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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month august 31, edition 000824, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- MOCKERY OF THE LAW
- WORLD IS NOT ARABIA
- COLOMBO RECALLS SPLENDID VICTORY
- ASHOK K MEHTA
- RAUCOUS MASS PROTEST LEADS TO ANARCHY - MAYURI MUKHERJEE
- ISLAMISTS NOW TARGET NIGERIAN SOCIETY
- WITH ANNA'S FAST, INDIA WOWS WORLD
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- BE A SPORT
- TWO CAN'T PLAY
- SHUTTING OUT THE WORLD
- K SHANKAR BAJPAI
- 'THE JAN LOKPAL MOVEMENT IS AN UTSAV OF DEMOCRACY'
- HOUSEHOLD DEMOCRACY - JUG SURAIYA
- SLOWING DOWN, BUT SLOWLY
- HAIL TO THE CHIEFS!
- LOSING THEIR SHINE - DEV LAHIRI
- A FAST IS NOT ENOUGH - HK DUA
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- LOOK WHO'S TALKING
- NUMBERS OF FAILURE
- STICKER SHOCK
- BEGINNING WITH DHAKA - C. RAJA MOHAN
- LET THE BUREAU BE - PCSHARMA
- PLANNING FOR A CITY'S FUTURE, USING BUSES - ISHER JUDGE AHLUWALIA
- THIS TIME, THE WEST GOT IT RIGHT - ROGER COHEN
- FALSER WORDS WERE NEVER SPOKEN - BRIAN MORTON
- INDIA IS POORER? - MANOJCG
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- GDP SLOWS, WILL RBI?
- BANKING ON RBI
- KEEP BANKS AND INDUSTRY SEPARATE - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
- CHRONICLE OF AN ACQUITTAL FORETOLD - RISHI RAJ
- THE HOME STRETCH IN NEPAL
- PLUTOCRATS, TAXES & MORAL DECAY
- ASTRONAUTS MAY HAVE TO ABANDON SPACE STATION - KENNETH CHANG
- THE NEW GENERATION OF MICROBE HUNTERS - GINA KOLATA
- IT IS A LONG JOURNEY AHEAD: KEJRIWAL - ARVIND KEJRIWAL
- A HANGING - GEORGE ORWELL
THE ASIAN AGE
- NO, MINISTER - S.K. SINHA
- MPS SHOULD RISE ABOVE PETTINESS
- PM'S PACKAGE
- PROMOTING SPORTS
- WHAT HAS ANNA HAZARE GAINED ? - BY SRINIVASAN K. RANGACHARY
- PAKISTAN STILL HELPING TERRORISTS - BY B K CHUM
- THE MODERN SLAVE TRADE - BY HARJEET SINGH
- CHANGING THE GOAL POSTS
- HP TAKES ON CORRUPTION
- ELECTION CELL
- SEIZE THE ANNA MOMENT - BY INDER MALHOTRA
- COMPLIMENTS RETURNED - BY R.K.KAUSHIK
- DRAFT BILL LOOKS PROMISING - ALOK TEWARI
- THE PROBLEM IS MISUSE OF 'PUBLIC PURPOSE' - DILIP MODI
- THE NEW LAW WILL PUSH UP LAND PRICES - NAVIN M RAHEJA
- HOW DIRTY MUST THE PICTURE BE?
- BANKING ON LICENCES
- RIDING THE WAVES
- Q1 GDP GROWTH SHOWS RESILIENCE - MALINI BHUPTA
- DEEP CHANGE IN THE MUSLIM WORLD - SHAHID JAVED BURKI
- RAMLILA MAIDAN NO TIANANMEN SQUARE - SUBIR ROY
- WAITING FOR ANSWERS - M J ANTONY
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- CAUTIOUS OPENING
- SLOWING DOWN
- TWILIGHT OF THE GODS
- POLITICAL FASTS: A GLOBAL PRACTICE
- HOW TO AVOID GETTING BURNED IN CHINA AND INDIA - ANIL K GUPTA & HAIYAN WANG
- RATE HIKES WON'T WORK - RAGHBENDRA JHA & RAGHAV GAIHA
- BANKING ON CIRCUMSPECTION
- STIR AGAINST GRAFT HAS ONLY BEGUN
- RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY
- OVERDOSE OF ANNA ON TELEVISION - ADITI NIGAM
- INDIA'S CULTURAL PARADIGM MOVES TO US - B.S.RAGHAVAN
- NOT READY YET FOR NILEKANI MODEL -UTTAM GUPTA
- MAKE THE NEW BANKS GO RURAL - BISWA SWARUP MISRA
- AUSTRALIA UP AGAINST ENTRY BARRIERS - M. SOMASEKHAR
- THE CONVIVIAL VISION OF EID
- FRONTIERS OF FREE INQUIRY
- CORRUPTION, FAST FORWARD
- EID AMNESTY
- BHATTARAI TRIUMPHS
- ANNA HAZARE'S BASIC FLAW - BY RAJINDER PURI
- WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS
- MUST TAKE THE AGE OFF IT - SEEMA MUSTAFA
- A VERY, VERY FALSE START - ROHIT BRIJNATH
- NOT ADDING UP
- FIRST LAP
- SHOW OF STRENGTH - K.P. NAYAR
- DRAW THE LINE - STEPHEN HUGH-JONES
- TIME FOR REVIEW
- MAOISTS ON TOP
- WHY THIS SILENCE? - BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN
- FINALLY, A COP WITH A HEART
- WOULD EVERY DOG HAVE ITS SAY? - DR. JOE D'SOUZA
- THE SONG BETWEEN THE LINES
- THE JUNTA ALLIANCE - BY ZVI BAR'EL
- THE TYCOONS' MOMENT - BY AVIRAMA GOLAN
- IRON DOME VS. GAZA ROCKETS - BY MOSHE ARENS
- GET READY FOR IRENE - BY AMIRA HASS
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- THE NEW RESENTMENT OF THE POOR
- CHRISTINE LAGARDE'S TOUGH MESSAGE
- SAFETY REPORT ON VACCINES
- FOR CONGRESS IN NEW YORK'S NINTH DISTRICT
- HIGH ABOVE THE HOG - BY MARK ESSIG
- TIGHT BUDGET? LOOK TO THE 'CLOUD' - BY VIVEK KUNDRA
- SMASHING THE CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE - AYAZ AMIR
- MOVING AHEAD ON FATA - ISMAIL KHAN
- SEASON FOR HOME TRUTHS - IKRAM SEHGAL
- A PHANTASY : VOICES FROM THE PAST (PART - II) - MIR ABDUL AZIZ
- STAND UP FOR THE STATE OR STAND DOWN - MOHAMMAD MALICK
- FINDING SHAHBAZ - AREEBA MALIK
- EID AMID TURMOIL - COME CLEAN
- THIS COULD BE PRODUCTIVITY DEBATE THAT WE HAD TO HAVE
- STOPPING JAPAN'S REVOLVING DOOR
- WALLOWING IN GLOOM AND DOOM
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- ABBOTT'S HINTS AND RIDDLES
- THE LOACH ON THE SUSHI COUNTER
- JAPAN'S MR ORDINARY'S TIME TO SHINE
- WIND FARMING: WHY ALL THE HUFF AND PUFF?
- FRENCH SOCIALISTS: PRIMARY COLOURS
- HOME OWNERSHIP: A FADING DREAM
- IN PRAISE OF … DELTA BLUESMEN
THE JAPAN TIMES
- LEADING A NATION IN CRISIS
- TIME FOR U.S. TO SAY YES TO CANADIAN OIL SANDS - BY ROBERT J. SAMUELSON
- CHINA'S ECONOMY NOT A MODEL FOR EMULATION - BY FRANK CHING
- DESTROYING FIVE MYTHS ABOUT EARTHQUAKES
- ONCE GADHAFI IS FINALLY GONE - BY DANIEL SERWER
- GOODBYE TOTALITARIANISM, HELLO ELECTED STRONGMEN - BY WILLIAM J. DOBSON
MOCKERY OF THE LAW
RETRIBUTION MUST BE SWIFT AND DECISIVE
Whether or not the Madras High Court has erred in staying the execution of T Suthethiraja alias Santhan, Sriharan alias Murugan and G Pasarivalan alias Arivudeath, held guilty for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the summer of 1991 is a matter of debate among jurists. But on the face of it, the court cannot be faulted for taking note of the petition filed by the three men who, after spending more than a decade on death row have been told that their mercy petition to the President has been rejected, are now seeking clemency on the ground that much too long a time has transpired since their verdict was handed down. In fact, the three condemned men and their fourth associate, Nalini, who has been granted clemency, have been in prison for two decades. A person sentenced to life imprisonment for murder would normally be entitled for remission after 20 years. It could be argued that the assassination of a Prime Minister is not just any murder case, and hence the fact that 11 years have lapsed since the conviction is irrelevant: Retribution demands that they should pay with their lives for the horrendous crime they committed. Those who take this view should also bear in mind that retribution, as justice, should be both swift and decisive. The purpose of retribution as a form of punishment and deterrent is defeated if it is delayed for years (in this case for more than a decade) by an indecisive political leadership which cannot make up its mind whether those found guilty of committing a capital offence are deserving of the state's mercy. For although mercy petitions are filed with the President, it is the Government which takes the decision and conveys it to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Tragically, two successive regimes, the NDA and the UPA, failed to act decisively while dealing with mercy petitions, because of which a large number of death row convicts have been left dangling between hope and despair. Now that the Government has decided to clear the pending files, it could prove to be a little too late, allowing death row convicts to raise issues that the courts cannot entirely ignore, as was demonstrated on Tuesday in Chennai.
That the debate over inordinate delays in dealing with mercy petitions will only get increasingly intense in the coming days is indicated by the fact that the Madras High Court's order is the third of its kind. Tuesday's intervention follows similar orders by the Supreme Court in the case of Devender Pal Singh Bhullar and by the Guwahati High Court in the case of MN Das. In all three cases, the judiciary has essentially raised the issue of the executive's lapse in expeditiously dealing with mercy petitions. The Supreme Court has in the past mentioned the need for fixing the period of time that can be allowed to the executive for deciding whether or not convicts are deserving of mercy. That should be done, or else the death penalty should be removed from the statute book. It is a mockery of the law if the death penalty is applied to sentences meted out to perpetrators of heinous crimes and then the sentence is kept in abeyance for decades simply because the executive is either reluctant to carry out the punishment or indifferent to the need to punish criminals.
WORLD IS NOT ARABIA
THE BURQA AND THE VEIL BELONG TO THE PAST
Back in November 2010, a Muslim woman in Sydney was sentenced to six months in prison for falsely accusing a police officer of forcibly trying to remove her burqa. Later, her sentence was quashed after a magistrate said that he was unsure if the convict was indeed Carnita Matthews because police officers were unable to see her face. The incident expectedly snowballed into a significant legal debate over whether or not security personnel had the right to ask veiled Muslim women or any other person whose face was covered to remove their face-covering so as to allow the officer-in-charge to identify them for law and order purposes. Now, the State Government of Victoria has determined that current Australian laws already allow for policemen to remove any kind of face-mask for the sole purpose of identification of an accused. Before the Left-liberal intelligentsia pounces on this ruling as one that violates the religious 'rights' and 'freedom' of Muslim women and condemn it as unbecoming of a mature democracy like Australia, it must be mentioned that first and foremost this ruling is not specific to Muslim women. It is applicable to any accused who has his or her face hidden. Moreover, the person will only be required to remove the face-covering for as long as it takes for the police to complete the identification process; after that, they can put it right back on.
The Victoria Government's ruling, which came on the heels of a similar ruling in the province of New South Wales, has once again put the spotlight on the larger issue of where ends an individual's rights in a democratic country and where begins the state's right to impose rules that are necessary for the peaceful functioning of society. No doubt, there is a thin line that divides the two areas and the exact place where that line is drawn is bound to differ depending on an individual country's socio-legal space. For example, Belgium and France have wholly banned women from wearing a full-face covering veil. French President Nicholas Sarkozy particularly has attributed his Government's decision to more than just security reasons. He believes that the burqa is a "sign of subservience, a sign of debasement" for women, which it is. The tradition of women covering their heads or faces with a veil originated at a different time in a different era for different reasons. This is the post-modern era; today, our social concerns are very different and communities across the world must evolve in keeping with the changing times. All women must be encouraged to give up the veil, more so the burqa. Much of Hindu, Christian and Jewish social reform has revolved around liberating women from traditions that fly in the face of modernity. The world has moved on, we need not bother about obscurantists. ***************************************
COLOMBO RECALLS SPLENDID VICTORY
ASHOK K MEHTA
The first, and till now only, country to defeat terrorism, Sri Lanka is showcasing its experience in neutralising and eliminating the LTTE.
It's hard to imagine India showcasing its impeccable victory against Pakistan in 1971 without mentioning two words: Sam Manekshaw. Sri Lanka won the first counter-insurgency victory in the 21st century — labelling it as 'Defeating Terrorism: The Sri Lankan Experience' — and showed how it was done recently in Colombo. But with the winning Army Commander, General Sarath Fonseka, locked up in jail.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his younger brother, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the two others comprising the winning troika, were uniformly praised. The man who became a minor hero was the US Defence Attaché in Colombo, Lt Col Lawrence Smith, with his comment that that the LTTE's offer of surrender was not credible. Coming from an American, this one remark pleased the Sri Lankans no end and took the media by storm.
The US State Department was quick to disown Col Smith's remarks, clarifying that America remained deeply concerned over the findings of the UN Secretary-General's panel about alleged human rights violations. Military delegations from 41 countries attended, with most of the Western nations, prompted by the Human Rights Watch, staying away.
As remarkable as the winning operational strategy is, the irony is that Sri Lanka has to justify victory. Astutely, military terminology has been redefined: Insurgency and ethnic conflict to terrorism, counter-insurgency and conventional operations to humanitarian operations, the last battle as the largest hostage situation in history and the world's greatest rescue mission.
Humanitarian expressions were used in describing military objectives: Rescuing the country from terrorism and the psychosis of fear. When all reasonable attempts at political negotiations had failed, Sri Lanka had to resort to the shock-and-awe of a military solution. Thirty months after winning the war, Sri Lanka is still equivocal about winning peace and reconciliation — and in fear of itself.
Quite easily the best and comprehensive presentation was Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa's. The Director of National Intelligence, Maj Gen HKG Hendawitharane attributed success to "a military officer made Defence Secretary who enjoyed the confidence of the President". Mr Rajapaksa said the previous operations could not be completed successfully due to external interference (read, India). This time the military understood that. And with top political cover, there was no stopping. He praised Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa for his "personal commitment" which went beyond the call of duty.
Expanding and transforming the armed forces (Army trebled in four years from 100,000 to 300,000), providing military equipment through fast track procedures and managing international pressure, especially from India, were key to victory, he added.
The mastermind of the conference, Sri Lanka's own doyen of counter-terrorism, Rohan Gunaratne, elaborated on the engagement and management of India which he called politically correct as only India could have prevented dismantling of the LTTE supply lines. The Sri Lankan Navy destroying eight LTTE ships on the high seas between 2006-07 was the turning point of the war. This epochal phase was identified as a window of opportunity by another Sri Lankan counter-terrorism expert, Sankara Jayasekare, during an international conference on terrorism in Colombo in October 2007. Starved of replenishments from its floating warehouses which were also destroyed, the LTTE became reactive, Mr Gunaratne said.
The stories of the Navy and Air Force were telescoped owing to time constraint. The Air Force enjoyed virtual air supremacy, specialising in precision-guided attacks to take out LTTE assets, including the leadership. Initially at the receiving end, the Navy gave it back with compound interest, countering the Sea Tigers' Wolf Pack attacks and sinking their entire shipping fleet and destroying the Sea Tigers.
The land operations carried out by the Army were innovatively an unorthodox mix of guerrilla and conventional tactics spearheaded by Special Forces moving on a broad front in multiple prongs. The cutting edge was a transformed Infantry which led formations with its Special Infantry Operating Teams, a tactic by which the LTTE lost the contest of jungles and was defeated in their own game in their own back yard.
The three-year-long campaign never lost momentum due to raising of new fighting formations. The last battle in the No-Fire Zone at Vellamvuvakkal was mentioned in passing. To this battle are hinged the White Flag incident involving Gen Fonseka (which is sub-judice) and the UN-ordered Darusman report containing allegations of human rights violations.
Piercing the fog of war was a clear and synchronised political and military strategy, resolute political leadership and unobstructed flow of resources — any Commanding General's dream — which enabled the military to vanquish an invincible foe fighting a losing battle.
Sketchily discussed were the LTTE's blunders, not the least the absence of a 'Plan B'. Two of the top Tiger commanders from the East — Karuna and Pillaiyan who deserted the LTTE in 2004 and are now Central Minister and Chief Minister — could have presented the 'Prabhakaran perspective' to comprehend the skills and strategy of a non-state actor with a panoply of political, military and international organisations.
The fear psychosis, real or imagined, has not disappeared as a new Sri Lanka battles with threats posed by the LTTE-sympathetic diaspora and its political affiliates backed by host Western countries, notably the UK, Canada and Australia. Sri Lanka believes that some LTTE fighters were allowed to escape to Tamil Nadu — the figure put out by Mr Gunaratne was a precise 120. Others felt that about 150 to 200 hard core Tigers along with 1,000 middle-level cadre got away during the last stages of the battle, many infiltrating the internally-displaced persons. They believe the LTTE will lie dormant till all the former 12,000 combatants are rehabilitated. The LTTE's strength at the peak of the campaign was estimated around 26,000 to 30,000. With the numbers apprehended, surrendered and killed known, an assessment of the LTTE remaining is feasible.
In his concluding remarks Mr Gunaratne emphasised that while the military won the war, it lost the information war, failing to shape the narrative. He repeated the criticality of engaging India in managing the geopolitical environment and stuck his neck out advocating that terrorism and insurgency can be defeated. He is theoretically correct but attached is an unaffordable diplomatic and human cost.
No one should grudge Sri Lanka its use of a military solution to essentially a political problem. Depicting India's strategic cooperation as 'management' in helping defeat the LTTE is less than generous. The challenges ahead go beyond management of truth, accountability, devolution and reconciliation.The parliamentary debate last week reflects India's concerns.
RAUCOUS MASS PROTEST LEADS TO ANARCHY
Anna Hazare's cause may have been noble but the methods adopted by him and his band of civil society activists to try and force the Government to capitulate and accept his version of the Lokpal Bill — or the so-called Jan Lokpal Bill — were far from being democratic. They went against every canon of parliamentary democracy and amounted to blackmailing the executive and legislature
The 'Fast' is over. Now, the simple Gandhian who once lived in a temple is recuperating at one of India's most expensive hospitals. He and his aides have seemingly made up with the big bad Government, their erstwhile arch enemy. Ms Kiran Bedi has claimed that Mr LK Advani had addressed her as beti, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sent the 74-year-old a bouquet of flowers and a 'Get Well Soon' note. All versions of the Lokpal Bill (as many as four at the time of writing) will be scrutinised by the parliamentary standing committee dealing with the Bill. Everybody is happy. Well almost everybody, except for Protest TV which is clearly in withdrawal and hence chasing a very reluctant Dr Naresh Trehan, still unaware that while hundreds were feasting at Ramlila Maidan, thousands were being swept away by floods in other parts of the country. But that is another matter.
For now is a good time to look back on the fortnight that was; what it meant and how it played itself out. I go back to one of my most striking memories from that time.
It was Day 09 of 'The Fast'. Negotiations with the Government which had reportedly reached a point of breakthrough in the first round of talks had collapsed by the third. When Team Anna members returned to Ramlila Maidan that evening, they voiced their fears of a police crackdown. In response, there was adequate public uproar. Then, the diminutive Gandhian who had captured the nation's imagination with his deceptively simple demand to eradicate corruption from the country took centre-stage. Standing against a giant backdrop of Mahatma Gandhi, Anna Hazare spoke in simple Hindi: "If the authorities come to get me, I'll go with them. Mere peeche bhagwan ki shakti hai. Jao Parliament ka gherao karo. Jail bharo." As the several thousand strong crowd responded to his comments by cheering in unison and wildly waving the Tricolour, I was left with a niggling sense of unease. My mind went back to Nirad C Chaudhuri's infamous comment that Mahatma Gandhi was a 'worse dictator' than Adolf Hitler.
And then I heard veteran police officer Kiran Bedi suggest, just for good measure I believe, that police should defy the orders of their political masters just in case they ordered that the nation's latest messiah-on-fast be force-fed or taken away. That sent a chill down my spine. By next day morning Ms Bedi and her colleagues' fears were proven to be unfounded — the police never intervened on Wednesday night — but I felt mine take shape when on my way to work on Thursday morning I saw khaki-clad men block all roads leading to the Prime Minister's official residence. Four metro stations that were in the vicinity were also shut until further orders. Anna Hazare had goaded his supporters to gherao 7 Race Course Road and it seemed like there was a good chance that they might be coming soon.
By Friday, the security situation seemed to have simmered down. As my auto passed by a group of young men sporting 'I-am-Anna' topis, waving the Tricolour and yelling Vande Mataram at the crossing that led to Ramlila Maidan, I thought of the many twenty-somethings I had seen jostling to be on camera, screaming on national television, "We are here to support the corruption." In recent weeks, led by the new-age Gandhi, 21st century Indians had proudly proclaimed, "Anna tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hain." I could not help but wonder about the prospects of this 'freedom struggle' if the sangharsh had to be carried out instead by these supporters. Would they do more than just sloganeering and feasting at Ramlila Maidan? This was after all their second freedom struggle.
The freedom rhetoric has always been a fine one that has rarely, if ever, failed to motivate crowds. Moreover, it also makes for excellent 'breaking news' material that 24/7 news channels clearly can't ever get enough of. But I don't begrudge the TV-wallahs their TRPs. I am far more concerned about the masses' inability to distinguish between a country's battle for sovereign independence versus a popular demand to bring about certain systemic changes within the established framework of parliamentary democracy.
What happened at Ramlila Maidan this past fortnight, or what happened at Jantar Mantar in April, is absolutely not the same as what happened at August Kranti Maidan in 1942 when Mahatma Gandhi called on the British to 'Quit India', or even remotely similar to what happened in Tahrir Square this February when popular pro-democracy protests led to the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. India's current political leadership, for all its moral depravity and its endless ability for corruption, is neither a foreign coloniser nor a despot. It is a popularly elected leadership and India a functioning democracy, warts and all.
This is of course not to wholly favour the Government's argument that only parliamentarians have the right to make policy. That is just technical bunk that has only served to alienate the masses even further from the UPA's agenda. There are several examples from India and abroad, and over a long period of time, wherein historic legislation was introduced only after the public put pressure on Government to bring about changes that were in consonance with the needs of an evolving society. Think women's rights and labour laws.
In India, the Right to Information Act is the most recent example of how civil society has been crucial to introducing social reforms throughout history. But not once were they allowed to usurp the authority of Parliament. The Right to Information Act went through the appropriate channels of policy-making before it was approved by Parliament, without anybody whipping up the kind of mass hysteria that now surrounds the Lokpal Bill. Besides, it is wholly unrealistic to expect that Parliament will approve just about any piece of legislation that is imposed upon it by anybody and everybody. This is a sure shot path to anarchy.
And it somewhere on this path that Anna Hazare and his team have crossed the thin line that differentiates between legitimate protest and dispirited blackmail. Anna Hazare had all the right to protest against the Government's version of the Lokpal Bill, be it through anashan or dharna or sit-ins or whatever other non-violent means that he fancies. He is also wholly entitled to mobilise public support for an alternate version that he believes is much superior. But when he threatens the Government with large-scale civil disobedience — as he repeatedly did in recent days — that is when he crossed that thin, unmarked line; that is when his completely legitimate form of protest became an unacceptable exercise in blackmail, plain and simple.
But this, I believe, is something that Anna Hazare is well aware of since he had already said that he had no qualms about blackmailing the democratically-elected Government of his country. He insisted that this was the only way that the morally corrupt Government of the day could be forced to introduce the kind of reforms that India desperately needs; that left to its own devices, it will never bring about the any worthwhile changes and surely not one that will plug the loopholes of a faulty system from which they have profited tremendously.
Anna Hazare's demands stem from a deep and abiding distrust of politicians, from his belief that they can do no right, that none of them have an honest bone in their body. And it is somewhere here that his anti-corruption movement begins to resemble a Bollywood film where it is a clear-cut case of the good guy versus the bad guy. Here, Team Anna comprises the good guys and all politicians are the bad guys. At the core of their fight lies the institution of the Lokpal.
As envisioned by Team Anna, and defined in its Jan Lokpal Bill, the Lokpal will essentially have sweeping powers over all organs of the Government including the power to investigate and prosecute. This is hugely problematic. Even a layman should realise that investing absolute powers in any one institution that is not even elected by the people and hence not accountable to Parliament is a frightening proposition. This is of course not to say that the Government's version of the Lokpal Bill would have been the solution to the problem. That version has its own flaws. In their original forms, neither draft was worth any serious consideration at all. But thankfully, both have evolved and mostly for the better. Clearly, the need of the hour is to have a reasoned and calm debate on the matter, away from the recent din at Ramlila Maidan.
ISLAMISTS NOW TARGET NIGERIAN SOCIETY
ALTHOUGH IT IS HALF-CHRISTIAN AND HALF-MUSLIM, NIGERIA HAS MANAGED TO REMAIN UNITED AS A NATION. THAT UNITY IS NOW BRING THREATENED BY THE RISE OF RADICAL ISLAMISTS, WRITES GWYNNE DYER
On Sunday Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan visited the scene of last week's bombing at the United Nations office in Abuja, the capital, and said the sort of things that Presidents must say on such occasions. Since the UN was involved, he said that it had been not just an attack on Nigeria, but on the whole international community. But then he said that the group behind the blast, Boko Haram, was a "local problem" that would be dealt with.
So which is it? An attack on the whole international community, or just a local problem? The answer is important, especially for Nigeria itself. "Attacks on the international community" are basically meaningless. What is the international community going to do? Surrender? But attacks on Nigeria's unity, though just a "local problem", are a very serious threat to Africa's biggest country.
The miracle is that the 150 million Nigerians still live in the same country at all. Nigeria fought a bloody civil war to stop the secession of the south-east region, the main source of the country's oil riches, only seven years after getting its independence in 1960.
That war was triggered by a military coup by military officers from the Muslim north of the country which inaugurated a period of three decades during Nigeria's rulers were mostly Muslim generals from the north. The north is much poorer than the Christian south, but the generals ended up very rich.
Democracy returned to Nigeria only in the past decade, and the unwritten deal was that the presidency would alternate between Muslim leaders from the north and Christian politicians from the south. It made sense for a country split almost exactly between Christians and Muslims, but the deal depended on the traditional feudal rulers of the north retaining their influence over the Muslim community. However, that has been eroding for decades.
The sheikhs' main strategy for stopping the rot was to emphasise their religious role, and religion in general: around 2000, twelve Muslim-majority states of Nigeria adopted Shari'ah law, even though some contain large Christian minorities. The strategy did not halt the decline of the sheikhs' power, but it certainly created an environment in which Islamist extremists could prosper.
Boko Haram was founded in Maiduguri in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf, a radical local cleric. He preached that Muslims should shun all aspects of "Western" society, including secular education and democracy, and live in strict conformity with the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.
The sect that he created advocated jihad against Nigeria's rulers, and by 2009 Boko Haram had grown so popular that the Maiduguri State Government sent the police to attack Mohammed Yusuf's mosque and compound. His followers fought back, and hundreds were killed in street battles. Mohammed Yusuf himself was captured by the Nigerian army, and subsequently murdered by the police.
That did not put an end to Boko Haram (the name roughly translates as "Western education is forbidden"). New leaders emerged, and its local support soared. The terrorist attacks began shortly afterwards, at first in Maiduguri and neighbouring states, but by last December they reached the national capital.
Since then the violence has escalated rapidly, with a bomb at national police headquarters in Abuja in May and now on the UN headquarters in the same city. The last attack killed 23 people and injured more than 80; it's getting serious. And what makes it so much more dangerous than similar attacks by Islamist extremists in countries like Pakistan and Iraq is the fact that half of Nigeria's population is Christian.
Boko Haram kills Muslims who speak out against it, too. In Maiduguri, it's now almost impossible to find any official who will discuss the problem on the record. But if its attacks sow enough mistrust between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria — which is probably its intention, and certainly the result of its actions — then the miracle of Nigerian unity may finally falter and fail.
It's the north that would lose the most if Nigeria fell apart, for the oil is all in the south. But everybody would pay a lot, for the division of the country would imply massive movements of the minorities: Christians fleeing the north, and Muslims fleeing the south. It would be a catastrophe comparable to the division of India and Pakistan in 1947.
The situation in Nigeria has not reached that point yet. It may never do so. But Boko Haram has more support across the north than is publicly admitted, and there are politicians on both sides of the religious divide who are willing to exploit the fear and the hatred that its actions create. Such people exist in every country: they only need the right set of circumstances to come out into the light.
--Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.
WITH ANNA'S FAST, INDIA WOWS WORLD
DESPITE A SECTION OF THE INTELLIGENTSIA RIDICULING ANNA HAZARE'S MOVEMENT, THERE IS STILL REASON TO HOPE THAT IT WILL LEAD TO A TRULY INDIAN-STYLE TRIUMPH OF GOOD OVER EVIL, ARGUES RADHIKA DOGRA SWARUP
Viewed from across the seven seas, the struggle of Anna Hazare against corruption has all the drama of a TV soap. For an Indian living abroad it also provokes mixed feelings of pride and concern.
There is pride because once again we are proving to the world how very different we are from the rest. Unlike the protests and the revolutions of the Arab Spring, ours has fortunately not witnessed any violence; at least not yet. Anna Hazare himself has taken pains to point out that his fast and the people's protest will be strengthened by its peaceful content. There is amazing grace too in the way all, or most, sections of society have coalesced to signal that they want an end to the commerce of corruption that the country is tired of. Moreover, and once again unlike the Arab Spring, the army has had no role in this struggle of ours. There has been bickering of course. There were sharp differences of opinion as well. But all these are necessary components of a healthy and thriving democracy. These make us proud.
But there are worries as well. There are, for instance, signs of schism within the society. These may not be very sharp just yet. But the trend is too pronounced to be ignored. Sitting abroad, and going by Western media reports, it is obvious that the overwhelmingly large bulk of India's 1.2 billion people are behind Anna Hazare. The impressive numbers that turned out all over India testify demonstrably to the peoples' anguish and to the strength of their sentiment against corruption. Yet a small, seemingly miniscule minority has chosen to differ.
These chattering classes are the cause of worry. They become, because of their volubility, the spokespersons for the society at large. The outside world has neither the time to discriminate nor the means, largely, to verify that they may only be a self serving lot who are in the main projecting and protecting their narrow self interest. Or that urban chatterati may also be the very people who have a stake in perpetuating the present system. It is quite possible that some of them may get swept away by the whirl wind unleashed by Anna Hazare's appeal of probity in public life. Yet there is a possibility, howsoever slight it might be, that they could still derail and sabotage this fascinating public determination to do away with corruption. And that is a worrying prospect too, because if they succeed in derailing the movement then there is very little chance that a protest such as this could be revitalised anytime soon. In fact the country may then lapse into a much larger cesspool of corruption.
All, therefore, is not well, and as of now worries outweigh the sense of optimism. It is not as if we have not had our moments of pride in the salons of London. Who could have thought, just a decade or so ago, that one day an Indian called Laxmi Mittal might become an envied name for the Western business elite? Who indeed could have imagined that a prestigious marquee like the Jaguar may one day come under the global fold of Tata Motors? And 10 years back no one really gave India a serious chance as a major player in the global economy. Yet all of this has happened because of the grit, determination and the 'can do' spirit of the average Indian. It is that same average Indian who is now determined to root out corruption. Yet they are being pulled back once again by the chatterati, who had earlier woven the red tape around entrepreneurs.
So along with our good wishes for a noble endeavour undertaken by a simple khadi clad man, we living outside India hope that this time the struggle results in a game changing victory for an honest system; a true and classically Indian triumph of good over evil. This transformative victory is necessary and essential. And as we ask tough questions, it will also be necessary to persist. The electorate must not forget that one of the principal lessons, and indeed the frustration of the present struggle is that once elected it is very difficult to change the opinion or the ways of the parliamentarians. So the vote must be an act of faith that should be understood as so by the elected representative.
Last fortnight's protest is important in more ways than one. The uncertainty has naturally attracted the global attention. The menacing proportions of corruption in the society have influenced negatively international investors. No wonder then that FDI and FII have slowed down. As a matter of fact the outflow of funds should be cause for some worry. It is only natural that a foreign investor will carefully weigh the risks of putting his money in a country where corruption is as large as it is now reported to be. It is not as if the Western societies are free from corruption. But the big difference is that it is not as all embracing. And it is exactly the vast dimension of it which worries the foreign investors.
If a systemic change is now brought in, this would transform hugely the perception and opinion of the international investors. And in many ways this could be most opportune because right now global corporations are flush with funds, sitting as they are on a huge pile of cash. They are hesitant to invest in the West because of the fears of another recession. So, if India were to become reasonably corruption free, or at least a corruption repellent society, the chances are that the foreign investors may be tempted to put in their funds in significant numbers here. But that's only a side benefit. The largest gain would be that if, as a nation, we succeed in living by honest means we would have risen high in our own esteem. And we, the non resident Indians, would cheerfully like to bask in that reflected glory.
--Radhika Dogra Swarup is a London based writer.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BE A SPORT
Lack of proper infrastructure and inefficiency of national sports bodies are often held up as reasons for India's lacklustre performance at international sporting events. The few instances of brilliance credited to our athletes have been possible through individual determination despite an unhelpful system. While China has emerged a sporting powerhouse, India struggles to project itself as serious competition. Given this, the effort to spruce up Indian sport as envisaged in the National Sports (Development) Bill, 2011 seemed fitting. But if the Bill's not been cleared by the cabinet, there's reason. Ideas on paper can't translate into improved sporting standards and accountability just by government playing big brother over sporting bodies.
As is evident, the condition of state-monitored national sports federations (NSF) is nothing short of pathetic. Mired in nepotism and corruption, they've little time for genuine talent spotting or developing sports at the grassroots. A case in point: the Bhiwani Boxing Club has thrown up some of India's best boxers, including Vijender Singh and Paramjeet Samota. But despite having won laurels and promises of help from the authorities, the club continues to languish. NSFs have become personal fiefs of politicians, many heading these bodies for more than a decade. Yes, there's growing realisation that we need to limit the age and tenure of sports administrators. But it's as critical that the sporting establishment is de-politi-cised - and that will not be achieved simply by reserving some parking space for ex-sportsmen.
Sports federations need greater autonomy rather than more government scrutiny in their nuts-and-bolts functioning under the guise of promoting 'transparency'. Only by minimising political interference can sports administration be a professional, profitable endeavour. Take the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) - a body the Bill sought rather contentiously to bring within the government's umbrella. It's by far the most successful sports body and has helped make India a cricketing powerhouse. This, despite some politicians doubling up as administrators. Run like a self-regulating corporate entity, it holds regular elections, churns out huge profits and is in a position to influence the course of world cricket. All of this has been possible because BCCI functions independently, and its fortunes are directly linked to its performance.
While there's a case for ensuring more transparency even in the functioning of autonomous sports bodies, their autonomy itself will bring greater accountability. The government's focus should rather be on nurturing sports at the grassroots to foster a sporting culture across India. Cricket is already doing phenomenally well. So, why doesn't the government focus on popularising other neglected forms of sport, providing more sports scholarships and building basic infrastructure? The aim should be to create an enabling environment for sport.
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TWO CAN'T PLAY
Only a few days ago the Congress and the BJP committed themselves in Parliament to waging an all-out war against graft. But the spiralling row over the appointment of Gujarat Lokayukta R A Mehta by governor Kamla Beniwal, bypassing the state government, now raises doubts about their claims. The BJP has reason to question the governor's sudden and unilateral decision. Senior party leader L K Advani demands her recall, claiming that her action violates Article 163 of the Constitution mandating the governor act on the advice of the council of ministers. But the Gujarat government too has to answer some uncomfortable questions about why it kept the post vacant for seven long years. Or why, if not for political reasons, it rejected the names fielded by the Congress. This merely gives the latter a handle to accuse the BJP of stalling tactics.
Neither party seems to have drawn lessons from Anna Hazare's movement, which threw the entire political class into crisis mode last week. Competitive politics threatens yet again to overtake the need for joint action on a systemic overhaul to tackle corruption at all levels. In this endeavour, the Congress and the BJP both have to clean house at the national and state levels to reclaim people`s confidence. The UPA is mired in the Commonwealth Games and 2G scams. And the BJP has to clean up its act in Karnataka, where former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa has been denied bail by a court for his alleged role in land scams and where the Bellary brothers are ministers despite being accused of involvement in illegal mining. The two national parties ought to give brinkmanship a rest. Given the nation`s punishing mood on the graft issue, they`ll be better off fighting corruption than each other.
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SHUTTING OUT THE WORLD
K SHANKAR BAJPAI
The paradox of Indian democracy is that our so-called political masters manage to indulge two opposing vices simultaneously. They completely ignore public opinion regarding their corruption, while being paralysed by fear of public reaction on issues that evoke public indifference. The first addiction leads to bad decisions, the second to inaction. And both lead us to disaster.
The current uproar in the country focusses on our internal situation. But unbelievable disarray in decision-making revealed so starkly in recent times is also dangerous for our international interests. The absurd 'foreign hand' argument to explain internal ills betrays a frivolous - but harmful - notion of influencing opinion. Worse still is to be influenced by imagined reactions to diplomatic initiatives. Except perhaps Pakistan, and occasionally China, no foreign policy issue changes a single vote in elections; the latter`s results are determined by domestic - alas, in our case, parochial - concerns. New Delhi actually has far more latitude in pursuing our international interests than it ventures to, if it would lead.
There are two main reasons for this timidity: nobody knows what exactly to do; nobody can get anything done. Correction: a few do understand the world, what it can do to or for India and what India needs to do in it. If they pushed ahead, the usual acrimonious shouting would soon die down. The Indo-US nuclear deal is a prime example of determination prevailing over prejudice or politics, but the only one.
Alexis de Tocqueville long ago noted how intractable foreign affairs are for a democracy: "It [democracy] can only with great difficulty regulate the details of an important undertaking, persevere in a fixed design, work out its execution despite serious obstacle...combine its measures with secrecy or await their consequences with patience". But while other countries manage through experience and pragmatism, we compound our handicaps with imagined fears. Would anything be lost, for instance, if our army chief attended an America-sponsored regional conference of army chiefs - or if we stopped shilly-shallying about replacing the Bofors gun (which has actually served us so well)?
Where foreign policy is concerned, our executive has compromised its great advantage in a parliamentary as opposed to a presidential system: the latter needs prior approval of international agreements, while parliaments debate the fait accompli. Parliament can defeat the government over agreements, but post facto . Submitting the nuclear deal for approval surrendered a huge advantage. To argue political necessity underlines a lack of management: yield once, and you are lost. Recall Jawaharlal Nehru's fatal decision as prime minister to conduct our China boundary question through parliamentary debates: politically engineered shouting killed reasonable negotiation.
Political management is even more vital for domestic than international affairs. Coalitions make for uncertainty, haggling and indecision. But that only underlines that political skills are essential. Narasimha Rao, that most decision-avoiding of leaders, manoeuvred a full term for a minority government - doubtless through questionable compromises and worse - and most notably enabling his finance minister to initiate economic reforms. Life today is doubtless more problematic, but who is managing politics?
All parties share responsibility for the present situation but we are drifting largely because of the Congress's condition. The UPA cabinet, however, has exceptionally well-educated, intelligent, experienced professionals. And the excuses about divided leadership are overdone, the seat-occupier and the 'power behind' both being abler than most leaders anywhere. A cabal's existence is much rumoured and much blamed but, whatever the truth, it need not affect foreign policy. Which brings us back to imagined fears: 90% of what's needed can be done by sheer determination. But the Congress party's internal disarray is the handicap, and at the root of India's decline. There seems to be a Gresham's law in politics also: the bad drives out the good.
There is, admittedly, another calamity: the instruments of state action have become dysfunctional. India's strategic interests extend between the Suez and Shanghai; our priorities therein are the security of the Persian Gulf, stability in Central Asia, East Asia's changing power equations and keeping the Indian Ocean safe. But we have neither the manpower nor the strategic thinking to handle these challenges; worse, we don't deliver. Southeast Asia, for one, is in danger of giving up waiting after decades hoping for our "Look East" promises to materialise. We could recover if the government apparatus shook off its paralysis.
Unfortunately, disarray in other parties is no less than in the Congress. There is in fact no significant difference between our main parties, if only because there is no real understanding about India's security challenges. Ideally, they should eschew polemics and leave at least a few major issues free for sensible handling: Jammu & Kashmir, the northeast, defence procurement, internal security, among others.
If such a sense of national obligation among all parties is too much to expect, at least we need the two main ones, especially the Congress, to put themselves right and provide the leadership essential for salvaging our future. If not, the politico-administrative complex, whose obsession with looting the country is our most pernicious problem, will drive it into a situation where no pickings remain.
The writer is former ambassador to Pakistan, China and the US.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'THE JAN LOKPAL MOVEMENT IS AN UTSAV OF DEMOCRACY'
She's been at the forefront of many public protests but her participation in the Jan Lokpal struggle rejuvenated her. Social activist Medha Patkar spoke with Jyoti Punwani about patriotism, politicians and people participating in a vibrant democracy:
You've led many mass movements. Was the Jan Lokpal experience different?
Here, the crowds were not organised as cadres are but they were galvanised and equally committed. The striking feature was the patriotism of the crowd, not a narrow or communal nationalism, but real patriotism. We are brought up on the history of the freedom movement. This movement showed that it remains with us - despite our youth being accused of consumerism and careerism.
Then, there was the use of modern technology. Normally for our programmes, we don't use SMS, Facebook, etc, and we can't reach out to all our supporters. But that happened here and it drew an unprecedented response.
I moved through the crowds at the Ramlila Maidan. That was an experience that charged my batteries wonderfully. There were ex-army men from Jharkhand; a woman from Gandhiji's village who said she had left the BJP and was ready to do anything for the movement; college students who volunteered without asking for anything - a salute to them. There were people across caste and class, not readymade cadre. There was so much spontaneity. So many poems, so many new slogans were composed. It was an utsav of democracy.
It was very heartening that people see such issues as close to their lives. All peoples' movements have got a big boost because of this. We are constantly asked, "Why do you keep taking to the streets? You are after publicity." This movement proved such talk wrong.
What about critical voices saying the movement was 'anti-Muslim' and 'anti-dalit'?
In spite of their leaders' advice, they were all there - dalits, minorities, workers, all those facing the backlash of corruption. They just couldn't stay away. They saw a relief in this Bill.
You've negotiated with governments earlier. Was the governmental attitude different this time?
As always, it tried to dodge the main issue. But this time, it was under enormous pressure because of the large numbers on the streets. Along with the downtrodden, the middle class was also there - they constituted 20% at the Ramlila Maidan. And the media made a lot of difference. Politicians feel scared of dissemination of information and analyses of their role.
Actually, many of them were genuinely confused because there has been no tradition even within Parliament of discussing laws in-depth. This Bill was being discussed on the streets! But this was not a roadshow - it was a people's movement which had politicians scared because their constituencies were challenging them. It tried to set right the relationship between the legislature, the executive and society.
What was the movement's biggest achievement?
It reiterated the fact that non-violent movements can change power relations more than armed struggles can - and draw more participation. It proved that people are at the core of democratic institutions and processes. Petitioning is one process, but mass action is also a part of the parliamentary process. People can give inputs and raise questions in the process of law-making. There are limitations to standing committees and parliamentary debates. The time has come for innovative processes of law-making which can be community-based. If you consider only the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and the media as four pillars of democracy, where are the people? That's what gives rise to a banana republic.
People's participation does not weaken democracy. It strengthens it.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Perhaps the single most important thing that the Anna movement has taught us is that politics is too important to be left only to professional politicians. India has been like a house owned by a householder who leaves the day-to-day running of the house - keeping the place clean, buying provisions for the kitchen, maintaining a daily hisaab - to the servants. Left unregulated - except for a check on their activities every five years - the servants inevitably come to feel that the house belongs to them and not to the householder. As time goes by they become increasingly lazy and corrupt and treat the householder with contempt. The house becomes rundown with no money to pay for upkeep.
The householder blames the servants for having cheated and defrauded her. She concludes that all servants are cheats who are not to be trusted. But the householder forgets that it was only because she abdicated her own responsibility for adequately supervising the servants that they could behave the way they did, bringing the house to the sorry state it is in.
The Indian public is like that over-trustful householder who has let her house be run, with virtually no monitoring, by politicians who, feeling that there is no one to hold them to account for their actions, have done exactly as they pleased, holding to ransom the house that we call India.
Anna Hazare's movement has been a wake-up call to the Indian electorate. Politics - real politics and not just party politics like BJP vs Congress, or cabinet reshuffles, or who's replacing whom as chief minister - is like housekeeping. Both involve asking questions like how much money do we have to spend, and what should our priorities be (children's education, medical insurance); if there is a dispute between two or more members of the household how it is to be resolved, and by whom; what are the rules that govern the household, and who should frame these rules and how?
Asking such questions of oneself and of each other is what politics is about. It's not enough to cast a vote come election time and then give the winning candidate - no matter by what dubious means many of them have won, nor how shady of character they are - a free hand to run the country, while the voter goes about pursuing her own personal concerns to the exclusion of larger public issues.
Does this mean that we all have to become politicians? Obviously not, in the sense that we can't all stand for elections. But it does mean that we have to become more aware of how the political household of Indian democracy is run.
Anna's movement has made all of us - both ardent followers and those who agree with his objectives but disagree with his methods - more politically aware. It has shown that it is only when people actively engage with matters of public concern that the so-called 'system' of graft and misgovernance can be changed. This is not to justify the politics of mass agitation in defiance of parliamentary procedure and the Constitution. That's a dangerous path leading not to democracy but to mobocracy. Hazare himself has said that, after corruption, what needs urgent action are electoral reforms which will make elected representatives more responsive and mindful of the wishes of the people who elected them.
Such reforms - the right to recall, the right to cast a negative vote against all the candidates from a constituency - have long been debated. Now is the time to press for them. Not by holding dharnas or thumbing a nose at Parliament but by inducing Parliament constitutionally to effect such changes. How? Peaceful protest gatherings and marches are one tactic. Even better would be the use of bandwidth and the internet to launch a mass e-movement via mobile telephony and the electronic network to bring about the changes that need to be made. Gherao your MP. Not physically, but with lobbying emails, SMSs, postcards, chain letters, mental telepathy. That's the real politics beyond party politics. We all need to become more politically savvy householders. Or House-holders.
SLOWING DOWN, BUT SLOWLY
The economy is slowing down, but not fast enough. Gross domestic product (GDP) in April-June 2011 grew by 7.7%, which although lower than the 8.8% in the first quarter of 2010-11, keeps India trundling on a high growth trajectory as far as the rest of the world is concerned. Obviously Indians are buying more of everything from soap to software. But some sectors are feeling the pinch of rising interest rates. Thus construction, involving infrastructure projects that soak up a lot of debt, is sharply down to 1.2% growth from the 7.7% in the same period a year ago. Again manufacturing has slowed down from 10.6% to 7.2% in part because loans for consumer durables like cars cost so much more now. The other big dip is in social spending, including government expenditure, from 8.2% to 5.6%, which offers some consolation to the fiscal puritans.
It costs Rs 3.25 more to borrow R100 in India than it did 16 months ago. And the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) isn't done yet. Banks have raised their lending rates by two and a three-quarter percentage points since March 2010 when the central bank began a series of 11 hikes in the rate at which it lends them overnight money. This makes life tough for anybody who borrows to manufacture anything in the country. But it's tougher for producers that require consumers to borrow as well to buy their wares, like car makers and house builders. This pain is needed, the RBI feels, and it must spread to other parts of the economy.
The demand-side picture, however, remains fairly robust. Consumption shrank slightly to 60.5% of the GDP in the first quarter of 2011-12 from 61.7% in the same period a year ago. Government spending is at 10.4% down from 11.1% last year, while investment is practically flat at 31.2%. The trade deficit is now nudging 9% of GDP because imports are growing faster than exports in the world's second-fastest growing major economy. With wholesale inflation clocking 9.4% in April-June 2011, prices are still growing too fast and unless significantly more demand is deflated, the central bank will have little reason to change its hawkishness on interest rates. But monetary tightening has its limit, and we seem to be heading towards it. India's policy makers could run out of options if supply-side issues like low-farm yields and poor infrastructure are left unaddressed.
HAIL TO THE CHIEFS!
Horror of horrors! Actor Om Puri and social activist Kiran Bedi have been accused of mocking and lampooning Members of Parliament during the recently concluded Lokpal Bill agitation at the Ramlila Maidan. Speakers of both Houses have received complaints against
Mr Puri and Ms Bedi, urging the parliamentary privileges committee to take action against the two. It is feared that not taking any action against the two will amount to the destruction of Parliament and in the country moving from being a functional anarchy to being an undiluted one. So civilisation must be upheld no matter what the standing of Mr Puri and Ms Bedi is in (civil and uncivil) society.
Our worthies (praise be upon them) are upset that Mr Puri had used "derogatory and defamatory" language against them. The words "thieves" and "incompetent" were used by the actor, while the ex-police officer called politicians "illiterate" during her 'ghunghat' act on stage (that we think wasn't half as bad street-theatre as people are making it out to be). This must be the first time MPs as exemplary as PL Punia, Jagadambika Pal, Ramashankar Rajbhar, Lalchand Kataria, Mirza Alam Beg, Praveen Aron and Shailendra Kumar from the Lok Sabha and Ram Gopal Yadav, Sabir Ali, Jesudasan Seelam and Mohammad Adeeb from the Rajya Sabha — MPs who have demanded action — have heard anyone ever make fun of our parliamentarians. So their shock is understandable (and kind of cute).
Mr Puri has already apologised, perhaps worried that the rumour that he had a peg or two before venting on stage takes wing. Ms Bedi hasn't — probably because if she's sent to Tihar jail for denigrating our demi-gods, she knows her way in and out of that prison. Lest anyone of us gets any ideas about MPs being able to handle the name-calling — including 'thin-skinned blimps who take themselves too seriously' — Samajwadi Party MP from Sambhal in UP Ram Gopal Yadav had the right answer: "Mughal emperor Akbar was illiterate; Microsoft founder Bill Gates is a college dropout; and Dhirubhai Ambani had only school education. But can we rule out their contributions?" Answer that, anarchists!
LOSING THEIR SHINE
Far-reaching changes are sweeping across the education sector, perhaps in tune with the fact that we live in a 'knowledge society'. The impact of these changes is not, however, of a uniform nature. Some sections have embraced these changes, some remain impervious to them and some actively resist them. What has been the response of India's public schools — the desi equivalent of the Etons and Harrows — to these changes?
First of all, let us clearly define what is meant by public schools. This is vital, as there are any number of schools today masquerading as the genuine article. The Indian Public School Society, the umbrella organisation to which all genuine public schools belong, has laid down some clear-cut criteria. Among these are 1) a public school cannot be run for profit, 2) it must be totally residential, 3) it must be secular, 4) it must foster a holistic education, 5) it must have an appropriate infrastructure and a host of other conditions. It becomes clear from this definition that a large number of 'pretenders' do not qualify.
How have the ones that make the grade responded to what is happening around them? We all know the position of pre-eminence that they once enjoyed. Where do they stand now?
The fact is that these schools are being buffeted by a wave of challenges. The first of these is of a universal nature inasmuch as it has affected the education sector. And that is, a serious paucity of good teachers. But the problem is vastly more accentuated in the case of public schools for a host of reasons: their geographical isolation, sometimes the inability to pay as much as the more affluent schools in the metros, the lack of access for the teachers to a tuition market, the crying shortage of men in the profession which has hit the boys' schools particularly hard, the inability to tap the huge pool of talented ladies (such as corporate wives) which the metro schools are able to do, are some of the factors that have made the catchment area for public schools much smaller in a profession which is already thin on the ground. This naturally impacts the quality of education that they are able to deliver.
The other area of challenge is the quality of students. Whatever the sceptics may say, India is a country on the move. There are many opportunities to be had, and there is a multitude of young people anxious to grab them. NGO-run schools, Kendriya Vidyalayas and government schools are full of extremely bright, motivated young students who are hungry for success. Unfortunately, the clientele of public schools tends to come from a section of our society, which having achieved the affluence and status it desires, has lost the hunger for success. Often, these students attend the school to acquire the 'trademark' or perpetuate the family tradition. Moreover, education tends to be viewed as a consumer product: 'I pay and therefore I must get.'
There is also very little respect and understanding for the values that the school tries to inculcate through its rules and regulations. The result is mediocrity. No wonder, then, that the percentage of public school products excelling in competitive examinations is abysmally low. There are other factors, of course, but this lack of an appetite for success plays a huge role. It is the same in the sporting arena. How many public school products adorn our national teams?
One of the greatest banes of the public school system is that it is steeped in hierarchy. The 'senior-junior' pecking order is an integral part of the ethos and culture of public schools and when taken to an extreme, can result in bullying of a most horrific kind. It is well known that fear stunts growth, even if die-hards insist that 'bullying makes a man out of you'. It would be interesting to conduct a study to see how much promise and talent falls by the wayside in these schools because of the fear factor.
A combination of mediocre teachers and cynical, sometimes smug students, makes the teaching-learning process rather pedantic and outmoded. Of course there are exceptions but they tend to be few. No wonder then that a public school product will be left far behind in the competitive world outside the four walls of the school. The 'Super 30' is symptomatic of this change.
Management is yet another issue. Like the rest of the country, management of education is left largely to non-educationists. So while in certain parts of the sector we have liquor-mafias and the like managing education, it is mainly the 'old-tie mafia' in public schools. The lack of professionalism in this area has far-reaching implications.
Such a state of affairs is indeed a big loss for the country. Public schools were conceived as cradles of leadership for the nation. For a long time, they fulfilled this need admirably. But they started wilting once the environment became competitive. To allow them to fade away would be a cruel travesty. In a fast-changing world, traditions and values can be huge anchors and public schools — with their combination of tradition and value structure — can respond to the new challenges and play a vital role in nation building. But they must wake up before it is too late.
Dev Lahiri is a retired public school principal. The views expressed by the author are personal.
A FAST IS NOT ENOUGH
The best of victories are those in which neither of the combatants suffers defeat or a loss of face. Anna Hazare and the government can claim some credit — the former for pushing the government to the backfoot and the latter for refusing to yield ground on the essential demands.
While Hazare's movement has placed corruption high on the national agenda, it will be for the government to decide how best to tackle it. Also, it will be in Parliament, not Ramlila Maidan or Jantar Mantar, that laws will be enacted.
Hazare realised that people are fed up with the way corruption is affecting everyone's life and that the government is not willing to do much about it. His movement brought out people's anger over corruption and, at times, even challenged the legitimacy of Parliament, the executive and the judiciary. But it could not force Parliament to enact the Jan Lokpal Bill, which has been drafted by a handful of self-appointed people.
The naïve usually oversimplify a problem and believe what they prescribe is the only solution. This prescriptive psychology is natural to evangelists, but it can arouse passions among people that a leader may not be able to control later. However, it goes to Hazare's credit that no incidents of violence were reported from Ramlila Maidan or elsewhere in the country. This is because of the Gandhian approach that he adopted to press his demands, as also the readiness of the government to engage him in talks to find a way out.
For his colleagues to claim that this was a second freedom struggle or a movement of the kind Jayaprakash Narayan led in the 1970s was sheer hyperbole. Hazare is neither a Mahatma Gandhi nor a JP. His lieutenants strangely equated what they called 'civil society' with the entire country, although large sections of adivasis, Dalits and OBCs kept out. Though they are also victims of corruption, these communities seem to fear that Hazare's attack on parliamentary democracy is aimed at undoing the guarantees that the Constitution promises them. Therefore, the movement was essentially an urban middle class phenomenon, meant to voice the concerns of the city-bred.
When Hazare and his men jacked up their demands, many in the intelligentsia felt that forcing deadlines on Parliament to pass the bill was undemocratic and a threat to Parliament's supremacy in framing legislation. It's not that people should not put pressure on the government to demand reforms, but dictating laws to Parliament amounts to acquiring extra-constitutional authority, which no reasonable citizen can accept — it is a sheer case of overreach.
The crowd at Ramlila Maidan was making the organisers somewhat intolerant of people who didn't share their opinions. An atmosphere of arrogance was fast developing and Hazare's fast constrained the government's strategy. The attitude and inexperience of some of the Union ministers further complicated the matter for the government. Hazare's arrest and his subsequent transfer to Tihar is a case in point.
The political system and politicians in general were under attack. So were the institutions, particularly the Parliament, which has been procrastinating over the Lokpal Bill over the past four decades.
The demand that Parliament must pass the Jan Lokpal Bill by August 30 made Members of Parliament (MPs) come to believe that the authorities of Parliament and the Constitution were under threat. The overbearing attitude of Hazare's colleagues resulted in the coming together of these MPs from various political parties.
The final resolution was the result of negotiations between the Congress and the Opposition parties, and it was aimed at ending Hazare's fast. By this time even Hazare had realised the limit beyond which the movement could not have been stretched. There was also the risk that the movement may go out of hand or, worse, be hijacked by wrong people.
There are a couple of lessons that Hazare's agitation has thrown up for the country. First, in order to end corruption, it is necessary to bring about major reforms in the political and judicial systems to make them more responsive to the people. Second, we can achieve much by evolving a consensus among political parties inside and outside Parliament than by confrontational politics.
A consensus on political reforms and the working of vital institutions on issues like national security, terrorism, foreign policy, and pluralism can be achieved if members of various political parties show the kind of wisdom they did in both Houses last Saturday.
HK Dua is a senior journalist and Member of Parliament. 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
LOOK WHO'S TALKING
A flurry of privilege notices have been filed in the two Houses of Parliament. Cutting across party lines, MPs have served notice against former cop Kiran Bedi and actor Om Puri for lampooning MPs in the closing, high-pitched hours of Anna Hazare's occupation of Delhi's Ramlila Maidan. The process of moving on such notices can be a long-winded one, and for now Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson K. Rahman Khan say that the pleas are under their consideration. MPs say they are outraged at Puri and Bedi's "derogatory" and "defamatory" chatter. In fact, Puri has already regretted "using those words that may have hurt some sentiments". But the issue is not the content of the wild remarks (and there is no denying the unreason that informed the anti-politician tirades). What is of concern is the illiberal and undemocratic tenor of the parliamentarians' notices.
Privileges are aimed at securing the independence of Parliament to fulfil its multifunctional role. They derive from the struggle during the English civil war to free Parliament from the clutch and influence of the monarch, in essence to enable MPs to freely dispense their essential role as representatives of the people. For the most part, legislatures such as ours that are modelled on the Westminster template are arbiters of their own privileges and in varying degrees different parliamentary democracies have moved to codify them. Our Parliament has yet to do so, but the reason that underwrites some of the claimed privileges is clear. For instance, MPs enjoy freedom of speech during debates and question time on the floor of the House, without fear of legal action — and they must continue to do so. Yet, just as the assertion of privilege was historically crucial in establishing democracy, so has the ceding of many privileges, now that Parliament's place is secure, been a way of modernising legislatures.
Without second-guessing which way the presiding officers of the two Houses will decide, the charge that comments made by two random individuals have caused affront to Parliament is extremely thin to justify privilege proceedings. If individual MPs feel defamed, they have the right to legal action, just like any other citizen. But to use Parliament's extraordinary powers to inhibit free, and howsoever outrageous, speech outside is undemocratic in the extreme and would only undermine Parliament. It would amount to invoking Parliament's privileges to claim lese majeste protection.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
NUMBERS OF FAILURE
GDP growth figures for the first quarter of the current fiscal year have been released; covering the months between April and June, they reveal India's economy grew at 7.7 per cent. That some people expected it to go lower is no reason to celebrate, and even less reason for complacency. The equivalent figure for the same months last year was well over 9 per cent; but it is clear that extended policy paralysis, and sustained weakness in the global environment, are causing the India growth story to stutter. This cannot be allowed to continue. While the government should continue to ensure that it finds ways to keep the fiscal deficit within reasonable margins, and to fight the effects of inflation, it cannot take its eye off the ball when it comes to growth.
The decomposition of the numbers is particularly instructive. Services continue to perform relatively well, dragging the numbers up with them. It is industrial growth which is abysmally low; construction, in particular, has barely been able to rise above a single percentage point's worth of growth. The construction sector is notoriously sensitive to the business environment, the equivalent of a canary in a coal mine; if it has collapsed to this degree, we should feel a very real concern about the degree to which growth prospects are being viewed with pessimism. A manufacturing sector cannot be allowed to grow at only around 5 per cent if jobs are to be created.
It is time to turn around this policy paralysis; business-as-usual in Delhi will lead to steadily worse news out of the rest of the country. These numbers, so far from the 9 per cent growth that the prime minister and the Planning Commission expect for the coming years, should serve as a wake-up call for a complacent and distracted governing establishment. There is no money to pour into these sectors any more; so deeper and important reforms are needed instead, especially those that will get manufacturing going again. At the very least, land acquisition procedures need to be streamlined, and the appropriate bill introduced this monsoon session. And environment clearances must be issued using methods and criteria that are transparent and confidence-inspiring. Only then will industry begin, again, to grow — which it must, for the India story depends on it.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
The Unique Identification project is a mission of surpassing ambition — it aims to provide every Indian citizen a unique 12-digit number that can be used to call up basic demographic and identity information through biometric scans. The government sees it as giving every Indian an acknowledged existence, ensuring that no one is locked out of social entitlements for the lack of a scrap of official paper. It hopes to ensure sharper targeting of welfare programmes, minimise leakages and collapse the many cumbersome IDs currently in use, into a single number. Critics of the project have focused on the privacy hazards and surveillance possibilities of the scheme. The UIDAI's rationale has been that the clear benefits outweigh potential dangers to privacy, which can, in any case, be averted by strong safeguards.
However, the philosophical battle apart, the UID has a more concrete cost-benefit analysis to contend with. The project's cost has escalated many times since it was first conceived in February 2009. A single UID, earlier estimated to cost around Rs 31 per person, may now end up in the Rs 400-500 territory. First, the finance ministry balked at the new levels of spending — partly data compilation costs, from designated registrars — and suggested the UID mesh its efforts with the national census wherever possible. It also wants to trim the biometric technology costs — the iris scan has nearly tripled the UID's price tag. While the UID defends its choices, and says the high volume of iris devices and software demanded by India will bring the price down, others in the Planning Commission claim the iris scan was intended as an extra measure to prevent duplication, not thrown in with every ID. These are not arguments to be settled on notions, and it would be timely for the UID to make a persuasive case for its choice. The Planning Commission has also expressed its concern about the UID's registrar system (which includes public and private companies), asking for clear lines of responsibility and supervision. The UIDAI had even suggested a cash incentive for some of these registrars, a plan that met with serious objection.
Those are valid questions, and the UID authorities must be prepared to defend their decisions. Even though, as they claim, the UID's long-term benefits in efficiency might justify the money spent, it should not let its own phenomenal scale blind it to the opportunity for frugality, and for dispensing information to the public, at every point.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
BEGINNING WITH DHAKA
C. RAJA MOHAN
A few years ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mused over having breakfast in New Delhi, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. That statement was a reflection of Dr Singh's desire to transform the north-western parts of the subcontinent through active peace-making and the promotion of regional integration.
That project was scuppered by the deterioration of Indo-Pak relations after the 26/11 terror outrage in Mumbai. Although Indo-Pak ties are limping back towards a cold peace, the prospects for solid economic engagement among India, Pakistan and Afghanistan remain dim. The Pakistan army's obsession with "strategic depth" in Afghanistan has meant the exclusion of mutually beneficial economic integration with Kabul and Delhi.
If his dream is unlikely to be realised in the northwest, Dr Singh has a big chance of making it work in the east. For his visit to Dhaka next week promises to be a game-changer not just for Indo-Bangla relations but for the entire eastern subcontinent.
The new commitment in Dhaka and Delhi to build a bilateral partnership allows us to imagine shared prosperity with our eastern land neighbours — Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and China.
Much of the credit for creating the new strategic opportunity goes to Dhaka and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. If the former president of Bangladesh, Ziaur Rahman, had taken the initiative for founding the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in the early 1980s, Hasina has lent concrete meaning to the idea of regionalism in the eastern subcontinent.
Sustained economic growth, expected to accelerate to about 8 per cent in the coming years, has transformed the regional and international perception of Bangladesh and has generated new levels of self-confidence in Dhaka.
Recognising that Bangladesh could transform itself into an economic bridge within the subcontinent and between South Asia and the abutting regions further to the east, Dhaka has boldly played for high stakes.
Hasina understood that the key to Bangladesh's emergence as an economic powerhouse lay in moving the relationship with India to a higher level by resolving all the outstanding bilateral problems that had accumulated ever since the partition of the subcontinent.
This is precisely what she offered when she came to Delhi in January 2010. Shedding the past political inhibitions in Dhaka about building a good neighbourly relationship with India, Hasina offered valuable counter cooperation and promised to restore connectivity between India and the north-eastern states through Bangladesh's territory.
Delhi, in turn, agreed to move forward on the sharing of the Teesta and Feni river waters and open the Indian market for Bangladeshi textile exports. The two sides also agreed to resolve the many issues relating to their boundary, including the completion of the demarcation of their 4,090 km of border and resolving the question of small enclaves landlocked in each other's territory.
With all issues on the table, the two sides have worked hard during the last 18 months to negotiate the many agreements likely to be signed during Dr Singh's September 6-7 visit to Dhaka.
While Hasina's political courage set the stage, Delhi too broke from the tradition of episodic focus on neighbours other than Pakistan. Ending the neglect of Bangladesh and seizing the moment at hand, Delhi persisted with a sustained problem-solving approach in the negotiations with Dhaka.
Dr Singh and Hasina have an opportunity next week to look beyond their success on the bilateral front and outline a shared agenda for the future of the eastern subcontinent.
The bilateral issues that Delhi and Dhaka have addressed in the last 18 months — terrorism, trade, river water sharing, trans-border energy cooperation, boundary management, and transit — are also regional issues involving other neighbours, including Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and China.
The new thinking on bilateral issues, that Delhi and Dhaka have signalled, also provides a more enduring basis for regional and trans-regional cooperation.
Take, for example, the until now controversial question of transit between India and the north-eastern states. That Delhi and Dhaka will both benefit from restoring the trans-border connectivity that existed between India and East Pakistan until the 1965 war is not in doubt.
India gains better access to the Northeast and Bangladesh wins by charging transit fees. The restoration of transit for India is part of a wider framework that lets the natural economic complementarities between India's Northeast and Bangladesh work themselves out.
Beyond the bilateral, Dhaka and Delhi have rightly chosen to frame the question of transit in the wider regional context of promoting cross-border connectivity through Indian territory, between Bangladesh on the one hand and Nepal and Bhutan on the other.
By throwing open their borders to easier movement of commercial traffic, the four countries will not only help integrate the eastern subcontinent, but also provide the basis for trans-regional connectivity with Myanmar and China.
There are many institutions like the Asian Development Bank that have long been eager to promote connectivity within the eastern subcontinent, and between it and Southeast Asia. Beijing has ambitious plans for mega trans-border projects to link south-western China with Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and eastern India.
Big ideas such as trans-Asian road and rail networks have stumbled amidst the absence of a modern cooperative relationship between India and Bangladesh. As he builds a mutually beneficial partnership with Bangladesh, Dr Singh will have a chance to muse in Dhaka over having breakfast in Delhi, lunch in Chittagong and dinner in Mandalay or Kunming.
Delhi and Dhaka are today in a position to demonstrate the real meaning of "strategic depth" — shared prosperity through trans-border connectivity and economic partnerships. If they succeed, Rawalpindi too might rethink its relations with India and Afghanistan, revisit its much touted concept of strategic depth, and restore the historic connectivity between Delhi, Lahore and Kabul.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
LET THE BUREAU BE
Corruption, next to poverty, is the biggest violator of human rights. The Durban Commitment to Effective Action against Corruption says: "It deepens poverty; it debases human rights, it degrades the environment; it derails development, including private-sector development; it can drive conflict in and between nations; and it destroys confidence in democracy and the legitimacy of governments. It debases human dignity and is universally condemned by the world's major faiths."
A fundamental truth is that historic changes are ushered in either by revolution, or by social outrage, or by legislative process. We are witnessing today a rare combination of a revolutionary spirit spurred by strong social anger expressing a quest for a tough legislative enactment capable of hitting at corruption at all levels.
Sadly, constitutional institutions like the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, which still have some life left in them, are not trusted. In a democracy, institutions provide safeguards. They also guard against what does not enjoy the sanction of law. If the findings of institutional bodies are not respected, the constitutional mandate which they work under loses its relevance. Today, it is the CAG; tomorrow it could be the turn of other constitutional institutions and statutory bodies.
Facile explanations are being advanced that corruption is a feature of the developing economies. But our corruption is intrinsically homegrown: a product of arbitrary and unscrupulous use of power — both political and bureaucratic — a culture of impunity, an absence of the will to prosecute and punish, the manipulation of existing laws by corrupt corporate entities, and the failure of the ground-level machinery to provide employment, food, healthcare, education and so on.
So the situation is grim, and it demands introspection and review. The provisions of the existing framework — be it the Prevention of Corruption Act, the CVC Act, those Lokayuktas that exist, and so on — that hinder the registration and investigation of cases of corruption and constrain prosecutions must be replaced by a much more stringent enactment, which injects speed in to the criminal justice system and guarantees trials that are not hobbled.
About the suggestion that the Central Bureau of Investigation should be merged into the proposed Lokpal, I firmly believe, on the basis of my long years with the CBI, that it should retain its premier position and be allowed complete freedom to register, investigate and prosecute cases. As I write, prosecutions against 273 persons are pending, and the consent for registration in many cases is awaited. I still wonder how the "Single Directive", which debars registration of cases against officers of the rank of Joint Secretary and above, continues to be in force — after it was held invalid and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Vineet Narain case in December 1997.
Not only should the CBI be allowed to retain its prime position, it should be strengthened — by removing the shackles that hinder its performance. This would help the CBI to act as a potent additional tool to fight graft. It can assist any other constitutional or statutory body as, in fact, it does even today. Besides, remember that the CBI does not just investigate cases of corruption, but also special crimes like bomb blasts, terrorism, offences against the state, and cybercrime — all of which are outside the jurisdiction of any proposed Lokpal. A truncated CBI would suffer from a sharp decline in its professional standard, and from split accountability.
Corruption is not just scams and scandals, the embezzlement of funds, and the acceptance of bribes or acts of quid pro quo; it is also allowing undesirable contact men to operate, the adulteration of foodstuff, the fact of criminals entering legislatures, the production of spurious medicines, the existence fake degrees in medicine, bonded labour, leaving unorganised labour to the mercy of exploitative employers not paying minimum wages, rosters of non-existent employees, gratuities for issuing BPL cards, turning a blind eye to health hazards such as silicosis and what not. Who are corruption's victims? All those who depend on the mercy of the state.
The need for reform in India's executive, judicial and electoral structures have been written about extensively — in the reports of various Law Commissions, of the Administrative Reforms Commission, and of the Police Commission. But far too few of these recommendations are accepted, and an even fewer number implemented. What hinders the adoption of their suggestions? Perhaps it is the deep-seated desire to preserve the status quo; perhaps a strong instinct towards self-preservation. In the cleansing exercise of reforms these institutions of state deserve priority.
It would be apt to conclude with the words of the celebrated jurist, Justice Iyer: "If we, the people of India, are to be true to its cultural heritage we must struggle to win Swaraj, and jettison corruption."
The writer, a former CBI director, is a member of the National Human Rights Commission
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
PLANNING FOR A CITY'S FUTURE, USING BUSES
ISHER JUDGE AHLUWALIA
Until recently, Bhopal was like any other Indian city — with little evidence of public transport and fast-growing private vehicle ownership, with its implications for high petrol consumption and air pollution. The only "public" transport available were minibuses, tempos and autorickshaws run by private operators. These were naturally restricted to economically viable routes.
An egregious example of a market-driven transportation system was the fact that over 500 permits were issued for mini-buses for a 1.5 km stretch between Nadara bus stand and the Grand Hotel. By contrast, there were very few minibuses running in the newly developed Misrod area and between Bhopal and surrounding areas such as Piplani and Khajoori.
Bhopal seems to be getting its act together! For a city with a population close to 18 lakh and a floating population close to 2 lakh because of the development activity in the surrounding region, such as Kolar (an adjacent town, in Bhopal district) and Mandideep (another town, in Raisen district, which is only 20 km away from southern Bhopal) with a concentration of industrial activity, planning for connectivity is crucial, through the development of road infrastructure and public transport. Because public transport has not been given due importance in city planning in India, Bhopal's commendable efforts deserve recognition.
A serious effort is being made to design urban road infrastructure which can promote an efficient public transport system on the one hand, and to the upgradation and expansion of the existing fleet of buses and other vehicles for public transport, on the other. A distinguishing feature of this exercise is that the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) is operating at multiple levels within an integrated approach. By its very nature, this is a time-consuming exercise, but there is evidence of movement on several fronts. For the longer run, plans are also afoot to prepare a comprehensive mobility plan for the city. Tenders have already been issued and the award is awaiting approval from Mayor-in-Council.
The BMC is on the job of improving and expanding urban roads with a major emphasis on a bus rapid transport system (BRTS), which goes through the heart of the city with a pilot corridor between Misrod and Bairagarh. Bus routes have been rationalised, based on a study of routes and multi-modal integration conducted by the corporation. Plans are afoot for developing physical infrastructure with modern bus stops, bus terminals and electrification works, although these are still to be implemented. A modern intelligent transport system with the appropriate software and hardware is already in use for integrated fare collection and effective service monitoring of the city bus services. A central control room tracks the location, speed and timings of the buses through GPS, while an LED monitor displays the scheduled time and expected time of arrival of the next bus through use of a passenger information system.
BRTS is a gift of the JNNURM to Bhopal. About 16 km of the pilot corridor (24 km length and 30-60 m width) is ready, with structural works and the widening of minor bridges, culverts, etc; but electrification, road furniture and railing works are still in progress. The remaining 7 km was the more challenging stretch, in the heart of the city: two temples have already been relocated for widening the road, and efforts are on for relocating another major religious structure near Kamla Park. True to its green city character, the corporation has transplanted 300 or so huge trees which came in the ROW of the corridor and planted another 6000 trees. Buses are already plying on the newly built roads.
Bhopal City Link Ltd (BCLL) was set up as a city transport special purpose cehicle in 2006 with the Collector of Bhopal as its executive director. In 2008, the BMC took over management control of BCLL, and started exploring the possibilities of public-private partnership in city bus service provision. Unlike Indore, where a number of contractors were awarded the contract for running the buses, in Bhopal — presumably because of the smaller market — all bus operations are outsourced to a single private operator under a "net cost contract".
The private contractor bears 30 per cent of the cost of buses and pays an agreed premium to the BMC after a waiver for the first 4 months. This enabled the corporation to fund its share (30 per cent) towards the cost of buying new modern buses under JNNURM. So far, 105 standard buses have been purchased, and have started running as of November 1, 2010. Another 100 low-floor buses and 25 low-floor air-conditioned buses are in the pipeline. From the current operations, BMC has started receiving a monthly premium of Rs 1.30 lakh per month from the private operator.
While "net cost contract" is a common practice for public private partnership in bus services in India (the exceptions being Ahmedabad and now Delhi), over the medium run it is better to go for "gross cost contract", so that the private party has the incentive to develop the market. In Bhopal, the net cost contract with the current operator is for a period of 5 years. Bhopal Municipal Corporation provides crucial infrastructure such as secure depots with sufficient parking, and capacity for proper repair and maintenance of the buses.
Rationalising the routes by classifying them in five categories and assigning different modes to the routes was crucial, to eliminate the inter-modal conflict and avoid chaos resulting from vehicles of different speed capacity plying on the same roads. Thus, modern buses run by BCLL ply on trunk and standard routes, private minibuses on 17 complimentary routes, and four-wheeler tempos (Tata Magics) on feeder routes.
In an innovative practice where learning from one department has translated to savings for another, the corporation started installing GPS devices in 50 of its vehicles for solid waste management. Later, this was extended to all 300 sold waste management vehicles, water tankers and vehicles used for fire-fighting. An optimised route plan has also been prepared for the corporation vehicles, for more effective and timely delivery. The result of the vehicular tracking management system is a net saving of 1,000-1,500 litres of diesel per day. This amounts to a saving of Rs 1.45 crore in a year in petrol consumption by the corporation.
Putting public transport at the center of urban planning is a good take-away for other fast growing cities aspiring for better living conditions for their citizens.
The writer is chairperson of ICRIER and also former chairperson of the high-powered expert committee on urban infrastructure services, which submitted its report in March 2011
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THIS TIME, THE WEST GOT IT RIGHT
It will be two decades next year since the outbreak of the Bosnian war — and since the debate on interventionism began to rage, becoming one of the most acrimonious moral questions of our times. Now Libya, a successful Western intervention, will be placed on the scales.
The issue has divided friends and united enemies. Democrats under the age of 30 were almost as eager to go to war in Iraq as Republicans over 65, according to a Pew Research Center poll of October 2002, a moment when liberal hawkishness and conservative American hubris coalesced with disastrous consequences. It has been the focus of an age-old foreign policy debate between realism and idealism, prompted a deluge of finger-pointing, and proved a catalyst to the UN-endorsed notion of a responsibility to protect.
Like many of my generation, I became an interventionist in Bosnia. Sickened by carnage, and by the lies and ignorance of Western politicians who prolonged the carnage, I understood that caution — or more accurately hypocrisy masquerading as prudence — can be as criminal as recklessness.
A war with very specific reasons and equally specific crimes committed overwhelmingly by Serbian forces was dressed up as a millennial conflict beset by Balkan fog and moral equivalency in order for craven Western leaders to justify an inaction that killed.
We had been morally numbed by the Cold War. It seemed as inevitable as the earth's rotation. Mutual assured destruction was ugly; it was also comforting in its limitation of choice. Now, with the demise of the Soviet Union, an ascendant West was faced with barbarism on European soil and had the disquieting latitude to act. It prevaricated. People died.
NATO finally bombed Serbian positions in 1995. The war ended soon after. The alliance bombed again in Kosovo in 1999. Soon after, Slobodan Milosevic's murderous dominion ended. Western intervention in a cruel war in Sierra Leone led to the end of that conflict. Liberal interventionist had become the proud badge of a generation discovering the good war.
A new century began at this zenith of the post-Cold-War interventionist cycle. Peter Beinart traces how such cycles come and go — and how personal experience can be as blinding as it is illuminating. He quotes the brilliant historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr, warning that the 1991 Gulf War that quickly drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait would likely cause "the gravest damage to the vital interests" of America, and quotes him again comparing arguments for a Bosnia intervention with those that led to the Vietnam disaster. It was through the prism of Vietnam, the war he lived most passionately and painfully, that Schlesinger saw the choices posed by subsequent conflicts.
Beinart describes how even in his adulation for Schlesinger, he in time became sickened by the Vietnam analogy with its recurring prescription for inaction. Shaped by Bosnia, he backed the Iraq war. The pendulum had swung. Vietnam-induced excess of caution had given way to Bosnian-induced hubris. I, too, fell under its influence. Mea culpa. Whatever the monstrosity of Saddam, and whatever the great benefit to the world of his disappearance, the war as it was justified and fought — under false pretenses, without many of America's closest allies, in ignorance and incompetence — was a stain on America's conscience.
Libya, in the wake of this damage, was a risk for President Obama. There were many reasons for not intervening — a third war in a Muslim country was not what America needed and the homegrown quality of the Arab Spring has been central to its moral force. But to allow Gaddafi to commit a massacre foretold in Benghazi would have been unforgivable.
The intervention has been done right — with the legality of strong United Nations backing, full support from America's European allies, and quiet arming of the rebels. The Libyan people have been freed from a crazed tyranny. Unlike in Iraq, burdens were shared. Iraq was the wrong prism through which to look at Libya. I'm glad I resisted that temptation. Another cycle has begun.
There are no fixed doctrinal answers — a successful Libyan intervention does not mean one in Syria is feasible — but the idea that the West must at times be prepared to fight for its values against barbarism is the best hope for a 21st century less cruel than the 20th.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
FALSER WORDS WERE NEVER SPOKEN
In a coffee shop, I saw a mug with an inscription from Henry David Thoreau: "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined."
At least it said the words were Thoreau's. The attribution seemed suspect. Thoreau was not known for his liberal use of exclamation points. I looked up the passage (it's from Walden): "I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
Now Thoreau isn't quite saying that each of us can actually live the life we've imagined. He's saying that if we try, we'll come closer to it than we might ordinarily think possible. I suppose the people responsible for the coffee mug would say that they'd merely tweaked the wording of the original a little. But in the tweaking, not only was the syntax lost, but the subtlety as well.
Gandhi's words have been tweaked a little too in recent years. Perhaps you've noticed a bumper sticker that purports to quote him: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." When you first come across it, this does sound like something Gandhi would have said. But when you think about it a little, it starts to sound more like... a bumper sticker. Displayed brightly on the back of a Prius, it suggests that your responsibilities begin and end with your own behaviour. It's apolitical, and a little smug.
Sure enough, it turns out there is no reliable documentary evidence for the quotation. The closest verifiable remark from Gandhi is: "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him...We need not wait to see what others do."
Here, Gandhi is telling us personal and social transformation go hand in hand, but there is no suggestion in his words that personal transformation is enough. In fact, for Gandhi, the struggle to bring about a better world involved not only stringent self-denial and rigorous adherence to the philosophy of non-violence; it also involved a steady awareness that one person, alone, can't change anything, an awareness that unjust authority can be overturned only by great numbers of people working together with discipline and persistence.
When you start to become aware of these bogus quotations, you can't stop finding them. Henry James, George Eliot, Picasso — all of them are being kept alive in popular culture through pithy, cheery sayings they never actually said.
My favourite example of the fanciful quotation is a passage that's been floating around the Internet for years. It's frequently attributed to Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, and said to be an excerpt from his 1994 inaugural address.
"Our deepest fear," the passage goes, "is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Picture it: Mandela, newly free after 27 years in prison, using his inaugural platform to inform us we all have the right to be gorgeous, talented and fabulous, and thinking so will liberate others. It's hard to imagine it without laughing. Of course, it turns out it's not actually an excerpt from this or any other address of Mandela's. In fact, the words aren't even his; they belong to a self-help guru, Marianne Williamson.
Thoreau, Gandhi, Mandela — it's easy to see why their words and ideas have been massaged into gauzy slogans. They were inspirational figures, dreamers of beautiful dreams. But what goes missing in the slogans is that they were also sober, steely men. Each of them knew that thoroughgoing change, whether personal or social, involves humility and sacrifice, and that the effort to change oneself or the world always exacts a price. Ours is an era in which it's believed we can reinvent ourselves whenever we choose. So we recast the wisdom of the great thinkers in the shape of our illusions. Shorn of their complexities, politics, grasp of the sheer arduousness of change, they stand before us now. They are shiny from their makeovers, they are fabulous, and they want us to know we can have it all.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
INDIA IS POORER?
India is poorer?
An article in People's Democracy claims that India's liberalisation over the last two decades constitutes a resounding "refutation" of mainstream development theory. While GDP growth rate "accelerated remarkably", it was accompanied by, the article insists, a "striking increase" in the incidence of absolute poverty as well — a combination it says which no strand of bourgeois theory can explain.
It asserts that the international experience has been that per-capita foodgrain consumption — taking both direct and indirect consumption together — increases with per-capita real income until a fairly high level of income. And the same is true of calorie intake as well. "If... the rise in per-capita real income is accompanied by a decline in per-capita foodgrain intake, then it must be that the income distribution within that country is worsening over that period — to a point where the bulk of the population is becoming absolutely worse off even as the per-capita income, which is a mere average for all, is rising. This is exactly what has been happening in India during the last twenty years," Prabhat Patnaik claims.
Using traditional Marxist analysis, Patnaik says that where a capitalist sector co-exists with a pre-capitalist sector — especially peasant agriculture — the growth of the former entails a growing demand for goods from the latter. "If output is not growing adequately, then an increase in demand from the capitalist sector can be met only out of existing output, by snatching away a part of it through various methods of primitive accumulation of capital. If this larger expropriation of output by the capitalist sector from the pre-capitalist sector were to be accompanied by a transfer of labour from latter to the former, then the availability of goods per capita in the latter would not shrink; but if there is no such transfer of labour then the per capita availability of goods in the latter would shrink, causing absolute impoverishment in the latter." he says, adding that India is experiencing such conditions.
Tripura is poorest
Another article in People's Democracy talks about a white paper that the Tripura government brought out recently on the 13th Finance Commission's award to the state. The article says the statistics in the paper demonstrate the state's gross deprivation compared to other state. It says the 13th Finance Commission award has significantly underestimated the state's financial requirements and failed in appreciating circumstances specific to Tripura. It also "regrettably failed" to realise the ground reality behind the higher government employment in the state among the north eastern states: "Extremist onslaught... necessitated the raising of as many as 13 TSR battalions (Indian Reserve Battalions)... When the state finance minister met [Finance Minister Pranab] Mukherjee, he summarily turned down the state's demand for special assistance to overcome the present fiscal impasse.., Recently the Centre has assured financial incentive of more than Rs 21,000 crore to the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal, and this was made in addition to the 13th Finance Commission award."
US hypocrisy, again
In an editorial titled 'Battle for Hydrocarbon', the CPI's New Age says America and its NATO allies are in blatant violation of rules, norms and conventions of international relations, fighting a battle to keep under their control the hydro-carbon resources of the Arab world spread over Middle-East and North Africa. "To achieve this strategic goal, they are shamelessly massacring thousands and thousands of people and destroying countries that they feel are defiant and may create trouble for their plan to control and dominate this region. While Libyans are being mercilessly butchered by the NATO forces to 'protect the civilians', insurgency is being promoted by all means in Syria in the name of promoting 'democracy'," it claims. It adds these very forces are "actively supporting suppression of people's revolt in Bahrain and Yemen where almost the entire population is out on the street to oust the despotic regimes... American hypocrisy on the question of democracy is being vividly getting exposed with what the imperialists are doing selectively in the Arab World. Astonishingly UN secretary general is adopting double standards. A Syrian killing is violation of human right but massacre of Libyan by NATO forces is not."
Compiled by Manoj C.G.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
GDP SLOWS, WILL RBI?
The slowing of GDP growth, for the fifth consecutive quarter now, to 7.7% in the first quarter of 2011-12, is in line with overall expectations as indicated by the professional forecaster survey done by RBI earlier this month. A good monsoon has boosted agricultural growth to 3.9%, the highest first quarter growth recorded since 2008-09. Though manufacturing growth has revived from 5.5% in the last quarter of 2010-11 to 7.2% in the first quarter of 2011-12, overall industrial growth has slumped to 5.1%, the lowest across eight quarters, mainly on account of the sharp slowdown in the construction sector where growth has slumped to 1.2%, the lowest over the last 10 quarters. The other industrial segment that has been badly hit is the mining and quarrying sector, where growth was a dismal 1.8%, partly on the plateauing of Reliance's production in the Krishna-Godavari basin. A silver lining has been the pick up in the electricity, gas and water supply segment, where growth has accelerated over the last three quarters to touch 7.9%. Services sector growth has picked up over the last three quarters to touch double digits, the highest level reached in the last four quarters. This was primarily because of the performance of the trade, hotels, transport and communication segment, where growth touched 12.8%, aided by the pick up in exports and imports and the telecom sector. And though growth of financing, insurance, real estate and business services slowed down marginally, growth here is still a respectable 9.1% in the most recent quarter.
What is more worrisome is the continued slowdown in gross fixed capital formation, which fell to 28.4% of the GDP, the lowest level since 2004-05. Read together with the RBI numbers on the slowdown in the financial investments of households, the prospects on the savings and investment front suggest a recovery will take a while. There has been sharp surge in investments in valuables, that is mainly accounted by gold—at 3.9% of GDP, this is substantially higher than the previous peak of 2.3% in the first quarter of 2010-11. The question is, whether the economy's weakening signals are strong enough for RBI to pause on its rate hike next month.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
BANKING ON RBI
A decade after the banking licence guidelines prohibited industrial houses from setting up new banks, industrial houses look all set to get new banking licences. Despite all past evidence of how industrial houses owning banks creates all manner of problems—RBI's discussion paper last August referred to the Japanese problems with keiretsus, Korea's with chaebols and India's in the pre-nationalisation phase when different banks were linked with individual business groups—RBI is confident it has the problem licked. This could partly be due to the fact that the banking industry is already well-developed, so the problem of other borrowers getting squeezed out is likely to be less severe. Two, RBI has insisted on a different corporate holding structure and has laid down strict group exposure norms on lending. Three, RBI wants the Banking Regulation Act to be amended—to be, for instance, allowed to supersede bank Boards—before any licences are issued. As an aside, the holding company (Holdco) concept for financial services will have to be brought into legislation with the proviso that all operations of the Holdco, not just the banking ones, will be regulated only by RBI.
Beyond this, however, is a leap of faith and a lot depends on how RBI ups its supervisory game—as RBI said in the discussion paper, it is very difficult to detect rotation of funds by corporate houses on a 24x7 basis. The fact that the government allows multiple layers of subsidiaries creates huge problems and makes it near impossible to know which company belongs to whom. Indeed, a big setback to the investigations in the 2G scam is the fact that there is still no definition of what an 'associate' company is—even the proposed definition, FE pointed out in its editorial on August 23 (http://www.financialexpress.com/news/fe-editorial-associates-vs-owners/835594/), leaves enough loopholes. RBI has tried to fix this by saying its decision will be final on whether a company is linked, but it leaves the question of 24x7 monitoring unanswered. Despite all evidence to the contrary, RBI places touching faith in independent directors—at least half the directors on the Holdco have to be independent—to ensure promoters run the bank properly. There are enough scams, Satyam being the most recent among the high-profile ones, to show the independent directors policy (Clause 49) has not delivered. Similarly, while doing background checks with CBI, Sebi etc is important, RBI has to keep in mind the practice of compounding of offences and consent orders—once the penalty is paid, the slate is wiped clean! RBI and the government's immediate problem, however, is going to be different. Since there is no previously laid out criterion for deciding who is 'fit and proper', nor for what makes, say, L&T a better bet than the Tata Group, the process of giving licences is certain to be quite contentious.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
KEEP BANKS AND INDUSTRY SEPARATE
It's good to see the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) assert itself. It seemed, for a while, that the central bank was giving the finance ministry's views way too much weightage but the draft guidelines for new banking licences are evidence that RBI is not about to do what it does not believe in. If the discussion paper on new bank licences, put out in August last year, showed how diffident the central bank was about allowing large industrial houses into the banking space, the draft guidelines reaffirm that it remains so.
While it does not say so openly, there is little doubt that RBI does not really wish to have large industrial conglomerates as part of banking industry unless they have an absolutely unblemished track record. So, a clean image is top of mind for the regulator and one line in the guidelines says it all: 'RBI may seek feedback from other regulators and enforcement and investigative agencies such as the IT dept, CBI, enforcement directorate on various aspects such as sound credentials and integrity'. One wishes RBI had altogether disallowed large industrial groups from setting up banks or at least gone a bit further to say that any black marks given to a promoter group, by any regulator or investigative agency, would put it out of the reckoning forever. While that may seem somewhat harsh, the fact is that once the doors are opened to corporates, one or two not-so-eligible candidates could slip in at a later stage, making life difficult for everyone else. So, even while there are, no doubt, some meritorious candidates, the Indian banking industry isn't quite ready for the entry of business houses.
Indeed, even with the best of regulatory safeguards at its disposal, the regulator will not have an easy time. And that includes having 50% of the directors on the board being independent. Or a holding structure that would ringfence the banks from potential risks of the promoter's other business interest. For starters though, it's not a bad thing that the regulator frowns upon promoters dabbling in real estate and broking—RBI does not mince its words when it says broking businesses 'represent a business model and business culture which are quite misaligned with a banking model'. Going by the number of instances that Sebi has brought to light, of rules having been broken, it will be a while before the broking industry earns itself a better reputation.
As for real estate firms, they don't seem to be able to manage their own debt and have caused our bankers enough grief, so it's no surprise they're not welcome. It's also important to ensure that the new crop of bankers isn't controlling too large a share of their existing businesses by insisting on a diversified ownership. Also, the central bank wants to know, and rightly so, the source of the promoters' equity—it is now well-versed with promoters' tricks of using multiple layers to obfuscate the true ownership and surely those who resort to such practices have no place in the banking arena. In fact, RBI has been rather generous in allowing a new bank to lend as much as 10% of its book value to any entity in the promoter group and as much as a fifth of the book value to all promoter entities in aggregate. For those who believe that RBI is being too conservative, all one can say is that they're not keeping themselves abreast of all the scams, how many top corporates have been involved, and the increasingly deepening nexus between industry and politicians.
Indeed, RBI has done well to put its foot down on the issue of restricting foreign direct investment in new banks, to 49%; the finance ministry had reportedly believed it would send out wrong signals to investors and has asked the regulator to clearly enunciate, in the guidelines, that new banks would be exempt from Press notes 2, 3 and 4. RBI, for its part, wanted the limit rolled back from 74% to 49%; it was uncomfortable with a higher limit, given the country's intelligence agencies' limited success in unearthing the identities of the true owners of the banks. RBI is right, we do not need to pander to the wishes of foreign investors and 49% allows enough room for them to invest. Moreover, the draft guidelines say no foreign shareholder can directly or indirectly hold more than 5% whereas the finance ministry was reportedly pushing for a minimum of 10%.
RBI is also right in saying the promoter's holding should be brought down to 15% and not 20%, as the ministry had reportedly suggested; the guidelines allow for it to happen in two phases. Also, a listing within two years should not be difficult though it's true banks might not get the kind of valuation they want. After all, they will have to hit the ground running in opening a fourth of their branches in rural centres, which will drive up their costs without fetching them enough revenues. Additionally, they have not been let off from meeting priority sector lending targets like other banks. At R500 crore, the entry barriers are very low and will not shut out genuine entrepreneurs. We do not, of course, want a repeat of Centurion Bank. What the country needs is a clutch of new bankers who earn the customer's confidence.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
CHRONICLE OF AN ACQUITTAL FORETOLD
It has to be more than a coincidence that on the same day the CBI was pulled up by the Gujarat High Court for botching up the investigations into the Haren Pandya murder, CBI counsel UU Lalit told the special CBI court in the 2G scam that the agency had failed to find any evidence of any quid pro quo as far as money changing hands is concerned in the Unitech Wireless case. If it was only Unitech Wireless, it was bad enough, but, without such evidence, the case against many of the other accused also gets weaker. It doesn't help that almost all the accused have cited the statements made by telecom minister Kapil Sibal that there was no loss to the exchequer in the awarding of the licences. Whether the court chooses to drop some of the charges while framing the chargesheet on September 15 remains to be seen, but it is clear the CBI has its job cut out.
Before proceeding further, it is important to point out that this criminal case is different from the one in the Supreme Court in response to Prashant Bhushan's PIL asking for the licences to be cancelled on grounds they were illegal. That case has been heard, and the judges have reserved their judgment on the matter. Indeed, it has always been this newspaper's view that it would be better to concentrate on getting the licences cancelled, since this is what would help the government recover the money it had lost—the criminal case, we said, could take its own course.
The CBI chargesheet to be sure, is strong in parts, and it was the CBI that found the first money trail of R201 crore from the DB group to Kalaignar TV—this was a very vital piece of the trail and shouldn't be underestimated. In other cases, the CBI has reiterated points made by the CAG, and later highlighted in the Justice Patil report, and these look difficult to refute. In the case of Swan, for instance, the CAG first pointed out that Swan was linked to ADAG since that's where the bulk of its capital had come from—subsequent investigations, such as by the income tax department, have only strengthened this view. This was done to show that Swan was ineligible for a licence under Clause 8 of the licensing conditions on cross-holdings.
In the case of Unitech Wireless, the CBI's charge of conspiracy depends upon the statement given by the DDG (Access Services) AK Srivastava, that he was repeatedly asked by Raja's aide RK Chandolia as to whether Unitech Wireless's applications had come in—and when it had, Srivastava is reported to have told the CBI, Chandolia asked him to close the window for applications. When Srivastava said this couldn't be done, he claims Chandolia asked him to put up a note on advancing the cut off date.
This may help prove the conspiracy case against Unitech Wireless, but what is curious is that the CBI missed out on so many obvious violations of the law. In the case of both Swan and Unitech Wireless, what was critical was not just Raja's change in the cut off date—this, after all, benefitted all the 122 licensees, not just Unitech Wireless or Swan. But only two companies brought in new investors and they were specifically helped by Raja. While Trai had categorically ruled out allowing M&As till all the companies met their rollout obligations, Raja put out new M&A guidelines on April 22, 2008—in which he illegally modified the Trai recommendations on "acquisition". Without this modification, Swan, Unitech Wireless, Tatas, and S Tel would not have been able to sell. The CBI, however, does not even mention the fact that the M&A norms were modified—this would have helped facilitate the very criminal conspiracy that it has pleaded in 17 different places in its chargesheet of April 2, 2011.
Similarly, it is obvious the CBI is on weak grounds since all of Raja's actions—the advancement of the cut off date and the change in first-come first-served norms—had all been okayed by the Solicitor General. But it would have proved its case had it just cited the Delhi High Court judgments and the Supreme Court judgment of July 1, 2009, November 24, 2009 and March 12, 2010, which said all of this was illegal.
There are several other such critical gaps in the chargesheets. Perhaps the CBI will be able to get over these in the trial stage?
THE HOME STRETCH IN NEPAL
With the swearing-in of Baburam Bhattarai as Nepal's new Prime Minister, the political pendulum has swung squarely back to where it ought to have been in the first place. A Maoist-led coalition is now in place, with the Madhesi parties comprising the other component. The Unified Marxists-Leninists and the Nepali Congress are not part of the new arrangement but Dr. Bhattarai has indicated that the formation of a national government with the participation of all major political parties will be a priority. The Nepali Maoists won the Constituent Assembly elections of 2008, emerging with many more seats than the UML and the NC. However, since the former rebels did not have enough MPs to form a government by themselves, let alone ensure the writing of a new constitution, it was evident that coalition building was the way to go. The first Maoist-led coalition under Prachanda — which collapsed in the face of opposition from the Nepali army, the UML, the NC, and India — may not have done much to further the twin tasks of constitution writing and concluding the peace process. But the opportunistic coalition under Madhav Kumar Nepal, which was in office for nearly two years and had tacit support from hardline elements in India who never reconciled themselves to the emergence of the Maoists as a parliamentary force, was far worse. It was only with the election of the UML's Jhalanath Khanal as Prime Minister in February 2011 that the political logjam began to clear. Today Dr. Bhattarai's emergence as head of a new government offers Nepal a new opportunity to complete its tryst with destiny.
While the principal challenge remains the drafting of a new constitution in accordance with the political, socio-economic, and cultural aspirations of Nepal's peoples, this task cannot be accomplished without tangible steps being taken towards completion of the peace process. The Maoists must disband their erstwhile Peoples' Liberation Army, with an agreed number of former combatants being integrated into the Nepal Army. At the same time, the Nepal Army must be democratised, in keeping with the temper and spirit of the new nation that emerged after the abolition of the monarchy. Numerous proposals have been made to accomplish the task of integration only to flounder in the face of intransigence by hardline elements within the Maoists, the Army, or other political parties. Now that the Maoists are back at the helm, every effort must be made to ensure the speedy resolution of the military question. The term of the CA was extended by three months on Monday night and will now run till November 30. Dr. Bhattarai and his colleagues, as well as all political parties, thus have 90 days to push the peace process and constitution writing seriously. The clock has started ticking. Given the differences on major constitutional issues, they have not a second to lose.
PLUTOCRATS, TAXES & MORAL DECAY
Sixteen of France's richest people have sparked a lively debate by offering to pay higher taxes. They did this in a joint letter titled " Taxez Nous! " ("Tax Us!"), published in the daily Le Nouvel Observateur on August 23. Among them are the heads of some of the country's largest corporations, including Liliane Bettencourt, Europe's richest woman. The signatories commend the French and the wider European environments, from which they say they have benefited and which they wish to preserve against threats such as capital flight and increased tax evasion. They also contend that by paying more tax they will help reduce the French budget deficit, which President Nicolas Sarkozy plans to bring down from 4.6 per cent this year to 3 per cent in 2013. France has, in fact, just announced a 3 per cent rise in income tax for all who earn over €1 million a year but the signatories say they are also responding to the government's call for solidarity. The letter appeared shortly after a joint proposal by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy for a financial transactions tax to help the eurozone economies — and after the multibillionaire Warren Buffett's New York Times article (August 14, 2011) calling for higher taxes on the "mollycoddled" super-rich so that they bear a share of the sacrifices others are making and also contribute to deficit reduction.
French trade unionists point out that merely reducing budget deficits will not encourage more economic activity. One of the letter's signatories calls the French plutocrats' idea "weak and insufficient"; and Mr. Buffett has been criticised for talking only about tax on his income, which forms a tiny part of his overall wealth of about $60 billion. Above all, neither the French super-rich nor Mr. Buffett and his critics analyse the reasons for the current economic crises. That critique is now coming from various British Conservatives who conclude that the so-called free market is a "corporatist racket for the few"; it is free only for the very rich, who can move their money around at will. In addition, the "feral rich" — bankers, business tycoons who exploit lax regulation and offshore tax havens, and expense-fiddling politicians — are all part of a wider problem, which the commentator Peter Oborne calls moral decay. The debate is significant and will continue but notable absentees from it are the centre-left parties that have in the past revived economies and ensured a decent life for hundreds of millions by protecting them from the worst effects of unrestrained markets. They must enter the fray if they are to stay relevant.
ASTRONAUTS MAY HAVE TO ABANDON SPACE STATION
Astronauts will abandon the International Space Station (ISS), probably in mid-November, if rocket engine problems that doomed a Russian cargo ship last week are not diagnosed and fixed.
Even if unoccupied, the space station can be operated by controllers on the ground indefinitely and would not be in immediate danger of falling out of orbit.
Three Russian astronauts, two Americans and a Japanese are living on the space station.
'What's safest for crew'
"We're going to do what's the safest for the crew and for the space station, which is a very big investment of our governments," said Michael T. Suffredini, manager of the space station programme for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), during a news conference on Monday, August 29. "Our job is, as stewards of the government, to protect that investment, and that's exactly what we're going to do."
The $100 billion station has been continuously occupied for over a decade.
Last Wednesday, an unmanned Russian cargo ship known as the Progress, which was carrying three tons of supplies to the space station, crashed in Siberia. Telemetry from the rocket indicated that a drop of fuel pressure led its computer to shut down the third-stage engine prematurely five-and-a-half minutes into flight.
The Soyuz rocket that lifts the Progress is similar to the Soyuz rocket that takes astronauts to the station, and officials want to make sure they understand what failed on last week's launching and are confident it will not occur again.
Two unmanned launchings of Soyuz rockets are likely to occur before the next set of three crew members head to the space station. That launching had been scheduled for September 21.
The loss of the Progress is of little immediate impact. One of the Russian astronauts is running short of clothes and might have to borrow some from NASA, Mr. Suffredini said.
The current crew has plenty of supplies and could remain in space longer. What expires, however, is their return trip.
Two Soyuz capsules, each with seats for three passengers, are currently docked to the space station. But the capsules are certified to last only 200 days in orbit, because hydrogen peroxide for the spacecraft's thrusters degrades over time.
The return of the first capsule has been pushed back a week, to September 15, giving NASA and the Russian space agency more time to study their options. Delaying much more than that would run into a safety rule, that the capsules land during the day. The next opportunity would be in late October, beyond the 200-day limit.
The Russians could study whether the capsule's condition could allow a longer stay, but Mr. Suffredini questioned whether that would be wise.
"When you've already been handed one significant challenge, maybe you shouldn't put another one on top of it until you sort that one out," he said.
The other three crew members would return in the second Soyuz capsule in mid-November. If the problem with the Soyuz rocket had not been resolved, the station would then be empty.
Some experiments like the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle physics experiment installed last year, would continue operating without human oversight. But other research would get short shrift until the full crew of six returned to the station.
While all of the day-to-day operations can be handled remotely, mission controllers may not be able to handle emergencies that might endanger the space station. "There is a greater risk of losing the ISS when it's unmanned than if it were manned," Mr. Suffredini said. "The risk increase is not insignificant."
With the retirement of NASA's shuttles, the Soyuz rockets will be the only way for people to go to the space station for several years at least. The Soyuz, dating to the 1960s, has been a reliable workhorse for the Russian space programme. — © New York Times News Service
THE NEW GENERATION OF MICROBE HUNTERS
It was Tuesday evening, June 7. A frightening outbreak of food-borne bacteria was killing dozens of people in Germany and sickening hundreds. And the five doctors having dinner at Da Marco Cucina e Vino, a restaurant in Houston, could not stop talking about it.
What would they do if something like that happened in Houston? Suppose a patient came in, dying of a rapidly progressing infection of unknown origin? How could they figure out the cause and prevent an epidemic? They talked for hours, finally agreeing on a strategy.
That night one of the doctors, James M. Musser, chairman of pathology and genomic medicine at the Methodist Hospital System, heard from a worried resident. A patient had just died from what looked like inhalation anthrax. What should she do?
"I said, 'I know precisely what to do,'" Dr. Musser said. " 'We just spent three hours talking about it.'"
The questions were: Was it anthrax? If so, was it a genetically engineered bioterrorism strain, or a strain that normally lives in the soil? How dangerous was it?
And the answers, Dr. Musser realised, could come very quickly from newly available technology that would allow investigators to determine the entire genome sequence of the suspect micro-organism.
It is the start of a new age in microbiology, Dr. Musser and others say. And the sort of molecular epidemiology he and his colleagues wanted to do is only a small part of it. New methods of quickly sequencing entire microbial genomes are revolutionising the field.
The first bacterial genome was sequenced in 1995 — a triumph at the time, requiring 13 months of work. Today researchers can sequence the DNA that constitutes a micro-organism's genome in a few days or even, with the latest equipment, a day. (Analysing it takes a bit longer, though.) They can simultaneously get sequences of all the microbes on a tooth or in saliva or in a sample of sewage. And the cost has dropped to about $1,000 per genome, from more than $1 million.
In a recent review, Dr. David A. Relman, a professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at Stanford, wrote that researchers had published 1,554 complete bacterial genome sequences and were working on 4,800 more. They have sequences of 2,675 virus species, and within those species they have sequences for tens of thousands of strains — 40,000 strains of flu viruses, more than 300,000 strains of HIV, for example.
With rapid genome sequencing, "we are able to look at the master blueprint of a microbe," Dr. Relman said in a telephone interview. It is "like being given the operating manual for your car after you have been trying to trouble-shoot a problem with it for some time."
Dr. Matthew K. Waldor of Harvard Medical School said the new technology "is changing all aspects of microbiology — it's just transformative."
A real-world test
For Dr. Musser and his colleagues, the real-world test of what they could do came on that June evening.
The patient was a 39-year-old man who lived about 75 miles from Houston in a relatively rural area. He had been welding at home when, suddenly, he could not catch his breath. He began coughing up blood and vomiting. He had a headache and pain in his upper abdomen and chest.
In the emergency room, his blood pressure was dangerously low and his heart was beating fast. Doctors gave him an IV antibiotic and rushed him to Methodist Hospital in Houston. He arrived on Saturday night, June 4. Despite heroic efforts, he died two-and-a-half days later, on Tuesday morning. Now it was Tuesday night. On autopsy, the cause looked for all the world like anthrax, in the same unusual form — so-called inhalation anthrax — that terrified the nation in 2001. Even before the man died, researchers had been suspicious; washings from his lungs were teeming with the rod-shaped bacteria characteristic of anthrax. Investigators grew the bacteria in the lab, noticing that the colonies looked like piles of ground glass, typical of anthrax but also other Bacillus microbes.
"We knew we had to get this solved in a hurry," Dr. Musser said. "We had to know precisely what we were dealing with. That's when we put into play a plan to sequence the genome."
A few days later they had their answer. The bacteria were not anthrax, but were closely related. They were a different strain of Bacillus : cereus rather than anthracis .
The bacteria had many of the same toxin genes as anthrax bacteria but had only one of the four viruses that inhabit anthrax bacteria and contribute to their toxicity. And they lacked a miniature chromosome — a plasmid — found in anthrax bacteria that also carries toxin genes.
The conclusion was that the lethal bacteria were naturally occurring and, though closely related to anthrax, not usually as dangerous. So why did this man get so ill?
He was a welder, Dr. Musser noted, and welders are unusually susceptible to lung infections, perhaps because their lungs are chronically irritated by fine metal particles. So his fatal illness was most likely due to a confluence of events: welding, living in a rural area where the bacteria lived in the soil and happening to breathe in this toxin-containing species of bacteria.
Dr. Waldor and his colleagues asked a slightly different question when Haiti was swept by cholera after last year's earthquake. Cholera had not been seen in Haiti for more than a century. Why the sudden epidemic?
The scientists quickly sequenced the genome of the bacteria in Haiti and compared them with known cholera strains from around the world. It turned out that the Haitian strain was different from cholera bacteria in Latin America and Africa, but was identical to those in South Asia.
So the researchers concluded that the earthquake was indirectly responsible for the epidemic. Many relief workers who came to Haiti lived in South Asia, where cholera was endemic. "One or more of these individuals likely brought cholera to Haiti," Dr. Waldor said.
Charting disease maps
One of Dr. Waldor's collaborators in that study, Eric Schadt, wants to take the idea of molecular forensics one step further. Dr. Schadt, the chairman of genetics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and chief scientific officer of Pacific Biosciences, wants to make disease weather maps.
He began with pilot studies, first in his company's offices. For several months, the company analysed the genomes of microbes on surfaces, like desks and computers and handles on toilets. As the flu season began, the surfaces began containing more and more of the predominant flu strain until, at the height of the flu season, every surface had the flu viruses. The most contaminated surface? The control switches for projectors in the conference rooms. "Everybody touches them and they never get cleaned," Dr. Schadt said.
He also swabbed his own house and discovered, to his dismay, that his refrigerator handle was always contaminated with microbes that live on poultry and pork. The reason, he realised, is that people take meats out of the refrigerator, make sandwiches, and then open the refrigerator door to return the meat without washing their hands.
"I've been washing my hands a lot more now," Dr. Schadt said.
The most interesting pilot study, he says, was the analyses of sewage.
"If you want to cast as broad a net as possible, sewage is pretty great," Dr. Schadt said. "Everybody contributes to it every day."
To his surprise, he saw not only disease-causing microbes but also microbes that live in specific foods, like chicken or peppers or tomatoes.
"I said, 'Wow, this is like public health epidemiology,'" he said. "We could start assessing the dietary composition of a region and correlate it with health." — © New York Times News Service
IT IS A LONG JOURNEY AHEAD: KEJRIWAL
received the Magsaysay award in the Emergent leadership category in 2006. A mere five years later, he has far surpassed that milestone, winning acclaim and notice for the way he conceived and crafted Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement. He talks to Vidya Subrahmaniam about the Jan Lokpal campaign, what it accomplished and why it often became controversial.
The scale and spread of the Anna movement have baffled many. How did this happen?
A movement cannot be created out of nothing. In this case, anger against corruption was at the point of eruption. Then two things happened. One, instead of merely echoing the anger, the Jan Lokpal Bill (JLB) offered a solution. Second, Anna emerged as a credible leader at a time of huge leadership crisis in politics. See, people did not understand the details of the JBL. They simply saw it as a " dawai " [medicine] for corruption. It is the combination of a solution and a figure like Anna — who lived in a temple with no assets — that clicked.
When we conducted referendums on the JLB, we used to try and explain its contents to people. But they said they did not want to understand the details. They just wanted to put a mohar [stamp] on Anna.
How did you communicate your message to such a large number of people?
Technology played a key role in this. When in January this year, India Against Corruption (IAC) member Shivendra suggested to us that we use Facebook to publicise our rallies, I dismissed it saying Facebook has a limited, urban following. But Shivendra went ahead. We had planned a single rally on January 30 at the Ramlila Maidan. But because we connected on Facebook, we were able to conduct simultaneous rallies in 64 cities. SMS texting also played a critical role. Our SMS communication was designed very intelligently. A company in Mumbai suggested we ask for missed calls as a mark of solidarity. Missed calls cost nothing. In March, we sent out two crore SMS messages and got 50,000 missed calls. Then we targeted the 50,000 callers, asking if they would like to enrol as volunteers for IAC. Initially 13 people responded. We sent two more rounds of messages to the 50,000 callers. And in just one week, the number of volunteers swelled to 800.
Surely television played a disproportionate role in projecting the movement.
TV certainly helped, both when Anna sat on a fast at Jantar Mantar and then at Ramlila Maidan. But the media cannot create a moment. They can at best magnify it. The crowds at Ramlila and the crowds that followed him when he left for Medanta hospital were not manufactured.
There have been reports of dissensions within the Anna camp. Also that the deadlock was broken only because Congress/government negotiators spoke directly to Anna.
Anna appointed Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan and me to negotiate with the government. One day I was very tired and Kiran was also not around. So, Medha and Prashant went for the meeting. The next thing we hear [from the media] is that Kiran and I have been sidelined, that we are hardliners, and we are deliberately preventing Anna from breaking his fast. This was disinformation by the government.
You started with the maximalist position of "Jan Lokpal Bill by August 30 and any amendments only with Anna's permission." From that to accepting a "sense-of-the-house" resolution that was not voted upon — wasn't it a climbdown?
When we started on August 16, there was such an overwhelming response that we thought the government would agree to our demands. People wanted the JLB. After a few days we realised that there was a serious leadership crisis in the government — negotiators were constantly backing off. In the last three days of the fast, it happened four times. The Prime Minister made a conciliatory statement, Rahul Gandhi went off on a tangent. Salman Khurshid, Medha and Prashant sat together and drafted a resolution. Next day [August 27], at 1.30 p.m., Salman said no resolution. It became clear to us that what we wanted — Parliament voting on a resolution containing Anna's three demands — was not going to happen. Therefore we had to change our strategy.
Are you satisfied with the resolution that was adopted? It is not categorical and leaves escape clauses.
We are satisfied because it contains Anna's three demands. It will not be easy for the Standing Committee to renege on Parliament's commitment. We will be keenly watching the Committee's proceedings and the MPs also ought to know that they are on watch. I know, of course, that it is a long journey ahead.
Kiran Bedi told a TV channel that at one point when all seemed lost, a miracle happened: L.K. Advani called her and gave her his word that a solution will be reached by the following evening [August 27]. She also said that the Bharatiya Janata Party, which until then was ambiguous on the JLB, changed its stand and offered full support to Anna.
We met the leaders of the main political parties thrice and as part of this we also met Mr. Advani. However, we have been clear that no BJP leader or leader of any communal organisation will share the stage with us. This is the decision of our core committee. As for Kiran talking about Mr. Advani, please put that question to her.
So are you an apolitical movement?
No, we are political but we are concerned with people's politics. The movement will always remain outside of political parties and outside of electoral politics.
You will not float a political party?
No, never. We don't need to get into the system to fight it. We want to pressure the government and assert our rights as citizens. Everyone who has a dream need not get into politics.
Doubts have been raised about the credentials of those who have donated money to IAC. Sometime ago, a citizens' group from Hyderabad wrote to you saying it was shocked to see some very discredited names in your list of donors.
A number of people have contributed money to the Anna movement. There is complete transparency from our side. Our receipts and expenditure are transparent. But we have no mechanism to go into the antecedents of our donors. And donations are streaming in, making it impossible to keep track. If there is a glaring case, we will certainly investigate it. I know, for instance, that there has been talk of the Jindal group. But those who donated to IAC are from Sitaram Jindal, not the Jindal mining group.
Your entire fight is about transparency and accountability. One of your NGOs, Public Cause Research Foundation, received donations on behalf of IAC and issued receipts in its name. But until August 29, there was no mention of Anna or the donations on the PCRF website.
That is an oversight. We will immediately update the website and provide a link to IAC.
Another of your NGOs, Kabir, received grants from the Ford Foundation (FF). According to the FF, Kabir received $172,000 in 2005 and $197,000 in 2008. The FF also sanctioned an "in-principle" grant of $200,000 for 2011, which you have not accepted so far. Why does Kabir not mention the FF and these specific details on its website?
We did not give the specific details because we also got some other NRI contributions and these were clubbed together. I will make sure that the website gives the break-up.
Fears have been expressed about the form of mobilisation we saw over the last four months. There was anger and impatience and, some would say, coercion in your methods. During the Ram Rath yatra, too, the BJP said people were angry because the mandir had not been built for 40 years. Aren't you setting a worrying precedent?
The two situations are not comparable. One was communal and divisive and went against the grain of the Constitution. We are not asking for anything illegal. Our demands resonate with the people and our movement has been unifying, non-violent and entirely within rights given by the Constitution. What is wrong if people demand a strong law against corruption? What is wrong if they ask for the Jan Lokpal Bill?
Why did you ask for Parliamentary due process to be suspended? You didn't want the JLB to go to the Standing Committee.
The JLB was drafted after wide consultations; it underwent many revisions based on feedback. Where is this kind of discussion in the drafting of any sarkari Bill? The purpose of the Standing Committee is to take multiple views on board. But not all Bills reach the Standing Committee, and in 90 per cent of the cases, the government does not accept the Committee's recommendations. So why the fuss only for JLB which has been widely discussed and debated?
'We want to pressure the government and assert our rights as citizens.'
The barbarity and "unspeakable wrongness" of capital punishment — of "cutting a life short when it is in full tide" — has rarely been brought out as powerfully and as movingly as in George Orwell's 2000-word essay, "A Hanging." Published in 1931 in The Adelphi , a British literary magazine, this journalistic gem describes the execution of a criminal in Burma — where Eric Arthur Blair, which was Orwell's real name, served in the British Imperial Police between 1922 and 1927. The clinical tone of the narration of the forced march to the gallows serves as a perfect foil to the moral revulsion and horror that Orwell wanted his readers to experience. The Hindu publishes, with permission from the copyright holder, "A Hanging" as part of its editorial campaign for the abolition of capital punishment in India. This is in the context of the scheduled execution, now stayed, of three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and the impending execution of other convicts on death row — Editor-in-Chief .
It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages. Each cell measured about ten feet by ten and was quite bare within except for a plank bed and a pot of drinking water. In some of them brown silent men were squatting at the inner bars, with their blankets draped round them. These were the condemned men, due to be hanged within the next week or two.
One prisoner had been brought out of his cell. He was a Hindu, a puny wisp of a man, with a shaven head and vague liquid eyes. He had a thick, sprouting moustache, absurdly too big for his body, rather like the moustache of a comic man on the films. Six tall Indian warders were guarding him and getting him ready for the gallows. Two of them stood by with rifles and fixed bayonets, while the others handcuffed him, passed a chain through his handcuffs and fixed it to their belts, and lashed his arms tight to his sides. They crowded very close about him, with their hands always on him in a careful, caressing grip, as though all the while feeling him to make sure he was there. It was like men handling a fish which is still alive and may jump back into the water. But he stood quite unresisting, yielding his arms limply to the ropes, as though he hardly noticed what was happening.
Eight o'clock struck and a bugle call, desolately thin in the wet air, floated from the distant barracks. The superintendent of the jail, who was standing apart from the rest of us, moodily prodding the gravel with his stick, raised his head at the sound. He was an army doctor, with a grey toothbrush moustache and a gruff voice. 'For God's sake hurry up, Francis,' he said irritably. ' The man ought to have been dead by this time. Aren't you ready yet?'
Francis, the head jailer, a fat Dravidian in a white drill suit and gold spectacles, waved his black hand. 'Yes sir, yes sir,' he bubbled. 'All iss satisfactorily prepared. The hangman iss waiting. We shall proceed.'
'Well, quick march, then. The prisoners can't get their breakfast till this job's over.'
We set out for the gallows. Two warders marched on either side of the prisoner, with their rifles at the slope; two others marched close against him, gripping him by arm and shoulder, as though at once pushing and supporting him. The rest of us, magistrates and the like, followed behind. Suddenly, when we had gone ten yards, the procession stopped short without any order or warning. A dreadful thing had happened — a dog, come goodness knows whence, had appeared in the yard. It came bounding among us with a loud volley of barks, and leapt round us wagging its whole body, wild with glee at finding so many human beings together. It was a large woolly dog, half Airedale … For a moment it pranced round us, and then, before anyone could stop it, it had made a dash for the prisoner, and jumping up tried to lick his face. Everyone stood aghast, too taken aback even to grab at the dog.
'Who let that bloody brute in here?' said the superintendent angrily. 'Catch it, someone!'
A warder, detached from the escort, charged clumsily after the dog, but it danced and gambolled just out of his reach, taking everything as part of the game. A young Eurasian jailer picked up a handful of gravel and tried to stone the dog away, but it dodged the stones and came after us again. Its yaps echoed from the jail wails. The prisoner, in the grasp of the two warders, looked on incuriously, as though this was another formality of the hanging. It was several minutes before someone managed to catch the dog. Then we put my handkerchief through its collar and moved off once more, with the dog still straining and whimpering.
It was about forty yards to the gallows. I watched the bare brown back of the prisoner marching in front of me. He walked clumsily with his bound arms, but quite steadily, with that bobbing gait of the Indian who never straightens his knees. At each step his muscles slid neatly into place, the lock of hair on his scalp danced up and down, his feet printed themselves on the wet gravel. And once, in spite of the men who gripped him by each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on the path.
It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he was alive just as we were alive. All the organs of his body were working — bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing, tissues forming — all toiling away in solemn foolery. His nails would still be growing when he stood on the drop, when he was falling through the air with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel and the grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned — reasoned even about puddles. He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone — one mind less, one world less.
The gallows stood in a small yard, separate from the main grounds of the prison, and overgrown with tall prickly weeds. It was a brick erection like three sides of a shed, with planking on top, and above that two beams and a crossbar with the rope dangling. The hangman, a grey-haired convict in the white uniform of the prison, was waiting beside his machine. He greeted us with a servile crouch as we entered. At a word from Francis the two warders, gripping the prisoner more closely than ever, half led, half pushed him to the gallows and helped him clumsily up the ladder. Then the hangman climbed up and fixed the rope round the prisoner's neck.
We stood waiting, five yards away. The warders had formed in a rough circle round the gallows. And then, when the noose was fixed, the prisoner began crying out on his god. It was a high, reiterated cry of 'Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!', not urgent and fearful like a prayer or a cry for help, but steady, rhythmical, almost like the tolling of a bell. The dog answered the sound with a whine. The hangman, still standing on the gallows, produced a small cotton bag like a flour bag and drew it down over the prisoner's face. But the sound, muffled by the cloth, still persisted, over and over again: 'Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!'
The hangman climbed down and stood ready, holding the lever. Minutes seemed to pass. The steady, muffled crying from the prisoner went on and on, 'Ram! Ram! Ram!' never faltering for an instant. The superintendent, his head on his chest, was slowly poking the ground with his stick; perhaps he was counting the cries, allowing the prisoner a fixed number — fifty, perhaps, or a hundred. Everyone had changed colour. The Indians had gone grey like bad coffee, and one or two of the bayonets were wavering. We looked at the lashed, hooded man on the drop, and listened to his cries — each cry another second of life; the same thought was in all our minds: oh, kill him quickly, get it over, stop that abominable noise!
Suddenly the superintendent made up his mind. Throwing up his head he made a swift motion with his stick. 'Chalo!' he shouted almost fiercely.
There was a clanking noise, and then dead silence. The prisoner had vanished, and the rope was twisting on itself. I let go of the dog, and it galloped immediately to the back of the gallows; but when it got there it stopped short, barked, and then retreated into a corner of the yard, where it stood among the weeds, looking timorously out at us. We went round the gallows to inspect the prisoner's body. He was dangling with his toes pointed straight downwards, very slowly revolving, as dead as a stone.
The superintendent reached out with his stick and poked the bare body; it oscillated, slightly. ' He 's all right,' said the superintendent. He backed out from under the gallows, and blew out a deep breath. The moody look had gone out of his face quite suddenly. He glanced at his wrist-watch. 'Eight minutes past eight. Well, that's all for this morning, thank God.'
The warders unfixed bayonets and marched away. The dog, sobered and conscious of having misbehaved itself, slipped after them. We walked out of the gallows yard, past the condemned cells with their waiting prisoners, into the big central yard of the prison. The convicts, under the command of warders armed with lathis, were already receiving their breakfast. They squatted in long rows, each man holding a tin pannikin, while two warders with buckets marched round ladling out rice; it seemed quite a homely, jolly scene, after the hanging. An enormous relief had come upon us now that the job was done. One felt an impulse to sing, to break into a run, to snigger. All at once everyone began chattering gaily.
The Eurasian boy walking beside me nodded towards the way we had come, with a knowing smile: 'Do you know, sir, our friend (he meant the dead man), when he heard his appeal had been dismissed, he pissed on the floor of his cell. From fright. — Kindly take one of my cigarettes, sir. Do you not admire my new silver case, sir? From the boxwallah, two rupees eight annas. Classy European style.'
Several people laughed — at what, nobody seemed certain.
Francis was walking by the superintendent, talking garrulously. 'Well, sir, all hass passed off with the utmost satisfactoriness. It wass all finished — flick! like that. It iss not always so — oah, no! I have known cases where the doctor wass obliged to go beneath the gallows and pull the prisoner's legs to ensure decease. Most disagreeable!'
'Wriggling about, eh? That's bad,' said the superintendent.
'Ach, sir, it iss worse when they become refractory! One man, I recall, clung to the bars of hiss cage when we went to take him out. You will scarcely credit, sir, that it took six warders to dislodge him, three pulling at each leg. We reasoned with him. "My dear fellow," we said, "think of all the pain and trouble you are causing to us!" But no, he would not listen! Ach, he wass very troublesome!'
I found that I was laughing quite loudly. Everyone was laughing. Even the superintendent grinned in a tolerant way. 'You'd better all come out and have a drink,' he said quite genially. 'I've got a bottle of whisky in the car. We could do with it.'
We went through the big double gates of the prison, into the road. ' Pulling at his legs!' exclaimed a Burmese magistrate suddenly, and burst into a loud chuckling. We all began laughing again. At that moment Francis's anecdote seemed extraordinarily funny. We all had a drink together, native and European alike, quite amicably. The dead man was a hundred yards away.
1931 — © By permission of the Estate of the Late Sonia Brownell Orwell
THE ASIAN AGE
The architect of our Constitution, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, warned, "Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul but, in politics, bhakti or hero worship is a sure road to degeneration and eventual dictatorship." Jawaharlal Nehru, in an anonymous letter in the early Thirties published in the Modern Review, made a scathing criticism of himself. "Nehru has all the makings of a dictator, vast popularity, intolerance of others and his conceit is formidable. He must be checked. We want no Caesar." He laid a very sound foundation for democracy in India. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was not only the great integrator of the nation but also a great administrator with a vision.
At the time of Independence, there was a strong prejudice against ICS and IP officers. There was a demand to wind up these services. Patel realised that Independent India needed the steel frame developed during British rule to run the administration at that critical time. He not only did not allow these services to be wound up, but ensured that they retained all their privileges. These officers served the new regime loyally. Their successor services, the IAS and IPS, were given reduced salaries, conforming to the government's socialistic policy of reducing the gap between the higher and lower government servants. He wanted civil servants to give frank advice, even when it was contrary to the views of their political bosses. Once the latter took a decision, orders had to be implemented faithfully.
Nehru was a great democrat. He decried obsequious behaviour to the extent that he once struck a person trying to touch his feet. He was considered infallible on foreign policy. People were too overawed to present any contrary view before him and this led to the debacle of 1962. The Army leadership of that time must share considerable blame for that disaster. It should have strongly advised him against his defence policy in the Himalayas and, if overruled, should have resigned. Napoleon wrote, "Every General-in-Chief who executes a plan which he finds bad is guilty. He should represent and insist that the plan be changed. If he is unable to do so, he must resign rather than be an instrument for the ruin of his troops."
Indira Gandhi's handling of the 1971 war was superb but her home policies were terribly flawed. Her advocacy of a committed judiciary and committed bureaucracy struck at the root of democracy. After some hiccups, the judiciary managed to regain its independence, but the bureaucracy lost its neutrality. Her statement about corruption being a global phenomenon implied permissiveness. She destroyed democracy during the Black Emergency. I was the head of Military Intelligence at that time and a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee with my counterparts in civil intelligence agencies. Civil intelligence assessments praised the Emergency as leading to improved government functioning, a better law and order situation, trains running on time, etc. There was also praise for the leadership and popularity of the then heir apparent. My contribution was confined to military matters and the apolitical stance of the Army. This was important at that time in view of the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family in Dhaka. I was amazed to see how the bureaucracy had lost its spine. Sycophancy was rampant. No wonder intelligence assessments misled Indira Gandhi to go for elections. She and her party were routed in 1977.
I had seen the British administration in India from close quarters. My first few years of service were in the British Indian Army. Although corruption existed at the lower levels, the higher echelons were completely corruption-free. Sycophancy was almost non-existent. An officer could serve with more dignity and self-respect during the British regime than during the Emergency and after. There were, of course, exceptions. Appu, director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy, expelled an IAS probationer for grave misconduct with a lady colleague. The probationer had political pull and got himself reinstated. Appu resigned in protest. Venkateswaran resigned immediately as foreign secretary when Rajiv Gandhi announced at a press conference that there would be a new foreign secretary. I quote, in all humility, my own experience. As
C-in-C Western Army, I was asked by the Punjab government to send tanks to Mehta Chowk Gurdwara to arrest Bhindranwale and his 40 armed men in the Gurdwara. I declined and urged the then chief minister, Darbara Singh, to use his armed police or the CRP as the Army had no powers of arrest. Two days later, I received the Prime Minister's orders to apprehend Bhindranwale and report completion by next morning. I represented that my troops were 30 miles from Mehta Chowk. Carrying out the operation that night, without daylight reconnaissance, may result in indiscriminate firing and heavy casualties. I again urged that the task be carried out by the police and paramilitary but, if the Army had to do so, we would do it the following night after due preparation. Indira Gandhi accepted my recommendation and revised her order.
Starting from Anna Hazare's April fast at Jantar Mantar till a day before he broke his fast, the government blundered hopelessly. One does not know what intelligence assessments and advice the bureaucracy gave the government. Perhaps the government was misled, as Indira Gandhi was during the Emergency. It was pathetic to see the party of Nehru and Shastri passing the buck to the Delhi police commissioner. Matters have been resolved for the present, but we must learn from past mistakes. A first step towards the fight against corruption has been taken. We must also start working on eliminating sycophancy. There should be a three-year cooling period, as in the US, before any assignment for a retired official.
The ancient Oracle of Delphi was asked what could destroy Sparta. The reply was, luxury. Today, in India's context, the reply would be corruption and sycophancy.
S.K. Sinha, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and J&K
THE ASIAN AGE
MPS SHOULD RISE ABOVE PETTINESS
If reports are true that some Congress MPs are looking for a conspiracy theory to explain the party's initial wooden reaction in dealing with the Anna Hazare movement, then we can be sure the ruling party is about to shoot itself in the foot. Apparently, it is being sought to be suggested that a section of the party wished to deliberately undermine the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and (in party president Sonia Gandhi's absence) Rahul Gandhi. This is why Mr Hazare was despatched to Tihar jail under a carefully plotted ploy to give the Congress a bad name. Such humbug has not been heard for a long time, and is quite clearly a barely disguised effort to curry favour with the young Mr Gandhi.
If Congress leaders have any sense, they would steer clear of sycophants. Instead of scrutinising intra-party factions to spot lurking conspirators, the ruling party would do well to try to improve its stock in the eyes of the people through smart moves in Parliament. While the Lokpal Bill would go through the normal process, and is currently at the standing committee stage, nothing stops the Congress-led UPA from advertising its intention to attack corruption and misgovernance in other ways. The government has done well to make its intention known to bring suitable changes to the government's procurement polices where expenditures can run to nearly a fifth of the country's GDP. In the same way, the Manmohan Singh government can take the public into confidence on the state of play regarding other proposed legislative measures being talked about in the change in atmospherics being wrought by Mr Hazare. These include the Whistleblowers Bill and the Public Grievances Redress Bill. These were put into the pipeline about a year ago, but have not been really heard of since. A part of the reason is that Opposition parties have been stalling Parliament since the Winter Session last year. In effect, three sessions have been lost to politics-related disruptions, and less than 10 days remain of the current Monsoon Session.
This time should be sought to be used well, particularly by the ruling party. It would be a great pity if Parliament gave the impression of being preoccupied with pettiness. Alas, this is the sense conveyed by the outstandingly silly move by some MPs to have issued a notice of breach of privilege against Bollywood actor Om Puri and former police officer and Anna Hazare acolyte Kiran Bedi for their forgettable remarks against the political class. Parliament just rose to the occasion in accommodating Mr Hazare. For this it was admired. Let it not spoil the effect.
President and Patron NC Minority Cell and MLC recently spoke to a group of his admirers. He pontificated that the PM's employment package announced in early 2008 on the occasion of inauguration of Akhnoor Bridge was a "trend setter" for the return of the Pandits to their homes and hearths in the Valley. He ridiculed those whom he thought were not happy with the package. He is of opinion that "employment of 800 "migrants" will open the gate for permanent return of displaced Pandits to their homes and hearths in Valley by bringing the members of majority and minority community together."
This is an interesting as well as amusing piece of news since it is a rare occasion for the official president and patron of NC Minority Cell to come out with his cryptic comment focused more on pleasing his party patriarchs than on the Cell he presides over. He is the President of NC Minority Cell. Does the constitution of the State, drafted, debated and passed by party majority to which he belongs, recognize any "minority" in the state? None, and much less a religious minority. There is not a single clause, a single sentence and a single phrase in the entire State Constitution in which anything is said about a minority, its definition, its criterion and its rights. Same is true about the historical speech of NC stalwart Sheikh Mohd Abdullah made in the LA when the constitution was passed. What the constitution repeatedly speaks about is "deprived people" and not "deprived groups". The UN Human Rights Charter has struggled to lay down clear definition of a minority but without much success. That is the reason why it constituted the Working Group on Minorities which has been regularly updating the definition of a minority community. It is in one of its formal exercises that the Working Group included a new clause of definition as "reverse minority" and added "like Kashmiri Pandits" by way of elucidation. This stands formally documented with the UN Human Rights Commission. Therefore, before bolstering somebody as the "President and Patron of a Minority Cell", it is logical that first the construct of the "minority" has to be recognized in fall its dimensions. This leads us to the exchange of views and correspondence between the activists of minority-concept for the State including the Pandits, and the National Minority Commission on the issue of the Union Government granting recognition to the Pandits as a "minority" community. Despite strong recommendation, verbal as well as written by the National Minority Commission to the Union Home Ministry and the then Chief Minster of the State, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, no action has been taken. The President of NC Minority Cell is something like a monarch without an inch of territory. It was strongly emphasized that in the light of Article 370 of the Constitution giving special status to J&K, recognition of religious, ethnic, linguistic and other minorities in the State was a logical conclusion and should not have been delayed. This never happened, and yet a gratuitous appellation has been charitied to an ex-bureaucrat to compensate him for denying him a berth on the bandwagon of power. A ruling party loath to allow a seat in the Cabinet to the "President and Patron of its Minority Cell" can hardly claim to be dealing the religious minority with even-handed justice.
The second amusing part of "Patron's" pontification is that according to him giving employment to under 800 persons in Class III-IV category and posting them through a forced agreement aginst their free will in remote rural areas of a state that is rife with active terrorism and rabid fanaticism will "open the gate for permanent return of displaced Pandits to their homes and hearths in Valley by bringing the members of majority and minority community together." Did PM's employment package stipulate a forced undertaking and never to ask for transfer? Did the package envisage easing their suffering or making them a prisoner? In a State where the Chief Minister rides a five kilometer distance from his residence to the SKICC (Centaur) in a helicopter avoiding road transport for security reasons, explains more than what one may say on the security scenario in the summer capital. The Patron of the Cell being a bureaucrat and not a politician by profession is unable to look at situations in historical perspective. An astute politician in his place would never link the return of the displaced persons to the lower jobs offered to the destitute in exile; he would link it to the goodwill of the majority community. And the majority community at the moment is already showing its annoyance at the government employing 800 displaced persons, forgetting that during past two decades no fewer than 8 lakh jobs of all ranks have been filled in the Valley according to public statements of the ruling party Ministers. The question is not return and rehabilitation of the displaced persons; the real question is the yawning gap between the percept and practice in a secular state. The President of the NC Minority Cell should have opened this important subject for most serious public debate through the aegis of his office, the relevant platform for such a debate. We want him to ride the horse and not keep cleaning the stable.
The nation proudly remembers the great hockey wizard Major Dhyan Chand by celebrating the National Sports Day dedicated to him. Jammu, with a glorious tradition of sports, has not lagged behind. It is satisfying that the Minister for Youth Services and Sports is deeply interested in promoting sports culture and potential of games in the state by providing upgraded sports infrastructure, environment and incentives. Some awards have been installed but much more needs to be done to encourage State sports lovers. Sports potential among our youth has to be explored and exploited so that Jammu and Kashmir also comes up on the sports map of the country. Sports infrastructure is a comprehensive management and this has to be undertaken in phased manner. Stadiums, playing grounds, formation of sports teams on tehsil and district level, regular competitions and sports jamborees are the pre-requisites. Sports culture has to be inculcated among the youth. Special hostels for the sportspersons need to be built at district lever and maintained properly. Funding for district level sports organizations is also of much importance to giving a boot to our sports arrangements.
BY SRINIVASAN K. RANGACHARY
The victory has not been of Anna Hazare or his "team" but of the people of India. The support they extended to the fasting Gandhian, the resolve with which they staged demonstrations and shared the long days and nights with him, their anger, their disgust, their frustration all together had an impact by making the government of India accountable, and Parliament humble.
These columns have recorded, at some length, the politics and the situation in the country over these trying days. Team Anna has managed affairs cleverly and with a sense of responsibility for Anna Hazare who clearly motivated the young, the old, the poor and the middle class into coming out in full support. The crowds at Ramlila were poor, illiterate, rickshawwallas, auto drivers and of course the youth who have embraced the ageing Hazare as their icon. Gandhi saw a revival on the streets of India, as the honesty and courage associated with him was transferred in part to Anna Hazare who was given the peoples mandate to lead their struggle against corruption.
The days saw the government obfuscating vacillating, and eventually crawling.
Of course there was in the midst of all this the strange sight of scion Rahul Gandhi making a speech during zero hour that is reserved usually for mention of important issues by agitating members, where he read out from a written text, and completely contradicted an earlier statement by his own Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Rahul Gandhi's was a hard speech, ruling out the space for dissent, and asserting the supremacy of those in power in all matters of policy.
The rest was just meaningless rhetoric, part of the general cacophony.
One point stands out during this entire debate. And that is the interpretation of the Indian Constitution where the Congress and its allies insisted in and outside Parliament about the supremacy of Parliament, while many other political parties as well as the people were adamant about the supremacy of the people. The truth is in between, as both sides- the elected representatives in Parliament and the people at large- have to follow a bordering line to ensure that the one does not become authoritarian and non- democratic and the other anarchic by crossing this boundary. The Anna Hazare movement did keep well within these limits, controlling the support and yet keeping sufficient pressure on the government to ensure that it listened to the voice of the people. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the Congress in the stages between the two protest phases, and just after. A certain authoritarianism and intolerance was evident in the smear campaign launched against Anna Hazare and his team members, and in the virtual rejection of their demands. Various charges were hurled with them even during the last few days some of these being: 1) The Anna team fascist and they control him. Hardly are they all people who have worked well with others for years now, and are well known. Arvind Kejriwal for instance, was part of Aruna Roy's team until he left and is certainly not bigger or for that matter smaller, than those heading other NGOs. These are people with a passionate belief in their fight against corruption and have been taking up the issue for years in some form or the other. Besides, anyone who knows Anna Hazare knows also that he is stubborn, and certainly not pliable. Of course there are weak links, and glitches that showed up in these pressure packed days, such as the strange undignified act by the former Police Commissioner Kiran Bedi on the stage. 2) They are bypassing Parliament.
Not at all. They are asking Parliament to do its duty, and pass an effective and not a useless piece of legislation. Hazare and his men are not passing the Bill, they want a strong and effective Bill and want definitive assurances from the government that this is what will be done. This assurance has still not been forthcoming as the government is looking for a way to salvage the situation without conceding an inch.
3) His is just a middle class movement.
This would have been relevant years ago when the middle class was not particularly large in this country. Now it is huge and certainly not irrelevant and has to be recognised as such. Besides the poor too are attaching themselves to the movement in a big way. A visit to Ramlila grounds showed the crowd to be rickshawallas, auto drivers, workers, farmers and of course the youth.
4) Anna Hazare and his team cannot get themselves elected. That is not their purpose. They do not want to become politicians; they want to pressure politicians and the system into cleansing itself.
The movement is focusing on corruption, the face of the movement is Anna Hazare but the other issues that have been raised as a consequence are also centre stage and extremely important- peoples empowerment, rights, justice, democratic space and accountability.
The right to protest is guaranteed to the people and the words emerging from Congress lips really seek to make a mockery of people's participation in determining their present and future.
So at the end of it all what has Anna Hazare achieved? Accountability and democratic space. The Jan Lokpal Bill might not be the panacea as many in the Movement against Corruption are hoping, but it will certainly create heart burn and if headed by a good individual and team could make a difference to the rampant corruption that has taken over this nation. But in being able to get their way, the people have been empowered. This will go a long way in sustaining other crucial movements like those against land acquisition, and will give the strength to the people to ask for their rights. The democratic space that had been vastly reduced by the UPA government has expanded again, and this in itself is a major contribution for people's rights.
The people are supreme in this country, under the Indian Constitution so one fails to understand why this "Parliament is supreme" cry by the Congress and parties like the RJD is all about.
Parliament is supreme in legislating and Anna Hazare certainly was not trying to take away this power. He only wanted the government to acknowledge that its Lokpal Bill was a weak and ineffective piece of legislation, and to ensure that a stronger, more effective Bill was accepted and introduced in Parliament. And of course, passed.
What are people supposed to do when Parliament and the government stop listening to them? And when everything they say falls on deaf ears? The support that Hazare got clearly demonstrates the anger of the people over this indifference and neglect, and perhaps the Congress will think several times before it turns away from the janata at large. Interestingly, the Congress apologists in the media and civil society have been working hard to puncture the Anna Hazare movement, but eventually have been isolated by the very government they sought to protect, as eventually it walked over to the other side. (INAV)
BY B K CHUM
Call it its habitual double-speak or helplessness, Pakistan's role in encouraging militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is again back in media headlines. Ironically, this is happening amidst stepped-up efforts by India and Pakistan to normalize their relations. Pakistan's youthful Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar during her last week's China visit said that "India and Pakistan should learn to live with each other". She also repeated in her August 24 Beijing statement her country's resolve not to allow its territory to be used for terror activities.
But the latest reports from Jammu and Kashmir show that Pakistan continues to allow the militants to use its territory to infiltrate into Jammu and Kashmir for escalating the almost "under-control" terror violence. During her last week's China visit Khar also had to face the Chinese charge that the militants of the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement who carried out attacks in Kashghar in the country's Xinjiang province, were trained at Pakistani-based terror camps.
What has been happening in Jammu and Kashmir for the past fortnight exposes Pakistan's double-speak about training and helping the militants for infiltration in the state.
Indian Intelligence and the Army have been reporting large number of militants trained at the PoK-based training camps concentrating across the Line of Control for infiltrating into the state. This has been borne out by the rising number of encounters between the Army and groups of armed militants attempting to cross into Jammu and Kashmir. These attempts were preceded by over half a dozen ceasefire violations by the Pakistan Army. Past experience shows that Pakistan Army resorts to ceasefire violations during summer to provide cover to militants to cross the LoC. In one of the last week's major encounters, twelve of the heavily armed large militants group were killed by the Army.
The truth about Pakistan's earlier assurances -the first given to India by the country's former military dictator Pervez Musharraf in 1996- that it would not allow its territory to be used for terror activities in other countries was exposed by the self-exiled dictator's own admission two years ago in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel that "Pakistan had trained underground militant groups to fight in Kashmir".
The Pakistani authorities repeated declarations of not permitting its soil to be used by the militants against other countries have proved to be hypocritical by the continued terror strikes -the 26/11 Mumbai attack being the last big strike- against India by the ISI-trained militants. Pakistan first denied that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack were its citizens. But later it had to admit that they were. Under global pressure Pakistan was forced to initiate action against them.
Leave aside the long history of India and Pakistan's ruptured relationship, Pakistan has lately been under attack from its closest allies USA and China. It is the continuous sponsoring of terror violence in the foreign lands by Pakistan's still all-powerful Army and its ISI which are mainly responsible for Pakistan's growing global isolation. Even a US top General recently held Pakistan responsible for the deteriorating ties between the two countries mainly because of the ISI's encouragement of the terrorists, as revealed by the ISI agent Ghulam Nabi Fai's arrest by the FBI.
Pakistan agencies have been sponsoring terror attacks not only in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India, they are also now ordering killing of some Kashmiri separatists and religious leaders. The latest instance is the assassination of Moulvi Showkat Shah, former head of the pro-separatist socio-religious group Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadees. He was killed in a bomb attack while he was entering the mosque for Friday prayers on April 8 last. First blaming the Army for his assassination, the Lashkar-e-Toiba carried out an internal investigation into the cleric's killing. The Lashkar's report released on August 25 by an All-party Probe Committee comprising all the separatist bodies said that one of its own members murdered Shah following instructions from "Pakistani handlers".
Pakistan's role in promoting terrorism in other countries has already boomeranged as the country itself has now become a victim of escalating terror violence of which its commercial capital Karachi has become a major target after the north-western tribal region.
Pakistan is reaping what its successive governments had sown. In the 1980s, the ISI and CIA trained and armed Talibans to fight the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. After Soviets ouster, Pakistan, in collaboration with the US, propped up the Talibans to form government in the country. But after the US Army ousted the Taliban regime in the wake of 9/11 US attacks, the Jihadis, indoctrinated by Pakistan's religious fanatics, made Pakistan their target. While Taliban militants from Afghanistan are launching cross border raids to kill Pakistan's security men, the country's own home grown Taliban whose terror attacks have been on the rise now threaten Pakistan's survival as an independent entity. By sponsoring terror attacks first in India and then in Afghanistan, Pakistani rulers forgot they were riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.
Pakistan seems to have now realized its folly of nursing and sponsoring terror in other countries. It is this realisation that is apparently behind its seemingly keen desire to seek peace with India as reflected in the country's Foreign Minister Khar's conciliatory utterances during her recent visit to India. (IPA)
BY HARJEET SINGH
Two centuries after the abolition of slavery we are seeing the reintroduction of an abominable practice: human trafficking. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 12.3 million people each year are taken captive by networks tied to international crime and used as forced labour in inhuman conditions.
In the case of women, the victims are subjected mostly to sexual exploitation while others are exploited as domestic servants. There is also the case of youths who are taken captive through various scams so their body parts can be sold in the international human organ trade.
These practices are expanding more and more to satisfy the demand for cheap labour in sectors like the hotel and restaurant industries, agriculture, and construction. The OSCE dedicated two days of its last international conference in Vienna in late June to this subject.
Though the phenomenon is international, various specialists asserted that the plague of slave labour is growing rapidly in the EU. Unions and labour groups estimate that in Europe there are hundreds of thousands of workers subjected to the blight of slavery.
In Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK, and other countries of the EU, foreign migrant workers attracted by the mirage of Europe find themselves trapped in the networks of various mafias and working in conditions like slaves of past ages.
An ILO report reveals that south of Naples, for example, 1200 homeless farm labourers work twelve hours per day in greenhouses without contracts and for miserable pay, guarded by private militias and living in what resemble concentration camps.
This "work camp" is not the only one in Europe; thousands and thousands of undocumented immigrants have met similar fates, victims of a modern slave trade flourishing in any number of European countries.
Responsibility for this expansion of human trafficking lies largely with the current dominant economic model. In effect, the form of neo-liberal globalisation than has been imposed over the last three decades through economic shock therapy has devastated the most fragile levels of society and imposed extremely high social costs. It has created a fierce competition between labour and capital.
In the name of free trade, the major multinationals manufacture and sell their goods around the world, producing where labour is cheapest and selling where the cost of living is highest. The new capitalism has made competitiveness its primary engine and brought about a commodification of labour and labourers.
Globalisation, which offers remarkable opportunities to a lucky few, imposes on the rest, in Europe, a ruthless and unmediated competition between EU salary workers, small businesses, small farmers and their badly-paid, exploited counterparts on the other side. The result we now see clearly before us: social dumping on a planetary scale.
For employment the result is disastrous. For example, in France in the last twenty years this phenomenon has caused the elimination of more than two million jobs in the industrial sector alone.
In Europe where there is a chronic shortage of labour tend to use undocumented workers, which in turn fuels the trafficking of more workers by clandestine networks that in many cases force them into slave labour.
Despite the many tools of international law available to combat these crimes, and despite the proliferation of public statements by government officials condemning them, the public will to put an end to the practice is weak. In reality, the management of industry and construction and major agricultural exporters exert constant pressure on governments to turn a blind eye to the trafficking of undocumented workers.
Today's human traffickers are not the only ones exploiting slave labour: now a form of 'legal servitude' is being developed. Last February in Italy Fiat served its workers with the following extortionate ultimatum: either agree to work more, for less money or the company will shift operations to Eastern Europe. Faced with the prospect of being fired and terrorised by the conditions 63 per cent of the Fiat workers voted for their own exploitation.
In Europe many employers, taking advantage of the crisis and brutal fiscal adjustment policies being imposed, are trying to establish similar forms of 'legal servitude.' Thanks to the tools made available by neo-liberal globalisation, they threaten their workers with savage competition from cheap labour in distant countries. If we are to avoid this form of corrosive social regression, we will have to begin to question the current workings of globalisation - and begin the process of deglobalisation. (INAV)
CHANGING THE GOAL POSTS
ARMY CHIEF'S AGE PLEA LACKS GRACE
Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh has filed a statutory complaint to the Defence Minister seeking re-examination of his earlier application for a correction in his year of birth. General Singh had filed his earlier plea after seeking legal opinion, including from three retired Chief Justices of the Supreme Court. His recent complaint follows after the Ministry of Defence rejected his earlier plea.
It is regrettable that a Service chief has filed such a statutory complaint to the Defence minister after assuming the top post of Chief of Army Staff. It is for the first time in the country's post-Independence history that a service chief has sought a change of such a nature based on a birth certificate that shows him a year younger to what he had entered in his recruitment form over four decades ago. The claim, if acceded to by the government, will permit him to serve for an additional nine months. The Army chief's age claim issue is not about facts as much as it is about propriety. General Singh, who claims that he was born in 1951 as recorded in his birth certificate instead of 1950 as was entered in his records at the time of recruitment, has officially sought a correction only after being appointed to the top post. Considering that he earned all his promotions and eventual appointment as Army chief on the basis of 1950 as his year of birth, it is questionable whether he is being ethical in demanding that he be permitted to retire on the basis of an altogether different year of birth.
It is unfortunate that the institution of Army chief has been dragged into public focus. Both General Singh and the Ministry of Defence could have handled the issue more discreetly. The Defence Minister should have handled the issue with tact and gently persuaded the Army chief to drop the matter while General Singh, on his part, could have been graceful and let the matter be. That way, the honour and dignity of the office of the Army Chief would have been preserved.
HP TAKES ON CORRUPTION
BILL TO SEIZE PROPERTY OF THE CORRUPT
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal on Monday introduced a Bill, which, if passed into law, would act as a major deterrent to civil servants who indulge in corrupt practices and amass property. Under the Bill if a civil servant is convicted by a special court, the government would confiscate his/her property and use it for public purpose.
The existing Prevention of Corruption Act and the Lokayukta Act do not permit this. Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have already passed similar laws and their experience can be fruitful for Himachal. The Supreme Court has removed many hurdles by upholding the Bihar law. The proposed Lokpal law at the Centre also targets corrupt civil servants in states and a clash or overlapping will have to be avoided.
Fighting corruption will never be easy in this country. The permission required to proceed against a civil servant is usually not granted, especially if the suspect is loyal to ruling politicians. The bureaucracy stands as one to protect its members in trouble. Politicians and bureaucrats cover up each others' illegalities. The smart ones do not buy property in their own name and it is difficult to link benami property with the real owner. It is not yet clear whether the term "civil servant" in the Himachal Bill includes a minister or a politician occupying an official position. The Bihar Act applies to politicians as well.
The Himachal Bill does try to deal with judicial delays. It calls for the setting up of special courts. The trial will have to be completed within a year. All this is commendable but would test the judicial system built on dilatory and cumbersome procedures, adjournments and appeals. Judges too can be pliable. Besides, politicians and bureaucrats can make any law ineffective no matter how foolproof it seemingly is. Political will and public pressure — as witnessed in team Anna's recent campaign for a strong Lokpal — are therefore important in the eradication of corruption.
POLICE IS NOT MEANT TO SPY ON OPPOSITION
Reports that the Punjab Police is gathering intelligence inputs on the political opponents of the ruling alliance in the run-up to the SGPC and Assembly elections are highly disturbing. It is one thing for the intelligence wing of the police to maintain a vigil to pre-empt violence or booth capturing during the elections but quite another to keep a tab on the opponents.
Inquiries show that information is being collected on the likely candidates for the 117 Assembly constituencies and efforts are on to identify political rivals who can be possibly won over and to gauge their strengths and weaknesses and the means to win them over. This is nothing other than pure and simple spying on them.
The reports are bound to be denied by the official agencies but that does not mean such snooping is not taking place. The fact of the matter is that almost all governments indulge in such cloak and dagger activities. It is just that some do it in a brazen manner. In keeping with the times, the age-old method of compiling hard copies of reports gathered from its "agents" in different towns and areas has given way to using the e-mail service for gathering such inputs.
Whatever the extent, the activity is totally illegal and unethical. Under the rules, the police cannot work in tandem with its political bosses for furthering its interests in the elections by providing them with intelligence inputs. Taxpayers do not pay policemen's salaries to make them handmaidens of the party in power. It not only presents the police in a bad light but also shakes the public confidence in its neutrality and uprightness. The Election Commission should look into the matter seriously and urgently so that no ruling party can enjoy such undue advantage.
SEIZE THE ANNA MOMENT
PARLIAMENT AND PEOPLE SHOULD COOPERATE
BY INDER MALHOTRA
NOW that the Anna storm is over, and has ended on a constructive note with Parliament unanimously "endorsing in principle" the three demands of Mr. Hazare's movement in relation to the Lokpal Bill, it is time to seize the moment and go ahead speedily and sincerely with what needs to be done.
In the first place, it is immaterial whether or not the most maladroit Congress-led government technically withdraws its Lokpal Bill, now before the standing committee. The wide world knows that it is not worth the paper it is printed on. Even at the height of the agitation when the powers-that-be were trying to crush it, several Congress MPs stood up and stated that the official legislation was "weak" and "inadequate". More importantly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh eventually committed himself to having a "strong and effective" Bill. This solemn promise has to be made good urgently and quickly enough, say, in the winter session of Parliament.
It would be catastrophic if the law on Lokpal becomes yet another victim of dilatory, even deceitful tricks almost every government in recent decades has specialised in. One hopes that the core of the ruling coalition, indeed the whole of the political class, has at long last learnt how intense is the people's anger against unending and ever-mounting corruption. To ignore this reality could invite an even bigger upsurge than the nationwide protest we have witnessed.
Secondly, and this is a crucial point on which both Dr. Singh and Mr. Hazare are agreed, the Lokpal Bill alone will never be enough to combat corruption that seems to have become something like leukemia, the cancer of the bloodstream. Just look at the cases of brazen graft that were exposed during the massive revulsion against this scourge. These ranged from the arrest of a commissioner of income tax in Mumbai to the chilling case of a poor patient at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences whose surgery was delayed by a year because he could not pay a bribe of Rs. 10,000 to get the "clearance" for the release of funds for it.
Everyone agrees that a lot of harsh measures will have to be taken. The question is: why haven't at least those that have been on the anvil for long have not been taken yet? To cite only one of numerous instances, a succession of Chief Election Commissioners — most recently S.Y. Quraishi — have urged the government to amend the Representation of People Act to debar from elections those against whom law courts, not prosecuting authorities, have framed criminal charges of a serious nature, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, most dubious and tainted men have not only sat in Parliament but also adorned the council of ministers of both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr. Singh. It is also curious that both these governments have been wedded to the pernicious "single-point directive" under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Under it, the Central Bureau of Investigation cannot start investigations against any officer of the rank of Joint Secretary and above without the government's permission. Ironically, at the height of the Anna agitation the CBI's 327 requests for permission under the single-point directive were pending before the government for long!
My third important point is that one good thing has come out of the recent convulsions. After many a summer, Parliament and the people appear to be on the same page. For more years than one can count, people in this country have been denouncing all politicians and even Parliament. "Sab chor hain (all are thieves) is the general cry. From the stage at Ramlila Ground actor Om Puri gave an ugly demonstration of the educated middle-class view of MPs. Even worse was the performance of the former police officer and a member of Team Anna, Kiran Bedi. Both are being hauled up for a "breach of privilege" of Parliament. Mr. Puri has apologised at least for some of his objectionable remarks; Ms. Bedi remains defiant.
Even Mr. Hazare had earlier taken the totally unacceptable stand that Parliament must pass only his Jan Lokpal Bill, and not any other version of it. But later he abandoned his obduracy and showed flexibility. Without actually saying so, he evidently realised that Parliament's "dignity" and "authority" has to be respected, a point all sections of parliamentarians emphasised with varying degrees of emphasis, tinged sometimes with caste sentiment. On their part, both Houses of Parliament also realised that people's voice must not be brushed aside with a flippant wave of hand.
This said, one must add that the hugely widespread notion that Parliament is "supreme" is absolutely inaccurate. The concept of Parliament's supremacy is confined only to Britain because it grew out of British Parliament's bitter struggle with the monarch, and that country has never had a written constitution. In this country the Constitution is supreme, not Parliament or any other institution. The Supreme Court has thrown out more parliamentary laws than one can keep count of.
Of course, Parliament is sovereign. No one is allowed to trifle with it or its authority. The other side of the coin is that Parliament must also be receptive to what the people want. An extra-parliamentary agitation as long as it is peaceful is a fundamental right of all citizens. Some smart Alecs in Dr. Singh's ministerial team propounded the doctrine that when a subject (read Lokpal Bill) was before Parliament, an agitation against it was impermissible, indeed "illegal". One hopes they would not repeat this ridiculous nonsense. In my view every stakeholder in Indian democracy, which means every Indian, has a duty to respect Parliament. It would also help to bear in mind the "grammar of anarchy" speech of B. R. Ambedkar, the chief draughtsman of the Constitution, much quoted in recent days. By the same token, Parliament can command that respect only by earning it.
What large sections of MPs have done over several decades is hardly conducive to enhancing Parliament's
prestige or dignity. On Saturday, both Houses rose to their full height and suddenly brought back memories of the Nehru era when Indian Parliament was the role model for national legislatures elsewhere. Would they please stick to that decorum, decency and seriousness?
Mr Madan Gopal Singh was the Registrar of Punjab University at Lahore before the partition of India. He had a P.A. named Ghulam Hasan, who was attached with him for more than 10 years and was quite close to him. He, like Mr Madan Gopal Singh, stayed on the university campus.
Once the P.A's daughter got seriously ill and had to be shifted to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Lahore for an operation. At that time the treatment in a private hospital, specially by a foreign doctor, was very costly. Mr Madan Gopal not only personally assisted the family of Ghulam Hasan in the treatment but also gave him Rs 1,200 (a big amount at that time). He also told him that since he treated his daughter as his own, there was no need to return the money.
Later, Ghulam Hasan suffered a serious attack of jaundice and was hospitalised. Mr Madan Gopal not only deputed his staff to take care of him but also gave him financial help of more than Rs 1,000 and ensured an improved diet for weeks together. Many similar favours were shown by him to Ghulam Hasan and his family from time to time. The kindness of the Registrar was well known and other employees used to feel envious of Ghulam Hasan.
The Radcliff award was announced on 17 August, 1947. Lahore went to Pakistan and Punjab University was to be bifurcated. There were communal riots in which lakhs were killed. There was communal tension and killings in Lahore also. Hindus and Sikhs were migrating in thousands.
Mr Madan Gopal stayed on and attended his office regularly. The Home Secretary, Punjab, Mr A.A. Macdonald, was also holding the charge of the Vice-Chancellor of the university.
On 31 August 1947, Mr Madan Gopal went to his office and started working. After a few minutes he saw his P.A entering his room menacingly who pushed a dagger into his stomach. A second blow followed, which killed him.
The atmosphere was so vitiated with communal overtones that the body remained on the floor for 2-3 hours till the acting Vice-Chancellor came there accompanied by Inspector-General of Police, Khan Qurban Ali, and the acting District Magistrate of Lahore, Mr A.A Williams.
The university staff was dumb struck. No case was registered and there were no investigations to trace the killer. Everybody was saying that Ghulam Hasan had given a brutal return compliment to his boss for the favours, help and kindness shown by him over more than a decade.
Ghulam Hasan was never arrested and a few days later he killed the head of the economics department of the university, Prof. Brij Narayan, in a similar manner. The actions of the P.A were rewarded by the then Chief Minister of Punjab (Pakistan), Nawab Iftikhar Hussein of Mamdot, by making him the Chairman of the Education Board of Punjab.
DRAFT BILL LOOKS PROMISING
THE NEW DRAFT LAND ACQUISITION & REHABILITATION AND RESETTLEMENT BILL, 2011, WHICH SEEKS TO REPLACE THE 117 YEARS OLD LAND ACQUISITION ACT, IS LIKELY TO BE INTRODUCED IN THE CURRENT SESSION OF PARLIAMENT.
On first reading, the draft Bill appears to be a politically sensitive piece of legislation that could potentially remove a big roadblock to industrial investment, addresses Relief & Rehabilitation ( R & R), provides safeguards for both land-owners and livelihood losers while clearly defining the public purpose for which land can be acquired by the government.
The draft Bill proposes to curtail the scope for which land can be acquired by the government. The Bill permits land acquisition by the government for its own use or with the ultimate intent to transfer land to private parties for stated public purpose, including public private partnership projects. Further, the government would be permitted to acquire land for immediate and declared use by private companies for public purposes. The Bill provides for a rider that the aforesaid acquisition would be allowed only where 80% of the affected parties give their consent to the proposed acquisition.
The Bill seeks to provide a definitive meaning to the term "public purpose" and rid it of the ambiguities surrounding it under the existing Act. The definition of "public purpose" under the Bill includes strategic purposes (e.g., armed forces, national security); infrastructure, industrialisation and Urbanisation (where benefits largely accrue to the general public); land acquired for R&R purposes; Village or urban sites (planned development - residential purposes for the poor and educational and health schemes); land for private companies for public purpose and for needs arising from natural calamities.
To safeguard against indiscriminate acquisition, the Bill requires the concerned states to set up a committee under the Chief Secretary to ascertain whether an acquisition is for "public purpose" and to conduct a social impact assessment for the land in question. Further, the Bill proposes that if the acquired land is not put to use for the intended use within five years of acquisition, the same would be returned to the original owner.
The Bill lays out separate compensation packages that take into account the following three factors: the market value of the land, the value of assets attached to the land and the solatium which is equivalent to 100% of total compensation (for rural and urban areas).
In order to make it a more inclusive process, for the first time the government has acknowledged the role of the Gram Sabhas in the process of land acquisition. The Bill will make it mandatory to consult Gram Sabhas and ensure that the R&R package is executed before the acquired land is transferred. This pre-notification discussions with local bodies is a procedural innovation which should help reduce litigation and speed up the process of fair and just acquisition.
The Bill has also tried to give modified applicability to the much controversial 'urgency clause' to circumvent a Noida-like situation. Under the Bill, 'urgency clause' can be invoked only in cases where the land is being acquired for national defence and security purposes, R&R needs in the event of emergencies or natural calamities and in the 'rarest of rare' cases.
The Bill outrightly prohibits from purchasing any multi-cropped irrigated land for public purposes in order to safeguard the fertile land. The Bill also proposes to set up authorities both at the national and state levels for ensuring better R&R and for the purpose of providing speedy disposal of disputes relating to land acquisition, compensation and R&R. The Bill also provides for R&R provisions to be applicable to private companies in the event they acquire land measuring more than 100 acres.
The Bill further makes provisions facilitating 'land for land' and 'home for home' for people displaced and providing necessary infrastructural amenities in the resettlement areas. Further, special provisions have also been incorporated for STs and SCs who are displaced as a result of land acquisition.
It is evident that efforts have been made by the Government to address the shortcomings of the existing Act by involving people who are being affected and by providing a requisite mechanism for facilitating implementation of R&R schemes, establishing redressal systems and also establishing a methodology for arriving at the rates of compensation.
(Partner, Corporate & Real Estate, Kochhar & Co., New Delhi)
There are two fundamental problems with the present system of land acquisition: the process of acquisition and the compensation. In India, land is mostly fragmented into small parcels (excepting forested areas).
Acquisition of a few hundred acres, necessary for an industrial or infrastructure project, requires dealing with several landowners. Also, not everyone wishes to sell. This makes the process cumbersome and increases the transaction cost of acquiring land.
However, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, gave sweeping legal powers to the government to acquire almost any private land or property provided such acquisition is for "public purpose". This is also known as 'eminent domain', regarded as an inherent right of the state to take private property for public use. It is legal in many countries, including the US, UK and France.
The problem lies in interpretation of the term "public purpose". Unfortunately the Act did not define the term. So interpretation was left to the courts. The Supreme Court in 1971 took a very wide view of the term but did not provide any definition and left it to the state governments to define and often misinterpret the term. Strangely the judgment was delivered when 'right to private property' was still a fundamental right.
The assumption was that the state would always act in public interest and, therefore, any acquisition of private property would be to provide "public goods" that otherwise would not be provided by the market.
Lighthouses or clean air are typical examples. One or several ships can use the light at the same moment. Yet no single ship owner would build the lighthouse. The government needs to build it - in other words, provide public goods as the market will not provide them automatically.
This clearly implies the Act's provisions should only be used when the government itself is to provide infrastructure facilities (public good). They should not be used for land acquisition for private investments, whatever the benefits. For such transactions, the market must play out. The government should not undermine the market process.
Yet the very opposite has been the bane of land acquisition in India. Private parties tend to pass off the high transaction costs of negotiating with individual landholders to state governments. The latter have been more than willing to oblige, taking advantage of the sweeping powers to acquire land.
When markets are not allowed to play out, compensation is invariably low and not just. The question of compensation needs to be based on value of the land sought to be acquired. This can be done on the basis of prices prevailing in the past or the expected value of the land in future.
Typically, investment in industrial activities or infrastructure end up improving the value of land, benefiting primarily landowners, who are passive recipients of this windfall.
When farmers, whose land gets acquired, are compensated based on past prices, they do forgo potential benefits from urbanisation. This is a loss of opportunity cost in terms of forgone benefits, which far exceeds in the long run the compensation received.
There are also substantial income redistribution effects between farmers whose land is acquired compulsorily and farmers who retain their land. The latter can sell in the market at an appropriate time when urbanisation reaches them. This indirect redistribution causes tension between governments and farmers. When acquisition is not purely for public cause, tensions mount further.
Asset pricing should always be based on the future. The present system that defines compensation based on past transactions is not just or justified. The 'land market' in India is not free. Farmers are not allowed to sell their land for non-agricultural purposes. This has prevented industrial development in rural areas and direct negotiation by private enterprises to purchase land.
Farmers can rarely improve their economic positions substantially by cultivation and sale of, say, potatoes. At least they have not been able to do so in the past.
What they possibly need is ample compensation and financial inclusion that will guarantee substantial and safe
returns on their received compensation, enabling them to dream of sending their children to good educational
institutions and not to continue ploughing land and produce potatoes.
NAVIN M RAHEJA
Acquisition of land with consent of land owners is a welcome step. But paying compensation six times higher than 'the best of the registered sale price in the area in the last 3 years' is only going to increase the cost of setting up industrial units, infrastructural projects and townships.
The compensation proposed by the Bill would create shortage of land and will make property costlier. If Government would acquire the land at higher prices, it would also sell to private developers at higher rates that would be eventually passed on to the buyers.
Land is an input cost in industry and if land is procured as suggested, then the input costs would become very expensive and Indian industry will not be able to compete with countries like China and Taiwan, among others. This would also fuel inflation and new projects would be unviable and give an unfair advantage to existing players with surplus land. Land generally accounts for 30-40% of the project cost and this would affect pricing of housing projects. The interest rates have already gone up making purchase difficult for home buyers and the new Bill, once enacted, would put housing beyond the reach of most buyers.
This could also lead to a lot of speculation by investors. In India, development plans get known or are leaked at an early stage and the smart or unscrupulous investors can get some of the land conveyed in their favor in such areas and then manipulate the sale an earn excessive profit.
If someone is privy to a government scheme (Master Plan for a town, for example), they could buy land and register it at higher prices. In India, everyone is a speculator. An investor could buy an acre of land for Rs 1 crore and register it for Rs 3 crore. When an industry goes to acquire land, it will have to pay six times the price or Rs 18 crore.
We suggest that there must be an open debate of all the stake holders such as the industry, the Government, the land owners and also the media to device a path which is transparent and pragmatic. A path that doesn't hinder growth and development and does not infringe upon the fundamental rights of the people.
It is suggested that every state should be required to put up land for development on e-portals (land offers for development projects) through a website or any other mechanism accessible to everyone, where land owners can collectively offer their land for sale with demanded price so that the industry and the Government is free to choose and negotiate with the group of such land owners/village panchayats on the rates and other terms etc through a transparent competitive process and then decide as to where to put up the industry/township/SEZ/ or infrastructure projects, depending upon sustainability and other factors. In short, acquisition of land should be based upon willingness and price offered by majority of land owners (70 to 80%) through an open and transparent manner.
The financing of industrial, infrastructural and even social activities will become tougher as there are no financial norms yet for financing the land. This policy will adversely affect the real estate development as additional burden of land cost will make housing expensive.
In fact the land in the open market too would become expensive. To benefit a few people, the burden of excessive cost of production and development will be borne by all the countrymen. Thus, this needs to be looked into rationally.
(CMD, Raheja Developers & Member of Governing Committee, Naredco )
HOW DIRTY MUST THE PICTURE BE?
AN INCREASINGLY ASSURED ACTRESS THRUSTS HER BOSOM IN OUR FACE, MAKING US, UM, THINK
Iwoke up to Vidya Balan's breasts this morning. And I must confess to being sufficiently taken aback. The first theatrical trailer for her latest, Dirty Picture, has just hit screens, and it packs quite the oomphy punch. From all angles, it looks like the rollicking tale of an 80s femme fatale, stringing helplessly smitten men along while constantly, heavingly ensuring we never quite look at her eyes, however striking and doe-like they may well be. And yet this is a film about an icon of Southern cinema, the infamously irresistible Silk Smitha, a woman who enjoyed tremendous success before, very prematurely, taking her own life.
The trailer doesn't at all hint at the darkness in Silk's story, and that is entirely director Milan Luthria's prerogative. It might even work as a knockout punch, audiences coming in for the dhak-dhak, left dumbfounded by the profoundly depressing climax.
However, a week or so after watching Ram Gopal Varma's bizarre take on the Maria Susairaj murder case, in which the filmmaker seems pornographically obsessed with his protagonist's thighs and is constantly working out how best to slide the camera up her skirt, I can't help but wonder if this is the start of a new trend, one where reallife is used as an excuse to legitimise titillation.
I'm not condemning the very idea (just yet, that is, since it could soon snowball into a bosomy-biopic inferno, given Bollywood's extreme herdmentality) but find myself merely puzzled by how easy it seems: take a fascinating backstory and amp up the heat between the lines. The audiences, I say helpless to the obvious and sloppy barely-double entendre, will come. What comes of the person the film is based on, one in no position to complain, seems of no consequence. Cinema is about telling a story well enough to make viewers care, and this is certainly one effective, if somewhat brutal way, to make them care. By making them stare.
In the case of Balan's film, I agree that on-screen raunch was a huge and vital part of Silk's story as the nautchgirl who spun film industries around her raw sexuality, but there is something about the itemsong-y aggressiveness of the promo and the poster that makes me fear it might be more exploitative than exploratory. I hope, of course, to be proven wrong by Mr Luthria's film.
It isn't a Bollywood phenomenon at all, this. We're finally, very belatedly getting started with biopics but Julia Roberts' modest breast was engineered to several times its size for her Oscarwinning turn in Erin Brockovich, and currently the hyper-talented Michelle Williams, who plays Marilyn Monroe in the upcoming My Life With Marilyn makes a rather pneumatic appearance on the film's poster.
Using sex to sell the story of a real person is sensational and instantly impactful, sure, but seems perhaps a little too 'easy', somewhat like a stand-up comedian using an expletive to get a quick laugh. A laugh's a laugh no matter how you earn it, of course, but like Jerry Seinfeld told Louis CK, "the fword is like a Corvette." Which, as CK explained, only makes you feel good till you realize that Seinfeld, who never swears on stage and is probably the world's richest and best-known comedian, collects Porsches and 'Vettes are utterly beneath him.
Drive whatever you will, gentlemen creators, but drive carefully.
RAJA SEN LOVES TO RANT, RAVE AND BLATHER ABOUT CINEMA, OFTEN AT HIS OWN PERIL
BANKING ON LICENCES
RBI SETS TOUGH ENTRY NORMS FOR NEW PRIVATE BANKS
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has made it clear that it would like to ensure only the "fit and proper" make the grade when it comes to securing licences to set up private banks. The onerous criteria laid down by the central bank do not explicitly bar firms with an interest in other lines of business activity, outside of real estate and capital market, from securing licences. But to do so these firms have to meet more stringent norms than insisted on ever before. The draft also explicitly refers to the need to prevent "self-dealing" by promoters. Given the mood in the country today, it is just as well that RBI has laid down such tough eligibility criteria. Finally, as in the past, the central bank has said a high-level group will process the applications after due diligence by various regulatory authorities as well as enforcement and investigation agencies. The initial minimum capital requirement of Rs 500 crore is well below the widely expected Rs 1,000 crore and, understandably, above the Rs 200 crore that was specified in 2001 when the last round of issuing licences to private banks was opened, given the new global prudential environment. While Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee tried to adorn his budgetary initiative of issuing fresh banking licences in the garb of "inclusive growth" by citing the "need to extend the geographic coverage of banks and improve access to banking", the draft guidelines fix a more modest obligation to open at least 25 per cent of new branches in unbanked rural centres. This should take some sweat off the brow of potential applicants. They can continue to rely on the more lucrative urban and semi-urban areas for most of their business.
The second reason cited by Mr Mukherjee was the "need to ensure that the banking system grows in size and sophistication to meet the needs of a modern economy". The financial crisis that hit the world after Lehman Brothers collapsed resulted partly from banks having become too sophisticated for anybody's good. The RBI guidelines refer to this when they say, "post-crisis, there are concerted moves even internationally to separate banking from proprietary trading". Currently, there is a feeling that banks should concentrate on their primary task, meet the credit needs of businesses, small and big, and individuals and not get into sophisticated products like complex derivatives. Not only have large companies bypassed banks through disintermediation for some time now, currently the sharp difference between domestic and international lending rates has raised the incentive for those who can bypass banks to borrow abroad. The real gap in banking services in India is inadequate coverage of small and medium businesses, those who are too poor, and those in places too remote to have a bank account. It is not clear how this gap will be addressed by having some more banks of the kind that already exist in plenty. On the other hand, the fact that final guidelines will now take more time to be issued and, more importantly, the fact that applications will only be invited after the Banking Regulation Act has been suitably amended to account for the specified guidelines suggest that RBI is not in a hurry to open doors for new private banks. Such caution is well advised.
RIDING THE WAVES
INDIGENISING NAVY MODERNISATION MAKES ECONOMIC SENSE
The recent commissioning of the INS Satpura, the second of the indigenously constructed guided missile strength frigates, effectively completes two-thirds of Project 17 — India's ambitious programme to design and construct its own stealth frigates. Following the expected commissioning of the INS Sahyadri sometime in 2012, Mazagaon Dock Limited (MDL) will commence work on the construction of four even more advanced "Project 17 A" frigates. The navy's strategy to put together the components of what would eventually be three naval battle groups centred around aircraft carriers is far reaching. Accordingly, the Navy plans to commission the following additional combat ships during the next eight years: two aircraft carriers (of approximately 40,000 tonnes each), four guided missile destroyers (Project 15A), three stealth frigates (currently under construction in Russia), six Scorpene submarines, three Arihant class nuclear-powered submarines and the Project 28 corvettes specially designed for anti-submarine warfare. The induction of force-multipliers such as the P-8i surveillance and early warning aircraft would make the Indian Navy a truly potent force, not just numerically but also in power projection capability by 2020!
The navy evidently takes its role as the guarantor of India's maritime interests seriously. It needs to be credited with being steadfast in sticking to an indigenisation programme formulated in the 1960s and being involved in the design and development of warships from the conception stage itself. Of the three services, the navy's interactive work with the private sector is the most impressive and can only increase from here on as the private sector's confidence to design and execute projects increases with every success.
These successes, impressive as they are, cannot obscure the tardiness in the pace of construction and delivery by Indian shipyards, as admitted recently by Defence Minister A K Antony. Indian shipyards on average take twice as long to deliver a standard combat vessel compared to European shipyards. The experience gained from the project to indigenously construct the HDW submarines under licence at MDL in the 1990s was frittered away owing to non-availability of future orders. As a result, the Scorpene submarines are taking a lot longer to be commissioned, with the delivery date of the first submarine already pushed back two years to 2014-15! India continues to rely on foreign shipyards for vessels that could easily be manufactured domestically, paying a lot more in the process than it ideally should.
It is said that the three stages in warship design are to get it to "float", "move" and "fight". Indian shipyards have established competence in the first stage, but have a long way to go in the other two, leading to an unacceptably high level of import dependence in critical components. The way forward would essentially involve three steps: greater research and development spending by public and private sector units to develop indigenous competence, a comprehensive retooling of defence shipyards to enhance productivity and the involvement of private shipyards in ship building, starting with smaller ships and leading to more challenging future assignments.
Q1 GDP GROWTH SHOWS RESILIENCE
The sub-8% growth should be seen in the context of global and domestic headwinds.
The stock market may have discounted the 7.7 per cent growth in real GDP in the first quarter of FY12, but economists believe the number needs to be viewed in the context of several domestic and global headwinds the economy has been facing. Given that GDP growth has been slowing sequentially for the last four quarters, this quarter was also expected to clock below-trend growth. However, 7.7 per cent growth in Q1FY12 compared to 7.8 per cent in Q4FY11 only shows the resilience of the Indian economy. While sub-eight per cent growth is now in line with expectations, it is not particularly weak.
However, on the downside, since the GDP estimates were compiled using the new Index of Industrial Production (IIP) series, the unavailability of revised back-data makes a clean interpretation of today's GDP report almost impossible, believes Mole Hau of BNP Paribas. This is what makes the first quarter numbers a mixed bag. Other leading indicators like domestic vehicle sales figures and PMI surveys seem to suggest the domestic demand destruction is an ongoing process. However, with inflation yet to come down meaningfully, the rate cycle is not ready to start coming off. So, economists don't rule out another rise before the calendar year is over.
Even as there were concerns that prevailing high inflation and interest rates would dampen economic activities, the evidence, so far, has been mixed. In fact, year-on-year non-farm sector growth accelerated from 7.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of FY11 to 8.4 per cent in Q1FY12. This was supported by improvement in industrial and services sector activity.
Growth in agriculture production, too, has been in line with expectations, but slower than that of recent quarters. Kaushik Das, India Economist at Deutsche Bank AG, says, "No doubt, growth has slipped below the trend rate of eight per cent, but this slowdown is not a cause for panic. Despite inflationary pressures, rising interest rates and a high base effect, growth has not collapsed. Our house view is that Europe and US will not fall into an ouright recession, which should help the Indian economy achieve a growth rate of around eight per cent in FY12."
The other heartening thing about this quarter's GDP figures is the investment cycle, which is seemingly reviving. Contrary to conventional wisdom, investment has jumped 7.9 per cent y-o-y compared to 0.4 per cent growth in the previous quarter. This has contributed 2.5 percentage points to GDP growth. If the trend holds, the downside risks to GDP may somewhat dissipate.
DEEP CHANGE IN THE MUSLIM WORLD
THE GROWING IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC OPINION IN MUSLIM COUNTRIES WILL HAVE FAR-REACHING IMPLICATIONS
SHAHID JAVED BURKI
The Arab and the Muslim worlds are engaged in a process of deep change that will fundamentally alter the political and social order in countries engaged in this enterprise. Change came quickly in two countries — Tunisia and Egypt. It is coming much more slowly and with much bloodshed in Yemen, Libya and Syria. It appears to have been suppressed in Bahrain. The Arab monarchies have been largely saved since their rulers have some legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens. They are also attempting to reform.
Though less obvious, it is certainly the case that the Arab Spring has had an impact on three non-Arab Muslim countries that share many borders with the Arab world or are not too distant from it. In both Turkey and Pakistan democracy has begun to take root. That is happening because the people want it. In both countries, the military establishment is on the back foot, with people looking at the Arab street and learning from it. The people there now strongly believe that they, and not the men in uniform, will define their aspirations. Afghanistan may also go in that direction but even if it does, progress will be much slower.
The situation in two other Muslim countries, one Arab and the other non-Arab, is more complicated. In spite of a huge expenditure and spilling of a great deal of American blood, Iraq is nowhere near achieving stability. The Americans have been in the country for more than eight years but the situation remains unstable and unpredictable. Iran has been under American pressure for decades but it has yet to give up on its nuclear designs and is not interested in attempting to join the international community of nations.
The Arab Spring has taken hold of a number of societies in this part of the world, succeeding in some and making slower progress in others. Revolutions can take unexpected turns and social change is always slow in traditional societies. Even then it is possible to make some predictions about what we may see during this period of transition while new institutions are being put in place, new processes for managing the affairs of the state are being developed, and new mechanisms are being crafted that would keep the rulers and the ruled engaged with one another.
Looking at the way the movement has developed on the street as well as in the back rooms where negotiations are taking place to create a new governing order, it is possible to discern a few trends that will shape and define this part of the world for years to come. All of these will affect one another; taken together, they will produce a world that will bear little resemblance to the one that existed before December 2010 when a desperate young man in Tunisia, insulted by a policewoman, set himself on fire. Revolution is a much used and abused word, but it can be applied to the enormous changes that are taking place in this important part of the globe.
The changes that are taking shape as a result of the Arab Spring cover a fine front. One of the most important of these is the downgrading of the military. The revolutions succeeded in those countries where the men in uniform decided that it would be imprudent to challenge the street. Accepting that those who turned up on the streets and in the squares of Tunis and Cairo were giving vent to frustration accumulated over many decades, the Tunisian and Egyptian armed forces decided to stay in their barracks. The street took this as an indication of neutrality, and later an acceptance of the change that was being demanded. This message from the street has been read in Ankara and Islamabad-Rawalpindi. A politically strong government in Turkey and a politically weak administration in Pakistan have managed to keep their militaries out of government affairs — decisively so in the case of the former, somewhat less in the case of the latter. There are signs in Pakistan that even in the area of security policy, military is now also listening and not always dictating.
Loss of some power and prestige by the military in the affected countries has produced another important change. The West found the military heads of state easier to deal with and influence than the messy democracies in a few countries where the latter existed. Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ayub Khan, Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan were relatively easy partners for Washington, London and other western capitals than would have been the case if these countries were led by people's representatives. Those who emerge leaders in the countries through which these revolutions are proceeding will have to go with public opinion. And public opinion may not always support what the West seeks from these countries. This important change will be seen in all these countries. Undoubtedly, they will be more independent of American influence in world affairs. This will have consequences for America and the rest of the West in shaping policies with respect to Israel, oil, trade, and financial flows.
It is also likely that long-enduring regimes, such as those in many Arab countries, will become the exception rather than the norm. As institutional politics and democracy take hold in these countries, regime change will take place on the basis of established rules and principles. This is not to say that no attempts will be made to re-establish authoritarian orders that were in place in these countries for so long. Revolutions don't follow a linear approach as they evolve and those now underway will not be any different. There is no doubt that 2011 will go down in history as the year that changed the world.
The author is a former finance minister of Pakistan
RAMLILA MAIDAN NO TIANANMEN SQUARE
After living for days on a knife-edge, the nation deserves to congratulate itself a little. A conflict that could have gone seriously awry, involving hundreds of thousands of people across the country, was finally resolved through give and take. Parliament's sovereign space and the dignity and authority of the government of the day remained intact, as did the people's right to protest peacefully and demand promise of action, if not action itself. Democracy worked, Ramlila Maidan did not turn into Tiananmen Square. The parallel is real because currently the middle classes in China are racked by severe disaffection over entrenched corruption. Even as many in India have complained about intrusive 24-hour news channels, China has continued to police the Internet and stifle opinion forming and exchange of information via viral progression.
But after the self-congratulatory moment, it is critical to ask: what lessons can be learnt from the climactic few days' experience, and what are the milestones that have to be crossed before the nation can give itself a system that cracks down sharply and effectively on corruption and over time gives itself a far cleaner public life than what prevails today? The first lesson is that public discourse has to be conducted in civil tenor and tone. Not just the Congress spokesman but even party leaders who have to take responsibility for what one of their functionaries said should apologise for the offensive remarks about Anna Hazare.
The second is that though people (essentially lawyers), no matter how brilliant, can play a useful part in protracted negotiations, particularly over the contours of a proposed legislation, at the end of the day the political leadership has to take the lead. There was a dearth of this until towards the end, hence the initial floundering. If Parliament had abdicated for decades, causing a mass upsurge to challenge its authority, then it is Parliament – made up of parties across the spectrum – that has to retrieve its space.
It is not enough for government leaders to keep repeating that Parliament is supreme, the entire Parliament has to say so and government leaders have to sit down with parties to enable a unified voice to emerge. Initially, it seemed Manmohan Singh wasn't in charge, nor did he have the inclination to be so. Eventually, after Rahul Gandhi's speech sank without a trace, political authority appears to have been asserted. Maybe this has been Prime Minister Singh's baptism by fire, when he was left alone on the burning deck and had to lead in dousing the fire.
The third lesson is for civil society: it must get rid of its rough edges. Otherwise, there cannot be a meeting of minds. Mr Hazare is a natural, and having been in a way outside of the system, he has his angularities and outlandish views. A test may come on issues like the right to recall and reject — attractive radical ideas that may not deliver what matters in a large democracy. Some of the rough edges on that side also come in the shape of lawyers who, as a class, appear to have more than their share of abrasiveness. It is worth remembering that ultimately it is a politician from Maharashtra who spoke the same language as Mr Hazare and a swami, again with prior experience in communicating, who could set up a channel.
Finally, let us rejoice that the odd ones out have already begun to fall by the wayside in a journey that is likely to be long and arduous. Anyone remember Ramdev? And do we realise the symbolism of two little girls – one Dalit, another Muslim – performing the final puja, so to speak? It is immaterial whether the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had been stage-managing the whole movement from behind; no one has any doubt that for a mass movement to succeed, its all-embracing credentials have to be beyond question. If better off, TV-viewing, networked middle class Hindus thought that India was them and they were India, then they will have been disabused of such a notion. India's minorities (Dalits, tribals, backward classes, Muslims) make up its majority and it is this heterogeneous body, unlike the dominant Han Chinese in China, that makes up the nation.
In the long journey to achieve a largely corruption-free India, it will be important to keep sight of the basics. The Lok Pal will have to be an institution to which the smallest individual or the loneliest whistle-blower should be able to complain. The Lok Pal should be able to investigate and prosecute the highest in the land. Since the higher judiciary is so tainted it is not clear why it cannot be brought firmly within the ambit of the Lok Pal. Why wait for another Bill for them? And why shouldn't legislators also come under the Lok Pal when so many of them have criminal colours and have won through black money-funded election campaigns?
A mechanism has to be found whereby the Lok Pal does not get bogged down investigating every other patwari, though the Lok Pal's doors must be open for those who have not found justice elsewhere. Naturally, the investigating agency will have to be autonomous and its leader, like the Lok Pal, will have to be chosen through a non-partisan process. And the Lok Pal himself will have to be answerable for his own conduct through a suitable mechanism. These are some of the indisputable fundamental principles. The edifice has to be built around them by expert craftsmen over a long period.
WAITING FOR ANSWERS
THE SELECTION AND REMOVAL OF JUDGES IS THE NEXT HOT SPOT
M J ANTONY
The recent public outcry for reforms has just skirted the judiciary, but it could be in the eye of the next storm if at least two issues are not sorted out urgently. They are the method of appointments to the higher judiciary and the removal of those who are found unfit for the office. The latter issue was played out half in the Rajya Sabha this month and is slated to continue in the Lok Sabha next month.
Both are abstruse constitutional questions that would not raise decibels in the maidans or TRP ratings, but are vital nevertheless. The first issue, that of appointment, has a chaotic history of three decades, in which the Supreme Court swung from one extreme to the other. Even now, it is waiting for a solution. Each time a Constitution Bench tried to rearrange the deck chairs, it has caused further disarray. The problem has bloated in the meanwhile.
Recently a Bench of two judges drafted 10 questions and referred them to the Chief Justice with a request to form a larger constitution Bench to reconsider the judgments of three earlier such Benches (Suraj India Trust vs Union of India). Since the earlier Benches consisted of seven or nine judges, the reconsideration should be done by a Bench of 11 judges or more. This duty comes at a time when seven of the 28 judges will retire this year. In a Catch-22 situation, the method of appointment itself is the question that looms before the remaining brethren.
The Constitution does not prescribe a detailed procedure for appointment of judges. Article 124 (2) talks in general terms and says the president shall appoint judges after "consultation with such of the judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts as the President may deem necessary." In the first "judges case" of 1982, S P Gupta vs Union of India, there were jaw-breaking arguments for months over the meaning of "consultation". Does consultation mean "concurrence" of the executive and the judicial authorities? In a 1,000-page judgment by seven judges, the answer given by the majority was no. Consequently the power was with the judiciary. Since the judiciary had just recovered from the ravages of the 1976 internal emergency, there was a howl of protest against the judges who took this view. They were accused of giving a big handle to the executive, even after the bitter experience of the emergency.
This angst led to the second "judges case" in 1993, heard and decided by a larger Bench. In this judgment, AOR Association vs Union of India, the court interpreted the provision of the Constitution in such a way that it ousted the role of the executive for all practical purposes and vested the power in a "collegium" of senior judges. This was purely an invention of the judicial mind, never thought of by the founding fathers.
It was seen as an aggrandisement of power by the judges with a sleight of their pens. The guns were now turned from the direction of the executive to the judicial collegiums, which functioned without transparency, spawning dark rumours. The public was put somewhat in the position of Buridan's ass, between the executive and the judiciary. The president then referred a few weighty questions to the Supreme Court for its response. It returned the reference with some cosmetic touches to the system, but the Chief Justice of India retained primacy. It is this arrangement that is now under the scanner.
The Law Commission, in its 214th report submitted in 2008, has suggested an equal role for the judiciary and the executive in selection and appointments. It analysed the three judgments and recommended their reconsideration for clarity on the issue. In the Suraj case, the Attorney General has also acquiesced in this reference.
The injudicious way in which the 1993 judgment came to be delivered figures in the paper submitted by counsel that was specially appointed by the court to assist it. Amicus curiae quotes a dissenting judge who was a member of the nine-judge Bench headed by the then the Chief Justice, J S Verma, and criticises his brethren for ignoring the principle of collectivity in decision-making. According to Justice M M Punchi, who himself became the Chief Justice later, the majority judgment was a bunch of individual opinions drafted by the majority over the summer vacation without prior consultation among judges. Narrating the events, he wrote that he was overtaken when a draft opinion was thrust on him, dashing all hopes for a "free and frank discussion."
The 10 questions now before the court are substantial. Some of them are: whether its earlier judgments amounted to amending the Constitution, from where does the idea of collegiums arise, whether words in the statute can be made redundant by judicial interpretation, whether the judiciary alone can appoint judges keeping out the executive and whether the language of Article 124 (2) can be altered by court's pronouncements. The court should answer these "expeditiously" (its favourite word) and not wait for another mortification like the ongoing impeachment proceedings.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE RBI LISTS NECESSARY, BUT NOT SUFFICIENT, CONDITIONS FOR NEW BANK LICENCES
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has taken the next step towards delivering on the assurance contained in its January 2001 guidelines that it would consider licensing more banks three years later, after a review of the working of private sector banks. The new draft guidelines released on Monday take into account both the experience of banks licensed under the 1993 and 2001 guidelines and the feedback to its August 2010 Discussion Paper and are a vast improvement over the earlier guidelines. Thus, the minimum capital requirement has been raised to . 500 crore (as against . 200 crore earlier) and the capital adequacy ratio increased to 12% (9% for existing banks). New banks will have to ensure that 25% of their branches are located in rural areas. Foreign shareholding has been capped at 49% for the first five years, as against 74% at present. While the entry of corporates has not been banned, per se, a number of safeguards have been incorporated.
Importantly, the Bank has incorporated certain vital caveats that were missing in the earlier guidelines. Key among these is the amendment to the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 to remove the restriction on voting rights while concurrently empowering the RBI to approve acquisition of shares and/or voting rights of 5% or more in a bank to persons who are 'fit and proper'; empowering the RBI to supersede the bank's board of directors to protect depositors' interest; and facilitating consolidated supervision. Insistence that the new bank be set up only through a wholly owned non-operative holding company is an additional safeguard that was missing earlier. This will ringfence the bank (and depositors' money) from problems in related entities. Compulsory listing within two years of licensing will ensure diversified shareholding, reducing the scope for promoter-groups to indulge in questionable lending. The most important, of course, is the warning that 'it may not be possible for the RBI to issue licences to all applicants meeting eligibility criteria'. To use the jargon of economists, these are necessary, but not sufficient conditions to get a bank licence. The decision on that will rest, rightly, with an RBI-appointed expert committee.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GROWTH IS STARTING TO FLAG, TIME FOR SOME EFFECTIVE POLICY MOVES
The economy is slowing. The latest estimates show that growth in gross domestic product (GDP) for the April-June quarter of this fiscal was 7.7% over the same period last year. This underscores the need for proactive policy to shore up growth. The way ahead is to boost investment, domestic as well as foreign, through long-pending reforms in sectors like retail, insurance and pensions; revamping norms for mining and road projects; and improve business confidence by rationalising both direct and indirect taxes as soon as possible. There's a sharp slowdown in segments like construction and mining, and industrial output is negatively affected as well, with weak sales of durable and non-durable consumer goods. The dearer cost of funds is clearly choking demand, although food inflation and commodity prices — which tighter monetary policy was meant to tackle — remain high. In September, the central bank should pause hikes in its policy rates, so as not to further dampen growth prospects, even as food and commodity inflation remain buoyant.
It remains to be seen how growth pans out in the second half; the unfavourable external environment and policy lethargy at home could keep the increase in GDP rangebound and a shade below 8%. Already, the latest figures seem to point at substantial slowdown in infrastructure investment, with cement output declining 0.9% in Q1, and steel production growing a lacklustre 1.5% during the same period. However, there has been considerable brownfield expansion in both cement and steel of late, which does need to be taken into account. But it cannot be gainsaid that corporate investment generally has taken a beating lately, and much of the action both in infrastructure and vital segments like capital goods remains confined to the power sector, which would clearly be unsustainable. Besides, the reality on the ground is that distribution reforms to cut utility losses in power is making no real headway. It would be most unfortunate if growth falters for the want of good policy, even as headlines are agog with the government's struggle to curb graft. That would be a pyrrhic victory indeed.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TWILIGHT OF THE GODS
EVEN THE GREATEST OF CRICKETERS FACE CHALLENGES LIKE THIS
India's second-most prolific batsman in Test cricket was nowhere near his best last year. After a series of low scores, the 37-year-old Rahul Dravid was being written off. It was then that Australia's most prolific batsmen made it a point to tell him not to give up. As the 36-year-old Ricky Ponting put it, "I actually went and found him and said 'Don't you even think of retiring' because I just saw some stuff in a few of his innings that suggested he was still a very good player. I just said, 'Do not let them wear you down, do not let them get you down'." Rahul reciprocated in kind when the Australian middle-order batsman's form touched rock-bottom towards the end of last year. Ponting's prediction came true when Dravid scored 461 runs (including three centuries) in the just-concluded four-Test series in England. Ponting is one of the toughest cricketers in international cricket and believes in neither giving nor expecting any quarter on the cricket field. And, yet, he reached out to Dravid at a time when the Indian batsman was going through a crisis of confidence. Ponting may have remembered the Adelaide Test of December 2003 when both he and Rahul scored double-centuries in a match which the touring team won, and one Indian magazine carried a picture of a batting Dravid on the cover under a headline saying "God". Eight years later, the two are no longer as young as they were but, as the last few lines in Tennyson's poem U l y s s e s says, "Though much is taken, much abides, and though/We are not now that strength which in old days/Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:/One equal temper of heroic hearts,/Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/To strive, to seek, to find, but not to yield."
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
POLITICAL FASTS: A GLOBAL PRACTICE
HUNGER STRIKES ARE A LEGITIMATE FORM OF PROTEST GLOBALLY; NOW WE NEED SYSTEMIC CHANGE TO ROOT OUT GRAFT
Iam bemused by much of the vacuous debate over Anna Hazare's fast. He has his shortcomings, but many of his critics have private agendas, and are spinning the facts to suit these agendas. So they denounce the anti-corruption movement as a middle class plot to divert attention from the poor, or from dalits, or from Maoism or whatever. Amusingly, almost all the critics are from the middle class themselves. Some of them call Hazare's tactics blackmail, authoritarian and an assault on democratic functioning. There's nothing new in selfserving criticism of political fasts. When Gandhiji fasted, Jinnah denounced him as a hypocritical Hindu, the RSS denounced him as a covert Muslim-lover, the Communist Party denounced him as a British stooge for opposing violent revolution, and Ambedkar denounced him as an upper caste wolf in secular clothing.
When one of Gandhiji's fasts foiled Ambedkar's goal of a separate electorate for untouchables, he was a bad loser. He claimed the fast was "authoritarian", something being cited by critics today. How ridiculous! Authoritarianism is about monopolising political office, and Gandhiji refused any political office, although it was his for the asking.
Hazare must be laughing that his critics are exposing themselves as similar to the Mahatma's critics. As in Gandhiji's time, many of today's critics are dismayed that a new star has stolen the limelight from them, and shifted public attention to agendas other than their own.
However, it would be equally wrong to see Hazare as the second coming of the Mahatma. Gandhiji would never have whipped drunk villagers, as Hazare has done. Besides, Hazare's fasting is not especially Gandhian: it's a tactic used by activists across the globe.
The British suffragette movement, demanding voting rights for women, was the first in recent history to use fasts as a political pressure tactic (American suffragettes did the same later). The British government called it blackmail. Marion Dunlop was the first suffragette to stage a hunger strike in 1909. Others followed, some of whom died after being force-fed. Dunlop was released when she looked like dying: the British government didn't want to make her a martyr. This was a dress rehearsal of the later dramas in India, when the Mahatma undertook fasts in prison as a tactic to mobilise the masses, and the British released him when his life seemed in danger.
In Ireland, fasting was an ancient practice to shame others into redressing injustices. This tradition inspired hunger strikes from in the Irish war of independence (1917-23), and took many lives including that of Terence Mac-Swiney, former Mayor of Cork. When the British left, a civil war broke out in Ireland, and one set of revolutionaries used hunger strikes against their former comrades. Later the Irish Republican Army's imprisoned fighters — no examplars of non-violence — often resorted to hunger strikes. Hunger strikes have long been used by anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba locked up for demanding civil rights. Pedro Luis Bortel, a poet, died of starvation in 1972. Guillermo Farinas staged a seven-month hunger strike against internet censorship in 2006, and won the cyber-freedom prize of Reporters without Borders. Turkey has seen many hunger strikes by political prisoners, mostly Kurd or Marxist dissidents. One mass hunger strike in 1996 lasted 69 days and took 12 lives. Another wave of hunger strikes started in 2000, and relatives of prisoners claim that over 100 died. Wikipedia lists examples of hunger strikes in Venezuela, Greece, Japan, Sri Lanka and Estonia.
Clearly, political fasts are a global phenomenon, and we should look at global experience before pronouncing on its pros and cons. What does global experience show? First, many callous governments have accused hunger strikers of blackmail, but ended up looking foolish. Blackmail is about extracting money in return for keeping silent about another person's secrets. But activists on fast have never sought money: they have sought to shame oppressors into redress. Only the shameless see this as blackmail. Second, it's simply wrong to call such fasts a subversion of Parliament or the democratic process. Fasts are a democratic form of protest, and can greatly deepen democracy — the suffragette movements in Britain and the US brought democratic rights to women that had earlier been denied to them. The government was finally shamed into making the change, something that's happened in India, too. This is a vibrant example of democratic process, not subversion of it.
In Cuba and Iran, fasts have been used by democracy-seeking activists against authoritarian rulers. Far from having authoritarian overtones, fasting is typically a tactic of the weak against the strong. It's amusing in India to hear some Marxists accuse Hazare of authoritarianism when their own philosophy is totalitarian. It's amusing to see Mayawati criticise Hazare for not focusing on atrocities against dalits, and instead focusing on corruption: it's no coincidence that the latter focus could land her in jail.
Hazare's critics are dead right in saying that corruption cannot be combated by a single institution like the Lokpal. We need much wider institutional change. The police-judicial system, for instance, totally fails to deliver justice. It needs complete overhaul so that it quickly convicts lawbreakers of all sorts, from murderers to corporate crooks — these need to be jailed no less than the corrupt. I hope activists of all shades will come out with their own ideas to make India a land with justice. We cannot depend on fasts by Hazare alone.
SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
HOW TO AVOID GETTING BURNED IN CHINA AND INDIA
ANIL K GUPTA & HAIYAN WANG
The recently concluded Danone-Wahaha feud holds important lessons for any company on how to structure and manage strategic partnerships in markets such as China and India.
In the late 1990s, France's Groupe Danone entered into several joint ventures with Hangzhou-based Wahaha Group to pursue opportunities in China's beverage market. Although Danone held a 51% ownership stake in the JVs, it assigned only a handful of managers to work in them. As a result, its control over and visibility into their operations and finances appear to have been extremely limited. Real control rested with Zong Qinghou, founder and chairman of the Wahaha Group and, by all accounts, a brilliant entrepreneur. The feud surfaced in 2007 when Danone alleged that Zong's independently-owned companies had been manufacturing the same products with the same trademarks as the JVs, selling them through the latter's sales and distribution channels. The dispute ended in October 2009 when Danone agreed to sell its stake to Wahaha at a 21% discount to the book value.
In emerging markets such as China and India, regulatory requirements and lack of local knowhow often compel companies to work with local partners without the ability to hold complete or even a dominant ownership stake in the local operations. The relevant question is whether Danone could have been smarter at structuring and managing its partnership with Wahaha.
Danone's is hardly an isolated case. Consider General Motors in China. Chinese government policy prohibits foreign companies from owning more than 50% of the equity in any vehicle assembly operation in China. Consequently, GM operates in China through multiple JVs, all of them with one or more units of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC). GM's ownership stake in each of these operations is 50% or less. More than half of what GM reports as its auto sales in China comes from one entity, SAIC GM Wuling Automotive, a joint venture in which SAIC is the majority owner. Given these ground-level realities, might it be that it is SAIC which sits in the driver's seat when it comes to the two companies' strategic partnerships in China?
Consider also the case of Wal-Mart in India. Indian regulations do not permit foreign multibrand retailers to hold any equity stake in a retail operation in the country. There is no such restriction on wholesale operations, though. Consequently, Wal-Mart operates in India via two strategic alliances with Bharti Enterprises, one of India's leading business groups. Given Bharti's publicly stated ambition to become one of India's big retailers, it is difficult to rule out the possibility of a strategic conflict between the two companies at some point in the future.
In contexts where a controlling ownership stake is simply not possible (and, often, even when it is), companies face an important managerial challenge: how to build the ability to exercise adequate strategic control over the partnership? We propose four mechanisms. First, disaggregate your business operations in the host country and work with a different partner for each operation. Toyota offers an interesting contrast to GM in China. Unlike GM, Toyota has set up separate JV operations with two different local partners. Our interviews with auto industry executives in China suggest that this disaggregated approach has made Toyota less dependent than GM on either of its JV partners.
Second, pick partners whose strategic agendas are likely to be complementary to, rather than competitive with, your own. Given Bharti's ambitions in the retail sector, it's not unlikely that the long-term strategic agendas of Wal-Mart and its Indian partner may be fundamentally in conflict. In contrast, consider the case of SABMiller, the world's second largest beer company. Its China operations are run via a 49:51 JV with China Resource Enterprises, a state-owned conglomerate whose primary goal is to earn an attractive return on investment rather than to become a global powerhouse in beer. As such, SABMiller is less likely to run into strategic conflict with its partner than may turn out to be the case with Wal-Mart in India. Third, ensure that you have the formal authority to appoint some of the key managers to run the joint venture and have adequate visibility into the JV's operations and accounts. Fourth, cultivate indirect control over the partnership by controlling the ecosystem surrounding it. Here too, the differences in Toyota's vs GM's approaches are illuminating. Unlike in the case of vehicle assembly operations, Chinese regulations do not restrict foreign multinationals from holding a controlling ownership stake in operations that manufacture parts or subsystems to feed a vehicle assembly venture. Toyota holds a controlling 70% stake in its engine JV with Guangzhou Automobile Group. In contrast, GM owns a less than 50% stake in its engine JV in China. It is SAIC that appears to be in the driver's seat.
Given the rapid growth of emerging economies and multiple regulatory as well as market challenges that these economies represent, companies have little choice but to deepen their engagement with them even if it means not having a controlling ownership stake. The future will belong to those companies that can figure out how to do so smartly without losing their shirts.
© Bloomberg Businessweek
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
RATE HIKES WON'T WORK
RAGHBENDRA JHA & RAGHAV GAIHA
The RBI has recently admitted that persistence with its policy of sharp increases in interest rates is casting a long shadow on prospects of economic growth. An important point to note here is that this policy does not seem to have had much of an impact on consumer price index (CPI) inflation, which continues to hover just below the doubledigit mark.
Whereas the case for price stability as a goal of macroeconomic policy has been considered unexceptionable for some time, a strong body of thought has considered some inflation to be conducive for economic growth in the context of an emerging market economy like India. Indeed, in a forthcoming paper that articulates the relation between inflation, its volatility and the rate of GDP growth in a sample of developed and developing countries (including India), it has been shown that inflation itself starts hurting growth only at rates of (steady) inflation higher than 10%. The current monetary policy stance, while attempting to control demand-side inflation, must come to terms with the fact that supply shocks are still reverberating through the economy. The year 2009 witnessed severe drought. The rebound in agricultural output in the following year was not capitalised upon and supply chains were not substantially improved. Commodity prices are still high and volatile in international markets. Recurrent supply shocks now also come from the expected rise in inflation. The higher the rate of expected inflation, the lower will be the gap between actual and expected inflation and the smaller the resulting (positive) deviation of output from the trend.
The current anti-inflation policy stance must also come to terms with the fact that a substantial portion of inflation can be ascribed to higherthan-planned-for fiscal deficits. The fiscal theory of the price level argues that there is apositive link between budget deficits and inflation as higher fiscal deficits, operating through bond markets, augment liquidity and exacerbate inflationary pressures. Estimates from the finance ministry website indicate that total tax revenues (Centre plus states) fell from 15.08% of GDP in 2009-10 (the year after the global financial crisis and asevere drought) to 14.73 % of GDP in 2010-11 (a relatively normal year). India's net direct tax collections in the fiscal first quarter of 2011 (April-June) fell 16.6% y-o-y (from . 686.75 billion to . 572.68 billion). The government itself has expressed fears that it may not be able to meet its fiscal deficit target of 4.6% of GDP in this financial year. This is largely due to a slowdown in the economy initiated by inflation and sustained by successive rises in interest rates. Prime Minister's chief economic advisor C Rangarajan also expressed fears over rising expenditure of government. Hence, there is sustained pressure on the price level from the fiscal side. A third element in anti-inflation policy is improvements to the supply side. Many observers have remarked on delays in initiating major supplyside reforms. These include integration of agricultural markets, improving supply chains, reducing loss and wastage of foodgrains and other food items, improved offtake from FCI godowns, better management of the targeted public distribution scheme, improving agricultural productivity and developing an integrated commodity tax structure for the country, to mention just a few. In addition, delays in pursuing the muchneeded manufacturing sector and infrastructure reforms have led, according to the July 2011 report of the Council of Economic Advisors to the Prime Minister, to an alarming drop in investment, which has shaved off 0.75% to 1% of GDP growth even as high rates of inflation reduce the household saving rate to its lowest level in more than a decade. The upshot of the argument above is that there are multiple reasons for the high inflation in India. It is in this context that the anti-inflationary stance of the RBI has to be considered. The RBI, by raising interest rates, is addressing only demand-side inflation. In particular, one has to be clear about the quantitative impact and time profile of the impact of policy rates on various measures of inflation. The empirical evidence of such impacts, particularly on CPI, is not encouraging. Specifically, the mean impact of the call money rate on CPI is uncertain, subject to long lags and the overall impact has a wide and rapidly expanding 95% confidence interval. The extant literature has accepted that there are several reasons why interest rates may not have a straightforward relation with CPI in the context of a country like India.
The anti-inflationary policy being conducted in India has too few instruments. This policy needs to expand to include fiscal consolidation and substantial improvements on the supply side. A higher interest rate policy on its own may not be adequate; indeed, it may not lower inflation and end up lowering growth.
(R Jha is with Australian National University and R Gaiha with University of Delhi)
BANKING ON CIRCUMSPECTION
Quietly yet self-assuredly, the Reserve Bank of India has released its draft guidelines on new bank licences for the private sector after a gap of more than a decade. The guidelines offer a vital clue to the RBI's world-view on the subject: in a word, selectivity. As the RBI warns: "Banking being a highly leveraged business, licences shall be issued on a very selective basis to those who conform" to the norms but "it may not be possible for the Reserve Bank to issue licences to all the applicants meeting the eligibility criteria…" This is confusing; an eligible applicant is entitled to go ahead unless the RBI explains at the outset why it is "not possible" to let the candidate through the gate.
The criteria are severe and represent the concern to safeguard the banking sector from the slings and arrows of private enterprise and foreign majority holding. Only firms with "diversified ownership", a successful track record of 10 years, owned and controlled by resident Indians, less than 10 per cent exposure to real estate, construction or capital market activities, and able to cough up Rs 500 crore will be permitted to apply through a Non-Operative Holding Company (NOHC) that, for the first five years, will have to hold at least 40 per cent of the paid-up capital; aggregate non-resident ownership in that period will not be allowed to exceed 49 per cent. Bowing to the mantra of financial inclusion, the RBI insists that one in every four branches will have to be set up in rural and semi-urban areas. The guidelines insist, unlike the earlier rules, that new entrants list within two years and that half the directors be independent; this may not necessarily keep promoters' biases at bay but, then, the RBI tries to ring-fence the new entity, especially where "promoter groups" have 40 per cent or more assets or income from non-financial business. In this case, the guidelines insist on aggregate exposure of not more than 20 per cent of paid-up capital and reserves of the bank to any entity "in the promoter group, their business associates, major suppliers and customers"; and all "exposures will have to be approved by the Board and all credit facilities to these entities should have a minimum tangible security cover of 150 per cent".
Last week, Dr Subbarao sounded the tone when he warned of the need to prevent private entrants from using banks as "private pools" of capital. The draft guidelines aim to do just that while giving new entrants enough leeway to participate in an industry bristling with business opportunity.
STIR AGAINST GRAFT HAS ONLY BEGUN
RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY
Make no mistake about it, the campaign to focus on strong anti-corruption measures in the country — sparked off by the movement of Anna Hazare — has not ended with the adoption by Parliament of the resolution whichfocuses on three specific points — namely, a citizens' charter, an appropriate mechanism to bring the lower bureaucracy under the purview of the suggested Lokpal, and the setting up of Lokayuktas in the States.
What the Hazare campaign has accomplished can be gauged by the fact that, single-handedly, it has forced the Government of the day to take concrete measures to operationalise the concept of a strong, over-arching Lokpal, the concept itself having been mooted by the wise men of our nation more than 40 years ago.
Why has it taken such a long time for the Lokpal concept to be placed on the policy pedestal in such a way that there is now no way of avoiding setting it up?
The politicians of the nation will have to admit that they , as a class over the years, have been responsible for the failure to institutionalise a mechanism which, if it had been set up earlier, would certainly by now have been one of the important weapons to fight the scourge of corruption . It is solely because of Anna Hazare's campaign that the politicians have been shaken out of their inability or unwillingness to move forward on the anti-corruption front.
The critical issue now is that the steps which Parliament has resolved to take should be implemented honestly, so that, at the end of the current process begun by Hazare and his band, a material difference is achieved in the fight against corruption. It is a sad fact of life that politicians, as a tribe, are not what they used to be when the nation gained Independence in 1947 and immediately afterward.
As far as the average Indian is concerned, both in rural and urban areas, an element of mistrust of politicians has crept in, which is all the more reason why the focus now is on the need to ensure that there is no last-minute backtracking from, or diluting of, the essential spirit of the resolution adopted by Parliament on the Lokpal issue.
That the waters are strewn with hidden rocks and lethal eddies is strongly suggested by the curious effort that is being made by some people to project the view that the entire Lokpal issue has been governed by a Parliament vs civil society conflict.
To take an example, Mr Salman Khurshid has (as reported) declared that the way the UPA Government tackled the Hazare agitation underscored its "courage of conviction", adding ominously, "We are not pushovers. We might have made errors of judgement. We may have lost ground somewhere, but we are determined to get that ground back." What "ground" is Mr Khurshid talking about? Indeed, he has even stretched his neck out to emphasise that "errors of judgement are not mistakes"!
Right to recall
Has there been a regression in the quality of our MPs, and politicians generally, compared to earlier decades? These are serious issues, and Anna Hazare may be right in suggesting that the next campaign should be to institute the right of recall of an MP or MLA.
OVERDOSE OF ANNA ON TELEVISION
Finally, curtains down on the Anna Hazare agitation on television. Hopefully, we may now get to see other things happening in the country and the world.
Ironically, the disgust that was building up because of the recent scams in India involving big corporates, politicians and the media has moved away from public mindspace after the Hazare agitation took over television.
But, surely, it is not a matter of pride for our democracy that Janata Dal (United) MP, Mr Sharad Yadav, had to plead for some time in Parliament to discuss the unprecedented floods in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, affecting lakhs of people, many whom have been rendered homeless. Why don't the OB vans go and line up there, he asked.
But, why would they? So what if this is a democracy — for the people, of the people, by the people? It is television that decides what kind of people matter. Do floods bring in TRPs and advertisement revenues?
Our TV anchors would rather stand in knee-deep water on the roads of Mumbai and wax eloquent about the city coming to a halt and cars getting stuck, because it is those particular urban eyeballs that matter.
The point, however, is that even the 24x7 coverage of Hazare's agitation was biased. Isn't democracy about all kinds of views and voices being heard, even of dissent?
After all, this is precisely what triggered the Hazare agitation. The old man was arrested and denied his right to protest.
TV anchors shouting themselves hoarse and defending selective rights for select people is not good for democracy.
For instance, there was no news about the "traffic jams and inconvenience caused to hundreds of office goers". The only "traffic jam" we heard or read about in those 13 12 days was about the one caused by 8,000 people belonging to the Scheduled castes and minorities marching in Delhi raising slogans against the Hazare agitation.
Didn't the Hazare agitation also inconvenience people, with Metro stations closed and roads blocked suddenly, without notice or deadline?
Finally, our anchors compared Mr Hazare's agitation with the Jayaprakash Narayan movement in the 1970s. Some even said that it was greater than that.
The big difference is that the JP movement had a more long-lasting impact without 24X7 television, social media, mobile phones and SMSs.
And, the JP movement, of what we have heard and seen as children, inspired a lot of idealism among the youth and even threw up some good political leaders, journalists and academics.
With due apologies to Anna Hazare, his agitation seems more like a Mahatma Gandhi remix. And, like all remixes, it is a hit, but may also have a short shelf life!
INDIA'S CULTURAL PARADIGM MOVES TO US
The strongest bond that held the Indian society together, from times immemorial, was the joint family system. The households often were on the verge of bursting at the seams with all members of the family, encompassing several generations, living together. The earnings, facilities and resources were all pooled and all the expenses, liabilities and discomforts shared.
The presiding patriarch had a finger in every pie. He had the unchallenged right to determine the priorities and allocations in respect of the demands and needs of the family as a whole. His choice of the bride or bridegroom was final and acted upon without question.
Keeping a joint family going smoothly was no joke. It called for tremendous efforts and adjustments, deriving from a high degree of tolerance, patience and forbearance, all rooted in mutual affection, deep sensitivity and give-and-take.
The greatest services rendered by the joint family system were in the social and cultural spheres. First and foremost, it was the most effective and equitable, if not ingenious, social security network devised by humankind. The family members belonging to the younger generation willingly, gladly and unstintingly took care of the elders, providing them support and being on call in good and bad times.
Next, the joint family was the fountainhead, preserver, protector and promoter of the values and tenets on which Indian society itself was founded. Babysitting by grandparents, accompanied by telling of stories, avidly listened to by children, was the most powerful, and at the same time, the most delectable, means of passing on to future generations the grandeur and glory of India's cultural heritage. It also fostered, strengthened and sustained the spirit of 'all for each and each for all'.
Alas, it has all but disappeared in its homeland. But there is a saving grace: It has surfaced in the US — at least that part to do with rediscovering the value of grandparents. "American is swiftly becoming a granny state" is how a report by the Associated Press (AP) begins its account of today's grandparents in that country "shunning retirement homes and stepping in more than ever to raise grandchildren while young adults struggle in the poor economy."
It further says that "newer grandparents are mainly 'baby-boomers' who are still working, with greater disposable income. Now making up 1 in 4 adults, grandparents are growing at twice the rate of the overall population and sticking close to family — if their grandkids aren't already living with them."
It quotes grandparents who describe how they pitch in with health-care payments for family members due to insurance gaps and help out by running errands, babysitting, taking the grandkids to doctors' appointments, and shopping.
Their interest in their grandchildren is no longer confined to giving them toys and presents, but they contribute with their own disposable income to sports, camps, tutoring, music lessons and other educational needs.
'AGING IN PLACE'
This is not surprising when it is remembered that US households headed by baby-boomers command almost half of the nation's total household income and that unemployment among workers ages 25 to 34 last year was double that of Americans aged 55 to 64. The US Census data released on August 25 reveals that about 5.8 million children, or nearly 8 per cent of all children, are living with grandparents declared as the heads of households — the largest in the last 40 years and believed to be the largest share ever. In some States, especially in West and South, the percentage of such joint households is even larger, touching 10 per cent or more.
There are currently 62.8 million grandparents in the US, the most ever, making up roughly 1 in 3 adults. The AP report says that "these grandparents reject living in senior communities in favour of 'aging in place' in their own homes, near family" and refers to a finding of the Bureau of Labour Statistics that in 2009, grandparents aged 55 or older spent billions of dollars on infant food, clothes, toys, games, tuition and supplies for grandchildren.
Bravo, US grandparents! May your tribe increase!
NOT READY YET FOR NILEKANI MODEL
The Task Force (TF) on 'Direct transfer of subsidies on kerosene, LPG and fertilisers' headed by Mr Nandan Nilekani, Chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has, in its interim report, recommended a road-map for direct cash transfer of fertiliser subsidy in three phases:
Create software capability and tech support to track movement of fertilisers from retailer to farmers;
Set up infrastructure to facilitate direct cash transfer to bank accounts of retailers; and
Enable a system where farmers buy at market rates from retailers and get cash transfers to UID-linked accounts. Currently, fertiliser subsidy is disbursed at the level of manufacturer or importer. The Ministry of Fertilisers allocates funds to Department of Fertiliser (DOF). DOF in turn, passes on to the manufacturer who adjusts retail prices according to the subsidy.
Manufacturers/importers are required to sell urea at controlled price (MRP) and collect subsidy from the Government equal to excess of cost of production/import and distribution. Permissible cost to producers is determined under 'New Pricing Scheme' (NPS).
Manufacturers of decontrolled phosphorus and potassium (P&K) fertilisers are given subsidy under the nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) policy. Subsidy rates under NBS are fixed on per nutrient basis. Unlike urea, these producers have the freedom to fix MRP.
The thrust of the subsidy policy is to keep fertiliser price to farmers 'low'. Price connects with their capacity to pay. There are 107.6 million small and marginal farmers constituting 83.3 per cent of 129.2 million farm households. Large farmers (holding more than 10 hectares) are only 0.8 per cent.
While continuing the subsidy, TF proposes to shift the point of disbursal from manufacturer to retailer/farmer. Under the scheme, DOF will transfer money to the nodal bank which will credit to account of retailers/farmers in a network of banks after checking with CSMS (Certified Software Measurement Specialist).
In the second stage, the retailer will buy fertilisers from manufacturer at market price and sell it to farmers at a lower price enabled by subsidy. In the third stage, retailer will sell at market price; however, 'effective' price paid by farmer will be lower due to subsidy.
What has prompted such a drastic shift? This is based on a perception that extant system is prone to leakages! This is flawed. A fairly rigorous system of subsidy payments is in place to prevent any misuse. On other hand, benefits are huge.
The Government has to deal only with a handful of manufacturers (29 urea units and 19 DAP and NP/NPK complex plants). And, that helps in keeping cost of administering subsidy low. Fertiliser Industry Coordination Committee under DOF does this job.
Any apprehension that producers can exploit system is 'unfounded' as under NBS for decontrolled fertilisers, they are paid on 'uniform' per nutrient basis. For urea too, the Government has promised to shift to NBS. This will also help correct the imbalance in fertiliser use. Increase in fertiliser subsidy is often linked withmisuse. This too is a wrong notion. There has been no increase in MRP (10 per cent hike last year came after eight years) while there has been a steep increase in prices of feedstock and other inputs besides an increase in fertiliser use. Hence the rise in subsidy bill.
In 2008-09 thus, subsidy zoomed close to Rs 100,000 crore. This was primarily due to skyrocketing international crude price and steep increase in prices of feedstock and imported fertilisers. In 2009-10, it dropped to Rs 52,000 crore, as prices cooled that year.
Gyrations in subsidy
We will have to live with gyrations in subsidy irrespective of the chosen delivery point as subsidy is a function of 'target' MRP on one hand and cost of production/import and distribution on the other. It is not a factor of how it is administered. Clearly, there is no justifiable basis for the proposed change. Still, if we take a plunge, this could have disastrous consequences. There are 2,76,313 fertiliser sale points. From a handful of manufacturers now, the government will have to deal with lakhs of retailers.
Setting up the required infrastructure is a huge challenge by itself. But, the biggest worry is the States do not have wherewithal and the will to do the job right. Infotech companies can provide software/tech support, but the crucial job of tracking and authenticating has to be done by States.
In 1991-92, the government exempted small and marginal farmers from increase in MRP of all controlled fertilisers by 30 per cent (except ammonium sulphate, CAN and ammonium chloride which were decontrolled). The money equivalent of this increase was given to States to be transmitted 'directly' to beneficiaries. The result was a fiasco. A meagre 3.5 per cent of farmers benefited from it. Subsidy amount involved then was around Rs 400 crore. Now, we are talking of astronomical Rs 50,000 crore to be paid on certification by States!
Under the present system, manufacturers get subsidy on 'dispatch' — 90 per cent on account payment and the balance on verification. When, it comes to dealing with lakhs of retailers, it will be dangerous to continue with on account payments. Will the entire payment be released after sale? Will a retailer have enough cash to pay full/market price in the very first place?
All the more so, when subsidy component accounts for two thirds (for DAP) of price paid by him. Under extant system, subsidy payments to manufacturers often get delayed due to budget constraints and other reasons. The government has issued 'fertiliser bonds' to them in lieu of cash. This had its own problems. One cannot dream of bonds being issued to dealers!!
There is thus a real danger of dealer network collapsing due to liquidity squeeze in an event of subsidy payments getting delayed. The Government could be putting the fertiliser supply chain to serious risk. Eventually, farmers would be hard hit.
In the third stage, problems of reaching subsidy to 129 million farm households will be of unimaginable proportions. How will they buy at market price? When will they get paid? Will they be 'fully' compensated? Will subsidy go to the 'right' persons?
MAKE THE NEW BANKS GO RURAL
BISWA SWARUP MISRA
The Reserve Bank (RBI), on August 29, came out with draft guidelines for issuing new banking licenses in the private sector. The guidelines cover a number of issues, including promoter eligibility, corporate structure, capital requirement, foreign shareholding and the business model for entities keen to enter the banking sector. It has also laid down additional conditions in respect of corporates or business houses intending to enter the banking space.
Why the additional conditions for corporate houses? The RBI is concerned about the possibility of corporate houses indulging in self-dealing — where the bank promoted by a corporate house gives preferential treatment to the promoter over other customers. The additional conditions broadly comprise safeguards to prevent connected lending and self-dealing. Given RBI's genuine concerns, it would only be appropriate to examine the broader issue of allowing corporates into the banking arena.
What prompted the RBI and government to consider issuing banking licences to the private sector? The idea was first mooted in the Finance Minister's 2010-11 Budget Speech, which said that the objective was to expand the geographical coverage of banks and access to banking services. Similarly, RBI in its discussion paper on 'Entry of New Banks in the Private Sector', has emphasised promotion of financial inclusion as the objective for granting new licences.
India's industrial houses have in the past run banks, or worked in close association with banks. In 1951, when India embarked on the process of planned development, there were 566 private commercial banks, many of which had their origins in industrial houses.
These banks, however, concentrated their operations in urban areas and largely catered to the upper sections of the society. In addition, the business models of many private banks were not sustainable, resulting in bank failures. On an average, 40 banks failed in India each year between 1947 and 1955. Liquidation and amalgamation of the private banks to protect the depositors' interest brought down their numbers.
By 1967, the number of banks had declined to 91 with 6,982 branches. Further, to align banking activities with planned development and promote inclusive banking, some of the bigger private banks were nationalised in two phases in 1969 and 1980. Thus, the number of private banks has significantly reduced over time. As on March 2011, there are 14 old private banks operating in the country.
Post nationalisation, branch expansion of public sector banks got a boost. The share of rural and semi urban branches in the total branch network improved from 63 per cent in 1969 to 78 per cent in 1985. However, in the next two decades (1985-2005), the process of branch expansion slowed down considerably. Further, the proportion of rural and semi-urban branches declined gradually from 79 per cent in 1985 to 69 per cent in 2005.
Financial inclusion formed an important plank of the inclusive growth theme of the Eleventh Five Year Plan. There has been renewed interest in branch expansion. The challenge of financial inclusion is formidable, as there are around six lakh villages and only 85,393 branches of commercial banks.
Apart from institutional innovations like business correspondents (BCs) and business facilitators to expand banking services, banks have been asked to cover 72,800 villages with a population above 2,000 by March 2012 through the branch mode. The grant of licences to industrial houses should involve a commitment on financial inclusion. All SCBs were advised by the RBI on July 15 to allocate 25 per cent of the new branches in a particular year to unbanked rural areas. The draft guidelines mandate that new banks open 25 per cent of their branches in unbanked areas. However, industrial houses keen to enter banking should be asked to commit at least half their branches in rural and semi-urban areas till the goal of reasonable financial inclusion is met.
If industrial houses indeed have the capability to innovate business models, it should not be difficult for them to develop banking models for rural conditions.
Some may argue that one should not be rigid on financial inclusion as an overriding criterion for granting licence, as there are other benefits of industrial houses entering the banking space — such as furthering competition and efficiency. However, the introduction of new private banks in the mid-1990s and liberal entry norms for foreign banks have already served the cause of promoting competition.
Given the financial muscle of industrial houses, meeting the capital requirement of Rs. 500 crore is least likely to be an issue. Apart from the commitment to financial inclusion, the issue of inter-connected lending, possibility of money laundering activities and appropriate supervisory mechanism needs serious consideration before granting banking licenses to industrial houses.
The draft guidelines have attempted to address many of these issues. Industrial houses need not be denied the opportunity to enter the sector, but maximum care should be taken to ensure that they play the game according to the rules.
The RBI has taken over a year to release the draft guidelines after publishing the discussion paper. This suggests that it is tentative, and wants to go slow in issuing new bank licences.
The conditions governing grant of licence should have an explicit commitment to open a relatively larger share of branches in the rural and semi-urban areas.
AUSTRALIA UP AGAINST ENTRY BARRIERS
India-Australia bilateral trade is in a buoyant phase. It has been growing at 20 per cent for the past five years. From A$8 billion in 2008, it has touched A$23 billion now. The next target is to double it in the coming five years, to touch A$40 billion. Driving this growth is the surging Indian investment in Australia's resources and the growing basket of traded items. With the economies of both countries doing well compared with most advanced countries, the near-term bilateral engagement looks promising, feels the Australian High Commissioner in India, Mr Peter N. Varghese. In a freewheeling interview with Business Line, Mr Varghese, who is of Indian origin and is completing two years in office in India, spoke on a wide range of issues.
Excerpts from the interview:
You mentioned that there has been a surge in Indian investments in Australia. In which areas specifically?
The resources sector, especially coal mining, has attracted many Indian players. For example, the Adanis have committed A$10 billion to mine acquisition and infrastructure. Similarly, Lanco has bought mines. It is another matter that Lanco is in legal trouble. As far as we are concerned, our interest is to help both companies to invest and do well. The legal issues have to be dealt with by the courts.
In the pipeline there are huge investments. We see a quantum jump in Indian investments in the next 3-5 years. We estimate Indian companies to hold over A$20-billion investments. With Australia expanding its gas production, especially LNG (liquefied natural gas), and given India's appetite for resources, the growth story should get stronger.
What other areas in Australia could attract Indian investors?
We want to broaden the economic base from pre-dominantly commodities. We see food processing, mineral resources, energy, iron ore, healthcare and education as big-ticket in the future.
For example, Australia intends to put nearly A$80 billion into the resources sector in the next 12 months. This will throw up opportunities for Indian infrastructure, power and IT companies.
Manufacturing has presented some opportunities. Mahindra Aerospace has made an investment in Gipps Aero to make small aircraft. The initiative is to make 10-seater aircraft with diversified uses in the Indian market, with intentions of reaching out to other markets later.
Have the contentious issues surrounding education been resolved?
By and large, I think we have put the student issues behind us. Our intention now is to refocus on education sector. We would like to lay stress on attracting Indian students for higher education to Australia, with greater collaborations and linkages across Universities, offering dual badge degrees, Ph.Ds, etc.
At another level, we want to set up vocational training activity in India. We have proposed a School of Mining to be set up in India with the intention of developing trade skills. It is at the feasibility stage now.
It will have Australian curricula and quality standards and we hope to see Indian private sector participation through funding and skill training. The trainees would get a certificate akin to what they would get in Australia. They would get job offers from the funding industries on priority. We have commissioned Chandler & McLeod, a noted HR consultant, to do the feasibility study.
At what stage are the negotiations on FTA (Free Trade Agreement) between the two countries?
We completed the first round of talks in July. It was essentially skirting around issues, explaining systems and focusing on broad issues. The FTA can be a useful step in driving the growth of bilateral trade, which is anticipated to be around A$45 billion soon. I don't think either side expects the negotiations to be easy. It will take time and discussions.
Indian IT companies were bullish on Australia a few years ago and established a presence there. Does the momentum continue or is there a slowdown?
Australia continues to be among the fastest growing markets for Indian IT majors. There are 18 large Indian companies Down Under. With the Australian Government developing the national broadband project, with an investment of A$40 billion, to take broadband connectivity to every home, we see big opportunities for IT companies.
Similarly, Australian IT companies have also found a good foothold in India. iSoft, a health software firm, has nearly 2,000 employees in India. Several Australian majors are looking at outsourcing legal services to India. There is movement in the area of back-office work too.
What are the limiting issues for growth in bilateral trade, according to your perception?
While many issues have been ironed out, market access in certain sectors is hindering growth, For example the agriculture market is restricted in India. We want to see more Australian agri-products reaching India. Similarly, the investment caps on foreign direct investment in sectors such as insurance and multi-brand retailing are a limitation. Finally, the tariff barriers in very few items are bothering us.
What is the scope in renewable energy and also in nuclear energy, where India expects to import uranium?
On the nuclear front we are still talking, there is not much to report on progress. On renewable energy, the emphasis is more on R&D. The Australia-India Science Fund, which has matching funds of A$65 million from each country, is pursuing several projects on solar energy.
Solar power for cold storage in rural areas is one area. TERI (The Energy Research Institute), New Delhi, and the CSIRO (which has a chain of national research institutes in Australia) are working on some research projects. Suzlon, an Indian company, has a wind farm near Canberra.
The Australia-India Strategic Research Fund has taken up Grand Challenge projects in four areas — health, water, energy and environment.
How do you see the Australian presence growing in India?
In the financial sector, three of Australia's top four banks are present in India. Insurance companies are waiting. SBI has a tie-up with AIG. In infrastructure, Leighton Infra has A$2 million worth of projects, while logistics firm Lindfox has a tie-up with the Tatas.
Thiess, a subsidiary of Leighton, is executing a very large contract in a A$25-billion project in the mining sector. Further, the expected reforms in the mining sector will see many Aussie companies coming to India. Croma, the retail chain is growing.
These are some examples, but we are optimistic of faster growth.
THE CONVIVIAL VISION OF EID
Human history has known festivals from the earliest days of man on Earth. Man celebrated festivals ever since he knew community life. Even though there are so many religions today, each is distinguished by its own customs, traditions and celebrations. People of all castes and creed are given the freedom to celebrate their major festivals with pomp and show. In Arabic language, Eid means "festival", and fitr means "breaking the fast". So Eid-ul-Fitr is a festival for breaking the fast. After the intense religious introspection and fasting in the month of Ramzan, Muslims use Eid as an opportunity to have fun, celebrate their faith and enjoy the company of friends and family. Eid was celebrated for the first time in 624 CE by the Prophet and his friends and family after the victory in the Jang-e-Badr. Therefore, it can be said that Muslims are not only celebrating the end of fasting, but also thanking Allah for the help and strength they received throughout the month of Ramzan Eid falls on the first day of the Shawwal, the 10th month of Islamic calendar (August 31). On the last day of Ramzan after sunset, people start sighting the crescent moon. As soon as the moon (hilal) is spotted, the celebrations for Eid-ul-fitr begin. All Muslims recite takbeer before the prayers on this day. "Allah ho Akbar, Allah ho Akbar, Allah ho Akbar, La illaha ill lal lah, Allah ho Akbar,, Wa lilahill hamd". (God is greatest, God is greatest There is no deity but [the one] God. God is greatest, God is greatest and to him goes all praise.) The reciting of takbeer starts when the crescent moon is sighted and till the prayers. Muslims are also supposed to pay Zakat al Fitr (alms given to the poor) in this day. It can be given in the form of money, eatables etc. Eid prayer is followed by khutbah (religious sermon) and duah (asking for forgiveness). Muslims celebrate this occasion in their own way. Females decorate and clean their houses, dress beautifully and apply mehendi on their palms. They also cook delicious food like vermicelli cooked in sweetened milk. Eid-ul-Fitr is a joyous occasion with great religious significance, celebrating the achievement of enhanced piety. It is a day of forgiveness, moral victory, peace of congregation, fellowship, brotherhood and unity. Muslims celebrate not only the end of all that fasting but also thank God for the help and strength that they believe He gave them through the previous month to help everyone practise self-control. It is a time of giving and sharing and greeting each other by wishing Eid Mubarak or Happy Eid.
FRONTIERS OF FREE INQUIRY
Although science claims to be a human endeavour entirely guided by rationality and objectivity, history tells us otherwise. At an individual level, a scientist may entertain a firm belief in the correctness of some idea or theory, even though he or she may lack an irrefutable proof in its favour. If the scientist happens to be very distinguished and has credentials as a path breaker in the field, this belief may not be confined to the individual but extend to a whole community following the leader. Such a belief system, if wrongly directed, can retard the progress of science. Take the example of Isaac Newton, widely considered the founder of modern physics. Amongst other researches, Newton made valuable contributions to optics, the science of light. Yet one of his prejudices concerned the nature of light and it slowed down progress of that branch of physics while he was alive. Newton thought that a beam of light is made of tiny particles. He was very critical of the alternative idea that light travels as a wave. Many scientists who secretly believed in the wave theory could not openly defend it because of the awesome personality of Newton. Thus, important results in support of the wave theory and new experiments showing the typical wavelike effects of interference and diffraction of light began to appear only after Newton was no more. Albert Einstein, who made revolutionary changes in physics, including the changes in our perception of space and time measurements, could not bring himself to accept another great revolution that had taken place in his lifetime, that of quantum theory. The quantum mechanics as developed by Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg and Paul Dirac claimed that nature imposes a basic limitation on how accurately one can measure a microscopic physical quantity. Such a basic limitation, called the "uncertainty principle", necessitates rewriting the laws of motion laid down by Newton. Einstein had extensive discussions with quantum physicists like Bohr in which he tried to make a case for the so-called "hidden variables", quantities specifying microscopic details whose lack of information leads to uncertainty. Although this was a reasonable alternative hypothesis, experimental tests to date do not favour it. Ironically, despite his grave doubts on the foundations of quantum theory, Einstein was given a Nobel Prize for his explanation of the photoelectric effect, which uses the very same quantum theory! Then there are prejudices not confined to an individual but shared by a whole community of scientists. Sometimes, with a majority electing to follow the wrong path, scientific progress may slow down or come to a standstill. Astronomy has several such episodes to show. Starting from the times of Aristotle, the geocentric theory held sway for nearly 18 centuries. The 17th century A.D. saw a gradual transition of the paradigm to the heliocentric theory. The earlier belief of a fixed Earth in a revolving cosmos gave way to one of a fixed Sun around which the Earth and other planets move. But this prompted another belief that our Sun occupies the central position of the Milky Way: a galaxy of billions of stars of which the Sun is one. This lasted for two centuries until improved observations led to a clearer picture of the Milky Way. Largely disc-shaped, it has the Sun nearly two-thirds of the way to the periphery. Prejudices and controversies, unpleasant though they may be, are part of what leads to progress of science. In the early days of radio astronomy, a group under the leadership of Martin Ryle was one of the pioneers in the famous Cavendish Laboratory of the University of Cambridge. The early primitive radio telescopes were bringing in information about radio sources. What were these objects made of? Ryle believed that they were stars in our Milky Way Galaxy. A newcomer to Cavendish, Tommy Gold believed otherwise. He felt that the majority of radio sources were far away objects well outside the Galaxy. And consequently, they must be much more powerful than radio stars. Gold would raise this point at appropriate occasions during discussions to the great annoyance of Ryle who wanted a unanimous endorsement of his point of view. The situation got worse till one day Gold found himself banned from attending Ryle's Cavendish seminars. He had, however, the last laugh when, a few years later, optical astronomers vindicated his view of the extragalactic nature of most radio sources. One could argue that until science discovers the ultimate truth in a field, scientists must theorise and conjecture. As human beings, they are entitled to their prejudices too. But these prejudices should not come in the way of search for truth. Unfortunately, this does not happen. In fact the situation has got worse in recent decades, largely because of high costs entering the arena of planning a scientific experiment. When in 1919, Earnest Rutherford planned his nucleus-breaking experiment his apparatus was designed by the technician in the lab using the laboratory facilities. The total cost was no more than 100 pounds. Today's frontier level experiments have budgets running into billions of dollars. Naturally, there can be tough competitions between scientists for this high finance. Peer reviews arranged to rank competing proposals have to go into details of what is proposed and the credibility of the proposer. Anxious to ensure safe returns on the money to be invested, the referees shirk from supporting unusual or adventurous ideas that do not fit in the existing wisdom. Thus Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler would fail to get their proposals accepted in today's system. What one would like is greater objectivity for supporting a project. While designing a telescope, the proposer today simply seeks confirmation of the existing picture. Thus we lose the opportunity of unraveling the real mysteries in the universe. Jayant V. Narlikar, a renowned astrophysicist, is professor emeritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus
CORRUPTION, FAST FORWARD
The lasting legacy of the agitation led by Anna Hazare will not be the yet-to-be-enacted legislation to set up a Lokpal and Lokayuktas in all states, but the attention that has been drawn to the brazen corruption that pervades life in India. Long after the hype and hoopla have died down, what will be remembered is how the government was literally forced to listen to the voices of ordinary citizens despite the arrogance and incompetence of some of its important functionaries. What will, unfortunately, also be remembered in the process is the megalomania of a few representatives of civil society. If Mr Hazare has emerged as a superstar of sorts, as a person who, willy-nilly, was elevated to the status of a Jayaprakash Narayan who, in the 1970s, united the political Right and the Left against Indira Gandhi's Emergency, much of the credit should go to the utter stupidity and overblown egos of a small coterie of ministers. One obvious example was the silly manner in which Mr Hazare's "preventive arrest" was sought to be "blamed" on the Delhi police. To argue that the police chief of the national capital acted as an agent independent of his superiors in North Block, where the ministry of home affairs is headquartered, is to insult the intelligence of the people of the country. Arrogance, when coupled with stupidity, is a deadly combination, which is why the government had to backtrack in the face of overwhelming public pressure. Corruption is neither new nor unique to India. Why then has corruption become such an important issue? One important contributory factor is the sheer scale and the brazen manner in which a slew of scandals have taken place in recent years. Let's have a peek at what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in the Lok Sabha on August 25: "…corruption sources are numerous. Until the early 1990s, the biggest single source of corruption was the… industrial licensing system, the import controls and the foreign exchange controls. The liberalisation that we brought about has ended that part of this corruption story. Another major part of corruption was the rates of taxation which were so exorbitant that people were tempted to enter into corrupt practices to reduce their tax liabilities. We, I venture to suggest, ourselves and successive governments, have worked hard to simplify to streamline the taxation system and on balance there is less scope for corruption as far as taxation matters are concerned." Dr Singh added that ways and means will have to be found to plug leakages in the administration system, "devise new methodologies to ensure that public distribution system will be free of malpractices" in collaboration with state governments, streamline contracting systems by enacting a Public Procurement Act and improve the functioning of "regulatory mechanisms, especially with regard to the management of the infrastructure". During his August 22 speech on the occasion of the golden jubilee celebrations of the Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata, Dr Singh was categorical: "There are some who argue that corruption is the consequence of economic liberalisation and reforms. This is of course completely mistaken… The abolition of licensing has eliminated corruption in these areas. But corruption has not disappeared from the system. It surfaces in many forms. The aam admi faces corruption when he has to pay a bribe to facilitate ordinary transactions with the government." "Beneficiaries of government programmes face corruption when those in charge of implementing the programmes misappropriate funds… Wherever there is government discretion in the allocation of scarce resources, whether it be land, or mineral rights, or spectrum, if the method of allocation is not transparent, there is a possibility of corruption... Corruption not only weakens the moral fibre of our country, it also promotes inefficiency and cronyism which undermine the social legitimacy of market economics..." These statements seek to highlight Dr Singh's concern that corruption has undermined the very basis of his economic liberalisation programme. The Harshad Mehta scandal was a consequence of, among other things, the government dragging its feet on adequately empowering the Securities and Exchange Board of India. We have an apology of a Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board. The Indian Bureau of Mines lacks teeth to act against offenders. The government has taken years to strengthen the Competition Commission, long after the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission was done away with. A more proactive and independent Telecom Regulatory Authority of India could have checked the spectrum scam and perhaps even prevented the undignified situation we are in today wherein lawyers on behalf of former communications minister A. Raja and member of Parliament K. Kanimozhi are asking Dr Singh to personally depose in court as part of their legal defence. The short point: even as the government has opened up large segments of the Indian economy to the private sector, it has failed miserably to strengthen regulatory mechanisms, often deliberately weakened their authority and also packed them with pliable former or serving bureaucrats. What Dr Singh has omitted to mention in his recent statements is that the fountainhead of corruption is the illegal pattern of election funding we have at present and the corrupt nexus between politics, business and crime. There are other important reasons why corruption is the big issue that it is. Corruption cuts across most sections of society and does not respect caste, language, religion or region. More significantly, corruption has come at a time when the bulk of the country's population is reeling from the debilitating impact of high food inflation, which has widened the gap between the rich and the poor and which the government has been unable to check. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator
SENSITIVE YET FIRM
OMAR Abdullah would appear to have struck a delicate balance between sensitivity and maintaining the authority of the state in announcing the withdrawal of 1200 cases against the callow youth who went on a stone-throwing spree in the summer of 2010 (few of them are actually in custody). Yet he rightfully asserted that it was a one-time offer, and more importantly he declared that there would be no backing off from prosecuting the 100 cases that went beyond stone-throwing and involved arson, damage to property and so on. In making that distinction the state government has ensured that there would be no jeopardising future of the lads who were misled, or lured into doing the dirty work others did not wish to do themselves.
Their names would be "cleared", they would be given the clean chits required when applying for government jobs and so on. It is a practical move, during riots a large number of people are rounded up but subsequently it becomes difficult to furnish the kind of evidence against them that would stand judicial scrutiny. Sure there was much politics to the move. For starters, it nullified whatever little validity there might have been to the call from separatist elements for a post-festival agitation for the release of political prisoners. In speaking about preserving the interests of the youth the chief minister actually exposed the uncaring attitude of those who engineered that violence: they had neither thought of the future of the youngsters, they had virtually abandoned them. Abdullah also did well to chastise the parents of those misguided young men, they lacked a sense of responsibility ~ a similar point was made by the British premier after the unprecedented riots in the UK. Whether the young men and their families will appreciate the amnesty offer, and refrain from being misled at a later date remains to be seen. Keeping the fires burning has become a fine art in Jammu and Kashmir.
Amnesty, however, will have limited impact in a situation where unemployment remains a major problem, and has for decades generated the frustrations exploited by the separatists and sponsors of militancy. Though various "drives" have been conducted the impact has been limited. The state government cannot address the issue, but as with so much else in regard to what the Centre can do for the state, matters are placed on the back-burner when the Valley is not ablaze.
MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES AHEAD
WITH the installation of Maoist vice-chairman 57-year-old Baburam Bhattarai as Nepal's Prime Minister the stop-gap arrangement in place for more than two years ~ it was incapable of making decisions on important issues ~ has finally ended. Ever since Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal resigned in May 2009 in protest against President Ram Baran Yadav's reinstatement of the army chief, the country has been swinging between hope and despair. Lawmakers tried and failed to form a national consensus government or one elected by people's representatives, to conclude the much-awaited November 2006 peace treaty that saw the Maoists join mainstream politics. Bhattarai may not have Dahal's charisma but he is no pushover. The fact that the Terai-based alliance ~ a potential force with 60 members ~ threw its weight behind him bears testimony to his popularity. And India sees in him a better option than Dahal, and some leaders have even spoken in his favour. Bhattarai has a doctorate from New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, and is popular with Indian politicians ~ especially those from the Left.
His immediate task is to seek the Constituent Assembly's extension; its term expires on 31 August. The basic problem, and which has hindered the peace process so far, is the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants and unless this is tackled first the Bhattarai government can make little progress. The big question is whether he will be able to convert his dispensation into a national government by persuading Nepali Congress ~ which has opted to sit in the opposition ~ and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) to join.
MR NODA'S JAPAN
BRITTLE STRUCTURE, DAUNTING TASKS
YOSHIHIKO Noda takes over as the Prime Minister of Japan at a critical juncture, less than six months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster ~ the worst since Chernobyl. The fact that he is the sixth PM in five years is itself a testimony to the inherent fragility of the political structure, with the average tenure of approximately a year. The political challenge is no less forbidding; Mr Noda will have to contend with a divided parliament and the rift within the ruling Democratic Party.
As the head of government who presides over the world's third largest economy, the new Prime Minister has a daunting task ahead of him. His predecessor had lacked the requisite support to rescue Japan from economic stagnation and cope with the nuclear catastrophe. Which precisely is the singular reason why Naoto Kan stepped down when his approval ratings had plummeted. And it is a measure of the intra-party rivalry that there were two contestants for the Prime Minister's office; as it turned out, Mr Noda as finance minister pipped the trade minister, Banri Kaieda, to the post in a run-off vote.
The economic crisis, that Mr Noda will have to countenance as Prime Minister, is embedded in part in the nuclear fallout. He will have to formulate a new energy policy and generate sufficient funds for reconstruction in the aftermath of the 11 March tsunami and the nuclear disaster that has shattered the country's infrastructure. A resurgent yen has affected exports and the huge public debt has led to a credit downslide.
In his pre-election pledges, Mr Noda has ruled out new atomic reactors, a move that will effectively phase out nuclear power over the next 40 years. Before the Fukushima crisis, Japan had relied on atomic power for about 30 per cent of its electricity. Hence the assurance that off-line reactors will be re-activated after safety checks to avert a power deficit. Much will hinge on legislative and economic support, which explains the overtures for a "grand coalition" with the opposition parties. With Japan headed for another bout of political instability, a snap election cannot be ruled out.
ANNA HAZARE'S BASIC FLAW
LEGISLATION CANNOT IMPROVE MORALITY OR PERFORMANCE
BY RAJINDER PURI
Because of his reputation, because of the timing of his agitation, because of the unprecedented corruption exposed in Indian politics, Anna Hazare's movement has attracted mind-boggling support throughout the nation and across the world. It is nothing less than a tsunami wave. But there is danger that the advantages of the movement might be frittered away. This is because Anna Hazare's approach betrays the same flaw that has plagued Indian politics for the past six decades.
Basically the flaw arises from the tendency of Indians to attempt improvement in performance or of morality by adding a new law or an institution. Legislation cannot improve morality or performance when human error and intent are to blame. That is not to say that new laws or amendments are not sometimes required. But generally speaking when existing laws suffice to deliver results, provided there is good administration, to seek a new law or an institution for getting results is an escape route leading to a dead end. Unfortunately a new law is the first option sought by politicians. Unfortunately the Lokpal Bill was the first option sought by Anna Hazare.
To begin with, I considered the Lokpal Bill superfluous. Subsequently due to the wide public belief in its miracle impact, I modified its concept in order to minimize the upsetting of existing institutions that require only minor amendment to curtail corruption. All that was required was to make the CBI a constitutional body unshackled from the cabinet's control.
Consider the Citizens' Charter proposed to expedite official performance. Is one to conclude that in the normal course officials are not expected to be efficient and deliver results expeditiously? They do not do this perhaps because of corruption and slackness. Will a new law end corruption and their ability to find loopholes that circumvent rules? Why cannot efficiency be extracted from the bureaucracy? To pre-empt the Citizens' Charter the government is preparing a grievance redressal bill. A new law will make it compulsory for officials to act within thirty days of receiving a complaint. What if a complaint can be addressed within five or ten days? Will officials have the option to delay up to thirty days?
Consider another example. A new law is proposed to protect minority community victims of riots perpetrated by the majority community. What about majority community victims of riots perpetrated by other members of the majority community? Are they less deserving of justice? This new law is being sought because of the perceived bias against the minority community by the administration? Is it seriously contended that such bias can be ended by making a new law? Cannot better administration be delivered to ensure impartiality? Do not existing laws compel impartiality of the administration? Existing laws do this, but are flouted by malafide performance. What needs to be done therefore is to ensure that bureaucracy performs as dictated by law. How can that be achieved?
For that, human conduct needs to be improved. I believe that not more than 15 per cent of officials are black sheep actively benefiting from corruption. The rest are passive bystanders who look the other way instead of acting against corruption. It is this permissive attitude that has created a culture of corruption wherein everybody becomes a silent abettor or a minor participant in corruption in order to survive in the system. It is this facet of the Indian psyche that has created the culture of corruption. The silver lining is that the very same Indian psyche induces people to follow the lead of inspiring example. The trickle-down effect of a head of state who cracks down on corruption ruthlessly would be incalculable. This trickle-down effect has been demonstrated before. It is being demonstrated today as people unquestioningly follow Anna Hazare.
So what Team Hazare needs to do is make a new political party before making new laws. It is a curiously hypocritical trait of Indian character that people stridently protest against joining politics while their actions suggest the opposite. It is only in India that political aspirants for leadership make a huge pretence of not seeking office. When they do become candidates they do so reluctantly claiming to be under pressure of supporters!
Contrast this with politicians in America. A candidate for President or Governor seeks office by claiming he or she is the best person for the post. In India only Morarji Desai was man enough to bluntly affirm that he was the best man to be Prime Minister. Indian media and elite never forgave him, accusing him of being ambitious. Are the rest like blushing brides too modest to be ambitious? Is ambition and the candid passion to do what one believes would be the best job a bad thing?
Already some members of Team Hazare are at pains to insist they will never join politics. If they speak the truth they should go home and rest. Much earlier through these columns I had criticized Medha Patkar for voicing grievances only to attempt at the end of it all to seek redressal from the very politicians who created them. I urged her to enter electoral politics. The only honest way to end the huge quantum of corruption is to seize power democratically and deliver results. That is what Team Hazare should focus on. Never since Independence has the youth of the nation been so aroused. With or without Anna Hazare they are not likely to stop. Let Team Hazare chew on that.
The writer is a veteran journalist
WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS
THE PRIME MINISTER NEEDS TO REALISE THAT COALITION COMPULSIONS SHOULDN'T INFLUENCE THE SELECTION OF INDIA'S RAILWAY MINISTER. EVEN MORE THAN TWO MONTHS INTO THE JOB, THE CURRENT RAILWAY MINISTER DOESN'T APPEAR TO HAVE SETTLED DOWN, WRITES AARTI KHOSLA
Recently, an express train derailed between Jamirghata and Gourghata stations of Eastern Railway's Malda division and six of its coaches and the engine landed on a parallel track. A passenger train, that was hurtling from the opposite direction, collided with the derailed train. Casualties? Two people died and 30 were injured. There was little mention of it in the media. Indian Railways (IR) too played down the accident. In fact, attempts were made to cover it up. One can understand the IR's motivation for downplaying the mishap but it's shameful the way the Indian media has ignored it. It's a tragedy that such a thing happened in a country where free speech and expression flourish and where there is no news censorship on the lines of China.
As a matter of fact, both Chinese media and people fared much better in reacting to the loss of lives in a collision of two high-speed trains at Wenzhou in Zhejiang province of China on 23 July, 2011. The death of 40 people and injury to 192 sparked off such a furore in the Chinese media and among the people that authorities had to clamp down on the coverage. But in spite of such a clampdown, many news organisations defied Beijing's ban. The Chinese people erupted on social networking sites and bombarded their government with questions on the accident's cause, the operating authority's ineptitude and railway safety aspects. Many urged their government to slow down. The public condemnation of official obfuscation forced the Chinese government to commit to increasing transparency, somewhat. In contrast, both Indian and the India media seem to have become inured to recurring tragedy on the tracks. It is time some public pressure is put on the railway authorities to salvage the rotting IR.
It is also time some serious questions are asked of IR mandarins. But even before that, the Prime Minister needs to wake up to the fact that selection of the Union minister for railway must not fall prey to coalition politics. Mr Manmohan Singh is suffering from the consequences of trusting a coalition partner ~ very much casual about its job ~ with a portfolio as crucial to the nation's growth as telecom. Can he dare to repeat the same mistake again with railway? It is not my case that the present incumbent is not the right person for the job. He is considered competent and well-intentioned. But even more than two months into the job, the current Union railway minister does not appear to have settled down. It is obvious that he has not been able to devote much time to his current charge as in his case too ~ as was the case of his predecessor ~ the port of call remains Kolkata. With the minister not around and his two deputies largely ignored by the railway bureaucracy, no one appears to be in control. It's the travellers who must bear the brunt of such dereliction as well the honest and committed among the IR workforce comprising station staff, running staff, works managers and inspectors and gangmen, among others, who keep the railway machine oiled every day. The drivers and guards are made to work way beyond their normal hours because of an acute shortage of staff. Every railway budget day, a string of trains are announced and operationalised with scant regard for the need for additional workforce. It's true that the recruitment process is time consuming but with the railway recruitment boards mired in habitual irregularities, it becomes downright impossible to even make a decent start. More than one lakh positions related to railway safety are lying vacant in the IR. How and when are these going to be filled? The existing staff is being worked to the bone with the lollipop of overtime. But the deep-seated fatigue of guards and drivers as well as locomotives, tracks, coaches, and wagons is derailing railway operations daily.
Even the IR's financial health is a matter of concern. The operating ratio, which is an indicator of operation efficiency, has already gone beyond 95. This means that the IR is spending Rs 95 in order to earn every Rs 100. Naturally, it doesn't have enough funds to take care of its massive investment needs. The IR has a programme for rehabilitation of tracks and rolling stock. But it can do little without enough funds. The industrial sector does require a separate freight corridor and demand for passenger traffic is bound to rise with the growth in population and the growing affordibility of people. The Vision 2020 document which the previous railway minister presented in Parliament in December 2009 and which her party colleague and current railway minister swears by, envisages addition to route network by 25,000 km, 12,000 km of doubling and gauge conversion and 14,000 km of electrification as well as separate double line corridors for passengers and goods traffic. With freight traffic projected to grow to almost double the current 900 million ton and passenger traffic to 15,000 million by 2020, the IR would need to add 2.8 lakh wagons, more than 50,000 coaches and nearly 5,000 locomotives to its existing stock. And, to do this, it needs a whopping sum of Rs 14,00,000 crore. The potential in the form of passenger traffic to earn money is there. Only, some efficiency needs to be injected into IR operations to move people and goods safely and punctually. But this can be done if the person in charge shows some interest. The spate of accidents demonstrates a systemic failure on the ground. And, it is reinforced every time a brake plate comes off a moving train, or a pantograph of a passenger train breaks down, affecting power supply to the overhead wire that results in suspension of train services in that area or a welding job on tracks is done poorly. The chief commissioner, railway safety, put down the 10 July, 2011 derailment of Kalka Mail ~ that killed 70 people and injured many ~ to shoddy welding job on the tracks.
Clearly, the railway minister needs to take charge. The IR has to be reformed tight from the Railway Board level. The ministry and the Railway Board have become moribund institutions functioning neither as a ministry nor as a board. The Rakesh Mohan Committee had examined the question of Railway Board reform a decade ago but its recommendations were not found acceptable as the panel itself was unsure of the approach it had recommended. The time has come to take a fresh look at the issue. While that will be a long-term exercise, perhaps the IR could begin with addressing the immediate concerns first. The vacant positions at the Railway Board needs to be urgently filled. The chairman doubling as the member, traffic and the member, engineering taking care of the job of an absent member, electrical speaks volumes of the state of affairs. The railway is the country's lifeline and deserves to be treated as such.
The writer is former Executive Director (finance), Railway Board
MUST TAKE THE AGE OFF IT
The controversy between the Indian Army chief and the government has become the hot topic of discussion these days in the corridors of power. This is perhaps the first time in the history of India that the Army chief has locked horns with the government, refusing to accept its decision about his age. Earlier, the Naval chief, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, had been sacked from service for refusing to heed government advise on appointment of an officer in an Intelligence agency.
Army chief General VK Singh has filed a statutory complaint with defence minister Mr AK Antony seeking a re-examination of the issue. The government had struck down an earlier plea, accepting his birth year as 1950 and not 1951. General Singh's matriculation certificate, as per legal requirements, states his birth year is 1951 and should have been accepted by the government, according to knowledgeable sources. The 1950 discrepancy arose because of an incorrect entry that has been explained by the Army chief in his correspondence with the defence ministry. General Singh, according to sources, is not trying to get into a confrontation with the government but to clear his name. He is determined that the impression that he was trying to stick on to the post should be countered effectively, and this can only be done if the government accepts the papers proving 1951 as his date of birth. As it is, several months have been eaten up by the controversy reducing General Singh to a virtual lame-duck chief, with the government so far refusing to accept his arguments.
The Army is very concerned, and officers who do not stand to lose or benefit are particularly supportive of General Singh. In their view, the government should have accepted the matriculation certificate, but chose instead to fix his date of birth as 10 May, 1950 on the basis of opinions given by the attorney-general and the law ministry. The statutory complaint, running into 500 pages, will be looked into and a response given. However, it is unlikely that the initial decision will be reversed as is apparent from the remarks of minister of state for defence, Mr MM Pallam Raju, who has been quoted as saying: "Where is the controversy? The ministry has looked into the issue and given an opinion." Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh had refused to accept a memorandum from a group of MPs asking the government to take a lenient view on the Army chief's age issue. He reportedly said that this was for the Army and the defence ministry to resolve and that lawmakers should stay out of the controversy. General Singh, who does not have many options left before him, has sent in the statutory complaint and if this too is rejected, he might have to put in his papers. Or continue till May next year as an Army chief without the backing of the government, an option that he might not choose. An early resignation will also upset the line of promotions, making the top brass of the Army who stand to gain or lose, more apprehensive and jittery. General Singh has also got into troubled waters with his recent statements supporting the movement against corruption. "Interesting in terms of how we are witnessing the power of democracy, the power of the people. Interesting in terms of how we are seeing our leadership cope with these things…" he reportedly said at an interaction in Mumbai. "It is not who is leading the movement but why it has come to this stage," he had added. These remarks have not gone unnoticed in the government and are likely to weigh with the decision-makers when his statutory complaint is examined.
The Army, however, stands behind its chief and is not willing to open flanks at this stage. The general consensus is that he is right in taking up the issue of his date of birth with the political authorities, and that he should be given a fair decision. If the government sticks to its guns and forces a resignation, the impact on the morale of the Indian Army will be severe. The level of confrontation thus has to be brought down several notches, and it is for the government to ensure that General Singh's reputation is not sullied further, and the air is cleared as soon as possible.
The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman
A VERY, VERY FALSE START
Usain Bolt was silly. He knew the rule. He knew better. He knew the gun could have gone off, he could have lit a cigar, rolled the smoke in his mouth, then taken off and still won. With the cigar in hand. It seems odd to ask the world's fastest man this, but what was the hurry, mate? Was it because Yohan Blake, the winner, twitched in the next lane?
But what's far sillier than Bolt is the zero-tolerance, false-start rule which penalises the first errant runner. It's up there in the inglorious pantheon of stupid rules, right next to the golfing one where if your ball moves in the wind when addressing a putt it's counted as a stroke.
Who makes these rules? Suited fellows in boardrooms with no idea of spectacle?
Rules are vital, they're guidelines, they apply to everyone. But rules have to ensure they don't imprison a sport but let it breathe. Rules have to allow for some error in the expression of an already anxious art (what's next, one serve for tennis players?). Rules are about allowing athletes the best environment to compete with each other and not to be quickly defeated by the invisible technology in the starting blocks which gauge the false start.
Else sport ~ replete as this world meet has been with false starts ~ becomes a farcical drama, where the cameras wanted to linger more on the man who was not even allowed to run. As 100m bronze medallist Kim Collins said: "I wouldn't be happy if I was defending champion and lost like that. You want to lose like a man."
The false start, like the penalty shoot-out in football, is a divisive issue. It has no perfect solution, it is designed to break athletic hearts. Once, every runner was allowed a false start. It was cumbersome, it meant frequent re-starts, it broke the concentration and momentum.
The rule changed in 2003. Then the entire field got one false start. The next false start, by anyone, meant disqualification. It wasn't perfect, it still allowed for runners to pressure rivals by deliberately false-starting and making them cautious, but it was fairer.
In the 100m, after all, you want to feel the idea of the world's fastest men quivering and straining at a leash, like an arrow fitted to a pulled bow. You don't want to feel they're holding back, wondering if sensors in the starting blocks, waiting to register any twitch, are going to slay them. You want them crouched on this fine line of explosion. But the new rule, enforced last year, is harsh. One false start, by any runner, and it's over. Forget the sweat. Go home. As even C Kunalan, former Singapore sprinter, says politely: "It's a bit over the top."
You bet it is. And not just because it happened to Bolt, but because it devalues the competition for runner and fan, and what else is sport about. Last year itself, sprinter Tyson Gay, a critic of the rule, presciently noted that "if it happened at the Olympics or World Championships next year, without Usain Bolt the race is going to have an asterisk". Now it does. Now even the winner, Blake, on interrogation might admit: He wanted to beat Bolt, not an empty lane.
Heartbreak, of course, is an essential quality of sport, so is capriciousness. Neither can we change every rule every time a star errs. But, if a rule starts to affect a sport, we must relook it. When Olympic champion Shelly Ann-Fraser, a victim of it, said last year, "I hate this rule", people should start listening. Truth is, this rule is too severe a penalty for a runner to pay after years of sacrifice. It is too anti-climatic a moment for spectators who pay decent money to watch a biennial contest involving the planet's swiftest.
But maybe ~ perversely ~ it had to happen to Bolt, in a major event, for the rule's cruelty to be advertised widely. This meet, Dwain Chambers suffered it, so did Christine Ohuruogu, but it was shrugged off. Bolt cannot be. His effect goes beyond a single race. One theory for the altering of the rule was that too many starts wasted time, slowed the telecast, infuriated TV producers. Except Bolt is now the telecast. A dying sport sits on his shoulders, his theatrics, his speed. The sport needs him, those TV producers need him. His failure points not just to his own error but also to an errant law. This is not, in the end, about suiting Bolt, it is about using Bolt to alter a rule which will suit most runners in the unleashing of their craft. It is about improving the spectacle of sport.
It is telling that Collins, who would possibly have gone medal-less if Bolt had run, said: "As much as I want to be on the podium, tonight is a sad night for athletics." He, a rival, doesn't like the rule, he wants it changed, he was regretful. Bolt was stunned but said only that he wouldn't cry. It didn't matter, his sport was weeping.
the straits times/ann
NOT ADDING UP
The message in a budget is more important than the statistics. It is more so if it happens to be the first budget of a new government that has a popular mandate to usher in big changes. The finance bill that Amit Mitra presented in the West Bengal assembly on Monday does not quite live up to that mandate. Everyone agrees that 34 years of Left Front rule has left West Bengal's finances in a mess. Only a radical, new approach to public finance can set things right. At the heart of the problem is the simple fact that 93 per cent of the state's earnings is spent on payment of salaries and servicing the debt. The only way to reverse this is to increase revenue and slash spending. To be fair to Mr Mitra, he promised to do precisely this when he unveiled an abstract of the annual financial statement earlier this month. He held out the promise of increasing the state's revenue by 30 per cent this year and reducing the share of salaries, pension and interest in the expenditures to 74 per cent. It would be no small achievement if Mr Mitra managed to keep his promise even partially.
However, the finance bill now casts a shadow on that promise. It would be wrong to pre-judge the prospects of Mr Mitra's performance. But the details of the plans for revenue generation, as presented in the bill, leave plenty of room for scepticism. Mr Mitra hopes to raise the additional revenue primarily from tax increases on liquor and tobacco products and from a more efficient system of collecting taxes. He is entirely justified in hoping that a simplified system will induce more tax-dodgers to have a change of heart. But it still remains a hope. Public finances need to depend on more substantive things than hopes to be sustainable. The real problem with Mr Mitra's bill, however, is a disturbing unwillingness to go beyond populism. What Bengal needs is a tax regime that will inspire growth and initiate a qualitative change in the economy. But no government can hope to achieve this without expanding the tax base and increasing taxes on a wide range of goods and services. The chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, wants to unleash Bengal's productive forces. But her government needs funds to translate her ideas into reality. It cannot afford to fight shy of taking hard, if somewhat unpleasant, decisions. A major change in Bengal's finances will open up possibilities that can far outweigh the political risks of higher taxes.
Amid poetry and much adulation, the Tamil Nadu chief minister, J. Jayalalithaa, voiced a fear on the occasion of her 100th day in office — whether her five-year term would outdo the achievements of the first 100 days. Since it is unlikely that Ms Jayalalithaa was questioning her own abilities, the statement can be assumed to have been a self-congratulatory message for what she believes has been an outstanding performance by a government that has only just assumed the reins. But what has the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government done so as to surprise itself? The answer probably lies in its perceived success in having risen above the vendetta politics that characterized its previous governments and having managed to devote itself wholeheartedly to the people's welfare. The AIADMK government has, undoubtedly, taken to fulfilling its poll promises with a gusto. It has instituted a separate department for social welfare, given the go to the distribution of free rice to the poor, gold and mixer-grinders to underprivileged women, pension to the elderly, compensation to fishermen and the disbursement of computers to students. The disorderly power and transport sectors are being tackled with an iron hand and novel ways are being sought out to overcome the fund crunch that threatens development plans.
But many of these beginnings have been made, and are still being made, with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam as the reference point. The DMK housing and health scheme has been replaced by equally populist schemes and the Metro Rail project, on which millions have been spent, is said to have been scrapped for a monorail project. The AIADMK's much-lauded policy against land encroachment, which has led to the imprisonment of several top DMK leaders, has been tarred with allegations of vindictive politics. The first major set-back the Jayalalithaa government has suffered can be laid at the door of its attempt to undo the so-called 'damages' of the uniform education policy of the DMK government. The other, more blatant, move has been the shifting of the administrative headquarters. At the end of the 100th day, Ms Jayalalithaa can draw satisfaction from the fact that she has made a beginning. She needs to fear the future only if she forgets the salutary goal of public service which she has set for the party, and the fact that hard economics does not support an economy held captive to the politics of freebies.
SHOW OF STRENGTH
RECIPROCITY HAS TURNED INTO A ONE-WAY STREET IN INDO-US RELATIONS DIPLOMACY K.P. NAYAR
When Standard & Poor's strips the United States of America of its top-notch credit rating, S&P's president, Deven Sharma, has to resign instead of the US acknowledging its lowered credit status with humility and a bit of introspection. It has nothing to do with Sharma being an Indian-American or because he could not convincingly defend the downgrade.
Similarly, when Dominique Strauss-Kahn is falsely accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid by the New York Police Department and a district attorney there, it is the Frenchman who has to resign from his job as managing director of the International Monetary Fund while no head rolls in the city police and the district attorney moves on to his next case as if nothing happened. The real victim in this case, Strauss-Kahn, meanwhile can no longer hope to achieve what could have been the pinnacle of his life's work: the French presidency.
Take another example. Kofi Annan was alright for a full five-year term and well into his second term as United Nations secretary general as long as he did not rub the Americans the wrong way. But Annan was opposed to George W. Bush's war on Iraq and against Washington "seeking to use the UN almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool", as his deputy, Mark Malloch Brown, said in another context.
And out of nowhere came insinuations that Annan's only son, Kojo, had illegally profited from the UN's "oil-for-food" programme. The Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times, which led the smear campaign against the Annans, father and son, eventually settled a libel suit that Kojo Annan filed in London for £250,000 and confessed that the newspaper "entirely accepts that the allegation was untrue".
The paper's charge was that Kojo Annan had negotiated "to sell two million barrels of Iraqi oil to a Moroccan company in 2001" under the oil-for-food programme. But despite the Sunday Times apology and Kofi Annan's eventual exoneration by an Independent Inquiry Committee led by the former US federal reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, the damage was done. The secretary general could no longer use his bully pulpit at the UN as a secular Pope or act as the world's conscience-keeper.
The new rule of international relations is still the old one. It is all right to be a s** of a b**** as long you are Washington's s** of a b****, a popular quote originally attributed to Franklin Roosevelt with reference to the Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza García, which has since been liberally used by many Americans to define US foreign policy goals and interests. And god help any foreign leader who happens to be a s** of a b**** with a streak of independence from Washington.
One of the smartest things that India did in reshaping its foreign policy in the post-Cold War period was to avoid any appearance of a direct conflict of interest with Washington, and at any rate, move away from a course of collision with the US on any issue. P.V. Narasimha Rao was the first prime minister to adopt this policy change. It was typical of the man in many ways and it reflected his persona, but in opting for this course, Rao may well have done more than just follow his instincts.
In 1991, Thomas Pickering, the US ambassador to the UN, came to New Delhi and called on Rao. India was then a member of the UN security council and was under severe pressure to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Pickering suggested after talks with Rao that India could privately make a commitment to Washington that it would abide by the NPT's objectives even as it continued to stay out of the treaty. Ronald Lehman, director of the US arms control and disarmament agency, the arms control Czar in Washington, followed up on this idea soon afterwards during a visit to New Delhi.
As long as Rao remained prime minister, he fulfilled this commitment, although New Delhi's official policy continued to be that it was free to exercise its nuclear option. In 1995, Rao tried to wriggle out of this commitment but was firmly held to account by Pickering's successor as ambassador in New Delhi, Frank Wisner. But Rao also took a leaf out of the proposals by Pickering and Lehman and decided to cooperate with Washington even while continuing to proclaim his government's non-alignment.
Rao's practical approach in this regard was picked up by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government once the dust settled over the 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests and Vajpayee declared that India and the US were "natural allies". One fallout of the Anna Hazare/ Baba Ramdev/ Andimuthu Raja episodes is that the Rao-Vajpayee styles of engaging the US, which Manmohan Singh enhanced into an entente cordiale, is now in danger of unraveling.
There are more irritants in Indo-US relations now than at any point since the nuclear tests 13 years ago. The nuclear liability bill, the defence ministry's decision to eliminate US bids for multi-role combat aircraft and consular/protocol tensions have strengthened concerns in Washington about India, which successive administrations since 1947 have viewed as too independent a country to be treated as an ally or even as a dependable friend.
Yet the Americans are not prepared to leave New Delhi alone because relations with India, Brazil, China and other emerging economies have become critical to American jobs and future prosperity as the US is progressively reduced to a "food stamp" nation, as one analytical report detailed last week. Between one-sixth and one-seventh of Americans now live on government handouts, a rise of three-quarters in the last four years, according to this fine piece of journalism by the Reuters.
One of the most perspicacious statements made by the prime minister during this last week of long parliamentary speeches warned that "we must not create an environment in which our economic progress is hijacked by internal dissension". As some domestic television channels outdoing one another for rating points and influential foreign media combine to create an impression of instability in India, a campaign has begun in the US laying the blame for everything that is wrong with India on its inability to initiate the next generation of reforms.
That orchestrated message will be drummed up and communicated to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and Communications Minister Kapil Sibal when they are in Washington in the coming weeks. If the prime minister travels to the US for the UN general assembly, the CEOs who lunch with him whenever he is in New York will convey the same message to him. What the government must guard against in order to protect its cherished independence in relations with the US now is to avoid giving an impression of being weak or vulnerable.
When Russia became weak under Boris Yeltsin, an American adviser found his way into Andrei Kozyrev's office in one of the most humiliating episodes in the history of that proud country. For some years almost up to Kozyrev's unceremonious dismissal in 1996, no resident envoy in Moscow, including the Indian ambassador, could get to Kozyrev without a nod from this American. Recalling this experience is not to suggest that India is anywhere at or even near that point. But some show of strength will not be out of place to dispel an impression of pervasive weakness, drift and indecision in New Delhi.
A very senior home ministry official told this columnist during a visit to New Delhi recently that a proposal had been made by law enforcement agencies investigating a Rs 300-plus-crore fraud in Citibank's Gurgaon offices that two American executives of the bank should be taken into custody as part of the investigations. According to this official, the suggestion was vetoed at a very high level.
Perhaps another generation of Indians will fret over this veto just as the country went into a tailspin recently over fixing the responsibility for allowing Union Carbide's chairman, Warren Anderson, to escape from India after the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy. The home ministry official contends that there would have been no lawsuit against India's consul-general in New York by his maid and the daughter of an Indian diplomat in New York would not have been dubiously detained if the law had taken its course in the Citibank fraud in Gurgaon. Reciprocity, it would seem, has become a one-way street in Indo-US relations.
DRAW THE LINE
Is Anna Hazare perhaps a covert Christian, as some uncovertly Hindu bloggers suggested in a website I consulted last week? They'd probably have felt their suspicions confirmed had they read one London newspaper describing his "crusade" against corruption. But they'd have been mistaken.
Born in a Christian country, English has naturally adapted some words from that religion for wider use. Crusade is a common metaphor for any campaign against evil. Likewise saint, as in he must be a saint to put up with that, though the word's Latin original, sanctus, merely meant sacred.
Turn the other cheek; he can walk on water; dividing the sheep from the goats; that's a cross he has to bear; my dad'll crucify me if I'm late; resurrection: all these metaphors are drawn from the biblical account of Jesus Christ. Others reflect later Christian beliefs or habits: apocalypse; the gospel of socialism (or whatever); purgatory; a snowflake's chance in hell; a broad church; speaking ex cathedra (from one's chair, like the Pope announcing some new doctrine). And, of course, crusade.
I once was on the jury when an Iraqi hotel boy stood accused of some trivial theft. His barrister said to him: "Some of these documents call you Sayid Jaffrey and others Jaffrey Sayid. Is Jaffrey your Christian name?" "No sir," he replied, "it is my first name." His implied rebuke was right. But the barrister's usage was wholly normal when I was young.
English has extended its welcome even, if rarely, to other religions: a bikers' Mecca; karma and nirvana; juggernaut and even, I fear, holy cow, usually for something you mustn't meddle with, though I've met it as an exclamation of surprise.
Historically, English exclamations often reflected religion. Most used the name of God, unspecified. Today's Americans use Oh my God to register some disaster; English soldiers in the 1500s were so free with By God that they became bigods in French slang. But often Jesus specifically was invoked. Jesus Christ is common today to express alarm or surprise; in the past it produced various ways to avoid pronouncing the sacred name itself, such as jeepers creepers or jiminy cricket.
Such usages, of course, aren't found only in English. We have goodbye — this is, God be with you; Spanish,
French and Italian have adios, adieu and addio (which has joined modern Greek as antio). In Italian, cristiano was once a common way of addressing some other man, and today's exclamations still make free with the Madonna.
Can one still use such language today? One American envoy invited an early UN meeting to show "a Christian spirit", or some such words. Those days are clearly past, and by now it is unwise — though not unknown — to launch, say, a "crusade for democracy" against some Muslim regime. But a "crusade against corruption"?
Born before political correctness took wing, I'll live with that, though I'd hardly offer it if The Telegraph lived in Saudi Arabia. And is it really offensive to all non-Western ears? If so, sorry, but those offended should look closer to home. Who said recently: "We have deliberated on many names for the state and finally decided to rechristen it as Paschimbanga"? And whose wording was reported all over India, unsubedited?
As any reader of this paper will know, a certain Partha Chatterjee. Who, I notice, hasn't rechristened his surname into chaste Bengali. So is he too a Christian? As with Mr Hazare, I doubt it. Draw an absolute Lakshmanrekha, if you must, round a few English words, fair enough. Short of that, be aware that what's acceptable in one society may not be so in another — or even intelligible. But do please know when to stop.
TIME FOR REVIEW
''HANGING IS A SAVAGE LEGACY FROM THE PAST.''
The Madras high court has ordered a welcome stay on the execution of three persons—Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan-- who were convicted for the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The countdown for carrying out the death sentence had actually started after the rejection of their mercy petitions by president Pratibha Patil. It was scheduled to be carried out on September 9. The Tamil Nadu assembly has passed a unanimous resolution for a review of the president's decision. A number of other organisations and individuals have also supported the demand. There was an inordinately long 11-year delay in taking a decision on their mercy petitions. The court has asked the government to explain the delay in taking a decision. While this is a legitimate question, the issue of the need for a review of the death sentence goes beyond it.
There is now an opportunity for the country to temper the harshness of its law with humane values. There is no doubt about the role of the three convicts in the heinous crime and it is among the rarest of rare crimes. But the case for capital punishment is untenable even in the case of the worst crimes. It is morally abhorrent to take a life in return for another life. It amounts to vendetta and should have no place in a civilized society. The practical use of an eye for an eye policy has also long been rejected because the death sentence is no deterrent against crime. It is a savage legacy from the past. The continuance of the provision for capital punishment in India's statute book is anachronistic because most countries in the world have abolished it. Many others have put a moratorium on it, in response to public opinion and a number of UN advisory resolutions.
The last death sentence in India was carried out in 2005. But there are several persons on the death row now, and most of them are awaiting a presidential pardon. The plea for mercy of parliament attack convict Afzal Guru was also rejected recently. Unfortunately death sentences sometimes become political issues in the country. The softness or the toughness of the state is not judged by its ability or willingness to hang people, but by its internal strength and cohesiveness. The government should declare a moratorium on death penalty now and start the process of abolishing death sentence altogether.
MAOISTS ON TOP
''BHATTARAI HAS MULTIPLE CHALLENGES AHEAD.''
Baburam Bhattarai's election as Nepal's new prime minister will be greeted with huge sighs of relief in the country, the neighbourhood and beyond. Few expected the deeply polarised and rivalry-ridden Nepali parliament to make a quick decision on the matter. It may be recalled that last year it took 17 rounds of voting before parliament elected a prime minister. When prime minister Jhalanath Khanal stepped aside a fortnight ago, many predicted a similar endless impasse. That thankfully was avoided this time. When several rounds of negotiations to put in place a government of national unity failed, parliament quickly got down to vote. Bhattarai who belongs to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was able to muster the support of the United Democratic Madeshi Front, an alliance of five Madeshi parties to defeat the Nepali Congress' Ram Chandra Poudel by a simple majority. The election of Bhattarai has elicited relief also because although a Maoist he is a moderate and fiercely committed to democratic principles. He has some ministerial experience too and his stint as Nepal's finance minister drew considerable praise.
Bhattarai takes over the prime minister's mantle at a particularly critical time. Public faith in politicians and parliament has plunged to an all time low. Few expect Bhattarai's government to survive for long as the Madeshi parties are bound to demand their pound of flesh for their support. Will Bhattarai, like his predecessors, keep offering portfolios to retain their support? Will survival rather than governance be his preoccupation?
Bhattarai has multiple challenges ahead. He must give priority to getting a new constitution done. The deadline for this has been extended far too many times. Politicians are still divided on the kind of government the country should have and the number of provinces in the federation. An important sticking point that must be addressed is the fate of 19,000 former Maoist fighters, who are now living in supervised camps, their weapons locked away. Bhattarai must find a way to reintegrate them into society or the army. The army's deep distrust of the former fighters is standing in the way of the reintegration of cadres and Bhattarai must use all his skills to win the army's support. As the largest party in parliament the Maoists have rightly claimed the mandate to rule. They are now at the helm. They must provide Nepal with the leadership it so badly requires.
WHY THIS SILENCE?
BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN
Corruption by non-state actors like MNCs, business enterprises and NGOs are sought to be kept out of Lokpal's ambit.
Anna Hazare broke his televised fast on the 13th day after parliament passed a resolution that the standing committee would deliberate on his three demands and the prime minister sent a personal letter to him. Addressing the gathering after breaking his fast, Anna said that the concentration of power in a few institutions at the top was the main source of corruption, and so there was a pressing need of decentralisation. Ironically, the ombudsman proposed by his team will be repository of all power, an omnibus institution with the power to investigate, prosecute and judge. The much-hyped agitation has created certain myths that the whole country is surcharged with the resolve to fight corruption. If that be so, the virus of corruption will evaporate like camphor in no time.
Corruption, unless defined, is an amorphous enemy whom everyone will like to flagellate, even those who are its beneficiaries, and bask in the reflected glory of fighting with a crusader. So, everyone seems to be supporting it and the round the clock coverage by the media gave the impression as if nothing else were happening in the country or the world.
But if this 'amorphous enemy' is picked out, then the vested interests will rise in rear their ugly heads with vengeance as happens with the RTI activists throughout the country who are being murdered as they dare to expose mafias of different hues. Shehla Masood is only the latest victim who fell to the assassin's bullet in Bhopal, the day Anna began his fast, but the 24x7 news channels could not spare a few minutes to mount detailed reports about her murder and condole her martyrdom.
The media does not find time to report when about 30,000 tribals from Chhattisgrah came marching to Delhi in support of their demand. Several rallies with huge participation are taken out in Delhi and other parts of the country but there is hardly any reporting. Now, the NGOs and the media houses have shown their power. No wonder, Anna's draft is silent on corruption in the private sector and non-government organisations.
The oft-quoted reason for keeping the private sector out of the purview of anti-corruption agencies is that corruption is the abuse of public office or power for private gains.
Institutions like the World Bank have also adopted this definition. However, there is no unanimity over the specific elements that constitute corruption. Thus, while the word 'corruption' has been used several times in the 2003 UN Convention Against Corruption, there is no effort to define corruption. Rather, it defines and criminalises certain acts of corruption liked bribery, money laundering, embezzlement and abuse of power.
Thus, corruption by non-state actors like multinational corporations and other business enterprises and NGOs does not fall within its ambit. This exclusion is sought to be justified on the ground that official corruption poses particular challenges to governance and affects access to justice which ultimately undermines the protection and promotion of human rights which does not happen in case of corruption by the private sector. However, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) does recognise the role of private players in corruption and has included it in the framework to combat corruption.
After the liberalisation of economy, now approximately 24 per cent economy of the GDP is controlled by corporate sector. For basic needs like health services and education, people have to depend on the private sector where they are subjected to untold exploitation. Palm greasing for admission is not uncommon in private schools. In corporate hospitals, the bill is to the tune of lakhs for ordinary ailments, and many a time dead bodies are not handed over until payments of dues of several lakhs are cleared.
Most doctors are on the payroll of pharmaceutical companies. Paying bribes to doctors means enhancing the rate of the medicine and the patient bears the brunt. Hundreds of thousands of people are victims of the fraud and shenanigans of builders. Is it not corruption? Team Anna is not only silent on such corruption, but Prashant Bhushan, a member of the drafting committee of the Jan Lokpal bill was seen vociferously arguing on a TV channel for keeping the private sector out of the purview of Lokpal and was making a searing attack on the government bill for including NGOs. He adduced the stereotyped argument that the Prevention of Corruption Act defines corruption as misuse of public office or power for private gains. He should know that a law can be amended according to the needs of the hour.
Further, Anna has been made a captive by some activists who has been made inaccessible for anyone except the few celebrities whose presence on the dais add refulgence to the campaign. Anna has a moral authority and he should not allow himself to be used by some activists for whom social service is a trade. Besides, his team claims the constitutional right to protest but is not prepared to give the right of dissent to anyone and dubs them as corrupt who question their method or cause. Anna has done a yeoman service by awakening the whole country and bringing the issue of corruption to the centre -stage but he must respect other shades of opinion and make himself accessible to everyone.
FINALLY, A COP WITH A HEART
Finally, after a very long recess, there appears to be some sincere efforts to remove the trust deficit between the Goa police and the public, lead by the Director General of Police, Dr Aditya Arya.
The arrest of the constable of the Mapusa police station due to the direct intervention of the DGP is a case in point. The constable reduced not just the police force but mankind to bits, by forcing a trafficked victim to perform oral sex in the police station, watched by two others, including a lady cop. This case may well have been pushed under and added to the list of cover ups of the Goa police, if the DGP hadn't happened to be in a function where representatives of a panel, which deals with victims of sex trafficking, were present. The immediate suspension and arrest of the constable was a good beginning, considering that officers of the Panjim police station, charged with murder, are scot free and roam around Panjim without any work with a portion of their salaries still paid to them.
The police should now follow a ruthless path and ensure than this man is shown no leniency and the case looked at as a rape case since technicalities do not matter. A forcible sexual act of any nature needs to be viewed in the same manner and therefore the prosecution needs to push for punishment which matches a crime of this nature. The crime is so heinous that there will not be too many people who will speak out against treating this as a rape case and support a punishment which is accorded for murder.
This anger and extreme view is natural. When men in uniform, brutally abuse their offices both literally and figuratively to exploit a hapless victim of trafficking, who actually escaped from the pimps who were holding her, you cannot play by just the letter of the law. The spirit of punishment should be commensurate with the spirit of the act committed and if that is not possible then the law needs to be changed.
Meanwhile the personal interest shown by the DGP is commendable. He, in fact, is on record, having said "A part of me died when I heard of the Mapusa case, I haven't been able to sleep since then". We can be cynical and dismiss a reaction of this nature. But at the same time when did one last hear of a police chief speaking this language of remorse? If this can be translated into action, we have hope. For instance his surprise visits to police stations, at times wearing flashy party clothes, has caught many policemen unawares. If this results in at some improvement in discipline, it's a step forward.
However, what is critical is that this sensitivity needs to percolate to the grassroots. The DGP himself has been worried about the constant political interference in his department and the strong linkages between politicians and lower level policemen. It is an open knowledge that there is strong political lobby trying to protect the ex Panjim PI Sandesh Chodankar and other policemen from prosecution and punishment in the Cipriano Fernandes murder case. It won't be surprising if another politician put his protective hand on the head of the Mapusa constable who forced a poor girl to perform oral sex on him.
The DGP and his team should prevent that at all costs. An identification parade should be immediately held so that there is no legal escape for the cop and the case should be followed till punishment has been meted out.
GOVERNANCE WITH VENGEANCE
It was amusing to read that the Chief Election Commissioner of India, Dr. S. Y. Quraishi at his press conference during his visit to Goa mentioned that 95% of the registered voters have been brought under EPIC and that EPIC would be compulsory in the ensuing state assembly elections. But little does the CEC of India know that there are mistakes in the details printed in most of the EPIC issued. For the last one year I have been corresponding with the Mamlatdar of Bicholim, Dy. Collector & SDO of Bicholim & the CEC of Goa Election Commission and in return I received a threat from the Mamlatdar's office that my name will be deleted from the Electoral Roll. I hope the Courts take cognizance of such threats and pass strictures and penalize such erring officials so there is no repetition of such incidents. Drawing inference from this experience it seems the Mamlatdar expects people will wait expectantly at home, for the personnel from his office to come without prior intimation to provide Form 8 to make the necessary corrections in the EPIC and that too when his officials repeatedly err with the details required in the EPIC. Why should the common man be made suffer due to the inefficiency and bad governance by the government administration? Why can't Form 8 already submitted once with correct details be re-used to re-issue the EPIC instead of asking the citizens to fill the same, time and again and visit the Mamlatdar's office each time for this purpose especially when the person has authenticated the details on the day of the photo-session.?
Last June 2010, I had under an RTI application , brought this to the notice of the Mamlatdar. In reply I was given evasive responses, with the blame being shifted to the Election Commissioner's Office of Goa. With another RTI application I had asked the Dy. Collector of Bicholim to tell me whether the residential address is supposed to be printed on the card as provided by the citizens on Form 8 or whether any other address which they deem fit is printed on the EPIC.
WOULD EVERY DOG HAVE ITS SAY?
DR. JOE D'SOUZA
Give dog a bad name and shoot it. This belief is an obsession with a section of the human society. Although we symbolically proclaim that the dog is man's best friend, we do precious little to ensure that every dog must have his day.
It disturbing to witness a rabid dog attack pedestrians, injure them and disseminate rabies. What better could a helpless, unvaccinated and ill-treated canine, do? It is commendable that 'PAWS' a voluntary agency committed to animal welfare was able to quarantine the unfortunate animal and give it a dignified death.
Penny wise and pound foolish is what the CCP seem to be. Instead of immunizing the stray animals the Mayor of the city arrogantly shirks his responsibility, shifting the blame to those responsible for scavenging and providing a food to animals. We know that a bad carpenter blames his tools. What is worse is the ignorance and stupidity exhibited by the city fathers in Panaji. In spite of direction of the Honorable High Court, Panaji Bench, that a Animal Welfare Committee be constituted to monitor the directions of the Court and look after animal welfare CCP did nothing. Only once did the committee meet in 2008, when Tony Rodrigues was the Mayor and in spite of the numerous appeals made to the, then Commissioner Elvis Gomes, precious little was done to improve the quantity of life of stray animals in Panaji.
The stray dogs in Panaji work tirelessly to keep the nocturnal crime rate down, besides taking care of CCP garbage- an undignified and thankless task. Many people in our society throw food out instead of feeding the starving strays. Instead of allowing chicken waste matter to degrade, pollute and destabilize the environment, we ought to give it to a dog or cat that knock helplessly on our door. Strays on the streets are present due to the CCP and not due to the residents who feed the starving animals.
Scientifically, recycling is better than putrefaction and decay. It conserves energy. It gives people a sense of satisfaction to feed animals than to fuel putrefaction. We sympathise with those who are sick. Similarly animals fall pray to various diseases due to human negligence, selfishness and greed. We have to learn to live in an ecosystem with diversity and sustainability.
We often compare a man with a dog, when we say "he is as faithful as a dog", or when we say he works like a dog or is leading a dog's life. Yet we look at stray dogs with disregard and disdain, and dub them as parasites with nuisance value. We consider ourselves to be created in the image of God and assert that all creation is for man's glory. Like many strays, the dog that died of rabies crossed me at least on three occasions, on the fateful day that it attacked the poor pedestrians. The dog had every scope and opportunity to bite or attack me. I never suspected it had rabies as it did not attack any one in my presence. It did not stop to ask food. It gave an impression that it was in a hurry. There was calmness and a meek hello on the dog's face in its language or perhaps bye-bye or so long, every time it crossed me. I hope the Mayor pulls up his socks and vaccinates the canine residents of Panaji to avoid further spread of rabies amongst the unsuspecting pedestrians. It is his duty and the right of the strays of Panaji, given the verdict of the High Court.
THE SONG BETWEEN THE LINES
A COMMON DENOMINATOR BETWEEN COMPETITIVE SPORTS AND TELEVISED ENTERTAINMENT COMPETITIONS IS THE LARGE AMOUNT OF MONEY INVESTED IN RESULTS, AND IN BETTING ON THE RESULTS.
Police Commander Yoav Segalovitz, head of the investigations and intelligence division, does not like to give catchy code names to investigative cases. He prefers to use prosaic file numbers. Nonetheless, his investigators have coined a name fraught with significance, "between the lines," for the affair which on Monday brought about the submission of an indictment against popular singer Margolit Tzan'ani. The name conveys hints of threatening messages which were allegedly delivered in conversations involving Tzan'ani and criminals, and her manager who (in Tzan'ani's opinion ) refused to pay money he owed her; and the code name applies to the strange statement made by Tzan'ani, apparently at a criminal's behest, during one of the "Star is Born" broadcasts. Infiltrating between the lines, organized, violent crime encroached upon the artistic, cultural and entertainment spheres.
Crime gangs try to penetrate any profitable sphere. Since a shadow economy, one not beholden to the state taxation system, operates in Israel, there also operates a parallel system of law and order. This parallel system features arbitrators, collectors and repossession men (sometimes executioners ). The accommodating attitude displayed recently by businessmen and others toward the use of such criminal mediators is extremely worrisome; these mediators create fears of bodily assault or attacks on property, and their use is rationalized by appeals to the protracted nature of procedures in the judicial system. The most dangerous appearance of this criminal activity is in the spheres of entertainment and sport, where persons who are allegedly in contact with criminals quickly turn into gossip heroes in the print and electronic media. The conflict between athletes and singers and these criminals is not invisible because both sides appear to enjoy the contacts. Sometimes, when a famous figure is injured in a mysterious attack, or leaves the country on a strange exile, the tip of the iceberg is exposed.
A common denominator between competitive sports and televised entertainment competitions is the large amount of money invested in results, and in betting on the results. Within the events is considerable profit accrued by those who know how to corrupt the system; businessmen, competitors, judges and organizations that operate the events can be motivated by greed - or fear. Now that it is clear how easily their results can be tilted, it is wrong to let business entities responsible for the production and broadcast of these competitions regulate and monitor themselves. And it is wrong to ignore the seriousness of the problem, and to continue with the pursuit of profit as though nothing has happened.
THE JUNTA ALLIANCE
NOW ISRAEL STANDS IN FEAR AND TREPIDATION, COUNTING THE DAYS UNTIL THE CAMP DAVID AGREEMENT WITH EGYPT COMES CRASHING DOWN.
BY ZVI BAR'EL
We were shocked. Suddenly we were told that Egypt is being run by a "military junta." We were also surprised to discover that after 33 years of peace, the peace agreement was signed with a dictator, and that we continued on with the dictator who followed him after he was assassinated. And now this peace is about to collapse, because the dictator is gone and the junta has arrived.
Now Israel stands in fear and trepidation, counting the days until the Camp David agreement with Egypt comes crashing down. In Israel, the peace agreement is perceived as a prelude to war. Even if another 100 years pass after its signature, it is a threat.
So here is the solution: Instead of getting excited every morning about Egyptian statements regarding a "reevaluation" of the Camp David Accords, and instead of waiting around in fear for the moment when Egypt will announce a demand that the agreements be changed, Israel should initiate a cancellation of the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, until those countries have a genuine democracy or real dictatorship of the sort that Israel knows how to cooperate with.
We would, of course, very much like to see a military junta stay on in Egypt, under General Tantawi, managing affairs and keeping Tahrir Square from deciding who will lead the country. Peace with Egyptian citizens is much more expensive than peace with a junta or with a dictator. The people demand peace with the Palestinians, withdrawal from the territories, the demarcation of borders, and the rest of the demands that the dictators did not insist on. But how is it possible to continue living in peace with a military junta that answers to the voice of the street?
The truth is that we actually like military juntas. In Turkey we loved the junta that bought drones from us, upgraded its tanks and cooperated with us on intelligence. But now the country is led by a "civilian junta," an "Islamic" one that was elected democratically. And, once more, surprise: It turns out that even a democracy is not the magic solution. It is even dangerous for ties between countries. In Egypt, we liked Hosni Mubarak because he was part of the military establishment, and we also liked also Anwar Sadat who preceded him. King Hussein relied on his army, and when he signed the peace agreement with Israel he did not consult the Jordanian people.
We liked military juntas in the Arab world, and in Chile, Argentina and Ethiopia. Military juntas speak a similar language. They understand one another; their interests are narrow and specific; they are scornful of civilians, certain that without them their countries will fall into chaos, and that civilian politics - democracy - is a recipe for the country's collapse. Juntas operate in the name of a desired value that is supreme to all other values: security. All the rest - education, health, social services, civil rights - can exist only if the junta ensures security.
"The nation and the army together," demonstrators cried in Tahrir Square.
Our junta would love it if Rothschild Boulevard would burst like a bubble. Civilians with round glasses, three-quarter-length pants, some of whom never served in the army, some smoking illegal grass, would then get their hands off the junta's money-box and stop interpreting, without any authority, the holy budget, and especially the sections on defense.
Our junta wants the public to raise red banners like the ones in Tahrir Square, calling out, "The nation and the army together" - but with its interpretation. The people must not stick their hands in the army's pockets.
The difference between Egypt and Israel is that here there are two military juntas: the one that is appointed and the one that is elected. There is one that shapes the internal policy of the state through the enormous budget that it claims for itself, and there is one that approves these budgets for its twin. There is the one that goes to war to defend the homeland, and the one that determines what the borders of the motherland are that the army must defend.
In Egypt, the military junta does not camouflage itself, even when it moves into ministries. Those who carried a military rank continue to take pride in it also as "civilians."
In Israel, of the twin juntas, one wears uniforms and ranks, and the other wears suits and ties - but it is the same generals. And here is another discovery: That same junta that is now running Egypt would not have taken over were it not for the civilian mutiny that threw out the previous regime. Egypt did not undergo a military revolution, but a civilian one. The army is the one who extended a hand to the civilians. But this is Egypt, and it has never served as our model. It is, after all, a dictatorship.
THE TYCOONS' MOMENT
IN ISRAEL, THE TYCOONS - WHO LIKE TO CLICK THEIR TONGUES OVER 'THE STATE OF EDUCATION' AND 'THE STATE OF THE HEALTH SYSTEM' - HAVE YET TO UTTER A SINGLE RESPONSIBLE PEEP.
Even before the events of Palestinian September erupt and rescue Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from having to cope with "the peoples' demands," it seems he is already arranging on his own for the protest to be weakened. The Trajtenberg Committee, whose chairman has already announced that he will not bust the budget, is merely a smoke screen. Behind him, a three-sided process of dismantlement is taking place.
The first side of the triangle, the committees to accelerate residential construction (known in Hebrew by the acronym vadal ), has already been completed. Netanyahu presented their establishment as a response to the protest, even though these committees, an exact replica of the Residential Construction Committee of days gone by, have been his pet idea for several years now, in the spirit of the land privatization he has tried to carry out ever since 1996.
The second side of the triangle, the battle against economic concentration, is also behind us. In his weakness, Netanyahu allowed this concentration to worsen, but that isn't what he wanted. Now, it would admittedly be convenient for him to implement the recommendations of the committee he set up and portray himself as a trust-buster, but in any case, he believes in the necessity of this step with all his might.
The third side - a change in tax policy - has been trumpeted in headlines since the beginning of the week. But faithful to the economic system to which he adheres with impressive religious zeal, Netanyahu has thus far refused to accede to the Finance Ministry's pleas to make such a change.
For some years now, treasury experts have sought to cancel planned reductions in corporate tax and even to raise this tax, to create a special tax bracket for especially high earners, and to raise taxes on income that isn't from labor - primarily, capital gains and dividends. As far back as a year and a half ago, the treasury's outgoing budget director, Udi Nissan, warned that continued tax reductions were liable to exact a heavy price, and that Netanyahu's belief that "fewer taxes mean more growth" was mistaken. "Citizens of a country with a per capita income of $30,000 expect a higher level of public services," he said in an interview with TheMarker.
Granted, Nissan didn't say that the level of those services that have undergone privatization or massive dilution is disastrous, but he hinted as much. And experience teaches that the farther away a person is from his public office, the more outspoken he becomes.
As noted, Netanyahu has thus far stubbornly refused. But now, to ease the pressure, he might accede to a softened version of the treasury proposals and present it as an achievement for the protesters.
When the complete triangle is presented to the public, that will be the protest's moment of truth. Its leaders, and the experts they asked to assist them, will have to explain why this triangle is not a real achievement and is not a reason to dismantle the protest tents. They will have to remind the public why they took to the streets, and why, as long as the system here has not been radically changed, they have no reason to desist from the profound revolution they are carrying out, which has already given rise to a sweeping change in the socioeconomic discourse.
That is where the protesters' responsibility lies. But this responsibility cannot be allowed to fall on the young protesters alone. The much greater share falls on Israel's business community, to which successive governments have catered. It's difficult for them? They have people whose example they can follow.
The legendary Warren Buffett fired the opening shot, and this week, a group of the highest earners in France - including bankers, advertising and media tycoons, and the CEOs of companies like L'Oreal, Danone and Citroen - published a petition entitled "Tax us!" Nothing less. In light of France's deficit, and as a gesture of solidarity with the general public that is being asked to contribute to the effort, the rich, who termed themselves "the fortunate," demanded to pay much higher taxes than the state currently levies on them.
They thereby confirmed the economic thesis that has recently gained prominence in Europe: that huge deficits are not the result of excessive government spending, but of insufficient income, which (to quote Nissan ) weakens the state's ability to provide services. Moreover, they proved they understood that something very deep and basic has changed: that the party is over.
But in Israel, aside from occasional expressions of "solidarity" with the protest for PR purposes, the tycoons - who like to click their tongues over "the state of education" and "the state of the health system" - have yet to utter a single responsible peep. The time has come for them to do so.
IRON DOME VS. GAZA ROCKETS
WHILE IRON DOME CAN EFFECTIVELY DEFEND SMALL MILITARILY IMPORTANT TARGETS, IT DOES NOT PROVIDE THE PROTECTION THAT OUR CIVILIAN POPULATION IN THE SOUTH, AND MAYBE TOMORROW IN THE NORTH, IS ENTITLED TO.
BY MOSHE ARENS
As the walrus said to the carpenter in Lewis Carroll's fable, "the time has come to talk of many things." In Israel, after the pounding Israel's citizens in the south took from assorted rockets and mortar shells in the past weeks, the time has come to talk of that great Israeli development, the Iron Dome rocket interception system.
It successfully engaged a good number of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip against the south, and was a source of justified pride for all Israelis. But before we make this system the linchpin of Israel's defensive strategy it might be well to analyze the performance of the system during the recent attacks, and the final result. Who was the winner in the duel, the Iron Dome or the combination of Grads, Qassams and mortar shells fired against the civilian population in southern Israel?
The Iron Dome, developed by Rafael, is a superb technological achievement. It follows Israel's first technological breakthrough in ballistic missile interception - the Arrow, developed by IAI. For years the interception of ballistic missiles was considered next to impossible, until the Arrow, designed to intercept missiles launched from a distance of hundreds of kilometers, proved otherwise.
Obviously, intercepting missiles launched from shorter ranges is a far more difficult task. The Iron Dome is capable of intercepting ballistic missiles launched from a distance of 5-70 kilometers, no mean feat. It is an achievement unequaled anywhere in the world. All Israelis can take pride in this achievement. Over and above its military value, and it has substantial military value, it enhances Israel's image in the eyes of friends and foes alike.
As should be expected, it is a very expensive system, which at this point intercepts simple, very cheap, rockets. If valued in terms of out-of-pocket costs, for attacker and defender, it cannot win the battle against the incoming missiles. But, of course, that is not the only consideration in acquiring the system.
An Iron Dome battery is capable of providing defense for an area of about 150 square kilometers against incoming ballistic missiles. That is its "footprint." That means that it cannot provide protection for all of the Israeli civilians living in southern Israel, even if a substantial number of additional batteries were added to the two batteries presently deployed. Also, if a large number of rockets are directed into the area protected by an Iron Dome battery the system can be saturated, and thus penetrated. It does not provide protection against mortar shell launched at short range. In other words, it is only a very partial answer to the rocket threat against Israeli civilians coming from the Gaza Strip.
This became clear last week. The incoming rockets forced Israelis throughout the south to run for shelter. That is the bottom line - and in that sense the rockets were the winners in the duel with the Iron Dome. The terrorists in the Gaza Strip understand that, and more rockets will surely be coming our way. Thus the Iron Dome is a source of pride and gives us the feeling that we are not completely helpless against the rocket threat. It gives mayors in the south a chance to compete against each other in pressuring the government to acquire more Iron Dome batteries and deploy them near their cities, and it seemingly provides justification to increase the defense budget.
But to be honest, whereas the Iron Dome can effectively defend small militarily important targets, it does not provide the protection that our civilian population in the south, and maybe tomorrow in the north, is entitled to. The idea that missile interception systems, when eventually deployed throughout Israel, will provide an impenetrable umbrella under which Israelis will be able to peacefully carry on their daily lives even when Israel is attacked by rockets, is an illusion. There are other ways to put an end to the rocket threat, and the government will sooner or later have to resort to them.
GET READY FOR IRENE
WITH OR WITHOUT ANY CONNECTION TO SEPTEMBER, ALL THE NECESSARY INGREDIENTS FOR A NEW POPULAR UPRISING ARE IN PLACE.
BY AMIRA HASS
The astromancers are having a field day. The planet September 2011 - orbited by the asteroid Intifada 3 - is rapidly approaching us. The nearer they come to the fixed star of Idifus, the higher the shares of Central Command Laboratories Ltd. climb. The media outlets alternate between interviewing the stargazers and past and present employees of CCL in an attempt to guess "what will be." After all, "what will be" is a celestial body that moves in space, unconnected to any human activity. One option is that it will pass over us, in which case it could serve to predict the likelihood of falling in love during the weekend. The second is that it will crash into us, hapless souls that we are. Therefore we must prepare ourselves, just as Mayor Michael Bloomberg prepared New York City for Hurricane Irene.
The September verbal commotion sets another record - soon to be broken - of Israelis' talent for obliterating from their cognition the gravitational force that their state possesses. The Israelis, with the assistance of their representatives in the media, wear two hats in this respect. The first is that of the potential victim of an uncontrollable natural phenomenon. He is bound to respond appropriately thanks to his resourceful tricks (such as enlisting the residents of the Yitzhar and Migron settlements to repel the local version of Irene ). The second hat is that of the straight-arrow scientist.
Both the responder and the scientist address, each in their own way, the question of whether accepting "the State of Palestine" as a member of the United Nations will disturb the status quo, which is: a single expanse from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Two peoples. One government. One people and a branch of the second people participating in elections. The larger branch of the second people denied the right to vote. The one government determines the separate and unequal course of development of each people. An upper-country people and a lower-country people. Those on the first course have the right to live in the country because their forefather immigrated 3,000 years ago. Those on the second course do not have the right to live in their home, because their refugee fathers were born there 80 years ago.
Two opposing ruling systems, military and civilian, two separate and unequal infrastructure systems. The lower country is divided into "territorial cells," in brigadier-general-speak. When the people in the upper country feel like opening the territorial cells to restricted movement, it does so. If it feels like closing them, it closes them.
The responders and the scientists study the slightest movement of the inhabitants of the territorial cells. Someone runs over someone else, another brandishes a knife, a third is caught without the proper permits. What does it mean, they ponder: perhaps an organizational weakness, perhaps a rise in private initiatives. They do not ask: What does it mean when Supreme Court justices allow the separation barrier to turn the village of Walajeh into a ghetto? Does it mean they're not afraid of the International Court of Justice in the Hague? They do not wonder: What does it mean that in the midst of a period of calm in the West Bank, Israel Defense Forces soldiers kill two young men in Qalandiyah, that Civil Administration officials issue demolition orders, that the military court arrests Palestinian children on suspicion of throwing rocks and the civil court releases settlers who are suspected of nearly splitting the head of a Palestinian boy?
It is only natural for the party that benefits from the status quo to see it as the natural condition. Ask Bashar Assad, and he'll tell you how anyone who challenges the existing order is violent, aggressive, perverse.
With or without any connection to September, all the necessary ingredients for a new popular uprising are in place. No clairvoyance in that. The ingredients can only be found in the current, violent order. Israel's policy of separate development recreates them constantly.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE NEW RESENTMENT OF THE POOR
In a decade of frenzied tax-cutting for the rich, the Republican Party just happened to lower tax rates for the poor, as well. Now several of the party's most prominent presidential candidates and lawmakers want to correct that oversight and raise taxes on the poor and the working class, while protecting the rich, of course.
These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code. They are infuriated by the earned income tax credit (the pride of Ronald Reagan), which has become the biggest and most effective antipoverty program by giving working families thousands of dollars a year in tax refunds. They scoff at continuing President Obama's payroll tax cut, which is tilted toward low- and middle-income workers and expires in December.
Until fairly recently, Republicans, at least, have been fairly consistent in their position that tax cuts should benefit everyone. Though the Bush tax cuts were primarily for the rich, they did lower rates for almost all taxpayers, providing a veneer of egalitarianism. Then the recession pushed down incomes severely, many below the minimum income tax level, and the stimulus act lowered that level further with new tax cuts. The number of families not paying income tax has risen from about 30 percent before the recession to about half, and, suddenly, Republicans have a new tool to stoke class resentment.
Representative Michele Bachmann noted recently that 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income tax; all of them, she said, should pay something because they benefit from parks, roads and national security. (Interesting that she acknowledged government has a purpose.) Gov. Rick Perry, in the announcement of his candidacy, said he was dismayed at the "injustice" that nearly half of Americans do not pay income tax. Jon Huntsman Jr., up to now the most reasonable in the Republican presidential field, said not enough Americans pay tax.
Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and several senators have made similar arguments, variations of the idea expressed earlier by Senator Dan Coats of Indiana that "everyone needs to have some skin in the game."
This is factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong. First, the facts: a vast majority of Americans have skin in the tax game. Even if they earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes (which Republicans want to raise), gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes. Only 14 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution. The poorest fifth paid an average of 16.3 percent of income in taxes in 2010.
Economically, reducing the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit — which would be required if everyone paid income taxes — makes no sense at a time of high unemployment. The credits, which only go to working people, have always been a strong incentive to work, as even some conservative economists say, and have increased the labor force while reducing the welfare rolls.
The moral argument would have been obvious before this polarized year. Nearly 90 percent of the families that paid no income tax make less than $40,000, most much less. The real problem is that so many Americans are struggling on such a small income, not whether they pay taxes. The two tax credits lifted 7.2 million people out of poverty in 2009, including four million children. At a time when high-income households are paying their lowest share of federal taxes in decades, when corporations frequently avoid paying any tax, it is clear who should bear a larger burden and who should not.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
CHRISTINE LAGARDE'S TOUGH MESSAGE
Less than two months after being chosen to lead the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde shook up last weekend's conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyo., with an urgent, much needed plea for bolder economic policies in the United States and Europe to head off a looming double-dip recession.
When Ms. Lagarde, then France's finance minister, was campaigning to become the fund's managing director, it was uncertain whether she could look beyond the politicians' obsession with austerity that has repeatedly defeated efforts to contain Europe's worsening debt crisis and continues to stymie effective policy making on both sides of the Atlantic.
Now free to speak her mind, her blunt remarks and prescriptions were just what the central bankers needed to hear. She rightly called for: rebalancing global trade by stimulating demand in developing countries with big export surpluses; more aggressive mortgage relief in the United States; and giving job creation priority over deficit reduction in the United States and Europe.
She also called for substantial injections of public and private capital into dangerously frail European banks. And while citing the necessity for long-term deficit reduction, she made clear that near-term policies must give priority to generating jobs, stimulating demand and renewing economic growth.
For Europe, specifically, Ms. Lagarde prescribed more financing for debt bailout plans, a concerted effort to strengthen vulnerable banks and, most importantly, a common political vision about the euro's long-term future that has been grievously lacking.
For the United States, she called for new efforts to resuscitate consumer demand by attacking long-term unemployment and mortgage foreclosures. She suggested "aggressive principal reduction programs for homeowners," in addition to the kind of refinancing programs the Obama administration is now considering.
American political leaders haven't taken much notice of her speech. European financial officials have been sputtering ever since. Ms. Lagarde cannot make any of these things happen by herself. If she keeps pushing hard, the politicians may finally wake up.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SAFETY REPORT ON VACCINES
A comprehensive evaluation of eight common childhood vaccines has found that any adverse effects from vaccines are very rare or very minor. The report, issued last week by a panel of experts assembled by the Institute of Medicine, said there is no evidence that childhood vaccines cause autism, diabetes, facial palsy or episodes of asthma, as some people fear.
That judgment emerges from an analysis of more than 1,000 research studies in peer-reviewed journals. The institute had been asked by the federal government to review whether the eight vaccines caused specific adverse effects as claimed by people seeking redress from a national vaccine injury compensation program. The report did not assess the effectiveness of vaccines or compare the small risks of vaccination with the far greater risk from contracting a disease that a vaccine prevents.
The panel did find convincing evidence, its highest category of proof, that in rare cases vaccines have been linked to adverse effects, including seizures and inflammation of the brain. It also found that a chickenpox vaccine could cause pneumonia, meningitis or hepatitis years later if the virus, normally suppressed by the immune system, re-emerged after the immune system had been weakened. The same problems, however, are far more likely to occur in people who have not been vaccinated and become infected with chickenpox.
Vaccines are a cornerstone of modern medicine and public health efforts. Vaccination eradicated smallpox and largely eliminated polio and has protected countless children from measles and other diseases. The huge health benefits of vaccines greatly exceed the small risks.
Parents should take comfort in the report's conclusions about vaccine safety. Those inclined to seek ways to have their children evade mandatory vaccinations need to recognize that vaccination is the best way to protect them from the risk of contracting dangerous diseases.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FOR CONGRESS IN NEW YORK'S NINTH DISTRICT
When Representative Anthony Weiner resigned in disgrace in June, he left his diverse district without a voice in the House of Representatives. On Sept. 13, voters in that Queens and Brooklyn district can choose his replacement.
Their options — chosen, unfortunately, by the parties' leaders instead of in open primaries — are Assemblyman David Weprin, a Democrat, and Bob Turner, a Republican and former communications executive. The choice is clear: Mr. Weprin would represent the district with far more expertise, sensitivity and fiscal rationality.
As a City Council member and state legislator, Mr. Weprin has promoted education and civil rights and fought to protect senior citizens. In Washington, he promises to work to protect Social Security and Medicare. He says he would push for higher taxes for the wealthy rather than cut programs that serve the working and middle classes.
Mr. Turner argues that the federal budget needs to be cut by as much as a third. He also wants to lower taxes, especially on capital gains. He insists that that would not mean reducing benefits for those on Medicare and Social Security. That would take a magician, not a businessman.
If Mr. Turner gets his way, it would be impossible to spare anybody who relies on the government for benefits or to keep the air clean or their food safe.
The least helpful contribution to this race comes from former Mayor Ed Koch, who has endorsed Mr. Turner, he says, as a way to protest President Obama's statement that Israel's pre-1967 borders should be the basis for negotiating a peace agreement — with mutually agreed land swaps. The idea has been the basis of all negotiations for more than a decade. But Mr. Weprin and Mr. Turner have been equally critical of Mr. Obama's words. Mr. Weprin has a proven public record in support of Israel.
We endorse David Weprin.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
HIGH ABOVE THE HOG
BY MARK ESSIG
"I HAVE feral pigs that overrun my farm and I'd like to shoot them out of a helicopter," the comedian Roseanne Barr said on "The Tonight Show" earlier this month. She was announcing a tongue-in-cheek run for office and also joking about Sarah Palin's infamous support for the aerial hunting of wolves. "That's kind of what got me to thinking that I, too, should run for president," she said.
On the shooting-pigs-from-helicopters issue, however, Ms. Barr's real competition is Rick Perry. There are an estimated four million to five million feral hogs in the United States — mostly in California, Hawaii (where they threaten Ms. Barr's macadamia trees) and the Gulf Coast, where Mr. Perry, the Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate, has signed legislation to allow any Texan with a hunting license to rent a seat on a helicopter and blast away at pigs, starting Thursday.
Biologists and wildlife officials hope to wipe out feral hogs — which are simply domestic stock turned wild — because they tear up wetlands, kill native vegetation and eat the eggs of turtles and ground-nesting birds. Farmers detest them because they destroy fences, root up crops and harbor livestock diseases.
The only people who admire wild pigs are hunters. Ancient Romans considered the wild boar noble quarry because it was elusive and fought fiercely when cornered, and today's feral pigs have those same qualities.
There have been pigs in North America since Hernando De Soto brought them to the Southeast as a sort of walking larder in 1539. And there have been wild pigs here almost as long.
The core of today's feral population came from the pioneers, who relied on pigs for meat because they bred quickly (producing litters of eight or more piglets after just four months' gestation) and, unlike cows and sheep, fended for themselves. Until about 1900, farmers in the South could run their stock on any unfenced land, so pigs roamed free, kept semi-tame with occasional handouts of food or salt. Some of those pigs chose to go it alone. They are tenacious, weedy creatures; release a pair of fat, placid porkers into the woods and within a few generations their descendants will be lean, hairy, tusked beasts, happily dining at a garbage dump, browsing on acorns or rooting for grubs.
Lately, however, dispersal maps show wild pig populations spreading inexorably northward at a rate much faster than can be explained by natural factors alone. That is because certain hunters have been trapping feral hogs, driving them dozens or hundreds of miles away and releasing them in order to create new hunting populations.
After announcing new measures in Tennessee to eradicate wild pigs, the state wildlife agency said that "illegal transport and release is the leading contributing factor in the spread of wild hogs." San Diego County, Calif., has been overrun by a new wild pig population rumored to have been released in order to start a hunting program. And in response to a feral hog invasion just down the road from me in Tryon, N.C., a wildlife officer told a local newspaper, "We were having a lot of people trap these in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama and transport them here and release them."
In other words, as some people are trying to eradicate wild hogs, others are doing their best to help them spread.
The situation, it seems, requires not just a hog-management plan but also a people-management plan. Trapping and hunting are important parts of controlling feral pig populations, though aerial shooting is unnecessarily cruel because it often wounds rather than kills. Wildlife officers must conduct intensive trapping and hunting operations on public holdings, and work with landowners to do the same on private lands. Repeated follow-up will be necessary to keep populations from rebounding. It won't be cheap, but the price is justified given that the scale of the destruction — mostly from crop losses — is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars annually in Texas alone.
Most important, we must deal with the hunters who are helping pigs spread. Laws on the transportation and release of hogs should be toughened so that the penalties reflect the damage done. A new North Carolina law, to go into effect Oct. 1, moves in the right direction by setting the penalty for unapproved transport at up to $5,000 per hog.
Ethical hunters, and their skills not with guns but with words, can help. They must spread the word — through outdoor magazines and in conversations at hunt clubs and gun shops — that helping hogs expand their range is bad for our parks, our farmers and our wildlife.
However politically advantageous mixing helicopters and guns may be, what we might call the Perry/Barr approach to wild pigs won't work. To solve America's feral hog problem, we need to get down at ground level and pursue the slow, patient work of education and rational persuasion.
When those old-fashioned methods solve the feral pig menace, we can apply them to America's other challenges.
Mark Essig is the author of "Edison and the Electric Chair."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TIGHT BUDGET? LOOK TO THE 'CLOUD'
BY VIVEK KUNDRA
AS the global economy struggles through a slow and painful recovery, governments around the world are wasting billions of dollars on unnecessary information technology. This problem has worsened in recent years because of what I call the "I.T. cartel." This powerful group of private contractors encourages reliance on inefficient software and hardware that is expensive to acquire and to maintain.
In one particularly egregious example of waste, the Defense Department last year pulled the plug on a personnel system devised by Northrop Grumman after spending approximately $850 million on it in 10 years.
When I joined the Obama administration as the chief information officer, we quickly discovered vast inefficiencies in the $80 billion federal I.T. budget. We also saw an opportunity to increase productivity and save costs by embracing the "cloud computing" revolution: the shift from hardware and software that individuals, businesses and governments buy and then maintain themselves, to low-cost, maintenance-free services that are based on the Internet and run by private companies.
Examples of cloud computing companies include Web behemoths like Amazon and Google, which offer a variety of services (data storage or e-mail, for example), as well as companies like salesforce.com, which helps businesses manage customer relationships via social networks. Other services and applications include health care access, mobile energy management and storm recovery assistance. Most cloud-based services are either free for consumers or delivered via a monthly subscription service for businesses. According to the research firm Gartner, cloud computing will be a $149 billion industry by 2015.
Like a large office building, cloud data centers are efficient: many different tenants occupy the same space, sharing the same critical infrastructure, yet each tenant still has its own secure, customizable space. For example, in preparation for the 2010 census, the Census Bureau used the cloud computing services of salesforce.com to expand its I.T. capabilities, saving the cost and time of purchasing, designing and installing a brand-new I.T. infrastructure.
Shortly after the Obama administration took office, we instituted a "Cloud First" policy, which advocates the adoption of cloud services by government agencies and mandates the transition of at least three projects for every agency to the cloud by next summer.
Some agencies, like the General Services Administration, have embraced cloud computing; the agency has cut the I.T. costs on things as simple as its e-mail system by over 50 percent. But other agencies have balked. The State Department, for instance, has raised concerns about whether the cloud approach introduces security risks, since data is stored off site by private contractors.
But cloud computing is often far more secure than traditional computing, because companies like Google and Amazon can attract and retain cyber-security personnel of a higher quality than many governmental agencies. And government employees are so accustomed to using cloud services like Dropbox and Gmail in their personal lives that, even if their agencies don't formally permit cloud computing, they use it for work purposes anyway, creating a "shadow I.T." that leads to a more vulnerable organization than would a properly overseen cloud computing system.
The United States cannot afford to be left behind in the cloud computing revolution. In health care alone, a productivity increase of 1 percent in the next 10 years — much of which could be achieved with cloud-based services — represents a $300 billion value. Similar efficiencies could be realized in sectors like financial services, education and manufacturing.
Consider the example of Japan, which has faced significant economic challenges for two decades. The government's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry estimates that the Japanese cloud computing market is likely to reach $20.1 billion by 2015 and is implementing a cloud initiative as a key tenet of its national economic strategy.
Similar growth is predicted for India, where the cloud market is projected to grow to $3 billion by 2015 and create 100,000 jobs. As foreign governments prioritize investment in the cloud, the United States cannot hesitate because of hypothetical security threats that serve the entrenched interests of the I.T. cartel.
One of the critical remaining issues concerning cloud computing is whether cloud data can and should flow between nations and what restrictions should be placed upon it. The next step should be the creation of a global Cloud First policy that forces nations to work together and resolve these critical issues. The United States, along with leading nations in Europe and Asia, has an opportunity to announce such an initiative at the World Economic Forum meeting in January.
The budget crisis will accelerate the move toward cloud services. Governments, businesses and consumers all have a lot to gain, but not everyone will have an equal say at the table. Public and private organizations that preserve the status quo of wasteful spending will be punished, while those that embrace the cloud will be rewarded with substantial savings and 21st-century jobs.
Vivek Kundra, the Obama administration's chief information officer from 2009 until this month, is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, both at Harvard.
I. THE NEWS
SMASHING THE CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE
Didn't we all know what was wrong with Karachi? Weren't we familiar with the cult of violence devouring the city? Extortion in Urdu has an expressive equivalent: 'bhatha'. Didn't we all know who the greatest collectors of 'bhatha' were?
But while this knowledge was inscribed on the tablets of our minds, it was knowledge that dared not speak its name. For the consequences of speaking out were swift and terrible: a bullet in the neck, if you were lucky; drill machines and your shroud in the form of a gunny bag if you were out of luck. We were so brave about exercising our freedom of expression when it came to the sins of politicians, the unholy role of generals and the ISI, Pervez Musharraf's many transgressions.
But something happened to our courage when it came to Karachi. Our admirable attachment to freedom of expression lost its sting, intrepid anchors lost the use of their tongues, newspaper editors became paragons of moderation, choosing discretion over valour.
So all of us – analysts, certified patriots, screeching politicos – spoke of Karachi in a circular manner, never saying anything directly. Karachi taught us to be masters of the roundabout phrase.
This literary expertise, this gift for indirect speech, had unforeseen consequences. Terrible as the violence was, the conspiracy of silence was in a way far worse for it imprisoned our minds. And the killers enjoyed a free hand because no one was willing to name them. They spread a pall of fear over the city, especially its less favoured parts where their hegemony was unchallenged, and made a thriving business of collecting extortion money...doing so with impunity, their writ uncontested, because there was no one to name them, far be it from anyone to nab them.
Until, that is, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza's bombshell news conference. This was not just political theatre, although it was this too, but something much more, something far bigger: an event to change, perhaps dramatically alter, things as they were. The status quo has been attacked. The conspiracy of silence and lies has been rudely shattered. The truth we always knew but now it is not only out, it lies exposed. A name, finally, has been given to the spectre haunting Karachi. The age of equivocations, of dodging around the truth, is over. Nothing can be the same again.
The MQM is shell-shocked, as it has every right to be. The allegations against it, backed by chapter and verse and some documents, were virtually on oath, Mirza with a hand on the Quran throughout his tour de force, at times holding the holy book to his head. It was a bravura performance during which Mirza, to my surprise I must say, was never at a loss for words. Occasionally, he was also devastatingly funny, as when he dilated upon Interior Minister Rehman Malik's steady adherence to the unvarnished truth.
Naming MQM killers, holding the MQM responsible for the killing of the journalist Wali Babar – again naming names – referring to the recent attack on a police van in which many policemen were killed and again accusing the MQM for this. Accusing the MQM of being behind the killing of its own former leader Imran Farooq, and saying that in 2001 Altaf Hussain had written to then British prime minister Tony Blair offering to organise pro-western demonstrations in Karachi and elsewhere and calling upon the West to help disband the ISI lest it produce more Osama bin Ladens – to characterise these charges as explosive would be the under-statement of the century.
When was the last time such a thing happened? That too before a rapt nation-wide audience, hanging on to his every word and scarcely believing the evidence of its ears.
But there was also enough dynamite to shake the Presidency. For an attack on Rehman Malik is an attack on President Asif Zardari, Malik's ultimate protector. Malik is a Zardari creature, owing everything to him, being of no account in political terms on his own. If Mirza says that if anything happens to Pakistan, Malik will be responsible, Zardari indirectly is also touched by the accusation. As he is by Mirza's no-holds-barred attacks on the MQM, for who is the master-architect of the alliance with the MQM? President Zardari.
Remember also that Mirza's language, his tone, are not his alone. He has touched a chord, and a burning one at that, expressive of sentiments passionately shared across the length and breadth of rural Sindh, including amongst the PPP's own power-base. He can be excommunicated from the PPP but his views are not easily ignored.
Mirza has not so much thrown down the gauntlet as exposed the Republic's nakedness in Karachi, the lies fuelling the bonfire of violence consuming the city. Like it or not, this is a call for action. If his charges are not refuted, if the names he has named are not denied, the government comes under a responsibility to act. But will it?
It is a safe bet that Zardari, a master of masterly inactivity, his forte presiding over a state of paralysis and construing it as cleverness, will do nothing. He will be hoping that like previous storms, this one too will pass. His instinct will be to preserve the alliance with the MQM even if the cup of popular cynicism boils over. This approach might work in normal times but after Mirza's fireworks we are beyond the politics of the routine. This is different. The ball has already been flung into other courts.
The Supreme Court, reduced to a state of helplessness by the government's stonewalling on a range of issues, has at last found a cause, the situation in Karachi, worthy of its suo moto consideration. It will be strange if Mirza is not called upon to testify and if and when he does it will become the responsibility of the Supreme Court to act, to issue clear directions, on the information he imparts.
Two great issues, overshadowing others, threaten Pakistan's peace and security: religious extremism and the Taliban threat from the north-west; and the politics of extortion and blackmail in Karachi...theocratic violence on one side, and secular violence on the other. The Supreme Court has now an unrivalled opportunity to address the second of these two issues.
There is a tide in the affairs of men...there's one in the affairs of the Supreme Court and it has to be seen whether it takes it at the flood or allows this opportunity, not likely to return soon, to slip through its fingers.
And, pray, what about the guardians? Mirza's recklessness was controlled and well-directed. While he did not spare his chosen targets, Malik and the MQM, he was most judicious in his references to the army and ISI, going so far as to give a certificate of preserving the country to the latter. This points to intriguing possibilities. Zardari will not act, we can be sure of this, and Malik will continue to play his smooth games. But what is turning in the mind of My Lord the Chief Justice and what cue from his labours will the long-eyed men in General Headquarters take? Let no one say we don't live in interesting times.
The lawyers' movement broke the Musharraf status quo. For seven-and-a half years – Oct 99 to Mar 2007 – nothing was happening, Musharraf's armour impervious to any assault. Then, out of the blue, he committed his famous faux pas with the chief justice and nothing was the same again (and to think that Pakistan's lawyers, minor instruments of history, were to reduce themselves to showering rose petals on Taseer's killer, Mumtaz Qadri... this is to trace a path from the sublime to the revolting).
Mirza's thunderbolt has shaken the Zardari status quo, its impact greater than the confines of Karachi. For three and a half years nothing was happening, nothing sticking to Zardari's Teflon armour. Now this.
To echo Ghalib, no hand is on the reins and no foot in the stirrups...where the galloping steed comes to rest let us see. Dr Zulfiqar Mirza has entered where angels would fear to tread. Where this leads to we don't know. But at long last the elements of change have been set in motion.
I. THE NEWS
MOVING AHEAD ON FATA
While much has been and can be made of the failures of the present government, when it comes to constitutional politics, the government has once again received surprising applause in the political theatre. Even though the recent announcement on the Fata package seems to have been missed by those glued to the electronic medium, for those who toil in the tough terrain of the tribal areas, the timing of the announcement – made on the eve of Independence Day – seems appropriate.
The government's recent announcement reflects gradual progress and accommodation in reforms; past commitments – including those made by the incumbent government to revisit the internal structure of Fata – didn't materialise in the end. As a result, the government was ridiculed for either being incompetent or powerless. It seemed as if the current prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, had also gone back on the promise he made in his maiden speech to parliament, in which he spoke of abrogating the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) altogether.
Anyone with a vague idea of Fata's legal system is certain to have excavated the century-old FCR. Originally promulgated in 1901 during the times of the British Raj in the subcontinent, these regulations have elicited intense debate with regard to their applicability in modern times.
Political and human rights activists have long advocated the complete abrogation of the FCR; certain clauses such as collective punishment and the absence of a proper judicial mechanism do not sit well with the image of a country that is a signatory of international human rights treaties. It has often been argued that the whole judicial system in the FCR is arbitrary and unjust – an argument that makes a strong case in favour of scrapping the colonial asset to the dustbin of history. Instead of bestowing a not-so-special status on Fata, it is reasoned that Fata needs to be incorporated in the mainstream of Pakistan either by way of annexing it as a part of KPK or demarcating it as a new province.
Some who have officially served in Fata and are well-versed in the working of its justice system are wary of change. They argue that far from the FCR being a colonial entity, the British were forced to accommodate tribal customs in Fata – something the British couldn't do in the rest of the subcontinent. Customs of badal etc are not a British coinage but a British adaptation of local customs; to say that the FCR should be scrapped is therefore equivalent to scrapping the tribal customs. They defend the system saying that the judicial mechanism is swift and better than that in place in other parts of country.
While swift dispensation of justice may be a good thing, the justification behind the punishment demands evaluation; perhaps further scrutiny is in order. For one, if the system is so great, why not implement the FCR in major urban areas of Pakistan – after all, the values of honour and revenge along with their controversial enactments are perhaps as commonly relayed in the discourse emanating from Pakistan's urban areas, as in the tribal areas.
In its recent promulgation, the government paid heed to both ends of the spectrum; it has modified the law without annulling it.
On the FCR, two specific changes are worth-mentioning. One, changes have been made in the territorial/collective punishment rule in the FCR by exonerating women, children, and the elderly from the list. Two, not only have the powers of the political agent been curtailed, there will also be an appellate authority to hear the cases of the people.
The government may still come under opprobrium from both ends for selling out to the other. However, common grounds can be celebrated. Both the camps – supporters and opponents of the FCR – argue that the absence of the justice system was exploited by the militants. While the first would link this to the internal flaws in the mechanism, those having a favourable view of the existing mechanism say that things went wrong when attempts to change the structure were made – when the roles of the PA and jirga elders were trivialised on the ground.
An equally important component is the promulgation of the Political Parties Order of 2002. As of now, political parties will be allowed to operate in Fata. This step has the potential of tackling the confusion on terrorism along with helping to shatter myths about Fata. The constant complaint against the legislators from Fata is their unflinching support for those who exercise power at the centre. At the legislator's end, however, there is plenty of room to extract favours from the government – again, no matter who is in power. There remains confusion over the issue of dealing with militancy. Every time the government gets entangled in dealing with the militants either by striking against them or chasing deals with them, these legislators say they had warned against the opted path. If it's not one thing, it's another!
With the introduction of political parties in Fata, their say in national legislature means a direct say in state affairs, as the party they represent will have representation in other parts of the country. Of course, the challenge lies in the implementation process. Will reality checks deter the government once again? We must watch closely to find out.
The writer is a graduate in International Relations from Boston University. He teaches foreign policy and is an independent analyst. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
SEASON FOR HOME TRUTHS
President Zardari's closest friend and associate former Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza was telling the truth in his rather earthshaking virtuoso performance at the Karachi Press Club. One small omission on the part of the assembled media was that, while he was holding the Holy Quran on his head, they failed to ask pointed questions about the link between his closest friend and corruption. An honest answer could have made his other claims more credible.
What the MQM Rabita (Coordination) Committee has been saying about Zulfiqar Mirza for some time is also known to be true. The core of the Amn Committees organised by him comprises hardened criminals. The Rangers' raid on their Lyari hideouts on late night Aug 27 provoked Mirza's outburst against Rehman Malik, but the federal interior minister decided that discretion was the better part of valour and turned the other cheek.
The ANP must be sighing with relief that its politicians were spared any "truths" about them, at least for the time being. Despite their sweet talk and bonhomie on display, Shahi Syed and his lot are no saints either. While ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan has every right to shed crocodile tears about the systematic killing of Pathans in Karachi, they have given back as good as they have got.
The sad home truth is that all the governing parties in Sindh, without exception, have gun-slinging activists sanctioned to go on a spree of targeted killings, not only against each other but anyone who comes in their way, unfortunately picking out rank innocents at random. They are the real victims of the city, cry Karachi! That is what the real face of terror is, murder and mayhem turning from being discriminate to being indiscriminate. When the rule of law descends into chaos, slowly but surely chaos will turn into anarchy. That anarchy is staring Pakistan in the face!
The salient features of the revelations of "Hurricane Mirza" (as one newspaper headlined his outburst) were: (1) His beloved friend Asif Ali Zardari made a major mistake in appointing traitor Rehman Malik as interior minister. Besides other things, Malik was a born liar and was protecting terrorists. He claimed that Malik has no property or assets in Pakistan, not even his hereditary family's barbershop. (2) Altaf Hussain had told him in the presence of Pir Mazhar that (a) he was working with the US for Pakistan's dismemberment and (b) that he would continue killing Pathans. Mirza also spoke about a letter written in 2001 by the MQM chief to then-prime minister Tony Blair, asking that the ISI be dismantled, and that he could bring hundreds of thousands on the streets of Karachi to do the UK's bidding. (3) During Musharraf's time 25 murderers had been released on parole, which was extended before the PPP government came to power, several with 30-40 murder counts against them. Ajmal Pahari alone had been involved in over 100 murders. Many more were in jail for targeted killings and were awaiting trial. (4) He specifically accused the MQM of killing Geo TV journalist Wali Khan Babar, waving statements from the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) of four apprehended killers, one Liaquat, whose car had been used, was not caught. (5) Mirza maintained that the CPLC's charter says a non-political person would be the chief but the present chief Ahmed Chinoy was not non-political since he was a member of the Khidmat-e-Khalq Committee and well knows who the murderers and extortionists who demand money from Karachi's industrialists, businessmen, etc, were. (6) The chief justice and the army chief must work out the future course of action (for a self-proclaimed committed democrat and a political worker this was rather incongruous demand), and should the chief justice of the Supreme Court summon him, he would give him incontrovertible documentary evidence supporting his allegations. Many political leaders and elder statesmean of the country have urged the chief justice to do so.
Zulfiqar Mirza also made another startling confession which everyone seemed to have missed, that he had "copied" his way to becoming a doctor. The Holy Quran inspires truth-telling in even the most hardened souls!
Mostly what Zulfiqar Mirza and the MQM have said about each other is probably true. The chief justice referred to Article 9 of the Constitution in convening the Aug 29 Special Bench in Karachi. Prime facie, the present rulers of our country are all involved in murder and mayhem. That is gross violation of the fundamental rights of our citizens. In accordance with Article 9, "no person shall be deprived of life and liberty save in accordance with law". What is the Supreme Court going to do about it? A well composed Judicial Commission can quickly verify or cast aside the accusations and counter-accusations made by Zulfiqar Mirza and the MQM.
Rumours about a break-up of Pakistan and the ethnic-cleansing of Pathans have been bandied about for years. This first-person account by a former senior minister of the PPP is important. With the Holy Quran on his head, Mirza had challenged Pir Mazhar, the other PPP senior notable who accompanied him, to do the same. Zulfiqar Mirza says he told many about this in the government. What did it do if it considered his statement credible? Its failure to act on such a piece of information is pure and simple dereliction of duty and responsibility. And if it is pack of lies, as the MQM insists, why was the dangerous accusation not dismissed, along with him. After all, he was persisted with as home minister, and his wife Fahmida Mirza still remains speaker of the National Assembly, third-in-line to succeed the president? Zufikar Mirza has one real plus to show for his Aug 29 fulminations: he has stolen the Sindhi nationalists' thunder and become ethnic Sindhis' darling and hero.
Unfazed by all this, our man from Multan was serenely asking "everyone to abide by the Constitution". The prime minister must be smoking something, because everyone and his uncle knows that his full-time job description is subversion of the constitutional process somehow.
If the city of Karachi can be said to be Pakistan's jugular vein and its bustling port the throat through which the oxygen required for commerce flows through to the country, the militancy fanned by the governing political parties is like holding a knife to the city with the right hand while choking it with the left. With Pakistan's economy already near breaking point, the country faces a doomsday scenario as the socio-political infrastructure is seriously compromised and undermined by this government's misdeeds, lies and outright misrepresentations, and the whole edifice collapses.
In Zulfiqar Mirza we finally have a live witness. Either he is telling the truth or telling lies. In separating fact from fiction, we will find Karachi's solution, and Pakistan's.
The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A PHANTASY : VOICES FROM THE PAST (PART - II)
MIR ABDUL AZIZ
Dear lad, the cause of this topsy-turvy state of affairs is not far to seek. It lies in our deviation from the instructions of Islam. Take the case of female education. Your Prophet (pbuh) said, "Search of knowledge is binding upon every Muslim man and woman." But are you acting upon this? No, thus half the intellectual force of your population is left dormant. The Prophet (pbuh) called the female section of society the "force of the community". In the beginning of Islam women wrote fatwas, recited war poems in battles and earned in case the income of the husband was insufficient. An educated woman can make an ideal mother. She will not seek to remedy her child's diabetes with the offensive "breaths" of a dirty priest or with his amulets. I do not preach that you should produce fashionable graduate women whose time will be taken up by extravagant and elaborate toilet. No, what I want is that you should give your mothers and sisters education so that they may teach their children good morals and keep their household accounts.
Go and preach it to women that Islamic law confers upon them the right in the property of common ancestors. Tell them that even a helpless widow can honourably earn her livelihood if she is educated. Ask your men that they can reform the present system of education but not to depreciate education in itself. Remind them of the 100 years' deliberate indifference towards the modern system of education. Remind them of the mother and daughter of the Prophet (pbuh), of Naila, wife of Caliph Osman, Qurratul-ul-Ain of Persia, Khalida Adib Khanam, Mrs Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant and many others. Remember, man and woman are two wings of a bird and when one wing stops functioning, the bird is foredoomed to a fatal fall. I must warn you that if you continue to be negligent, know that God too will not avert the bitter consequences which follow from disobedience of His Holy Word.
Here does not end the miserable tale, dear boy. You see that modern civilisation has organised clubs for a meeting place where people exchange their thoughts. Islam more than 1,350 years ago laid before you an organisation unparalleled up to this time. [For example] the mosque of your muhalla is really a local conference office for Believers. The World Muslim Annual Conference is held at the Kaaba where Muslims of the world meet in the millions. What ruler on earth could possess so many subjects – what dictator could profess such prestige as belonging to the dictator of this conference? But, alas: it lacks the dictator. Yester-night Muhammad Ali, Dr Ansari, Sir Shafi, Hakim Ajmal Khan and I held a long discourse about your present condition, and Muhammad Ali heaved a sigh...
Young student, so long as the Muslim organisation, the Khilafat, worked successfully, the whole world bowed before Musalmans. Alas: when it failed there failed the best hopes of Islam. Now non-Muslims have followed suit and their leaders' speeches, within a few hours, are widespread, like electric current throughout the country. But, on the other hand, you have no national organisation within whose framework you could work; no national leadership which could knit the Muslim voice in one chorus. Your mullahs have reduced the fundamental principles of Islam to mere formalism; they catch its letter, not the spirit.
Again, your press is the weakest. Your newspapers have no one voice or a set goal before them. They are weathercocks and grind their personal axe at the cost of common Muslim benefit. On the contrary, the Hindu press is very strong. Non-Muslims are ever ready to encourage their promising and sincere leaders. But your [Muslim] League, the only organisation of its kind, must be renewed and revived every year. You have not done anything for mass contact. Your so-called "Brotherhood of Islam" lies in the fact that your nine crore Muslims are divided in 800 pieces. Your time-serving nawabs spend gold like water in fighting elections and in indulging in luxuries and voluptuousness, but will not spend a penny for mass awakening. In the Great War 20 lakh Arabs, 14 lakh Indians and four lakh Egyptians smashed the Khalifa's army into pieces and shattered the very foundation of the Caliphate. What a "Brotherhood!"
Young student, you show signs of disappointment, but take courage and listen to what I say. You must know that after leaving the Holy Kaaba, this Institution of Aligarh, is the first place where the representatives of the East meet. You are surely the "heart of the Muslim East" and Muslim India associates all its hopes with you.
Dear friend, I say again that you must realise your responsibility and take life seriously. Be assets, and not liabilities, for Muslim India. Consider that you have soon to tide over terribly difficult times; hence give up all your puerile tendencies and do not behave like irresponsible clowns. This will belittle you in the eyes of your neighbours from whom you should always try to command respect and not beg it. In this university always take care not to create a bad impression upon the hearts of newcomers and thus frustrate the hopes they cherished before actually coming here from distant places.
However, now I tell you something more important, which you must listen and make others act on it. You should...Hush! I heard a piercing noise which startled me from my sleep. Alas: it was the piercing sound of the clock alarm set for sehri. I opened my eyes and found myself lying on the prayer carpet in my room. The bearer was noisily spreading food on the table. The soothing atmosphere of midnight was gone. No cherub could be heard singing now. But alas: the widow continued her heart-rending cries.
Was it a dream-in-dream: Who was he – Sir Syed Ahmed?
This article appeared in the 1938 edition of the Aligarh University Magazine, which had a foreword by the Quaid-e-Azam.
I. THE NEWS
STAND UP FOR THE STATE OR STAND DOWN
The time for pussy footing is over. The hour has passed to dilate upon the 'real' reasons for Zulfiqar Mirza's damning charges. No more the nonchalant dismissal of specific charges through generalised dismissive statements by the accused individuals and political outfits. What he has said matters, and not why.
The crux of the matter is that a former security czar of Sindh and a top leader of the ruling party has accused none other than the country's interior minister of aiding and abetting killers and criminals and consequently crippling the national economy, and charged Altaf Hussain with the treasonous crime of colluding with the Americans in a declared objective of dismembering Pakistan. And no less alarming is his claim to having shared his evidence, both documentary and otherwise, not only with the president but also with the top military leadership and other key relevant stakeholders. And yet nothing happened.
Specific accusations have been made against specific individuals involved in matters of governance and statecraft, public security, national sovereignty, and thus warrant direct intervention by the custodian of the state. President Zardari was expected to take immediate measures to establish the veracity of the charges levelled by Mirza and once the truth was establish, whatever it turned out to be, to then proceed in accordance with the law and prove his own neutral credentials in the process.
That the president may not have 'designed' this impromptu Mirza outburst was hinted at in a private conversation with a very senior journalist wherein the president purportedly expressed his dismay at the behaviour of a misled friend causing problems for the party and damaging the delicate process of political reconciliation. In his public stance however, the president completely ignored Mirza's claims and while dismissing it all without any enquiry whatsoever also suspended Mirza's party membership.
But is all what Mirza said an internal matter of the Pakistan Peoples Party? Can his accusations be swept under the rug by the country's president in his dual role as his party chairman? The president's first reaction has only cemented the impression of it all being a trademark Zardari masterstroke against the MQM and Sindhi nationalists. A masterstroke it may be, but an internal party matter it definitely is not. If the president does not constitute a commission or take any tangible action to investigate the charges made by Mirza, then such presidential inaction would be tantamount to being a blatant cover up and a tacit acknowledgment of the allegations being true and being misused for political gains.
Does the Mirza episode have the markings of being another brilliant political manoeuvre by the president? Yes. President Zardari's huddle with the MQM cost him dearly in Sindhi ethnic politics but he had little choice except to continue for the sake of maintaining a workable peace in Karachi. So what could have been the available remedial options, one wonders.
For starters, a mere two-hour explosive press conference later, Mirza is transformed into a front ranking Sindhi nationalist and provides the PPP with a perfect foil to the hitherto increasing influence of Sindhi nationalists elements. His having resigned from all party offices and even his basic party membership being suspended only add to his credibility as a late-life convert to the Sindh cause.
On the PPP-MQM front, his charges of murder and treason against the MQM, backed by documentary evidence and bolstered by his holding the holy Quran aloft while levelling a treason charge, has unquestionably put the MQM in a tight negotiating corner.
Mirza's emotionally unrestrained but otherwise diligently structured outburst also strengthens Mr Zardari's hands, both in reneging from any excessive concessions that he may have grudgingly granted the MQM during his last wooing bid and now too while renegotiating the terms of another future alliance. Surely, it also must have been conveyed to the MQM leadership that the fuming Mirza has a lot more to say and prove, if push comes to shove. Add to that the murmurs about some critical information (tipoff if you may) having being shared with the MQM pertaining to some elements linked to Dr Imran Farooq's assassination, and the plot thickens. Of course, the charge of Altaf having confessed to being in cahoots with some intriguing Americans could always be a subject of a full blown inquiry under Article 6 of the Constitution.
So far so good, but if the focus were the Sindhi nationalists and the MQM then why blast poor Rehman Malik? Blasting Malik served a dual purpose. Purpose one: Putting Rehman in the crosshairs gave unassailable credibility to Mirza's charges against the MQM. The logic being that if the man had just given up all his party posts and official perks to take on his own party appointed interior minister then why would he lie about others? And the immense public approval rating being enjoyed by Mirza at this juncture has already proven the point. Besides, Mirza is known to loath Rehman, so he must have been more than happy to oblige by being exceptionally generous with his ire.
Purpose 2: People in the know are fully aware of Rehman Malik's indispensible role in some non-political profitable endeavours of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. To be fair, these endeavours may have been legit enterprises but nevertheless they did plant Rehman Malik smack in the middle of PPP's exile politics. Insiders insist that initially Malik was not on the preferred dinner guest list of Asif Zardari but later became a forced permanent fixture due to his 'special' status. Probably three years down the road some negotiated settlement may have taken place on this front and it may now be politically affordable to cause his amicable exit. And what better way than to turn him into a political hot potato? Mirza gets to get his man and his friend the much needed peace of mind, and all this without needlessly offending a man who may know too much for his own or anybody else's good, and supposedly also enjoying the backing of an immensely influential western power.
During his two hour long interview with Geo TV, Dr Mirza repeatedly said that if asked by his "mohsin and friend" (the president) he would clam up and stop all his activities. So once all this power politics' hurly burly is done and the objectives attained – nationalists stopped in their tracks, the MQM eased back into the ruling alliance on preferred terms and someone eased out later, again on preferred terms – we should not be surprised to see Mirza back in the saddle. Ah, these power plays.
And now the most troubling questions of all: what if this entire political detonation was not a Zardari controlled explosion? How does one then comprehend the absolutely dismissive state response to such serious allegations? Does it mean that the prime minister and the president do not give a hoot about any real or misperceived threat to our national security? Does it mean that everybody in power is a partner in crimes against the people?
Our little world is ruled by three big chiefs: The twice restored chief justice, the once extended chief of the army staff, and of course the chief of all that he surveys, the president. Matters have come to a head where if one fails to act in the national interest then the remaining two must. Certain niceties be damned. A constitution is meant to serve and save a country and its sanctity forever remains subservient to that of the country itself. A point that must not go lost on any of our chiefs.
People may comprehend, if not condone, the president's deliberate inaction caused by compulsions of power politics, but only time will tell whether a similar tolerance is reserved for one who was returned to his office after millions took to the streets and scores lost their lives, or for the one who willingly took an unprecedented three-year extension in an office of extreme power and responsibility but proved unwilling to take even three steps to protect the people, or the state.
The writer is editor The News, Islamabad.
I. THE NEWS
This is a clear example of Punjab authorities failing to provide security to those known to be at high-risk. They are now trying to shirk responsibility
Despite search operations in Lahore for the last few days and several arrests, the Punjab police have been unable to locate Shahbaz Taseer who was abducted from Lahore on Friday.
No surprises there. Shahbaz's kidnapping is the second high-profile abduction within a few kilometres of each other in Lahore over the past two weeks. An American aid worker, Warren Weinstein, was also abducted on August 13 and remains untraced.
The Punjab police are clearly out to earn as many dubious points as possible. So deep in slumber are provincial authorities that men on a motorbike and a Prado were able to take Shahbaz at a busy junction in one of the most upmarket parts of the city.
Since Shahbaz's father and former governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer was shot dead this January by one of his own guards for standing up for a Christian woman charged with blasphemy, the Taseer family has received multiple threats from extremist groups for pursuing the murder case of the governor. But Salmaan's children have remained vocal in their support for his stand against the blasphemy law and many are wondering if Shahbaz's abduction is the price of that stand.
Indeed, this is a clear example of Punjab authorities failing to provide security to those known to be at high-risk. But in the face of clear evidence of their ineffectiveness, the police are now trying to shirk responsibility and have said that the security lapse might have been caused by Shahbaz himself since he decided to venture out without his security detail.
In the Weinstein case also, the Punjab government had emphasised that responsibility lay elsewhere, by highlighting that close-circuit cameras at Weinstein's house were not working when he was kidnapped and that he did not like to keep the police informed about his movements.
The police cannot try to pass the buck onto others, especially since there is a clear pattern of such abductions.
For instance, the son-in-law of General Tariq Majid, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, was also kidnapped from Faisal Town, Lahore, in August 2010. According to investigators he was picked up by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan which demanded the release of 50 of their arrested comrades and Rs300 million ransom for the general's son.
A year later, Gen Tariq's son-in-law remains unrecovered, and his last whereabouts were confirmed to be Afghanistan.
The CCPO Lahore has said that Shahbaz has not been taken out of Lahore and most investigators claim that his kidnapping seems to be less the work of extremist groups and more the result of personal business rivalries and property disputes with estranged members of the Taseer family.
However, the bottom-line is that gangs of professional kidnappers who target wealthy individuals for ransom freely operate in Lahore and other cities. This string of kidnappings has added to a sense of deteriorating law and order in the country and underscored the failing writ of the state and its inability to secure those known to be high-risk targets.
The irony is that while things slowly unravel in Lahore, the Punjab chief minister has been traveling around Sindh, teaching Karachiites how to deal with the law and order situation there. As Punjab becomes increasingly Talibanised and terrorist attacks and kidnappings rock the province, it may be time for the Punjab CM and his police force to wake up from their sound slumber.
I. THE NEWS
EID AMID TURMOIL
As Eidul Fitr, one of the most important holidays of the Islamic calendar, rolls around this year, the country finds itself confronting formidable challenges yet again. It will not be a happy occasion for everyone. There are scores of families in Karachi, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and other parts of the country who will be grieving the loss of family members who have fallen victim to bomb blasts, target killings and other acts of terrorism. Last year too, Eid was observed amidst instability and chaos. Since then things have only grown worse with the result that Eid will once again be celebrated amidst apprehensions. A lower-than-usual shopping turnout has been reported by shopkeepers across the country. Inflationary pressures, combined with the ever-present fear of terrorism, appear to have subdued buyers this year.
At Eid prayers around the country, many will be asking, above all else, for calm and security to be restored. They will also be praying that the days on which Muslims mark Eid this year pass peacefully and without the occurrence of any unfortunate incidents. Growing monetary pressures in the country mean that even though alms-giving rises sharply during the month of Ramazan, there will still be countless people in the country who simply cannot afford to celebrate Eid. There will be children without new clothes or shoes and families unable to put together a fitting meal. We must remember them and ensure that the spirit of giving extends beyond the month of Ramazan and carries forward into the rest of the year.
There will still, in most houses, be the customary festivity. Family members will gather and a large portion of the population will seek solace in observing the rituals associated with the occasion. Despite all their problems, most people will, at least for a day or two, busy themselves in celebrations. Eid will give a lot of people an opportunity to come together, be merry, and give thanks for their blessings. It is unfortunate that, as in the years past, not everyone in the country will be celebrating together. This year too, there will be two Eids observed in the country. With parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa having already marked the occasion a day before the rest of the country, we will have missed another chance to come together and be united. All may not be well this Eid but there will still be the unrelenting hope in our hearts of moving into better, more peaceful times. This would be the best gift of all for Pakistanis across the country.
I. THE NEWS
While Zulfiqar Mirza's explosive press conference blew the lid off what he claims is the direct involvement of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Interior Minister Rehman Malik in the violence in Karachi, one question remained: Did Mirza unleash these remarks purely in his personal capacity or was he put up to the task by his boss and friend President Asif Ali Zardari? It is now becoming increasingly clear that Mirza is a sidelined figure. The PPP has described his diatribe as an "unacceptable violation of party discipline" and disowned it on the grounds of being contrary to the policy of reconciliation. Senior PPP leaders have confirmed that Mirza will be issued a show-cause notice and his basic membership of the PPP may also be suspended shortly. Most importantly, the PPP has announced it will not probe the charges Mirza levelled during the press conference against Rehman Malik and that Mirza's security-related allegations can be taken up by the security agencies if they deem it necessary. On the other hand, the MQM seems satisfied with the PPP's public disavowal of Mirza's remarks and has been careful about condemning only Mirza and not the PPP. At a press conference on Tuesday, MQM leader Faisal Sabzwari challenged Mirza to take his evidence to court where he said the MQM would wholeheartedly face him. The Awami National Party has already asked the SC to summon Mirza and look at whatever evidence he claims he has.
Considering the gravity of the accusations — that the MQM is in bed with the US to break up Pakistan and Rehman Malik has released many known target killers because of their political affiliations — those he has accused should come forward in an equally forthcoming manner and present their counter-arguments with evidence, preferably before a court of law. Silence will damage no one but their own credibility. This especially applies to the PPP which has to answer for the allegations levelled by one of its own important leaders against its interior minister. Running away from a probe at this point will only lead people to think there is something to hide. Additionally, the heads of all intelligence and law-enforcement agencies should together put on record everything they know and indiscriminately expose all elements involved in the violence. This, perhaps, is the only way to build the requisite pressure on political parties to have the killers surrender their arms.
Many are wondering if it is a coincidence that Mirza "exposed" the MQM on the eve of the suo motu hearing by the Supreme Court. Indeed Mirza offered to assist the apex court and present it with official investigation reports, personal correspondences of important personalities, records of telephone calls and messages and video recordings that could shed light on those truly responsible for the violence in Karachi. The Supreme Court has already rejected the government's report on targets killings in Karachi and declared that while the government does indeed have the machinery to tackle ongoing problems it does not have the will to use this machinery properly. That the violence in Karachi is a political problem with a political solution has acquired the status of cliché. It is no wonder then that many are pinning their hopes for a breakthrough on the Supreme Court.
THIS COULD BE PRODUCTIVITY DEBATE THAT WE HAD TO HAVE
IT is off to a shambolic start, but Australia might finally be having the economic debate we badly need. For more than half a decade, this lucky country has dodged the difficult reform challenges upon which our future growth and prosperity depend. During that period, this newspaper has repeatedly called on federal governments to embrace the taxation, welfare, workplace, innovation and infrastructure reforms necessary to improve the efficiency, breadth and durability of our economy.
The current untidy debate about the decline of manufacturing is, in essence, the beginnings of a serious discussion about how to capitalise on the resources boom while ensuring we enhance the opportunities in the non-mining sectors.
Julia Gillard's instinct not to refer the manufacturing "crisis" to a formal inquiry is the right one. The government does not need a long-winded investigation to tell it what it needs to do or, just as importantly, what not to do. Rather, it needs to listen and consult. For months, even the government's own rhetoric has accurately reflected the primacy of a productivity agenda. So the Prime Minister is right to say now is not the time for more inquiries but for action.
The critical question is whether Ms Gillard has sufficient commitment and authority to deliver. MPs from the Left such as senator Doug Cameron and union heavyweights such as Paul Howes are seeking to divert her to an inquiry -- presumably to provide a forum for special pleading.
Australia's relatively high wages and remoteness from major markets need not be insurmountable hurdles to our manufacturing industries. A 2003 Productivity Commission research paper detailed how productivity growth, prompted by tariff reductions and the opening up of our economy, had enabled a focus on exports as the future for manufacturing. Since then, productivity growth rates have slowed dramatically, compounding other pressures such as the high dollar.
As an architect of Labor's Fair Work regime, Ms Gillard is responsible for re-regulating the Australian labour market after the overreach of John Howard's Work Choices, and she continues to resist calls to revisit industrial relations arrangements. This is a great pity because while a serious productivity agenda will be much broader, labour market reform is a sensible place to start. Even the duly restrained comments of Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens have suggested as much. So this shapes as a straight-forward test of whether cabinet or the unions are in control of Labor's economic agenda.
There are challenges in this debate for Tony Abbott, too. The Opposition Leader was right to recommit to free trade in a speech on Monday but he tried to be all things to all people. On one hand, he sought to accommodate the Liberals' economically rational arm and its business constituency, who understand the dangers of government intervention; on the other, he threw a bone to the protectionist instincts of the Nationals and Labor's blue-collar heartland with a populist pledge to "level the playing field" for Australian manufacturers. Framed as overly negative, Mr Abbott now has a chance to outline an innovative productivity agenda as promoted by his prospective new NSW senator, Arthur Sinodinis.
A balanced economy is a worthwhile aim but it should not be orchestrated through protection, subsidies, local quotas or other heavy-handed government interventions that will increase costs and damage our long-term competitiveness. Rather, it is productivity improvements that should underpin the future of manufacturing and other non-mining sectors. Flexibility should be supported for work arrangements, trading hours and workforce mobility, while government costs and red tape should be minimised. Education, training and innovation have roles, as does infrastructure development, but Labor must avoid equating big-spending with meaningful action. Yesterday's revelations about the sub-standard administration of the $2.1 billion Productivity Places Program, and the ongoing difficulties of the National Broadband Network demonstrate all too clearly that a poorly constructed productivity agenda can be just another way to waste money. Let the debate continue.
STOPPING JAPAN'S REVOLVING DOOR
IN the land of the perpetual political crisis, the auguries for Japan's new Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, do not look particularly promising. Polls show public regard for political parties at an abysmal 18 per cent for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and 15 per cent for the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. The challenges confronting the man who has emerged, through the constantly revolving door of Japanese politics, to become the country's sixth leader in five years could hardly be more daunting.
Apart from the ongoing crisis over reconstruction following the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, a chronically underperforming economy and the worst fiscal debt in the developed world that has led Moody's to cut Japan's credit rating, Mr Noda also confronts serious infighting within the DPJ, and parliamentary gridlock. Such enormous challenges are secondary to the main issue -- that of sticking around long enough to achieve something and give Japan the strategic direction and stability it so desperately needs if it is ever to break out of the cycle of uncertainty and short-lived governments of recent years.
Mr Noda's predecessor, the hapless Naoto Kan, lasted just over a year but was a virtual lame-duck following his handling of the tsunami. Mr Noda, who self-deprecatingly likens himself to an ugly dojo bottom-feeding loach fish, an eel-like inhabitant of the deep, looks a far better bet than Mr Kan. A fiscal conservative, Mr Noda has been regarded as a safe pair of hands as finance minister, favouring hiking taxes rather than adding to the country's bulging debt. A modest, calm man, not from the political establishment but from a military family, he is noted for being a conciliator with few enemies. Most importantly, he has been an advocate of working with the opposition, even supporting a grand coalition with the LDP to get vital bills passed.
Japan, Australia's second-largest export market and trading partner, obviously needs a period of political stability. Its politicians, if they seriously want to get to grips with the country's problems, must give Mr Noda a fair crack of the whip. They must end the debilitating revolving-door politics and infighting and give him a fair go. He must be allowed time. Otherwise there will be no end to the crisis besetting a country that deserves so much better than its recent lacklustre leadership.
WALLOWING IN GLOOM AND DOOM
IF the doleful scaremongers at the Climate Change Institute want to persuade Australians about the need to cut carbon emissions, they'll have to do better than their report "A Climate of Suffering: The real costs of living with inaction on climate change".
The picture it paints of a nation wracked by fear, despair, bereavement, depression, self-harm, suicide, domestic violence, family dissolution, debilitating mental illness, children anticipating the end of the world and a billion climate refugees by 2050 is enough to make readers wonder if it's worth getting out of bed.
Effective climate change debate and action depends on reliable science and rational decision-making, not hyperbole. Mental illness is too serious and complex a health problem to be used to whip up anxiety over climate change and promote expensive solar roof panels, the only positive photograph in the report.
As the report admits, disasters such as Cyclone Yasi and the summer floods showed the resilience of Australians and how well communities pull together in such times. With or without climate change, that has been the case on this torrid continent through drought, fires, floods and cyclones for generations. But taken seriously, the neurotic mindset this report fuels would erode such national spirit and burden more people with depression.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
ABBOTT'S HINTS AND RIDDLES
HAVING placed himself at the head of a huge groundswell of anti-government sentiment, Tony Abbott is finding the position tricky to maintain. The viewpoints of those alienated by Gillard government policies vary as broadly as the country itself - from mining to manufacturing, from farmers to small business and on to the disaffected workers and superannuants who once might have been called Howard's battlers.
Abbott is understandably tentative in his approach to leading this disparate popular front. His top priority until now has been to alienate no one, to keep the front together and marching more or less in the same direction. In public pronouncements he has kept policy detail to a minimum and said one thing to one group and something else to another with different interests. But trying to be all things to all people this way will not work in the long term, as Abbott knows. At some point, voters - and indeed Coalition MPs - will want to know what an Abbott government would do.
His speech on Monday to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia has been picked over for clues to his likely industry policy. The pickings are slim. On the two-speed economy, Abbott said it was right that resources should flow to the most productive parts of the economy, and governments should get out of the way. But governments should also help other parts of the economy take advantage of mining's success. Feather-bedding, though, was bad. But then again, a case could be made for maintaining a heavy manufacturing base on national security grounds, or to ensure a diversified economy survived or to smooth out temporary turns of the business cycle.
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If all that sounds confused, perhaps the inquiry into industry policy Abbott has asked his industry and resources spokesmen and women to hold will clear things up.
His view of industrial relations is slightly easier to discern because the hints are consistent. The defeat of union militancy by previous governments has allowed Australia to take advantage of the China boom. This government, he says, should listen to business concerns about the Fair Work Act, which replaced the Coalition's Work Choices. Most recently, those concerns, as expressed by economists and even the governor of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, have involved calls for more flexibility in industrial relations arrangements. That sounds like one of Work Choices' key elements, but Abbott of course does not go that far. Nonetheless, his hints suggest he may, at long last, be summoning the necessary strength to tell the public what he thinks. That would be a most welcome development.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
THE LOACH ON THE SUSHI COUNTER
JAPAN'S new Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, is not a man with airs. He compares himself in looks and temperament with the loach, a rather ugly fish found on the muddy bottoms of waterways. Just as well, as few Japanese or foreign well-wishers will greet his rise with much enthusiasm. Noda is the sixth prime minister in five years, and the third from his ruling Democratic Party of Japan since it overturned decades of conservative rule only two years ago.
But his colourless personality may be what Japan needs at the moment. His two much more charismatic DPJ predecessors, Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan, pitted themselves against deeply entrenched interests. Hatoyama tried to oust the US Marine Corps from Okinawa, where it has been since 1945. Kan floated the idea of dumping nuclear energy after this year's tsunami disaster at the Fukushima-Daichi power station. Both ideas have widespread support, but not enough to overcome concerns about security and living standards.
Noda is unlikely to take on such powerful interests. He supports close strategic ties with Washington and the maintenance of US military bases in Okinawa, and is closer to the previous conservatives on issues of patriotism that irk China. He supports phasing out nuclear power but thinks existing reactors should be checked and restarted as soon as possible to avoid power shortages.
The nuclear dilemma still presents problems. The existing line-up includes power stations of the same type and ones that are just as vulnerable to tsunami as the Fukushima one, notably the Hamaoka plant close to the narrow main transport corridor linking the two great population centres of Tokyo-Yokohama and Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto. With a swath of land around Fukushima needing to be kept depopulated for decades because of radioactive pollution, public fears will not go away.
The main hope pinned on Noda is that he will seize the nettle of Japan's public finances, to tackle debt now twice as big as annual gross domestic product. By suggesting the people might be asked to ''share the burden'' Noda has hinted at a rise in Japan's low (5 per cent) consumption tax equivalent to Australia's GST. A doubling would mean a very strong attack on the fiscal imbalance, but it would not be without risk in a deflationary climate, with the worldwide flight to security ironically pushing up the currency of the world's most indebted large economy. With the backing of his party's powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa and a consensus-building style, Noda might just be the right person for this unpopular but necessary task.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
JAPAN'S MR ORDINARY'S TIME TO SHINE
JAPAN'S new Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, declares himself an ordinary man. He has likened himself to a bottom-feeding loach fish. ''I can't be a goldfish," Mr Noda said in a humble leadership pitch to his fellow members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. When self-promotion in public life is too common, Mr Noda's approach is a refreshing change. Humility will be an important asset as he leads his troubled nation. Given the extent of the challenges he faces, Mr Noda will also need inspiration and determination in equal measure.
Japan is at a crucial juncture as it rebuilds following the devastation of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and resulting nuclear crisis. Outgoing prime minister Naoto Kan fell because of disenchantment with his handling of the crisis. Mr Noda has promised to increase taxes to help pay for the reconstruction. The critical challenge for Mr Noda, a former finance minister, is to ensure that his country's struggling economy is not further damaged because of the tax increase. In a dilemma that resonates in Australia, the appreciating yen is already making life difficult for export-exposed manufacturers.
Those same factories have had to deal with the aftermath of the quake and tsunami, which disrupted supply lines and power supplies. The latter is a particular challenge for Mr Noda, who wants to reduce his country's reliance on nuclear power - easier said than done for a country so heavily dependent on the technology.
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There is an understandable scepticism among ordinary Japanese. The buzz that accompanied the five-year reign of the charismatic Junichiro Koizumi, whose Liberal Democratic Party government had as its mantra ''structural reform with no sacred cows'', has long since dissipated. Since then, Japan has had five prime ministers in six years. The once-dominant LDP is in opposition, as Japanese voters have experimented with Mr Noda's DPJ. So far, the party has failed to impress, with a new opinion poll putting its support at only 21 per cent, while the LDP was at 23 per cent. Tellingly, 46 per cent of people supported no party.
Australia has a vested interest in a strong Japan. Despite our economic dependence on the rising China, Japan remains our second-largest export destination. In security terms, Japan remains a vital player in the region, the northern anchor of the US alliance, just as Australia occupies the southern role. Mr Noda's success is important for Australia and the region as a whole. It's time for an ordinary man to demonstrate extraordinary abilities.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
WIND FARMING: WHY ALL THE HUFF AND PUFF?
THE truth about the subject of wind farming in this state is that it blows hot and cold. For every person who views the prospect of towering turbines as an aesthetically pleasing, essential part of the clean-energy equation, there is another who sees them as noisy, invasive and unnecessary. Therefore, tilting at wind-turbine sails has hitherto not been a favoured activity of government for the politically pragmatic reason that someone, somewhere is bound to take offence.
The state Coalition government, however, has decided to brave the sturm und drang by proceeding with what are the country's most restrictive planning laws for wind farms. The changes, announced on Monday by Planning Minister Matthew Guy, include banning new wind turbines within five kilometres of 21 regional centres, and not allowing them in the Macedon and McHarg Ranges, the Yarra Valley, Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas and within five kilometres of the Great Ocean Road and Bass Coast.
A more contentious change is a direct reflection of the Coalition's election promise of a ''key role'' for local communities in determining where wind farms would go. On Monday Mr Guy said rural households would have power of veto over wind turbines within two kilometres of their properties. This, Mr Guy said, would restore ''certainty and fairness'', while still leaving 92 per cent of Victoria open to wind farm development. Maybe, Minister. As opponents to the changes have wasted no time in pointing out, this percentage would depend on whether the households concerned actually all agreed to farms being built in their no-go zones. Otherwise, the figure would plummet. There is also the disturbing prospect, raised by Clean Energy Council's CEO Matthew Warren, that individual landholders could in effect hold developers to ransom. How fair is that?
Putting things into perspective, these rules will affect only future wind-farm proposals. The present, though, is comparatively negligible - so far, just 400 wind turbines have been built in Victoria. But what of the 1007 turbines already approved and which have yet to be built? An analysis commissioned before last year's state election by the Clean Energy Council estimates that between 50 and 70 per cent of proposed wind farms, worth up to $3.6 billion, would not be developed under Coalition policy. Certainly, under the new legislation, the wind-farm industry and investment seems likely to be in the doldrums, with a potential loss of revenue to the state as renewable-energy companies are forced to take their developments elsewhere. The danger is in killing off an industry before it has really had a chance to prove itself.
The main risk in the government having gone so far is that it may have gone too far - for its own good and, more important, for the good of the sustainable future of Victoria. Not all wind farms were created equal, and the danger of creating blanket legislation lies in restricting individual, and possibly worthy, cases. As The Age reported yesterday, the Hepburn Community Wind Farm, which two months ago won an annual Premier's Sustainability Award, would not have been built under Mr Baillieu's more stringent regulations. The farm, which has been operating at Leonard's Hill since June is expected to generate more than enough power for the town's 2000 homes.
The disadvantages to wind energy are well known. It is capricious in terms of supply, with output varying by as much as 70 per cent; there are also matters of cost, siting and commercial viability. Yet are these sufficient reasons to be over-restrictive and counter-productive? Wind energy is one of the ways of the future, as it already is in many other countries, and to be embraced rather than feared. The onus is on the Baillieu government to explain its rationale.
FRENCH SOCIALISTS: PRIMARY COLOURS
In France, the socialist party must find a candidate around which it can rally
On paper, France's socialists are in poll position to reverse the retreat of the left across Europe in the presidential elections next year. The country is disillusioned with the many faces and failures of Nicolas Sarkozy as president and although the French famously have their hearts on the left and their wallets on the right, there are signs that this, too, could be changing.
The news yesterday that half of all French live on an income of less than €19,000 a year, and that 13.5% fell below the poverty line in 2009, only reinforces the message that structural inequality is growing. Mr Sarkozy's latest attempt to steal the left's clothes by proposing a temporary tax on the mega-rich will not succeed in bucking the trend. All the way into the election, Mr Sarkozy will be fighting a headwind of demands that it is for the state, and not the super rich, to stimulate economic growth.
Before any of this happens, the socialist party must find a candidate around which it can rally, and the fact they have not won the presidency in a generation, since François Mitterrand's victory in 1988, speaks volumes about the candidates they have put up. To convince France, they need first to convince themselves but there are signs that they are learning at last from the hard school of defeat.
The first was the party's summer school at La Rochelle last weekend, which did not disintegrate, as expected, into a round of point-scoring between the five candidates. The frontrunner, the former party leader François Hollande, pointedly planted a kiss on the cheek of his closest rival Martine Aubry, who spent the weekend attacking him. The second indicator of health is that the shadow cast by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who led the polls before his arrest in New York on attempted rape charges and against whom all charges were dropped, may not linger for as long as was first feared. While the race goes on, his candidacy is finished, even if his supporters could yet influence the result.
The third hopeful sign is the idea of opening up the two-round ballot to anyone on the electoral register who says they adhere to the values of the left and pays one euro. This has spooked government ministers who accused the socialists of attempting to establish lists of named people voting for them. It has also generated an interesting list of communes and prefectures, whose rooms are inexplicably booked for the dates in question. The right's reaction is almost certainly a sign that the socialists are on to a winner with open primaries. Internally, they guarantee disciplined debate. Externally, the turnout – especially if it passes the million mark – will go a long way to persuading France that socialists are back in business.
HOME OWNERSHIP: A FADING DREAM
Perhaps Britain would prosper if families put their cash somewhere more productive than their own homes
Historians have quipped that the phrase "a newly ascendant middle class" is one which can be happily fitted to any time or place. And in Britain the surest marker of this truism has, for as long as anyone can remember, been the rising rate of owner occupation. Every cliche of social science, from the withering of old communities to the passing of deference, has been explained in its terms. Meanwhile, the rhetoric of the property-owning democracy has trickled down the generations, from Eden and Macmillan to Cameron and Brown.
It is, then, arresting to learn that this great rising tide has swung into reverse. The National Housing Federation yesterday predicted that the 72.5% of the population who owned or lived with the owner of their abode in 2001 will dwindle to just 63.8% in 2021, returning the statistics to where it stood in the distant days of Margaret Thatcher's right to buy. As always in financial forecasting, questionable assumptions are involved, not least the 21% price rise pencilled in for the coming five years. Since the turn of the century, while British shares have come close to halving in inflation-adjusted value, British homes have roughly doubled in real value. Given the demographic pressures involved, it may be too crude to say what goes up must come down, but stagnation might seem more likely than fresh rises through the roof. Even so, mortgages are likely to keep being rationed to those first-time buyers who are blessed with deposits of many tens of thousands of pounds. And the return towards renting is already well underway, particularly among the young.
Much as this trend cuts against established expectations, the first question to ask is whether it is necessarily a bad thing. In many continental countries, after all, Britain's obsession with bricks and mortar was traditionally regarded as an oddity, and – at least until relatively recently – renting into middle age was never assumed to be a problem. Despite the old phrase, investment in property proved safe as houses in neither the late 1980s nor during the more recent bust, and perhaps Britain would prosper if families put their cash somewhere more productive than their own homes.
The difficulty with this sunny interpretation is twofold. For one thing, there is the bitter disappointment of the young people discovering that they cannot buy as their parents did. It is no use hectoring them that this might benefit UK Plc; it will feel like downward mobility, and that always hurts. It will particularly blight those families Ed Miliband calls the squeezed middle, where there are not the same nest eggs to finance deposits as at the top of the tree. Second, there is the dire state of the rental market. Five million are waiting for social homes, and – in the south in particular – private rents remain in the stratosphere. More people might eventually grow reconciled with not owning a home, but they will never do so while no decent and affordable alternative to buying exists.
At this point, the debate inescapably turns to supply. There can be no doubt it has been too restricted for too long, with the new households being formed every year outstripping by far the tally of new homes started, which has plunged to record depths. To this extent, the impulse to set the bulldozers to work is understandable. The difficulty is that the coalition's allergy to planning, as expressed in its localism bill, could give rise to not just an uncontrolled bonfire of regulations but neutered democratic scrutiny too. The great danger is that building will not be directed to brown field sites where the infrastructure can best support it but will instead sprawl into the green fields. Critics cite the scarred coast of Ireland as a warning of what happens when the presumption to proceed with applications is pushed too far.
The housing shortage is real, but it demands a co-ordinated building effort, not an anarchic free-for-all. That would be a dream for developers, but a nightmare for everyone else.
IN PRAISE OF … DELTA BLUESMEN
The death, at 96, of David Honeyboy Edwards severs the last living link with the original blues of the Mississippi Delta
Arthur Big Boy Crudup, Delta Blind Billy, Papa Charlie McCoy. They sound like the stuff of legend, even before you get to those who indisputably are: the Howlin Wolfs, the Muddy Waters and the John Lee Hookers. The death, at 96, of David Honeyboy Edwards severs the last living link with the original blues of the Mississippi Delta, music which grew out of the sweltering bitterness of southern cotton fields yet conquered the world nonetheless. Honeybox was there when the most legendary bluesman of the lot, Robert Johnson – the guitarist who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads where blues myth meets blues reality – drank the laced whiskey which killed him at just 27. It was the re-release of pre-war Johnson recordings in 1961 which reconnected modern song-writing and rock performance with its forgotten roots, by catching the ear of young musicians from Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton. The Mississippi's waters run down to the gulf of Mexico, but its music flowed north with the great migration of African Americans, passing through Memphis before going on to inspire the birth of Chicago blues. After Elvis hits such as Houndog, the classic Delta formula for lyrics – a brief, repeated refrain, and a longer rejoinder – got so familiar that no one bothered to ask where it had come from. The blues scale and 12-bar chord progression likewise became ubiquitous in pop. But nowhere are they put to better use than in those grainy ancient recordings, which marry sliding strings with voices full of grit.
THE JAPAN TIMES
LEADING A NATION IN CRISIS
Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers on Monday chose Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda as the party's new chief. On Tuesday, the Diet elected him as Japan's new prime minister, succeeding Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
He leads the nation at a time when it is in the grip of helplessness because of the effects of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and economic difficulties due to deflation and the stronger yen.
Although the March 11 disasters and the nuclear fiasco have caused a national crisis, the Kan administration could not act quickly enough to support people who badly need help and to reconstruct the country. Mr. Kan's lack of leadership and of sound political judgment, combined with a divided Diet (opposition forces control the Upper House), deepened people's distrust of the DPJ government and government, per se.
Mr. Noda should realize that now is the last chance for the DPJ to prove its capabilities as a governing party and to restore people's trust in politics.
None of the candidates in the DPJ race presented a clear vision of the future Japan. Mr. Noda must enunciate such a vision to give people hope in the future, now threatened by a weak economy and deterioration of social safety nets.
In the DPJ presidential runoff, Mr. Noda came from behind to beat trade and industry minister Banri Kaieda, who was supported by former DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa, by a 215-to-177 vote. In the first round of voting, Mr. Kaieda garnered 143 votes, against 102 votes for Mr. Noda, 74 votes for former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, 52 votes for farm minister Michihiko Kano and 24 votes for former infrastructure and transport minister Sumio Mabuchi.
As Mr. Noda faces the opposition-controlled Upper House, strengthening DPJ unity will be key to the realization of a stable government. Without it, he will be unable to increase the party's negotiating power against the opposition forces, especially the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.
The fact that he eventually defeated Mr. Kaieda shows that quite a few DPJ lawmakers do not like the possibility of Mr. Ozawa's influence increasing within the party. But Mr. Noda should not repeat the mistake that Mr. Kan committed.
At a time when he needed to strengthen the DPJ's position vis-à-vis the LDP and Komeito, Mr. Kan destroyed unity in the DPJ and weakened it from inside, by opting to isolate within the party Mr. Ozawa, who had led the DPJ to victory in the 2007 Upper House election and, again, in the 2009 Lower House election that brought the party to power.
Mr. Kan aimed to increase the approval rating of his Cabinet by alienating Mr. Ozawa, who is involved in a bookkeeping scandal of his fund management body but is not accused of corruption. This approach ended up costing him, as shown by the DPJ's failure under the leadership of Mr. Kan and party secretary general Katsuya Okada to develop a constructive relationship with the LDP and Komeito for smooth passage of important bills through the Diet. Mr. Noda's ability to establish party unity will be soon tested.
Mr. Noda also should not repeat Mr. Kan's mistake of blindly following Finance Ministry officials' opinions.
In the 2010 Upper House election, he called for raising the consumption tax without fully digesting the issue. His flip-flop on the issue contributed to the DPJ's defeat in the election. Mr. Noda appears to be enthusiastic about increasing taxes to raise funds for postdisaster reconstruction and to restore health to state finances.
Tax hikes could lead to the contraction of spending by consumers and companies. This would undermine economic recovery and shrink the tax base, thus reducing total tax revenues and further delaying financial reconstruction.
Mr. Noda should seriously think about this possibility. He must ask whether it is a sane policy to raise taxes when the nation is suffering from deflation and lack of demand.
Mr. Noda has been calling for the formation of a grand coalition with the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito. It would mean suppression of minority opinions within the Diet. Under such a coalition, the DPJ would be forced to give up on almost all the important points of its election manifesto, which was the driving force in its coming to power in the 2009 Lower House election. Instead, the DPJ should try to form a cooperative relationship with the opposition parties, issue by issue.
To realize an important part of the DPJ manifesto, Mr. Noda should make serious efforts to establish a National Strategy Bureau for developing grand national policies and for legally empowering the Cabinet to control the personnel affairs of high-ranking bureaucrats and to eradicate the wasteful use of public money used to sweeten the pockets of bureaucrats.
Mr. Noda thinks that Class-A war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, should not be regarded as war criminals. This view ignores the consequences of actions that they were responsible for, and it is not likely to be acceptable either to neighboring countries or to the United States. It will weaken Japan's position in the international community.
Mr. Noda also should clearly declare a policy of phasing out nuclear power, and vigorously promote renewable energy and push decontamination of areas where radioactive materials have been detected.
THE JAPAN TIMES
TIME FOR U.S. TO SAY YES TO CANADIAN OIL SANDS
BY ROBERT J. SAMUELSON
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — When it comes to energy, America is lucky to be next to Canada, whose proven oil reserves are estimated by Oil and Gas Journal at 175 billion barrels.
This ranks just behind Saudi Arabia (260 billion) and Venezuela (211 billion) and ahead of Iran (137 billion) and Iraq (115 billion). True, about 97 percent of Canada's reserves consist of Alberta's controversial oil sands, but new technologies and high oil prices have made them economically viable. Expanded production can provide the U.S. market with a growing source of secure oil for decades.
We would be crazy to turn our back on this. In a global oil market repeatedly threatened by wars, revolutions, and natural and man-made disasters — and where government-owned oil companies control development of about three-quarters of known reserves — having dependable suppliers is no mean feat. We already import about half our oil, and Canada is our largest supplier with about 25 percent of imports. As its conventional fields decline, oil sands can fill the gap.
Will we encourage this? Do we say "yes" to oil sands? Or do we increase our exposure to unstable world oil markets?
Those are the central questions posed by the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline connecting Alberta's oil sands to U.S. refineries on the Texas Gulf coast. The pipeline requires White House approval, and environmentalists oppose it.
To be sure, there are dangers. Pipelines do crack; there are spills. Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resource Defense Council reminds of recent spills of about 3.8 million liters into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and more than 151,000 liters into the Yellowstone River in Montana. Moreover, converting the "bitumen" found in oil sands into oil is messy. Some processes have required up to two barrels of water for every barrel of oil. Because energy use is also high, so are greenhouse gases. On a per-barrel basis, emissions have sometimes been double and triple that of standard oil production.
Environmentalists are outraged. They've made Keystone into a cause celebre. Sit-ins outside the White House have led to arrests. For President Obama to approve the pipeline would be regarded by his environmental supporters as a complete betrayal.
Actually, the reality is more complex. If Obama rejects the pipeline, he would — perversely — increase greenhouse gas emissions. Canada has made clear that it will proceed with oil sands development regardless of the American decision. If the United States doesn't want the oil, China and other Asian countries do. Pipelines would be built to the West Coast. Transporting the oil by tanker to Asia would almost certainly create more emissions than moving it by pipeline to closer U.S. markets.
Next, oil sands' greenhouse gases are exaggerated. Despite high per-barrel emissions, the cumulative total is not large: about 6.5 percent of Canada's emissions in 2009 and about 0.2 percent of the world's, according to Canadian government figures. More important, most emissions from oil (70 percent or more) stem from burning the fuel, not extracting and refining it. Here, oil sands and conventional oil don't differ. When these "life cycle" emissions — from recovery to combustion — are compared, oil sands' disadvantage shrinks dramatically. Various studies put it between 5 percent and 23 percent.
By all logic, the administration's Keystone decision — overseen by the State Department, which issued a final environmental impact statement last week — should be a snap. Obama wants job creation. Well, TransCanada, the pipeline's sponsor, says the project should result in 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs. Most would be American, because 80 percent of the 1,661-mile pipeline would be in the United States. Continued development of oil sands would also help the U.S. economy; hundreds of American companies sell oil services in Canada. Finally, production technologies are gradually reducing environmental side effects, including greenhouse emissions.
The real benefit would be to strengthen the strategic alliance between Canada and the United States. Canada's oil exports now go almost exclusively to us. Our interest is for this to continue. From 2010 to 2020, oil sands production is projected to double to 3 million barrels a day; most of that would be available for export. On paper, it might seem that Canada should diversify its oil customers. Not so. Canada's prospects are so tied to ours that any narrow advantage of having more buyers would vanish if that weakened the U.S. economy.
The United States and Canada are each other's largest trading partners and closest allies. Oil markets are subtly changing, as more countries — led by China — seek preferential access to scarce global supplies. In the future, security of supply may matter as much as price. The more we can reduce oil demand and increase supply stability, the better off we'll be. On oil sands, we should just say "yes."
© 2011 Washington Post Writers Group
THE JAPAN TIMES
CHINA'S ECONOMY NOT A MODEL FOR EMULATION
BY FRANK CHING
HONG KONG — At a time when the United States and Europe are beset by economic crises, it is natural that the Western model of economic development, including a democratic political system, should be viewed with some skepticism while China's growth model is greatly enhanced.
However, the Chinese government has not sought to promote itself as a model for other countries. Indeed, Premier Wen Jiabao said last spring that "China never sees its development as a model." Instead, he said, all countries have their own development paths that suit their national conditions and "we respect the choice of their people."
Besides, China has explained that what it does, including the practice of socialism, is with "Chinese characteristics" and so, by definition, cannot be replicated by other countries.
Nonetheless, heated debates have arisen in China and abroad on the viability of the "China model," with increased voices raised to defend China's authoritarian system.
One of the greatest proponents of the China model is Zhang Weiwei of the Geneva School of Diplomacy and author of the forthcoming book "China Shocks."
He has written: "As China rises, the influence of the Chinese Model on the outside world will likely be greater and greater."
Zhang acknowledges that China's experience reflects its own national circumstances and so will be difficult for other countries to emulate but, he says, some concepts, such as the idea that "good versus poor governance is far more important than democratic versus authoritarian government" might have an international impact.
This idea was also stressed by Han Zhu, whom the China Daily identified as a research fellow of the Sinolizing Research Center, when he wrote that one characteristic of the China model is "good governance, in which the political legitimacy of the ruling party and government does not come from a one-time election but from long-term good governance."
A venture-capitalist in Shanghai, Eric X. Li, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times recently in which he argued that, despite the lack of elections, the Chinese government does enjoy the support of the people."
"According to the Pew Research Center," he wrote, "the Chinese Government enjoys popular support that is among the highest in the world. The Chinese people's satisfaction with the direction of their country was at 87 percent in 2010 and has been consistently above 80 percent in recent years."
He asked: "How do most governments produced by election compare with these numbers?"
Francis Fukuyama, who two decades ago wrote the book "The End of History and the Last Man" in which he argued that Western liberal democracy was the end point of mankind's ideological evolution, now acknowledges the quality of China's authoritarian government, especially its ability to make large, complex decisions quickly and relatively well.
He also acknowledges that Chinese leaders "try to stay on top of popular discontents, and shift policy in response."
But while acknowledging the strength of the Chinese system, Fukuyama says he doubts whether its top-down system of accountability can be sustained and, in any event, the Chinese system is sui generis and "is not up for export."
Within China, Yang Jisheng, an author and former Xinhua reporter, says that the "China model" is only the latest round of criticism of Westernization in China.
He cited approvingly a 20th century philosopher, Ai Siqi, who said in 1940: "All reactionary thought in contemporary China is of the same tradition — it emphasizes China's 'national characteristics,' harps on China's 'special nature,' and wipes aside the general principles of humanity, arguing that China's social development can only follow China's own path."
Without denying the remarkable progress China has made in recent decades and the support of the Chinese people for the country's current policies, there is a logical problem with those who argue in favor of an authoritarian government.
What if, one day, the Chinese government should lose the support of the majority of China's people — as was certainly the case during a large part of Mao Zedong's quarter-century rule? Will it step down because of a Pew survey?
Unless the answer is yes, it seems pointless to say that the government currently enjoys the support of the people.
And, if the answer is yes, who will a new government be chosen?
Will there need to be another revolution? In the absence of democracy, it seems that a self-perpetuating authoritarian regime cannot convincingly argue not only that all is well but that all will remain well indefinitely, with no mechanism for the resolution of problems if they arise, on the ground that they will never arise.
Frank Ching is a journalist and political commentator based in Hong Kong
THE JAPAN TIMES
DESTROYING FIVE MYTHS ABOUT EARTHQUAKES
BY SUSAN HOUGH
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Earthquakes rattle our psyches as well as our structures. We Californians can crack jokes about jumpy East Coast types, but the truth is, our blood pressure also rises precipitously when the Earth suddenly springs to life, without so much as a warning.
Events such as this month's magnitude-5.8 earthquake centered in Virginia, which shook up lots of people without inflicting tremendous damage, provide a good wake-up call: They offer a chance to consider our response and preparedness plans, and to reconsider what we really know and don't know about earthquakes.
1. Animals sense impending earthquakes.
A golden oldie. The notion that animals anticipate impending earthquakes predates the birth of Christ, with documented references to unusual animal behavior as early as the fourth century B.C. This belief was fueled recently by accounts, including one in The Washington Post, that some animals at the National Zoo had their knickers in a knot just before the 5.8 quake.
This notion could contain a kernel of truth: Being generally squat, four-legged, close to the ground and inclined to sit still, an animal might feel an initial weak shaking that goes unnoticed by humans until stronger waves arrive. But also, it is an example of a natural human tendency to look back in time for anomalies, or precursors, that supposedly heralded the coming quake. Every pet owner understands that, say, cats and dogs sometimes behave strangely for no apparent reason; that's what cats and dogs do. And if an earthquake had not subsequently struck, you can bet we would not be talking about strange animal behavior this week — because we wouldn't have noticed anything out of the ordinary. As far as we understand, animals, like humans, have no ability to predict earthquakes.
2. The frequency of large-scale earthquakes has spiked.
With so many earthquakes in the news recently — such as those in Haiti, Chile and Japan — it seems that the frequency of big temblors is on the rise. Here again, there is an element of truth: Since the magnitude-9.3 Sumatra-Andamans earthquake struck just after Christmas in 2004 and unleashed a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Earth has experienced more great quakes, with magnitudes near or above 9.0, than the historical average.
Yet the frequency of tremors across the world always fluctuates considerably from year to year. And the energy released by big earthquakes since the end of 2004 was less than the energy released by the two biggest recorded earthquakes: the 1960 temblor in Chile and the 1964 Good Friday quake in Alaska. The number of earthquakes greater than magnitude 7.0 has been somewhat high in recent years but well within the range throughout the 20th century.
A more concerning trend is illustrated by the 2010 Haiti earthquake: This one had a devastating toll despite its relatively modest magnitude because of a prevalence of poorly built structures and a densely packed population. As both population and urbanization expand in developing nations, many more people are in harm's way. So even if the frequency of quakes is not expected to change significantly, the toll they exact is likely to keep rising.
3. Small earthquakes are helpful because they release pressure and prevent larger ones.
The earthquake magnitude scale, introduced by Charles Richter in 1935, is logarithmic, which means that progressively bigger quakes are a lot bigger than smaller quakes. For each unit increase in magnitude (i.e., going from 5.5 to 6.5), the energy released rises by a factor of about 30 — meaning that a two-unit increase translates into a quake that is nearly 1,000 times as severe. If enough stress has built up on a fault to generate a magnitude-7.0 earthquake, say, it would thus take about 1000 earthquakes with a magnitude of 5.0 to release the equivalent energy. The Earth doesn't work that way.
In any given area, the numbers of tremors of different magnitudes almost always follow a simple mathematical progression, with about 10 magnitude-6.0 quakes and about 100 magnitude-5.0 quakes for every single magnitude-7.0 quake. Thus, if there is significant strain energy to be released, it must be released in large earthquakes.
4. "Don't worry, it was just an aftershock."
One of the first questions that seismologists in California often get about an earthquake is whether it was a new quake or an aftershock. The implication is that an aftershock is somehow a less worrisome event.
Yet, as far as we understand, an aftershock of a certain magnitude is no different from an independent temblor of a similar magnitude. The shaking and rupture are the same; the energy released is the same. And aftershocks can be more damaging than larger "main shocks" if they strike closer to population centers. This lesson was illustrated with the earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand, in February — an aftershock of a larger but less-damaging quake that occurred the previous September.
Recent studies show that any earthquake — even an aftershock — has the same small statistical chance of triggering a larger tremor. So a single quake can potentially be an aftershock and a foreshock, further clouding the differences among them.
5. Earthquakes are a West Coast problem.
The West Coast of North America is more seismically active than the mid-continent and east; the San Andreas fault, the main boundary between the Pacific and North American plates, runs nearly the full length of California. To the north, the ocean seafloor sinks beneath the Pacific Northwest, giving rise to the Cascades volcanic range, and occasional huge earthquakes.
But, as millions of people on the East Coast were just reminded, less active does not mean inactive. By the end of the 19th century, two of the most notable temblors in the United States were the 1886 quake in Charleston, S.C., and a sequence of large events centered near the boot-heel along the New Madrid Fault of Missouri in 1811-1812.
We don't know exactly when or where the next Big One will hit the U.S., but the central and eastern U.S. will inevitably experience large quakes in the future. And because of the relatively homogenous nature of the Earth's crust in central and eastern North America, earthquake waves can travel much more efficiently there than through the more fractured, hotter crust in the West. So when a quake hits the central or eastern U.S., it is likely to inflict greater damage — and be felt more widely — than a California tremor of the same magnitude. You have been warned.
Susan Hough is a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a fellow of the American Geophysical Union.
THE JAPAN TIMES
ONCE GADHAFI IS FINALLY GONE
BY DANIEL SERWER
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — A relatively successful transition from the Gadhafi regime to a united, stable, more open and democratic Libya would be seen in the region, and more widely, as a credit to the NATO-led intervention. It would enable Libya to resume its oil and gas exports, demonstrate international community capacity to manage such transitions and encourage positive outcomes to other Arab Spring protests.
As the Gadhafi regime ends, the United States and Western allies should keep a few things in mind:
• The opposition led by the National Transitional Council, based in Benghazi, is a hodge-podge of former regime loyalists (civilian and military), liberal democrats, Islamists, expatriates, Berbers (Imazighen), various tribes and jihadis. They are united mainly in wanting Gadhafi gone. Fragmentation has not been a big issue, but the large concentration of regime supporters in Tripoli will present a bigger challenge to inclusivity. Little is known outside Libya about political, tribal, ethnic and regional fault lines, and Gadhafi-era institutions are so confused that it is difficult to see how they can provide a framework to limit the competition to nonviolent politics. The July murder of former interior minister Gen. Abdul Fattah Younis after he had joined the NTC is a potential harbinger.
• Many Libyans have suffered under the Gadhafi regime, losing family members, property and freedom. Revenge killings have been reported in Benghazi. Gadhafi loyalists may be assumed to have information or articles of value that need to be extracted quickly. This could lead to detention, imprisonment and torture, with the police and intelligence services likely targets, particularly if the Gadhafi loyalists continue to resist even though he has disappeared from the scene.
• Once stability is established, many of the half-million or so Libyan refugees and internally displaced people will return and seek to recover their property. Recovery of real estate can be particularly contentious and undermine public order, especially if the public lacks confidence in the courts.
• Failure to provide at least the current level of electricity and water promptly would undermine public order and make progress on governance, rule of law and the economy far more difficult.
• Mines planted by the Gadhafi regime have been a problem in Benghazi and Misrata, where significant numbers of civilians have required medical assistance. Tripoli and other Gadhafi-controlled areas may also have been mined or booby-trapped. Unexploded ordnance resulting from NATO-led operations will also be a problem.
In post-Gadhafi Libya, the more that can be done by the Libyans themselves, the better. Libyan capacity to organize themselves should not be underestimated, but Tripoli may require international peacekeepers to keep order, at least in the initial phase.
The most likely candidates for leadership roles in any international effort are the United Nations and the European Union, both of which have appropriate experience and good reasons to want a successful transition in Libya. The African Union should be expected to encourage Gadhafi loyalists to adapt to the new regime. The Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council should be expected to help mobilize needed international resources.
The U.S. could play a supportive role, ensuring that the effort is based on a solid strategic framework, filling in where donors fall short and bringing attention to top priorities. The existing "contact group" could be a vehicle for the U.S. to contribute without burdening it unduly.
Whichever option is chosen, the NTC is expected to combine with other legitimate interlocutors to form an interim authority to take over governance. International assistance should be conditional on inclusivity, which is vital. Many Gadhafi-held towns have formed councils that can be drawn upon to provide appropriate representation. These indigenous Libyan initiatives must not be inadvertently bypassed or destroyed once the Gadhafi regime is gone, as has happened in other post-conflict situations. The local councils could be particularly effective in mounting "neighborhood watch" operations to prevent public disorder, an approach taken during the protests in Egypt.
Preparation of a constitution (Libya currently has none) and elections at various levels will take several years. Mine-clearing and retraining the police, army and judicial systems will take the better part of a decade. Accountability for past crimes and justice for those who abused power under the Gadhafi regime may take longer. Once restored to pre-crisis production, Libya's oil and gas can pay for reconstruction, but immediate financial requirements will be large.
The coherence of international efforts will depend on setting out from the start a clear set of agreed principles toward which the Libyans and international community will work. This can best be done in a new Security Council resolution; if that proves politically impossible, it could also be done in a statement by the contact group or under U.N.-EU leadership. The goals should include a united and sovereign Libya within its well-established borders and under the rule of law that can sustain, govern and defend itself through inclusive democratic institutions, using Libya's resources transparently and accountably for the benefit of all its people.
If a U.N.-EU effort fails to ensure stability in Libya, the U.S. should be prepared to mobilize and support a NATO-led effort, including, if necessary, the deployment for a limited duration of U.S. ground forces. Only NATO has the military capacity required. Unilateral U.S. intervention would entail risks without commensurate gains to vital national security interests.
Daniel Serwer is a lecturer and senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a scholar at the Middle East Institute.
THE JAPAN TIMES
GOODBYE TOTALITARIANISM, HELLO ELECTED STRONGMEN
BY WILLIAM J. DOBSON
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — A month ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with Srdja Popovic, a democratic activist and leader of the revolution that toppled Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. We had met to discuss the revolutions ricocheting around the Middle East.
"It's been a bad year for bad guys," he said. In late 2010, he mused, no one would have possibly predicted that six months later, "Ben Ali and Mubarak would be out, Gadhafi and Saleh would be on their knees, and Assad would be seriously challenged. If you would have seen that in your crystal ball and then told people on TV, men in white coats would have come to take you away."
This past week, the dictator's club lost another member. When Libyan rebels stormed Moammar Gadhafi's compound and seat of power in Tripoli, he went from a bizarre, mercurial Arab tyrant to a fugitive of justice. Libya is the newest piece in the Arab Spring jigsaw puzzle, which when connected to Tunisia and Egypt has created a dictator-free zone across a growing stretch of North Africa.
But why should it end with North Africa, or even the Middle East? The truth is that a world without dictators may not be such a lark. Yes, it has never been harder than it is today to be a dictator. An army of Western experts and activists now stands at the ready to shine a spotlight on human rights abuses or gross corruption. If you order a violent crackdown, you know it probably will be captured on an iPhone and broadcast around the world in real time.
Totalitarianism, the ultimate expression of dictatorship, is virtually extinct. It was just too expensive. The Joseph Stalins, Pol Pots, and Idi Amins belong to a distinctly 20th-century version of dictatorship. No one wants to be North Korea or Burma. Police states are passe. Maybe we don't need to fear the men in white coats after all.
And picture, for a moment, the benefits of a dictator-free world. No more rogue regimes sponsoring terrorists or giving haven to mass murderers. No more famines in North Korea. The humanitarian benefits would be enormous. Once the last tyrant had fallen, imagine the creativity that would pour forth from the millions of people who had known nothing besides fear, repression and the best ways to survive it. We could build a museum to dictatorship — perhaps in Yangon — where we could view their portraits, remember their crimes and wonder how men (they're almost all men) could be so cruel to so many.
Just one problem: The end of some of the harshest dictatorships has not necessarily spelled a more free world. The extinction of the thing we despise is not giving rise to the democracy we hoped for. According to the watchdog organization Freedom House, political freedom has declined around the world for the fifth consecutive year, the longest continuous decline since it started monitoring these trends in 1973. Furthermore, the number of fully functioning electoral democracies is the lowest it has been since 1995.
What we see instead is the rise of electoral strongmen, figures such as Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez, who go to great lengths to maintain a thin democratic facade to hide the fact that they have concentrated power in their own hands. Russia's back yard is littered with authoritarian regimes — Azerbaijan, Belarus and Uzbekistan, to name a few — whose leaders seem to view their positions as lifetime appointments. China thankfully is no longer ruled by a Mao-like figure, but in some ways its economic success has made it more insidious; strongmen and would-be authoritarians look to it as a beacon of nondemocratic strength. Some in Asia may be softer — Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore — but they are no pillars of Jeffersonian democracy.
Political scientists are at pains to establish the proper species of many of these regimes. Are they "semi-authoritarian," "hybrid," "pseudodemocratic" or something else? Suffice it to say, they are not democracies.
Nor does history move in some uninterrupted line of progress. The transition from dictatorship to democracy is full of false starts and retreats. Some of the revolutions we recently applauded have led to governments with a shaky handle on the democratic tenets they once espoused. In Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, the leaders who rode the revolution to power quickly displayed familiar authoritarian reflexes, choking free media and tightening civil liberties. In Ukraine, the Orange Revolution prevented Viktor Yanukovych from stealing an election in 2005. In 2010, he returned, this time winning elections that most say were free and fair. The fact that he won isn't a problem; he was the people's choice. The trouble is that since coming to office, he has proved to be the authoritarian bully we remember, intimidating civil society groups, undermining press freedoms and bringing trumped-up charges against his political enemies.
It is too early to say what the Arab Spring will yield, either. The Egyptian military has promised to steer the country toward democracy, but its behavior since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted — which includes arbitrary arrests, military trials for thousands of civilians and forced "virginity tests" for female protestors — hardly inspires confidence. As welcome as the collapse of Gadhafi's reign must be for Libyans, building a pluralistic democratic society from the ruins of his regime will be much harder than the march on Tripoli.
Of course, Libyans deserve to celebrate their victory. Next week would have marked the 42nd anniversary of Gadhafi's rule. Now that day will never come. Twenty years ago, Eastern Europeans showed the way. Today the people in Libya, and across the Middle East, are demonstrating that the most entrenched dictators can be challenged, and in some cases, uprooted. What about Africa or Asia? No one would be crazy for thinking it could happen again.
William J. Dobson, a former managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine and senior editor for Asia at Newsweek International, is writing a book about dictatorships.
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