that at least some of those young people getting an education will cycle through and be the teachers, trainers, lecturers and social mobilisers of the future. The vision that some Nagar people had almost twenty years ago has begun to turn from dream to reality, and Nagar has found that the most effective solution to the development puzzle is education.
Visiting government schools in Aliabad and Karimabad was both good and bad news. The good news was at the FG Girls School in Aliabad. Classrooms full of happy young children, the walls papered with the product of practical teacher training that had immediate application. The children played and worked with quality equipment and resources that had not been laid on for my benefit. The principal was a bold and forthright woman who knew what she wanted and how to get it and had the prizes and awards in her office to show that she was not all talk. I attended a presentation in the FG Boys School in Karimabad, delivered what I hoped was an inspirational speech on the value of education and the importance of teachers in our society and then adjourned for lunch in the principal's office.
And it was there, quite by chance that I ran into the bad news. There was the usual exchange of thanks and best wishes for the future and I gave my visiting card to the principals of both schools. They looked slightly awkward. Not that they had not got visiting cards, but that neither of them had got an email address. Not only that but their schools had no computers and hence no internet connection. Schools around them had both in plenty, and as the principal of the boys school pointed out his school lost out in terms of competition. His students lost out as well. Every child who went through a government school in Hunza or Nagar sans computers and internet would have a crucial part of their education missing – exposure to and familiarity with the technologies that increasingly drive our economy.
The deputy head of education that was with us was on tricky ground as pointy questions began to get asked. A federal minister visiting in 2004 had promised computers for every school, but the implementation has been uneven – some schools have computers, some don't. Computers and information technology had been taught in all government schools from around that date – but sometimes without the hardware to back up the theory that was being taught. Teachers themselves often had no direct experience of computers or the internet, were probably unable to afford one for themselves or the cost of a monthly internet subscription and thus had little they could pass to their pupils. Once again opportunity passes us by and through no fault of their own many of our children will finish their education minus an essential component.
As we ate our last meal in Nagar a group of young people arrived – eight female and four males. They were on an eight-day trekking experience organised by a Pakistan NGO that gives young people (and some not-so-young I was happy to discover) a chance to test themselves against themselves in a tough environment. They pitched their tents, sorted out their kitbags and looked every inch modern and confident young men and women. Future leaders perhaps. The good, the bad and the very ugly, all packed into six days – and proof-positive that constant change is here to stay.
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
THE DECLINE OF COMEDY
The best comedy, just like the best tragedy, is written in turbulent times. And these are turbulent times. So why are we, the people of the subcontinent, failing to produce high-quality comedy today?
Comedy shows are among the most popular television programmes in India and Pakistan today. Almost every entertainment channel has got a team of people dedicated to producing such shows. But the stuff lacks substance. Watch any comedy show till the end and you will find that comedy has been reduced to mimicry.
Today's comedy is celebrity-focused because the writers are not keen observers of a common man's life. The shows rely mostly on mimicking politicians, actors, and sportspersons and are rarely supported by worthwhile scripts. In watching these shows, we only get to memorise the particular manner of speech of certain politicians and how they taunt each other, or the peculiar style of certain celebrities.
The programmes of today are inferior to those of previous decades, particularly the ones produced in Pakistan. The satire which used to shame wrongdoers without naming them is conspicuously absent from current comedy programmes. The witty sentences of yesteryears are no longer heard.
Humour writers in the past used to make us feel the inconsistencies between what we said and what we actually did. The shows of today manage to make us laugh sometimes, but fail to help us understand why we are so corrupt and so apathetic to fellow human beings.
Today's comedy lacks oneness of impression. It comes in bits and pieces – each piece is irrelevant to the other, and, therefore, has no long-term impact on us. It doesn't lead us to a conclusion. The sentences that make us laugh are forgotten the next day. The comedies of yesteryears used to get fixed in our memories because of the oneness of their impression. They took us to a definite conclusion. Momentary joy is not the real objective of a comedy. It must have an overall effect on the viewer's thinking. It should aim at changing his or her thought process. Good comedy must force us into action against the ridiculous things happening around us. Today's comedies just aren't doing this.
Moreover, comedy today doesn't create in us a sense of belonging. It is true that the function of comedy is to point out the flaws in our ways, but it must also create a sense of belonging to our society, our country, our civilisation.
The most horrible thing about today's comedy is that words have become secondary in importance to get-up and make-up. We hear these programmes, but we hardly listen to anything. These shows are gradually turning us into animals that hear but do not listen. It is true that great comedies were produced in the days of silent movies. But those movies relied on situations. Today's shows fail to depict humourous situations.
Brevity, the soul of wit, is also absent in today's comedy. You get to laugh hardly three to four times during an hour long show. .
Perhaps, those who are writing comedy today haven't got that intellectual insight which our past writers were fortunate enough to possess. Or perhaps they do not work hard enough to find contradictions in the thinking of their societies.
The reason for today's low-quality comedy may also be the inability of today's writers to laugh at themselves. It is said that only those can write good comedy who can laugh at themselves because they have a higher degree of ability to spot paradoxes in life.
One has to be a voracious reader to write comedy. And reading has become a thing of the past, at least in Pakistan. Those who remain busy watching TV all day can mimic, but they can't write.
Another reason for the decline of comedy may be that those producing comedy today are not serious enough. One has to be serious to write good comedy. Those who are not serious can become the object of satire. They cannot write satire. A comedian has to have a tender heart. He needs to feel the pain of people around him. Only then can he extract comedy from his environment. Writing comedy is a serious business, isn't it?
The biggest comedy today is that one feels like crying while watching comedy shows and feels like laughing while watching tragedies. What a tragedy!
The writer is a staff member
I. THE NEWS
THE DON OF THIEVES
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means—except by getting off his back. – Leo Tolstoy
Why is it that those in the correct driving lane let the errant driver cut in at the top? What signal does the success of such deviousness send to those waiting in line, as well as the undecided bystanders wondering whether it is more beneficial to follow the law or find unethical shortcuts? Why should people want to pay taxes when they know they are a small minority and the ability to cheat the taxation system remains the mark of resourcefulness within society? Why should people agree to continue paying taxes when they know that the ruling elites steal their tax money and transforms it into their private estate? Is it helplessness, timidity, coercion or complacency that explains our inability to assert our rights?
Why are some nations seen as honest and law-abiding, while others earn the reputation of being crooks and cheats? Is national character an eternal attribute of a people settled in a certain territory, or is it capable of evolution or degradation? Borrowing from the logic of Abdolkarim Soroush vis-a-vis religion, is it not true that nations experience the expansion and contraction of ethics as well? If the people of a country begin to grow complacent towards the predatory character of their state, are they not in fact facilitating the evolution of a predatory society? And if a society becomes as corrupt and unethical as such a state, will such depraved equilibrium not oust the possibility of reform?
Have we not degenerated from a situation where corrupt and unethical conduct attracted the censure of the society to a state where indulging in larceny is the accepted norm and practicing principles a burden? Anatole France had cynically observed that, "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steel bread." While law cannot promise social and economic equality, is it not meant to uphold identical legal rights for all? If the law in a country restraints only the little guys, and becomes an instrument in the hands of the haves to entrench their social and economic privileges and swindle the have-nots, is the practice of such law part of the solution or of the problem?
Martha Stewart, the US business magnate and celebrity worth over $600 million, was convicted for lying to investigators about an inconsequential stock sale and served five months in a federal prison. Jeff Skilling, the CEO of the erstwhile US energy giant Enron, was convicted in 2006 for securities fraud, false statements and insider trading and sentenced to 24 years and four months in prison and fined $45 million. This punishment did not exceed the 25-year term that WorldCom's former chief executive Bernard Ebbers received for his role in the fraud that resulted in the bankruptcy of the telecom conglomerate.
Why is it that while Pakistan remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world and members of its ruling elite pay no taxes and cannot account for their wealth and obscene lifestyles, no one ever gets convicted of lies, fraud or corruption? What is exceptional today is not just the lack of accountability of holders of public office but the impunity with which our corrupt ruling elite indulges in wrongdoing and its brazen response to anyone objecting to its heist. The NICL scam that reportedly implicates Moonis Elahi, the prime minister's son as well as Makhdoom Amin Faheem, and the consequent wrath attracted by Zafar Qureshi, the additional director general of the FIA who was investigating the matter, is the latest reminder of our sordid state of existence. Scoundrels and shysters are no longer ashamed or apologetic when caught stealing and lying, but indignant.
Prime Minister Gilani's government is mad at the media and the Supreme Court for neither joining the grand scam of converting public assets into private property nor looking the other way. The ruling PPP regime seems to have devised a two-pronged strategy to frustrate the accountability drive of the apex court fuelled by media disclosures of corruption. One, it will not allow the creation of an autonomous accountability institution within the executive branch of the government nor permit any existing agency or authority to independently investigate charges of graft or fraud. Two, it will abuse the due process of law that courts observe in order to delay and defeat delivery of justice. And upon exhausting procedural impediments to frustrate the judicial process, politicise the subject matter of the pending case to embroil judicial outcomes in public controversy.
Three related developments contribute to the first prong of the PPP regime's kill-accountability drive: a, keep the draft accountability law, promised in the Charter of Democracy, buried in disagreement within parliament to ensure it never sees light of the day; b, ensure that the moth-eaten NAB remains dysfunctional, by stuffing it with loyalists against requirements of law, and when such appointments are struck down by the court, delay notification of replacements, so that while the NAB lives on, it remains in a vegetative state; and c, purge all criminal and corporate regulatory and investigation agencies (such as the FIA and the SECP) of independent-minded officials, and penalise any bureaucrat or public-office holder who refuses to allow pressure asserted by the regime to influence the manner in which he/she discharges official duties.
The second prong of the kill-accountability drive, which focuses on frustrating the court process, is craftier. First, the government employs all procedural tools to delay the administration of justice. Remember the NRO proceedings, the NRO review case (still pending) and the shenanigans surrounding appointment and replacement of counsel, and continuing antics in the NRO implementation proceedings (wherein the government refused to write to the Swiss authorities). The second step is rendering the proceedings controversial by attacking them on partisan and ethnic grounds, as was done when the apex court struck down Justice Deedar Shah's appointment as chairman of the NAB. And, finally, unpalatable court verdicts are met with disdain and open defiance, by pursuing a carrot-and-stick policy in relation to officials responsible for implementing them: unconditional loyalty is rewarded with presidential pardons and those abiding by principle are persecuted.
The Supreme Court is also caught between the rock and a hard place. In administering justice it is dependent upon investigators and prosecutors—components of the criminal justice system within the executive's control. If it fails to mete out justice, it risks being seen as either complicit or ineffectual. If it is proactive and tries to safeguard the independence of other components of the criminal justice system that affect its work, such as the FIA, many of us attack it for encroaching upon the executive's domain. Without vociferous censure of graft and deceit by the society, even an independent Supreme Court cannot single-handedly succeed in bringing to justice those who continue to rob public wealth and assets at will.
Presently, the social and legal cost of fighting corruption and abuse of authority is much higher than that of joining the hedonists. Unless we reverse this cost-gain calculus and make the cost of indulging in illegal and unethical behaviour prohibitive, our collective slide into muck will not decelerate. And apathy is simply not an option. If the conduct of the ruling regime succeeds in corrupting our social ethos and defiling the presumption of legality that attaches to actions of public-office holders, we will be left with a state devoid of legitimacy, and a society bereft of integrity.
I. THE NEWS
MEMO FROM USA
Memories of another day come floating back as I watch the live fireworks celebrating the US Independence Day in New York. It was July 4, 2007, that I had a friendly chat with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain at the Islamabad home of Mushahid Hussain. Later the two were due at Ambassador Anne Patterson's home to partake of the July 4 reception.
Over a splendid lunch with the Margallas in front, we talked freely of different forms of political 'marriage of convenience'. 'Gen Musharraf, who was plotting to stay in power for as long as he could, was that summer courting Benazir Bhutto in Dubai.
He wanted her to return and join hands with him to impress the Americans that Pakistan was on the way to democracy. But good folks like Raza Rabbani were continuing to dispel such a deal: "We will never elect General Musharraf as president with or without his uniform," was his firm stand. You mean General Musharraf is not acceptable to Ms Bhutto at any cost? I asked Rabbani, the then leader of the opposition in the senate. "I've said what I had to say," he averred.
Said Shujaat, when I mentioned Rabbani's comment: "That's mere public posturing." Now I'm an admirer of Shujaat's simple diction. He's a straight shooter. His one-liners have humour: "Abstinence is assent," he continued, citing a verse in Urdu. "The PPP will abstain from voting to facilitate the president's re-election."
Exactly three months later, his prediction came true. The PPP abstained when Musharraf was voted as the president on Oct 6, 2007. A day earlier the Gen had signed the NRO so that BB could return. Don't you feel like the jilted first wife who has been discarded (by Musharraf) for a younger, prettier second? I teased the PML-Q leader. "Actually, ours is a nikah and with the PPP it's a mutah," chipped in Mushahid with a mischievous grin. Don't you feel cuckolded? I persevered. "In politics everything goes and we are prepared to accept the PPP as a coalition partner."
It took four years for the American dream to materialise. Playing the part of a marriage broker, something that US does best in Pakistan, a wedding between Q and the PPP became a reality some months back with Yusuf Raza Gilani as the best man, Shujaat as the father of the bride (or groom) and Zardari as the priest. The maids of honour (oops I mean men) were the Q stalwarts lined up in the front row to hear the marriage vows: ..in sickness or in health...until death do us part.
The raison d'etre for the marriage? Look up a three-day-old photo in newspapers and you have your answer. Under the portrait of an angry Jinnah sits Prime Minister Gilani in the centre; on his right sits Shujaat and coz Pervaiz Elahi. Both gents are wearing starched shalwar kamiz suits with waistcoats. On his left sits Rahman Malik with folded hands resting in his lap. Elahi wanted to be the deputy PM but had to make do with the portfolio of a senior minister. Missing in the picture is Amin Fahim, who perhaps is working the phones to get Zardari on the line to bail him out.
Apart from Moonis Elahi s/o Pervaiz Elahi "Amin Fahim, Rahman Malik and a son of an influential person (don't we all know who that be!) are responsible for the suspension," a source in FIA said after the suspension of Zafar Qureshi, brought in on the Supreme Court orders to investigate the NICL case. Now you know the reason for the marriage.
Happy July 4 America and thanks for handpicking our fly by night leaders! For next time, spare us the above.
WHO IS BEHIND KARACHI KILLINGS?
KARACHI seems to be sinking deep into abyss of chaos and lawlessness with more and more people losing their lives in incidents of violence besides injuries to many more and damage to public and private property. The horrible scenes telecast by different channels are sending shock-waves amongst people in the length and breadth of the country but regrettably those who are supposed to address the situation are still resorting to mere window-dressing.
There is growing impression that the decision-makers have either no vision to tackle the challenge or they lack the courage, will and determination to catch the bull by horns. No one knows what the authorities concerned are waiting for when 77 people lost lives in three days of mayhem from Tuesday through Thursday alone and the incident of firing on buses has forced transporters to announce a strike while Orangi Town has run out of supplies due to grave disturbances. The situation has reached to such an alarming extent that the residents are leaving the locality as gangsters are engaged in pitched battles and spraying bullets on residences. Other areas including Banaras, Qasba, Pirabad, Baldia, Saeedabad, Gulistan-e-Juhar, North Karachi, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Surjani and Old Subzimandi have also been turned into virtual battle zones. It appears that both the Government and the opposition parties/other stakeholders are clueless as to who is behind the target killings, arson, loot and plunder. MQM is complaining that its men are being wiped out and is protesting the development through press conferences and marches while ANP claiming that majority of those killed in incidents of firing were Pakhtuns. President Asif Ali Zardari and Interior Minister Rehman Malik have talked about convening of special meetings to discuss the situation and the possibility of a targeted operation to flush out criminals disregarding their political affiliations but it would be naïve to pin great hopes on such rhetoric when similar gimmicks of the past did not produce any positive result. It is also painful that writ of the Government is nowhere seen in the metropolitan city and media reports suggest that police and Rangers stayed away from troubled areas giving a free hand to trouble-makers. This state of affairs is not acceptable as lawlessness and sense of insecurity in the commercial capital of the country is not only agonizing for the residents of the city but also for the entire country as it negatively impacts the national economy. It is time that all stakeholders should sit together for the sake of the peace and progress of the city to hammer out a strategy for stemming the rot, otherwise a surgery would be required, which will have its own consequences.
RIDICULOUS CHARGES OF ADMIRAL MULLEN
THAT Americans are bent upon destabilizing Pakistan has once again been confirmed by the latest venomous remarks churned out by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has leveled the allegation that the Pakistani Government sanctioned the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad. Obviously, this is part of the calculated and orchestrated propaganda campaign to paint Pakistan in black and bring into disrepute its Government and national institutions. The killing of Saleem Shahzad evoked strong reaction in Pakistan with both the Government and the civil society condemning his murder.
In order to dig out the truth, the Government has already accepted demand of the journalistic community for constitution of a judicial commission, which is currently probing the incident and has summoned prominent journalists as well to help advance the process. This shows the will of the Government to get to the bottom of the tragic killing of the journalist but it is pertinent to point out that Americans have been taking extraordinary interest in the case. From the day one, they were in the forefront of efforts to organize protest marches and rallies to condemn the incident and for this purpose they activated some particular NGOs who were instrumental in maligning Pakistan Army and especially the ISI, as this served the American purpose to put maximum pressure on Pakistan's security apparatus. Killing of Saleem Shahzad is purely an internal issue and it is satisfactorily being handled but despite all this comments and remarks of officials of some foreign countries and media are understandable as it involved the issue of human and fundamental rights. Therefore, while routine remarks by State Department spokespersons would be understandable, one fails to understand what locus standi the top military leader of the United States has to comment on the incident. This is unusual and unbecoming on the part of a military leader to talk about such issues which otherwise fall within the domain of the diplomacy and therefore, raise the question as to what connections Americans had with the slain journalist. His allegations are also intriguing and reflective of total mental bankruptcy as how on earth a Government worth the name would approve killing of its own citizens. American Government itself is sanctioning killing of people of other countries on different pretexts including preventive strikes and regime change but it would be ridiculous to think that it would order killing of its own citizens. The allegation is nothing but mischief of the extreme sort and deserves to be rejected with contempt.
and human capital of the member countries.
ALARMING RISE IN FOREIGN DEBT
LEADERS of the business community have expressed serious concern over alarming increase in the foreign debt, fearing that it would eat up the economic benefits that might accrue due to various policies and reforms introduced by the Government. Vice President Asia-Pacific Chamber of Commerce and Industry Tariq Saiyeed, while addressing a meeting at Korangi Association of Trade and Industry pointed out that the external debt of the country has swelled to $59.5 billion, which would also lead to currency devaluation and inflation.
Successive governments had been adding to the burden of the debt on the nation but the present one has broken all the records. When Gen Musharraf had taken over in October 1999, toppling Nawaz Sharif, the country's foreign debts stood at $37.9 billion. At the end of June 2007, when Gen Musharraf was still in power, the loans rose to $40.5 billion meaning thereby that increase in foreign debt/liabilities was not much higher but since then the debt has gone up by over $19 billion i.e. the present Government is responsible for increasing the debt burden by one-third of the total liabilities. This is flabbergasting as it shows that the size of the begging bowl is getting bigger with the passage of time, taking the country further away from the path of self-reliance and dependence. Economists say that debts are not bad if they are taken for development but here people of Pakistan have not seen any worthwhile development or improvement in the standard of their living despite mounting burden of debt. This is not only demoralizing people but also amounts to keeping our future generations hostage and therefore, our economic managers should ponder over the problem seriously.
NEWS & VIEWS
After the sad demise of Quaid-i-Azam and martyrdom of Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan had had to endure clueless, directionless and inept leaders since 1950s, of course barring a few honourable exceptions. Though decision to join defence pacts with the US and the West was to taken to safeguard integrity of Pakistan, yet looking in hindsight it turned out to be a complete disaster. At the same time, due to the legacy of colonial rule followed by civilian bureaucratic hold on national politics, political parties' internecine conflicts, and their failure to deliver to the people opened the way for Martial laws. No democrat or anybody in his right sense would support any military dictator; but the fact remains that people in general had welcomed the change, and a section of politicians and judiciary had aided and abetted the military dictators. Whereas some political leaders – products of the garrison hatcheries are to blame in equal measure, they have become self-styled champions of democracy. Today they heap insult on military – the institution that had catapulted them into corridors of power.
After February 2008 elections, it was expected that having gone through the ordeal and agony of exile or self-exile, politicians would have learned a lesson and weaned off the politics of 1990s. It was also expected that they would forget about the bitterness of the past, but they are treading the same beaten track. Today, Pakistan battered by the world recession and flawed policies of the government the economy is in dire straits. The ruling coalition could not revive the economy because it was all the time preoccupied to save its government. It is also true that the PPP leaders have an image problem because of allegations and cases of corruption against them; but such is also the case with PML-N and PML-Q leaders. People continue groaning under ever-rising prices of essential commodities and deteriorated law and order situation. Thirty five thousand innocent people have been killed in terrorists' attacks; armed forces have lost around five thousand officers and jawans, and have been able to stem the tide. It would be unfair not to acknowledge the good points of democratic dispensation. Declaration of National Finance Commission Award and passage of 18th amendment could rightly be claimed as achievements by the government as well as the opposition. However, the month of May 2011 was ominous. The 2nd May America's Special Forces action in Abbottabad and 22nd May terrorists' attack on Mehran Naval base have unnerved the nation, and instead of forging unity in their ranks, some politicians, media men and analysts started badmouthing military. Human rights organizations and especially Mian Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N resorted to scathing criticism perhaps because his government was overthrown by Pervez Musharraf. After the PML-N stood isolated, Mian Nawaz Sharif resorted to rhetoric and sloganeering against the military, thinking that Punjabis like bharaks. But the people were not amused because he himself was a find of General Zia-ul-Haq, a military dictator. He has conveniently forgotten that Zia-ul-Haq had also put the constitution in abeyance and changed it beyond recognition.
He should understand that one cannot prevent the military intervention through Article 6 or through rhetoric, as the governments derive their power from the people's power. And leaders remain relevant to the people if the leaders deliver to the people. We would not hold brief for General Ayub Khan, General Zia-ul-Haq or General Pervez Musharraf, and would suggest to Mian Nawaz Sharif that he should go to the apex court and try all military dictators, those who are dead posthumously and those who are alive should be put in the dock for overthrowing elected and legitimate governments. But under Article 6 of the Constitution, all those who had aided and abetted the dictators would have to be prosecuted simultaneously. Quite a few of our electronic media men have also become obstreperous after the new-found freedom, and wittingly or unwittingly toe the US line to bring the military into disrepute. In entrenched or firmly established democracies, parliamentarians and media do criticize the security lapses or intelligence failures of the security institutions but invariably the objective is to identify the causes for those failures and to remove loopholes and weaknesses.
After 9/11 terrorist attacks in America and 26/11 in India, commissions were formed that suggested measures to make security system foolproof. However, in civilized societies, inquiries are held for security lapses and intelligence failures, but they do not denigrate their institutions. Whereas, it was in perfect order to condemn the adventurer who promulgated Martial Law, and also when there is unwarranted interference and intervention in elected government's functioning, it would be undesirable to criticize the military when it is already withdrawn. When we talk about respecting all the pillars of the states and its institutions, military is not an exception. At this point in time, when Pakistan's Armed Forces are being pushed against the wall by the US, it would be highly undesirable to advance the US agenda. People of Pakistan have in the past stood against Ayub Khan and he was removed through popular movement. We should not forget that all the countries of the world have armed forces, and despite Martial Laws in those countries, the media did not pass derogatory remarks against them day in and day out. It is not the intention to hold brief for the military but to suggest caution and sobriety.
The Armed Forces in the times of natural calamities played commendable role in the rescue and relief operations, which was always admired, whether it was the devastating earthquake in Kashmir, Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa and Islamabad in the year 2005 or the last year's flood catastrophe. Since the civil administration is not geared to fight such calamities, rescue and relief operations could only be undertaken by the organized and discipline forces. Media may continue with anti-military propaganda, but the people of Pakistan are aware that if the Armed Forces would have not responded promptly and effectively to these catastrophes, the destruction in term of precious life and property would have been more severe and painful. Of course the primary responsibility of the Armed Forces and intelligence agencies is to protect national interests. They have in the past offered tremendous sacrifices for the sake of their country and nation. Unfortunately some hostile elements are running a malicious campaign to discredit and defame the Armed Forces especially Army/ISI with a view to creating a wedge between the people and the armed forces.
Pakistan is confronted with multifaceted challenges at internal and external levels. This is the time to forge unity in the ranks of the nation. Politicians should realize the gravity of the situation; they should abandon the politics of power and pelf, and shun turf wars. They should focus on improving economic conditions so that the nation could get rid of the dependency syndrome. It is imperative to take measures to ensure socio-economic justice, strengthen the political system and institutions, eradicate corruption, provide timely justice, generate employment opportunities, seek consensus-based political solutions, and resolve ethnic, sectarian and religious fault lines. Anti-Pakistan forces, internal and external, stand united today to destabilize the country because they cannot digest a strong and nuclear Pakistan. There is a perception that India, the US and Israel have coalesced to weaken and destabilize Pakistan to show to the world that Pakistani nukes are not safe and militants could one day take over control, but there is no buyer for this logic. All and sundry should understand that in the event any harm is caused to Pakistan, they would all stand to suffer, and posterity would not forgive them.
—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.
MEDIA ONSLAUGHT TO DEFAME ARMY & ISI
ASIF HAROON RAJA
November 2000 elections in USA were gerrymandered by Zionists to get George W Bush elected. 9/11 was masterminded by Jews, Bush and Dick Cheney to achieve strategic and economic objectives by making Afghanistan and later Iraq as bases of operations. 19 fanatical Arab hijackers were allowed to crash two of the four hijacked planes into WTC so as to pass Patriot Act, build up military and invade Afghanistan. 9/11 Commission stumbled across strong evidence of treason by Cheney. It was determined by experts that an energy weapon was used to bring down Twin Towers . Overwhelming evidence exist that collapse of towers and building 7 were instances of control demolition. The big question asked is as to why was building 7 that was not hit by plane, demolished 8 hours after the second tower collapsed? Investigators and scientists have revealed that pre-planted explosives were set off two hours after the two planes crashed to bring down the three buildings.
Another intriguing aspect is as to why didn't the US jets scramble when one of the hijacked planes was heading towards Pentagon after the two planes had struck WTC in New York ? Not a bird can fly in this exclusive zone. Intriguingly, on 01 June 2001 order to scramble jets to deal with hijacked planes had been transferred from Base Commander to Defence Secretary Rumsfeld. OBL and al-Qaeda were drummed up to create an excuse to invade and occupy Afghanistan . Invaders had no proof of al-Qaeda's involvement in 9/11. OBL and other top leaders of al-Qaeda and Taliban holed up in Tora Bora caves in December 2001 were deliberately allowed to escape to Pakistan to push flames of terrorism into Pakistan and to force Pak military to join the war. Although Pakistan didn't fit into the US security paradigm, it was deceptively made an ally and earmarked as a target since its military and nuclear strengths were unacceptable to the strategic partners USA , Israel , India and Britain . War on terror in which Pakistan was cunningly made the frontline state was not meant to eliminate terrorism but to fuel terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to keep both unstable so as to provide an excuse for prolonged stay of coalition forces in Afghanistan . A willful smear campaign was unleashed by Indo-US-Israeli nexus to undermine Pakistan 's premier institutions and nuclear program. Underlying objective was to weaken the main trunk of Army, declare ISI as a rogue outfit and to declare Pak nukes unsafe. Another objective of media campaign was to promote western and Indian culture so as to secularize the society and do away with Islamic culture believing in Jihad.
India which fitted into security paradigm of USA and Israel was systematically turned into strongest military and nuclear power of South Asia and a bulwark against China ; and its archrival Pakistan was steadily weakened. Mumbai attacks on 26/11 were masterminded to deflect attention of the world from the atrocities committed by Indian security forces in Indian occupied Kashmir where the situation had become explosive and to nail down ISI . Barack Obama was also Zionists choice man ready to serve their agenda. Af-Pak policy was Pakistan specific to speed up its destabilization. Blackwater was inducted and new tactics involving double suicide bombers and group attacks were introduced in Punjab in 2009. Drone attacks were intensified and so were target killings in Balochistan and Karachi to create countrywide anarchic conditions. When the esteem of Army and Gen Kayani shot up in the eyes of US military and NATO after Swat and South Waziristan operations in 2009, a team of journalists headed by Dan Williams from Jerusalem visited Kabul in June 2010 at the invitation of India to help in intensifying media war against Pakistan and to create rift between NATO and Pakistan Army. Earlier on, Indian Ambassador had visited Tel Aviv and met Williams and offered him to pay all expenses besides lucrative incentives to journalists engaged for tarnishing Pakistan's image in world comity. OBL who died a natural death due to kidneys failure was purposely kept alive till 02 May 2011 by CIA to justify US extended stay in Afghanistan and heavy expenditure incurred. Stealth raid in Abbottabad by US Navy SEALs without taking Pakistan into confidence was a false flag operation to undermine Pak Army and ISI.
Till the Abbottabad and Mehran Base disasters, public ire was entirely focused against the political ruling regime. The rulers were held responsible for the malaise afflicting the society while the armed forces were held in high esteem. The people suffering under extreme hardships looked towards Gen Kayani to get rid of the parasites and to restore semblance of order and lost pride and honor. Security forces are carrying out low intensity conflict since 2002 but despite their heroics, nonstop fighting is sapping their energy and to a degree impacting their operational worthiness, particularly because of negative role of foreign media. Despite vilification campaign to defame the Army and ISI, the two institutions are regarded with approbation by the public. High image of Army runs contrary to the designs of Pakistan 's adversaries desiring complete crippling of all institutions of Pakistan . It was against this background that Operation 'Get Geronimo' was conceived to embarrass Army, air force and ISI and to discredit them. Terrorist operation against Mehran naval base was conducted to defame the Navy and to further discredit premier institutions and create feelings of hopelessness among the public. Selected journalists, anchors and TV channels were spun into action to join hands with foreign media and denunciate top leadership of the three services and ISI. PML-N in its bid to settle its old scores with Gen Musharraf and his team of Generals led the defamation assault, foolishly hoping that its tirade may pave the way for its return to power. Media persons and politicians harboring old grievances against the Army under Gen Zia and Gen Musharraf considered it a golden opportunity to bash the military. Kharotabad incident, killing of a thug at the hands of Rangers in Karachi and murder of Saleem Shehzad were all put in the basket of Army to make their campaign more stinging and this gratuitous diatribe is still going on with a vengeance. Some have crossed all limits of journalistic decency and used offensive invectives. They ridiculed the senior military leadership by insinuating that it is its old habit to take cover behind national security to avoid accountability, and to present themselves as victims of machinations rather than admitting their fault. Some said that military is a white elephant consuming 80% of budget, well knowing that the actual figure is mere 25.6%. It makes one suspect that all these incidents were triggered within a limited timeframe with a hidden motive. It is big money which is making cultivated media persons go wild.
Opportunist journalists and anchors have exposed themselves by making vicious attacks on leadership of three services. They are drawing satisfaction by claiming that media helped in driving a significant wedge between armed forces and the public, and that rift stems from growing realization that security establishment victimizes those it is meant to serve.
Such mini-minds forgot the role of Army in all man-made and natural catastrophes and in ongoing war on terror. Much to their chagrin, despite the vituperative campaign, 75% of people still have a very high opinion of the Army and ISI. Criticism is a healthy exercise since it gives the institution being criticized opportunity to examine its grey areas, and rectify them. However, orchestrated propaganda to spoil civil-military relations and that too at the behest of outsiders is an unpardonable offence and must be condemned.
—The writer is a freelance columnist.
AFGHAN TALKS — NOW AND THEN
Irrespect of the doubts one might have about the direction of historical forces in a particular segment of time and space, at some point one is likely to run into a situation claiming that" History indeed repeats itself". Speaking from the cool of white House (June 23) President Barack Obama of the United States sounded very much like Mikhail gorbachev, soviet leader of the eighties, when he informed the world that U.S was holding peace talks with Taliban and have already completed three rounds. Observers of the International scene listening to Obama must have proclaimed aha! The "History is surely repeating itself". After a decade or about that time of fighting with Mujahideen, the soviet had yielded to the diplomatic and military pressure to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and work out a peace settlement. It had dawned upon them after losing some thirty thousand troops and substantial amount of military hardware that the war against Afghans with the lands of Afghanistan as the battleground, is indeed unwinable. President Bush was advised by many of his friends to make the same mistake that soviet had and avoid the Afghan traps. But Bush administration was in a hurry to stage Tora Bora and was in no mood to listen to the comparison drawn by the American scholars and news media.
Some of the comparison makers went up to 17th century and dug out the war stories of Afghans VS Mughals. In his attempt to subjugate the Afghans emperor Akbar the Great deployed the best of his four hundred and forty thousand troops and put them under the command of his outstanding general Raja Maan Singh. According to author of DARBAR-i-Akbari Muhammad Hussain Azad, Maan Singh fought many battles doing extensive damage to Afghans, but failed to eliminate them.Their capability to draw the enemy into the unending rows of rugged mountains, swiftness in regrouping and sturdy make up of warriors ,were some of the barriers to defeat them. What was true about the Afghan warriors in the seventeenth century is true today. Besides Mughals the British had similar experience.
Pakistan with an extensive involvement in complicated Afghan -soviet negotiations was skeptic about the outcome of the talks. There are several reasons for Pakistani incredulous. Most importantly the likelyhood of US keeping Pakistan out of the negotiation. In case of Afghan soviet settlement the US played a significant role but to the disappointment of Pakistan it walked out of the arena when time for implementation of the agreement arrived. The Pakistanis believe that had not the US abandoned at a crucial moment, the Afghan refugees would have vacated Pak territory, the Taliban would not have emerged, and we would not be fighting an expensive war on terrorism. Pakistan has repeatedly expressed the fear that its western ally may not stay the course once it evacuated from Afghanistan.
U.S secretary Defense Robert Gates was addressing this fear of Pakistan when he said on June 23 that "We can not repeat the mistakes of 1989". The fact that U.S negotiators had met their Afghan counterpart three times before end of June without taking Pakistan into confidence ,indicates that this nation's alliance with the U.S is based on weak foundation. Alliances between unequal states are without strong basis simply because the power bigger among the two is likely to have multiple interests some of which could be directly clashing with the major interest of less powerful state. And when the chips are down the interest of bigger and more powerful state would prevail.
In the light of preceding statement one may conclude that U.S and Pakistan interests tend to clash in china, Middle East, India, Iran and several other states. It would also be correct to say that interests of U.S and Pakistan very much clash in Afghanistan also. Pakistan would expect that country to emerge out of the conflict as peaceful neighbor with no threat to its security and in no way vulnerable to the tactics of Pakistan's regional enemies. When President Bush was assembling a Government in Afghanistan after Taliban's defeat, Pakistan had let the U.S know that it does not care about ideology of the new regime but it does expect to have a friendly Government at Kabul. What was true about Pakistan's demand after defeat of Taliban is even more true at the time of their likely victory. Resorting to talks implies that guns have failed to produce the favorable results.
But there is no harm in walking to the table after a decade long non-productive warfare. Needless to say that there are several hurdles on the way to peace. First of all there would be need to identify the leader and influential men from the Taliban side. Thus far no such person has come to the lime light. To simply say that there are good Taliban and there are bad Taliban and "we would talk to good Taliban", would not resolve anything. Lack of identification of a unified leader cost heavily to both the main players and their friends during Soviet-Afghan talks. The current war is perhaps one of the penalties for the absence of universally accepted Afghan leader. After going through make and break exercise several times the friends of Mujahideen were compelled to accept collective leadership in eighties. At that point diversion of U.S attention towards disintegrating soviet union left few countries in the field to help Afghans. Consequently the incipient Afghan government of Mujahideen broke down and instead of the long awaited peace, a fratricidal war broke out.
Disillusioned Afghans sided with Taliban who were the only neutral force left in the field. Rest is history created by cause and effect. Another major obstruction to the progress of negotiation is ethnic Pukhtunes claim to power because their being the largest nationality in the country. It may be recalled that U.S seized power from pukhtoon Taliban who were fighting the northern alliance mainly constituted of Tajikh and Uzbik. It would not be less than a miracle to create a coalition of Pukhtoon and northern alliances. They are more likely to start the war where they had left it at the time of U.S intervention. Yet another major obstacle to the success of peace talk is attempts to keep Pakistan out of settlement. Thus far no body has contradicted the press reports.
That while rest of the world capitals welcomed President Obama's disclosure about resumption of Afghan peace talks, Pakistan showed reservation boarding resentment over the attempt to keep it out of the Afghan settlement. As the world knows Pakistan joined the war on terror under U.S pressure. First it was only a request for sharing intelligence and air bases. Later on Pakistan was persuaded to make military contribution. And presently the U.S officials are heared saying that it is Pakistan's war which the U.S is fighting. One may ask that if it is Pakistan's war than why it is being kept out of the peace negotiation. As this stage many features of the war against soviet are revived. All the parties will have to realize the impact of history before going into new experience of nation building.
BEST PILOTS GET TOUGHEST MISSIONS
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL JAMAL A KHAN (R)
This quote from John Quirk's much-read 1962 book about fighter pilots resurfaced in my mind because it fits perfectly the PAF career of one of its most admired combat commanders, Air Commodore Nazir ("Bill") Latif, a Christian officer born in Lahore, who passed into the country's air history on the last day of June. Any PAF pilot who has commanded a combat squadron (16-24 planes and pilots), a wing (50-70) and an air base (70-120) is considered to have proven to the full his professional credentials through the three toughest career rungs, and is justifiably respected for these marks of distinction among his contemporaries.
Bill Latif commanded two squadrons, three wings (two of them twice!) and two air bases (Peshawar and Karachi's Masroor), an unmatched command performance that brought hundreds of PAF pilots in close contact with this charismatic leader in the air and on ground. He also held the important post of Director of Operations during one of his staff assignments. Remarkably, Bill Latif was never seen even hinting at how good a pilot he was. He commanded respect by automatically undertaking very difficult flying tasks and achieving goals with apparent ease. I with others noted that he always underplayed his exploits and close calls, of which he had many. In the fighter pilots' inner circles these hair-raising flights were often recounted to re-affirm their infectious belief that even death could be cheated if one kept one's skills honed and anticipated threats before they materialised.
In the 1965 war, he led the country's only bomber wing that could penetrate deep into enemy territory and his pilots relentlessly kept the IAF air bases under attack, making a huge contribution to that war's objectives. In the 1971 war, he commanded the same base from which his wing had flown seven years before, only this time under much more difficult circumstances and competing demands on his planes. Without asking for reinforcements that he knew he would not get (because of concentration for an imminent campaign in the north), Latif and his able fighter wing commander successfully launched a series of air strikes to force the retreat of a very dangerous Indian thrust against Hyderabad. Once again, the fighter and bomber pilots under his command courageously achieved and even exceeded their assigned goals. Latif proudly wore his distinguished service S.Bt. and his S.J., a wartime award for valour.
Bill formed and led the world's only formation aerobatic team on a bomber aircraft, stunning international enthusiasts with his own and his pilots' skills when he led four B-57 bombers into loops and rolls at a public display in 1964. Bomber planes are seldom built to withstand aerobatic stresses and being much heavier than fighters, they are harder to control precisely through intricate manoeuvres. Latif followed this 'first' with another. In 1969, he formed and led the PAF's first aerobatic team on a supersonic aircraft, the Chinese F-6. Though kind and generous to a fault, Latif as a commander never hesitated calling some of his close friends who served under him to tell them the reasons he had given them adverse reports and what they needed to do to change that assessment. But both outside and during working hours, he remained ever affable, empathetic, humorous and ever full of amusing anecdotes (many in chaste vernacular) that made the air force a very happy community during his time. In recognition of his outstanding services to the nation's air arm, the PAF attentively tended to Latif's medical and related needs on a special directive by the Air Chief, who was also present at his funeral. During the last five years of his life, Bill's condition needed such caring attention the most. A large number of senior air force officers attended the funeral service of the highly admired Latif, before he was given a hero's burial in Islamabad.
CREATING A NEW ERA OF TRANSPARENCY
Government websites rarely have mass appeal. But a few months ago, one of our sites got up to 18 million hits in a single hour. Indeed, the volume of traffic was so great, the servers crashed. Were we handing out free money? Not quite. The reason millions flocked to this site is because, for the first time, we published street-level crime maps, showing exactly what crimes had been committed across the whole of England and Wales. This incredible demand shows the power of transparency, and why we need more of it. Information is power.
It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats. It gives people new choices and chances, allowing them to make informed judgements about their future. And it lets our professionals judge themselves against one another, and our entrepreneurs develop new products and services. In so many ways, information is a national asset, and it's time it was shared. That's why, since last year, we have published stacks of new data. Right now you can go online and look at the salaries of senior officials, the contracts signed by central and local government, and the breakdown of public spending. But if the past 12 months have been about opening up Whitehall, the next 12 months must be about opening up public services. So today, we are making new commitments to transparency. For the first time, the raw data that will allow you to analyse the performance of public services will be made freely available. Some may say: what's new here? After all, we already have things like school league tables. But what we're proposing is something entirely different. League tables are once-a-year snapshots of what is happening in our education system, with an exclusive focus on exam results. With our new plans, you'll be able to drill down into the performance of individual schools, checking their exam results by subject area, absence rates and the quality of teaching.
Our aim is to provide similar information on performance right across the public services. So now, you'll be able to compare the health outcomes of individual GP practices and hospital departments. You'll be able to see not just what crimes have been committed on your street, but what action the police have taken. You'll also know about congestion on local roads and delays on your railway line. And in all these areas, the data will be updated regularly. This is a complete revolution in transparency – and it's going to have a profound impact. First, it will enable choice, particularly for patients and parents. Next week, we are publishing our White Paper on the future of our public services. Professionals will see their discretion restored. And we will have real freedom to choose which hospital we get treated in or which school our child goes to. But for that choice to be meaningful, it must be informed.
Second, it will raise standards. All the evidence shows that when you give professionals information about other people's performance, there's a race to the top as they learn from the best. For example, five years ago, it was made far easier for the public to access, understand and use data on survival rates following heart surgery. And guess what happened? Those survival rates rose dramatically. Our doctors, teachers and police officers are passionate about driving up performance and being the best. Speak to them and they'll tell you they desperately want this information, and this opportunity.
Third, this information is going to help us mend our economy. To begin with, it's going to save money. Already, the information we have published on public spending has rooted out waste, stopped unnecessary duplication and put the brakes on ever-expanding executive salaries. Combine that with this new information on the performance of our public services, and there will be even more pressure to get real value for taxpayers' money. But transparency can help with the other side of the economic equation too – boosting enterprise. Estimates suggest the economic value of government data could be as much as £6 billion a year. Why? Because the possibilities for new business opportunities are endless. Imagine the innovations that could be created – the apps that provide up-to-date travel information; the websites that compare local school performance. But releasing all this data won't just support new start-ups – it will benefit established industries too.
Take pharmaceuticals, an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people across the UK. The data we are releasing will enable medical researchers to look at how different drugs work in real-life populations, helping to make the UK the most attractive place in the world for research and development of the next generation of life-saving drugs. Not only will that benefit patients, but it will help to create new jobs and economic opportunities. Sometimes in government you do things knowing that if another party came to power they might try to reverse them later. Sometimes, you do things knowing that the changes you make are here to stay. In the years to come, people will look back at the days when government kept all its data – your data – in vaults and think how strange it was that the taxpayers – the people who actually own all this – were locked out. But this whole process isn't something government can do alone – you need to play your part too. Use this information, exploit it, hold your public services to account. They are there for you, so make them work for you. — The Telegraph
PURPOSE, NOT POLITICS, THE REAL TEST OF CARBON TAX
THE ultimate test of the carbon tax to be announced tomorrow is not whether it saves Labor, but whether it does anything to save the planet.
This newspaper has long supported the need for a market-driven approach to carbon emissions: the benefit from reducing greenhouse gases is a given. The question is whether this tax, at this time, will achieve that aim without harming our exports, domestic industries, jobs and living standards. The first test is that the tax does no damage to the global competitiveness of our trade-exposed industries.This is not just about setting appropriate levels of tax and compensation now, but of checks and balances to ensure the scheme does not escalate ahead of the rest of the world in future. The tax cannot become the plaything of the Greens with their skewed view of economic reality.
Staying in step with the rest of the world on carbon pricing has become even more important after the failure of the Copenhagen climate change summit in December 2009 and the Obama administration's decision to drop its proposal for a cap-and-trade scheme. Ensuring there is enough compensation to the energy, steel and cement industries is vital in efforts to protect the national economy. It would be a disaster if the tax led to higher costs in these sectors and a consequential "leakage" of factories and jobs overseas.
Labor's decision to exempt petrol from the tax will please consumers. But the possibility that this will be funded by clawing back revenue from mining companies through cutting diesel fuel rebates opens a new front in the battle to make sure we are not disadvantaged internationally. Labor has promised that most householders will be compensated for increased power bills. But that is only one way in which the tax will impact on workers. Power charges flow on to every business and can harm domestic and export competitiveness with implications for jobs and household costs.
The Gillard government must demonstrate that its new model is flexible enough to meet any future challenges. It must not limit policy options in the pursuit of short-term political advantage. A case in point is the exemption of petrol, not just now but after the conversion to a market-based trading scheme. Forever is a long time in politics, and the difficulties of changing the GST should be a warning to government not to shut out options. Transparency is vital. We must know what the government intends in terms of operation, regulation and compliance.
The new tax is of critical importance to our future and it is appropriate Julia Gillard will address the nation tomorrow night. For too long, Labor has tried to bluff, obviously believing the public too unsophisticated to absorb the detail. Voters are not fools, and they are yet to be convinced that the pain of this tax will be worth the gain. This was the challenge John Howard and his coalition colleagues met a decade ago when they introduced the GST. This time, even after years of debate, many voters are still asking why the tax is being introduced.
Tomorrow's package must be more than politically palatable in the short term. It must also show that it does no harm now -- or later -- to the national economy while at the same time making a difference to the planet.
A GOOD RESULT FROM THE BER
BRAD Orgill's unexpected call for a Productivity Commission inquiry into building escalates concern about the extent of the waste in the federal government's schools building program.
Mr Orgill's original remit was to investigate the Building the Education Revolution but he now argues we need a much more comprehensive look at the construction sector. His call, contained in his final report into the BER, is a vindication of the concerns of parents, principals and teachers who saw first-hand the cost-overruns, gouging and inefficiencies as builders sucked up $16.2 billion of taxpayers' money in the wake of the global financial crisis.
In 2009, when this newspaper began investigating where BER money was being spent, the Rudd government accused us of focusing on a handful of complaints. Julia Gillard, at that stage education minister, argued the BER was delivering much-needed school infrastructure as well as saving jobs and protecting Australians from the impact of the GFC.
It took Ms Gillard a long time to concede there were problems but, to her credit, in April last year she commissioned Mr Orgill to investigate. His earlier reports identified major issues and led to changes in the rollout of funds. Now we have the complete -- and damning -- picture, showing that more than $1.1bn was wasted in Victoria and NSW alone, with state schools paying up to 60 per cent more for buildings than their private counterparts. The report blames the states for this dreadful waste and identifies as a major problem the "hollowing out" of public works capacity over the past 20 years, leaving the system unable to efficiently manage an outsourced model of delivery.
Mr Orgill has revealed the pitfalls in huge government spending projects. But his call for the PC to be involved is particularly valuable at a time when increasing national productivity should be top of the government's agenda. The waste in the BER is a tragedy. But if we are to improve productivity, it is essential we identify the specific factors which contribute to such inefficiencies. Mr Orgill is right: The lessons from the BER must be applied to other building and infrastructure projects delivered by federal and state governments. There is much to learn, including the need for politicians to take seriously complaints of parents, teachers -- and the media.
SOUND OF ONE-SIDED DEBATES A DISTURBING TREND
WHEN ABC radio presenter Adam Spencer hung up on his interview guest, Lord Christopher Monckton, he demonstrated a disturbing trend in Australia's progressive insider class.
On a range of issues, and especially when it comes to climate change, we see a determination to win debates not through rational argument, but by silencing opponents. In a vibrant liberal democracy such as ours, this is an uncomfortable development.
Perhaps, counterintuitively, the information overload of our age has made us less accepting of the robust exchange of views we should expect. Whatever the reasons, and wherever we sit on the political spectrum, we should rail against one-sided debates.
Monckton is a strident climate change sceptic who has been prone to hyperbole. This newspaper once criticised him for offensive remarks but he is entitled to express his views. If Al Gore can hoist himself on a cherry picker to show predicted rises in CO2 concentrations, then Monckton can take to the stage and point out that global temperature rises have fallen short of predictions. Those who disagree with the climate sceptic's opinions or assertions should be free to challenge or debate them. Spencer chose to hang up. We expect better from a public broadcaster -- especially when the hyperbole of advocates such as Tim Flannery is aired without so much as a raised eyebrow. The public broadcaster should be a clearing house of viewpoints where a variety of ideas are contested with alacrity.
Sadly, this intellectual intolerance is more widespread. Leftist advocacy group GetUp! has launched action against broadcaster Alan Jones because it dislikes his views; threatened commercial boycotts of companies that speak out against the carbon tax; and now has led a successful campaign to prevent Monckton speaking at a function in Brisbane. No organisation, least of all a so-called progressive group, should stoop to these bully-boy tactics. They betray either a lack of faith in their arguments or the ability of the public to understand. GetUp! claims not to shut down debate but to silence "scare" campaigns. But GetUp! runs campaigns and makes itself the sole arbiter of what constitutes a "scare".
We believe the public is capable of deciding what weight to give the information. In the contest of ideas, the strong will naturally defeat the weak without the censoring hand of the self-appointed thought police.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
MURDOCH SHOCK IS NO REAL SURPRISE
Illustration: Simon Letch.
IT LOOKS like the nuclear solution: Rupert Murdoch through his son James has vaporised a diseased section of his vast empire and ended the danger it posed to the empire as a whole. Much appears to have been sacrificed so that more can survive.
But the sacrifice is an illusion. All that has been destroyed is a masthead. Yes, the News of the World has been widely read and very profitable - until now. But the paper's routine phone hacking of anyone in the news has tainted it irrevocably. Celebrities, business people, royalty, victims of murderers and terrorists - no one was spared in its quest for dirt. Advertisers are suddenly reluctant to appear in its pages. Readers have been turning away, appalled. The Royal British Legion - a charity for service personnel and their families - has shunned the paper after it was revealed the families of fallen soldiers may have been among its victims. As an asset, the paper's value is falling fast; Murdoch has lost a little by closing it, but if the gesture convinces enough people, he may gain more elsewhere. The British government is still seriously considering whether to let him take over the part of the BSkyB satellite network he does not own.
It is widely predicted, too, that he will be ready on Sunday week with a replacement paper - different masthead, similar product. Whether or not that happens, for now many innocent people have lost their jobs to give the impression of News International's sacrifice, while those in authority when the paper was doing its worst remain in place. News International's present chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, who was the News of the World's editor at the time and who has already admitted to bribing police for tipoffs, is busy expressing her shock and amazement at what went on under her nose. News executives across the globe are chiming in on cue, with disbelief and condemnation. Rupert Murdoch clearly expects the world to believe them.
Perhaps it will. Murdoch is a master of the dramatic marketing flourish. The sudden closure of the News of the World is just another example. He is calculating the scandal will blow over now that his ritual sacrifice has been made. He may be right on that point, too. The public - and most media - have a short attention span. And Murdoch is used to waiting.
He plays the longest of long games. Though his various outlets may routinely back right-wing causes, he is not an ideologue but the ultimate pragmatist: he will back anyone or anything that advances his interests. His papers trumpet the nationalism of whatever country they are published in, but Murdoch himself is no nationalist. He changed allegiance from Australia to the US to further his corporate aims there. This single-minded pursuit of growth has seen News and its offshoots spread into all corners of communications: from newspapers to magazines, television, films, book-publishing and the internet. His reach is immense, and for most people, unseen.
The intensity of Murdoch's desire to increase his power and influence leaves others disarmed. Politicians are putty in his hands, because on issues affecting his power, they are prepared to compromise and he is not. He uses the breadth of his media interests coupled with a superb instinct for what rates with the public to make or destroy politicians as his interests dictate. It has been happening for decades: Gough Whitlam was one of the first, helped to power then crippled by Murdoch when he proved unsatisfactory, but many have followed all over the world. Tony Blair was lifted up, but his successor Gordon Brown was trashed once more. Julia Gillard is feeling the full weight of Murdoch's braying, bullying antagonism. So is Barack Obama. Small wonder, then, that serious allegations against the News of the World were known or suspected for years but not properly investigated. Britain's politicians simply lacked the courage to provoke the behemoth to anger. They are hardly alone in their fear. Australians have acquiesced as Murdoch acquired an almost unparalleled dominance of one country's media.
The News of the World swam in scandal, and eventually drowned in it. In closing it down, Murdoch's hand was forced - but not by politicians. It was the dogged independent journalism of The Guardian and more recently The New York Times and other papers which pursued the story relentlessly for years and exposed - despite News International's arrogant denials - the corruption at the heart of its editorial culture. And it was the companies who could no longer stomach the stench coming from the organisation who delivered the death blow by withdrawing advertising. The lesson is clear: power - including excessive media power - corrupts. Democracy and freedom require a media not merely independent of government, but also diverse and pluralist.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
HOW MULTI ARE OUR FUNCTIONS
Sydney is to get a multi-function exhibit hall in Darling Harbour, the state government has announced.
This is immensely exciting news for several reasons. First, Australians can once again use the term "multi-function" in ordinary conversation. This elegant expression had - mystifyingly - slipped into disuse after another developer's fantasy, the Multifunction Polis, evaporated in the desert heat somewhere near Adelaide in the 1990s. Even though an exhibition hall may not be quite as sexy as a polis, we feel sure that its multi-functionness will equal if not surpass that of the earlier project.
Second, Sydney will at last have a suitable inner-city venue for big sporting events. The Badminton Australian Open Grand Prix Gold event, recently pinched from Melbourne, is an obvious contender. We also suggest the state government consider bringing to Sydney next year's world Wife-Carrying Championships, currently held in dour, sunless Finland. This dynamic, edgy reinterpretation of primitive Arctic marriage rituals would blossom in a multi-function venue at the heart of our global city. Melbourne, eat your uni-functional heart out.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
NEWSPAPER GOES, DOUBTS LIVE ON
SEVERELY infected limbs are sometimes amputated lest they threaten the life of the patient. James Murdoch - acting, it may be presumed, at the behest of his father, Rupert - yesterday applied that surgical model to the News of the World, the Sunday tabloid at the centre of Britain's phone-hacking scandal. Mr Murdoch announced that tomorrow's edition of the 168-year-old newspaper would be the last. ''The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account,'' he said. ''But it failed when it came to itself.''
Indeed it did. Whether removing a masthead from the streets will also end the crisis that has embroiled the paper's proprietor, News International, and its parent company, News Corp, is, however, another matter. The popular revulsion caused by the News of the World's actions - in which a private investigator hired by the paper, Glenn Mulcaire, hacked into the mobile phone accounts of murdered schoolgirls and the families of dead British soldiers and terror victims, as well as politicians and celebrities - is unlikely to abate because the paper no longer exists.
Those whose privacy has been invaded could reasonably ask why the News of the World's journalists - most of whom, Mr Murdoch conceded, were not even employed by the paper when the worst abuses took place - appear to have been made scapegoats for those further up the hierarchy of News International, and perhaps News Corp. Rebekah Brooks, who edited the paper in 2002, when Mulcaire hacked into and manipulated the voicemail of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, is now chief executive of News International. Yet Ms Brooks has not been sacked and insists that she knew nothing of any criminal activity. Mr Murdoch and his father have accepted her avowals, even though News of the World paid Mulcaire nearly $A150,000 a year. They have not, however, similarly defended Andy Coulson, who was Ms Brooks' deputy and then successor as editor, and more recently served as media adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Mr Coulson was arrested yesterday.
As well as continuing to shield Ms Brooks, James Murdoch has also conceded erroneous action on his own part. In the speech in which he told News of the World staff of their fate, he said: ''The company paid out-of-court settlements approved by me. I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so. This was wrong.'' Mr Murdoch was understood to be referring to almost $A1.5 million paid in 2009 to another hacking victim, Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the UK Professional Footballers Association. That payment was construed as hush money, and the fact that Mr Murdoch authorised it raises serious doubts about who knew what; Ms Brooks, the News International chief executive, says she knew nothing of the matters subject to criminal investigation, yet Mr Murdoch, the News International chairman, was disbursing a lot of money because of the hacking.
The claim that he ''did not have a complete picture'' hardly helps, because if he didn't, surely he should have. Similarly, if Ms Brooks did not know how her reporters were gathering information and why they were paying a hefty sum to a private investigator, she should have. Mr Murdoch's statement indicated that he is aware of the questions it raises. He said the company was co-operating with police investigations and had commissioned the law firm Olswang to conduct an inquiry into ''past failings''. He must ensure that the inquiry is seen to be independent, and that no one, however highly placed, evades being held to account. If he does not, News International's credibility, already severely damaged, may be lost entirely.
NEWS INTERNATIONAL: LIFTING THE VEIL
The ripping back of the curtain has felt liberating
There comes a moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy's dog, Toto, tears back a curtain to reveal an old man pulling levers and speaking into a microphone. This extraordinary week has had something of that feel about it. A generation of people in British public life – including politicians, police officers and, yes, journalists – have lived with the increasing power of one person, Rupert Murdoch. He was a bad man to upset, and so most people kept their heads below anything that looked like a parapet. Politicians, in particular, paid court to him and to his lieutenants. They felt they needed Rupert Murdoch's support in order to win power, or stay in power. This suited Mr Murdoch very well: he had things he needed from them, too.
These individual relationships weren't in themselves corrupt, nor is Mr Murdoch the purely malign caricature of some imaginations. But the effect of this power was indeed corrupting. And that is why this week's ripping back of the curtain has felt so liberating. First one politician, then another, has spoken out. Numerous journalists have (at last) joined the fray. The police have rediscovered their purpose. The regulator has (probably too late) located its spine. Both Ed Miliband and David Cameron have made remarkable interventions – the prime minister frankly conceding that he, along with other party leaders, had turned a blind eye to abuses of press power because of the need to curry favour. Mr Miliband has spoken powerfully about the need to challenge all forms of private power – explicitly linking the banks with the more unfettered regions of the media. These, a week ago, would have been suicidal things for any leader to be saying.
Events have been moving so fast that it has been difficult to keep abreast of them. The Press Complaints Commission looks to be dead in the water. The media regulator, Ofcom, has announced that it is now actively keeping a watching brief on the question of whether News Corp passes the "fit and proper person" test to own a broadcasting company – not just the 61% of BSkyB it has its eyes on, but the 39% it already owns. A newspaper has been killed off: another almost certainly waits to be born. The prime minister's former spokesman, Andy Coulson, has been arrested. Two public inquiries have been announced. News Corp's American shareholders have woken up to the potentially toxic damage – or worse - that is being inflicted on the company globally.
Four important matters stand out at the end of this week. One concerns the press in general. The stampede to find tougher forms of regulation is understandable and, indeed, right. But we should avoid a rush towards statutory licensing of "print" journalists, if only because of the difficulties of definition. How would the Telegraph online be regulated in comparison with the Huffington Post? The next concerns what Cameron's appointment of Coulson – ignoring all warnings – says about his judgment. Attention must also focus on his cosy relationship with News International's chief executive, Rebekah Brooks – particularly his contacts at a time when News Corp was bidding for full control of BSkyB.
Next there is that issue of the BSkyB takeover, which is still on track, despite Ofcom's announcement that it is now keeping a close eye on things. It is inconceivable that this could now take place while criminal proceedings are active, and the sooner someone says so the better. Finally there is the question of the cover-up of the truth that undoubtedly took place within News International over the past two and a bit years. James Murdoch's statement this week has partially addressed this, but only partially. There is still little confidence that Mr Murdoch and Ms Brooks are the right people to be overseeing either scrutiny or renewal. And there is a sadness that a newspaper has been sacrificed without any adequate explanation.
SOUTH SUDAN'S INDEPENDENCE DAY
Independence is an event, but it is also a process, slow and fraught with danger
Today is independence day for the Republic of Southern Sudan: a burst of glorious celebration in a region routinely reported in tones of gloom. This is a day that many Sudanese must have thought would never come.
There was an interminable civil war with the north that began in the 1950s. When it finally ended with a 2005 peace deal, it was almost immediately threatened by the death of the south's leader, and Sudanese vice-president, John Garang, in a helicopter crash. But, finally, after a six-year disengagement, the climax arrived with the overwhelming vote for separation in January and now – with the grudging acquiescence of Khartoum – the birth of a nation. It is a significant achievement for the UN, helped by a little judicious arm-twisting from President Obama; and it is a great day for the South Sudanese, whose lives have been cursed by two generations of insecurity: 2 million dead, at least as many displaced. They have good cause to dance on the streets of Juba.
But this is only the end of the beginning, and the future is a very uncertain place. Relations with the north are an abiding difficulty, and internal relations are unpromising too. The Dinka majority has grasped such levers of power as exist – the government and the army – leaving the non-Dinka fifth of the population feeling shut out of senior positions and denied access to development funds. Despite promises made during the period of co-operation that secured the triumphant referendum result, proposals for a more federal structure of government that might lead to more geographically even development are beginning to look worthless. Juba is determined to stay in control.
This is a country that should have golden prospects. It could become a cornucopia of wheat and meat for its less fertile neighbours like drought-stricken Ethiopia and Kenya to the east. And as well as its agricultural resources there are large oil reserves, gold, and other minerals. There is a relatively small population, newly swollen by many highly educated returnees. Their expectations are limitless.
So the question for the international community, after its constructive role in helping to end the war, is how to support development that makes such wealth a blessing, not a curse. The transition from war of liberation to peacetime government has too often been the proverbially well-intentioned road to hell. The new country's friends can help buttress the good intentions by a focus on maintaining security in rural areas, building capacity in the regional capitals, and delivering technical support in agriculture. What they must not do is walk away. Independence is an event, but it is also a process, slow and fraught with danger.
UNTHINKABLE? STOPPING SPACE TRAVEL
Visit Mars, by all means – but there is little to be gained by sending astronauts to orbit this planet
Fewer than 600 people have been admitted an exclusive club: space travel. Now, with the last flight of the space shuttle under way, the membership list is harder to join than ever. When Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth, half a century ago, and when astronauts landed on the moon eight years later, it would have been inconceivable to think of a time when manned space flight began to slip from the present to the past. But America, at least for the moment, no longer has the capacity to send people into space. In terms of national pride, this may be a failure. In terms of scientific advancement, it may not matter that much at all. Deep space exploration – using robot probes – is a very different and more useful thing than the expensive and unreliable effort to send human beings into low earth orbit, no further from Cape Canaveral than New York. The shuttle has been an icon of its age, but its human passengers – however brave and skilled – have made their flights as much to show the world what America could do as for any particular and necessary purpose. Even the International Space Station, extraordinary though it is, could operate without a human presence, its experiments automated. The only good argument for sending people into space is the simple daring of it – the need, as Star Trek used to claim, "to boldly go where no man has gone before". Visit Mars, by all means – but there is little to be gained by sending astronauts to orbit this planet, not all that far above our heads.
THE JAPAN TIMES
A NEW FACE AT THE IMF
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the world's most influential financial institution, has a new boss. Ms. Christine Lagarde, France's finance minister until her appointment last week, replaces Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who stepped down amidst allegations of sexual assault. Ms. Lagarde's selection — she is the first woman to head the Fund — is a victory for proponents of change at the IMF.
Real change demands the end to the holding of positions for particular regions: The IMF must become a genuine meritocracy in which the best-qualified person gets a job, regardless of his or her passport.
Traditionally, the top job at the IMF goes to a European, as Europe and the United States have divvied up the top posts at the two leading financial institutions: A European heads the IMF and an American takes the World Bank. But the growing clout of emerging economies has demanded a reconsideration of those traditions.
Voting rights at the IMF are being changed to reflect the new global financial balance of power, but progress has been slow.
Those emerging economies had a new opportunity to assert themselves in this latest situation. They were even able to buttress their claim to the top job by pointing to the financial troubles in Europe and using the standard IMF argument that it is better for the institution to maintain an arm's length from its clients; after all, that was long the European rejoinder when developing economies called for one of their own to head the IMF in the past.
This time, however, the Europeans were not so keen on the logic of that position.
Nonetheless, Ms. Lagarde is going to have to oversee real change at the IMF. She should begin by committing herself firmly to meritocracy. She has five years to lay the groundwork for a replacement who is not a European.
She can soften that blow by eliminating other appointments at the fund that are based on considerations other than merit. For example, the IMF's first deputy managing director is traditionally an American.
The current holder of that job announced he would leave a few days before Mr. Strauss-Kahn was arrested. That sinecure should end.
Just as important is finding seats on the executive board for emerging economies.
In her campaign for the job, Ms. Lagarde, echoing her predecessors, acknowledged the need for reform. That will also require her to battle fellow Europeans, as it is smaller European governments that are overrepresented on the board.
Larger emerging economies such as China, Brazil and India backed Ms. Lagarde's bid for the post, but only on condition that she accelerate the realignment process started by Mr. Strauss-Kahn. Some developing countries have threatened to leave the organization if substantive reform does not occur.
The need for realignment is likely to clash with the Ms. Lagarde's most immediate concern, the Greek financial crisis.
Immediately after her appointment, Ms. Lagarde called on Greece to push through the austerity package that the IMF and other European governments are demanding as a precondition of additional financial aid.
That is the right approach, but she must also address the seeming unreality that is guiding European thinking.
The IMF has provided about one-third of the 270 billion pledged to help Greece, Ireland and Portugal. The eurozone governments expect that largesse to continue, a view that feeds suspicions that the IMF has not been even-handed in dealing with crises.
Ms. Lagarde must demand that European banks and governments accept some form of restructuring, even if that entails losses, if she and her institution are to maintain any credibility. The IMF was never as light-handed when other regions were battling economic troubles.
A related challenge is the need to prepare the IMF's balance sheet for the losses that are likely to come from a restructuring of Greek debt and whatever cascade follows.
The Fund's exposure is substantial, but Ms. Lagarde must ensure that her institution does not fall into the same pattern as that of European governments — including the one she worked for until last week. Anything less will spur charges of favoritism and parochialism. (French President Nicholas Sarkozy's claim that her selection was "a victory for France" does not help.)
These difficulties are compounded by another, more basic problem: Ms. Lagarde has only limited training in economics.
In her former job as finance minister, the skill set was as much political as economic; the IMF head needs to master her economic brief if she is going to sell often hostile interlocutors on the need for tough reforms.
They know the politics; she has to persuade them on the economic merits. Moreover, the IMF handles a wider range of issues than do most finance ministers.
Ultimately, Ms. Lagarde will play a key role in resolving not only current (and future) crises, but in helping restructure the framework of international economic governance. That requires a vast skill set and a deft touch.
Difficult at the best of times, the complexity of that challenge is magnified by the fact that one set of reforms could undermine her ability to make other changes — taking a hard line on eurozone bailouts will make it even harder to get those same governments to agree to reforms in voting strength.
Good luck, Ms Lagarde, you will need it.
THE JAKARTA POST
PRICING JAKARTA'S ROADS
The Jakarta city administration appears likely to soon implement an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system along major thoroughfares in the capital following the issuance of a central government regulation that would become the legal basis for the policy.
The public debate is now focused on how much the city thoroughfares will actually cost motorists. Whatever decision is eventually determined, the policy is expected to become a counter to the city's daily traffic congestion and should be fair for all road users – particularly motorists who will be directly impacted by the new program.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reportedly signed Government Regulation No. 32/2011 on Management and Engineering of Traffic on June 21, which is the main legal basis for the city administration to implement the ERP system. Another regulation is now being prepared by the Finance Ministry.
The first ERP zone will include Jl. Sisingamangaraja,
Jl. Sudirman, Jl. Thamrin, Jl. Merdeka Barat, Jl. Majapahit, Jl. Gajah Mada, Jl. Hayam Wuruk, Jl. Pintu Besar Selatan to Jl. Pintu Besar Utara, Jl. Gatot Soebroto, Jl. H.R. Rasuna Said and Jl. Asia-Afrika.
We believe that the ERP is one of the important solutions to addressing the traffic problem – a source of daily frustration for road users and a cause of economic inefficiency in the capital. Many existing roads are no longer capable of accommodating the increasing number of cars and motorcycles in Jakarta and its neighboring cities.
The imposition of the ERP, and perhaps other traffic restriction policies such as increased parking fees in major city business areas, will not only help the city collect more revenues, but also encourage more motorists to shift to public transportation.
The question is: How much will those thoroughfares cost motorists? The Jakarta City Police have proposed figures of between Rp 50,000 (US$5.85) and Rp 100,000, much higher than the proposal from the city administration of between Rp 6,500 and Rp 21,000.
The figure proposed by the City Police is understandable. Such a high ERP price will drastically discourage people from driving their own cars for daily transportation. At the same time, however, any traffic restriction policies must not curb the people's mobilization.
Therefore, apart from deterring people from using private vehicles, the city administration, with the help of the central government, must continuously improve the city's public transportation: Deploying more buses along the Transjakarta busway lanes, more train cars along the railway tracks, as well as consistently developing new transportation projects, including a mass rapid transit (MRT) system and a monorail.
The most important thing is that revenues from the ERP and other traffic restrictions must be allocated for improving city transportation facilities – public transportation, road maintenance and renovation of the degraded road side drainage system, which has often caused flooding along many busy roads during the rainy season.
The spirit behind implementing the ERP should not force additional burdens upon the people, but it should become part of the overall remedy for the city's daily traffic chaos. Therefore, those who insist on enjoying the city's main thoroughfares in their private cars would have to pay more. With the money generated, the city logically should be expected to have more money to develop better public transportation.
It is likely a win-win solution for all.
THE JAKARTA POST
PSSI'S SURAKARTA CONGRESS: FINAL HOPE FOR SOCCER REFORM
MIKAEL DIAN TEGUH
At this moment, all eyes are glued to the ongoing Copa America in Argentina to watch the world's best soccer player, Lionel Messi, strive for his first international trophy in his shining career.
However, it is within our own nation that we should pay more attention, especially to the upcoming extraordinary congress of the Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI) in the Central Java city of Surakarta, better known as Solo, on July 9. The congress had opened in mid-May but it ended prematurely.
The congress, charged with electing a new PSSI chief, deputy chief and executives for 2011-2015, has been a burning issue in Indonesia as it comes hot on the heels of the ouster of twice-elected boss Nurdin Halid. Another failure on the part of the congress to elect PSSI executives will force the world soccer federation FIFA to suspend Indonesia from competing internationally.
It was a great shame that the May congress, which originally wanted to propose a better standard of Indonesian soccer under new leadership, resulted in nothing but quarrels and disagreement. Speculation was rife, however, that the congress had been doomed to failure from the very beginning.
At first glance, the congress looked little more than a forum to comfort conservative candidate Nirwan Bakrie, revolutionary aspirant Arifin Panigoro, who founded the breakaway Indonesian Premier League (LPI) and former Army chief of staff George Toisutta.
However, the controversy that followed was not only about the clash between the three men; ironic, considering that none of them was eligible to contest the PSSI's top executive job due to an already-
existing ban on all three by FIFA.
Chairman of the FIFA-sanctioned normalization committee Agum Gumelar also came under the spotlight. He was criticized for abruptly closing the May congress, which sparked a query whether the decision to do so was absolutely necessary.
Some congress participants felt that the event was called off in a well-prepared and pre-arranged manner, as people watched live on screen Agum and FIFA officer Thierry Regennas leaving the room under security escort.
These participants believed that the congress failed due to the uncovering of data manipulation that had occurred and which was going to be disclosed to the forum, which would have adversely affected the continuance of the congress. An unnamed source said the normalization committee had no courage to confirm the findings as they would have acted as a "slap in the face" against both PSSI and FIFA.
Agum's position as chair of the congress somehow justified his decision to dissolve the congress; his reasoning being to keep Indonesia's image intact in the eyes of the international governing body, or at least not to allow it to become tarnished beyond repair. Following the congress, Agum himself went to FIFA headquarters in Geneva to defend Indonesia from heavy sanctions.
Apart from Agum, Youth and Sports Minister Andi Mallarangeng is also in the hot seat for maintaining a neutral stance and showing a lack of authority. His latest statement supporting the upcoming congress indicates his intention to play it safe.
The July 9 congress is haunted by the notorious Group 78, which was blamed for obstructing the previous congress. The group, consisting of eligible voters who will elect the PSSI chief, has pledged to reform the PSSI and encourage it to break with the past. The problem is they believe PSSI reform will succeed under Toisutta and Arifin.
Speculation has been rife regarding Toisutta's move to appeal his ban following the visit to Indonesia last month of FIFA vice president Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein. Hussein said FIFA would like to study the PSSI case.
That seals the month-long question: will the next congress live up to Indonesia's expectations of generating more competitive soccer, or will it be only a sequel to the chaotic congress in May?
Too much is at stake in the upcoming congress as hopes are high that a smooth succession within PSSI will mark an end to Indonesia's long drought of trophies and restore pride in the sport for the country's 235 million people.
The congress in Surakarta is supposed to change the fate of Indonesian soccer. May God bless our national soccer ambitions.
The writer is an English language student at Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta
THE JAKARTA POST
DEFENDING DIRECT ELECTIONS
PAN MOHAMAD FAIZ
The political reform movement that began in 1998 has significantly transformed the democratic atmosphere in Indonesia through amendments to the 1945 Constitution. One of the fundamental changes relates to the electoral mechanism for regional leaders.
We used to have indirect elections where governors, mayors and regents were chosen by members of local legislative councils. A year after the enactment of the 2004 Law on Regional Administration, regional leaders were elected directly through a "one man, one vote" mechanism.
Six years after the law came into effect, however, many Indonesians are questioning whether direct election is still appropriate given the aims of democracy, since this system can also create economic, social and political burdens. Responding to this issue, the government recently proposed a bill on local elections, which intends to reinstate the old indirect election system. This issue has sparked debate not only among politicians, but also between government officials and academics.
Regarding the present electoral mechanism, the government has insisted that neither the candidates nor voters are politically ready to implement the direct elections mechanism. They found there have been many cases of election fraud in direct elections, which has affected the public's view of democracy.
However, there is little empirical data to support such accusations. It is true that there has been election fraud, but none of 14 allegations of fraud related to gubernatorial elections in six provinces in 2010 were granted by the Constitutional Court. In other words, no significant electoral fraud characterized as structured, systematic and massive violations has occurred in any of the gubernatorial elections so far.
The government assumes that direct regional elections are prone to corruption as elected candidates will take advantage of any opportunity to regain any of their money spent during their campaigns. One of their ways to get this money back is apparently by misusing the regional budget.
Nonetheless, reviving an indirect election system will not guarantee a reduction of corruption among elected candidates. The reason why many local leaders today are convicted for graft is not just a factor of the direct election system, but because in the reform era Indonesia established a strong law enforcement institution called the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which has been very effective in hunting down corrupt people, so essentially now we just seeing more of what was there already. The free press and a stronger civil society have also contributed significantly to the increasing number of corruption cases we see where local leaders are involved.
Moreover, it is easier for candidates in indirect elections to buy votes because they need only to pay dozens of legislative council members. In terms of the fight against corruption, changing the electoral system is not a good solution. It would be better to enforce a law that regulates and controls financial support for candidates.
The government also seeks to end direct gubernatorial elections to improve electoral budget efficiency. The government has noted that direct elections are too costly for just electing governors, who only serve as representatives of the central government at a regional level.
However, investing more money to develop our democracy will not have direct advantages instantly or within a short time frame. I believe that defending the values of democracy is neither cheap or easy, but the price we pay is worth it. To tackle budget problems, simultaneous elections for governors, regents and mayors will be more applicable in terms of time and budget efficiency as well as reducing negative socio-political repercussions.
In line with democratic principles, direct elections allow people to exercise their fundamental sovereignty as stipulated in Article 1 paragraph 2 of the 1945 Constitution. The direct election mechanism also enables independent candidates to run for office in local elections. In fact, there has been one governor and 21 mayors who were elected as independent candidates in the last three years. This opportunity is almost impossible if the regional leaders are elected by local legislative councils.
In a nutshell, it is too soon to say the direct election system has failed to create a better condition for the community, because Indonesia has only implemented the elite rotation mechanism for six years, which is a very short amount of time in which to make an evaluation, let alone form a conclusion.
Instilling a democracy cannot bear fruits instantly, but needs a long process. People should be given a chance to learn from their weaknesses in practicing direct elections. The government and House of Representative's move to revive the old mechanism for regional elections, if approved, will be a setback for the consolidation of our democracy.
The writer is the executive secretary of the Expert Council of the Indonesian Law Graduates Association (ISHI).
THE JAKARTA POST
THE INCREASE IN MOBILITY
About two months ago I met a group of 30 students from a university in Sulawesi who were visiting Singapore and Malaysia. They were tourists, but not ordinary tourists.
They visited conventional tourist areas, such as Orchard Road and Sentosa in Singapore, but their main agenda was to visit academic institutions in Singapore and Malaysia. Most of them had come with their own money.
When I asked them why they chose Singapore and Malaysia, they quickly replied it was cheaper to go to Singapore and Malaysia than to Yogyakarta and Jakarta on the Island of Java. It was cheaper to visit neighboring countries because Indonesians now no longer have to pay exit taxes, which used to cost them Rp 1 million (US$117).
Another reason is the availability of budget air travel, with direct flights from Makassar in South Sulawesi to Kuala Lumpur. The students travelled to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur by bus. They had money to finance their own travel and knew how to find cheap food and drink in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
This was not the first time I met such groups from Indonesia. Indonesians have been moving much more frequently and to more places, including foreign countries. They go overseas not only as tourists, but also for work, ranging from low-paid jobs to lucrative business.
At the same time, a rising number of foreigners comes to Indonesia, either simply for sight-seeing or even working. Similar to Indonesians who work abroad, the foreigners employed in Indonesia are not limited to highly paid jobs. It will not be unlikely to see Indonesia providing a rising number of foreigners with low-paid jobs when the free labor market is fully in place in the coming decade.
The mobility of the domestic population is also increasing very quickly. Just look at the domestic terminal at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta. It is so crowded you might mistake it for a bus terminal.
Many of Indonesia's cities are home to swarms of motorcycles. Everywhere we go, particularly in cities, motorcycles rule the roost. Riding motorcycles allows people to beat bad traffic, particularly Jakarta. Motorcycles are more affordable than other vehicles and dealers offer easy credit. Forty years ago, a 30-kilometer trip from Klaten, a small town in Central Java, to Surakarta may have seemed a long way to go. But, nowadays, many people in Klaten commute to the sultanate city.
Ida, a 68-year-old grandmother, has a very busy schedule, commuting daily to the West Java city of Cirebon, 35 kilometers from her home in Kuningan, for work.
These are just some illustrations of the rising mobility of the Indonesian population, both within the country and globally. The country's success in reducing the average family size from about six children per woman in the late 1960s to about two at present has contributed much to this change.
Parents are now better off and can thus pay for their children to move more frequently and to go further. The parents are also not obligated to take care of so many children, which means the children they do have are more likely to find better acces to move around, either for business or leisure.
The rising mobility also means Indonesians now have more opportunities to meet people from different social, economic and religious backgrounds. On the negative side, however, is that a quick change in ethnic and religious composition of the population in an area may spark social conflicts and perhaps violence. Violence has erupted in several parts of Indonesia because of the increasing mobility of the population.
In a nutshell, increasing mobility is one of the most important demographic challenges in contemporary Indonesia. Managed wisely, this phenomenon, including the rising number of foreigners in Indonesia, can be a promising source of income to help Indonesia toward greater prosperity. Otherwise, crooked politicians may use it to create social and political instability for their own political interests.
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.
RIGHT TO INFORMATION BILL AND THE PP JAMES'S 50 YEAR LIFE IN PRISON
The main Opposition united National Party (UNP) has exposed the duplicity of the ruling coalition, United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in the right to information issue, by way of moving a Bill in Parliament on June 21, in granting the citizens the right to information that they deserve.
The ruling coalition defeated the Bill that, if passed, would have been a milestone in good governance and granting of a basic right to the people, using the two thirds majority power in Parliament that had been granted by the same people some 14 months ago. Going by the track record of the UNP it was obvious that the UNP wanted to trap the ruling coalition to expose the latter's duplicity on this issue. And it is not clear as to what would the UNP have done had a similar Bill been presented to Parliament by some other party at a time when it is in power.
This was the second time the Bill was presented in the House by one of the two Deputy Leaders of the UNP, Karu Jayasuriya. He presented it for the first time in March this year and withdrew it following assurance by the government that it would present its own Bill for the same purpose. When it was clear to the Opposition that Government was dragging its feet in keeping the promise Jayasuriya again moved the Bill in Parliament last month only to be defeated by the Government.
Interestingly, the Government again reassured, after defeating the Bill, that it would bring its own Bill soon to the House, a promise that was soon proved to be not genuine by none other than the leader of the UPFA President Mahinda Rajapaksa. During a meeting with the Editors and the heads of the media institutions on June 28 President said that there is no need for a Right to Information Act as people in the country can have access to whatever information and in a lighter vein and shrewd flattering had said that "no information can be hidden from you (media)"
One might infer as to why the ruling party is opposed to a piece of legislature that would give the people the right to information; that it is the fear of those who are involved in corruption being exposed. However, people have the right to know how their tax money is being spent although none expects the information pertaining to national security to be open to all.
It was alleged that the war against the LTTE was one without witness. True. But had the war theatre been open to media and the NGOs the LTTE might still be exploding bombs in Colombo, killing men, women and children in villages bordering to the northern and eastern provinces, conscripting Tamil children for the war and people in the war prone areas might still be in trenches or bunkers in fear of air raids by the Air Force.
War is nothing but killing. Whoever kills more human beings most probably would win the war. Whatever is preached in public forums no ethics are followed in war, whether it is fought in Mulivaikkal or Kandahar in Afghanistan or Basra in Iraq. Peter Arnett might have shown the world the US missiles flashing through the night skies of Baghdad during the first Gulf war, but had failed to show more than 6000 Iraqi soldiers being buried alive as plough-equipped tanks dumped tons of earth and sand onto them.
Apart from the issues pertaining to national security and privacy of persons, there cannot be anything that a government has to hide from the people. For instance, Prime Minister DM Jayaratne on Wednesday said in Parliament that there were politicians who were involved in narcotic drug mafias in the country. Needless to say that the people have the right to know who these politicians are, as it is the sons and daughters of the people are being addicted to drugs.
Leave alone the national issues, what a lot of people are suffering at the hands of some unscrupulous officials in the public sector when they go to government offices to get a birth certificate or a death certificate or their pension files? They have not been given the right currently to know as to why their certificates or files are not issued to them on time or what has happened to them. However, in India ordinary people use the Right to Information Act to get such things done.
PP James was in jail as a remand prisoner for fifty years until 2008, as authorities had forgotten him. Doesn't he now have the right to know as to who are the officials responsible for the ruination of his life?
Economic data from across the globe strongly suggest that the world economy has been slowing down recently. Factory output has declined perceptibly. In the advanced economies, the financial markets have been sliding and there is a distinct loss of confidence among investors. Consumer spending in the developed world has not picked up to the extent expected. Crude oil prices have been rising on supply uncertainties and the trend is likely to continue. High petroleum prices result in a transfer of wealth from cash-strapped consumers to producers who generally sit on their windfall earnings and do not contribute to global economic recovery. The twin natural disasters in Japan not only caused its GDP to fall sharply but seriously disrupted supply chains across the world, halting assembly lines in many countries. In the emerging economies such as India, inflation has been high and, as the authorities hike interest rates, the growth in output has slowed from its heady pace. On the other hand, recovery in the advanced economies has been anaemic, ominously so at a time when there is a serious talk of their governments withdrawing the stimulus packages. Taken together, global economic growth is seen to be at its weakest since recovery began two years ago.
Yet while these are genuine concerns, there are good reasons to be optimistic. Previous fears of a "double dip" recession in the developed world did not materialise, and this time too, despite some hiccups, the world economy should recover in the latter part of the year. As the IMF's latest World Economic Outlook points out, the global economy has continued to grow at 4.3 per cent, the rate indicated in its earlier forecast for 2011-12. Although downside risks have increased significantly — notably from the greater than anticipated weakness in the U.S. economy and the European debt crisis — they have been compensated substantially by certain "off-setting" factors. If Japan's twin natural disasters were an unpleasant surprise, the strong performance of France and Germany has been hugely positive. As Japan's reconstruction gets under way, the rebound of its economy is forecast to offset any weaker growth in the U.S. Much will depend upon how the European debt crisis is resolved. The way the developed countries confront their major fiscal challenges will determine the course of recovery. Sadly, one of the fundamental tasks — repairing the financial sector — has so far not been fully addressed.
GAMES WESTERN EMBASSIES PLAY
Human rights, war crimes, accountability, judicial intervention are the modern mittens in the post war ring after democracy, transparency, good Governance and Corruption was dumped as discarded gauntlets from the war phase. Why the change of gloves?
An Opposition too feeble and splintered to pound on a gifted punching bag, left it to the foreign funded NGO set, reputed for aiming poison darts at spider targets. They naturally failed to score a bull's eye, being too alienated and lacking in credibility. The wrong people entrusted with the right issues, turns it into dust. It was the unkept media that carried the campaign to a respectable distance, slashing it when short of sensational news, making the reading public bored by treating it as a routine diversion. Vibrant issues were made non-issues, by not going beyond sound and fury. Miscreants, with the Government leading the dirty rat pack, got away with blue murder!
Why have they imported whipping instruments branded with humanitarian logos to enter the local market? It has a simple dear Liza answer. Uncle Sam, Union Jack, Europes Band of Brothers, Scandinavian Scoundrels, with their satellites and sidekicks shifted the goal-posts to launch a new ball game. Winning a war that was chartered to lose and dismantling terrorism destined to be preserved: was not according to a script texted by the West, meant executors of such disruptive designs have to be disgraced and displaced.
Human Rights to War Crimes reaches the offenders and can be orchestrated from abroad with threats of dire consequences without domestic assistance, not easy to come. Does the West require a replacement of a PA Government, that provided the architecture for a successful war? Happy homes of the PA and the UNP, being no better or worse than the other; both would gladly be servile sycophants prepared to shift residences, if goodies are offered on a platter. Minister of Investment of one is the Minister of External Affairs of the other? A regime change in Sri Lanka is merely changing the color of the shirt for an appearance on a political platform. West is comfortable in either home except for the pressure exerted by the Diaspora on their voting registers and the scripture in their varying humanitarian gospel to which they adhere when convenient.
The long range sharpshooters of western intelligence, realize after focusing their telescopic lenses, that the "bad boys" in their terminology, that call for the head chop for master-minding the war anatomy, are the President and the Defence Secretary. Two have once saved the country from foreign interferences and are unlikely to cave in to foreign pressures: not good enough for a West that requires servile obedience. Taint them in war paint as Butchers of the Wanni that used their carving knives to disembowel the 'Saints' that went passing-by! Take both out of the equation, rest are in the fold willing to be penned. Hitch is, the Big Two, roller coaster high on national acclaim for taking the military option. So a new Game is on, with fresh issues structurally fabricated for a specific purpose. It has to be at a road show after the showing in the Middle East, where too an alternative leadership had not surfaced. Amass the masses on the centre of the city. That's the market to tap for a regime change in the decade of Twenty Ten.
The Government's source of strength comes more, from an uninspiring Opposition than from a 2/3 majority in Parliament. Worst, the President plays to perfection a crafty role out of Dale Carnegie's best seller "How to Win Friends and Influence People" while the Leader of the Opposition seems to be learning lessons from Toby Young's little known offering of "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People." A charismatic leadership from the Opposition is not on offer, for sure. It's not to be found elsewhere for the moment.
Making the people walk to the polling booth is unlikely to bring the desired result with the UNP still dazed and glazed after being on the wrong side of the war. The West knows, however much they desire, the Opposition leader cannot be sold to the people from a show case even if dolled as a mannequin; his value is in the role of a consultant since possessed of a keen incisive mind; a title offered to employees honorably discharged for non delivery of goods. He would always be welcomed for consultations but his electable eligibility is like that of a best-man of many times who never becomes the bridegroom. A virtual leader of the Opposition in permanency. A contemplated regime change has to come off the streets, now familiar along the dusty avenues of Libya to Syria, Cairo to Tunisia. Ranil Wickremasinghe, a gentleman and a true democrat is not their kind of person to parade on the streets. Western embassies learn much from their locally recruited moles operating from front NGO offices sometimes headed by Le Carre's style undercover of a Smiley, betwixt a CIA and MI5. Modern Smileys' have the common touch so distant from a flamboyant James Bond and so near to an unpolished NGO captain being chauffeured in a four wheel drive. They have the common touch to reach out for the common people. The head hunting is on for vernacular youth for community projects to indoctrinate for the future following the evangelical route that modern missionaries took successfully to increase their stock, with a load of bread and butter. We are living in times where revolutions originate from taps on a Twitter or Facebook manipulated by Al Jazzera or BBC to reach a global audience authorizing western powers to interfere or intervene.
The new generation of youth- not the yuppies among the Colombians - hold the key to the future: talent the embassy circles have recruited as the opinion makers in the making. Courting season has commenced to prime them as they are being toasted at embassies instead of the Government, as the coming generation of weather cocks to test political winds.
Middle East has show-cased how an insignificant incident can bring a crowd to a junction. A small crowd can grow rapidly by manipulation with the internet society becoming activated and diverse political operators entering the field to fish in troubled waters. JVPs' campus kids and their predecessors can give instant leadership at a street drama to be destructive. Few police goons in the act can accelerate the process by design in acting stupid. To get the middle class to become a restive class, so as to bring them to the party will be the strenuous task; only the Government can do it - which they are doing presently more successfully than the Opposition. The Youth Circle is toilet trained to throw hay at a coming fire.
Hardly a day passes without the middle classes been battered on many fronts giving rise to fresh grievances. The Government has no greater enemy than itself. Fortunately, the plots that western embassies hatch on their coffee tables arouses patriotic fervor. Being targeted on humanitarian issues Sri Lankans at home and abroad rally around the country.
As long as war cries on war crimes are heard from foreign quarters, the Government is safe as the People will insure against any revolt. The challenges mounted from the West can be offset by laying a domestic mechanism within our judicial stream to test any charge. We are at fault in being belated until taken to the wall. Are we over reacting to Western demands if that is their highest common denominator? Is there more to it, with the mannerism and methodology of the local diplomatic channels blowing weird smoke signals? Is there a communication breakdown with misreading on all sides? It's a combine we have miserably failed to
GULF DAILY NEWS
IS INDEPENDENCE ONLY FOR AMERICA?
I'm writing this on July 4, American Independence Day. In America and on US military bases and embassies around the world, it's a day for celebration of a memorable day in 1776.
It's a day for outdoor barbecues and fireworks, like independence days everywhere.
Revellers often use the holiday to toast the country's founding fathers who, like Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Franklin, were revolutionary signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Their names and those of Adams, Jay and Hamilton, to a lesser degree, have been memorialised in the names of cities, streets and institutions everywhere in America.
Though much of the history of American independence is unknown by many, a few notable remnants from the declaration have become widely known, the most popular being: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The slogan that permeated the air during the revolution, like all chants of revolutionaries, has been equally famous: "No taxation without representation," they repeated.
The British parliament under King James II had insisted on collecting taxes from British colonists in America, who had no representatives in the British parliament.
If, as the Declaration says, "all men are created equal" why do Americans act as if that fundamental principle applies only to citizens of the US?
Why should the unalienable rights - among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - proudly celebrated by Americans on July 4 not be extended to humans everywhere?
As former US intelligence analyst Ray McGovern observes: "The Declaration of Independence was meant to be a statement expressing the 'self-evident' rights of all mankind.
"Those principles had a universality that was a beacon to the world."
McGovern points out that many Americans think of the Declaration of Independence as: "Applying to Americans, but not to many others - like the 1.6 million people locked in the narrow confines of Gaza."
No matter what Biblical right has been claimed by Israel for six decades of the subjugation of Palestinians and the theft of their land, America violates its own most basic principles by failing to support Palestinian statehood.
America has no compunction against infringing on others' independence.
The US occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has robbed those countries of their independence.
The same thing can be said of the victims of all of Israeli and American occupations. After the celebrations of this Independence Day, Americans should take a sober look at the independence they are depriving others of in the Middle East.
The questionable justification for the occupation of Afghanistan ceased to exist once Osama bin Laden was assassinated by an American Seal unit.
The excuse for continuing occupation of Afghanistan has been "nation building". America has no legitimate business building any other nation but its own.
The rationale given for the destruction, invasion and occupation of Iraq was a complete fabrication designed only to destroy that country's independence.
There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the criminal supporters of Israel in the American government engineered the travesty in Iraq for one reason only: to prevent Iraq from ever threatening Israel with weapons of mass destruction.
To achieve this, America will have to keep troops in Iraq, continuing its prevention of Iraq's independence. US troops have no legitimate business in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or anywhere else. Finally, now that the July 4 celebrations are over, America desperately needs to declare its independence from Israel.
GERMAN-SAUDI TANK DEAL 'CYNICAL'
BY JULIO GODOY
BERLIN - A decision by the German government to permit the export of up to 200 state-of-the-art armored tanks to Saudi Arabia, despite the Wahhabi monarchy's human-rights record and its recent violent intervention in Bahrain to repress the popular rebellion against the local ruling family there, illustrates the rhetorical nature of Western support to the so-called Arab democratic spring.
The German ruling coalition, formed by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), unofficially confirmed on July 6 that it has approved the export of 200 Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia, for an estimated value of 1.8 billion euros (US$2.6 billion).
Anonymous official sources, quoted by numerous German news outlets, said that the delivery of the Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia was supported by the governments of the United States and Israel.
At the same time, the German government rejected appeals by opposition leaders, and numerous political analysts, to call off the deal on human-rights grounds.
The government did not discuss the arms deal in public, arguing that it must remain within the purview of the Federal Security Council, the highest German body on military and foreign affairs policy. Minister of Defense Thomas de Maiziere refused to comment, saying that the council "debates are classified, and this (classified character) won't change".
Opposition leaders, some members of the German ruling coalition, human rights groups, and numerous political analysts have condemned the transaction, calling it "a proof of cynicism made in Germany".
The deal was revealed on July 4 by the weekly newspaper Der Spiegel. It immediately triggered a debate over the honesty of official German, and by extension, Western, support to the the popular Arab movements that started last January in Tunisia and Egypt, and which have so far brought down the despotic regimes of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak in those countries respectively.
Many opposition leaders called the arms deal illegal, because it goes against German guidelines that forbid the export of weapons and other military equipment to regimes which violate human rights and to regions facing military crisis.
Saudi Arabia is "one of the worse despotic regimes in the Arab world, which regularly violates human rights and represses democratic movements", said Hans Christian Stroebele, Green party member of the national parliament, or Bundestag, and member of its foreign affairs committee.
In addition, Stroebele said, "Saudi Arabia is the protector of other similar regimes in the Arab world, and helps to obliterate democratic movements in the region, as it did in Bahrain some weeks ago." There is no question, Stroebele added, that according to German law the export of weapons to Saudi Arabia cannot be allowed.
Several German laws ban the export of weapons to such regimes. Article 6 of the "control of weapons of war act" says that export is to be forbidden if there is a "risk that the weapons would be used in an operation to disturb peace" and if it "would violate the (German government's) obligations according to international law". Another German guideline forbids the export of weapons to "regions facing military crisis" or to "despotic regimes".
However, practically all German governments have in the past approved the export of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
"I don't know whether there is corruption in the present case," Stroebele told Inter Press Service. "But past experiences, in Germany and in other countries, suggest that for the Saudi Arabian regime it is normal to pay illegal commissions to obtain weapons and other military equipment."
In the early 1990s, the German government approved the export of 36 armored tanks, for an estimated value of 226 million euros, to Saudi Arabia. "At the end, the Saudi regime paid more than 450 million, that is, more than 220 million above the official price tag. At least one million euros landed in the pockets of German government officials," said Stroebele, who was member of the parliamentary commission which investigated the case.
Cases of corruption linked to weapons exports to Saudi Arabia have also been revealed in Britain and in France.
Opposition leaders and even some members of the ruling coalition agree with Stroebele. Andrea Nahles, general secretary of the Social Democratic Party, said that supplying state-of-the-art battle tanks to Saudi Arabia showed that the government's pledge to pursue a value-oriented foreign policy was only "lip service to democracy and human rights".
Klaus Ernst, leader of the Left Party, said the government's approval of the deal illustrated its "real operating maxim: The most deadly tanks for the worst oppressors".
Senior government officials, including president of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert and Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the Bundestag's foreign affairs committee, also criticized the deal on the same grounds. Both are members of the CDU.
Florian Guessgen, policy editor of the weekly newspaper Stern, called the Saudi… regime "anachronistic and inhuman", and the weapons deal "a proof of German made cynicism".
"Human rights are beautiful and good -- but only for the Sunday speeches," Guessgen said, referring to rhetorical German and Western support for the Arab popular rebellions against the region's corrupt dictators. "But when it comes down to our geopolitical interests, there is no doubt about it: We deliver weapons to our most evil friends - even at the price of sacrificing the tenderest blossoms of the Arab freedom movement."
Germany has traditionally been a provider of military equipment to Arab countries, especially to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and to a lesser extent to Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia, according to the Berlin International Center for Conversion (BICC), a watchdog group that studies military affairs and promotes peace and development. Only the US and Britain supply more arms to the region. Germany is the third-largest exporter of weapons, according to the BICC.
Reports from Saudi Arabia say the purchase of 44 Leopard 2 tanks is part of a 65 billion euro defense spend by the Persian Gulf state and contains an option for delivery of up to 200 German tanks, the Irish Times reported. Munich company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann has produced more than 3,000 of Leopard 2 tanks, delivering them to countries from Canada to Singapore, the report said.
Nick Brown, editor in chief of Jane's International Defense Review, cautioned that the deal was not finalized and that it could still fall through, but that if it happened it "would be a really big shift," New York Times reported.
(Source: Inter Press Service)
Photo: German's Liberal Democratic Party (FDP) unofficially confirmed on July 6 that it approved the export of 200 Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia, for an estimated value of 1.8 billion euros (US$2.6 billion).
STL INDICTMENTS CANNOT FOMENT SECTARIAN STRIFE IN LEBANON
BY HOSSEIN RUIVARAN
The recent indictment issued by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) can be analyzed from various perspectives.
The stance adopted by Hezbollah Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah has been expressed in unambiguous language. Hezbollah believes that the decision to name four members of the Islamic resistance group in the STL indictments was a completely politicized action and there is no clear evidence supporting the charges. Hezbollah will not allow these people to be handed over to the STL for the so-called international investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Nasrallah openly declared that even if the tribunal lasts for three hundred years, the Hezbollah members will not be handed over.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese government has taken the stance that it will cooperate with the tribunal on the condition that it does not undermine the independence of the country. The question is whether the government's decision to cooperate with the tribunal is going to infringe on Lebanon's sovereignty or not.
The answer to this question is very important. But, given the fact that the current government has been formed by a coalition that includes Hezbollah, it seems highly unlikely that the state prosecutor will hand over these four men. From this perspective, the new STL indictment has no special implications for Lebanon's current situation. In fact, the tribunal will be forced to halt the proceedings if it is not able to summon these people to court.
However, advocates of the new indictments are making efforts to impose sanctions on Lebanon to force the government to cooperate with the Western-backed tribunal. The main issue is whether the call to impose sanctions on the Lebanese government is a serious threat or just a political maneuver.
The STL has accused four Shias of killing a Sunni, so there is a possibility that it is meant to be a signal to begin fomenting sectarian strife between Shias and Sunnis. Therefore, many believe that, backed by certain Western governments, the tribunal is attempting to provoke Shias and Sunnis into engaging in a confrontation.
However, based on Hezbollah's calculations, this devious plot cannot be realized in Lebanon's current situation. The revelations made by Nasrallah about what happened behind the scenes have undermined the credibility of the tribunal. Moreover, the conspiracies against Lebanon and the STL's conduct in recent months show how volatile the tribunal is. The tribunal first blamed Syria, but now others have been accused. It is possible that the tribunal will make more mistakes in the future.
But even if these errors are not corrected, the naive attempt to foment sectarian strife between Shia and Sunni in Lebanon cannot be realized.
Hossein Ruivaran is a Middle East expert based in Tehran.
INDIA'S TEMPLE TREASURE PROMPTS TEST OF FAITH
BY RAJA MURTHY
MUMBAI -- A US$22 billion treasure trove in a south Indian temple, the world's single-largest treasure find, has sparked an intensifying debate across India about who owns this ancient wealth of the gods: priests or the people?
The hoard of gold, diamonds, precious stones, jewelry and artifacts was found over the past week in five vaults of the 9th century Sree Padmanabhaswamy (pronounced padh-manaa-baa-swamee) temple in Trivandarum, capital of the south Indian state of Kerala.
The vaults of the temple were opened after 130 years. The Supreme Court had ordered an inventory of them, acting on a petition from lawyer T P Sundara Rajan after a squabble over temple management. Temple records mention the treasure, and its existence was known to locals. However, no one knew its true size.
The preliminary inventory of the Padmanabhaswamy temple treasure may have had King Solomon, the Knights Templar and Indiana Jones rolling their eyes in wonder: over a ton of gold, sacks of diamonds and precious stones; gold necklaces over three meters long and weighing over 2.5 kilograms, gold crowns, thousands of pieces of antique jewelry, idols, and artifacts studded with diamonds and emeralds.
The contents of chamber Vault A were valued at over $11 billion in a conservative estimate. The sixth closed vault B, to be opened perhaps on July 8, is expected to surpass treasures in other vaults.
Two dozen policemen are guarding the $22 billion treasure that makes this little known temple the richest place of religion in the world. It easily displaces the Vatican, estimated to own about $15 billion in wealth, and the Tirupati temple, in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, with about $11 billion of worldly properties.
Antique collectors' valuation of the find, to be confirmed by the Supreme Court, could be over $100 billion.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy declared on July 3 that the wealth would remain with the temple, as the temple owned the offering made to it. But with questions being asked nationwide over whether the gods need gold, particularly in such quantities, the Supreme Court may be shortly fielding more petitions to decide on using the godly means for greater good.
In 1750, the then Travancore ruler Marthanda Varma (1706-1758) donated the royal wealth to the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. Marthanda Varma was called a "war machine", but was said to have not spent any of the conquered royal riches on luxury or personal use, but only on public welfare.
The increasing clamor is for the treasure to be used similarly for welfare of the many. The Mumbai-based Times of India edition of July 5 calculated that the Padmanabhaswamy temple treasure would meet India's entire education budget for the next two-and-a-half years.
Realistically, offerings to the gods are indirect offerings to people. For instance, the sacred prasad, or food offerings in temples, are given to devotees to eat after having been first served to the bejeweled stone idols. The food isn't thrown away or locked up in vaults. There seems no reason to fear the gods kicking up a fuss if the more glittering offerings are used to feed a few starving children, and pay their school fees and books.
And it is reasonable to expect the honorable judges of the Supreme Court, if not the Indian government, will ensure the shiny metal and stones don't sit idly behind locked doors for another 130 years.
Such temple wealth has been often a curse in Indian history, like a honey jar attracting lethal pests. Central Asian raiders repeatedly ransacked temples for treasures, such as Mahmud of Ghazni's (971-1030 AD) famous looting of the Somnath Temple in Gujarat, western India.
"Kings often donated vast riches to temples as a power statement," says Dr Kishore Gaikwad, professor of ancient Indian history at the University of Mumbai. "Political power was enhanced with religious power, and the kings as elsewhere in the world sought religious sanctity to legitimize their power and get the support of the people."
Gaikwad told Asia Times Online that temples in ancient India evolved to being economic power centers, as store houses of vast wealth accumulated from citizens and royal donations that included tax free land. "This was why these very wealthy temples were the frequent targets of foreign invaders," Gaikwad said.
Travancore was a relatively minor kingdom, with its treasury insignificant compared to earlier great Indian empires: the Maurya dynasty (321-185 BC) and Emperor Asoka (273-232 BC), the Kushan empire (2nd century BC-3rd century AD), the Gupta empire (320-550 AD). Emperors such as Asoka, Chandra Gupta, Samudra Gupta and Harsha Vardhana were generous benefactors, sharing wealth with their people.
While temple priests and trustees quarrel over unused donated wealth, the irony is an Indian history filled with kings and emperors like Chandragupta Maurya (reign from 320 BC-298 BC) renouncing crown, kingdom and riches for the greater welfare of their people.
During the Buddha's life (563 BC-483 BC), many kings, princes, nobles and wealthy businessmen realized that the real wealth lies in giving up craving for power and wealth. They retired as hermits and ascetics, meditating in lonely forests and mountains to earn and share supra-mundane benefits.
Or the wealth was lavishly used for the greater good. Ananthapindika, a well-known millionaire merchant of the Kosala kingdom during the Buddha's life, spread many cart loads of gold sovereigns on Prince Jeta's royal park -- the price to purchase it as land for the Jetavana Monastery. From here Buddha could teach Vipassana to benefit millions of people living in the city of Sravasti, one of the biggest cities in ancient India.
Logically, the $22 billion Travancore treasure cannot belong only to the temple. Obviously kingly treasures were not plucked from palm trees, but originated as taxes from the toil of the people. The treasure cannot historically belong solely to the people of Kerala either. Parts of neighboring Tamil Nadu were part of Travancore. And the federal India of the 21st century shares national resources.
With its one-off multi-billion dollar find, the question of finding a better use for the Kerala temple fortune would be trickier than the organized flow of income from donations and expenditure for charities, as in the Vatican and the Tirupati temple.
The Tirupati temple generates average annual revenue of $120 million in cash, and tons of gold. On February 11, it deposited 1,175 kg gold with the State Bank of India, following a 1,075 kg gold deposit in 2010.
This Tirupati temple has been allowed to hoard about 12 tons of gold and other valuables. It's a remarkably unwise lapse in a country where over 500 million people struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day, and has over 50 million fatally undernourished children.
On July 6, the Supreme Court ordered a video recording of the Padmanabhaswamy treasure, and promised a verdict soon on how the riches of over $22 billion will be used.
(Source: Asia Times Online)
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