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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

EDITORIAL 10.08.11

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Editorial

Month August 10, edition 000907, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. LONDON IS BURNING
  2. AND BRITAIN HAS ONLY ITSELF TO BLAME
  3. IT'S BACK TO SQUARE ONE
  4. ANOTHER NEPAL PM PREPARES TO RESIGN
  5. REFORMING FOR FUTURE - MANVENDRA SINGH
  6. NO WONDER KIDS THINK STEALING IS OK - KATHERINE BIRBALSINGH

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. STOP HOUNDING ARTISTS
  2. COLD-BLOODED MURDER
  3. GET DOWN TO WORK - RONOJOY SEN
  4. 'MOB FASCISM IS DANGEROUS FOR CINEMA'
  5. DEBT DO US PART - JUG SURAIYA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. CONTROL THE DAMAGE NOW
  2. STILL UP IN THE AIR
  3. IT'S NOT A LIFESTYLE ISSUE
  4. FAMILY MATTERS

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. CENTRAL BANK RERUN
  2. CONFLICT RESOLUTION
  3. KEEP IT FACTUAL
  4. TOO MANY SUB-PLOTS - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
  5. RUNNING IN PLACE - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
  6. FALL OF A CHOPPER - C. RAJA MOHAN
  7. ASIA'S ROLE IN AMERICA'S CRISIS
  8. 'I WILL NOT ATTEND ANY MEETINGS WITH MR ANSARI' - RADHA KUMAR
  9. A METICULOUS MIND COMBINED WITH OLD-WORLD COURTESY - NAVIN CHAWLA
  10. SAME DIFFERENCE - MANOJCG

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. A NEW HEAD FOR AIR INDIA
  2. HIGH-VOLTAGE SHOCK
  3. THE BIG GAAP IN US DEBT NUMBERS - K VAIDYA NATHAN
  4. INDIA INC'S EARNINGS WILL BE CRITICAL - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
  5. TOTTENHAM SUMMER

THE HINDU

  1. CLEAN UP IN KARNATAKA
  2. MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL
  3. ARAB SPRING & U.K. DEBATE ON ISLAM - HASAN SUROOR

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. A FAKE ENCOUNTER KILLING IS MURDER
  2. NOT AN AUGUST MONTH - INDER MALHOTRA
  3. A TIMELY TOCSIN ON DEFENCE LAXITY - SUMIT GANGULY

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. HORTICULTURE AT MERCY
  2. MOCKERY OF A PLAN
  3. CLIMATE CHANGE AND AGRICULTURE - BY M K KHUSHU
  4. RURAL-URBAN MIGRATION - BY RAM RATTAN SHARMA
  5. INDIA AS MANUFACTURING HUB - BY RAMESH KANITKAR

THE TRIBUNE

  1. MAHAPANCHAYATS' CALL
  2. FAKING IT
  3. A HEADLESS PGI
  4. ANNA HAZARE'S AGENDA - BY S. NIHAL SINGH
  5. RAKHI SAWANT'S DREAM MAN - BY ASHOK KUMAR YADAV
  6. FARMING DYING AS A WAY OF LIFE - SATVINDER KAUR MANN

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. MAKING JAGGER SING IN SANSKRIT

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. AUDITING THE AUDITORS
  2. THE FM'S WELCOME SLIP
  3. INTROSPECTION TIME FOR RBI - RAJEEV MALIK
  4. THE MAN WHO SERVED THREE PMS - A K BHATTACHARYA
  5. POWER POACHING GAMES - M J ANTONY
  6. EUROPEAN TWILIGHT, ASIAN SUNRISE - RAZEEN SALLY

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. IN SAFE HANDS
  2. LONDON BURNING
  3. A CONTAGION OF BAD IDEAS
  4. SHOULD A CUSTOMER BUY ANNUITY FROM HER INSURER?
  5. US: FOCUS ON BOTTOM LINES  - JAIDEEP MISHRA

BUSINESS LINE

  1. PULLING COMPANIES OUT OF THE RUT - B.S.RAGHAVAN
  2. REFORMS NEED A PUSH - RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY
  3. CHANNELLING FUNDS BETTER
  4. 'INDIA HAS TO ACT FAST ON OIL, GAS IMPORTS FROM IRAN' - RICHA MISHRA
  5. TOWARDS REDUCING FERTILISER SUBSIDY - SHASHANKA BHIDE

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. NOT AN AUGUST MONTH
  2. BY INDER MALHOTRA
  3. NOT AN AUGUST MONTH
  4. A FAKE ENCOUNTER KILLING IS MURDER
  5. CREDIT DOWNGRADE IS A POLITICAL ANALYSIS - BY MENZIE D. CHINN & JEFFRY A. FRIEDEN  
  6. CINEMA OF THE SOUL - BY MUZAFFAR ALI
  7. A TIMELY ALERT ON DEFENCE LAXITY - BY SUMIT GANGULY
  8. REDDYS' EXCLUSION BREWING TROUBLE

THE STATESMAN

  1. BENGAL'S BADLANDS
  2. GUNS NOT ENOUGH
  3. A GOOD BEGINNING
  4. DEMOCRACY OF THE PROLETARIAT!  - RAJINDER PURI
  5. ENDORSING PRINCIPLES
  6. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FAKE KIND
  7. WORDS OF CONDEMNATION MUST BE ACTED ON

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. NOW OR NEVER?
  2. LOST HORIZON
  3. POLICY PARALYSIS
  4. NORMAL LIFE  - SUMANTA SEN

DECCAN HERALD

  1. A CAUTIOUS START AUGUST 9
  2. ON THE BOIL 
  3. WHY LONDON'S BURNING? - COLIN TODHUNTER

OHERALDO

  1. THIS IS NOT LONDON, OR IS IT?
  2. THE STUDENT MOVEMENT IN GOA - FREDERICK NORONHA

HAARETZ

  1. THE BOREDOM STAGE
  2. NETANYAHU IS DE GAULLE  - BY SEFY HENDLER
  3. THE DEMOGRAPHIC PROBLEM -   BY SALMAN MASALHA
  4. THE PEOPLE WANT A RESET  - BY AMIRA HASS

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. HALF-MEASURES FROM THE FED
  2. TIMELY HELP FOR THE PORT AUTHORITY
  3. SERVING SHAREHOLDERS AND DEMOCRACY
  4. KESEY'S TRIP, IN LIVING COLOR
  5. THE DAY OUR LEADERS GOT UNSTUCK - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  6. WITHHOLDER IN CHIEF - BY MAUREEN DOWD
  7. A MASS GRAVE, 70 YEARS LATER - BY MORDECHAI I. TWERSKY
  8. THE REVENGE OF THE RATING AGENCIES - BY JEFFREY MANNS

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. TEA PARTY MADNESS
  2. 'THE STRUGGLE OF THIS DECADE'
  3. RAGE AND RIOTS IN LONDON
  4. BACK TO SCHOOL!
  5. RIOTING IN ENGLAND

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. TOLERANCE OR ENDURANCE?
  2. ZERO PROBLEMS, A HUNDRED TROUBLES
  3. SO, WHO WILL PROTECT SECULARISM NOW?
  4. OLIVE OIL SECTOR EYES CHINA AND JAPAN
  5. 'HANDCUFFING' VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN TURKEY - DİLEK KARAL
  6. TOWARD AN ISOLATED SYRIA

THE NEWS

  1. SERVING JUSTICE
  2. CALL FOR CALM
  3. UK RIOTS
  4. BJP'S KARNATAKA CATASTROPHE  -  PRAFUL BIDWAI
  5. JUDICIAL ACTIVISM  -  ABID HASAN
  6. A PARANOID ISRAEL  -  TAYYAB SIDDIQUI
  7. AFGHANISTAN: THE WINNERS AND THE LOSERS  -  SALEEM SAFI
  8. WE BREED AS RABBITS - MOHAMMAD MALICK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. LOOK SAUDI POLICY
  2. GOING BACK TO DARK AGES
  3. ALARMING RISE IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING
  4. AMERICANS: BEWARE OF ECONOMIC DOOM! - SAEED QURESHI
  5. CORRUPTION, TERRORISM & INVESTMENT - HASHIM ABRO
  6. REPENTANCE — 9 - SIRAJUDDIN AZIZ
  7. A SIRAIKI SPEAKING PROVINCE? - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
  8. CAN AMERICA STILL LEAD? - E J DIONNE

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. IT'S A BEAR MARKET, BUT WE HAVE TIME TO GET USED TO IT
  2. LONDON'S BURNING DISCONTENT
  3. GILLARD SEEKS POLITICAL ASYLUM

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. THE FIX FOR AN AGE-OLD PROBLEM
  2. MAKING THE BEST OF BARANGAROO
  3. LOOSE LIPS CAN SINK MARKETS AND ECONOMIES
  4. FEELING THE HEAT BEYOND LONDON

THE GUARDIAN

  1. URBAN RIOTS: THE BATTLE FOR THE STREETS
  2. IN PRAISE OF … POSTCARDS
  3. HORN OF AFRICA: HUNGER MARCHES

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. LET SKITTISH INVESTORS GO
  2. VIEW POINT: REMEMBERING RAMADHAN, LINE BY LINE - JULIA SURYAKUSUMA
  3. SOCIAL HARMONY À LA INDONESIA AND RELIGIOUS TOLERATION - CARLO ARGENTON
  4. NOT GETTING BETTER: WE NEED UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE COVERAGE - VICTORIA FANGGIDAE

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

LONDON IS BURNING

AND BRITAIN HAS ONLY ITSELF TO BLAME


The Guardianistas who dominate the Left-liberal commentariat in Britain and abroad have been, predictably, first off the block with 'serious' analysis of what has prompted Black youth to run riot in the streets of London and at least three other major British cities, setting houses, shops and cars on fire and looting whatever they can lay their hands on although most of them have displayed a certain bias towards flatscreen television sets, cell phones, sneakers and liquor ranging from the humble gin to vintage wine. Much of this analyses is high falutin bunkum, meant to distract attention from the real reasons why large parts of London and other British towns have fallen to thugs in hoods. Simple questions merit simple answers, not convoluted hocus-pocus that serves no other purpose than to make those proffering profound reasons feel smugly smart and intellectually superior while letting criminals escape the law. Since British authorities, taken entirely by surprise, are still grappling to bring the situation under control and hit-and-scoot rioters are showing no signs of returning to their council homes, we must await a fuller version of the violence that has been raging since last weekend.

Till then, all that can be said has to be necessarily based on available facts. First, the rioters are not a mixed lot; they are Blacks and mostly in their teens. Clearly descendents of immigrants, they have displayed contemptuous disregard for authority and private property. That's what sets rioters apart from protesters. Second, the dramatic eruption of widespread violence and the police's inability to either control it or prevent it from spreading to other areas shows a certain disconnect between law-enforcing agencies and the real world in which they operate. The police failure also highlights the price that has to be paid for cutting back on expenditure by cutting back on jobs. Fewer police means poorer response in an emergency situation. There's a lesson in this for those who are in charge of framing policy in India. They should also take note of the fact that the Metropolitan Police in London has been shown up for not being adequately trained in confronting rioters. The crucial role played by first respondents — policemen — could not have been highlighted better. Third, the ill effects of the British version of vote-bank politics and the over-emphasis on 'multi-culturalism' in order to be seen as politically correct and liberal can no longer be swept under the carpet. Having justified criminal misdeeds by immigrants, more so those from African and Islamic countries, by describing them as acts of revenge by the 'socially deprived', Britain's politicians must now bear the cross.

There is no percentage in gloating over Britain's agony, but there is ample reason to turn around and tell Britain's preachy politicians that they are largely to blame for the misery that has descended upon their nation. Having failed to read the proverbial writing on the wall, and having elected vacuous liberalism over hard-nosed pragmatism, they must now reap a bitter harvest. From mollycoddling Islamists to providing shelter to terrorists, from opening its doors to the undeserving to keeping wanted criminals in comfort, Britain has done all this and more, thumbing its nose at others. Sadly, Britain is now confronted with the fallout of its unlimited folly.


 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

IT'S BACK TO SQUARE ONE

ANOTHER NEPAL PM PREPARES TO RESIGN


Only six months after he manoeuvred his way through the complex terrain of Nepali politics to become the leader of a coalition Government, Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal's decision to resign from office by the end of this week has once again put the spotlight on that country's fractious politics. After failing to bring about consensus on any of the several contentious issues that have plagued the Constituent Assembly and held up its primary task of drafting a Constitution, Mr Khanal has been left with no other option but to announce that he will resign on August 13 if he is unable to bring about any significant progress in the peace process, especially with regard to the integration of the members of the People's Liberation Army. Their induction into Nepal's Army was an important provision of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord that ended the decade-long insurgency and paved the way for the Maoists to join the political mainstream. Since then, however, policy-makers have been divided over how to implement this provision of the accord. When Mr Khanal took office in February with the support of the Maoists, there was hope that some of the issues would be resolved. That hope has now disappeared as the ideological and political rifts in an already-fractured political class have grown wider and deeper. The situation has been made worse by intra-party squabbling. Indeed, one of the major reasons why Mr Khanal is being forced to resign is because he gave in to a demanding coalition ally and inducted nine Maoist members into his Cabinet. Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal, himself under pressure from squabbling party leaders, had threatened to withdraw support to Mr Khanal's Government if he did not accept his terms.

The Prime Minister's decision, however, has not gone down well with either his own party, the CPN(UML), or the main Opposition party, the Nepali Congress. The latter believes that the Cabinet reshuffle violates the five-point agreement Mr Khanal and Mr Dahal had signed with the Nepali Congress in May when all parties agreed to extend the Constituent Assembly's tenure by three months. The deal also mentioned that Mr Khanal would step down if he failed to inject momentum into the stalled peace process, and make way for a national unity Government that would include representatives from all parties. However, now that Mr Khanal has actually offered to step down, Mr Dahal has decried the decision — possibly because it hurts his own bargaining powers — but has swiftly recommended his estranged colleague Baburam Bhattarai for the Prime Minister's post. The Nepali Congress believes, and justifiably so, that this is part of a secret, seven point power-sharing deal signed between the Communists and the Maoists.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

REFORMING FOR FUTURE

MANVENDRA SINGH


The Task Force set up by MoD should focus on creation of a Special Forces command as starters for the main course of re-organising Indian defence.


Aparalysed United Progressive Alliance Government, part II, has ventured into taking an interesting decision. Even as most Ministries and Departments remain in a slumber with decision-making at a standstill, in the field of defence structures and management there are suggestions of an open mind. This is not to say that important decisions have been taken, or that there is anything new happening in the Ministry of Defence. Quite the contrary, the Ministry of Defence remains as hesitant in displaying decisiveness as any other Ministry or Department. But for the silly and needless controversy over the age of the Chief of Army Staff. That unfortunate spat is all that has kept the Ministry of Defence making news, for the wrong reasons of course. So it came as a pleasant surprise when the setting up of a Task Force was announced to review changes, or lack thereof, in higher defence decision-making.


After the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan, the then Government announced a series of reviews to look into the whole aspect of defence preparedness, structures, decision-making, and reform of the Ministry of Defence. Headed by the venerable late K Subrahmanyam, the committee looked into all aspects of the Kargil war. Its report generated a great deal of debate, the first of its kind in independent India, on the whole gamut of reforming defence management in the country. A Group of Ministers was constituted to probe, analyse, and suggest structuralreforms in the Ministry of Defence. From the civil-military interface, easing bureaucratic controls, to reforming and restructuring the Armed Forces. Some decisions were taken and implemented, while others were not touched and put aside. That, essentially, has been the condition under both versions of the UPA. Reforms in the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces remained a no-go area as far as the UPA was concerned. Until it decided to set up a Task Force to look into pending issues.


The Task Force, or as a member put it succinctly, the "son of GoM", is to look into all aspects of the Ministry and the Armed Forces that need reforming and restructuring. It is to go back to the original Group of Ministers' report and see what was recommended, what has been implemented and what needs to be re-invented in order for it to be applied. It is not to re-invent the wheel, but simply to see and suggest where changes need to be made. Which then makes the decision to constitute a Task Force unique to the current condition of UPA2. Even as it succeeds in sinking the morale and mien of the country on account of its immobility, it has taken an interesting decision on constituting the Task Force for Ministry of Defence reform. The fact it came to the conclusion that reform was needed, despite the prevailing mood of governance in siesta, is evidence enough of how dire is the need to restructure the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces, downwards, and/or upwards.

Armed Forces reform has been stymied by an absence of conviction on the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff. This has become the cornerstone on which rests all discussions on reforming and restructuring of the Armed Forces. Success, and failure, on this score is what drives all arguments of reform. For the concept of a CDS has been promoted as the magic potion to solve all structural problems. While it has been opposed owing to a 'lack of political consensus', and by one service as being irrelevant to Indian defence. Both sides of the divide have flawed arguments. For the creation of a single-point reference desk will not change or make better the functioning of the Armed Forces. More on that in a bit. On the other hand, 'lack of political consensus' is the oldest excuse for not taking a decision, for the simple reason that the exercise has not been undertaken, since the choice is to avoid the matter. So recourse is taken by a classically political move, to not take the logical step. The publically stated opposition to a Chief of Defence Staff by the Indian Air Force is based on a sentiment that is as outdated as it is myopic to Indian defence needs.


India needs defence structures that are joint in training, logistics, planning, and war-fighting. This is the 21st century and it demands the most efficient models for waging war. After much deliberation, and much more experience in waging war, the most deployed militaries in the world came to the same conclusion — that it is cheaper and more efficient to conduct operations when there is joint command and control. Human history, evolution of war, and experience have suggested this theory of military structures, not the political or bureaucratic machinations of an armed service. For the simple reason that future threats require future structures. Not World War II edifices that India continues to carry, and deploy, in a 21st century environment. That is where the pro-Chief of Defence Staff argument is flawed.


A single-point of reference is hardly the solution for the better application of force when the services continue to be managed in silos, or stovepipes in current global military parlance. The road to a single-point reference is better taken through the creation of joint formations and commands. It is a bit like reforming the district administrative mechanism before re-doing the Prime Minister's Office for efficient delivery of development goods and services. A bottom-up approach will go a long way in making structures more efficient, modern and relevant to tomorrow's threats and challenges. The current proliferation of commands across the three services is the epitome of wasteful expenditure and an exercise in empire-building. Defence reform must begin with analysing the validity of each command and its constituents so as to take steps that save money for better purchases, higher levels of training, proficient logistical management and the most effective application of force where required. Sentiment for service and use of force are mutually exclusive. The latter suffers when the former prevails, completely contrary to national requirements.


The Task Force may look into the creation of a Special Forces command as starters for the main course of re-organising Indian defence. This is a direction that the current and future challenges beckon and it is the epitome of jointness that is demanded. This new command must be directly under the Cabinet Committee on Security, which is best suited to order strategic special operations. Lessons from the world over suggest this logical step. And in Indian conditions its creation will not affect current service empires, but only highlight efficiency of operations, thus paving the way for jointness across the spectrum for which the time has come.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

NO WONDER KIDS THINK STEALING IS OK

KATHERINE BIRBALSINGH


If parents fail to teach their children the difference between right and wrong and constantly make excuses for their behaviour then chaos is what they reap. Criminals indulging in looting on the streets of Britain are responsible for their behaviour, so are their parents

The reason your house is not regularly robbed is not because you lock your doors. It is because most people don't steal. Sure, locking is a deterrent used to deter those on the fringes of society, but the main reason you are not attacked on the street, shops are not constantly looted and burnt down, and we all don't take things that don't belong to us is because someone, when we were little, taught us the difference between right and wrong.

Put a child in front of an insect and he will take great delight in making it suffer until his mother or father tells him that causing pain is wrong. Children need to be brought up properly with parents who care enough about them to say no, with a school system that cares enough to admit when behaviour is out of control, with a community that recognises that we are all responsible for our children.

Many of these mindless thugs involved in the riots don't think more than 10 minutes into the future. They think that stealing trainers is 'fun', not even considering that it might be wrong. Many of them are, quite literally, unable to read and write: 17 per cent of 15-year-olds are functionally illiterate. If you de-educate an entire generation, if you constantly make excuses for their behaviour, if you never teach them the difference between right and wrong, then chaos is what you reap. These young people are just implementing what they've learnt at school!

Teachers can only keep the peace in the classroom because they have established authority. Where there is order in classrooms, children show respect because they have been taught to respect teachers. One teacher can therefore command the respect of hundreds of children. It is the same with the police and order in society. The police cannot hope to outnumber the rioters. As a civilised society, we rely on a sense of morality in our people to keep the order.

How did the Japanese survive their recent nuclear disaster? They queued quietly for food and help, and waited. They didn't say 'me me me'! Do young people wear hoodies in Japan? Do Japanese children question their teacher's authority? Do Japanese adults defend the appalling behaviour of their youth? No.

We are an international disgrace. What would happen if the teacher left her classroom and said that she was 'keeping a close eye on things from her holiday home'? Theresa May, Home Secretary, was the only one of our leaders, whether Conservative or Labour, who returned from holiday immediately when Tottenham exploded. Where were all of our leaders? If even our politicians refuse to take responsibility for their 'classrooms', then how can we expect the children to remain in their chairs?

Ken Livingstone blames everything from Thatcher to the Conservatives to lack of youth clubs. Darcus Howe is comparing our riots to Syria's! I look on in horror at our BBC reporters, as well as ordinary people being interviewed on TV, as they all chant the usual mantra without even thinking: Cuts, cuts, cuts. A man whose shop had been looted met Nick Clegg on the street, clearly distressed, and rather than blame the looters, he attacked the Deputy Prime Minister over the cuts. What is wrong with everyone? Have we been brainwashed by aliens?

Even the sensible people (and there have been a few) refuse to denounce all of the violence. Brixton, Croydon, Birmingham are bad, but Tottenham somehow was 'understandable'. Come again? You mean sometimes looting and violence are acceptable? Apparently, the Tottenham riots are understandable because the police shot Mark Duggan (father of four, according to the Guardian). Do we really think that the police went out and killed a random innocent man? Or rather, as the local residents say, was he not a 'major player' in the Tottenham criminal underworld? They say he 'lived by the gun', and caused 'grief' to local people. Some say he was a crack cocaine dealer. His fiancée says he was determined not to go back to jail (so he has been in jail) and he has a child with her and another woman. She also has another two children from another man. Yet what do Mark Duggan's parents say? That he was a good father and a respected member of the local community. How can someone with that reputation be considered a respected member of the local community?

Was Mark Duggan a good father? Who knows! Certainly, Jens Breivik, father of the Norway bomber, was absent during his son's childhood. He refused to see his 16-year-old son because he 'wasn't ready' (whatever that means). Jens Breivik, rather than feeling remorse for having failed as a father, was only interested in his own reputation when the appalling Norway killings took place. But when I criticised him, I was shot down by ordinary readers of this blog. How dare I criticise parents when I am not a parent myself! White readers say that they are unable to speak about black absent fathers because they're white. Fine. But is Jens Breivik black? Yet no one was willing to be critical of his questionable parenting. Parents teach their children the difference between right and wrong. If they are absent, then the child grows up without a moral compass.

These criminals are responsible for their behaviour but so are their parents who sit at home, knowing their children are out there, looking forward to the goodies their children will bring home. I am so angry, so ashamed, so utterly dismayed. The vast majority of these criminals are black. No one will say it. I hang my head in shame, both as a black person and as a teacher. I naively thought if I could tell people what was happening in our schools that we would change things. I wrote a book, thinking that this would stop the liberals from the excuse-making. But instead, I was told I had made it all up. Our great capital city is on fire and even this isn't enough to convince people that the excuse-making must stop!

What does the Socialist Workers Party say? "These riots are a bitter reaction to racist policing and a Tory Government destroying people's lives." It beggars belief. Our reaction to these riots is the greatest worry. What will defeat us is not the rioters. Scary as they are, they are a minority of yobs. What will defeat us is the power of bad ideas. Given our refusal to change, the worst is yet to come.

-Katharine Birbalsingh is the teacher who exposed the failings of the comprehensive school system at the Conservative Party conference last year. Katharine has been teaching in inner London for over a decade and plans to set up a Free School in south London to help to serve underprivileged children. Her book, To Miss with Love, is out now.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

STOP HOUNDING ARTISTS

 

Those who fought to bring independence to India, whose 64th anniversary we`ll soon be celebrating, dreamt of a free society. They may not have recognised the version of freedom prevailing in the country today, consisting of a hyper-ventilating political class and a silenced citizenry. We`re not referring just to corruption here, but to restrictions on the freedom of thought and expression that could be as damaging for the future of the country.

Women and men of letters and arts are scurrying for cover, hounded by political parties, caste and communal outfits. The fate of Aarakshan, a film based on reservations, is one more testimony to their helplessness before unofficial censors. Despite clearance by the censor board and an examination committee, including dalits and OBC members, a horde of other politicians or groups, ranging from Lalu Prasad to the
National Commission for Scheduled Castes to babus from the UP entertainment tax bureau, now want to review the film before release.

Directors are at the mercy of too many self-styled vigilantes. The list of films grounded because of senseless controversies grows longer by the day. In this delirium of censorship artistes loyal to their craft, not to the propagandist diktat of a party or a group, are pushed to the wall. Syncretism has become a dirty word. The political class is playing to the gallery. From centrists to rightists and Marxists - all are innately suspicious of creativity they cannot whiplash into submission. When not protecting their holy cows they guard their vote banks, holding artists and freedom of thought hostage. The BJP and its fringe outfits have been running amok vandalising art, driving artists out of the country. But the secular Congress too is not lagging behind. If the right lunatic fringe forced M F Husain to breathe his last in exile, the Congress broke its silence only after he was no more. Browbeaten by the
Shiv Sena Mumbai University dropped Rohinton Mistry`s Such a Long Journey from its syllabus, while Congress`s Ashok Chavan applauded from the sidelines. West Bengal`s former Marxist government banned a book by Taslima Nasreen and drummed her out of the state .

Discretion does not make for quality artistic work.
Freedom of expression protects not just pluralism of ideas but also those that may offend or shock the sensibilities of some people. The inheritors of thousands of years of civilisation surely cannot continue to hold to ransom artists whose duty it is to transgress boundaries. Let`s cast aside the myth that books and films can disrupt law and order, by turning the heat on the politically supported goons who actually do.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

COLD-BLOODED MURDER

 

Given the history of militancy and immediate threats of cross-border terrorism, Jammu & Kashmir is a challenging state in terms of security and maintaining law and order. The complex politics of the state feeds into the sensitive environment, affording little room for mistakes on the part of the security forces. It is precisely for this reason that incidents such as the latest fake encounter case in Poonch need to be condemned in the harshest terms and the guilty immediately brought to book. A jawan of the Territorial Army and a special police officer stand accused of orchestrating the cold-blooded murder of an innocent civilian - the victim was reportedly mentally challenged - claiming to have eliminated a dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba commander. Even more despicable is the fact that the dastardly duo had initially managed to hoodwink the army into believing their deceitful tale.

This is not the first time that individual security personnel in Kashmir have been accused of extrajudicial killings. In 2005 in Pathribal and last year in Maachil, unsuspecting youth were killed in fake encounters by securitymen seeking rewards and promotions. Such cases along with custodial deaths - like the recent death in custody of a businessman in Sopore - disturb the fragile peace of a sensitive state like Jammu & Kashmir, and can provide fodder for a separatist agenda. It is imperative that the guilty be punished in case of extrajudicial killings, and custodial deaths thoroughly probed. The Supreme Court has rightly condemned fake encounters and prescribed the harshest punishment for the guilty. Unfortunately, cases such as Pathribal and Maachil never see justice. A zero-tolerance policy is a must to remedy the situation.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

GET DOWN TO WORK

 

At the best of times, India`s elected representatives don`t score very high in confidence polls. But even by those standards, they are passing through a crisis. Three prominent MPs - one of them a minister - are in jail and accused of being involved in some of the biggest corruption scandals in independent India`s history. The high-profile civil society movement led by Anna Hazare has harnessed the angry public mood to demand a strong Lokpal to punish corruption.

The government`s version of the Lokpal Bill, which was tabled in Parliament last week, has been rejected by Hazare. The main objection of Hazare and his supporters is to keeping the prime minister outside the ambit of the proposed anti-corruption watchdog. Hazare is perfectly within his rights to take to the streets in protest, but the debate over the Lokpal must now rightly be held inside Parliament by representatives that the people have elected. Sections of the public might be dead against the political class, but we can`t just give up on Parliament.

Nothing is likely to happen on the
Lokpal Bill before the August 16 deadline set by Hazare since it will almost surely be referred to a parliamentary committee. The BJP has already made its opposition known in Parliament to the exclusion of the prime minister from the ambit of the Lokpal. But whether the political class will have anything to say about the immunity given in the Lokpal Bill to an MP`s conduct inside the House or the exclusion of a vast majority of government servants remains to be seen.

If India`s elected representatives want to restore a modicum of public trust in their leadership, they need to get their act together in the monsoon session. However, the Lokpal Bill is just one of many pieces of legislation occupying lawmakers. The Bills listed for consideration and introduction in Parliament touch on many of the critical issues facing the country: land acquisition, food security, higher education, mining and nuclear energy to name a few.

The draft Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, which seeks to replace the British-era legislation from 1894, addresses one of the burning issues of the day. Acquisition of land has proved to be controversial all over the country and arguably led to the fall of the Left Front government in West Bengal. The long-overdue Bill, which deals with both acquisition of land and rehabilitation of displaced people, is a signi-ficant improvement on the existing legislation.

There is a slew of Bills in the area of education. The two that are particularly important are the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill and Prohibition of Unfair Practices Bill, both of which have been discussed by a standing committee and will be reintroduced in Parliament. The former will govern the entry of foreign educational institutions into India and the latter seeks to curb unfair practices such as donations or capitation fees to colleges and universities. The Food Security Bill is yet another important piece of legislation that has the laudable intention of making availability of foodgrains a right for the poor, but dramatically increases the burden of the state and promises to test the government`s leaky distribution system. The list could go on.

Parliament`s recent record does not, of course, inspire much confidence. The figures for Parliament`s productivity and the amount of time wasted in disruptions and slogan-shouting do not make for a pretty picture. Fresh in most people`s mind is the loss of the entire 2010 winter session over the setting up of a joint parliamentary committee to probe the 2G telecom scam.

It is too much to expect that in the short monsoon session, so many major pieces of legislation will be taken up. But if Parliament is to regain some of it moral authority, it must get back to doing its primary job: debating and making law. Indeed, for important legislation such as the Lokpal Bill it is absolutely necessary to debate and fine-tune laws via the parliamentary committees. Otherwise we will be saddled with bad laws for a long, long time.

Legislation, however, must also be passed within a reasonable time. We can only hope that history won`t repeat itself with the Lokpal Bill, which was first introduced in the Lok Sabha as far back as 1968 and subsequently seven more times, but has not yet made it to the statute books. For land acquisition, too, an amendment to the current legislation was introduced in 2007 during the tenure of the UPA-I government. It lapsed in 2009 only to surface once again in a substantially revised form. In the interim period, the process of land acquisition has been tied up in knots, often leading to bloody confrontations. This kind of delay is unpardonable.

It is to the credit of Anna Hazare and the group of activists around him that they have pushed the idea of a Lokpal to the top of the agenda. Now it is up to Parliament to send a message that it is serious about tackling corruption as well as legislating on other critical issues. In the first week of the monsoon session there were fewer disruptions, more debate and some sense of bipartisanship. This week the MPs have slipped back into familiar bickering. They need to get back to work. The nation is watching.

The writer is visiting research fellow at ISAS, National University of Singapore.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q & A

'MOB FASCISM IS DANGEROUS FOR CINEMA'

 

Aarakshan, Prakash Jha's new film on the government's policy of caste-based reservations in educational institutions, has become a hotbed of controversy, with individuals, organisations and political parties agitating against it and demanding to 'clear' it before its release. Anjum Rajabali , the film's writer, speaks to the Times of India:


What was the seed of Aarakshan? How did you think of a subject like reservations?

In early 2008, Prakash narrated a story to me, written by Kamlesh Pandey about a disillusioned vice-chancellor. My reaction was that instead of using education as a mere backdrop to a personal story, we should actually address an issue that is important to the education system. The then Supreme Court order, endorsing the government's proposal to extend 27% reservation to OBCs, had effectively cleaved public opinion into two. I had been part of several debates on it and was deeply struck by how emotionally intense they would get. And, given that there were so many socio-political and historical factors involved in the issue, those debates were invariably inconclusive! Both of us agreed that it would be worthwhile to actually take the issue head-on and make that the dramatic pivot of our script.


What is the film's stance (and your personal position) on the reservation policy?

The film takes a humane look at the issue. The spectrum of positions on reservations is personified by different characters. As for me, i believe that affirmative action is a desirable policy for India.


When you decided to write this film, didn't you anticipate strong reactions since it's such a volatile subject?
Well, it is undoubtedly a controversial issue, so i did expect some speculation on the film's stance before the release. And some debate afterwards. But, none of us anticipated a reaction of this magnitude before the film is even released! Believe me, there is nothing offensive in the film towards any caste. Both Prakash and i are sensitive to how both sides feel about it, and it's been written and made in a fair and responsible way. It's really ironic that right now we're being cornered by Dalit groups as well as by Rajputs and Brahmins!

People are agitating against the film without even knowing its political stance. What does this mobocracy portend for cinema?

It's dangerous. As it is, in an industrialised society, independent filmmakers and independent-minded writers and directors face a tough challenge, since the exhibition of their work depends on commercial support from financiers and businessmen. They have to constantly battle and negotiate through the minefield of profit-seeking imperatives to protect the vision guiding their work. Now, on top of that, we have this resurgence of political fundamentalism, led by the moral police and other self-appointed custodians of Indian culture, which is constantly threatening the already shrinking space for artists. Art, by its very nature, is about challenging accepted norms and conventional thought. And that is essential for a culturally healthy society.


No one is questioning the right of these groups to be concerned about the political content of Aarakshan. But when the freedom to express this manifests itself as mob fascism, and there is no quick and effective statutory response to it, then filmmakers will be left at the mercy of any group that chooses to threaten a film's release on the pretext of being apprehensive about its politics.


In all likelihood, this threat to Aarakshan might get resolved soon. But it sets a seriously dangerous precedent. Unless the state, the film industry, artists, thinkers, and civil society formulate a decisive response to it, this danger to everyone's freedom of expression will only escalate.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

SECOND OPINION

DEBT DO US PART

 

When i was a child in Calcutta, i got four annas a day as pocket money. Enough to buy a packet of toffees or a bar of chocolate. One day, being greedier than usual, i wanted both the toffees and the chocolate, which involved an outlay of eight annas. I asked Richhabhai, the owner of the corner store, if i could pay him the extra four annas the next day. Richhabhai, a shrewd Kutchi businessman, knew that my mother's credit, if not mine, was good. So he gave me four annas worth of credit. As a precaution against possible default, however, he telephoned my mother and told her about the transaction. My mother immediately sent a domestic with four annas to Richhabhai to clear the debt. Then she gave me a talking to about taking udhaar. Udhaar, living on money one does not have, was a bad habit - like not brushing one's teeth regularly - which if unchecked would lead to ruin. From then on i've been fearful of udhaar and its consequences.


The downgrading of America's credit rating - which threatens to send the economy of the entire world into yet another tailspin - has shown that my fears were justified. Shorn of jargon, what the US has been doing is living on udhaar. Like a greedy child whose stomach is too big for its pocket, it has been consuming today and deferring payment to a tomorrow that never comes. The US long ago stopped making material goods, like cars and clothes and TV sets. It bought all these things from other countries, like China. Instead of material goods, the US produced and exported ideas, which it believed were more valuable than physical products. And the most potent and profitable idea - some would call it a mirage - the US produced was the idea of the almighty dollar, the currency in which all the world's trade is conducted.


While countries like China kept the US well supplied with goods, the US in return supplied the world with more and more udhaar in the form of US treasury bonds. China alone reportedly has more than one trillion dollars worth. What can China, or any other country, buy with these dollar bonds? Only more dollars, which the US will print. In other words, more udhaar for America.


How does America's udhaar affect you and me? The sensex, along with markets worldwide, has fallen; if you are an investor you will have lost money. Even if you're not invested in the stock market, you will be affected. Economic uncertainties make individuals and governments take funds out of the market and put them into supposedly safe investments like gold. This means there is less money available for people who want to make goods - like clothes and cars and TV sets, or cement and steel, or fertilisers and pesticides - so the prices of all such goods will go up, leading to even more inflation than is currently besetting us. In worst-case scenarios, companies making such goods may become unprofitable and be forced out of business, causing unemployment. This in turn will conjure up that evil, nine-letter bogey that economists love to scare us with: recession.

It's not just the US that's been living on udhaar, building up debt until it has reached unpayable-back proportions. In the eurozone, countries like
Greece have been doing much the same. The euro, which was supposed to be a counterbalance to the dollar in the global economy, is as undermined as Uncle Sam's greenback.

The western world in general has for too long been living beyond its means, and now everyone has to pay the price for its profligacy. Indian economists assure us that India won't be hit too hard because, unlike China, our economy is not predominantly export-driven but is powered by domestic demand. This, however, will not insulate us from a global tightening of purse strings which will affect investments in our industry and agriculture. There will be fewer things - roti, kapda, makaan - and they will cost more.

We'll all have to foot the bill run up at a globalised Richhabhai's store by an irresponsible brat called the USA - the Udhaar State of America.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

CONTROL THE DAMAGE NOW

Learning no lessons from experience seems to have become de rigueur for the army in Jammu and Kashmir. After being accused, rightly so, of staging several fake encounters with so-called militants, the army has gone and done it once again. Relying on the false evidence of a territorial army jawan and a special police officer, both driven by venal motives, the army has shot dead a mentally challenged Hindu civilian in the apparent belief that he was Abu Usmaan, a top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander. 

Even as chief minister Omar Abdullah struggles to handle this latest embarrassment comes news that one of the three interlocutors for Kashmir, Radha Kumar, has resigned following charges from a fellow interlocutor that she attended a seminar allegedly funded by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence. The other interlocutor Dileep Padgaonkar faces similar charges, though he has decided to stick it out.

With this, the government's efforts to effect some kind of peace and reconciliation in the state seems to be unravelling. But, if Mr Abdullah plays his cards right, he can still contain the damage. His failing in the past has been that in earlier fake encounters like Maachil and Pathribal, he could not push to get a single armyman punished despite investigations by the CBI which showed the army's involvement.

In the latest case too, an elaborate story was concocted on how the 'dreaded terrorist' and his accomplices were challenged and after a prolonged and violent gun battle he was killed while the others escaped. Compromising evidence was also allegedly seized from the site. Now we find that all the army did was shoot an unarmed civilian who just happened to be in the wrong place and was an easy target for the two who framed him.

Mr Abdullah must act and act decisively in bringing those involved to book. It is simply not good enough to talk about stringent action against wrongdoers being a dampener on troop morale. While the army is needed to keep the peace in the volatile state, it can't assume it has licence to be above the law. The interlocutors' report is due later this year. It would be appropriate if the government, which appointed this panel, stepped in to soothe ruffled feathers and ensured that the panel presents a picture of unanimity when it presents its report.

Otherwise, it will have no effect as similar reports in the past. This time around, there was some hope that the three independent persons would come up with a workable framework for peace. If this falls through, we could well see a return to the cycle of violence which for a brief and exhilarating moment seemed to have been broken this summer.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

STILL UP IN THE AIR

The Maharaja is in a mess and, if news reports are to be believed, the public sector company is looking for a new captain to replace the poor man who is struggling in the cockpit, Arvind Jadhav. Unsurprisingly, there are no takers for this high-flying job, once considered the height of India's babudom.


So for those who are even contemplating a touchdown at the ministry of civil aviation, here is a bird's eye view of the responsibilities: manage six different companies (the airline, AI Express, Alliance Air, Hotel Corporation of India and allied functions of ground handling and maintenance, repair and operations). Feeling frazzled already? Here are some more that he or she will inherit: not a fat bank balance, but a loss of Rs 51,000 crore and the tricky merger problems of the erstwhile Air India and Indian Airlines. While these are all a part of the daily routine, there are a couple of challenges that come about cyclically: strikes by pilots and airline staff.

Understandably, the new person will need some extra special skills to survive. Here are a few we could think of: The person should be below 65 years and should have oodles of energy and patience because from the minister to the ground staff, everyone is already waiting with a long list of their demands; diplomatic skills to handle the conflicting demands of different stakeholders (except the people who use the services of the company), the charm of a nubile nymphet because it will not be easy to fend off important people who are always looking for free tickets. He should also be a superior salesman with an ability to sell a refrigerator to an Inuit. Last but not the least, any knowledge of minute-by-minute crisis management will be highly valued.

If interested and to have a confidential conversation about this role, please contact Vayalar Ravi, minister for civil aviation, Government of India.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

IT'S NOT A LIFESTYLE ISSUE

Mani Shankar Aiyar seems to believe that the French were being narrow-minded when legislating a ban on the burqa. These people, he says referring to the immigrants, were invited to work in French factories after the last war, at a time when there was a shortage of manpower in that country. So, Aiyar implies, the French had to lump their lifestyle whether they liked it or not. This is like saying that just because Britain followed a liberal immigration policy in the 50s and 60s, Hindu women had the right to commit sati because it was a life style issue and of no concern to the Brits?

There is such a thing as progress, there are universal values, there is the Declaration of the Rights of Man, first enunciated in post-revolutionary France, to which all are subject. To say that the French gave voting rights to women only in 1945 and so are not really qualified to speak about the social and political emancipation of women — as if it was some kind a historic, national failure — is besides the point. France allowed abortion only in the 1970s. But by that time both Simone de Beauvoir and the rampaging student mobs of May 1968 had already changed the politics of sexuality in France forever. It is because of the latter that even someone who is so little representative of French revolutionary thinking and practice as Nicholas Sarkozy dares to have an affair with a singer-songwriter, cohabits with her in the presidential palace before eventually marrying her. You won't find that happening anywhere else.

The truth is that France's contribution to the emancipation of women, especially the sexual emancipation of women, is simply immense. It goes right back to the Middle Ages when the troubadours first began singing of women as ideals of beauty, intelligence and virtue, thus inventing romantic love as we know it today. Then, under Louis XIV aristocratic women ran some of the most formidable salons of the day, which were a meeting ground for men of letters, thinkers, painters and musicians. These salons were instrumental in the development of good taste, manners and the evolution of the French language. In the early 18th century, Montesquieu published a book called Persian Letters, letters written by a Persian traveller in Europe, worried about what was happening to his harem in his absence. He is amazed, he writes, at the sight of French women of good social stock, standing about in the streets and conversing freely with complete strangers, albeit of similar social stock.

The French 18th century was also the century of libertine freedom, described in the books of Marquis de Sade and in Choderlos de Laclos' masterpiece, Les Liaisons Dangereuses. In the latter book, a women of great spirit and intelligence is shown to be bending the male world to her will and her free way of life. Sade, for his part, pushed the boundaries of intellectual freedom and imagination as far as it was possible to go in his day. All this amounted to considerable social progress. No French woman was writing books of the kind Jane Austen made famous in the Anglophone world, of young women waiting and waiting to be married off suitably.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, French women finally came into their own as writers, poets, thinkers and artists. We can mention the names of George Sand, Colette, Anais Nin and Simone de Beauvoir — women who pushed the limits of the permissible especially in the sexual sense of the term, women who provided intellectual leadership to both free thinking men and women.

So, this is the position from which Sarkozy speaks when he says that the burqa is a prison for women. It's a position of historical and intellectual superiority represented by emancipated women like Carla Bruni, for instance. The French don't see the burqa as a lifestyle issue. They see it as an intrusion of religion into personal matters, matters of individual choice. They see it as something that erases the individuality of women, wipes them off the social space and excludes them from participating in public life in any meaningful way. Any 'good Muslim' would agree with this reading. The burqa protects women from the sexual predatory gaze of men, but also protects men against feminine charms. The net effect is to constitute women as purely sexual beings, as sex objects, a fact to be constantly signalled to the world outside through the wearing of the burqa.

The French ban on the burqa, which is being followed by other countries like Belgium and Italy, aims at making Muslim women feel safe as sexual beings. It guarantees them a place in the social space where they can discuss their condition, indeed, their subjugation, on terms of absolute equality with their fellow men. The French like taking on their adversaries in a head-on collision because that is how they understand progress is made. The Hindu practice is to create an alternative space for alternative lifestyles, so that a measure of social harmony is guaranteed. See the difference between us and France. The French always aim for the universal and not the peculiarly French.

Banning the burqa is an idea whose time has come.

( Soumitro Das is a Kolkata-based writer )

The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

FAMILY MATTERS

As Sonia Gandhi recovers from her highly secretive surgery, there are justifiable questions as to why the Indian public is not allowed to know what ails the leader of the main political party. Had some brief details been made available then as at the time of Rajinikanth's illness, or during Amitabh Bachchan's Coolie accident, there may well have been a spontaneous outpouring of public sympathy.

What does Sonia Gandhi mean for the Congress?

She is now almost irreplaceable. She's not only held her party together for the last 12 years, but achieved an almost unbelievable political turnaround for the Congress by leading it to two consecutive Lok Sabha victories. Her preferred style is silence. She hardly speaks to the press. She almost never speaks in Parliament. Like a good bahu, she places her final faith in the Family she married into. Her public discourse is family-oriented. Copying Indira Gandhi's Belchi-style politics, she has also opted for a direct-line-to-the poor approach. She's the child-hugging, poor-embracing nun-politician — an image that no other politician seems to think it worthwhile to cultivate.

Modern India's relationship with the Congress dynasty is an ambivalent one. Most of the educated middle class detests the dynastic leadership of the Congress. The Hindu Right is near-obsessed with 'Sonia Maino', the target of their 'nationalist' ire against a 'foreign-born' leader of India. Indeed, family raj across all parties is fast turning out to be one of the biggest threats to democracy because it has the potential to block open entry and the rise of new talent. Yet, at the same time as we hate dynasty, we Indians are also fascinated by family sagas. The family, indeed a suffering high profile family, that has endured deaths, assassinations and illnesses captivates Indian audiences as instantly as any saas-bahu serial.

When Sonia's illness and Rahul's ascent to the top echelon of the Congress was announced last week, there were instant online fulminations about dynasty, mainly from the Hindu Right. The ease with which Rahul has taken his seat at the Congress High Table would perhaps be unthinkable in any mature democracy. But co-existing with the anger against the dynasty is a morbid fascination with the tragedies that have gripped every generation of the Gandhi family.

Sonia Gandhi embodies the power of the suffering family. The Gandhi family, whether we like it or not, is a 150-year-old brand in Indian politics. It may fly in the face of democracy, it may retard the emergence of the Congress as a modern political party, but it is the glue that holds the party together and the reason why it is far easier for a Gandhi to strike an emotional chord with the public than it is for any other politician.

In the run up to 2014, if the Gandhi siblings, Rahul and Priyanka, took to the streets and harked to their dead father and ailing widowed mother, then in spite of grave reservations about dynasty, the Indian voter may once again plump for a Gandhi. Already in the CNN IBN-CSDS opinion poll on leadership, Rahul Gandhi has emerged as the most popular political leader, half way through the UPA's second term.

Sonia Gandhi has been always been unabashed about her family's manifest destiny. In a rare TV interview, she pointed proudly to the memorial that would be made for her at Anand Bhawan in Allahabad, next to other late family members. She has openly said that she wants the Women's' Reservation Bill because it was her husband's dream. Her children are her closest advisers.

She's thus a proxy for the Gandhi ancestors. Submitting to her is like submission to the Gandhi pantheon from Motilal to Rajiv. She's no modern woman trying to carve her own identity. Instead she is the self-abnegating bahu who unapologetically demands others serve and respect her family as she does.

As a politician she has demonstrated an abiding faith in loyal old-timers, whether in throwing her support behind Pratibha Patil's candidature for president or Meira Kumar's as speaker. Her statements, like the nationalisation of banks by Indira Gandhi was a positive thing, shows that hers is the politics of second-guessing her late mother-in law and husband, and doing only what she thinks they would have considered permissible.

Even her aam aadmi slogan, which won her the 2004 election, was a hark back to Indira's 'garibi hatao' slogan, and through the National Advisory Council her political interventions have mirrored a traditional view of the Congress as quintessentially pro-poor and left-of-centre.

Her commitment to family legacy may have retarded the Congress's democratic impulses. But by putting the family temple at the centre of the Congress, she has welded warring living Congress members in service to common dead ancestors. She is, thus, a bridge between the dead and the living, a constant reminder of the past.

Respect for old-timers, allowing families to bring in their sons and daughters, persisting with status quo, and a feudal remoteness have been Sonia's mantras. It's not surprising that there's a veil of secrecy over her illness. It adds to the carefully preserved mystique, a larger-than-life aura that has protected her from having to answer tough questions like her peers have to do.

Whether Rahul, with his managerial and laptop-style politics will have the same benefits is uncertain. And while he claims he wants to give the Congress a new look, perhaps he should learn from his mother that the Congress functions far better as a quasi-family than as a normal political party.

( Sagarika Ghose is deputy editor, CNN-IBN )

The views expressed by the author are personal

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

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

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

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CENTRAL BANK RERUN

 

It is now official that Duvvuri Subbarao will be governor of the Reserve Bank of India for two more years. Subbarao has already steered the RBI through some of the most difficult times, and in view of the greater uncertainty and challenges that may face financial markets in the coming days, an extension is a good decision. Subbarao became RBI governor just at the beginning of the global financial crisis and therefore faced immense challenges right from the beginning — he handled them well and put together a speedy and appropriate policy response. The earlier, relatively more conservative, regime might have perhaps had a greater resistance to the kind of quick and bold steps that Subbarao was able to make.

Once again the RBI will face many difficult challenges. The global economy is going to be a difficult one to handle. Emerging economies cannot escape the problems that the US and Europe will throw up. Global and domestic currency and bond markets could easily see turmoil in the coming two years. The RBI governor will need to be alert and nimble in his responses to what may come. One of Subbarao's biggest contributions to monetary policy in India has been to move away from a de facto peg to the US dollar. Despite pressure on exports, large capital inflows and high volatility of exchange rates, the RBI did not intervene significantly in currency markets and pile up dollars. The lessons Subbarao must have learnt as finance secretary before he became RBI governor would have included the difficulties of sterilised intervention. This lesson clearly proved to be valuable and his decision to stay away from large-scale intervention in currency markets gave RBI monetary policy independence. On the other hand, as RBI governor, Subbarao's biggest failing has been in controlling inflation. Indeed, inflationary expectations have worsened under his governorship very sharply. He has raised interest rates sharply in an attempt to control inflation, but thanks to badly drafted speeches harking back to RBI's old themes and language, he has not sent out the right messages. He has not convinced households and markets that his commitment to inflation control stands above all else that the RBI is required to do.

In the next two years, apart from negotiating through the expected global uncertainty, Subbarao's biggest challenge will be to reorient the multi-instrument, multi-objective, non-accountable, non-transparent RBI into a central bank that promises and delivers price stability. He has now been given another chance to change the RBI and help it fit the needs of a rapidly growing India.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CONFLICT RESOLUTION

 

Disagreements within the team of Central interlocutors to Jammu and Kashmir have now reached the point where working together appears to be an impossibility. Though they have submitted an interim report, the friction and acrimony within the team has stalled their work and damaged their sheen in the Valley and outside. After one of the members, M.M. Ansari, criticised his colleagues Dileep Padgaonkar and Radha Kumar for attending conferences and seminars abroad organised by prominent ISI-funded persons, the team has pretty much fallen apart.

This three-member team of interlocutors was put together after a successful all-party meet in Kashmir last year, after the Valley convulsed in violent, stone-pelting protest, a media-savvy resistance that caught the world's imagination. It was explicitly set up as a new kind of listening team, one that was prepared to truly enlarge the discourse because they were not tied to unbudging official positions. Instead of swooping down to the state after individual incidents, like shallow "fact-finding" missions do, it was meant to spend a sustained stretch of time, understanding the various facets of the problem and evolving the beginning of a solution.

However, that project foundered right at the start, when these voluble interlocutors began broadcasting every new development in their research and meetings. They have met nearly 600 delegations and roughly 5,000 people across the troubled region. They rediscovered, aloud, the various angles to the Kashmir issue, the comparative merits of different points in the autonomy-integration spectrum; and they caused great consternation among various political camps wedded to one or the other option. The home minister decisively ended this season of press conferences, reminding them that "ball-to-ball commentary" on their own actions was not the appropriate way to handle one of the most gnarled, bitter conflicts in the world, and would only be taken out of context by various interested parties. But by confusing their own mandate, speaking in different voices and then being stuck with this junketeering controversy, the interlocutors have eroded their own credibility and squandered yet another chance to respond with imagination and empathy in Kashmir.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

KEEP IT FACTUAL

 

Like a mild-mannered accountant turned superhero, the office of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India has suddenly become the face of India's battle with public corruption. The CAG is constitutionally mandated to audit the revenues and expenditures of the Union and state governments, and it has been an impressively professional institution through the decades, playing a vital role in keeping government transparent. Of late, however, given the national mood of strong recoil against corruption, every announcement by the CAG has become a media event, with any observation seized for its potential to fell a political adversary.

Those reading these reports tend to leap to large conclusions — and our lack of literacy about words like "overrun" and "indictment" further agitates public discourse. Instead of being sober audits of government receipts and expenditures, CAG reports are being brandished by political parties — whether the BJP crying itself hoarse over the Commonwealth Games transactions or the Congress using it as a tool against Mayawati. Given the intense polarisation in Parliament, even passing, technical mentions can be twisted out of context and used as political ammo. Even Parliament's Public Accounts Committee, to whom the CAG submits its findings, has been knocked about in this political tussle. It doesn't help that several of the CAG's newsmaking reports, and their wider interpretation, tend to blur the lines between policy, procedure and malfeasance. After all, auditors cannot enter into administrative decisions and trace blame to individual actions, without a sophisticated understanding of each department and enterprise (like civil aviation or sports events) and its spending choices. Their reports must, therefore, be meticulously worded, leaving minimal room for misreading.

Given the CAG's stature, it must be wary of being used as a tool for political point-scoring. It should also be cautious about straying into commenting on policy, which remains the prerogative of democratic governments. Instead of stepping in with advice on sensible spending (to Mayawati) or how to rationalise freight and passenger tariffs (to the railway ministry) or criticising the Indian coast guard for its unpreparedness during 26/11, the CAG might do better to concentrate on its own constitutional remit.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

TOO MANY SUB-PLOTS

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

 

Land is the most potent measure of our contradictions as a society. Conflicts over land abound. They are often framed in binary terms: farmers versus developers, agrarian versus industrial, public versus private, rural versus urban, rich versus poor. Our choice amongst these is underwritten by large ideological presumptions: industrialisation and urbanisation should presumptively be regarded as evil and, therefore, tempered. Or, that these things are so unqualifiedly good that no distributive issues should be allowed to stand in the way. And framing all this is a deep climate of distrust, whether it is of the state or of capital. Legislation therefore often has a paradoxical quality. On the one hand, it is premised on recognition of state failure. We need new land legislation because of the history of the state's abysmal record. On the other hand, it looks to state power to redress its own failure. The state is both the poison and the cure. Any bill on land therefore is bound to reflect these contradictory pressures; it will always appear to compromise. So the only way we will make progress is to settle for a compromise that looks workable and constructive rather than self-defeating.

Does the draft bill on land acquisition pass this test? It cannot be emphasised enough that it is a draft and Jairam Ramesh has done well to make it available for proper public discussion. The bill is trying to reconcile different considerations, and its strains are those of the Sisyphean task of trying to do justice to all points of view. On the one hand, it retains an extraordinarily wide definition of public purpose that would allow practically any use. This is a concession to those who fear a narrow definition would thwart development. If part of the problem with the Land Acquisition Act was that it did not specify public purpose sufficiently narrowly, this bill does not do that either. The term "public purpose" will remain hostage to political contestation. Perhaps that is how it should be: there cannot be a legal or definitional resolution of trade-offs a society has to make.

On the other hand, it requires in the case of acquisition for private parties the consent of 80 per cent of all affected families, not just 80 per cent of all landowners. The major, unequivocal achievement of this bill is that any land acquisition must compensate not just land owners but all those affected. It provides a combination of measures, including annuities, to make this real. But making them entitled to fair compensation is one thing; requiring their consent opens up a negotiating challenge that may prove insurmountable.

There are other provisions that are odd. The blanket prohibition on acquiring multiple-crop areas is normatively perverse and practically counterproductive. It does not recognise the reality that in some cases farmers may want their land acquired; it is telling multi-crop farmers that they do not have the possible option of leveraging their assets for an exit out of agriculture. It is also an open question what impact this provision will have on spatial patterns of urbanisation. There is also a typical UPA-style gap between elevated rhetoric and the actual remedy. So the bill provides for six times the market price as compensation in rural areas, and twice the market price as compensation in urban areas. But this is where there is a great difficulty: the means the state uses to ascertain market prices (circle rates, average of sale deeds) may open up the possibility that farmers receive less than the de facto market price.

For this reason, voices from both the left and the right have suggested that the state should not be involved in intermediation at all. It will rely on official instruments for market price which grossly understate value. The emphasis will be on current market prices rather than on future values. The bill partly addresses the latter by providing set-asides in any scheme whose value will accrue to farmers, though giving them shares is probably more problematic than shares in land. But state intermediation is also required for other reasons. The first is the asymmetries in negotiating power between buyers and sellers, which the bill partially addresses by fixing compensation levels. The second is the fact that large developments impose huge externalities in terms of everything from water to infrastructure. State intermediation is required to take these into account.

But the legislation may set the stage for gaming of the system. It only applies to acquisitions of more than hundred acres, and will probably lead to messy, small-parcel acquisition. The objectives and content of the rehabilitation package are laudatory and perhaps the opportunities available to the children of those displaced can be strengthened. But there is a curious impracticality about the way in which the state has imposed obligations on the private sector. Making the process contingent upon the private sector, providing everything from a PDS shop to a post office, is a bureaucratic nightmare. It also gets the private sector to do what the state is unwilling to do in its own actions. Keep the costs you impose on the private sector adequately high; they can survive cost structures even if they are high, so long as they are predictable. Many best practices are reportedly higher than what the bill provides. What they cannot survive is bureaucratic complexity.

What will be the practical consequence of this proposed legislation? It raises the floor of minimum protection for those affected, though ironically it does not do that much for land acquired for the state's purposes. But the honest answer is that we don't fully know. This is for the simple reason that land prices and availability are endogenous to so many other rules, particularly the politics of land-use change. They are also a product of larger infrastructural decisions. There will rather be creative responses to the cost signals resulting in new spatial patterns of development.

The bill deals with complex issues, including those that tread on federalism. They cannot be resolved by rules, but need strong processes. All depends on how these work. The bill provides for social impact assessments, consultation with gram sabhas and monitoring committees to oversee rehabilitation and, most importantly, grievance redressed mechanisms. It is these processes that translate abstract objectives into concrete realities. So, for example, how is the requirement that the land acquired be only the minimal necessary, or that all proposals show that other alternatives are not feasible, going to be interpreted? It will depend on the credibility of the process. That is much harder to correct. India needs not just to reform law but to reform the practices of the state.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

RUNNING IN PLACE

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

 

The weekly Ghatana Ra Bichar said a week in advance: "Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal to fall sick on August 6." And Khanal skipped the scheduled meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), the party he heads. The committee was to discuss his alleged breach of discipline by inducting nine Maoist ministers into his cabinet a week ago, overruling the party directive. Feigning illness and skipping predictably hostile meetings has been a norm among Nepali leaders, and Khanal has done so many times in the past. Some vocal CC members, including former Deputy PM K.P. Oli, who lost the race for party leadership to Khanal two years ago, are seeking action against a "defiant" Khanal.

In the midst of all this, Prachanda, chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), declared that Khanal will be stepping down on or around August 13, giving hope to many prime ministerial aspirants. But the new leader has to be elected by a majority of the 601-member legislature; with almost every major party in the hung House going through deep internal rifts, there is every chance of Khanal continuing as caretaker PM, at least for some more months.

While Khanal's exit would not weaken the formidable consolidation of the radical left that he and Prachanda together forged since February, the stalemate could inject more uncertainty into the derailed and delayed peace and constitution-making process. Through a previous agreement on May 28, the government and the three major parties — UCPN-M, CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress — had promised to complete vital parts of the peace process, mainly rehabilitation and integration of about 19,000 Maoist combatants, and come out with the first draft of the constitution by August 31. But things have not moved beyond some Maoist combatants assigned as "private security", for about a dozen senior Maoist leaders, moving to the designated cantonments and depositing their arms there. A powerful lobby among the Maoists, led by senior Vice Chairman Mohan Baidya Kiran, feels that dispensing Maoist combatants from their security ring will expose them to threats from within and outside, and has continued to retain the private security system.

While Prachanda has assured the international community that they need not doubt the Maoists' commitment to the peace process, Maoist leaders like Baidya say that Maoist combatants should not only be part of the proposed new force, consisting of existing security outfits and the combatants, but that the former rebels should also head it.

This, and the non-implementation of many other provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, make the progress card too unsatisfactory. The main opposition, the Nepali Congress, although divided, is getting more and more rigid that the term of the House should not extended beyond August 31 under any pretext, something the radical left has made a prestige issue.

Of late, the Nepali Congress seems to have realised that it is simply succumbing to the political course set by the radical groups who have in no way shown any commitment to the peace and the constitution-making process. The deadlock is not helping the economy. Public-sector undertakings have turned into recruitment centres for political cadres. All but five out of 31 government undertakings are in the red. The national carrier, Nepal Airlines, is gasping for want of aircraft. The Janakpur Cigarette Factory, a gift from China that once used to be the highest revenue payer to the government, has been shut down because of political interference. Around 50 industries along the eastern sector are on the verge of an industrial strike at the call of different trade unions, including that affiliated to the Maoists, for a pay hike — that would further trigger unrest in the country inflicting a cost on the economy.

Two ambitious hydro-power projects — Upper Karnali (900 MW) and Upper Marsyangdi (600 MW), both undertaken by GMR, are in a suspended state following trouble from locals affiliated with Maoists. This could also discourage further investment in the power-starved country despite its rich water resources.

Ironically, politicians are feeling more secure today than ever before, because the major parties have been able to appropriate total "immunity" for themselves for any corruption or wrongdoing. But for that, they need the continued existence of the constituent assembly as that will give them the status of "people's representatives".

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

FALL OF A CHOPPER

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

Fall of a chopper

 

Nearly two decades ago, the Russian military occupation of Afghanistan began to go awry when the mujahideen began to successfully target Russian helicopters. The mujahideen's principal military backers, Pakistan and the United States, recognised that without helicopters, the Russian troops would be less mobile and less effective.

Military analysts say one of the main reasons for Moscow's defeat was the US's decision to supply Stinger, hand-held anti-aircraft missiles, to the mujahideen via the Pakistan army and the ISI in the mid-1980s.

After the Taliban brought down a US Chinook helicopter over the weekend in Wardak province, south-west of Kabul, killing 38 American and Afghan soldiers, many are wondering if the war has begun to turn decisively in favour of the Taliban.

For one, this is the single biggest loss of troops since the US came into Afghanistan at the end of 2001. For another, this psychological blow comes as the US begins to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, and its military commanders try and do more with less.

The attack targeted the units of US Special Forces that were involved in the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and reinforced the Taliban's claims that it can undertake high-profile revenge killing.

More than retribution, the Taliban attack was about countering the "night raids" by helicopter-borne US Special Forces that go after insurgent leadership gatherings in the remote villages of Afghanistan.

Finally, by bringing the Chinook helicopter down, the Taliban has signalled its determination to limit the freedom of US air operations in Afghanistan. Until now, the US troops have had unconstrained air mobility. Helicopters are the workhorses that ferry troops, equipment and supplies and deliver quick relief to troops in the battlefield. But these are also vulnerable to small arms fire, when landing or taking off. Rocket-propelled grenades have often brought down helicopters that are flying low. The height at which the Chinook was shot down is not known.

Without mobility in the air, the US troops will find it extremely difficult to operate in the large military theatres of vast Afghanistan. The big question then is, whether the downing of the Chinook helicopter is a one-off event or a decisive shift in the Afghan military dynamic.

Last Lucky Shot?

While some see the attack as a decisive turn towards the Taliban in the war, US military sources have played it down as a "last lucky shot". Saturday's crash will not compel the US Special Forces to cut back on their missions, a NATO spokesman insisted.

General John Allen, the US commander of all international forces in Afghanistan, said, "We will continue to relentlessly pressure the enemy." US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the incident would not "derail" US attacks on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. "We will send a strong message of American resolve," Panetta declared. "From the tragedy we will draw inspiration to carry on the fight and continue to hunt down those who would do us harm."

Whatever they might say in public, US military planners will undoubtedly assess whether the Taliban is acquiring significant quantities of anti-air weapons, and where they might be sourcing these from.

Rawalpindi's Role

Some are pointing fingers at Iran and Pakistan as potential sources of anti-air weapons and training for the Taliban. Iran would certainly like to see the US humiliated and ousted from its eastern borders. Pakistan has big stakes in returning the Taliban to power in Kabul. But motivation is not necessarily evidence of involvement, which must await the US investigation into the incident.

Bruce Riedel, who advised President Barack Obama on Afghan strategy and is currently with the Brookings Institution in Washington, says, "Pakistan provides the Taliban with not only passive support in the provision of safe havens; it has also provided active support over the last decade with training, expertise and sanctuary for Taliban senior leaders."

Riedel holds that the Pakistan army knows that providing Stinger-type weapons to the Taliban might needlessly provoke Washington. "Pakistan's generals are convinced time is on their side in Afghanistan and that war weariness in America and Europe will deliver their Taliban clients victory sooner or later. They see no reason to take unnecessary risks," says Riedel.

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

ASIA'S ROLE IN AMERICA'S CRISIS

 

Asian reactions to the so-called US debt crisis amount to a mixture of bafflement and hypocrisy. Fear of the knock-on effect on regional economies sits side-by-side with assumptions by Asians that they had no part in creating today's problems.

The Chinese have been howling particularly loudly. Chinese media have been castigating the US government for reliance on debt finance, while the state rating agency Dagong not only took the lead in downgrading US debt but has said that Washington has already defaulted.

Yet just as Western countries, or at least their banks, played a crucial role in turning the 1997 Asian crisis of liquidity into a crisis of solvency, Asia is now ignoring the fact that the US problem is less one of government debt than of sustained international trade imbalances, which have transformed America into a debtor nation. And the policies of Asian nations have contributed to this problem.

By the standards of many countries — including China if one adds state-bank and local-government debt to the debt of the central government — the US government's debt is not exceptional. Japan's is far greater, yet the yen has become one of the safe havens for those fleeing the dollar. The US debt "crisis" was, in fact, largely a creation of the antics of US Congressmen.

The underlying problem in the United States is not so much the level of government debt but the persistence of the overall trade deficit, which has meant that Washington, unlike Tokyo, has had to rely heavily on foreigners to buy its debt.

The ability of United States — because of the US dollar's position as the main reserve currency — to borrow so easily is only half an explanation. No one forced China, Korea and other Asian countries to buy so much US debt. And other countries were not forced to peg their currencies to the dollar.

No one forced them to try to gain trade advantages while depriving their own people of purchasing power by manipulating their currencies. No one forced them to endure inflation rather than raise interest rates and allow their currencies to appreciate significantly.

The dollar needs to decline further vis-à-vis some Asian currencies. That way the United States will return to trade equilibrium, while surplus countries will be forced to substitute domestic demand for external demand if they want to grow and, ultimately, to protect the long-term value both of the dollar and of their huge holdings of Treasury bonds.

The "threat" not to buy more US bonds if Washington does not mend its ways is no threat at all. The dollar will decline but the Fed will buy the bonds and China and others will have to find other assets to buy — like their neighbours' bonds, if they are allowed. In short, the current, so-called crisis is causing yet again some bizarre, panic-driven decision making.

The Korean government has chosen this moment to buy gold at a price six times that of August 2001 and within sight, in inflation-adjusted terms, of its short-lived 1980 peak. Asian investors are continuing to believe that countries like Australia and New Zealand are safe havens even though their foreign debts, relative to their economies, are several times those of the United States. New Zealand has net foreign debt of 130 per cent of GDP, and Australia 60 per cent, yet they still get a top rating from the credit rating agencies and their currencies have been very strong despite experiencing external deficits during a boom in their commodity export prices.

Meanwhile, the currencies that should be much stronger — like South Korean won, Taiwan and Hong Kong dollars and Chinese renminbi — are forcibly held back. It is all very well for China to bemoan the decline in the credit worthiness of the United States but its own credibility can only be tested by exposure to the market. Asian national currencies can only play the larger global role they say they want if they are more freely traded — particularly by their own citizens.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'I WILL NOT ATTEND ANY MEETINGS WITH MR ANSARI'

RADHA KUMAR

 

Dear HM,

Please accept my resignation from the group of interlocutors. It is no longer possible for me to be associated with Mr Ansari, who has sought to smear me in The Times of India of today, for attending a conference organised by European parliamentarians (Mr James Elles, in whose name the invitation was sent, and Mr Chris Davies) along with the Tramboo centre in Brussels, in September 2006.

I went to the conference with Ambassador G. Parthasarathy, who is currently on a GoI task force. We were both encouraged to go by GoI (in my case, the then-Kashmir interlocutor) on the grounds that it was useful for independent Indians to put their views in what was clearly going to be a heavily biased forum taking place in the European Parliament, because the European Parliament was an important forum and we have a strategic partnership with the EU. Before going we were briefed by MEA and were in touch with our embassy in Brussels before, during and after the conference.

Shortly before the conference I was asked by MEA to accompany Baroness Nicholson, who was writing a report on JK for the European Parliament, on her visit to JK. We became friends and in October 2006 I took a group of people from JK to the Parliament for a hearing under her aegis. The group included such people as Taj Mohiuddin, Arun Joshi, Pinto Norbu, Nusrat Andrabi (around 15), and was the first time European parliamentarians heard the diverse and genuine voices from JK. This conference was planned with the knowledge of GoI.

Baroness Nicholson's report caused a furore in Pakistan because it was the first time Pakistan was criticised for human rights violations in JK. Mr Tramboo then wrote several articles in the Kashmiri and diaspora media attacking me. After these articles, my name was picked up in jihadi chatter and I was warned there was a potential security threat against me. GoI investigated the threat and considered it to be minor but offered me protection, which I refused because I did not want my family to be alarmed and it seemed an unnecessary drain on the exchequer (however tiny).

Sir, I did not want to go to the Tramboo conference but did so because government thought it might be useful. After that one experience I refused ensuing invitations from the group, including an appeal for help from Mr Elles, and kept in touch only with Baroness Nicholson whom I admire and respect greatly.

Mr Ansari is in full knowledge of these facts because I sent a letter detailing them to both Dileep and himself, on our official email. (I wished to send this letter to the editors of the Jammu rags that had targeted me, but withheld it because I did not want to embarrass anyone). Yet he has sought to smear me. I consider his behaviour to be beneath contempt, especially because he has now targeted a woman who he knows has no male relatives left to defend her. I come from a family which has always considered it a privilege to work for this country, and all I have is my integrity, which has been impugned. You will, I hope, understand that it is now impossible for me to overlook Mr Ansari's behaviour, which has been grossly insulting to me from the start.

I will of course continue to work on the report which we are to submit to you at the earliest possible date. But I do not wish to be paid for this work from this date on, and I will not attend any meetings with Mr Ansari.

With deep regret for this unseemly end to what was an important and relatively productive mission,

Radha Kumar, Director, Peace & Conflict Programme, Delhi Policy Group

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A METICULOUS MIND COMBINED WITH OLD-WORLD COURTESY

NAVIN CHAWLA

 

B.G. Deshmukh, former cabinet secretary and principal secretary to three prime ministers, died on August 7 in Pune, aged 82. He was indisputably among our most distinguished civil servants. He held an array of responsible posts in his native Maharashtra, rising to become its chief secretary, when he was plucked from the state by the then-prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and brought into the mainstream at the Centre. Most of those who knew him, and certainly those who worked with him, would testify to his meticulous mind, his sharp understanding of seemingly intractable problems and capacity to keep the larger picture in view. His ability to analyse and spell out issues was often clinical, but he combined this with an old-world courtesy. He belonged to the 1951 batch of the IAS, and the correctness of his era remained with him well into his retirement from affairs of state. That he was not conferred a Padma award was not a subject he ever raised, and any form of "lobbying" was anathema to him.

I happened to serve as deputy secretary in the ministry of labour in the 1980s, when he was appointed secretary to that ministry. The paths of deputy secretaries and a secretary do not often cross, until one day I was appointed to the International Labour Organisation desk and became a backbencher at his meetings on that subject. One day I was informed that I would accompany him to a conference at the ILO headquarters in Geneva. I had mixed feelings, excited to accompany the secretary and trepidation because he was known to be a hard taskmaster, which turned out to be the case. I had to be on hand through the day, and evening duties were cut out for me. After every session, bundles of papers had to be collected for deliberation the next morning. It was my task to read them (into the early hours) and brief him at 7 am sharp. The pattern was repeated on each subsequent visit. Prior to his being appointed chairman of the ILO's governing board, he trusted me with other related responsibilities. Later, when his eyes began to give him trouble, he ordered me to sit in the delegate's chair, while he sat at the back, always providing quiet reassurance. In retrospect, there could not have been better training ground for a young officer. To my complete surprise, and with no forewarning whatsoever, he arranged for me to serve the ILO in Bangkok, a posting he said I well deserved.

Personal tragedy did not spare him. He lost his only child, a daughter, when he was cabinet secretary. A few years later, his wife Vijaya passed away. With his strength and stoicism, he did not allow himself to slip into despondency. By now he had retired from the government, but was invited by the Tatas to serve on their board handling their corporate social responsibility programme. He also served dozens of organisations as chairman or member; the causes ranging from heritage and conservation to finance, education, environment, and health, which included a concern for the leprosy-affected. With my wife Rupika, he enjoyed discussing issues of restoration and heritage and his involvement with the Gallery of Modern Art and the Asiatic Society of Bombay. With such a wide spectrum, he never actually retired from public life.

By his own admission, an occasion that he never forgot occurred in 1987 when, as cabinet secretary, he released a report I had written on the rehabilitation of leprosy patients. Mother Teresa, who inspired the work, had travelled specially from Calcutta to be present. Prior to the function, the Deshmukhs spent a quiet 20 minutes with Mother Teresa.

In his book, A Cabinet Secretary Looks Back, he describes how he was able to sort out, with the ease of a deft player, a problem involving a diplomatic issue. He wrote this book, and two others, with remarkable restraint. The picture that emerges is that of an elegant mind and quiet determination, and while tragedy and setbacks were also fellow travellers with high office, he brought to his duties an unusual sense of commitment, which I was rarely to witness again.

The writer is a former chief election commissioner of India

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

SAME DIFFERENCE

MANOJCG

 

Same difference

The editorial in the CPM journal People's Democracy is on the agreement between the government and the BJP on the resolution on price rise in Parliament. It says the agreement on a common draft shows that as far as economic policies are concerned, there is little difference between the Congress and the BJP.

"The BJP government's involvement in multiple corruption scams in Karnataka is also testimony to the fact that on the issue of corruption — that these economic policies facilitate — there is yet again little difference between the BJP and the Congress," it says.

FTA Folly

An article in People's Democracy criticises the concept of free trade agreement, calling it "a dangerous new frontier". The article talks about the curious coexistence of FTA and WTO. It says the cornerstone of the WTO is the most-favoured-nation clause, which means that member countries cannot discriminate in their treatment of other member countries, whereas FTAs discriminate between countries who are part of it and those who are not.

It says there are inherent contradictions in these systems and goes on to list several drawbacks of FTAs, including provisions related to government procurement and liberalisation of health services.the Aadhaar worry

An article in the CPI's New Age criticises the Unique Identification project, Aadhaar. It says the scheme must be reviewed from scratch. It says if Aadhaar is being "imposed upon the public, there is need for genuine transparency to dispel public doubts regarding compromise of fundamental rights and freedoms. This is especially so because obtaining the Aadhaar number is stated to be not mandatory whereas various government entities are insisting upon it." It also worries about the security implications of Aadhar, which it says "will inevitably be at the core of a system which will enable profiling and tracking of any citizen useful to any of India's 11 security or intelligence agencies". "It is an unconscionably expensive, unaccountable and virtually secret programme that can hold the key to a total-surveillance state, making the Constitution of India a dead document," it concludes.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

A NEW HEAD FOR AIR INDIA

When a top aviation ministry official takes time out to brief reporters on the fact that Air India's chief Arvind Jadhav is on his way out, you begin to get more than a bit worried about whether the ministry knows what it's doing. It can't be the government responding to the Opposition's demand since of all the heads the Opposition has asked for, this is the most insignificant. If Jadhav is replaced, as now looks likely, his successor will be the fourth chief the airline has had in the last three years. So many chiefs is bad for any organisation; for one that's supposedly trying to turnaround, it's suicidal. Indeed, things are so bad that when, as part of the turnaround strategy, a team was set up, the government went out of its way to ensure the team was disbanded, starting from the expat COO to the chief training officer and even the COO of the low-cost airline which is the lynchpin of Air India's turnaround strategy.

It can be no one's case, not even Jadhav's, that he's the best chief Air India can ever get. The point is a more basic one: will the aviation ministry allow any chief to function independently? Indeed, given that it is responsible to Parliament for Air India's functioning, can it allow any chief to function independently? Perhaps why privatisation is the only solution, and not just for Air India.

The best course is to give Parliament the true picture and let it decide. On the one hand, Air India needs R42,000 crore of infusion over a decade. Along with this, it needs the government to protect its turf by not giving out any more bilaterals. After that, it needs to be left alone. And the chances of it succeeding even then are poor. Consulting firm Deloitte which evaluated Air India's turnaround plan said it was a long haul given that the plan envisages a situation in which Air India's cost structure will be much lower than that of rivals like Jet and Kingfisher—it projects Air India's domestic market share growing at 22% annually as compared to 10% for its rivals (15% for Air India vs 3-4% for rivals in the international market)! Once the pros and cons are put forward in this manner, maybe after Deloitte is asked to make a presentation with Air India's management asked to respond to the points made, it seems pretty obvious what Parliament will opt for. Or does it?

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

HIGH-VOLTAGE SHOCK

Several years ago, Reliance Industries Ltd began shutting down its petrol pumps as it found itself losing money hand over fist because of the government's huge subsidy policy. The beginnings of something similar appear to be taking place in the power sector, with Tata Power writing to the power minister saying spiralling coal costs are making its 4,000 MW Mundra Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) unviable. Reliance Power is reported to be facing the same issue at its Krishnapatnam UMPP. The Adani Group chief has expressed similar concerns, saying that spiralling coal prices are something the regulators need to keep in mind.

If the problem was restricted to a few firms reacting to Indonesia's recent decision to link coal prices to an international benchmark, that would be one thing. Over the last year or so, several smaller players have also been trying to get out of agreements signed, citing similar reasons of non-viability. The most evocative example of the impact of state electricity regulators not hiking tariffs is that of the the distribution companies in Delhi. In a bid to keep tariffs under control, the regulator has declared legitimate claims of these companies to be 'regulatory assets'—over time, these regulatory assets total to around R8,300 crore as compared to the annual revenues of these firms of R8,000 crore. So, if their tariffs are to be raised to clear past dues, they'll have to be more than doubled. Things have got so bad that, a few months ago, the power secretary approached the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity to get details of when various state electricity regulators had last raised tariffs on their own.

Thanks to the state electricity regulators not raising tariffs, losses in the sector have ballooned from R26,400 crore in 2008-09 to R40,000 crore in 2009-10 and to a projected R70,000 crore in 2010-11—the Thirteenth Finance Commission's exercise projected a loss of R1,16,089 crore in 2014-15. Apart from the losses due to the gap between costs and tariffs rising, bankrupt state governments are delaying paying even routine subsidies—according to the Power Finance Corporation, while state governments had to give R29,665 crore by way of electricity subsidies in 2008-09, they paid only R18,388 crore. It would be a pity if, after beginning to take off, the power sector also goes the way of the petrol distribution sector.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE BIG GAAP IN US DEBT NUMBERS
K VAIDYA NATHAN

Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States, famously said: "Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt". The current generation of the US are supremely blessed for they shall inherit at least $14,456bn of national debt. The US is now the biggest debtor in the history of the world. It may seem hyperbolic but it's true that the future generation is going to inherit not $14.5tn of debt but an amount greater than $50tn.

To know the correct numbers, please refer to the 2010 Financial Report of the United States Government available at the US Treasury department's Website. A thorough reading of this report would convince you that the government has dug a debt hole of $50tn for itself rather than the often quoted $14.5tn. The government numbers are presented in such a way that the debt appears to be a smaller amount. It is quite obvious that this misinformation is not by accident but by design. A similar manipulation by a non-governmental entity would have put them behind bars. But when the government itself misleads the people, it is difficult to call the bluff. The world urgently needs a GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) for government reporting, so that they do not massage the numbers. With sovereign defaults looming large, the least these democracies can do is it to keep their citizens correctly informed. After all, democracy works best with an informed citizenry, and the common man has been in the dark about the finances of these governments for far too long.

At the heart of America's fiscal fiasco is a double standard that enables Congress and the President to cover-up the real numbers. They purposefully misrepresent the dire financial condition of the government. Here are the debt components from the report. The total Federal securities held by the public including other governments is $9,060bn. The Federal debt securities held by investments by government accounts is $4,576bn. The shortfall in Medicare is $22,813bn and that in Social Security is $7,947bn. The Federal Employee and Veteran benefits payable are $5,720bn. And there are other sundry liabilities worth $1,673bn. If we do the math, the total debt of the US is $51.79tn.

Even in the estimate of $51.79tn, some numbers are underestimated. For instance, the government estimates Medicare cost to be $22,813bn. The number was $38,107bn in the previous fiscal year. Apparently, to make the number look controllable, it has been reduced by questionable savings projections after the recent healthcare overhaul. It is difficult to imagine the estimates of Medicare costs coming down from $38tn to $22tn in one fiscal year when the essential healthcare costs have actually gone up. It doesn't take an accountant to figure that the numbers are calculatedly miscalculated.

In the report, the government proclaims that social security would keep 40% of all Americans aged 65 or older out of poverty. However, the scheme itself has now become destitute with a shortfall of $7,947bn. That is the kind of money the government needs to be able to keep its promise of paying insurance to the old and unemployed. The US government had embarked on this extravagant programme, which is the largest government programme in the world, without sufficient funds.

It is not as if the government didn't know that it would have a problem meeting those expenses. It has been warned before and has been made aware of the consequences for long. The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act set a series of targets for eliminating the federal budget deficit. However, Congress and the President failed to agree on voluntary spending reductions. Much earlier in 1982, President Ronald Reagan was concerned about the waste and inefficiency in the Federal government. A commission was set up headed by Peter Grace. The Grace Commission urged the government to curb its spending and suggested reform measures to avoid getting into an eventual debt trap. It estimated that national debt, without the suggested reforms, would rise to $13tn by the year 2000, while with the reforms the projected rise was only $2.5tn. Congress ignored the commission's report. The debt reached $5.8tn in the year 2000. The national debt reached $13tn in 2008 and now stands at $14.5tn, even by conservative estimates.

It is estimated that, going forward, almost 100% of government revenues will be absorbed by interest on the Federal debt and by government contributions to existing programmes. With current revenues, the government cannot repay existing debt, much less fund new programmes unless it wages a war against spending. And like in a war, the older men will declare the war, but it is the young that must fight and die. Ironically, that's the blessed economy they inherit.

The author, formerly with JPMorgan Chase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

INDIA INC'S EARNINGS WILL BE CRITICAL
SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN

It's a tad ironical that investors are scrambling for the same US Treasuries that were downgraded by Standard & Poor's just last Friday; the yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped from 2.57% on Friday to 2.3% on Monday, the very same day on which every single one of the 500 stocks in the S&P closed in the red and the Dow came crashing down 600 points. Such is the fear in the minds of investors in the US that they'd rather stay put in government bonds than risk equities even if the yield on both the S&P and Dow is now higher than the yield on Treasuries. Never mind that Bank of America is trading at 0.4 times book value. That's actually true for much of the world; fund managers are moving money either to German Bunds or the Swiss Franc—trading at record levels to the greenback—or gold. Right now, they're unwilling to bet on the ability and willingness of the heads of the larger economies in the Eurozone to bail out their poor cousins—Italy and Spain. Moreover, they're not sure how the US Federal Reserve and the Obama government are going to be able to breathe life into the moribund US economy without once again creating a bubble in commodities. Perhaps the Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will have some ideas to share with the markets after the Federal Open Market Committee meets but until then, given the extremely bleak outlook for growth, equities are clearly not the flavour of the season.

The US is likely to see anaemic growth this year and the June quarter earnings season hasn't really been too reassuring. So, while the second half of the year was to have been better, especially with the reconstruction in Japan driving up demand, the weak Q2GDP, which came in at just 1.3%, is a sign that things may not really look up for a long, long time. If the US is going to keep spending in check, it could mean lower demand at home. Indeed, as has been pointed out by experts in the West, policy paralysis has a lot to do with the current state of near panic in the markets, whether it's the leadership in the US or in the Eurozone.

Unless this leadership reassures markets that it has a plan in place to tackle the crisis, the precarious finances of the western world will make it harder even for the Asian economies to grow at the kind of pace anticipated just six months ago. Although countries like China have grown at 9.5% in the June quarter, despite the continuous monetary tightening over the past year, the falling demand from western markets will hit exporting nations like South Korea even if there is increasing demand within Asia, especially in large economies like China. As economists have pointed out, policymakers in China are focusing on creating demand at home so as to cushion the impact of weakening demand from the western world.

India, too, is largely insulated, with exports accounting for about 18% of GDP. However, GDP growth in the recent past has been driven mainly by consumption rather than investment; consumption is slowing and so is capacity creation, as reflected in the sluggish credit offtake from banks, which rose at just 16% in the first few months of 2011-12. So, while GDP growth estimates may have been reduced to around 7.5% or thereabouts, for 2011-12 there is now a possibility that even this will not come through unless capital formation starts picking up fast. Industry is already paying very high rates to borrow and is hampered by the lack of clear policy guidelines and slow pace of clearances. There has been some action of late, which is one of the reasons why Goldman Sachs upgraded India to marketweight but much more has to happen before industry gains the confidence to start investing in capacity.

Of course, the majority of Indian companies today are far less leveraged than they were in late 2008 (a study by Morgan Stanlay shows that cash holdings are at twice the levels they were in 2008-09); after the 2008 crisis, Indian companies bounced back very quickly to post strong earnings—Sensex earnings grew at around 23% in 2010-11—which is why the market attracted $28bn worth of foreign flows last year. The market has already priced in a slower earnings growth of 16-17% in the current year but further downgrades could mean that the Indian market runs the risk of being de-rated at a time when risk aversion is rising globally. To be sure, India today looks a better bet than any other market except probably China, which is why it still commands about a 18-20% premium to peers in the region. Falling crude oil and commodity prices will make it even more attractive because inflation would fall, creating more consumption demand. Moreover, corporate results show that top lines have risen smartly but margins have been pressured by high input costs—gross margins especially have seen a sharp drop. After about a 20% correction in the market from the peak in early November last year, the market may not be dirt cheap but there's clearly good value in Indian stocks—several promoters have cashed in on the opportunity to buy back their stock. Much depends on how quickly the US and Eurozone find an answer to their problems; but once risk aversion falls, India will be on the radar of fund managers.

shobhana.subramanian@expressindia.com

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

TOTTENHAM SUMMER

The police killed a youth in a poor London neighbourhood. Amidst confusion about whether he had actually fired at the police before being shot dead, his community erupted into a riot. That was Saturday. Except, by Monday, the riots had spread across London, and even to Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool. Confusion also prevails as to what has caused such an extended turmoil. Is it a matter of race relations? One blogger calls this the "first English intifada" and puts all the blame on the doorsteps of a liberal immigration policy. Others blame police prejudices. As a counterpoint, video footage is chockablock with white rioters. Is it then a matter of recession, budget cuts and austerity measures? Growth has stalled in the country, stocks have been falling and now there are fears of another freefall in the global economy. At the epicentre of the riots, in Tottenham, there are 54 applicants chasing every registered job vacancy. With more austerity initiatives on the horizon, social safety nets look bound for further pruning. Politicians in Greece and Spain won't be feeling a surplus of schadenfreude when they look at London today. None of this is to say that the rioters have done themselves or their communities any good. A DVD player from Currys and another gizmo from T-Mobile or a bunch of stuff from Foot Locker, H&M and Boots won't improve anyone's job prospects or spiff up any slum.

To top off the tragedy of credibility, the political top class was holidaying in the sun—including the PM, the Chancellor and the London Mayor. Boris Johnson actually claimed any change in his vacation plans would be a victory for the rioters. He has conceded this victory now.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

CLEAN UP IN KARNATAKA

 

It took six days and all of the new Karnataka Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda's negotiating skills to break the stalemate between the two factions of the State Bharatiya Janata Party on the constitution of the Council of Ministers. The 21 legislators, including one woman, sworn in by Governor H.R. Bhardwaj were all Ministers holding the very same portfolios under B.S. Yeddyurappa. Mr. Gowda's arrangement appears to have satisfied both groups for the present. Although he has inducted 12 members from the Yeddyurappa faction and nine from the group identified with Jagadish Shettar, he balanced this perceived tilt by dropping two former Ministers who are Yeddyurappa-loyalists. The demand by the pro-Shettar faction for the appointment of two deputy chief ministers from the group was rejected on the grounds that it would further polarise a divided party. The Bellary group, comprising former Tourism Minister G. Janardhan Reddy, former Revenue Minister G. Karunakara Reddy, and former Health Minister B. Sriramulu, who were indicted in the Karnataka Lokayukta report on illegal mining, have been kept out. However, Mr. V. Somanna, whose sons' names figure in the report, has been inducted as Housing Minister. With the maximum number of Ministers in a 225-member Legislative Assembly fixed at 34, Mr. Gowda can expand his Council of Ministers by another 12.

Though initially perceived as a proxy for his powerful predecessor, Mr. Gowda, it would appear, is keen to strike a neutral path, demonstrated in his scheme for resolving the Ministry-formation conflict. Meanwhile, several high profile corruption cases involving BJP leaders before the Lokayukta Special Court are entering a decisive phase, with former Industries Minister Katta Subramanya Naidu and his son remanded in judicial custody in a land-grab case, and Mr. Yeddyurappa himself being issued summons to appear before the court in a land-related case. In the second edition of its tenure and with another two years left, the BJP government, led by Mr. Gowda, can act decisively to rid itself of the taint of corruption, an image ingrained in the popular imagination and reflected in a recent poll that shows 52 per cent of respondents in Karnataka saying the State government is more corrupt than the central government, which is quite a feat in itself. Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda must learn from the mistakes of the past and focus attention on the tasks ahead, namely, to provide an honest and efficient administration that will clean up the mining sector, fulfil the slew of promises the previous administration made to farmers, and improve rural infrastructure, especially power supply.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL

The United Kingdom may be spending the first few days of its summer holiday season in a state of shock at the speed and scale of rioting and looting in London and other major cities such as Liverpool, Bristol, and Birmingham. Leading politicians have returned early from family holidays, Parliament has been recalled, and more than 16,000 policemen will be out on London streets on Wednesday. The trigger for the current rioting may have been the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, aged 29, when police stopped the car carrying him in Tottenham area, one of London's poorest neighbourhoods, on the night of August 4. The following day events went out of control at the end of a peaceful gathering by Mr. Duggan's family outside a local police station — and within hours, rioters were on the rampage. Since then, mobile phones and other electronic gadgets have been used to specify meeting points for more violence and looting across London and elsewhere. Chain stores have been targeted, but so have local shops and businesses of long standing and good reputation, in what amount to bouts of consumerist looting. There is growing public anger against the failure of the police to act effectively and in time, and even calls for vigilantism.

What is clear is that the government is doing its best to obscure the serious underlying issues, which have to do with crime on the streets but even more with deprivation, joblessness, and low morale in society. In the current financial climate, the poorest have been hit hardest by public spending cutbacks. The local council, Haringey, has cut its youth budget by 75 per cent at a time when the central government abolished maintenance allowances that have kept young people in education for the crucial two years after compulsory schooling; it has also ended job-related youth funding. Even the police, like all other British public services, face cuts and have to work under target-driven management systems, which load frontline staff with paperwork and leave their seniors remote from life on the beat. Those factors, quite apart from persistent tensions between the police and Britons of Afro-Caribbean descent, may well have been responsible for the police's failure even to meet Mr. Duggan's family and friends in what was to have been a one-hour silent vigil. The protesters were kept waiting for four hours, at the end of which the event was hijacked by outsiders, who may have had their own resentments over being excluded from consumer benefits in an increasingly divided society. This whole chapter holds a mirror up to contemporary British society, and the image is not a pretty one.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

ARAB SPRING & U.K. DEBATE ON ISLAM

HASAN SUROOR

The "Arab spring" might have started losing its lustre but it has created a legacy that is changing the tone of the depressing post-9/11 debate on Islam in Britain. Images of western friendly, articulate, English-speaking, Twittering Muslim youth leading pro-democracy campaigns have exposed the old notions about Islam (a religion inherently incompatible with democracy) and its followers to fresh scrutiny.

Britons are emerging blinking into daylight, acknowledging that women can wear the 'hijab' and still be progressive; that all men in beards are not necessarily terrorists; and that mosques, once perceived only as hotbeds of extremism and sources of alarmist stories, can also serve as revolutionary command centres. Muslim voices, featured in the media these days, are now more likely to be liberal than before, a refreshing break with the tendency, until very recently, to wheel out the most rabid extremists to represent the "Muslim viewpoint."

Not that prejudice has magically vanished in the glow of the "Arab spring." There is still talk of "Islamification" of Britain and Muslim "hordes" knocking at the door, but the mood is less confrontational. And, at least the liberal discourse which too had hardened, especially after the 2005 London bombings, has become less blinkered. "At least it is now possible to have a rational discussion about Islam without being seen as an apologist for Muslim extremists," a Muslim academic points out.

The debate has moved on from whether Islam and democracy can coexist. Prior to the Arab uprising, the only answer you ever got to the question whether democracy was possible under an Islamic dispensation was a resounding "no." And the only definition of democracy was the western, Westminster model; or what The Economist described as "full-blown liberal democracy — in the sense of a political system where all citizens have an equal right to vote, and are equal in other basic ways."

According to this "purist" and one-size-fits-all notion, even those — admittedly few — Muslim-majority countries that have a democracy are not regarded as "fully" democratic. They are defined as "flawed democracies." But at last, there is a grudging acknowledgement that like "socialism with Chinese characteristics," there can be democracy with "Islamic characteristics" as Turkey has shown.

Although assumptions about the superiority of British/western "values" over Islamic/Third World practices remain too deeply ingrained, the acknowledgement of the "Turkish moment" is a significant advance on what had until now been the default British/western perception of Muslims: a people completely devoid of any democratic impulses and incapable of standing up for free speech and individual rights. That, to some degree, Muslims have fuelled this perception by often over-reacting to any perceived provocation is another debate and has been done to death to bear repetition here.

Returning to the Arab "awakening" and its effect on British attitudes, it has created a new interest in Islam. This is reflected in a spurt in cultural and academic activities around it. Nowhere is it more evident than in publishing where there has been a mini explosion of Islamic literature. One leading multinational British publisher alone has released nearly a dozen titles in recent months on issues like political Islam, Islam and human rights, Islam and women, Islamic radicalism and multicultural politics — a much more eclectic fare compared to the crop of "Islamist" terror literature that, after 9/11, became the staple diet for anyone wanting to "know" about Islam. Old titles are being re-issued with books like Karen Armstrong's Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time in great demand. Last month, the BBC scored a broadcasting hit with The Life Of Muhammad , a ground-breaking three-part series, claimed to be the first full account of the Prophet's life ever shown on western television.

While telling the extraordinary story of the Prophet's life, it also raised some difficult questions about Islam's role in the world today in terms of its attitude towards women, social equality, money, democracy and freedom of speech.

The first episode alone was watched by nearly two million viewers. Even those not normally enamoured of anything to do with Islam were impressed with its candid warts-and-all approach. The Telegraph described it as an "excellent primer" which did not shy away from discussing "disputed areas."

"We felt we had to look at all the big issues, all the controversies with Muhammad's life, of which there are many, and deal with them like we would any others," said executive producer David Batty.

Aaqil Ahmed, Commissioning Editor, Religion and Head of Religion & Ethics at the BBC, said the aim was to introduce Islam and its founder to people for whom "Muhammad is just a name" and admitted that it was not easy dealing with some of the difficult issues. "You put yourself on the line when you do something like this," he said, "I hope this series will go some way to explaining who he was, how he lived, what his prophetic message was, and how all of this compares to his legacy today."

The series coincided with the publication of a new interpretation of the Qur'an, Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam , by Ziauddin Sardar, one of Europe's foremost Muslim intellectuals and an outspoken critic of regressive Muslim tendencies and the "ghetto mentality" that, he believes, many of his co-religionists suffer from. The book, which started life as a blog on The Guardian newspaper's website, has generated a huge buzz with its argumentative and lively approach to how the Qur'an should be read and interpreted.

"Even though it is one of the most read books of all time, what the Qur'an really says is shrouded in veils of assumptions and received opinions," he says pointing out the importance of reading the Qur'anic verses in the context in which they were revealed.

For the first time, London recently hosted a three-week long festival looking at Arabic art and culture not through Orientalist perspective but through the eyes of Arabs. "Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture," hailed by Mayor Boris Johnson as London's first ever celebration of contemporary Arab culture, brought together more than 100 Arab artists, authors, journalists and academics to share their visions of what it meant to be an Arab. Predictably, one of the most popular events proved to be "A Night in Tahrir Square" featuring many of the artists who performed for protesters in Cairo's famous square.

"At a time of remarkable political and social change, Shubbak marks an exciting moment between artists in the capital and across the Arab world. I have no doubt that it will stimulate, delight and surprise audiences," Mr. Johnson said.

An Arab commentator said that in the past, western curators "tended to put forth a well-intended, yet somewhat paternalistic image of the Arab art world," but Shubbak "tried to change all that."

The fact that projects such as these are happening and being debated in a rational manner is a sign of improved climate. Arab writers, academics and commentators are the flavour of the season. The same "Middle Eastern" sounding names that once aroused suspicion and had their owners often off-loaded from planes as potential security risks open doors for them these days. This is not without risk, though. Remember the case of the fake Syrian blogger who ran rings round the western media for weeks masquerading as a gay Syrian-American woman documenting the "state repression" in Damascus with a daily blow-by-blow account of life in the Syrian capital as young "revolutionaries" fought to change the system? British newspapers devoted acres of space to "Amina Araf," the supposedly "outspoken lesbian blogger."

One newspaper even carried a telephone interview with "her." There was much all-round embarrassment when it turned out that "Amina Araf" was actually a failed American novelist (neither gay, nor woman; nor even living in Syria) having some fun at the cost of western media's infatuation with Arab dissidents.

But, then, as one humorist, recycling former U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's famous observation after the post-war chaos in Iraq, put it: "Stuff happens."

The big question, meanwhile, is: does the new mood really reflect a better understanding of Muslim societies? Or is just a passing political fashion? What if the Arab revolution peters out or is hijacked by radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood? Will the British perception of Muslims, then, revert to pre-"spring" type — namely that they are inherently incapable of democratic reforms?

Many suspect it will, arguing that between them Islam and the West simply carry too much baggage to understand each other. So, savour the moment while it lasts.

It is not that prejudice has vanished in the glow of the "Arab spring." But the liberal discourse on Islam which too hardened, especially after the London bombings, has become less blinkered.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

A FAKE ENCOUNTER KILLING IS MURDER

The shameful incident in Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir — where a mentally ill civilian was picked up from Rajouri by a special police officer and a Territorial Army jawan and was shot dead in cold blood on the pretext that he was a top Lashkar-e-Tayyaba commander — ironically came to light on Monday when two important judicial pronouncements were made in respect of comparable incidents. The Delhi high court upheld the conviction and 10-year term awarded to four BSF jawans for the gangrape of a woman in J&K in 1996.

The four have been dismissed from service. The Supreme Court, taking a refreshingly no-nonsense view, was unambiguous that those responsible for fake encounters should be "hanged". Justice Markandey Katju noted that a fake encounter was cold-blooded murder, which should be in the category of "rarest of rare" as it was committed by persons whose duty was to enforce the law. It is not wholly clear if, in technical terms, the mandate that Justice Katju's strong observation — in the case of a Rajasthan gangster killed by the state police — supplies to judicial officers in the country will be applicable to regions where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in force. The AFSPA, a case for which can be made, has become contentious precisely because the security forces have in several instances dealt with civilians in an arbitrary manner. If the Indian State means to be even-handed about its citizens everywhere and at all times, then the taking of life by a person in uniform has to be brought within the terms of reference directed by Justice Katju. Instead of demoralising the police, paramilitary or the Army — the normal argument trotted out by those in authority — such a bold stance would lend a sheen to the meaning of citizenship of India, which is just the issue for several constituencies in J&K and some states in the Northeast.
In the Poonch case, the SPO and the Territorial Army jawan have been arrested. But that is hardly enough. The Army cannot extricate itself by saying it was misled by the SPO and the jawan. Only a day earlier it had claimed a 12-hour gunfight in the forests against an LeT detachment, showed some equipment and a diary recovered from the encounter site, and taken the credit for eliminating a top terrorist commander. The Army's 16 Corps must now submit the officers concerned to an expeditious inquiry and then send them for trial.
It is distressing to see that the Army has learnt few lessons from the torrid summer of 2010 in the Kashmir Valley, where months of violent protests led to a large number of deaths that shook the establishment and brought back memories of the terrible time in the late 1980s when an insurrectionary attempt began. The trouble was triggered by an incident at Maachil in north Kashmir, which approximates the recent atrocity at Poonch. So was the episode at Pathribal in 2005 similar to what we have seen at Poonch. But the police inquiry into Maachil and a CBI probe into Pathribal have not led to any action against the men in uniform. Indeed, the Army's operating procedures in J&K have been brought into disrepute by these ugly episodes, and are in urgent need of reappraisal. While it is incumbent on the state apparatus to raise not only the effectiveness of its forces but also their prestige through just actions, it is noteworthy that political outfits in the Valley which so frequently raise the temperature over trifles, have not reacted to what happened in Poonch. It appears this is so because the young man killed was not a Muslim. The essentially communal outlook of leading J&K political figures and groups ought to be of concern to the people of the state.

 

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

NOT AN AUGUST MONTH

INDER MALHOTRA

Over the nearly six-and-a-half decades since the tryst with destiny, there have been several Independence anniversaries when the country has been in a sombre mood. Although the brief but brutal border war with China in 1962 had ended in December of that year, on I-Day eight months later, the humiliation the nation had felt over the military debacle and political disaster had shown no sign of abating.

On August 15, 1975, when the Emergency, declared seven weeks earlier, was in full blast, there was no hiding the nation's despair even though it was inevitably silent. And while Indira Gandhi was delivering a pep talk of sorts from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the prevailing gloom deepened because of the news from Dhaka. Some disgruntled soldiers had slaughtered Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, and several members of his family. No less heart-rending was the Independence anniversary in 1984 that fell midway between Operation Blue Star and Indira Gandhi's assassination.
Today, just a few days ahead of the ritual rejoicing, the atmosphere may not be as grim as on aforementioned occasions. But gloom is very much there, and, significantly, it is excelled only by anger over the terrible state of the Republic. It is difficult to answer those who are asking: "What is there to celebrate?"
Corruption is nothing new in this country. It has been a part of India's life from times immemorial. But never before has it acquired such gargantuan dimensions. To make matters worse, the limitless loot is accompanied by a decline in the rate of growth and rising inflation, with the greatest impact on the prices of food and other essential commodities. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's own economic advisory council, headed by C. Rangarajan, has stated that the Indian economy is "losing momentum". N. R. Narayana Murthy, the highly respected founder of Infosys, has been even more forthright. He has told a TV channel that during the last two years and three months after returning to power, the United Progressive Alliance-II has failed to take any major decision on economic reform or policy. He has also endorsed the expert finding that corruption alone has brought down the rate of growth by 1.5 per cent.
What turns the knife in the wound is the irony that this stark failure has followed quickly the Congress-led UPA's famous victory in the May 2009 Lok Sabha elections after which the Manmohan Singh government was expected to give the country a more coherent, competent and cleaner government.
Mr Murthy has very politely pointed out that the "dual leadership" of the ruling dispensation is one of the reasons for the yawning gap between the promise and the performance. Others have not been that courteous. So prestigious an international magazine as the Economist, for instance, has in a recent article described Dr Singh as "a Gandhi family retainer". I am quoting this regretfully, only to underscore that this is what the bulk of the country believes. Congress loyalists stridently denying this are living — to use Jawaharlal Nehru's words in a different context in 1962 — in "an artificial world of their own making." It is inexplicable why the partnership between the Congress president and the Prime Minister, who have genuine mutual respect and share the same objectives, cannot be more purposeful.
Sadly, it is in such a situation that Mrs Sonia Gandhi has been taken ill, and has found it necessary to appoint a four-member "regency council" that includes — apart from her son and heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi — only defence minister A.K. Antony and two Congress party functionaries, political secretary to the Congress president, Ahmed Patel, and Mrs Gandhi's chief spokesman, Janardhan Dwivedi. The council's composition is already having repercussions on the uneasy equations within the rudderless party and even in the Cabinet.
However belated and involuntary, the arrests of former telecom minister A. Raja, powerful politicians such as Suresh Kalmadi and K. Kanimozhi, and some corporate honchos had enabled the Congress to claim that it was taking firm action against corruption in high places. The BJP's double standards — carrying out an anti-corruption crusade in Delhi and protecting its own guilty men in Bengaluru — gave the ruling party additional comfort until B.S. Yeddyurappa had to go. Now the boot seems to be on the other foot. The Congress is equally addicted to double standards.
Even before the Lokayukta's report exposing the unimaginable robbery of iron ore in Karnataka was presented, the Congress was demanding that Mr Yeddyurappa must go. But, after the fresh report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) on both the 2G and the Commonwealth Games mega-scams has come in, the ruling party is shouting hoarse that Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit cannot be asked to resign. Surprisingly, the party's spokespersons have added that they had made a "mistake" in sacking then Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan because of the stinking Adarsh Housing scandal in Mumbai!
Both the mainstream parties are tarred with the same brush. Each shuts its eyes on the corruption in its own ranks and calls the other the epitome of this scourge. Reminds me of Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous doctrine enjoining differentiation between "our sons of bitches and their S.O.Bs."
It is this squalid behaviour of the entire political class, irrespective of party affiliations, that has enabled civic society "activists" like Anna Hazare to gather huge public support for even their outlandish and wholly unacceptable demands.
During recent days a faint ray of hope had appeared on the otherwise dark horizon. After the disruption of Parliament practically throughout the Winter Session and on the first two days of the current one, both sides had shown maturity and agreed to let the two Houses function. But, as Independence Day approaches, another bare-knuckle war between the Congress and the BJP seems inevitable. The reason is the determination of Murli Manohar Joshi, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and a senior BJP leader, to reissue the committee's once rejected report on the 2G scam, and the Congress party's resolve to checkmate him at all costs. What this would do to Parliament is no one's concern.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

A TIMELY TOCSIN ON DEFENCE LAXITY

SUMIT GANGULY

Last week, a former national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra, delivered the first K. Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture for the Global India Foundation in New Delhi. Mr Mishra, a plain-spoken individual, did not mince his words about the problems confronting India's national security. He correctly argued that India had failed to transcend the region and its two long-standing adversaries had sought to hem it in.

He also had harsh words for India's dilatory defence procurement procedures arguing that their pace would ensure that the sought-after equipment would face obsolescence when actually inducted into the armed forces.
It is easy to dismiss his critique as the sentiments of a former senior official with allegiance to another political party. Such a dismissal, however, would be faulty. It needs to be remembered that despite some initial reservations, at a crucial moment during the negotiation of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement, Mr Mishra broke ranks and supported the UPA's position on the matter. Consequently, it is obvious that he remains an independent-minded individual whose criticisms, though biting, may have to be taken seriously.
India does confront a multiplicity of threats and has yet to forge a coherent national security doctrine and acquire the requisite capabilities to deal with them. Instead it has chosen to react to specific events both within and on its borders and then rushed to meet the emergent challenges. Such a strategy does not behove a country that has global ambitions and will ill serve it in the years ahead.
In his address, Mr Mishra identified a number of key gaps in India's defence preparedness and national security strategy. Beyond those that he highlighted, what are the key threats that the country faces and how might it deal with them?
Without question India faces, at least, two internal security challenges. First, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated some time ago, the resurgence of the Naxalites poses the greatest threat to India's internal order. According to most reliable estimates, they now afflict some 200 districts across the country. Yet, despite much public discussion and hand wringing, no nationwide strategy has been formulated, let alone implemented, to tackle this growing menace.
Second, the country is now also witnessing the growth of home-grown Islamic radicalism manifested in the emergence of the Indian Mujahideen. Obviously, this organisation constitutes a minuscule minority within India's vast Muslim community. However, some form of deep disaffection with the Indian state that afflicts elements of the community has helped spawn this organisation. Yet, apart from identifying this group as the culprit behind several acts of domestic terror, it is far from clear that the government has undertaken any systematic effort to ascertain why some members of India's largest minority community have turned to the siren call of radical Islam.
Beyond these two obvious threats to internal security, as Mr Mishra correctly identified, both Pakistan and the People's Republic of China (PRC) remain as intransigent as ever. Yet political commentators and policymakers alike keep looking for stray straws in the wind, which might suggest a lessening of their hostility. Such efforts inevitably involve seizing upon occasional statements that have a conciliatory ring, moments of expedient cooperation and the soothing aura of particular personalities. Sadly, far too few individuals within India's foreign and security policy circles seem to grasp the simple fact that all of these elements are fundamentally fleeting. Statements of cooperative intent can be withdrawn at will, occasional moments of agreement at multilateral forums reflect exigent needs and personalities, however attractive, cannot transcend long-standing policies which are fundamentally inimical to India's national security interests.
Such a recognition does not mean the adoption of a stance of equally unyielding hostility. However, it does call for a sober, careful vetting of the actual behaviour of India's two principal adversaries through the provision of robust intelligence capabilities. It also requires a defence procurement process that ensures that the country can swiftly acquire the requisite capabilities to both deter and, if necessary, defend against threats that loom on the horizon. Obviously, against the PRC, the principal threats to Indian security will remain mostly in the conventional realm — along its northern border and increasingly along the Indian Ocean littoral. Despite this awareness, governments have moved with timidity and hesitation to address these emergent threats. Indian government has, on occasion, even cancelled naval exercises with the US, Australia and Singapore for fear of piquing the PRC. Such pusillanimity ill-serves India's national security interests.
The threat from Pakistan, as the horrific Lashkar-e-Tayyaba attack on Mumbai demonstrated in 2008, will remain asymmetric for the foreseeable future. Even though this is common knowledge the country has yet to adequately bolster security along its long-exposed coastline; it has paid insufficient attention to the gathering of intelligence and has not fully stood up the post-26/11 National Investigation Agency. Yet, it can be predicted with some certainty that in the wake of another terrorist attack emanating from Pakistan there will be no dearth of finger-pointing and recriminations for having failed to plug India's internal security gaps.
Finally, even though Mr Mishra did not explicitly deal with the matter in his speech, India's nuclear weapons programme also appears adrift. Apart from the bromide about a quest for "minimum deterrence" the necessary institutional and organisational infrastructure for embedding the country's nuclear arsenal is still missing. Furthermore, some weapons programmes associated with India's nuclear arsenal seem to be proceeding mostly on the basis of a technological-scientific-bureaucratic momentum without sufficient regard for their strategic consequences. Specifically, it appears that the country has undertaken a significant effort to acquire ballistic missile defence (BMD) capabilities without recognising how an adversary might fashion cheap but highly effective counter-measures designed to thwart the benefits that might accrue from the acquisition of BMD.
Mr Mishra, a distinguished foreign service officer, who after his retirement returned to serve his country as the national security adviser, has sounded a timely tocsin about the challenges and dangers that the country must countenance. It would be a pity if his counsel is ignored.

Sumit Ganguly is director of research at the Centre on American and Global Security at Indiana University, Bloomington, US

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

HORTICULTURE AT MERCY

 

Horticulture in the state has the potential to grow as a dependable source of income. The industry provides sustenance to a large number of people. Its scope and contribution to the state economy could be increased manifold only if there are proper incentives plus scientific treatment of horticultural products. Apart from that, management of horticulture on national level is also of much importance and recently, a combined cause for better interaction between the union government and state horticulture department has been initiated by the Pradesh Congress Chief, Prof. Saifu'd-Din Soz. He headed a delegation comprising State Horticulture and Floriculture Minister and senior officials of the Department for a meeting with the Union Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar. The Union Minster made it a broad based meeting in which Horticulture Ministers of two more States, namely Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand were also invited along with their teams of departmental officers. Many of the problems facing the horticulturists are common and could be dealt with on All India basis. Prof. Soz's delegation pleaded for support from the Union Agriculture Ministry for introduction of the Market Intervention Scheme in the State for procurement of C. Grade apple on 50:50 basis, support was also sought from the Union Government for installation of the anti hail storm guns for avoiding the damages to the orchards due to hail storms and assistance for the horticulturists.
While pleading for making the Crop Insurance Scheme more meaningful and farmer friendly, they sought enhancement in the ceiling of insurance cover and greater contribution by the Union Ministry towards the premium. A request was also made to Sharad Pawar for waiving off the Central Excise Duty on the tree spray oil on which the minister assured to take up the matter with the concerned Ministry of the Government of India. The delegation also sought establishment of KVKs in all the districts of the State including the newly created districts.
This is a commendable move by the PCC Chief and should bring some hope and satisfaction to the apple-producing constituency in Kashmir, namely Sopore-Rafiabad belt, once called Chhota London, and where Prof. Soz has stakes. These sops, if agreed to by the Union Agricultural Ministry, would be of some help to the horticulture industry in the State. But there are more serious questions regarding the development of the industry along scientific lines from production to marketing and other related sectors. Foremost is the prevention of scab disease that has in the past cast a gloom over the entire apple production activity in Kashmir. Then there is the case of scam in pesticide purchase and distribution plan which runs into crores of rupees. Supply of sub-standard pesticides, or delay in supply of pesticides, both have been the reason for widespread apple scab disease. It has paralyzed the entire industry badly and many horticulturists have converted their orchards into arable lands because the cost of production has been much higher than the returns. We have two agricultural universities in the State but these could not produce a pesticide that would have been really effective in killing the apple pest. There is other drawback in the industry. Proper gradation system of apples is not adhered to and free packing adversely affects its marketing prospect. No research is being made on developing disease resistant generation of apples. Kashmir Valley has the potential to supply the high quality apples to the Indian market. Yet we see that the Indian market is bristling with Chinese apples and partly apples from Himachal Pradesh. This means that there is some deficiency in the entire apple production, transportation and marketing system in the State. The State government needs to take the matter more seriously than just asking for some perks from the Union government which may be granted to satisfy the delegation but which may not be of much help to transform the entire industry. This is a matter of economy and should not be politicized if we really mean to be supportive of our horticulturist constituency.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

MOCKERY OF A PLAN

 

From what one reads in the magazine Forest Digest 2009, it is easy to infer that entire planning of Social Forestry Department has been faulty and motivated. Since the day of its creation, government has unreasonably increased manpower even though not commensurate with the budget for the specific task. Jammu and Kashmir Government is spending nearly 10 times more on paying salaries to overstaffed social forestry department than on achieving the objectives for which it was created in the year 2004. And if the sources are to be believed, despite being aware of burdening salary budget of the department, several blue-eyed officers from agriculture department have been drafted into the social forestry department on deputation basis. The magazine gives an insight into the department, actually a World Bank aided project, which was incepted in the year in 1981-82, initially for a period of five years. The Project was extended up-to 1991. In 2001, the World Bank assistance was decided to be closed down and remained in the process of winding up till October 2004 with a very low capital component. Thereafter, government converted the social forestry project into a full-fledged department, headed by a Director of the rank of Chief Conservator of Forests.
Ever since the government has unreasonably increased staff strength despite being aware of the fact that the increase is not commensurate with the budget for the tasks to be accomplished. For the year 2002-03, the department paid Rs 1447. 94 lakhs as salary to its employees and spent a meager amount of Rs. 111.64 lakhs on addressing obligations. It also paid around Rs 248.56 lakhs to daily wagers and Rs 5.55 lakhs to casual labourers. For the year 2003-04, department spent Rs 388.07 lakhs on developmental works and paid Rs 1501.47 lakhs as salaries. In 2004-05, against a salary bill of Rs 1701.158 lakhs, department spent Rs. 394.456 lakhs on developmental work. Sources said that during the financial years 2002-03 and 2003-04, social forestry was not a full-fledged department but a project being implemented by forest department. They added that after being converted into a full-fledged department, staff strength has not only increased but multiplied with each passing day. Sources said that government is well aware of the factual position and realizes the need to get the department over-hauled but has been unable to move an inch in this direction. This is how even a project financed by the World Bank in the beginning has been made an object of mockery and haven for nepotism and corruption.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

CLIMATE CHANGE AND AGRICULTURE

BY M K KHUSHU

 

Climate Change is a significant change in temperature, wind patterns and precipitation that occurs over a long period of time. Some of these changes occur in cycles over decades, hundreds, thousands and millions of years; some could be random occurrences. Both, Global Warming and the opposite phenomenon Global Cooling, result in different patterns of Climate Change. Today when we talk of Climate Change we refer to the patterns caused by human induced Global Warming and hence, the terms "Climate Change" and "Global Warming" are used interchangeably. Global Warming is being caused by Greenhouse Gases. Over the last century the concentration greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and chloroflurocarbons (CFC's) has increased markedly in Earth's atmosphere. At molecular level, CFC's are the potent "greenhouse gases", but carbon dioxide has been emitted in greatest volume, largely from deforestation and burning coal and oil, and has the longest life in atmosphere, thus accumulating overtime carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The CO2, methane and nitrous oxide concentration increased to the level of 379 ppm, 1774 ppb and 319 ppb, respectively as per recently released report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The increased level of these gases brings change in atmospheric composition which alter temperature , precipitation pattern, sea level, extreme events and other aspects of climate on which the natural environment and human system depend. It was reported that the mean global surface temperature has increased approximately by 0.760 C over a period of past 100 years and projected warming is about 30C. This change in climate however, will impact different regions and sectors differently based on their sensitivity and adaptive capacity and therefore vulnerability. Such global climatic changes will affect the agriculture through their direct and indirect effects on crops, soils, livestock and pests.
How does climate change influence agriculture?
Agriculture activities serve as both sources and sinks for greenhouse gases. It becomes sink of greenhouse gases like carbon, nitrogen etc. Reservoirs of carbon are removed from the atmosphere, through the process of biological carbon sequestration. On the other hand, it accounts for the production of approximately 30% of all annual greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The primary sources of greenhouse gases in agriculture are:
- The production of nitrogen based fertilizers;
- The combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline, diesel fuel and natural gas and waste management.
- Livestock enteric fermentation or the fermentation that takes place in the digestive systems of ruminant animals, results in methane emissions.
With increased carbon dioxide and higher temperatures, the life cycle of grain and oilseed crops will likely progress more rapidly. However, the yield of many horticultural crops, such as tomatoes, onions and fruits, is very likely to be more sensitive to climate change than grain and oilseed crops. Disease pressure on crops and domestic animals will likely to increase with earlier springs and warmer winters. Climate change-induced shifts in plant species are already under way in rangelands. The establishment of perennial herbaceous species is reducing soil water availability early in the growing season. Higher temperatures will very likely reduce livestock production during the summer season, but these losses will be partially offset by warmer temperatures during the winter season.
Carbon sequestration:
Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and converted to organic carbon through the process of photosynthesis. As organic carbon decomposes, it is converted back to carbon dioxide through the process of respiration. Conservation tillage, organic production, cover cropping and crop rotations can drastically increase the amount of carbon stored in soils
Role of Agriculture in mitigating climate change:
The climate change presents an undeniable threat to agricultural production and food security, the agricultural sector significantly contributes to greenhouse gasses and needs to be addressed to help climate change mitigation. Several farming practices and technologies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent climate change by enhancing carbon storage in soils; preserving existing soil carbon; and reducing carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions.
Conservation tillage and cover crops:
Reducing tillage reduces soil disturbance and helps mitigate the release of soil carbon into the atmosphere. Conservation tillage also improves the carbon sequestration capacity of the soil. Additional benefits of conservation tillage include improved water conservation, reduced soil erosion, reduced fuel consumption, reduced compaction, increased planting and harvesting flexibility, reduced labour requirements and improved soil tilth.
Improved cropping and organic systems:
Organic systems of production increase soil organic matter levels through the use of composted animal manures and cover crops which also help in eliminating the emissions from the production and transportation of synthetic fertilizers. Generally, conservation farming practices that conserve moisture improve yield potential and reduce erosion and fuel costs and also increase soil carbon. Land restoration and land use changes that encourage the conservation and improvement of soil, water and air quality typically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Modifications to grazing practices, such as implementing sustainable stocking rates, rotational grazing and seasonal use of rangeland, can lead to greenhouse gas reductions. Converting marginal cropland to trees or grass maximizes carbon storage on land that is less suitable for crops.
Irrigation and water management:
Improvements in water use efficiency, through measures such as irrigation system mechanical improvements coupled with a reduction in operating hours; drip irrigation technologies; and center-pivot irrigation systems, can significantly reduce the amount of water and nitrogen applied to the cropping system. This reduces greenhouse emissions of nitrous oxide and water withdrawals.
Nitrogen use efficiency:
Improving fertilizer efficiency through various strategies include the use of cover crops and manures (both green and animal); nitrogen-fixing crop rotations; composting and compost can reduce nitrous oxide emissions.
Methane capture:
Large emissions of methane and nitrous oxide are attributable to livestock waste treatment, especially in dairies that needs to be captured. For example, an anaerobic digestion converts animal waste to energy by capturing methane and preventing it from being released into the atmosphere. The captured methane can be used to fuel a variety of on-farm applications, as well as to generate electricity. Additional benefits include reducing odors from livestock manure and reducing labor costs associated with manure removal.
(The author is Chief Scientist Agrometerology & Head, Division of Agronomy, SKUAST-J.)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

RURAL-URBAN MIGRATION

BY RAM RATTAN SHARMA

 

Urbanization in India is a result of economic development. This escalating forward leap especially in big cities and metropolitans in India has played an essential pull factor towards rural-urban migration. Rural urban migration means movement of working population from the country side to the city. Two predominant causes can be attached to this, one would be mainly urban growth which indicates towns and cities are expanding. The second very much following the first would be urbanization meaning an increasing proportion of people living in towns and mega cities with over 10 million people. It can also be deducted that bulk of the working population in rural areas are attracted to this pull force as the majority mindset think that working and living opportunities would be much better compared to what position they are in at present. Rural urban migration in India is also leading to rural depopulation. Rural depopulation is when a large number of working people migrate from the rural villages and small towns to earn more money in the city. They leave behind the old and young. This is also impacting adversely the agriculturally forward states in the country.
We see a different trend in rural - rural and rural - urban migration in different states of India. Women migrants are more in count in rural migration in the least developed states while they are more in number in southern region both in rural and urban migration. However, when we look at rural urban migration of males and females, we can see a large percentage movement in more developed states. Similarly proximity to different metropolitans also encourages urban migration.
Even the UNFPA (United Nations of Population Fund) stresses and highlights the importance of migration and how this can bring about empowerment of women by providing opportunities for female migrants and women whose husbands have migrated with certain income and greater status, autonomy and self esteem. If women migrants are greater absorbed in domestic jobs, they might lose out on social security, measured and be more vulnerable in certain aspects. This can also put a big question on empowerment issue. Rural urban migration could provide increased opportunity for migrant females to have safe institutional delivery in Govt. hospitals of different metropolitans in India. Migrant female force can have also greater access to different Govt. schemes and programmes and gain greater awareness through different and large civil society organizations.
Though migration gives a greater push to women empowerment and economic independence it brings with it issues of unorganized labour impacting social security of women. Being a part of the domestic job sector women largely are subject to exploitation increasing their vulnerabilities. While their recognition as work force is neglected, women are often under paid in the same job profile as men in urban metropolis. This can be seen as a boom for the construction industry where female and male workers hired for the same job profile and same working hours are differently paid. Questions can be raised on the security of female migrants, be it vulner ability from employers, economic and often sexual exploitation. In addition, sexual harassment at work place is another grave issue. Little do we realize that the migrant force play a key role in the development process of a county. The marginalization of migrant workers has been a common trend and female migrant workers face the most of it. Policies and schemes have also started treating the female labour force as invisible. One can really question the true benefits for women when it comes to evaluation in the biggest democracy of the world where we speak of rights for the females.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

INDIA AS MANUFACTURING HUB

BY RAMESH KANITKAR

 

For a long time, China has been the manufacturing hub of the world. However, it is said that the situation is now altering. With the huge growth in the Chinese economy, the wages of the average worker in China have gone up over 200 per cent over the past decade. The literacy and educational attainment of the unskilled and semi-skilled labour has seen a sharp rise. This has pushed up the expectations and real wages in China. The commodity prices as well as the energy costs too have surged considerably.
Manufacturing-outsourcing cost index showed that manufacturing in China costs close to 86 per cent of what it costs in the US, which means the competitive advantage of cost has almost eroded. Will the Indian manufacturing sector be able to take advantage of this declining dominance of Chinese manufacturing?
The recent Unido figures of the growth of India's manufacturing industry are disappointing on an inter-country comparison basis and even on an absolute basis. For the first quarter of 2011, the growth in manufacturing output for India was 5.1 per cent, while for the world as a whole it was 6.5 per cent. The figure for the developing countries as a whole was almost double at 11.5 per cent. Mexico grew at 7.1 per cent, Turkey at a whopping 13.8. Pakistan's manufacturing sector was growing at around 8 per cent during the last decade. All of this hints at a lack in dynamism of Indian manufacturing industry and the inadequacy of supporting policy structure of Indian government.
The manufacturing-outsourcing cost indices among developing countries show that it is 73 per cent in India, 91 per cent in Brazil, and 68 per cent in Mexico. The latter has taken full advantage of this cost differential and Mexico is fast consolidating its position with the spread of "Maquiladoras" or 'assembly for export' plants. Even a few Chinese manufacturing firms have moved their shop to Mexico. In terms of this cost index, India is not far behind Mexico, but unfortunately India has not taken full advantage of the cost differential.
Mexico is not an isolated case. There are other nations like Vietnam - whose manufacturing sector accounts for 24 per cent of its GDP, Poland, and some African nations like Angola, Botswana and the Republic of Congo which have shown close to 18 per cent growth in their manufacturing sector. Vietnam is strong in textiles, garments, food and beverages, and leather items i.e. some of India's major categories of manufactured exports. Thus despite the loosening of China's hold over manufactured product exports, Indian manufacturing industry faces a tough competition in the world market. When others pick up in volume, India's relative cost advantage may fade away.
It is true that higher input costs, monetary tightening and environmental regulations tend to push the costs up. But that is the challenge.
A characteristic noted with Indian manufacture is that the value added is low at around 20 per cent. The material input is around 65 per cent which is high. Therefore, the cost of manufacturing becomes highly sensitive to input costs and to the cost of funds. With more material input, the environmental costs also tend to rise.
We need more of original designs. The proportion of higher technology products and high-tech industries has to go up. It may be noted that in addition to Maquiladoras, Mexico is adding technology-intensive manufacturing. So much so that companies like Boeing and Bombardier are outsourcing their high-tech products design and manufacturing to Mexico.
About 72 per cent of our factories have less than 50 employees. These generate only 8 per cent of national income in the form of net value added by manufacture. This structural aspect needs to be addressed by the government. One needs big size plants and businesses in order to stay cost-competitive.
Besides there is need for coherent and consistent government actions. The Government of India has declared that by the year 2022, its manufacturing sector will contribute over 25 per cent of the GDP. Good intentions indeed, but they need to be backed up by concrete and consistent actions.
In order to boost the sector, the government had been making noises about National Manufacturing and Investment Zones (NMIZ) - supposedly far better than the present EPZs. But, when will these NMIZs materialise? We have not moved even an inch in that direction.
India's IT and ITES sector has certainly served the country in their boost to the economy. But, one cannot depend heavily on this sector for ever. If unfortunately these outsourced services start melting down, we need a strong manufacturing sector to offer stability to the economy. We must also note in this context that India's agricultural sector seems to have mellowed down. A resurgence of the manufacturing industry is the need of the hour. Since we have a history of a strong manufacturing base, this should be possible.
We have the potential to become the manufacturing hub of the world. But this needs a focused action in tandem by Indian industry and the government. Otherwise, within the next decade we may be reduced to watching the spectacle of a South American nation or an African nation becoming the world's centre for manufacture. (INAV)

 

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******************************************************************************************THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MAHAPANCHAYATS' CALL

PEOPLE UNITE, POLITICIANS DIVIDE

 

Punjab and Haryana's squabbling politicians need to learn a lesson or two from farmers of their states. At Sunday's mahapanchayat organised by the Congress at Chika in Haryana's Kaithal district farmers made friendly gestures towards their "Punjab brethren" like offering to build more siphons on the Hansi-Butana canal to allow the unhindered flow of Ghaggar waters. On Monday another mahapanchayat was held by the anti-Hansi-Butana joint front and a faction of the Bhartiya Kisan Union at a village in Patiala district near the inter-state border in which flood victims from both states participated. They asked leaders of the two states to stop playing politics and solve the flood problem. It is heartening that people in both states share such goodwill in an environment of political animosity.

 

Politicians tend to divide people who live like good neighbours and want common issues like flood havoc in the area to be settled. Leaders in both states have failed to live up to their expectations. Striking a jarring note, Haryana minister Randeep Singh Surjewala indulged in blame game at the Chika mahapanchayat and got a sharp response the next day from Capt Amarinder Singh, who had terminated the inter-state river agreements, much to the chagrin of Haryana. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has built the controversial Hansi-Butana canal, which, it is alleged, blocks the natural flow of the Ghaggar river, causing floods during excessive rain. The toe wall built to save the embankment on the Haryana side is also disputed.

 

The bitter past need not spoil the present. The way forward is not more politicking but a sincere effort from both sides to undo or minimise the damage with help from experts. If farmers of the two states can come on one platform, what prevents politicians from having an all-party meeting to sort out the issue? The two chief ministers can have a dialogue. The Centre's Rs 1,150-crore project to tame the Ghaggar can also be revived in the larger public interest. Inter-state disputes require mature handling. Loudmouths who don't respect the other side's sensitivities are bound to muddy the waters.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FAKING IT

SHAM ENCOUNTERS ARE A SHAME

 

ON paper, there is a zero tolerance policy towards human rights violations by security agencies in the country. But the ground reality is quite different. There are enough black sheep in the security forces who kill even innocents to get promotions and rewards. A chilling instance has come to light in Jammu and Kashmir where an SPO and a Territorial Army jawan picked up a mentally challenged youth from Rajouri town, took him to a densely forested area of Surankot tehsil in Poonch district and shot him dead in a fake encounter. Next day's headlines duly gloated that Abu Usman, a Pakistani national and divisional commander of the LeT, was killed in a joint operation of the police and the Rashtriya Rifles on the night of August 6.

 

On inquiry, it was found that the accused security personnel had engineered the encounter for promotion and reward. They have been arrested and are being interrogated. Local people have been crying themselves hoarse about similar fake encounters and custodial deaths in various parts of the country. Even if half of these allegations are true, they are a slur on the face of our democracy.

 

Not only are such inhuman acts cold-blooded murder, but they are also a frontal attack on the reputation of the country. Even one such instance is enough to add grist to the mill of the enemies of the nation that the Indian security agencies are engaged in a systematic pogrom. No amount of welfare deeds manage to wipe out the stigma. Things turn worse when the authorities try to whitewash an act instead of punishing the perpetrators ruthlessly. That lends credence to the allegations that such acts have an official backing. The war against terror can be won only if the common man has faith and confidence in the security forces. The disconnect caused by such inhuman deeds has put paid to the hope of gathering useful intelligence.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

A HEADLESS PGI

GOVT MUST APPOINT A DIRECTOR SOON

 

FOR over three months, the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences and Research or PGI, as it is more commonly known, has been without a Director. The decision to appoint a doctor to the post has been hanging fire for the past several months leading to an environment of uncertainty in this institute of high repute. Such a delay is unprecedented in the history of this institute.

 

The PGI is not just another hospital. It is the region's premier hospital and medical research institute that caters to patients from all over North India. It also ranks among the top government-run medical institutes of the country, which soon after its inception, became an autonomous body under an Act of Parliament and is functioning under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Given the poor quality of healthcare in government hospitals and the limited number of both affordable and quality private hospitals, PGI has for long been serving as the region's light house for medical care. Considering that good institutions take time to build and require people of calibre and vision, it would therefore be natural to expect the government to ensure that institutions such as the PGI never function ad hoc. Instead, the Union government has been unable to take a decision on the next director for this institute which has been functioning with an acting director since May 1.

 

The Cabinet Committee on Appointments, which is the appointing authority for the post of director of the PGI, has referred the matter back to the Union Health Ministry for clarifications relating to relaxation in the age bar and objections raised by the National Scheduled Caste Commission on the non-exclusion of candidates belonging to the Scheduled Caste and / or Scheduled Tribe category. While following procedures is understandable, what is needed is a timely decision. Else, such delay only breeds uncertainty, lobbying and intrigue. It further leads to atrophy in decision making that in turn affects the functioning of the institute that has painstakingly been built over nearly half a century and has produced doctors of national eminence and repute. The government must soon take a decision on appointing a director and put an end to this uncertainty.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

ANNA HAZARE'S AGENDA

A CLOSE LOOK AT POLITICAL MOTIVES

BY S. NIHAL SINGH

 

WE are now in the second phase of the Anna Hazare show. The first phase evoked much sympathy and public acclaim. Unlike in the case of Baba Ramdev and his almost simultaneous side show, which smacked of extraneous political motives, Anna had struck the heartstrings of a wide variety of people who were offended by the levels of public corruption and were more than willing to lend a hand to the Gandhian leader who pitched his tent in Jantar Mantar and went on a fast to reinforce his plea for a forceful ombudsman in the shape of the Lokpal.

 

Mr Hazare broke his fast over government assurances of bringing a Lokpal Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament and nominated representatives of civil society, including himself, to talk to a government committee of ministers. Differences on the scope of a Lokpal Bill were obvious in the very first meeting. What Mr Hazare and his pick of members of civil society were proposing would make nonsense of the Constitution and make members of Parliament accountable not to their constituents or to the tenets of the Constitution but to an all-powerful Lokpal who would in effect be above the Constitution.

 

The main issues of contention were whether the Prime Minister should come within the ambit of the Lokpal and whether members of Parliament would be answerable for their actions in Parliament to the Lokpal, rather than their constituents or the rules governing a parliamentary democracy. Soon it became apparent that no government could accept such provisions although the Prime Minister's accountability became a political issue to be exploited by the Opposition parties. The government's contention that such a provision would weaken the central arch of the parliamentary system was not unreasonable, with the proviso that he (or she) would be held accountable for his actions after leaving office, a provision that applies to the executive French presidency, for instance.

 

But it soon became clear that Mr Hazare was playing political hardball, declaring from the housetops that he would go on fast on August 16, that the government-sponsored Bill was worthless, and when the Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha, he and his followers burned copies of it outside Parliament, seeking a nationwide burning bonanza and calling it a new struggle for independence. His agitation then was taking on a distinctly political turn and it was becoming increasingly clear that he had a brains trust guiding him on the steps he should take to embarrass the government.

 

The political motives of Mr Hazare's agenda become clear from a "referendum" his followers conducted in the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency of Mr Kapil Sibal, who has acted as the government's chief spokesman, to show how the people were overwhelmingly against the government's version of the Bill. There was not even pretence of a scientific basis for the polling. The obvious objective was to pile pressure on the government to do Mr Hazare's bidding. The Opposition parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party, were more than willing to go along with him for opportunistic reasons although chief ministers in the states the BJP rules are outside the purview of the Lok Ayuktas, ombudsmen at the state level. The party's poster boy in Gujarat, Mr Narendra Modi, has not thought it necessary to appoint a Lok Ayukta in his state for seven years.

 

Another poster boy of the BJP, Mr Varun Gandhi, the Lok Sabha MP from Pilibhit, who gained notoriety for his declaration that he would chop off hands raised against Hindus, has now entered the arena by offering his government-given bungalow to Mr Hazare to conduct his fast since he was refused the Jantar Mantar venue by the police authorities. The party spokesman, Mr Rajiv Pratap Rudy, tried to square the circle by suggesting that "the BJP does not agree with Mr Hazare's style of burning Bills, but we are sympathetic to the feelings he is trying to express".

 

How soon or whether people at large will become disillusioned with Mr Hazare's politicisation of the Lokpal issue remains to be seen. But he has done himself and his cause little service by giving a distinctly political twist to what is essentially a worthy cause. If Mr Hazare and his key followers wish to contribute to the institution of an effective Lokpal, they cannot discard the key attributes of the parliamentary system of government the country has adopted. Nor can they give the impression of ganging up against the ruling Congress party for the benefit of the Opposition.

 

The Gandhian leader seems to have gone too far to draw back at this stage but he can rescue both his movement and the cause for greater public accountability by the political and bureaucratic establishment by being more sagacious in the proposals he puts forward.

 

Corruption is a cancer that affects every section of society and bites the poorer sections most acutely. It is right to begin with the ruling elite in the government and outside it but Mr Hazare and his followers must show a sense of proportion and must honour a system of governance freely chosen by the people of India that has served the country well. There cannot be a diktat by one man seeking to nullify the basic tenets of the Constitution.

 

In the shrillness of the debate on the Lokpal, political parties are in danger of losing the civility that is the hallmark of a democratic polity. The BJP's decision to make a multi-pronged attack on the Congress-led ruling United Progressive Alliance, irrespective of the harm it might cause to India's democratic structure, is a short-term expedient. On its part, the Congress has much to answer for in the manner in which the UPA-II has functioned, but the principal Opposition party must give primacy to the country's interests, rather than gaining short-term advantage, if it is convince the people that it is worthy of governing the country.

 

Thus far, the BJP has barely surmounted the crisis of party leadership in the Karnataka state it rules. Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa might have triumphed in getting his candidate succeed him as chief minister after he was forced to resign. But the manner in which the party has conducted itself in the mining scam and other misdemeanours in the state is a foil to the anti-corruption flag it is now flying in New Delhi.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

RAKHI SAWANT'S DREAM MAN

BY ASHOK KUMAR YADAV

 

WHILE the entire administrative machinery failed to silence the irrepressible Baba Ramdev even by bullets and teargas shells; a cool cupid arrow fired sensually robbed the yoga exponent of his eloquence, and pushed him into a shell. Seemingly perplexed, the man in Baba is yet to respond to the nuptial bid from a drama queen, Rakhi Sawant.

 

Rakhi's challenge to win him in an open fairytale "swayamvar", to the chagrin of many, speaks of the extent to which the never-feel-shy Babe can go to possess the zero-figure hermit and domesticate the loin-clad guru into a compliant husband. The passionate salvo, fired during the promotion of "Gajab Desh Ki Ajab Kahaaniyaan" last month, reminds me of a similar anecdote from the life of another celebrity, George Bernard Shaw. However, there is one difference. While the most beautiful French actress of her times wanted a son, who presumably would inherit her beauty and Shaw's intellect, Rakhi wants to marry the firebrand guru, finding him hot like Kamdev and rolling with loads of wealth.

 

Truly speaking, the more I gaze into the romantic trajectory of the indomitable actress, the more I am led to believe in the dictum: "Marriages are made in the heaven, but solemnised on earth." Otherwise, why should she abandon the Indian heir-apparent for no good reason? Why should she dump daredevil Mikka, and split with the man she declared to marry in a reality show? May be, all what is happening is inspired by a divine mandate: the bombshell is set to explode in the hinterland of the holy Ganges.

 

Once she is wed-locked, she might possibly get into Baba's groove of things. She might raise a dedicated women's army, as an inner security ring, to insulate him from the police. Like him, she too is unstoppable; can land even in forbidden territory, at will. Both seem compatible; made for each other. But it would certainly remain a riddle to discern: who is husbanding whom.

 

However, Baba's "maun" is now getting mysterious. Is he under any vow of celibacy like Bhishma Pitamaha? He ought to gird up his loin and break his silence, or, beware; it would break a tiny loving heart. But, sooner or later, I feel, "life force" shall force him to prostrate. Hoofing an age-old tradition, the gutsy bride would one day trot into Patanjali Ashram riding a horse, like a highwaywoman, to abduct her dream man. Imagine, the ceremonial "aarta" being performed by Balkrishan, disguised as a woman, to hoodwink the CBI. Dancing cine stars and Naga sadhus would tremor the holy town into collapsing.

 

Presumably terrified at the union of two great giants, all Indians conspire to persuade the modern incarnates of Adam and Eve to proceed to Siberia for a prolonged secluded hibernation and create their own civilisation. Unable to see through their stratagem, they set on their matrimonial voyage in search of an oasis in the deserts. Before embarking, however, the bridegroom declared amidst roaring applause that he was no more scared of any midnight assault, since his protection was now the responsibility of their no-nonsense gurumata. She smiled shyly and winked in consent.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

FARMING DYING AS A WAY OF LIFE

THE SUSTAINABILITY OF RURAL LIVELIHOOD AS A WAY OF LIFE, SOCIAL ETHOS AND CULTURE ARE AT STAKE IN PUNJAB, MAKING THE CURRENT RURAL AND AGRICULTURAL SCENARIO WORRISOME

SATVINDER KAUR MANN

 

THE oldest and largest human enterprise, agriculture in Punjab was once a family affair wherein all members remained involved, employed the local labour and a network of services within and adjoining villages thrived along. In addition every household in the village had creative past times like spinning, weaving and making handicrafts. Young girls, women and even men remained busy, when not tending to the fields. Eighty-five per cent of the population was thus fruitfully engaged.

 

But the rural landscape of Punjab began to change when in the sixties new agricultural production technology, involving input-intensive practices on the pattern of the US were introduced to meet the food grain requirements of the nation. The minimum support price (MSP) and an assured market and other supporting services set in the race for increasing area under food grains.

 

Punjab was happy basking in the glory of being the number one producer, the highest contributor to the national food grain pool and being the food basket of India. However, the glow of prosperity for the small and marginal faded soon. By the end of the seventies the economic gains started declining and this cereal monoculture became unremunerative and environmentally unsustainable. By 1971, seventy-seven per cent small and marginal farmers, who had formed the backbone of the Green Revolution and agrarian society, were hit the hardest.

 

Impact of markets

 

This scenario kept aggravating with accelerated technological developments, the increasing impact of knowledge and opening up of the global markets by the end of the 20th century. Agriculture also became an increasingly knowledge-intensive enterprise as a farm-food-fibre-fuel/energy business chain, where concern for profits dominated. It required supply chain management acumen, which depended on market intelligence, trade policies, tariff barriers. The emphasis increased on quality, nutrition, consumption and health; food safety and issues like bioterrorism, environment and conservation of natural resources had come to dominate. The final onslaught on the agrarian economy of small and marginal farmers was made by the ad-mad world luring them to a consumerist lifestyle and ever-increasing aspirations disturbed the rural households set.

 

Under these complex and compelling conditions, the 80 per cent of educationally ill-equipped farmers (37% are below matriculation, 24% matriculates, 8% have education up to +2), were not able to reinvent agriculture. Their own liberal outlook and lack of financial discretion recoiled on them with mounting debt and many lost their lands, others sold these to clear the debt and thus got pushed out of farming.

 

In a recent critical appraisal of 11 villages, carried out by Punjab Agricultural University in the south-western districts of Punjab, of the 162 small and marginal farmers pushed out of farming, 38% joined the labour market, 9% supplied milk, 9% were doing nothing and others opened grocery or consumer goods shops, sold vegetables and sought petty employment. According to Dr G. S. Kalkat, Chairman, Punjab State Farmers Commission, 22 per cent small and marginal farmers have left farming and 37 per cent more are ready to quit. A majority of those who left farming were not happy, found it difficult to cope with the new work culture as it did not conform to their psyche and led them to a self-destructive path, complicating the agrarian crisis.

 

This is of grave concern because the native hard-working Punjabi farmer and his knowledge is a too valuable an asset to be frittered away. The cultivation practices are region specific, so is the quality of produce and intuitive abilities of the local growers, which are irreplaceable even in the current technology-intensive nature of agriculture.

 

With the farm economy destabilised, in the confused rural society larger numbers of rural youth are adopting a laid-back attitude and are not interested in farming. Due to inadequate and poor quality education, they are not employable, further compounding the misery. The fallout of all this is rampant drug abuse, loss of the indigenous value system and an increased tendency towards crime. The sustainability of the rural livelihood as a way of life, social ethos and culture are thus at stake in Punjab, making the current rural and agricultural scenario, scary and worrisome.

 

Genetic potential

 

Although Punjab has been desperate to reinvent agriculture, make it economically viable for the growers and break the rice-wheat monoculture for the last two decades, any slight reduction in the area under wheat or rice in Punjab sends shivers down the spine of the Centre. The state has continued not only to meet the allocated national food grain production targets but has also invariably exceeded these for the last 40 years. Accordingly, sustenance agricultural research to maintain the yield levels has remained the priority area because constraints continue to arise due to the erosion of the genetic potential of the varieties, co-evolution of pests, degradation of natural resources and the environment.

 

The crop diversification recommended by the Johl committee since 1988, for a better farm economy, have not taken off, the much-hyped contract farming has failed, the Citrus Council collapsed and the adoption of resource conservation technology is eyewash. The ground realities are disheartening as the onus for the implementation of various subsidised efforts has been pushed on the farmer, who has to coordinate three establishments, soil conservation, horticulture and the erstwhile Punjab State Electricity Board to use drip irrigation technology!

 

A small farmer is ill-equipped to work with this strange multi-window system and the insensitive dealing hands that make him go in circles and disappoint him. "Agriculture cannot wait" and in the absence of a "single-window system, a majority of the scientific recommendations have thus been lost and so are the benefits which would have accrued from them.

 

However, in the name of sustainability, all types of high-end agricultural technology, still being promoted in Punjab, will be again self-defeating for the remaining small and marginal farmers. It will prove beneficial for big farmers as was the outcome of the Green Revolution. Mechanisation is important for the economic sustainability of small and marginal farms too, but it has eluded them. Being left out for so long from the mainstream of concerns, a humongous social problem has thus been in the making for quite some time.

 

The frequent breakdown of the agricultural economy in Punjab in spite of repeated economic reforms should be a serious cause of concern. The empirical efforts of the government have not addressed the issue as to why farmers are repeatedly getting into the vicious circle of debt and social devaluation. The debt trap of the farmer and social devaluation of the agrarian society of erstwhile Punjab were the most discussed topics from 1860 onwards till the irrigation network started giving returns and so it has been for more than two decades now, after the Green Revolution technologies petered out.

 

Impulses of self-help

The experiences of the past 150 years indicates that economic reforms may not be the only answer; instead an effort to strengthen the "fibre of their being" with proper education, training and appropriate hand-holding to generate the impulses of self-help would be a durable strategy. Government policies for sustainable development of agriculture will only work when people make informed decisions to meet the present needs, without compromising those of our future generations. Education, knowledge and skills are the attributes that strengthen the fibre of a human being, encourage self-help, empower and give confidence to shape a better future for themselves.

 

An analysis of the post-Green Revolution agrarian crisis has also indicated a much neglected aspect of the human dimensions. In addition, long-term planning, research and policy focus has to be on developing socially inclusive, relevant and environment-friendly technologies to prevent a frequent collapse of the agrarian society. Intensive technologies have been known to be disruptive universally. The New York state in 1910, was the topmost agricultural state in the USA, having 215,597 farms on 22 million acres. In 2003 it fell to the 25th position. By 1997 there were only 32,306 farms on 7.5 million acres, the average farm size having increased from 102 acres to 230 acres. But the small wine farms which maintained their quality, created an indispensable niche market and integrated themselves with industry survived and prospered. Here is an answer to Punjab's problem: develop technology for small farms, grow quality products, create village-based brands and integrate with industry and the market.

 

Finally, farmers too have to revive the much-needed work culture and reorganise their set-up. "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan", the slogan of the sixties, gave India the Green Revolution, food security, stability and international recognition and Punjab the stature of being the nation's food bowl. New social status symbols and slogans are required like "Back to the Basics"', "Back to the Farm", "Pride in Self Employment" to move out of the fear that things won't improve.

 

The writer retired as the Dean, Post-Graduate Studies, PAU, Ludhiana

 

What should be done

 

Reinvent agricultural extension to move beyond the Green Revolution technologies. Emphasise the consequences of misuse and mismanagement of technology. Focus on the training of farm families, then assist them to develop viable projects around their own assets to grow niche area products of specialty crops/varieties like coloured cotton for dye-free handloom cloth clusters, specialty chapatti wheat, high carotene containing semolina, spices, herbs, flowers and their extracts etc., as a cottage/small-scale industry and guide them for branding, marketing, finance management and ensure timely corrective interventions for proper economic growth.

 

The development and popularisation of equipment for small farms that can catch the fancy of youth from these families. Hand-hold the educated youth to set up high-tech small farms for protected cultivation, hydroponic fodder culture, organic farming, tissue culture labs, quality-testing labs, fresh food industry, bio-agent production- trichogramma cards, kitchen vermi compost kits and biopesticide formulations etc.

 

The common village lands, in which every villager has a share, are controlled by panchayats,. They should develop a cluster of common facilities for (i) quality schools, vocation / skills development centres (ii) facilities for economic activity like primary and some secondary processing, sale outlets, public amenities and recreational facilities to develop agri-farm tourism because domestic consumption is currently the driving force for growth with an increasing population and a burgeoning middle class in India.

 

Recognise farmers who generate employment for village youth and recognise educated youth interested in farming.

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

MAKING JAGGER SING IN SANSKRIT

OSCARMAN A R RAHMAN'S NEW SUPERGROUP SERVES UP THRILLING TANDOORI MIGNON


Iwas cynical the moment I heard of SuperHeavy. A supergroup created by Sir Mick Jagger? Um, okay. Jagger, bless his ever-slim soul, has increasingly seemed a faded shell of his formerly glorious years, that marvellously manic caterwauling having given way to a less-intimidating snarl, one that, on his own last album (Goddess In The Doorway, 2001) Bono outclassed with ease.

 

Who else was aboard this new name ominously sounding like something that'd sink quickly? Damian Marley, a fine reggae artist destined to live in the shadow of his t-shirt dominating father Bob; Dave Stewart of the fabulous Eurythmics who were fabulous back in the 80s and last we heard of Stewart, he was doing something with the All Saints girl-band; Joss Stone, a 24-yearold with an undeniably impressive set of pipes; and our Oscarman himself, A R Rachman, as the West insists on calling him, as if he were short for Rachmaninoff.

And yet, before writing off former demons as toothless, I ought have remembered that the last time Jagger put a group together it was 49 years ago, and that particular band's tongue continues to lick greedily at unsuspecting years, forever dooming them to Stoned love.

 

SuperHeavy has released two singles on iTunes so far, and the first, while certainly clutterbreaking, is a very shinily produced piece of pop ephemera.

 

Ms Stone dominates the conventional lead vocals on 'Miracle Worker', while Marley, clearly at home in the song's predominantly reggae groove, barks out encouragements, apparently of love and support – "Don't get sillynilly / I'm always there for you / Through da thick and thin / Not just because we argue" – and while this starts out curiously enough, the kick is supplied by Jagger who abruptly comes in spouting overdone lyrics – " I will reshape you, recast you from the mould / A brand new beautiful woman will blossom from the old " – with typically fresh ease. The song has definite earworm possibility, even though the oversimplified "ooh ooh ooh miracle worker" chorus seems jarringly out of place in such a sophisticated sonic landscape.

 

It's with the second song – the one just released online that you need to go out and find right now – that things get truly delicious. Rahman's the obvious driving force behind 'Satyamev Jayate,' but there are many mouthwateringly disparate musical styles at play here. A R leads the gang on a choral introduction about what Satya does, but immediately after that the synth cuts insistently in, and – while we can't at all be sure yet of who did what – it's tempting to assume this is Dave Stewart having fun leading Rahman playfully around the dancefloor. Unlike the first track, however, this one centres around the chorus, a simple, high-energy Satyamev Jayate chorus led by good ol' Mephistophelean Mick, his larynx free, clear and soaring. Rahman does his trademark soulful ooh-aahs in the background, Marley and Stone come in briefly, but it's hard not to picture Jagger eagerly swallowing up this song, microphone and all. A seriously good song to eat up, this one.

SuperHeavy's self-titled debut album comes out next month, and here's looking forward to something special. And if you've been wondering what Rahman's been doing, it looks like it's worth waiting for.

 

 

RAJA SEN LOVES TO RANT, RAVE AND BLATHER ABOUT CINEMA, OFTEN AT HIS OWN PERIL

 

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******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

AUDITING THE AUDITORS

ASKING QUESTIONS DOES NOT AMOUNT TO PASSING JUDGEMENTS

Just as correlation does not establish causation, asking questions does not amount to passing judgements. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) is an important constitutional office that has a role to play in improving governance. However, going beyond one's brief can always harm an institution in the long run and be counterproductive. An auditor's dharma is to see if spending has been correctly accounted for and to check if there has been any avoidable and wasteful spending. However, auditors cannot arrogate to themselves the role of policy makers and managers. Every good manager knows concrete decisions are taken under concrete conditions. An auditor often seeks to know why ideal decisions were not taken under ideal conditions.

The manner in which a media-hungry CAG and colleagues have sought to project their reports as the last word on governmental decision making brings institutional accountability and democratic governance into question. Before things get out of hand, CAG must step back and ensure that governance does not get paralysed in the name of accountability. While publishing reports is in the public interest, the manner in which a senior CAG official brandished a report before the media, like a sportsperson holding a trophy, gives the impression that CAG is now seeking publicity for itself rather than accountability from the government. The purpose of an audit is to seek answers from managers, not indict them and question their intent or thinking.

In the current highly politically charged environment, there is a danger that questionable administrative practices will be elevated to high principle, like opting for the lowest tender, unmindful of the consequences. It is precisely such blind audit objections that have forced honest officials to become completely risk-averse and dishonest ones to find means that escape detection. Either way, the purpose of the audit is aborted. More recently, CAG chose to step beyond its brief to explore a new territory: social and environmental audit. The recently-constituted high-profile advisory group has been asked to come up with ideas so that CAG can "audit" the benefits of public programmes and projects, and conduct peer reviews for university teachers and government scientists. Recently, CAG sought to question the Securities and Exchange Board of India. It may now ask the Reserve Bank of India to explain its policies. This manic pursuit of auditing power could create an institution that brings the entire government to a halt.

This critical view of the manner in which CAG has been behaving in the past few months should not be seen as an indictment of the institution. Instead, it is a wake-up call for those who must run the institution and ensure that its reputation survives their tenure in office. India has seen many Tughlaqs in office and will see more, but the Constitution of the Indian Republic has created enough checks and balances that prevent any one institution from usurping all power or crippling other institutions. CAG is an important part of that system of checks and balances. As long as it performs the role assigned to it, and does not entertain fanciful thoughts of being a new super institution that will cleanse all or cripple all, no lasting damage would be done. Auditors too must be prepared to have their role audited.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE FM'S WELCOME SLIP

SUBSIDISING DIESEL CONSUMPTION WILL HARM ENERGY SECURITY

It is a pity that Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has had to withdraw his statement in Parliament that the government would consider the suggestion to end the subsidy on diesel used in passenger cars. Three days after he had made the statement, he said no such plan was in the works, nor was there a proposal to change the present structure of duties in this regard. Meanwhile, his first pronouncement sent the stocks of auto companies down — the firms are already apprehensive about an impending economic slowdown in sales. Surprisingly, Mr Mukherjee, a veteran with innumerable years spent in important economic portfolios, is not given to shooting his mouth off. What prompted him to say something that he had to retract later is a matter of speculation. However, the episode provides an opportunity to restate certain well-known realities.

Dual pricing for diesel has not been attempted so far because, going by the experience with kerosene, it will be extremely difficult to handle gross misuse. Moreover, the downside will be enormous since the diesel bill is far higher than kerosene's. Considering the extent to which fuel pump franchisees go for the hike of a few paise in their sales commission, a difference of over Rs 6 in the price, the extent of current subsidy on diesel will offer tremendous inducement to create supply of diesel in the black market. As for demand, the owners of modern diesel cars, some of them quite large and costly, may hesitate to go for black-market diesel of dubious quality. That, however, cannot be said for the drivers of lower-end taxis, whose number is large.

On the other hand, nothing can justify subsidising the sale of diesel to private car owners, particularly when it is the large and costly cars that have tended to be diesel-powered. But the perverse incentive that the subsidy offers has prompted car manufacturers to research and produce diesel engines for increasingly smaller cars offering a good driving experience. There is only one way, and that too partially, to mitigate the situation: raise taxes on the sale of diesel cars. Subsidising diesel, or for that matter any form of energy when the country is facing energy scarcity and is dependent on imports, is wrong. This is because under-pricing does not encourage conservation. Even farmers, for whose benefit the subsidy is partly intended, need to pay more for diesel used in their generator sets so that they rely less on groundwater, which is being exploited indiscriminately. There is a case for subsidising public transport, not diesel, and technology now enables accurate targeting. If every bus or truck is fitted with a global positioning system device, then all trips can be monitored and subsidies can be provided accordingly.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

INTROSPECTION TIME FOR RBI

THE CENTRAL BANK'S ILL-TIMED POLICY DECISIONS DO NOT BODE WELL FOR THE COUNTRY'S ECONOMIC GROWTH

RAJEEV MALIK

There is something uncanny about the timing of the 50-basis point (bp) rate increases by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The two 50-bp hikes in June-July 2008 came slightly before the global financial meltdown, which was triggered by the Lehman bust in September that year. This year, the first 50-bp rate hike took place after global commodities had already hit an air pocket. The second, and latest, 50-bp hike in July came less than a month before the recent rout in global financial markets, partly triggered by the renewed weakness in the US economy and its sovereign credit downgrade.

Overall, the ongoing global financial mayhem creates a strong deflationary environment that will not spare India. Is RBI missing something since its recent increased hawkishness and aggressiveness have come about despite a worsening global backdrop? Equally importantly, is it underestimating the pace of the economic slowdown?

On July 26, RBI unexpectedly raised the repo rate by 50 bps, against the widely anticipated 25 bps, and also raised its wholesale price index (WPI)-based inflation forecast for March 2012 to seven per cent from six per cent announced in early May. It left its gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast of eight per cent for FY12 unchanged. What is it that RBI knows about the growth dynamics that everyone else is missing, and what are the contours of these hidden insights that allow RBI to be more optimistic than market expectations? Strangely, relative to market expectations, RBI's forecast for GDP growth is above consensus while its inflation forecast is below consensus.

The central bank has acknowledged that there is a moderation in growth but that it is neither sharp nor broad-based. Now, consumption that is sensitive to interest rates is already slowing meaningfully, while investment activity has been weak and higher rates don't augur well for its outlook. A sizeable portion of consumption not sensitive to interest rates has favourable structural drivers and has also been positively affected by government policies (for example, higher minimum support prices) that monetary tightening cannot effectively check. Fiscal measures will be more helpful but these remain uneven and uncertain at best. Overall, just as the recovery following the global credit crisis was uneven, the moderation too is uneven.

The one area where RBI has failed to provide more meaningful insight is the exceptionally strong export data in recent months, despite weaker global environment. It has concluded that these signal still-strong activity in the export sector. However, it is possible that there has been a significant rundown of inventories (perhaps owing to concerns over the end of export incentives), which, in turn, has temporarily boosted the reported export growth. Once this aspect is taken into account, the moderation in economic activity is more pronounced than what RBI is indicating. The weakening global backdrop will also hurt exports. The bottom line is that RBI will soon be forced to cut its GDP growth forecast.

What prompted RBI to raise its inflation forecast of six per cent, which, in the first place, only RBI believed in? In early May, the central bank had guided that WPI inflation in the first half of the current fiscal year would remain elevated at around the March level. RBI had also communicated that the assessment included the impact of an undisclosed increase in local fuel prices.

Now, the final reading for March WPI inflation was 9.7 per cent year-on-year (YoY), while average inflation in April-June was 9.4 per cent, which will probably be slightly above 10 per cent following the revisions. If realised, that outcome would not be too out of line to have been the only factor for RBI to raise its March 2012 WPI inflation forecast so soon. Is it perhaps explicitly assuming further adjustments in local fuel and/or electricity prices in its revised forecast trajectory? If so, why has it not categorically stated it? To be sure, RBI has only indicated risk of such adjustments given suppressed inflation in India — not that these adjustments are now assumed in its WPI forecast trajectory.

A few days ago, RBI Governor D Subbarao indicated that there is no new higher normal for inflation. Frankly, central banks will rarely admit to a new higher normal for inflation. With due respect to the governor, it is hard to buy his conclusion, especially since RBI has been revising its inflation guidance upwards in the last few years and again in the July policy. If there is no new higher normal for inflation, why is RBI unable to avoid raising its inflation forecasts repeatedly?

The most puzzling – and unquestioned – aspect of the July policy statement was the absence of a categorical mention of the risk to growth and inflation from adverse global developments, a point that was emphatically mentioned in the May policy statement. Perhaps RBI had to downplay it to justify the 50-bp rate hike. As subsequent global events have shown, that shift in focus away from global factors was ill-timed and irresponsible.

The hit to India's growth will be less pronounced but the ongoing correction in the prices of global commodity, especially crude oil, and the broader global deflationary force will be positive for India's pesky inflation. Hopefully, RBI has learnt from the 2008 experience and will react quickly this time. Remember that even in the October 2008 policy review, RBI was fighting inflation while the world was experiencing an unprecedented deflationary shock.

The current global backdrop is different from what emerged in 2008 and the deflationary shock may be less severe. However, financial and macroeconomic stability should now become more important for RBI. Ironically, it is lower global commodity prices that will be positive for fighting inflation rather than the aggressive rate hikes by RBI. It remains unclear how global events will precisely unfold, but it will be sensible for RBI to signal a wait-and-see approach in the near term for its monetary policy, especially since the global commodity rout offers some breathing room. Hopefully, the RBI will rise to the occasion in a timely manner.

The author is senior economist at CLSA, Singapore
The views expressed are personal

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE MAN WHO SERVED THREE PMS

A K BHATTACHARYA

B G Deshmukh, who died last Sunday, made a mark as a bureaucrat with a difference. The last few years of his service with the central government coincided with economically as well as politically turbulent times. Not surprisingly, his journey from Pune – where he spent his childhood days and breathed his last at 84 – to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on Raisina Hill is a story that will inspire many young bureaucrats.

Rarely does the government recall an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from his state posting and make him the Cabinet secretary. B G Deshmukh was one of those rare officers. In 1985, soon after Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister, P C Alexander, who was then the principal secretary in the PMO, called Mr Deshmukh to his office. Mr Deshmukh was then secretary in the ministry of labour and was hoping to become the home secretary. Instead, Mr Alexander told Mr Deshmukh that he would have to go back to Maharashtra, his parent cadre, as chief secretary.

Mr Deshmukh had an uneasy relationship with P C Alexander. Without mincing words, he told the principal secretary that he thought he deserved to be the home secretary. However, that was not to be. Mr Deshmukh had to go back to Bombay, but not before registering his protest with Arun Singh, who was then Rajiv Gandhi's political aide. A year-and-a-half later, Mr Deshmukh returned to Raisina Hill as Cabinet secretary. Just before he was to attain the retirement age in September 1989, Mr Gandhi asked him to stay on in the government and made him principal secretary in the PMO.

He was with the Rajiv Gandhi government during its most turbulent period, caused largely by the scandal over payment of bribe for the purchase of Bofors guns. Mr Deshmukh was close to Rajiv Gandhi, but not really part of his inner circle. In his memoirs, Mr Deshmukh makes that very clear. This is also why among all the autobiographical accounts of senior bureaucrats associated with Rajiv Gandhi during those days, Mr Deshmukh's was the most forthright. In his book, Mr Deshmukh wrote quite frankly about the government's deal with an Italian company for training security forces with the prime minister, payments for which were to be made in a suspiciously secretive way.

On the issue of the controversial Bofors deal, Mr Deshmukh wrote that although Mr Gandhi's personal integrity was not in doubt, the prime minister seemed to know the names of the recipients of the bribe, but was reluctant to expose them. Did Mr Gandhi know of this before the deal or after the contract was signed? Mr Deshmukh's version was that Mr Gandhi came to know about it later as he was too decent a person to be dishonest. Mr Deshmukh did have a soft corner for Rajiv Gandhi.

In spite of this, Mr Deshmukh managed to stay on in the PMO even when Rajiv Gandhi's arch rival Vishwanath Pratap Singh was the prime minister. After Mr Gandhi lost the elections in 1989, Mr Deshmukh too decided to pack his bags. However, Singh had other ideas and asked Mr Deshmukh to continue with him as principal secretary. This was unusual. Mr Deshmukh would perhaps be the only bureaucrat who served two prime ministers belonging to different political parties.

He served Chandra Shekhar also as his principal secretary and would have continued to do so until the end of his tenure in January 1991 but for some misunderstanding between them. Once Chandra Shekhar took charge as prime minister and a new council of ministers was in place, Mr Deshmukh met him and offered his resignation letter. However, the newly sworn-in prime minister told Mr Deshmukh that he would like him to continue in the job. Mr Deshmukh was pleasantly surprised and decided to stay on in the PMO until the end of his tenure. A fortnight later, however, Mr Deshmukh received a telephonic message that the government had appointed his successor.

That came as a rude shock for Mr Deshmukh. He decided to confront the prime minister and demanded why the government did not accept his resignation, why the government asked him to continue and why now the government had appointed his successor. There was no explanation. It became clear that the Chandra Shekhar government was keen to present Mr Deshmukh's departure as part of the secretarial reshuffle that the new government had planned to effect. Mr Deshmukh resented that, but had no option. A clever politician had trumped an upright bureaucrat.

Mr Deshmukh had another humbling experience while dealing with Chandra Shekhar. Mr Deshmukh had a job offer from J R D Tata to join the corporate group in an advisory position after he quit the government. However, Mr Deshmukh was aware of the mandatory two-year cooling off period before a government official could take up a job with the private sector. He, therefore, asked Chandra Shekhar if the government would make an exception in his case since in his view no conflict of interest would arise from his job with the Tatas.

According to Mr Deshmukh, Chandra Shekhar had agreed to make the exception, which prompted him to send in his request. However, what pained him was that in spite of the prime minister's promise, the Chandra Shekhar government turned down his request and Mr Deshmukh had to wait for the mandatory two-year cooling off period before he could join the Tatas. In his long unblemished service tenure of almost 40 years, that experience must have rankled Mr Deshmukh, apart from making him sad and wiser.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

POWER POACHING GAMES

THE EXECUTIVE AND COURTS ARE TEMPTED TO MAKE USE OF QUASI-JUDICIAL POWERS TO SOLVE DISPUTES, THOUGH THE CONSTITUTION DOES NOT PERMIT IT

M J ANTONY

There is a regulator for every important commercial sector and a tribunal over it to adjudicate appeals against the regulator's decision. There was even talk about a regulator to regulate the regulators, but the idea mercifully faded away. Speakers at seminars and commentators still end their discourse on sectoral problems with a proposal for yet another regulator and tribunal.

This impulse has spread to other zones. The executive and the courts are tempted to set up mechanisms with quasi-judicial powers to solve disputes, though the Constitution does not permit it. Only the legislature can establish a regulatory mechanism. The executive's attempt to set up an adjudicatory mechanism was nixed by the Supreme Court in a recent case, Secretary, Jain Pathashala vs Shivaji Bhagwat.

The Maharashtra government set up a grievances committee to hear the complaints of ad hoc teachers. It comprised officers from the education department and could not adjudicate on disputes. When disputes did arise over appointments and termination, the matter went up to the Bombay High Court. It made significant changes in the constitution and functioning of the committee. A retired district judge was to head the panel, which could hear and decide complaints against the government's decision, and civil courts were barred from interfering with its decision. Further changes were made and the grievance committee was turned into a one-man tribunal by an executive order, at the instance of the high court.

This, according to the Supreme Court, was transgression of the constitutional scheme. A tribunal can be set up only by Parliament or a state legislature. This is evident from Indian Constitution's Part XIV-A, which deals with tribunals. Courts and tribunals are constituted by the state to invest judicial functions, as distinguished from purely administrative or executive functions. Tribunals are established under special statutes to settle controversies arising under those special laws.

Tribunals can be private (arbitral tribunals); or constituted under the Constitution (Speaker or the Chairman acting under Para 6[1] of the Tenth Schedule); or authorised by the Constitution (Administrative Tribunals under Article 323A and tribunals for other matters under Article 323B); or statutory, which are created under a statute (Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, Debt Recovery Tribunals and consumer fora). In any case, a tribunal should be established by a law. It cannot be established by the executive.

It was argued that the power of the executive is co-extensive with that of the legislature under Article 162 of the Constitution. If there is no enactment covering a particular aspect, the government could carry on the administration by issuing administrative directions until the legislature makes a law on that behalf. However, the Supreme Court emphasised that even that was subject to the provisions of the Constitution.

"If the power to constitute and create judicial tribunals by executive orders is recognised, there is every likelihood of tribunals being created without appropriate provisions in regard to their constitution, functions, powers, appeals, revisions, and enforceability of their orders, leading to chaos and confusion," the judgment said. If the executive is allowed to set up tribunals, citizens' rights could be affected, since ad hoc bodies exercising judicial functions could be established. The members may not be independent or competent so they would be handing down binding decisions.

It is not just the executive that is barred from setting up tribunals. Even the courts cannot ask the executive to set up tribunals. In the Maharashtra case, the grievance committee was turned into a full-fledged tribunal at the instance of the high court. This was against the constitutional mandate.

The Supreme Court said: "Neither the Constitution nor any statute empowers a high court to create or constitute quasi-judicial tribunals for adjudicating disputes. It has no legislative powers. Nor can it direct the executive branch of the state government to create or constitute quasi judicial tribunals, otherwise than by legislative statutes. Therefore, it is not permissible for the high court to direct the state government to constitute judicial authorities or tribunals by executive orders, nor permissible for the state by executive order or resolution create them for adjudication of rights of parties."

In this case, the high court went ahead and barred even the civil courts from dealing with disputes assigned to the tribunal created by it. This was contrary to Section 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure which provides that the courts shall have jurisdiction to try all suits of a civil nature.

The Supreme Court has, thus, reined in the powers of the executive and high courts to turn a grievance committee mechanism into a tribunal. They can appoint only fact-finding bodies or recommending bodies to assist the government or its authorities. A grievance committee cannot wear the robe of a quasi-judicial forum nor can its decisions be made final and binding on parties. When there are so many cross-border intrusions among the three arms of the state, this clarification will help check further constitutional skirmishes.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

EUROPEAN TWILIGHT, ASIAN SUNRISE

EVEN AS THE WEST IS HAVING TO ADOPT ILLIBERAL ECONOMIC POLICIES, THE WESTERN TRADITION OF ECONOMIC FREEDOM IS GAINING POPULARITY IN ASIA

RAZEEN SALLY

In August I left the London School of Economics and am about to move to Singapore. I left Europe for Asia. I am a British-Sri Lankan – half-European, half-Asian – who grew up in Sri Lanka, lived in Britain and elsewhere in Europe and is now returning to Asia. This life-change prompts a few general thoughts on the state of Europe, and more broadly the West, and the state of the emerging world, particularly Asia.

First, some recent political and economic trends. The last economic era, roughly from 1980 to 2008, was the most successful combination of globalisation, growth and prosperity in history. The West benefited, but, more importantly, this was when "the Rest" came on board: "underdeveloped countries" cast off post-colonial isolation and embraced the world economy. The recent global economic crisis, though, has induced sharp divergence of economic performance between the West and emerging markets. The US and most of Europe are stuck with anaemic growth. The main emerging markets, except Russia, sailed through the crisis and are booming. This short-term divergence has accelerated the long-term convergence between emerging markets – particularly in Asia – and the West.

There is similar divergence in the global policy outlook. The West's financial crisis and "crisis interventions" have wrecked public finances. Financial bailouts, fiscal-stimulus packages and extra-loose monetary policy also provided cover for Big Government micro-interventions which distort competition and restrict economic freedom. Most emerging markets retain healthier balance sheets and have a much more promising outlook.

Asia is an awakening continent whose people are vertical, up-and-doing and grasping new-found economic freedom with both hands. Market liberalisation has unleashed the "animal spirits" of ordinary people.

But I don't want to paint too rosy a picture of emerging markets. Market reforms have stalled in China, India and elsewhere. Domestic red tape continues to stifle emerging markets' business climates and repress economic freedom much more than in the West. This is reflected in all major global rankings, such as the World Bank's Doing Business Index and the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World Index. Economic institutions and political systems remain relatively weak; they keep business costs high, repressing entrepreneurship and innovation. Emerging-market powers suffer their own rivalries, are still reactive in global economic institutions, and have regional markets beset by high barriers to trade, investment and the movement of people. In other words, there is huge unfinished business, particularly to expand economic freedom outside the West.

Now turn to ideas. Liberty, especially economic freedom – what Adam Smith called "natural liberty" – is a theme that preoccupies me, particularly its condition and prospects outside the West. The liberal tradition is a product of the West. Those who are Western-centric like to think that liberty is the West's intellectual property. It is for the West to export liberty to benighted lands — to lead them out of their "areas of darkness" (to borrow a favourite V S Naipaul term). True, the liberal tradition comes mainly from the West. But it will not work unless a serious connection is made with local intellectual traditions and local history. Thus, there must be a serious effort to explore non-Western liberal traditions, and then make the connections with Western classical liberalism.

And now to history. A Western-centric view holds that only Western colonialism enabled economic development outside the West. But there is only a grain of truth in this script. The history of long-distance trade, for example, was mainly a non-Western story until the 15th century.

The zenith of economic freedom outside the West in pre-modern history was medieval Indian Ocean trade before European colonisation, a Golden Age of south and south-east Asian commerce. Before the Portuguese muscled in, the Indian Ocean was Mare Liberum, not controlled by any power and fully open to trade. Coastlines were dotted with "port-polities", independent towns and cities whose lifeblood was overseas trade. Aden, Hormuz, Cambay, Goa, Calicut, Aceh, Malacca and Macassar were religiously tolerant, polyglot, cosmopolitan places, energised by trading diaspora. Freewheeling economic competition went in tandem with decentralised, flexible political institutions and advanced legal structures. Fractured geography and competing polities combined to promote economic freedom, growth and prosperity.

The last 60 years have seen a remarkable economic renaissance in east and south Asia — a recreation of the Golden Age of Indian Ocean commerce. Commercial clusters in and around coastal cities, connected with each other across seas and oceans, are its economic lifeblood. Its networks are complex manufacturing and services supply chains linking them to global markets. It is in these mostly coastal strips – from the south to the west of India, the eastern provinces of China, coastal cities in south-east Asia – that liberalisation of markets, property rights, a burgeoning middle class and other features of commercial society are blossoming the most. Hong Kong and Singapore are today's Malacca and Macassar. They form the core of liberty outside the West today; they point the way to its future expansion. This is not quite the Utopian vision of Richard Cobden, who foresaw free trade leading to a world of cosmopolitan, peacefully co-existing municipalities that would replace warring nation-states. But Cobden would still approve enthusiastically.

One concluding thought. The global economic crisis has ushered in a phase of illiberal ideas and policies; it has set back the cause of economic freedom. I have some confidence that the intellectual tide will turn in parts of the West — indeed, it already has in the US. But, looking beyond the short term, I have greater confidence that the expansion of liberty – particularly economic freedom – outside the West, especially in Asia, will provide even more tailwind. The future of liberty is shifting East; more than ever, it lies outside the West.

The writer is director of the European Centre of International Political Economy, a global-economy think-tank in Brussels.
He was on the faculty of the London School of Economics.
He will join the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IN SAFE HANDS

THE GOVERNMENT'S DECISION TO EXTEND THE RBI GOVERNOR'S TERM IS WELCOME


The government's decision to extend the term of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor D Subbarao by two years should bring some cheer to a market sorely in need of some. The last thing the economy (and the country) needs right now is a change of guard at the helm of the central bank. Given the government's fondness for bureaucrats for the post, any new appointee would have been a greenhorn, unequal to the challenges of steering the economy through troubled times. At a time when three of the four deputy governors are also relatively new, the government can ill-afford to rock the boat. But it would be unfair to welcome Subbarao's extension (his original three-year tenure ends on September 4) only on the grounds of continuity. Under his leadership, the Bank has shown commendable skill in straddling the twin responsibilities of growth and price stability in a situation where the Bank does not have a free hand. Unlike many central banks, the RBI is not independent. In such a scenario central bank autonomy is limited and is often determined by the space defined by the government. RBI autonomy, first raised by former RBI governor and present Chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, C Rangarajan and ably defended by his successors, Bimal Jalan and Y V Reddy, has been dearly won. There are no return favours due to the government. Unlike elected governments whose timeframe is only till the next elections, the RBI governor must keep his eye on the long-term. His first (perhaps, only) duty is to the country and its people. When in doubt he could take a cue from the story he related some years ago about Dr Reddy's response to a friend who happened to overhear a conversation between the feisty governor and the finance minister of the day. Intrigued to hear a single 'Yes' in a conversation marked by a series of unending 'No's', the friend wanted to know what the 'yes' was about. To which Dr Reddy's answer was, "Well, the finance minister wanted to know if I could hear him!" As long as the governor reserves his agreement to such harmless questions and on all other matters exercises his own (apolitical) judgment we are in safe hands. All the very best, governor!

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

LONDON BURNING

THE UNREST UNDERLINES EUROPEAN RIFTS ON IMMIGRATION AND MULTICULTURALISM


The riots rocking London, seemingly spreading to other cities in Britain, have rekindled memories of the infamous, and intense, race riots of the 1980s. While Prime Minister David Cameron has promised tough action, at the root of the troubles are issues of deprivation certain communities face, unemployment and resentment over racial profiling by the police — which, in turn, are the result of deep contestations on immigration and multiculturalism facing Europe. Much has changed in Britain since the barricades and petrol bombs emerged in Brixton, London, in 1981. Police racism, reflecting wider attitudes in British society, has since been significantly eroded. But despite the welfare state model, it has also argued that many sections continue to face inherent discrimination. The common factor in the riots of the 1980s and the current ones seems to be the confrontation between the police and members of the Afro-Caribbean community — triggered in this instance after the police shot dead a member of that community during an anti-crime operation. Many argue this section among the immigrant population in Britain has particularly faced a situation where people do not have enough economic capital to pass on to future generations. Couple that with the attendant feeling of being left out in the consumerist culture, exacerbated due to the economic downturn, still being largely the subject of police attention, and enough commentators will aver that the riots weren't really a surprise.


There has been much looting and rank hooliganism during these riots. But what these events underline is the big debate about immigration and multiculturalism in Europe. Clearly, faultlines exist over the contentious issues of integration and assimilation. Britain has in many ways been at the centre of that debate, with more progress to show, relatively, on that count than most western nations. That debate will continue. For now, the riots are the latest challenge for the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government, which has faced unrest with students and trade unions protesting against it in the recent past.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A CONTAGION OF BAD IDEAS

BOTH EUROPE AND THE US HAVE BEEN IMPACTED BY MISGUIDED ECONOMIC NOTIONS SPREADING ACROSS CONTINENTS

 

 The Great Recession of 2008 has morphed into the North Atlantic Recession: it is mainly Europe and the United States, not the major emerging markets, that have become mired in slow growth and high unemployment. And it is Europe and America that are marching, alone and together, to the denouement of a grand debacle. A busted bubble led to a massive Keynesian stimulus that averted a much deeper recession, but that also fuelled substantial budget deficits. The response — massive spending cuts — ensures that unacceptably high levels of unemployment (a vast waste of resources and an oversupply of suffering) will continue, possibly for years.


The European Union has finally committed itself to helping its financially distressed members. It had no choice: with financial turmoil threatening to spread from small countries like Greece and Ireland to large ones like Italy and Spain, the euro's very survival was in growing jeopardy. Europe's leaders recognised that distressed countries' debts would become unmanageable unless their economies could grow, and that growth could not be achieved without assistance. But, even as Europe's leaders promised that help was on the way, they doubled down on the belief that non-crisis countries must cut spending. The resulting austerity will hinder Europe's growth, and thus that of its most distressed economies: after all, nothing would help Greece more than robust growth in its trading partners. And low growth will hurt tax revenues, undermining the proclaimed goal of fiscal consolidation.
The discussions before the crisis illustrated how little had been done to repair economic fundamentals. The European Central Bank's vehement opposition to what is essential to all capitalist economies — the restructuring of failed or insolvent entities' debt — is evidence of the continuing fragility of the western banking system. The ECB argued that taxpayers should pick up the entire tab for Greece's bad sovereign debt, for fear that any private-sector involvement (PSI) would trigger a "credit event," which would force large payouts on credit-default swaps (CDSs), possibly fuelling further financial turmoil. But, if that is a real fear for the ECB — if it is not merely acting on behalf of private lenders — surely it should have demanded that the banks have more capital.


Likewise, the ECB should have barred banks from the risky CDS market, where they are held hostage to ratings agencies' decisions about what constitutes a "credit event." Indeed, one positive achievement by European leaders at the recent Brussels summit was to begin the process of reining in both the ECB and the power of the American ratings agencies. Indeed, the most curious aspect of the ECB's position was its threat not to accept restructured government bonds as collateral if the ratings agencies decided that the restructuring should be classified as a credit event. The whole point of restructuring was to discharge debt and make the remainder more manageable. If the bonds were acceptable as collateral before the restructuring, surely they were safer after the restructuring, and thus equally acceptable.


This episode serves as a reminder that central banks are political institutions, with a political agenda, and that independent central banks tend to be captured (at least "cognitively") by the banks that they are supposed to regulate.


And matters are little better on the other side of the Atlantic. There, the extreme right threatened to shut down the US government, confirming what game theory suggests: when those who are irrationally committed to destruction if they don't get their way confront rational individuals, the former prevail.

As a result, President Barack Obama acquiesced in an unbalanced debtreduction strategy, with no tax increases — not even for the millionaires who have done so well during the past two decades, and not even by eliminating tax giveaways to oil companies, which undermine economic efficiency and contribute to environmental

 degradation.
Optimists argue that the short run macroeconomic impact of the deal to raise America's debt ceiling and prevent sovereign default will be limited — roughly $25 billion in expenditure cuts in the coming year. But the payroll-tax cut (which put more than $100 billion into the pockets of ordinary Americans) was not renewed, and surely business, anticipating the contractionary effects down the line, will be even more reluctant to lend. The end of the stimulus itself is contractionary. And, with housing prices continuing to fall, GDP growth faltering, and unemployment remaining stubbornly high (one of six Americans who would like a full-time job still cannot get one), more stimulus, not austerity, is needed — for the sake of balancing the budget as well. The singlemost important driver of deficit growth is weak tax revenues, owing to poor economic performance; the single-best remedy would be to put America back to work. The recent debt deal is a move in the wrong direction.
There has been much concern about financial contagion between Europe and America. After all, America's financial mismanagement played an important role in triggering Europe's problems, and financial turmoil in Europe would not be good for the US — especially given the fragility of the US banking system and the continuing role it plays in nontransparent CDSs.


But the real problem stems from another form of contagion: bad ideas move easily across borders, and misguided economic notions on both sides of the Atlantic have been reinforcing each other. The same will be true of the stagnation that those policies bring.

© Project Syndicate, 2011

 

JOSEPH E STIGLITZ UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FACE-OFF

SHOULD A CUSTOMER BUY ANNUITY FROM HER INSURER?

 

R KANNAN FORMER MEMBER (ACTUARY), IRDA That Would Make Eminent Sense
Among different categories of insurance business, pension and annuity is truly long-term business. By staying with the same insurer, policyholders must receive a good loyalty addition that would no doubt enhance the annuity amount. Hence, buying the annuity from the same insurer with whom the accumulation is done makes eminent sense.


From the insurer's viewpoint, the current practice of shopping around is akin to "heads I win, tails you lose". So, the insurer gets the creamy portion during the accumulation phase that is of a significantly longer duration than the benefit payment phase. Though one may argue that the customer gets the best deal in the market, this is illusionary. The benefit to the customer is only short term as this adds to the systemic risk in the industry that could raise questions about financial stability.


All insurers have the same investment regulations and invest in the same market. Mortality experience of annuitants will not be very different from insurer to insurer. If so, expense of annuity management is the crucial element and if this is properly monitored and controlled, this should not pose any problem in offering comparable returns to the annuitants. Within the ambit of investment regulation, the insurer may have an efficient treasury that would be manned by professionals which is backed by good research, then the yield from treasury will be a positive contributory factor. Experience of many Indian banks is a clear example to this. More transparency in disclosures of various financial statements would no doubt address these issues. Pension is included as insurance business because there is mortality risk both during accumulation phase and also during benefit payment phase. Insurers must meet the mortality risk during both phases. Managing mortality risk during the annuity phase is very crucial in the pension business. Insurers have necessary expertise. With the NPS gaining currency, insurers must enhance their capacities in this area. In India, the future of life insurance lies mainly in pension and long-term healthcare business. It is the time insurance companies equip themselves to handle the pension business in totality.

 

S B MATHUR

SECRETARY GENERAL, LIFE INSURANCE COUNCIL It Would Infringe on Customer Rights
The insurance regulator's latest exposure guidelines make it mandatory for the insurer providing deferred annuities to issue annuities to a policyholder on vesting. This marks a departure from the current practice. According to the regulator, LIC accounts for at least 90% of the annuities. This puts LIC and the whole system at a considerable risk, which will increase as more policies reach vesting stage. The proposed provision is meant to derisk LIC from the associated risks. The intent of the regulator is laudable, but the risk estimation is somewhat exaggerated.


Globally, annuities expose insurance companies to two major risks. Annuities are long-term contracts with average duration of 15 to 20 years. There is paucity of matching long-dated instruments and there is a serious threat of not finding investments with commensurate yields when the current lot of investments come up for renewal. The liability to pay annuities at the contracted rate will continue during the term of the policy. In India, this risk cannot be hedged as the interest rate derivative market is non-existent. But it is a risk that the system has learnt to manage, with banks and institutions raising long-term fixed deposits and tier-two capital with instruments of 10 to 12 years' duration. The second major risk with annuities is that of longevity. The assured may live too long necessitating pension payment for period much longer than anticipated while pricing the product or fixing annuity or pension for life without return of capital. With an improvement in the life expectancy, insurance companies end up incurring huge liabilities.

In India, people generally opt for pension and the return of capital is passed on to their families, on death. So, the longevity risk is considerably less in the Indian environment. Some financial strength is must to take on even interest rate risk. A few of the first generation insurers acquiring size and also others could seize the business opportunity offered by the vastly expanding annuity segment. However, in this entire debate about mandatory provision of annuities by insurers, the customer is clearly being ignored. How can a regulatory regime take away the customer's inherent right to switch insurers?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NOW&THEN

US: FOCUS ON BOTTOM LINES

JAIDEEP MISHRA


 Standard & Poor's, the rating agency, in deciding to downgrade its long-term credit outlook on sovereign US debt to 'AA+' from 'AAA,' and affirm 'A-1+' for the shortterm, has factored in the recent political standoff in Washington. It has doubtless also taken into account weaker-than-expected data emanating there, and the high public debt levels that analysts expect well into the future. But note that the rating downgrade is not on the US economy, which remains by far the largest, and home, for example, to more corporates with triple-A credit rating — the safest possible — than any other. It is a related matter that in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, which was entirely home-grown in the US, over half the massive amount of structured-finance products issued, such as mortgagebacked securities, were imprudently triple-A rated. But let us set aside that fact here. The rule of thumb is that only about 1% of corporates floating conventional single-name bonds get such high rating.


However, the fundamentals of the American economy remain far from hunky-dory, with the job market weak. Also, rising healthcare costs amount to over 17% of US output and targeted health schemes absorb a huge part of the central government mandated outlays, which is wholly unsustainable. In the emerging scenario, there would be ample opportunity for US and Indian corporates to step up trade and engagement across goods and services, to tackle specific policy problems. Some of the fast-growing information technology majors based here have been focusing on US healthcare IT services; looking ahead, there would be scope for gainful exchange in myriad other sectors.


Meanwhile, the stock markets here did go on a selloff mode, for about a day, in reacting to developments in the US and the disparate economies of the EU. But such a bearish stance at the bourses is unwarranted, given the buoyant prospects for overall growth although investment appears to be faltering in the face of a decidedly hard monetary policy stance of the central bank, targeting inflation. Softer commodity prices, including of oil now, should be growth augmenting. Anyway, it can't be gainsaid that financial markets, as a rule, do tend to overshoot. Now the rationale for lowering rating is to warn investors of the downside risks of the particular instrument. So, following downgrade of government debt, it is normal to expect the yields on such bonds to rise, to factor in the higher risks of default.


Yet, the yields on US 10-year paper did actually rise by a few notches last Friday. But then, the fact of the matter is that the US dollar remains the global reserve currency and in times of global economic uncertainty the demand for its sovereign bonds do ironically go up, from international investors and central banks, notwithstanding the messy situation in US government finances and worsening public debt profile, which has verily doubled in the last few years. As for China, now the second largest economy, its currency is certainly a candidate for reserve status. But for the medium-tem and beyond, the dollar would likely hold sway. After all, there seem umpteen rigidities in the Chinese economy, its lack of financial 'openness', or arm's-length finance, and many other distortions. However, the US authorities do need to keep tab of both public entitlements such as healthcare, by purposefully designing well-thought out policy initiatives to boost wellbeing, say, and have a businesslike attitude to lowering public debt — hopefully the recently appointed bipartisan commission would do just that — and also hike tax rates for the welloff. Now in normal times low income taxes do incentivise higher incomes. But the growth prospects remain lacklustre in the US, and continuing with the tax rates for the higher-income groups, which are at their lowest in half-acentury, seems regressive.


Be that as it is, India and the US do need to explore greater economic cooperation in these policy-challenging times. Reportedly, the latest annual figures on US manufactures — for 2009 — was updated only this July. This appears much too late. It has now emerged that thanks to the lack of up-todate data in the US, the stimulus package was not sufficiently front-loaded. It underscores the pressing need for both governments and their respective technology companies to join hands to revise data more proactively, for sound policy formulation. Further, anecdotal evidence would suggest that there is a growing problem of obesity in America, thanks to unhealthy diet and lifestyle. The need for corrective health foods is obvious.


There should be huge potential for cross-border medical services too. The way ahead is for the US government to take the initiative to arrest preventable, bloated healthcare costs for low-income groups and the elderly with forward-looking vision and long-term solutions, including incentives for health-related investments across the abroad, especially in India. The bottom line is that how the US keeps tab of its healthcare costs with creativity and political tact would determine its longterm competitive advantage.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

PULLING COMPANIES OUT OF THE RUT

B.S.RAGHAVAN

 

Two write-ups recently came to my notice, purporting to set out new, and even game-changing, approaches to management of organisations, with the aim of pulling them out of the ruts into which they may have fallen.

The first was the interview with the Chief Belief Officer (CBO), Dr Devdutt Pattanaik, of the Future Group, published in Business Line on July 30.

In this, he describes the exact functions of the CBO as that of "creating new rules in business management", expounds "his philosophy of staying away from tried-and-tested management techniques… (and finding) an alternative way to do business and not just following the standard concepts taught at management schools."

(Incidentally, while surfing the web, I chanced upon another intriguing post called the Chief Meaning Officer (CMO), whose job is to unravel the full meaning of the uniqueness of a product or a service, so as to take it to the status of an irresistible brand and embed it in the psyche of the customer. So, what are the next ones around the corner? Chief Word-coining Officer, for starters?)

Nobody will quarrel with Dr Pattanaik's repeated assertion of the need to explore new ways of thinking and not merely cut and paste management ideas from America and Europe without checking out their relevance and applicability in the Indian context.

DELVING INTO MYTHOLOGY

But Dr Pattanaik himself does not come up with anything that is conspicuously path-breaking, other than invoking the ancient Indian concept of karta to emphasise that a leader should behave like the head of the household, forming emotional bonds with the team and making everyone happy.

This means, he says, looking at the 'customised' needs of every individual, rather than settling for the 'standardised.' There's nothing new there, is there?

The Future Group apparently believes in delving into mythology which, according to Dr Pattanaik, "holds the secrets of our ancestors that we have ignored for a long time" in terms of unknown frameworks and levers which could then be applied to business. Here again, there is no clue as to what precisely are the areas of Indian mythology which could help organisations scale new heights of innovation and creativity.

The second write-up is the review of a book Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself by William C. Taylor, a former editor of Harvard Business Review published in Strategy+Business on May 24.

The title itself makes an extravagant claim to turn management of organisations on its head, by the application of radically practical truths (for improving companies), rules (for creating successful new ventures), and habits (for rethinking one's leadership style and becoming a more effective leader).

"Don't be afraid of rocking the boat, if that is the only way of bringing about radical shifts that represent a direct challenge to convention and a break with the status quo," he says, while remaining realistic about one's ability to make change happen. Got it?

ETERNAL CRAVING

Some of the other quotations from the book are equally inane.

A few examples: "Real business geniuses don't pretend to know everything." "Long-term success is about more than thinking harder than the competition. It's also about caring more than the competition." "Most organisations in most fields suffer from a kind of tunnel vision, which makes it hard to envision a better future."

These are just some vignettes in the inexhaustible list of examples of the eternal and unshakeable craving of exponents and practitioners of the art and science of management for distinguishing themselves by propounding something totally new and different from the terminologies in vogue. Alas, most of them end up with churning out the same old stuff but in words and phrases strung differently to create, most of the time unsuccessfully, an illusion of a conceptual and functional revolution.

With the result, the study of practical aspects relating to decision-making, project management, conflict resolution, getting the best out of negotiation and environmental protection goes by default.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

REFORMS NEED A PUSH

RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

Recently, the Esplanade concert hall in Singapore put up a delectable musical evening featuring Pandits Shiv Kumar Sharma and Hari Prasad Chaurasia who, along with their tabla and pakhawaj accompaniments once again projected to the world at large the cultural excellence of the subcontinent. It is, of course, another matter that the impressive hall was half-empty, which would in all probability not have been the case had Bollywood entertainers occupied the stage. But this is not the point of this column. At the end of the performance, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, with his inimitable sense of humour (which, incidentally, reminds one of the straight-faced Buster Keaton), told the audience — among whom was the President of Singapore, Mr S. R. Nathan, and his wife — that when he was young and about to begin on his life's journey with the flute, he had imagined that there was no India beyond Allahabad, where he was born and grew up. But now, after his many travels spreading the message of Indian culture through the medium of his flute, he had come to discover that India is present everywhere in the world.

Successful abroad

Briefly, what this means is that Indians are to be found in every nook and corner of the planet, which in a way reminds one of an empire in recent world history over which, it is said, the sun never set. That empire, however, was won with the help of muskets and artillery, at least in the subcontinent, which were preceded by traders and merchants working for a private company operating under royal charter. But India today has colonised the world not with the help of arms but with the help of business acumen and a remarkable spirit of entrepreneurship and tenacity, facets which the world has recognised today to such an extent that, in some places, Indian communities have become indispensable in the economies of which they form a part.

The inevitable question that arises is: why cannot Indians, as a community, be equally successful within India itself when they have shown beyond doubt that, as a people, they can match the economic and business strong points of any other group anywhere in the world? Admittedly, this is a much-flogged subject, having been debated no end since 1947 when India became independent and Indians came to be seen as a national community excelling themselves in specific fields while living abroad. So, why bring up this subject once again, especially when it has been discussed threadbare over the past decades?

Briefly again, it is important to focus once again on the policy-shackles binding the Indian Republic because there are firm indications today that, unless one more "big push" — much like the one which Dr Manmohan Singh set in motion in the early 1990s, when he was the Union Finance Minister — towards reforms and a further opening up of the national economy is given by the Government of the day in New Delhi, there is a strong likelihood of the India growth story stagnating in the 7-9 per cent range, which is just not adequate for the country to be truly propelled into the big league among the world's economic powers. Can Dr Singh do an encore, this time as PM?

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

 

CHANNELLING FUNDS BETTER

The new Alternative Investment Fund (AIF) regulation proposed by SEBI succeeds in sorting out the jumbled mess of funds with varied objectives that were bunched together and loosely governed by SEBI's venture capital funds regulations. These regulations, formulated in 1996, did not distinguish among venture capital funds, private equity funds, PIPE (Private Investment in Public Equity) funds, real estate funds and the various other funds that cater to affluent investors. Somewhere along the way, the distinction between these funds blurred, allowing them a broader mandate on the kind of companies they could invest in. This resulted in funds ignoring start-ups and smaller companies that really need capital, and making a beeline for the more promising companies, even listed ones. The proposed regulations address this issue by placing investment restrictions on each type of fund: PE funds should invest only in unlisted companies; PIPE funds in small listed companies that are not part of any stock market index, debt funds in debt of unlisted companies; venture capital funds only in early stage ventures, and so on. These curbs seek to ensure that the funds fulfil their prime objective — making seed capital available to start-ups or meeting requirements of unlisted or smaller listed companies.

But in its zeal to ensure that the smaller companies are not deprived of cash, the regulator may have gone too far, by mandating that such capital cannot be provided to any large- and mid-cap company that is part of any market index. The CNX-500 companies, for instance, account for almost 93 per cent of the market capitalisation of the country's equity market and are front-runners in driving economic growth. This pool of private capital is just as important to the bigger companies to fill the funding gap, especially in an environment of tight liquidity. There are other restrictions that are unnecessary: Asking each fund to seek separate registration as a company, trust or LLP could make operations cumbersome; stipulating that separate funds need to be set up for investing in infrastructure companies, for instance, effectively means that a PE, PIPE or VCF cannot invest in shares of an infrastructure company.

It is also not clear if foreign venture capital investors, who are currently regulated by the Foreign Venture Capital Investors (FVCI) regulation, will also be subject to these stringent investment restrictions. These proposals may have hardly any effect on hedge funds that are largely regulated by overseas jurisdiction and are registered as FIIs. Overall, it would pay to remember that the investment strategies of alternative investment funds are also a function of what their investors want. It is doubtful if mere regulations can ensure investor appetite for unlisted companies or smaller and riskier ventures.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

'INDIA HAS TO ACT FAST ON OIL, GAS IMPORTS FROM IRAN'

RICHA MISHRA

India and Iran trade ties are feeling the strain of Western influence. This threatens to disrupt crude oil imports from Iran. Imports dropped to 18.5 million tonnes last fiscal (from 21 m.t. in the previous fiscal). Mr Seyed Mehdi Nabizadeh, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in an interaction with Business Line says energy (oil and gas) is an important component and India should take certain decisions before it is too late.

On bilateral trade

Our bilateral relations are not based on regional issues alone. There are international aspects, too. There is a certain ambiguity between the two countries on some international issues.

In economic relations, we have witnessed good growth. From $9 billion in the last four years, bilateral trade has reached $14.9 billion. However, last year it declined to $13.3 billion.

Where things went wrong

The banking and financial system plays a big role in economic relations between countries. Through our political and cultural relations, we have tried to boost our economic relations.

Unfortunately, in the last one year there has been some difficulty with India in the banking area.

It is said that the problem is because of the UN resolutions against Iran, but in the same resolutions oil has been exempted from the sanctions. We believe that we can co-operate with India in this.

On the trigger

Some European countries because of the US influence over their banking system have created trouble and this has extended to certain Asian countries as well.

Till last year, we had a very good transaction mechanism with India through ACU (Asian Clearing Union). Unfortunately, ACU has stopped conducting transactions.

This has not only affected ties between Iran and India, but with all the member countries of ACU. We have tried very hard to find ways for transfer of money (clear the oil import debt which Indian refiners owe to suppliers in Iran.

Three or four months ago, the last transaction was done through a German bank. But that also stopped under Western influence. Now, we are routing it through some other countries.

On the mechanism

A month ago, there was a meeting of the officials of the Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of Iran. It was decided that a joint group of these banks will visit some countries and work out a mechanism.

One of the countries was Turkey. Other countries will also be visited in future.

On payment through Turkey

Some part of money has been transferred through Turkey. The Central Bank of Iran has approved the route of transaction. We hope this route will work out. Negotiations with some other countries are under way. So we may not have any problem in exporting oil to India.

On $5-billion debt and oil supplies

When the total debt is too high on an exported item, it is difficult to assure continued supply.

We and the Indian Foreign Ministry are trying our best to ensure assured supply. But the supplier expects money. Most of us wish that the supplies continue.

But if the debt not paid, it will become difficult.

It was initially decided that supplies would be stopped from March.

But after deliberations, supplies were continued. At the last meeting (one month ago), it was decided that supplies would be continued till the end of July. But, given the solution that we have found now, the deadline may be extended.

Currency of transaction

The currency (euro) for transfer of money through Turkey was decided by the banking system of the countries. We will disclose the names of other countries under consideration only when a decision is taken.

We are dealing with countries such as Japan, China, and Korea. Each country has found its solution. We hope India and Iran will also find their mode of payment.

Fuel-swap arrangement

Yes, we can consider this. We are already swapping fuel with some other countries. But, surely, our relations with India are better.

LNG exports (7.5 mtpa deal)

This has become an old issue. An agreement was supposed to be approved by the National Iranian Oil Company, which did not happen. Though this issue is closed, we are discussing investments in South Pars Phase 12. We want to supply gas. However, India should not lose the opportunity. We are talking to other countries, too. Once the opportunity is missed, we cannot supply, even if we want.

FARSI Block

The Indian side has not expressed itself seriously on this. We have had some discussions, but without much success.

Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project

We were having good negotiations. But, suddenly they stopped. The excuse given was security concerns. But India is going ahead with the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. So, here comes the politics.

India should take certain decisions. Energy is an important component for development. Both countries have to work together. It can't be one-way.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

TOWARDS REDUCING FERTILISER SUBSIDY

SHASHANKA BHIDE

India will remain a major consumer of chemical fertilisers; they are critical to raising farm output from limited and declining land resources for agriculture. Subsidies are not needed to promote fertiliser use any more, but only to maintain the balance between farm output prices and input costs. The policy dilemma on whether to opt for higher food subsidies or higher fertiliser subsidies continues.

Higher food subsidy may indeed also mean higher fertiliser subsidy. The challenge is also in untangling the benefits of subsidies between fertiliser production, farm production and feedstock supplies.

The idea of nutrient-based subsidy (NBS), under implementation since since last year, is also based on the possibility of using subsidy to influence balanced application of fertiliser. It may have also sharpened the focus on price incentives in the fertiliser industry, rather than merely subsidies. However, the need for balance between input costs and output prices in agriculture will require subsidies in some form or the other to support farm income.

Subsidy rationalisation, or rather, subsidy reduction in the case of fertilisers, has been on the policy agenda for about two decades. The quintessential dilemmas of fear of international markets, promise of self-reliance, need for raising food production by the small farmers made subsidies necessary.

OUTPUT CONCERNS

Even as they were tied up in the complex retention pricing formula, fertiliser subsidies were integral to the strategy of self-reliance in food production. In effect, the subsidies were also building industrial capacity.

However, the subsidy bill soon came to be seen as increasingly unsustainable. The possibility of more efficient direct payment of subsidies to the farmers seems to suggest that the raising domestic production capacity can be differentiated from fertiliser use in farming in the policy calculus.

The fiscal pressures have finally pushed the balance in favour of more affordable support for domestic production rather than merely raising production capacity at any cost.

Uncertainty over affordable level of subsidy and continuing controls on retail prices held back new investments in domestic fertiliser production. The availability of cheaper feedstock in the form of natural gas is not unlimited.

Domestic production of urea, the main chemical fertiliser used in the country, stagnated between 1999-00 and 2008-09, with some blips along the way. The production rose in the subsequent two years perhaps due to better availability of feedstock. Going forward, domestic production is likely to be influenced far more by availability of feedstock, particularly natural gas.

In the absence of reasonable supplies of this feedstock, subsidies will not lead to more production capacity. The stagnation in production capacity was a reflection of this reality.

The proposed coverage of urea under NBS now would be an important step towards greater conceptual clarity on the system of fertiliser subsidies. It is also culmination of many trends in the economy. The clarity is on the freedom to producers to fix the selling price of urea.

Although initially there will be a cap on retail price increase, the principle that retail prices may not be fixed by policy should provide clearer signals to new investments.

NUTRIENT-BASED POLICY

The NBS will still affect demand for urea and other fertilisers, but there may just be increased competition for a higher share of the fertiliser market.

NBS bill may also balloon high if the production cost of fertilisers rises, or if the distribution costs rise. NBS can also come under political pressure if farm incomes stagnate while input costs rise.

The rising share of imports to meet rising consumption of fertilisers is obviously a reflection of stagnant domestic output. There are many reported efforts by Indian firms to establish production capacity abroad. The flexibility in the new business environment that allows recourse to these options will make subsidy rationalisation easier than before. Capital can be raised more easily and technologies are available more easily.

SUBSIDY CHALLENGE

The many years of debate and discussion on fertiliser subsidies may have led to some rationalisation of the structure of industry in terms of type of feedstock used.

It has also sharpened attention on the need for more balanced use of nutrients. It has drawn attention to increasing the options of direct payment of subsidies to the farmers.

The budgeted level of fertiliser subsidy in 2011-12 is actually less than in the revised estimates for the previous year. But achieving this target when petroleum sector prices remain high would be difficult.

New ways of reducing subsidies are needed. Getting away from assuring a fixed rate of return on investments has been an important departure. The subsidy level now will be what is affordable.

But this is also the problem. There is no good rule for affordable level of subsidy. Greater competition in the fertiliser market is perhaps the only way by which the subsidy bill can be capped. There is a need for transition from tightly controlled market.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

NOT AN AUGUST MONTH

BY INDER MALHOTRA

OVER THE nearly six-and-a-half decades since the tryst with destiny, there have been several Independence anniversaries when the country has been in a sombre mood.

Although the brief but brutal border war with China in 1962 had ended in December of that year, on I-Day eight months later, the humiliation the nation had felt over the military debacle and political disaster had shown no sign of abating.

On August 15, 1975, when the Emergency, declared seven weeks earlier, was in full blast, there was no hiding the nation's despair even though it was inevitably silent. And while Indira Gandhi was delivering a pep talk of sorts from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the prevailing gloom deepened because of the news from Dhaka.

Some disgruntled soldiers had slaughtered Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, and several members of his family. No less heart-rending was the Independence anniversary in 1984 that fell midway between Operation Blue Star and Indira Gandhi's assassination.

Today, just a few days ahead of the ritual rejoicing, the atmosphere may not be as grim as on aforementioned occasions. But gloom is very much there, and, significantly, it is excelled only by anger over the terrible state of the Republic. It is difficult to answer those who are asking: "What is there to celebrate?"

Corruption is nothing new in this country. It has been a part of India's life from times immemorial. But never before has it acquired such gargantuan dimensions. To make matters worse, the limitless loot is accompanied by a decline in the rate of growth and rising inflation, with the greatest impact on the prices of food and other essential commodities.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's own economic advisory council, headed by C. Rangarajan, has stated that the Indian economy is "losing momentum". N. R. Narayana Murthy, the highly respected founder of Infosys, has been even more forthright.

He has told a TV channel that during the last two years and three months after returning to power, the United Progressive Alliance-II has failed to take any major decision on economic reform or policy. He has also endorsed the expert finding that corruption alone has brought down the rate of growth by 1.5 per cent.

What turns the knife in the wound is the irony that this stark failure has followed quickly the Congress-led UPA's famous victory in the May 2009 Lok Sabha elections after which the Manmohan Singh government was expected to give the country a more coherent, competent and cleaner government.

Mr Murthy has very politely pointed out that the "dual leadership" of the ruling dispensation is one of the reasons for the yawning gap between the promise and the performance. Others have not been that courteous. So prestigious an international magazine as the Economist, for instance, has in a recent article described Dr Singh as "a Gandhi family retainer".

I am quoting this regretfully, only to underscore that this is what the bulk of the country believes. Congress loyalists stridently denying this are living — to use Jawaharlal Nehru's words in a different context in 1962 — in "an artificial world of their own making." It is inexplicable why the partnership between the Congress president and the Prime Minister, who have genuine mutual respect and share the same objectives, cannot be more purposeful.

Sadly, it is in such a situation that Mrs Sonia Gandhi has been taken ill, and has found it necessary to appoint a four-member "regency council" that includes — apart from her son and heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi — only defence minister A.K. Antony and two Congress party functionaries, political secretary to the Congress president, Ahmed Patel, and Mrs Gandhi's chief spokesman, Janardhan Dwivedi. The council's composition is already having repercussions on the uneasy equations within the rudderless party and even in the Cabinet.

However belated and involuntary, the arrests of former telecom minister A. Raja, powerful politicians such as Suresh Kalmadi and K. Kanimozhi, and some corporate honchos had enabled the Congress to claim that it was taking firm action against corruption in high places.

The BJP's double standards — carrying out an anti-corruption crusade in Delhi and protecting its own guilty men in Bengaluru — gave the ruling party additional comfort until B.S. Yeddyurappa had to go. Now the boot seems to be on the other foot. The Congress is equally addicted to double standards.

Even before the Lokayukta's report exposing the unimaginable robbery of iron ore in Karnataka was presented, the Congress was demanding that Mr Yeddyurappa must go. But, after the fresh report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) on both the 2G and the Commonwealth Games mega-scams has come in, the ruling party is shouting hoarse that Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit cannot be asked to resign. Surprisingly, the party's spokespersons have added that they had made a "mistake" in sacking then Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan because of the stinking Adarsh Housing scandal in Mumbai!

Both the mainstream parties are tarred with the same brush. Each shuts its eyes on the corruption in its own ranks and calls the other the epitome of this scourge. Reminds me of Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous doctrine enjoining differentiation between "our sons of bitches and their S.O.Bs."

It is this squalid behaviour of the entire political class, irrespective of party affiliations, that has enabled civic society "activists" like Anna Hazare to gather huge public support for even their outlandish and wholly unacceptable demands.

During recent days a faint ray of hope had appeared on the otherwise dark horizon. After the disruption of Parliament practically throughout the Winter Session and on the first two days of the current one, both sides had shown maturity and agreed to let the two Houses function. But, as Independence Day approaches, another bare-knuckle war between the Congress and the BJP seems inevitable.

The reason is the determination of Murli Manohar Joshi, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and a senior BJP leader, to reissue the committee's once rejected report on the 2G scam, and the Congress party's resolve to checkmate him at all costs. What this would do to Parliament is no one's concern.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

NOT AN AUGUST MONTH

 

OVER THE nearly six-and-a-half decades since the tryst with destiny, there have been several Independence anniversaries when the country has been in a sombre mood. Although the brief but brutal border war with China in 1962 had ended in December of that year, on I-Day eight months later, the humiliation the nation had felt over the military debacle and political disaster had shown no sign of abating. On August 15, 1975, when the Emergency, declared seven weeks earlier, was in full blast, there was no hiding the nation's despair even though it was inevitably silent. And while Indira Gandhi was delivering a pep talk of sorts from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the prevailing gloom deepened because of the news from Dhaka. Some disgruntled soldiers had slaughtered Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, and several members of his family. No less heart-rending was the Independence anniversary in 1984 that fell midway between Operation Blue Star and Indira Gandhi's assassination. Today, just a few days ahead of the ritual rejoicing, the atmosphere may not be as grim as on aforementioned occasions. But gloom is very much there, and, significantly, it is excelled only by anger over the terrible state of the Republic. It is difficult to answer those who are asking: "What is there to celebrate?" Corruption is nothing new in this country. It has been a part of India's life from times immemorial. But never before has it acquired such gargantuan dimensions. To make matters worse, the limitless loot is accompanied by a decline in the rate of growth and rising inflation, with the greatest impact on the prices of food and other essential commodities. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's own economic advisory council, headed by C. Rangarajan, has stated that the Indian economy is "losing momentum". N. R. Narayana Murthy, the highly respected founder of Infosys, has been even more forthright. He has told a TV channel that during the last two years and three months after returning to power, the United Progressive Alliance-II has failed to take any major decision on economic reform or policy. He has also endorsed the expert finding that corruption alone has brought down the rate of growth by 1.5 per cent. What turns the knife in the wound is the irony that this stark failure has followed quickly the Congress-led UPA's famous victory in the May 2009 Lok Sabha elections after which the Manmohan Singh government was expected to give the country a more coherent, competent and cleaner government. Mr Murthy has very politely pointed out that the "dual leadership" of the ruling dispensation is one of the reasons for the yawning gap between the promise and the performance. Others have not been that courteous. So prestigious an international magazine as the Economist, for instance, has in a recent article described Dr Singh as "a Gandhi family retainer". I am quoting this regretfully, only to underscore that this is what the bulk of the country believes. Congress loyalists stridently denying this are living — to use Jawaharlal Nehru's words in a different context in 1962 — in "an artificial world of their own making." It is inexplicable why the partnership between the Congress president and the Prime Minister, who have genuine mutual respect and share the same objectives, cannot be more purposeful. Sadly, it is in such a situation that Mrs Sonia Gandhi has been taken ill, and has found it necessary to appoint a four-member "regency council" that includes — apart from her son and heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi — only defence minister A.K. Antony and two Congress party functionaries, political secretary to the Congress president, Ahmed Patel, and Mrs Gandhi's chief spokesman, Janardhan Dwivedi. The council's composition is already having repercussions on the uneasy equations within the rudderless party and even in the Cabinet. However belated and involuntary, the arrests of former telecom minister A. Raja, powerful politicians such as Suresh Kalmadi and K. Kanimozhi, and some corporate honchos had enabled the Congress to claim that it was taking firm action against corruption in high places. The BJP's double standards — carrying out an anti-corruption crusade in Delhi and protecting its own guilty men in Bengaluru — gave the ruling party additional comfort until B.S. Yeddyurappa had to go. Now the boot seems to be on the other foot. The Congress is equally addicted to double standards. Even before the Lokayukta's report exposing the unimaginable robbery of iron ore in Karnataka was presented, the Congress was demanding that Mr Yeddyurappa must go. But, after the fresh report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) on both the 2G and the Commonwealth Games mega-scams has come in, the ruling party is shouting hoarse that Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit cannot be asked to resign. Surprisingly, the party's spokespersons have added that they had made a "mistake" in sacking then Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan because of the stinking Adarsh Housing scandal in Mumbai! Both the mainstream parties are tarred with the same brush. Each shuts its eyes on the corruption in its own ranks and calls the other the epitome of this scourge. Reminds me of Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous doctrine enjoining differentiation between "our sons of bitches and their S.O.Bs." It is this squalid behaviour of the entire political class, irrespective of party affiliations, that has enabled civic society "activists" like Anna Hazare to gather huge public support for even their outlandish and wholly unacceptable demands. During recent days a faint ray of hope had appeared on the otherwise dark horizon. After the disruption of Parliament practically throughout the Winter Session and on the first two days of the current one, both sides had shown maturity and agreed to let the two Houses function. But, as Independence Day approaches, another bare-knuckle war between the Congress and the BJP seems inevitable. The reason is the determination of Murli Manohar Joshi, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and a senior BJP leader, to reissue the committee's once rejected report on the 2G scam, and the Congress party's resolve to checkmate him at all costs. What this would do to Parliament is no one's concern.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A FAKE ENCOUNTER KILLING IS MURDER

The shameful incident in Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir — where a mentally ill civilian was picked up from Rajouri by a special police officer and a Territorial Army jawan and was shot dead in cold blood on the pretext that he was a top Lashkar-e-Tayyaba commander — ironically came to light on Monday when two important judicial pronouncements were made in respect of comparable incidents.

The Delhi High Court upheld the conviction and 10-year term awarded to four BSF jawans for the gangrape of a woman in J&K in 1996. The four have been dismissed from service. The Supreme Court, taking a refreshingly no-nonsense view, was unambiguous that those responsible for fake encounters should be "hanged".

Justice Markandey Katju noted that a fake encounter was cold-blooded murder, which should be in the category of "rarest of rare" as it was committed by persons whose duty was to enforce the law. It is not wholly clear if, in technical terms, the mandate that Justice Katju's strong observation — in the case of a Rajasthan gangster killed by the state police — supplies to judicial officers in the country will be applicable to regions where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in force.

The AFSPA, a case for which can be made, has become contentious precisely because the security forces have in several instances dealt with civilians in an arbitrary manner. If the Indian State means to be even-handed about its citizens everywhere and at all times, then the taking of life by a person in uniform has to be brought within the terms of reference directed by Justice Katju.

Instead of demoralising the police, paramilitary or the Army — the normal argument trotted out by those in authority — such a bold stance would lend a sheen to the meaning of citizenship of India, which is just the issue for several constituencies in J&K and some states in the Northeast. In the Poonch case, the SPO and the Territorial Army jawan have been arrested. But that is hardly enough.

The Army cannot extricate itself by saying it was misled by the SPO and the jawan. Only a day earlier it had claimed a 12-hour gunfight in the forests against an LeT detachment, showed some equipment and a diary recovered from the encounter site, and taken the credit for eliminating a top terrorist commander.

The Army's 16 Corps must now submit the officers concerned to an expeditious inquiry and then send them for trial. It is distressing to see that the Army has learnt few lessons from the torrid summer of 2010 in the Kashmir Valley, where months of violent protests led to a large number of deaths that shook the establishment and brought back memories of the terrible time in the late 1980s when an insurrectionary attempt began.

The trouble was triggered by an incident at Maachil in north Kashmir, which approximates the recent atrocity at Poonch. So was the episode at Pathribal in 2005 similar to what we have seen at Poonch. But the police inquiry into Maachil and a CBI probe into Pathribal have not led to any action against the men in uniform.

Indeed, the Army's operating procedures in J&K have been brought into disrepute by these ugly episodes, and are in urgent need of reappraisal.

It is noteworthy that political outfits in the Valley which so frequently raise the temperature over trifles, have not reacted to what happened in Poonch.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

CREDIT DOWNGRADE IS A POLITICAL ANALYSIS

BY MENZIE D. CHINN & JEFFRY A. FRIEDEN

The US Treasury can cry foul all it wants, but the decision by Standard & Poor's to downgrade America's credit rating by one notch on August 5, and the subsequent plunge in the stock market, are serious symptoms of a loss of confidence — an assessment that is fundamentally political, not economic.

There is little question about the technical ability of America to make good on its debts — but there are grave questions about the political system's ability to resolve the country's financial problems.

The debt-ceiling deal between US President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans merely staved off a crisis of confidence for the moment. It does not address America's immediate need to avoid falling back into recession, or the longer-term need to raise enough revenue to pay for the social spending Americans want. Moreover, the deal sidesteps the fundamental challenge the country now faces: Who will pay to fix what was broken during the past decade by irresponsible tax cuts, ruinously expensive wars, failures of regulation and the resulting housing and financial booms and busts?

In the short term, the plan cuts a bit of discretionary nondefence spending, a category that in fact has not grown particularly rapidly. This is a mistake. With unemployment at 9.1 per cent, and long-term joblessness at record levels, America needs more spending, not less. But the agreement all but rules out new spending to boost the economy, at a dangerous time. The chances of a double-dip recession are growing — and a further slowdown will increase, not reduce, the budget deficit.

The longer-term spending and revenue commitments are no better. Certainly spending, in particular on Medicare and Medicaid, needs to be restrained. But the deficits cannot be reined in without tax increases, and the "framework" does little or nothing in this regard. The S&P decision to downgrade reflects, in large part, the expectation that Republicans will not allow the Bush tax cuts to expire.

The recent skirmishes all dance around the central issue: The United States is in the midst of the world's largest debt crisis. The Treasury now owes the public almost $10 trillion, including $4.5 trillion to foreigners — and that doesn't include what households and companies owe. For decades to come, Americans will face the core problem of every heavily indebted nation: Who will bear the burden of adjustment?

Countries borrow for many purposes: canals and railroads in the 19th century, factories and highways in the 20th, and in the last decade, a housing and financial boom in Europe and America. When the projects don't pan out and the debtor country falls into crisis, what happens to the accumulated debts? Who pays? Creditors or debtors? Workers or investors? Rich or poor? The European Union is tearing itself apart over this question, which divides creditor nations from debtor nations and which divides groups within nations. The American variant of this conflict is just beginning.

Perhaps, some Americans believe, we can shunt the adjustment costs onto foreigners. Indeed, creditors worry that the United States will reduce its debt burden the old-fashioned way, by inflating it away. A few years of moderate inflation, and a weaker dollar, would significantly lessen the real cost of servicing the country's debts — at the creditors' expense.

But adjusting to the reality of America's accumulated debts will inevitably require sacrifices at home. The battle over who will be sacrificing has already begun, albeit under veils of rhetoric. The Republicans seem unconcerned about stimulating recovery, and primarily concerned that none of the long-term costs of balancing the budget be paid by upper-income taxpayers. No surprise: unemployment among the one-third of Americans with the highest incomes is barely four per cent, while for the lowest third it is more than four times that level.

The Democrats, for their part, seem content to insist that the adjustment burden not fall on beneficiaries of government spending, whether public employees or recipients of social spending. This reflects their base in the labour movement, the public sector and the poor.

America lost the first decade of the 21st century by squandering its wealth and borrowing as if there was no tomorrow. We risk losing this decade to an incomplete recovery and economic stagnation.
An economically responsible, politically feasible distribution of the costs of working our way out of the crisis will require higher taxes, a more efficient tax code, and restrained growth of social spending, particularly Medicare. To ignore these realities, and the contentious choices they entail, is merely to postpone the inevitable day of reckoning — and probably to make it worse.

* Menzie D. Chinn, a professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Jeffry A. Frieden, a professor of government at Harvard, are the authors of Lost Decades: The Making of America's Debt Crisis and the Long Recovery

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

CINEMA OF THE SOUL

BY MUZAFFAR ALI

Cinema has become a part of our lives and we watch everything that is heavily publicised — good, bad and the ugly.

In the larger interest of humanity cinema has to be taken to its highest end. There must be a burning desire and a commitment to share a particular passion with the world. Good is a loosely used word, its potential limited to just an acceptable level of goodness.

Very few films have been worth living with, mainly because the maker didn't live with the idea long enough or the idea is not part of the soul's journey!

We need to feel deep within how and why simple things happen. How to take the audience along with you. For instance, Guy Ritchie has a complex structure for a simple plot to compensate for high-end production values. He has fierce, loud, exaggerated characters in high-voltage moments. Cinema becomes an extension of their madness.

Colours and textures are monochromatic and bizarre. The cause and effect come together in the second half of the film, nearer the resolution, almost seeming as if the end is written before the beginning. But it helps to place the first half effectively so that you live more with that than the climax! You leave with a sense of victory of your intelligence, that you discovered it all.

So start with that prophetic style of writing in which a complex and bewildering set-up is intelligently unravelled by a pro-active audience. There is a simple narrative and an intelligent device for telling the same story. In cinema, the possibilities are unlimited.

The screenplay is a game that you play with the intelligence of the audience. You don't say it all, you keep planting clues all along which get resolved in the end. The structure is the innovation and arriving at the end is the miracle.

There is an electrifying and startling relationship between the story and how you tell the story. While you keep it lean, you surprise the audience with the device. Your opening is the way you will unfold your journey. The modern mind is distracted and shallow. It has always been served with a loud, larger-than-life, exaggerated sense of reality, which is unreal not only in history but equally far from an authentic and aesthetic interpretation of the period or the mood of the theme.

The imagination runs amuck on every level, thus never finding a cinematic interpretation to pages from the past.

Writing cinema is art within art with the powerful evolution and interplay of the idea, the story, the unfolding and the writing of sound and movement. The thirsty world needs an inspiring idea. It needs a simple thought visualised and dramatised beyond the realm of imagination.

It needs a continuous conflict; a clash of reality and dreams; of ideas bashing at the gates of imagination; the struggle of the good and the bad. Thus, film writing becoming larger than life. A dream within a dream. Entering into the subconscious. If you die in your dreams you age beyond time.

Today people are living in a virtual reality, therefore, cinema can take that quantum leap in the imagination, which is refreshing and exciting and becomes an edge-of-the-seat experience. Esoteric ideas can be woven into it or it can be based on an esoteric idea. Idea as a devise is a new way of structuring a film to excite the participation of the human mind.

From magic to virtual imagination challenging the laws of nature, the human mind has taken an enormous leap into a realm that confronts science with psychology and psychology with science using simple emotional devices as a peg to hold human relationships and values.

The whole ethos of drama has changed, going beyond fear to enter the extended experience of excitement and realisation beyond time. On the other extreme the whole way of looking at the world is threatening and prepares one for the worst holocaust.

Cinematic writing evolves a new vocabulary in the language of moving images, gives new meaning to the dictionary of cinema, new glossary to dialogue, a new dimension to action and imparts psychology to body language and sensibility to movement.

Nothing happens without a reason. Reason is the biggest cause. It is even beyond the power of humans. When we cannot be humans how can we even ever imagine to be superhuman? Yet, there is a faint reflection of the Almighty in all of us to make us all understand what being human can be all about.

This is the outer end of all positive art, which makes art a prayer.

Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker and painter. He is the executive director and secretary of the Rumi Foundation. He can be contacted at www.rumifoundation.in

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

A TIMELY ALERT ON DEFENCE LAXITY

BY SUMIT GANGULY

Last week, a former national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra, delivered the first K. Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture for the Global India Foundation in New Delhi. Mr Mishra, a plain-spoken individual, did not mince his words about the problems confronting India's national security. He correctly argued that India had failed to transcend the region and its two long-standing adversaries had sought to hem it in. He also had harsh words for India's dilatory defence procurement procedures arguing that their pace would ensure that the sought-after equipment would face obsolescence when actually inducted into the armed forces.

It is easy to dismiss his critique as the sentiments of a former senior official with allegiance to another political party. Such a dismissal, however, would be faulty. It needs to be remembered that despite some initial reservations, at a crucial moment during the negotiation of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement, Mr Mishra broke ranks and supported the UPA's position on the matter. Consequently, it is obvious that he remains an independent-minded individual whose criticisms, though biting, may have to be taken seriously.

India does confront a multiplicity of threats and has yet to forge a coherent national security doctrine and acquire the requisite capabilities to deal with them. Instead it has chosen to react to specific events both within and on its borders and then rushed to meet the emergent challenges. Such a strategy does not behove a country that has global ambitions and will ill serve it in the years ahead.

In his address, Mr Mishra identified a number of key gaps in India's defence preparedness and national security strategy. Beyond those that he highlighted, what are the key threats that the country faces and how might it deal with them?

Without question India faces, at least, two internal security challenges. First, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated some time ago, the resurgence of the Naxalites poses the greatest threat to India's internal order. According to most reliable estimates, they now afflict some 200 districts across the country. Yet, despite much public discussion and hand wringing, no nationwide strategy has been formulated, let alone implemented, to tackle this growing menace.

Second, the country is now also witnessing the growth of home-grown Islamic radicalism manifested in the emergence of the Indian Mujahideen. Obviously, this organisation constitutes a minuscule minority within India's vast Muslim community. However, some form of deep disaffection with the Indian state that afflicts elements of the community has helped spawn this organisation. Yet, apart from identifying this group as the culprit behind several acts of domestic terror, it is far from clear that the government has undertaken any systematic effort to ascertain why some members of India's largest minority community have turned to the siren call of radical Islam.

Beyond these two obvious threats to internal security, as Mr Mishra correctly identified, both Pakistan and the People's Republic of China (PRC) remain as intransigent as ever. Yet political commentators and policymakers alike keep looking for stray straws in the wind, which might suggest a lessening of their hostility. Such efforts inevitably involve seizing upon occasional statements that have a conciliatory ring, moments of expedient cooperation and the soothing aura of particular personalities. Sadly, far too few individuals within India's foreign and security policy circles seem to grasp the simple fact that all of these elements are fundamentally fleeting. Statements of cooperative intent can be withdrawn at will, occasional moments of agreement at multilateral forums reflect exigent needs and personalities, however attractive, cannot transcend long-standing policies which are fundamentally inimical to India's national security interests.

Such a recognition does not mean the adoption of a stance of equally unyielding hostility. However, it does call for a sober, careful vetting of the actual behaviour of India's two principal adversaries through the provision of robust intelligence capabilities. It also requires a defence procurement process that ensures that the country can swiftly acquire the requisite capabilities to both deter and, if necessary, defend against threats that loom on the horizon. Obviously, against the PRC, the principal threats to Indian security will remain mostly in the conventional realm — along its northern border and increasingly along the Indian Ocean littoral. Despite this awareness, governments have moved with timidity and hesitation to address these emergent threats. Indian government has, on occasion, even cancelled naval exercises with the US, Australia and Singapore for fear of piquing the PRC. Such pusillanimity ill-serves India's national security interests.

The threat from Pakistan, as the horrific Lashkar-e-Tayyaba attack on Mumbai demonstrated in 2008, will remain asymmetric for the foreseeable future. Even though this is common knowledge the country has yet to adequately bolster security along its long-exposed coastline; it has paid insufficient attention to the gathering of intelligence and has not fully stood up the post-26/11 National Investigation Agency. Yet, it can be predicted with some certainty that in the wake of another terrorist attack emanating from Pakistan there will be no dearth of finger-pointing and recriminations for having failed to plug India's internal security gaps.

Finally, even though Mr Mishra did not explicitly deal with the matter in his speech, India's nuclear weapons programme also appears adrift. Apart from the bromide about a quest for "minimum deterrence" the necessary institutional and organisational infrastructure for embedding the country's nuclear arsenal is still missing. Furthermore, some weapons programmes associated with India's nuclear arsenal seem to be proceeding mostly on the basis of a technological-scientific-bureaucratic momentum without sufficient regard for their strategic consequences. Specifically, it appears that the country has undertaken a significant effort to acquire ballistic missile defence (BMD) capabilities without recognising how an adversary might fashion cheap but highly effective counter-measures designed to thwart the benefits that might accrue from the acquisition of BMD.

Mr Mishra, a distinguished foreign service officer, who after his retirement returned to serve his country as the national security adviser, has sounded a timely tocsin about the challenges and dangers that the country must countenance. It would be a pity if his counsel is ignored.

* Sumit Ganguly is director of research at the Centre on American and Global Security at Indiana University, Bloomington, US

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

REDDYS' EXCLUSION BREWING TROUBLE

Aug. 8: Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda may finally have his cabinet but the exclusion of the powerful Reddy brothers of Bellary and the dissident BJP group led by former minister Balachandra Jarkiholi, is likely to unleash fresh trouble for the ruling party sooner than later.

Realising that he cannot afford to antagonize any section of BJP legislators at this juncture after warding of a powerful challenge form the Shettar camp, Mr Sadananda Gowda may go in for a second expansion on Thursday itself, said sources. In the second round, the Chief Minister is likely to induct 6-8 new faces to his team by giving equal representation to the Reddy and Jarkiholi groups besides two members each from the Yeddyurappa and Shettar camp, sources said.

On Monday, Mr Sadananda Gowda reportedly faced tremendous pressure from the Reddy brothers to induct G. Karunakara Reddy and B. Sriramalu into the cabinet. Former tourism minister Janardhan Reddy told senior leaders that he was not interested in being inducted but wanted Karunakar Reddy and Sriramalu to be included. The Chief Minister refused saying they had been indicted by the Lokayukta in his report on illegal mining, sources said. If Mr Sriramalu and Karunakar Reddy do not make it in the second round, two of their close associates, M.S. Somalingappa and Anand Singh would get Cabinet berths, sources said.

From the Jarkiholi faction, Mr Jarkiholi and Anand Asnotikar are expected to get Cabinet berths. Mr Jarkiholi told Deccan Chronicle that party state president K.S. Eshwarappa had promised to induct them in the next expansion slated for Thursday. The others aspiring for berths in the second round are B. Suresh Gowda from Tumkur Rural, D.N. Jeevaraj from Sringeri, M. Srinivas from Rajarajeshwari Nagar and C.P. Yogeshwar from Chennapatna, all part of the BSY camp and C.T. Ravi, S.K. Bellubi and Varthur Prakash of the Shettar camp. If Karunakar Reddy and Sriramulu fail to make it, the Shettar camp may demand a bigger share of Cabinet berths, the sources added.

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

BENGAL'S BADLANDS

STATE CAN'T RETREAT TOTALLY

IT reflects poorly on the present regime in West Bengal that was swept to power overwhelmingly on the Left's failure on the land question. Quite the most critical recommendation of the committee headed by Mr D Bandopadhyay, an authority on land reforms since the heyday of Jyoti Basu, is set to be given the short shrift by the Trinamul government. Chiefly, that a regulatory authority must fix the minimum price to forestall "coercion by big money", private players or land-sharks, if you will. The Group of Ministers, an embroidery that appears to have been borrowed from the Centre, has verily turned down this safeguard, as elementary as it is essential. It is one thing to put in place a market economy with minimal state intervention; quite another to do away with a regulatory authority and permit a free market that will only allow the investor to dictate the terms of transaction.
  The government cannot retreat totally from its fundamental responsibility to the peasantry. This is rank distortion of neo-liberalism. Land had turned out to be the Achilles' heel of the CPI-M, with a devastating impact on what it called its new economic policy and also, of course, its political fortunes. And the risk of the Trinamul Congress agenda foundering on mati is substantial if the safety valve is not in place. The emotive chant will sound hypocritical with the free rein and long rope to the buyer/investor that the GoM report envisages. And the free rein will spell chaos in the countryside of a degree that may be no less sinister than what Bengal had witnessed over Singur and Nandigram.

Suffice it to caution that if the farmer feels shortchanged, he cannot be expected to be muted in his response. Just as he was up in arms against the CPI-M's move to acquire land forcibly and make the transaction palatable to the investor and consciously enough, not the peasantry. The rest is history. To put it bluntly, as we must, the Group of Ministers has taken an ill-advised and potentially catastrophic call on the D Bandopadhyay committee's report. Why was it appointed and then ignored on the crux of the matter? The ball is in the Chief Minister's court. She more than anyone else knows how vital the land acquisition question was to her political fortunes; she must ensure that this vital recommendation is not spurned.

GUNS NOT ENOUGH

FOR PRIVATE SECURITY UPGRADE

OVER-SIMPLIFIED to a potentially dangerous degree is the proposal being processed by the home ministry to permit private security agencies to make bulk purchases of quality firearms ~ albeit not as sophisticated as automatic rifles ~ and issue them to their staff. Sure there is a valid case for arming persons performing duties of that nature, but that should be seen as closer to the end, rather than the beginning, of an upgrade process. Using a weapon calls for much training, discipline and care to ensure there is no "collateral damage": sadly, few of the private firms seem prepared to spend the money required to raise the standard of their human resources to the level at which equipping them with firearms would be both effective and safe. The attitude of those agencies can be gauged from their present (less than legal) tendency to engage persons who have personal licensed weapons and allow them to display them on duty ~ generally single-barrelled (occasionally double-barrelled) shotguns that rural folk acquire for crop protection. Much of the time the guns appear to be dirty, not oiled for months, and the ammunition well past the "best before" date. And when the last time the guard had some target practice is a matter for conjecture. That apart, do the firms have the managerial systems to constantly monitor and keep account of the weapons and ammunition they issue, will they set up proper strong-rooms to keep the weapons secure? The possibility of a security guard absconding and misusing his weapon to settle personal scores is not to be discounted. So also is the scope for criminals or would-terrorists duping or overpowering a guard to make off with his weapon.

There can be no disputing the need for improved security at private offices, schools, hospitals, factories, markets etc; the police are too overstretched to provide such cover. It remains a matter for much regret that there has been neither any official supervision of the quality of the services rendered by private agencies, nor indeed a genuine effort to dovetail their functioning into the larger local/national policing exercise; as recent events in Kolkata showed some even function without a licence. No regulations appear in place, certainly none are enforced, even regarding their uniforms ~ some closely resemble what is sported by commando units of the official security forces. Unless all that is ensured, any permission for bulk purchase/issue of firearms to private security personnel would indeed be playing with fire.

A GOOD BEGINNING

SINCERITY OF BOTH CENTRE AND ULFA ON TEST

IF the formal talks between the Centre and Ulfa leaders are to make any significant progress there has to be a display of conciliatory gestures by both sides, taking into consideration the ground realities. Also, both sides have to descend to a level where there are neither winners nor losers. In the first round last week, Ulfa leaders submitted their charter of demands which, among others, include preservation of indigenous people's identity and protection of their culture and rights, even if by amending the Constitution, implying that they are prepared to settle their demands within the constitutional framework. More time will be needed to shape the peace package but Ulfa's proposal, that only talks circumscribed by a time-frame can determine the outcome, will be widely shared because no one would like talks to go the Nagaland way ~ no breakthrough despite 13 years of negotiations.

Ulfa "foreign secretary" Sashadhar Chaudhury's reported remark that "sovereignty does not mean secession from India" seems to echo that of the now elusive self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua who, in 2004, said: "We are asking for a discussion on sovereignty… it does not mean granting the same." If this is the case, one wonders why Barua should not join his colleagues. As of now, he has condemned the charter of demands submitted to the Centre as "against the Ulfa's aims and objectives". He is said to have cited a provision in the Ulfa's "constitution" that if a leader is arrested or detained by the enemy camp he loses his credentials until he rejoins the group, suggesting Ulfa chief Arabinda Rajkhowa can no longer claim to be the leader. Even if the Rajkhowa team signs an accord with the Centre there will be little prospect of lasting peace returning to Assam.

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

DEMOCRACY OF THE PROLETARIAT! 

ANTIDOTE TO GLOBAL CRISIS…

RAJINDER PURI


Downgrading America's creditworthiness has sent shivers across the world. The world was already reeling from the economic meltdown. The experts are having a field day. They had blamed bankers for the meltdown. They are blaming US politicians for the downgrading. The experts are right as far as they go. They don't go far enough. Never blindly trust the experts. They have an enormous amount of information. But information is not knowledge. Information must be collated to make a wise choice. The experts seem to be missing the wood for the trees. It is not enough to blame bankers and politicians. The world requires genuine reform of the system. The experts have offered no convincing proposals to reform the system.


Globalization has rendered feasible and imperative revolutionary reform of the system. Karl Marx was right and he was wrong. He was right in identifying human greed as the self-destructive streak in capitalism. He was wrong in offering dictatorship of the proletariat as a solution. Marx under-estimated the strength of democracy to cater to the aspirations of the people. The revolutionary fire of workers during early capitalism was defused by the upward mobility of labour. Recall the vulgar chant in Britain which summed this up: 'The working class can kiss my ar*e, because I have become the foreman at last!' Capitalists preferred to increase wages and reduce profit in order that their businesses continued to grow.


Marx dreamt of a global revolution. He was too far ahead of his time. Today technology has made possible a global revolution. The Internet has created a global community. Its search engines have given laymen access to information that was earlier confined to experts. On the basis of such information even laymen can search for solutions. As a layman entirely ignorant of economic theory, I have my own proposal for economic reform. My solution is the creation of a system that gives the world not dictatorship but democracy of the proletariat.
First, let us recall some basic facts. Globalization has rendered the economy a thousand fold bigger than in the early days of capitalism. It has made monsters out of capitalists who straddle the world to devour profits, control media and fund politicians. Today the dominant economic axis is between America and China. Cheap Chinese labour, Chinese efficiency and big American capital, advanced western technology, got together to create the current situation. America spent far beyond its means. It created its huge foreign debt that led to the current crisis of US creditworthiness. The outstanding US public debt on 6 August 2011 was just over $14.5 trillion. The population of the United States is estimated at 311,072,294. By these figures each US citizen's share of this debt is $46,847.80!


How did this horrendous debt come into being? China advanced credit to America by buying US Treasuries to keep the partnership going. As a result America is a huge debtor to China. But is that a fact? Take a look at some figures. Of the total US debt all foreign countries combined own $4.5 trillion. Americans own $9.8 trillion! American capital has substantial ownership of foreign based companies. Thus while the American nation may suffer from the country's huge foreign debt, American tycoons having a cozy relationship with various foreign governments continue to thrive. For the biggest corporate sharks the world is their oyster. They have no commitment to any nation, least of all to the ones in which they are based. Their driving force is personal profit. That is what globalization driven by the Murdochs and Kissingers has done to the capitalist system.


The largest foreign creditor to the US is China which owns only 8 per cent of the total US debt. But the Federal Reserve Board, in other words the big bankers, own 11.3 per cent of the US debt. So America owes foreigners about $4.5 trillion in debt. But America owes America $9.8 trillion. So who are the villains responsible for this crisis? Obviously the bad big bankers of American finance capital and the bad big brothers of Beijing's communism are the villains. There is little to choose between them. They wallow in profit, luxury, corruption and undeserved income while their respective subjects struggle to survive.


What is the solution? When a crisis confronts societies two options present themselves. One is to have less democracy; the other is to have more democracy. Almost invariably vested interests opt for less democracy. Almost invariably what is required is more democracy. That is how things are today. I have often advocated the introduction of full-fledged industrial democracy. There is need for a workers' sector of the economy in which employees share ownership, management and profit, and democratically elect professional management accountable to them. The establishment of this sector should in no way disturb the present dispensation of public and private units of industry. Let the three sectors ~ public, private and workers' ~ compete in the market.


I believe the same experiment should be extended to banking. Banks can be established in which every depositor of a modest stipulated amount would automatically become part owner of the bank and partake of its profits. Let the mass of mini-capitalists compete in the open market against the monstrous mega-capitalists who have created the current global economic mess. Unless some such drastic reform is introduced the prospect of reforming capitalism remains bleak. Common people little understand the esoteric wisdom of the world's great economic experts. They better appreciate the simple wisdom of Mr Micawber, Charles Dickens' character in David Copperfield. What was Mr Micawber's advice? 'Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.' A great pity all the wise experts in Washington did not follow this simple advice.
The writer is a veteran journalist  and cartoonist

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

ENDORSING PRINCIPLES

PROPOSALS MADE BY THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR PEOPLE'S RIGHT TO INFORMATION TO TACKLE CORRUPTION WARRANT ATTENTION, WRITES BHARAT DOGRA

RECENT times have witnessed intense debates on anti-corruption measures in India, but the arguments are often so divisive that those who were once very sincerely interested in effective solutions become confused and uncertain. One way to dispense with these confusions is to first agree on some guiding principles and then discuss solutions based on these principles.

The National Campaign for People's Right to Information recently prepared a set of such principles for formulating anti-corruption and grievance-redressal measures in the country. The NCPRI played a leading role in the enactment of a strong Right To Information law in India and its recent exercise is in keeping with its valuable contribution earlier on transparency and related issues.

While some of the anti-corruption proposals it has made are more specific to the national context, the guiding principles formulated by this campaign have a much wider relevance. Similarly, the grievance-redressal mechanisms worked out by the NCPRI have a much wider relevance for other democracies.
Its guiding principles say that anti-corruption institutions must be financially, administratively and legally independent of those whom they are called upon to investigate and prosecute. These institutions must be given adequate powers and resources to both investigate complaints and ensure the effective prosecution of cases.
At the same time, each anti-corruption institution must itself be accountable in the same manner that it seeks to make other institutions accountable. The functioning of these anti-corruption institutions and authorities must also be transparent. In particular, appointments to these institutions must be done transparently and in a participatory manner. These institutions must be free and impartial to both the complainant and the accused and ensure the honest are not harassed.

While creating new institutions may be needed or even be essential, given the inadequacy of the existing anti-corruption institutions, the tendency should not be to dismantle and destroy the existing arrangements but, instead, to initiate reforms and add new institutions only for clearly defined roles. Initial complaints must lie with each public authority, and they must be given an opportunity for reform. To this should be added the provision of appeals to new independent bodies.

Each institution should be of a manageable size with clearly defined tasks, with no single institution becoming so large that its effective management and control constitute a new and serious problem. Circularity of the kind in which various institutions find themselves overseeing each other's functioning and integrity should be avoided as far as possible.

Anti-corruption institutions should be accompanied by a strong grievance-redressal mechanism. Such a system reaching the remotest places should be of a decentralised nature, moving from bottom to top. The creation of the infrastructure of such a system should be preceded by citizens' charters of various public authorities that will comprehensively codify the entitlements of citizens — in terms of service delivery as well as democratic rights. Social audits of government expenditure and contracts, policies and programmes should be regularly conducted in a democratic way with the participation of people. The findings of social audits can then be linked to the grievance-redressal system.

Based on these guiding principles, the NCPRI has come up with a package of specific proposals to fight corruption. These include enacting some new laws and creating some new institutions, but in addition this also includes strengthening existing institutions and amending those laws that are already under Parliament's  consideration.

More specifically, the proposals call for the setting up of a Lokpal anti-corruption commission at the Centre to cover the Prime Minister, ministers, members of parliament and Class "A" officers. At the state-level, Lokayukta anti-corruption commissions will be set up to cover complaints relating to chief ministers, ministers, legislators, members of legislative councils, councillors and senior officers. In both cases, anyone who happens to be a co-accused will also be covered.

Second, the NCPRI calls for the amendment of the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill, which is already under Parliament's consideration, to ensure the accountability of the higher judiciary.

A third proposal calls for the strengthening of the Central Vigilance Commission and that it bring under its purview all officers not covered under the Lokpal Bill. At the same time an independent State Vigilance Commission will be set up in all the states.

It calls for the enactment of an effective law to protect whistleblowers and those who use Right To Information. The NCPRI has also mentioned the possibility of umbrella legislation that can simultaneously introduce all these changes.

The writer is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FAKE KIND

 'ENCOUNTER' DEATHS IN JUNGLEMAHAL ARE OSTENSIBLY FAKE, SAYS RANJIT SUR, YET GOVERNMENTS COULDN'T CARE LESS

THE Supreme Court has ordered a CBI enquiry into the death of Maoist leader Azad. His party and rights organisations alleged he was murdered in a fake encounter by the Andhra police. Mamata Banerjee, too, raised her voice in protest and demanded proper enquiry at a public meeting in Junglemahal before the assembly election.

Except Chatrodhar Mahato, almost all the important leaders of the Lalgarh movement, as the Adivasi uprising of Junglemahal is known, faced the same dire consequences. According to a statement issued by the erstwhile Left Front dispensation all of them died in encounters in the jungles. Leaders like Lalmohan Tudu, Sidhu Soren, Umakanta Mahato, Shoshodhar Mahato and many others died as a result of "encounters" with the joint forces in west Midnapore's Lalgarh region. The People's Committee against Police Atrocities, in a written statement, complained that Tudu, the president of the committee, was killed at point blank range by the joint forces while he was returning home after meeting his daughter, a Madhyamik examinee. Soren, likewise, was killed along with four other militiamen while asleep in the jungle at Metala.

Umakanta Mahato was allegedly captured by CPI-M activists, handed over to the joint forces and was eventually killed. Seven young CPI (Maoist) squad members were killed in the jungles in Ranjja while asleep. Their bodies were carried hanging from bamboo poles, the sight of which created huge resentment among locals.
The last "encounter death" in Lalgarh, just before the election campaign kicked off, was that of Shoshodhar Mahato, the younger brother of Chatrodhar — the PCPA spokesperson now in jail. After identifying his brother's body, Chatrodhar issued a statement claiming that Shoshodhar was killed in a fake encounter. He also claimed that his brother was killed by the joint forces after being captured from his hideout.
An Association for Protection of Democratic Rights fact-finding team, too, claimed that bullet injuries and the condition of the deceased's body and arms prove that there was no encounter in the true sense and that he was killed in a fake encounter. Expectedly, the police authorities and the state government claimed that Shoshodhar was killed in a genuine encounter and refused to order an enquiry.

Actually, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government never ordered an enquiry after an "encounter" death. The PCPA has published a list of "martyrs" in the Lalgarh movement and of the 94 names enlisted up to as late as August 2010, 45 persons are shown as killed by the joint forces or the state police forces in fake encounters. Not a single encounter provoked an enquiry.

The National Human Rights Commission has ordered that every "encounter death" should be reported within 48 hours and every such incident should be investigated by an independent organisation.
The Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Article 21 demand full and impartial investigation into every case of "encounter death". Yet the state government couldn't bother less. The most heinous crime, though, was that the families of the deceased weren't allowed to take the bodies for the last rites.
The government claimed that the families never demanded the bodies in the first place, although APDR investigations subsequently revealed that family members of the dead were threatened with dire consequences if they dared to collect the bodies. Even the post-mortem reports were not issued.

Bengal has a new government, but the chief minister is still silent over the issue. The people of Junglemahal and rights activists across the state expect Banerjee to announce a thorough investigation into all the cases of "encounter deaths", mete out exemplary punishment to the culprits and announce due compensation for the families of victims.

The writer is a secretariat member of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

WORDS OF CONDEMNATION MUST BE ACTED ON

 

WORDS, words, words. Bashar al-Assad knows his Hamlet, and he is not impressed. Yes, his isolation grows daily. A day after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia pulled his ambassador out of Damascus, the Kuwaitis and Bahrainis – we shall naturally ignore, here, Bahrain's own bloody internal suppression – have dutifully followed his example.


The Arab League believes Bashar should "immediately stop" the violence. The UN has roared, though it managed to smear Syria's protesters by calling for both sides "to exercise restraint" – as if the demonstrators had tanks – and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has talked grimly of Bashar's "fate". Even Turkey, according to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has "run out of patience". A Turkish "safe haven" in the north of Syria, anyone?


The trouble is that everyone has been running out of patience with Syria since the spring, and no one has done more than turn up the rhetoric as the statistics of innocent dead ticked up from 500 to 1,000 to more than 2,000. And of course the absence of journalists inside Syria means that the full story is not known.
Syrian television has shown gunmen among demonstrators in Hama, while nightly I watch Syrian state television recording the funerals of dozens – now perhaps 300 – soldiers. Who killed them? Who are the gunmen? YouTube is a dodgy witness to history but there can be little doubt that, faced with state violence on such a scale, civilians have armed themselves to protect their families, to take revenge on the regime, to keep the Syrian militias out of their cities.


And the Assad family, cynical as it is, enacting legislative reform while killing those who might benefit from the new laws, fully understands the hypocrisy of the Arab and European reaction to the Syrian bloodbath. Had David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barak Obama stopped short after they saved Benghazi – had they reined in their juvenile enthusiasm for destroying Muammar Gaddafi – they may have had the spittle (I use Sir Thomas More's word for courage) and the munitions to destroy some of Assad's 8,000 tanks. That massive fleet of armour, one should add, was paid for by the Syrian people in order to be protect Syria from Israel – not to protect the regime from the Syrians themselves.


William Hague – who once childishly believed Gaddafi was en route to Venezuela – has been waffling on about how little the West can do to stop Assad. This is rubbish. Britain's RAF bases in Cyprus are infinitely closer to Syria than to Libya. Had we prevented the bloodbath in Benghazi and left the Libyans to their civil war, we might have found a public opinion strong enough to stomach an assault on the Assad legions. But no, Libya has oil, Syria has little and – despite all the roaring from the Arabs – most of the dictators, in Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain, in the rest of West Asia, would still prefer a "reformed" Assad to freedom, dignity and liberty for his people. The Israelis don't want regime change in Damascus.  Do the Americans?


You only have to compare Obama's reaction to the massacre in Norway and to the infinitely larger bloodshed in Syria. He described how the Norwegian killings "broke his heart". Yet the slaughter of far more innocents in Syria merely elicits the idea that the USA can live without Assad if he goes. There are plenty of Anders Behring Breiviks among the Syrian Shabiha murderers in Syria – but no Western leaders to mourn their handiwork. Assad knows this. And don't be fooled by the tears pouring forth from the Keeper of the Three Holy Places.
Any sane Arab, Muslim – "or anyone who knows that this has nothing to do with religion, ethics or morals", in the words of King Abdullah – knows that spilling innocent blood leads to hopelessness. We might be more impressed were it not for the fact that the Saudis and their tame imams remained resolutely silent when a million and a half Muslims were slaughtered on the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war battlefields.
Back then, of course, the Saudis – and the West – were on the side of that nice Sunni Muslim dictator, Saddam Hussein, against the horrible Shia theocrat, Ayatollah Khomeini. Now the Sunnis of Syria are fighting the Shia – for which read Alawite – dictator of Damascus. Having convinced themselves that his survival would only embolden Shia Iran, however, the monarch of Riyadh has come down on the side of the Syrian people – for now, at least.


Assad is almost certainly doomed. But he's more like Macbeth, "in blood stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go'er".


the independent

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

FOLLOWING FORM

NOW OR NEVER?

The idea that government wastes vast amounts of money through inefficiency and sloth is a popular delusion, said a veteran journalist; it takes elaborate planning and a considerable amount of effort to waste those sums of money. The newest idea from Indian leaders — dual pricing of diesel to prevent luxury car owners to benefit from subsidized diesel prices — will prove that. The objective behind the subsidy itself is seemingly sensible: to benefit farmers and agriculture using diesel pumpsets for irrigation, for trucks that transport huge quantities of goods across the country (and yet keep them affordable to all) and for mass public transport for poor people, like railways and buses. But the subsidy has also led to a mushrooming demand for diesel cars from India's increasingly affluent middle class. The finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, acknowledged that in perceptual terms at the very least, it posed a problem; diesel cars, he told Parliament, accounted for 15 per cent of total diesel usage. The diesel subsidy will account for Rs 52,365 crore in this financial year (2011-12). And owners of diesel engine cars will pay Rs 7,854 crore less in fuel costs, an amount they could well afford to pay. The debate about who should benefit from subsidies — and whether they should be done away with altogether — is a politically charged one, with too many vested interests at stake.

But dual pricing — subsidizing some, while excluding others — is flawed at the core: the scope for large-scale corruption and black-marketeering is high. Implementation will be enormously difficult. Ending the subsidy will only add to India's biggest economic problem of controlling inflation. An estimate by Citibank early this year suggested that market prices for diesel will raise inflation as measured by the wholesale price index, already at 9 per cent, by 3.4 percentage points. Imposing a higher tax on diesel cars can be part of the solution, but will make auto manufacturers very unhappy. Taxes are a big chunk of fuel prices — nearly 40 per cent — so moving to the goods and services tax could be another solution, but state governments will have to buy in, making that a long-term solution. But the government cannot ignore the problem of fuel subsidies anymore, and has to come up with a calibrated approach to meet its commitment of freeing fuel prices and reducing the very large subsidy bill.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

 

LOST HORIZON

An unusually long spell in power may leave a political party rather disoriented. The confusion gets worse when the party finds itself out of power. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) seems to be still too demoralized by its loss of power in West Bengal to think coherently of the road ahead. The party's central committee met in Calcutta apparently to find ways for a revival not only in Bengal but also at the national level. If any such way was found, there was no hint of it in the remarks made by Prakash Karat, the CPI(M) general-secretary. It was difficult to see what lessons the party had taken from its massive defeat in Bengal. The reasons the party cited for the defeat are at best half-truths. Underlying this refusal to face the reality is the CPI(M)'s inability to change and adapt itself to a fast-changing world. The party is thus still bound to its opposition to economic reforms in general and to the opening of banking, insurance and the retail trade to foreign investors in particular. It is the same outdated approach to issues of governance that prompted Mr Karat and his loyalists in the politburo to oppose the civilian nuclear deal between India and the United States of America and to withdraw support to the United Progressive Alliance government in 2008.

Clearly, Mr Karat presides over a crisis in the party that is largely his own making. But the bigger problem that the party faces has much to do with its ideology and programme. It remains wedded to the socialist economic model which has been discarded everywhere, including China. Its Stalinist organization makes it a misfit in democratic politics. But such fundamental issues are unlikely to be discussed at the party's next congress. The inability to address these issues makes the CPI(M) a prisoner of its own contradictions. The result is a situation in which the party continues to talk of a "people's democratic revolution" in its programme and, at the same time, struggles to make use of the parliamentary system. The confusion has always shown in the party's dilemma about joining a coalition government at the Centre. It is possible that the next party congress will endorse Mr Karat's line of building a "third alternative" to replace the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party at the national level. That would be a sure recipe for further irrelevance of the party. The only hope for the CPI(M) is to try and reinvent itself under a new leader.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

POLICY PARALYSIS

SMALL MEASURES CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE TO THE ECONOMY BHASKAR DUTTA

The cliché of the month is 'policy paralysis'. As I write this, hardly a day goes by without newspapers carrying some news item about public discontent with government inaction. The vast majority of people believe that the United Progressive Alliance government has been completely ineffective in dealing with a whole host of problems confronting the Indian economy, that it is either unwilling or incapable of taking any initiative in enacting much-needed reforms that would ensure that the rate of growth of the economy reaches the magic figure of 10 per cent.

After a long time — some would say much too long — the government decided to take the bull by the horns, and attempt to correct the public perception. The prime minister met a group of editors of leading newspapers in an attempt to convince them that the public perception is misguided, at least partly because of the bad press received by the government. The finance minister has also held at least one press conference in order to present the government's case that it has actually been not as inactive as has been portrayed in the press. More recently, Pranab Mukherjee met various corporate leaders and outlined the government's intention to present several pieces of legislation in the current session of Parliament.

Does the government really have a point? Is this a situation where the glass is actually half full but newspapers claim that it is at least half empty, and a somewhat pessimistic public have exaggerated this to mean that the glass is almost empty?

Unfortunately, the case for the government looks pretty bleak because even the prime minister's economic advisory council has now stated in its Economic Outlook for 2011-12 that the government seems disinclined to initiate new policies, so much so that the economy has lost momentum. The PMEAC has scaled down the projected rate of growth to 8.2 per cent. This is, of course, quite a respectable figure by most standards — most of the world's largest countries would love to be able to achieve even half this rate of growth. But what is important is to realize is that most people had predicted significantly higher rates of growth only a short while ago. Clearly, there are storm clouds hovering over the economy, and most people feel that the government is in denial.

Perhaps, the seeming inability or disinclination of the government to tackle rampaging corruption has been the biggest blow to the government's reputation. It was common knowledge that huge amounts of public money were misappropriated from expenditures associated with the Commonwealth Games. Similarly, there was an overpowering stench emanating from the entire process through which the 2G spectrum licences were awarded. Unfortunately, other than empty rhetoric, the Central government has not taken any concrete steps to convince us that it means business in so far as controlling the level of corruption is concerned.

The UPA government can also be legitimately accused of other acts of omission. Despite coming back to power two years ago, it does not have a single major piece of legislation to its credit. Neither can it claim to have implemented most of the major targets set by itself. For instance, there is a glaring gap between targets and achievements in the infrastructure sector — a sector which is crucially important if double digit rates of overall growth are to be reached.

The UPA government in its earlier incarnation could rightfully claim to have passed at least one piece of landmark legislation — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Although several critics of this Act allege (rightly) that this Act has resulted in large leakages, it has been a giant and welcome blow in support of social intervention in favour of the poor. Actions of this kind are also somewhat easier to implement because they are politically popular — no political party can afford to oppose reforms of this kind. In fact, some even claim that the UPA coalition won the 2009 elections largely because of this Act. The current government had — and still has — the opportunity to pass similar legislation in the form of the Right to Food Act. Unfortunately, it has been hamstrung because it suffers from parallel centres of power. In particular, the National Advisory Council, headed by Sonia Gandhi no less, and various administrative wings of the government have had crucial differences over what is appropriate and what is feasible. Draft bills and modifications have been flying back and forth between the two groups, the end result being that we still do not have any piece of legislation.

Another sphere in which the government has got a particularly bad score from the public is its failure to control the rise in prices. But, this may be somewhat unfair because it is not clear what the government could have done to bring prices under control. First, at least some part of the inflation has been imported from abroad — for instance, petroleum prices are influenced by crude oil prices. Second, prices of items such as fruits, vegetables, milk and eggs have been primarily responsible for the recent rise in food inflation. There is some evidence that rural real wages have been increasing rapidly — by as much as 20 per cent according to the labour bureau. This has resulted in a shift in consumption patterns away from cereals to the items mentioned earlier. However, there has not been a matching increase in supply. At least in the short run, there is very little that the Central government can do to augment supply of these goods.

But perhaps the government has finally realized that time is running out. There are signs that it has started to move on reform measures. For instance, it has recently jacked up petroleum prices to control the subsidy bill. Incidentally, this much-needed measure generated a lot of criticism, with several opposition parties, and even the Trinamul Congress, calling it a tax on the poor. (Who said that governance is easy in India?) The government has also cleared two large foreign direct investment proposals after a long time. Again, this is a welcome move because FDI into India has slowed down a lot.

The government has just presented the lok pal bill in Parliament. There are also signs that a revised Land Acquisition Act will soon see the light of day. These are important and welcome moves. However, not all policy initiatives require new legislation of this type. For instance, it is essential to ensure that infrastructural bottlenecks are removed by attracting fresh investment into the sector. Efficiency in energy use can be improved by shifting the movement of freight from roads to railways. This would require an end to the practice of subsidizing passenger fares by increasing freight charges. There are a large set of such small measures that can make a big difference to the overall functioning of the economy. It needs no rocket scientist to identify these policies. But it does need a will to act.

The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

NORMAL LIFE

SUMANTA SEN

India-Bangladesh relations seem to have reached new heights of bonhomie. Dhaka has chosen to ignore Manmohan Singh's quietly expressed fears about the role of religious fundamentalists in that country and gone ahead to honour the late Indira Gandhi with the country's highest award. There are positive signs also that outstanding issues like the sharing of river water will be taken up in a spirit of co-operation. Within Bangladesh, the anti-Awami League forces like the Bangladesh Nationalist Party are, of course, not happy. But then, they have always accused the League of being subservient to New Delhi. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed obviously remains unfazed by such criticisms.

This is good news for India, particularly for its border states in the east and the northeast. Assam, for instance, should be delighted with the repeated assurances that Bangladesh will not allow Indian rebels to operate from within its territory. For Assam, that would mean handing over leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom like Anup Chetia and Paresh Barua; the latter is still at large, and some reports say that he is in the Bangladesh-Myanmar border areas.

Getting hold of him may be a problem as such rebels continue to enjoy the support of a section of the security forces. As for Chetia, who is currently in prison, his transfer to India may also take time because of various reasons, including that same support from within the country's security establishment. The more important thing, however, is the message that Dhaka will no longer be a safe haven for Indian desperadoes. There is no reason to believe that the message has not been noted in this country by those for whom it was meant.

So on the question of cross border support, Assam can breathe that much easier. Particularly at a time when efforts are under way for a peace agreement with Arvind Rajkhowa and other Ulfa leaders who have parted company with Barua and Chetia, and who clearly wish to return to a more normal life. If they now realize that there can be no slipping back across the border then the process of peace should become that much easier.

Keep in mind

The question, however, is whether support for such elements comes only from across the border. In the context obviously of the northern and western borders, the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, recently spoke in Parliament of "Indian modules". It cannot be anybody's argument that such 'modules' are not active in the east of the northeast and that rebels of all shades there have no links with homegrown support bases.

Today's Ulfa leaders in Assam certainly do not wish to be seen as rebels any longer, but that may change when the situation suits them — this is exactly what had happened in Tripura in the 1980s. Dreams of rebellion die hard, particularly when within a section, the dreams are still alive, and they may not all be across the border. One must not lose sight of the 'Indian modules'. There can be no guarantee that there is no contact between them and the Ulfa at different levels. Also to be kept in mind is the fact that the Ulfa had never been the only rebel outfit in the state or the region. At different times in the past, co-ordination between these groups had been noted.

Even then, there is no other way but to explore the possibilities of negotiating peace. The mandate which Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi recently received was for that — the people did not wish to upset a process that he had begun. With the Awami League government of Bangladesh insisting that it will play the game according to rules, Gogoi and the Centre should be less worried than in the past, when Dhaka used to deny playing host to undesirable people from this country. So right now, there is cause for optimism as also a need for extreme caution.

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******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

A CAUTIOUS START AUGUST 9

''GOWDA'S DIFFICULT JOURNEY HAS JUST BEGUN.''


Considering the amount of bitterness and the party's vertical division that preceded the election of D V Sadananda Gowda as the BJP legislature party leader replacing Yeddyurappa, the new chief minister has done well in cobbling together a 21-member cabinet in a matter of five days. He still has 12 vacancies and promised to fill up most of them in the next one week after consulting the central BJP leadership. That Sadananda Gowda, who owes his sudden elevation to chief minister's post to Yeddyurappa, is still in the 'grip' of the former chief minister is evident from the fact that 12 of the 21 ministers inducted into the cabinet belong to Yeddyurappa's camp. But he was able to douse the challenge from the Jagadish Shettar group by refusing to yield to the demand for the creation of one or even two posts of deputy chief ministers and more importantly, managed to keep out the tainted Reddy brothers and Sriramulu from the ministry. Gowda has also played it safe by opting for only old faces in this first phase of expansion and convincing all of them to carry on with the same portfolios they handled earlier.


It is a small victory for the affable Gowda, who, in the first few days he has been in power, has shown that he will be less confrontationist and more business-like than Yeddyurappa. Gowda's immediate preoccupation should be to arrest the drift in administration and give it a sense of direction, which was sorely lacking during Yeddyurappa's tenure. He will have to impress upon his colleagues the importance of attending to their work regularly at Vidhana Soudha and elsewhere and delivering on promises made to the people. He will have to tell them that ministership is not a birthright and their performances will be reviewed every three months and the non-performers will be shown the door. Gowda himself should set an example by attending office at Vidhana Soudha everyday that he is in the capital.


But as the party is riddled with factionalism, Gowda cannot expect to have a smooth sailing. The powerful Reddys and the Jarkiholi group are smarting at the 'humiliation' of being left out of the cabinet and they could stir up trouble if their wishes are not accommodated in the next expansion. Then there are the restless 'defectors' and Independents whose political fortunes were revived by the Supreme Court and who are waiting for 'rewards.' Gowda's difficult journey has just begun. 

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

ON THE BOIL  

''ANGER WAS SIMMERING OVER A RANGE OF ISSUES.''


For the fourth day in a row, Britain has been engulfed in violence. Buildings have been torched, shops and supermarkets ransacked and police attacked with petrol bombs and make-shift missiles. London looks like a warzone. Gangs are roaming the streets and walking away with money, televisions, computers and groceries looted from stores and homes. Violence first flared on Saturday when a 29-year old man, Mark Duggan, was shot dead by police in Tottenham. It appears that the initial response to Duggan's killing was peaceful; a group of around 200 people including his family and neighbours assembled in front of the police station demanding information and answers to why he was killed. The police's arrogant response appears to have provoked the violence. As news of police highhandedness and insensitivity spread across neighbourhoods via Twitter and SMS, facts became a casualty and were soon drowned out by rumours. Not surprisingly, the riots have spread like wild fire. Among the cities that are caught in the unrest are London, Leeds, Liverpool and Birmingham. This is the worst outbreak of violence in Britain in over quarter century.


Thirty years ago when similar riots broke out in Brixton, a government inquiry found vast evidence of indiscriminate and excessive use of stop and search powers by the police against black people. It found that policing in the areas hit by riots was aggressive and high-handed. Thirty years on, the British public, especially in poor neighbourhoods, feel that little has changed. They are perpetually monitored by CCTV cameras and the police response to the smallest of crimes is excessive. When cops repeatedly whip out guns at the slightest provocation, they can expect massive retaliation from the public, especially if it is frustrated, unemployed and socially excluded. Prime minister Gordon Brown's budget cuts on social programmes in these excluded communities are reported to have deepened angst in these areas. Anger was simmering over a range of issues and waiting to explode when Duggan's killing happened.


While the police action against Duggan could have been prompted by racial prejudice, the violence engulfing Britain in the days since is not along racial lines. There are white, black and brown youth among the rioters. The government of prime minister David Cameron should look beyond the law and order for a comprehensive solution to the present crisis.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

WHY LONDON'S BURNING?

COLIN TODHUNTER

 

 It's back to the 80s in Britain! Major British cities are burning, as crowds of young, working class people are taking to the streets to vent their anger and frustration against a system that has cut many of them adrift. It was the same back in 1981, when there were similar uprisings. Then, as now, the turmoil occurred against a backdrop of rising unemployment, social deprivation and strident neo-liberal economic policy.
The Conservatives are back in power, but it would be foolish to suggest that the blame for the current upheavals should be laid at their doorstep alone. The Labour Party, or 'Tory-Lite', was in government for 13 years and moved so far to the right that it deserted its traditional core of working class voters.

If many ordinary folk in Britain now feel they have no political voice, they may well be right. While most people involved in the turmoil are not overtly politically conscious, perhaps the best way to articulate their various frustrations, as far as they are concerned, is to take the streets.

Such images of the violence may be shocking, but, in a way, those images are symptomatic of what Britain has become. Modern Britain has always been a country heavily divided along class lines, and economic and social policies of the last few decades have served to accentuate such divisions. 

In 1981, class and racism were key factors underlying the turmoil. But, what we did not have back then is the type of paranoia that has followed in the wake of Britain's involvement in illegal wars in Asia. The intelligence agencies have been for some time intensively monitoring Muslim communities. Britain is now a more fractured and intolerant place, with various groups feeling a sense of utter marginalisation and even oppression.
It's not just Muslims who need to worry, though. Britain has been gradually turning into a police state for quite a while, with security agencies having increasing access to all kinds of personal data. From cradle to grave, officialdom is watching, listening, tracking and prying. 

Excessive monitoring began in the 1980s when a section of the population became surplus to requirements. At that time, British society underwent a structural adjustment of privatisation and welfare cutbacks and outsourced much of its manufactured industry. A permanent underclass emerged, and a deregulated finance sector became a key driver of the economy. And we know how that panned out.

With a weak economy, public service cutbacks and people being saddled with debt to bail out the banking sector, ordinary folk in Britain are now feeling the pinch. 

Neo-liberalism came along with rhetoric about personal freedom, and it has of course made us free—free to be monitored and surveyed by the state like no other country in Western Europe, free to pick up the tab for the failings of financial capital, and free to build up the greatest amount of personal debt in Europe.

Little surprise

Maybe there's not much freedom in an open prison, and those who have taken to the streets perhaps, more than most, know this too well. For many, what is currently being played out on the streets of Britain comes as little surprise. It only takes one incident to ignite a wider sense of resentment. We saw this in Tunisia when a market trader was killed. In London, currents events appeared to have been triggered by the police shooting of a young, black man.

However, if you were to tune in to the media, you would be forgiven for thinking all had been well in the state of 'merry old England'. For years, the mainstream media has sought to gloss over the genuine nature of Britain's social and economic problems by parroting platitudes about 'our' culture being diluted, bombers wanting to kill us, or services being over stretched due to an influx of immigrants. Politicians and the media have for some time been using fear and paranoia as a proxy and distraction.

Britain has become a society of me-first acquisitive individualism, the effects of which are so graphically witnessed in many towns and cities today —a descent into drugs, alcohol and crime, community breakdown, fear for personal safety and a range of other social problems.

In an age of rampant consumerism, is it any wonder that so many people who are subject daily to images and messages of acquisitive materialism and who experience blocked opportunities feel resentful and angry? In an age of neo-liberalism, social breakdown, imperialist wars and extensive surveillance, is it any wonder that there is a price to be paid?

News reports concentrate on how all of this plays out to an international audience, given that London is about to hold the Olympics next year. Isn't it terrible they say that an international football match has had to be held between England and Holland has had to be cancelled. And what about the England-India Test match. Will it or won't it go ahead? You see, for years, such issues are what have really mattered to 'middle England'. Not the disturbing plight of large sections of its fellow citizens.

While some of the images of violence are sickening and need to be condemned, the media would do well to focus more on the underlying causes of the trouble and hold politicians to account over why a significant proportion of the population has been increasingly marginalised. Instead, what we hear from the media and various political and economic leaders is the 'wanton vandalism' of those hell bent on destroying the fabric of society. However, it was they who helped destroy it in the first place.

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

THIS IS NOT LONDON, OR IS IT?


The London bridge is intact. But the Londoners spirit has come crashing down. In the glow of the raging fires, the debris of destruction isn't always visible. But with each passing day, as the riots spread across UK, England is getting charred.


Unlike India, UK isn't used to so much of violence on the streets. Their houses do not burn, people do not go a rampage, miles and miles of buildings and shops are not ablaze. For Indian eyes, this could be the Meerut or Ahmedabad of old, riot torn cities, living on the edge.


The pace at which these riots spread from London to the midlands has mind boggled many. Although the riots started Saturday with a protest over a police shooting, they have morphed into a general lawlessness that police have struggled to halt with ordinary tactics.


Police in Britain generally avoid tear gas, water cannons or other strong-arm riot measures. Many shops targeted by looters had goods that youths would want anyway - sneakers, bikes, electronics, leather goods - while other buildings were torched apparently just for the fun of seeing something burn.
There are two signs that emerge from this. One, the huge economic downturn which has led to general deprivation , leaving a nation full of frustrated and literally broke youth, who were looking for the slightest vent to pour out their angst. The mayhem has led the easy availability of things to loot. This IS today's London.
The riots and looting caused heartache for Londoners whose businesses and homes were torched or looted, and a crisis for police and politicians already staggering from a spluttering economy and a scandal over illegal phone hacking .


A hapless government took almost 2 days to realise that this wasn't an ordinary riot and needed a slightly "non English"  response.


Police said plastic bullets were "one of the tactics" being considered to stop the looting. The bullets were common in Northern Ireland during its years of unrest but have never before been used in mainland Britain.
But police acknowledged they could not guarantee there would be no more violence. Stores, offices and nursery schools in several parts of London closed early amid fears of fresh rioting on Tuesday night.
The government of  David Cameroon must realise that  dealing with rioters as criminals is only the short term way out.  But the frustration is against the system. But it may soon turn into a riot between the have nots and the slight haves- which could even mean attacking a person who incidentally has a job when you don't.
India too needs to keep a close watch since most of the road side newsagents are Indians. The curry houses and restaurants too have many Indian owners. It's a community which is vulnerable because in a deprived Britain, Asian communities are doing well and are therefore a target.


This shows just how short Britains fuse was. The veneer of civility and stoicism, the hallmarks of British public behavior  needed a very slight prick and one police  firing in an isolated incident has  led to a trail of destruction.


For many Indians, and Goans, there is a sentimental attachment to England and many here are just sad that this is happening there

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

THE STUDENT MOVEMENT IN GOA

FREDERICK NORONHA


Sometime now, the student movement would have completed 30 years of its flowering in Goa. Sadly, it has since withered away; it became a caricature of itself in some ways. But this is no excuse to avoid understanding its role and its impact, its idealism and its achievements.


I remember that day as if it was yesterday. The year: 1979. We were just finishing our final year in school. One day, responding to the students' campaign, the private bus owners' lobby of the time (closely linked to the then ruling MGP government) decided to pull their buses off the roads.


Students were demanding a 50% bus far concession. We, the common foot soldiers of the students' campaign, were only too happy to smilingly walk home the 6.3 kilometres from Mapusa. Every step we took, we felt we were contributing to a laudable cause. Idealistic and bold leadership by a few, and the support of many, gave students a 50% bus fare concession in Goa.


The late 1970s and early 1980s were times of turmoil in the student life of Goa. There were groups with names that read like an alphabet soup - AISO, AGSU, PSU, SFI, AICUF, among others. Parties linked to the Congress and BJP came in later. Student leaders still look back on those times with nostalgia.
They are not wrong. Those experiences shaped quite a few leaders of today. Youngsters in a freshly-post colonial Goa went about fighting for justice, battling causes and setting the agenda in a way that made a difference. This was a welcome shift from the communal-caste fuelled politics which Goa has mostly known since the 1960s.


From the ramponkar agitation (against trawler over fishing), to Zuari pollution, anti-capitation college campaigns, the bus fare issue, anti-fee hike, and many others, the students were quick to take to the streets.
Our parents were often a worried lot. More conservative forces in the Church felt upset that radicalisation was turning youth into 'non-believers'. Some friends warned others that protests took us nowhere.
Yet, I would wager to say, that generation gained a great deal. Many gave back to society. Quite a few former student activists found meaning in media-related jobs. Others became social activists, lawyers, and, in a rare case or two, even judges or a preacher. Some were claimed by malaria. In some cases, idealism went sour and ended as alcoholism.


Obviously, some cashed in on their skills built through the movement, and joined the hi-stakes political world. But overwhelmingly, the ire of the 1970s and 1980s lead to the flowering of creativity and a new generation of leaders in tiny Goa.


Cut to 2011. The elusive JoeGoaUk video-taped the role of student power in the blatant communalisation of the MoI issue during the Vasco Saptah. Video-tapes don't lie. There were students marching and calling on Lord Damodar to take on the anti-English side in Goa. See http://bit.ly/qGZGJH
But the communalisation, and takeover by money power and selfishness of the Goa student movement has been a slow and steady process. Our political players, specially the Congress and BJP, are behind this, as students themselves whom one would expect to be smarter and more idealist than to allow themselves to be thus used by backward-looking revivalist forces.


Our student generation of the yesteryears is also at fault. Some shifted roles adroitly to managing the contradictions of the Goan State. But all seem to have neglected the task of building the next ranks of leaders. It is time that young people learn the lessons of idealism by the roadside; money power and communalism cannot take a society forward.


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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE BOREDOM STAGE

Now of all times, during the moments that are liable to signal the protest's gradual end, its leaders must continue to invigorate the language that is taking shape under them.

 The protest now faces its most important test. After one of the country's greatest shows of solidarity ever, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets of their cities to identify with the protest and demand social justice, the organizers of the tent city on Rothschild Boulevard are confronting the bitter enemy of any struggle anywhere: a loss of interest.

The high point of the protest, which came only four days ago, naturally was followed by an anticlimax. The people's pleasure was a peak that the organizers will find hard to repeat, and the possibility that fewer people will attend the next rally has turned into a horror scenario that should not be put to the test.

Alongside the fear of a failure of numbers, the protest organizers are now confronting a far more destructive decline in excitement: ebbing media interest. In recent weeks it was television, the newspapers and the websites that placed the protest at the top of their agendas and enabled it to grow to unprecedented proportions. Now, after the initial stimulus has waned and the expected catharsis has been achieved, the media are looking for another issue, while the protest is being sidelined.

Now of all times, during the moments that are liable to signal the protest's gradual end, its leaders must continue to invigorate the language that is taking shape under them. The protest must continue to be cast in this new language, without attributing too much importance to the tactical aspects. Public relations and media considerations are not relevant to an expression of anger and the taking of a stance. To a great extent these are the main characteristics of the old language that the tent city's chiefs are trying to cast off.

The performance by singer Shlomo Artzi on Saturday night marked the dangerous stage in which the struggle measures itself by appearance rather than substance. Quality is replaced by quantity. The protest organizers must avoid this trap. Even if they bring fewer people to the next rally, and even if the media decide to withdraw completely from the encampment on Rothschild, the organizers should not be discouraged. To change national priorities, one needs to update familiar patterns of protest as well.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

NETANYAHU IS DE GAULLE

NETANYAHU MAY YET EARN HIS PLACE AS THE LOCAL DE GAULLE - NOT AS THE BOLD LEADER WHO COURAGEOUSLY DARED TO SOLVE A FATEFUL PROBLEM, BUT AS THE RULER CONFRONTED WITH A PROTEST THAT DISRUPTS THE OLD ORDER ON WHICH HIS WORLDVIEW IS BASED AND LEAVES HIM HELPLESS.

BY SEFY HENDLER

Exactly 222 years after the French masses stormed the Bastille, Tel Aviv celebrated its own 14th of July. The symbolism of the parallel dates is enticing, but the more relevant analogy for Israel's awakening is the France of May 1968. That historic spring gave birth to France's most significant civic protest movement of the 20th century. It was a movement of political, social and cultural revolution, whose impact on the state is evident to this day.

The local tent protest movement, which is demanding "social justice" as a code for a major change in Israel's existing social order, is still far from sweeping Israel into its own May 1968. Compared with the clouds of tear gas that covered Paris' Latin Quarter at that time, the local tent protest is one of well-behaved children, and is mostly nonviolent, at least for now.

The radical demands of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the thinkers who conquered the lecture halls of the Sorbonne in those days are very far from the current platform of the Israeli protest leaders, who have positioned themselves in the center of the map rather than on the margins. It's very possible that the tactical decision not to reveal overly clear political positions is what has enabled the protest to pull the masses into the streets. But this is the most significant difference between these two movements, both born of frustrated young people who have had it with the current system: In France, the frustration was violent and political, while in Israel, it sleeps in tents and wraps itself in blue-and-white flags.

Nevertheless, there is one point at which these two movements seem to intersect: the character of the person in power at the time unprecedented protests erupted. For the French, it was General Charles de Gaulle; for the Israelis, it is Benjamin Netanyahu.

Granted, others have amused themselves with this comparison, arguing that Netanyahu, as a hard-line rightist, would have the guts to take action and get Israel out of the occupied territories, just as de Gaulle got France out of Algeria. But after his two years in office, even the dreamers among us can see this was an unfounded delusion. Netanyahu isn't the prime minister who will put an end to the dream of Greater Israel and to the settlement enterprise.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu may yet earn his place as the local de Gaulle - not as the bold leader who courageously dared to solve a fateful problem, but as the ruler confronted with a protest that disrupts the old order on which his worldview is based and leaves him helpless. It was precisely in the most difficult, violent stages of the student revolt in France that General de Gaulle was far from demonstrating leadership. Toward the end of May 1968, when de Gaulle disappeared from the Elysee Palace for several hours and flew to a military base in Germany, the French elite was bewildered, and wondered whether the hero of World War II would also be able to lead the country when confronted with angry young people sick of his government.

Netanyahu doesn't need to fly to Germany. The fear that has gripped Likud ministers in light of the way he is managing the crisis makes it clear that our prime minister, too, is a present absentee: He is not even able to meet with the protesters or to truly understand the reasons for their anger, much less to change an order of priorities that guarantees his continuation in power - along with the decline of the state.

True, the French general did manage to pick himself up off the floor, send his people out into the streets and win a sweeping majority in the snap elections he called for parliament. But it proved a short-lived victory. The student revolt signaled the effective end of de Gaulle's rule, and he resigned less than a year later.

Voluntarily imprisoned in an air-conditioned bubble in the government complex in Jerusalem, far from the city squares, the Netanyahu of 2011 is the de Gaulle of May 1968.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE DEMOGRAPHIC PROBLEM

IT SEEMS THE "GREATEST DANGER" HAS PUSHED THE LEGISLATORS TO INTRODUCE ANOTHER RACIST SECTION INTO THEIR PROPOSED LAW, AND HAS PUSHED LAWMAKERS TO SINK FURTHER AND FURTHER INTO THE RELIGIOUS-FUNDAMENTALIST SWAMP.

BY SALMAN MASALHA

MK Avi Dichter (Kadima) sponsored, along with 40 other MKs from various parties, a mew Basic Law that defines Israel as "the national home for the Jewish people." The proposed law includes a number of sections that, in the vernacular, piss me off.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that this Knesset, all of it, is the most populist in nationalistic terms, and the least fundamentalist in religious terms. Now they want to exchange the impossible mantra "Jewish-democratic" with something new.

It is clear that the intention of Dichter's proposed law is to deny the natural rights of Arab citizens in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did well to explain the matter in a speech he gave in December 2003 at the Herzliya Conference: "We have a demographic problem. But it is not centered on the Palestinian Arabs in the territories, but on Israeli Arabs."

Even blunter words came from former Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra (Kadima ): "We have Arab citizens in the State of Israel. This is our greatest problem. Finish with Gaza, finish with Judea and Samaria, and the biggest problem remains."

Support for this approach comes in the section of the new bill that revokes the official status of the Arabic language, the language of 20% of Israeli citizens.

It is well known that Israeli politicians very much love to take after Europe. So it would be appropriate to let you know how Europe behaves. Finland is a European country and quite advanced by all opinions. There is a Swedish minority in Finland which is 5% of the population. In this Finland, which was once part of the Kingdom of Sweden, no one can be a public servant if they don't speak Swedish.

Similarly, it seems the "greatest danger" has pushed the legislators to introduce another racist section into their proposed law, which allows religious and national separation to enable the existence of "separate community settlement," and it also has pushed lawmakers to sink further and further into the religious-fundamentalist swamp.

Israel is fitting into the region more and more. The proposed law adds us to the club of enlightened nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. The law intends to make Knesset legislation and civil judges subject to Jewish jurisprudence and "Jewish tradition," in an attempt to establish Israel as a state based on unenlightened Jewish law - based on a Basic Law. In the term "Jewish tradition" is hiding a religious tradition of Jewish law.

Jewish tradition, like all other monotheistic traditions, includes a number of laws that can be described as moral abominations that completely oppose the universal declaration on human rights.

The frequent treatment of such questions does not testify to strength, but the opposite. The source of this weakness is the occupation of 1967. On one hand, this occupation has deepened via the "Zionist theft enterprise" called the settlements. On the other hand, the demographics between the sea and the Jordan River have not remained frozen.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the law was formulated in cooperation and at the initiative of the Institute for Zionist Strategies. This is to teach us that the Zionist mind continues to invent new ideas.

With a lack of foreseeable prospects for a national solution in Israel, the situation will reverse itself. The day is not far away that we will begin using the infamous Zionist language, but this time in reverse. This time we will start to speak of the "Jewish camp" or the minorities - the Jews of course. I will even go so far and introduce the phrase "honorable Jews." You have been warned.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE PEOPLE WANT A RESET

AS THE MOVEMENT GROWS, SOME WILL CONTINUE TO THINK AND DEMAND "JUSTICE" WITHIN THE BORDERS OF ONE NATION, AT THE EXPENSE OF THE OTHER NATION THAT LIVES IN THIS LAND. OTHERS WILL UNDERSTAND THAT THIS WILL NEVER BE A COUNTRY OF JUSTICE AND WELFARE IF IT IS NOT A STATE OF ALL ITS CITIZENS.

BY AMIRA HASS

"Don't talk about how unfortunate you are, talk about what your rights are," Reuven Abergil reminded the people who came to the tent protest in Jerusalem's Independence Park. That was on Sunday, a few hours after Abergil, a few women living in the tents and a number of social activists were arrested at a rally for public housing in front of the offices of Amidar, the public housing agency. They were released a few hours later.

The pensioners who demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Monday said the same thing that Abergil, a leader of the Israeli Black Panthers movement from the 1970s, told the Jerusalemites. At the protest tents with which we have been blessed, the demonstrators are re-interpreting every day the slogan "the people demand social justice." And this resonates just as well as its progenitor in Arabic, "the people want the fall of the regime." A humorous takeoff on the slogan, which rhymes in Hebrew, can now be found tacked to the trees on Rothschild Boulevard: "The silent majority wants a reset."

The deeper you go into the meaning of the words "social justice," the less that phrase seems slogan-like. It turns out to be flexible and dynamic. Every day it includes more and more people and groups, as well as more understandings and coalitions that a moment before seemed impossible; for example, protesters from Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood and Arabs from Jaffa in one group in the Tel Aviv demonstration with posters in Arabic and Hebrew.

True, some learning is still to be done, as well as listening to the complaints of those who are not middle class, represented in Independence Park and Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park. You people on Rothschild (and your media) are ignoring us, you're like the "boys from the Finance Ministry." But the continuing dialogue between Facebook and the direct democracy in the streets gives us hope that this can be repaired. Because that's the beauty of the phrase "social justice" in its potential subversiveness against the existing order.

That's why the representatives of that order so want the protest movement to emasculate the slogan into a series of arithmetic demands. That's why some representatives and beneficiaries of the existing order - viz. the Yesha Council of settlements - are trying to embrace the movement and disguise themselves as its offspring, appearing among the tents with their honeyed words. And they are not the tycoons.

Because "social justice" knows no borders, it imposes on those who call for it a responsibility and an obligation beyond the original intent. Indeed, it appeared yesterday in the Vision Document compiled by the protest leaders (as quoted in Haaretz): "minimizing social inequalities (economic, gender-based and national) and creating social cohesion essential for the existence of the state."

One may assume that the writers of the document knew that minimizing gaps between national groups means ceasing to discriminate in law and practice against Palestinian Israeli citizens. When they get down to details, they will find that true fulfillment of this demand requires immediate allocation of land in the Galilee and central Israel's Triangle area to Palestinian villages whose master plans constrict them intentionally. They will also learn that originally many of these lands were expropriated from Palestinians for use by Jewish citizens. They will find it hard to ignore the new laws and the old laws that must be abrogated to minimize gaps between national groups.

When they go with the flow of the meaning of their demands, they will come to the unrecognized Negev Bedouin community of Al Arakib, for example, and they will discover the systematic way the state is wiping out the rights of the Bedouin and their history in this country to create living space for Jews.

In the never-ending poem called "social justice," the singers will reach a confusing line that says the state's borders reach the Jordan River. And in that great country, the Jewish settlement of Na'aran north of Jericho was allocated 433 liters of water per person per day in 2008, while the nearby Palestinian village of Al-Uja was allocated 82 liters of water per person per day. Later in the poem it will say that the rule is that the state allocates much more water to Jews than it does to Palestinians.

In the coming months, as the movement grows, it will split. Some will continue to think and demand "justice" within the borders of one nation, always at the expense of the other nation that lives in this land. Others, however, will understand that this will never be a country of justice and welfare if it is not a state of all its citizens.

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

EDITORIAL

HALF-MEASURES FROM THE FED

It came as no surprise on Tuesday when the Federal Reserve said that the economy was in a more precarious state than it had previously believed. It was refreshing that the Fed stopped blaming "transitory" factors like supply-chain disruptions from Japan and acknowledged, in effect, that this year's rising joblessness and slowing growth are more than temporary setbacks.

The Fed announced that it expected to keep short-term interest rates at near zero for another two years "at least." That is a sensible move because it gives markets and businesses a dose of certainty. The stock market, which had plummeted a day earlier, surged to a strong finish. But it's doubtful that the Fed's move will be enough to increase employment and growth.

It is particularly disturbing that three members of the Fed's policy committee view inflation as a bigger threat than a weakening economy and opposed Tuesday's decision to keep rates low into 2013. Judging from earlier statements, they stand prepared to oppose further measures to boost the faltering economy.

That could make it less likely that the Fed will use other effective tools at its disposal to spur demand and hiring. The committee said it was prepared to do more "as appropriate." The danger is that as long as the stock market stays relatively stable, further loosening of monetary policy will never be deemed appropriate. Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, said at the Fed meeting in June that despite high unemployment, only a heightened risk of deflation would cause further easing by the Fed.

The focus on combating inflation at a time when the economy is clearly not overheating and when oil prices are retreating is akin to Washington's fixation on spending cuts when the economy is weak. Both are a fundamental misreading of what the economy needs.

This misjudgment has led Congress and the Obama administration to pursue budget cuts without additional near-term stimulus, thus increasing the risk of prolonged stagnation or, worse, renewed recession. And it has led the Fed to deliver a grim economic outlook without doing enough to get growth back on track.

For starters, the Fed could take modest steps, like shifting its portfolio toward bonds with longer maturities, which would help to keep long-term rates low and nudge investors into riskier investments. It could reduce the interest it pays on the banks' huge reserves or even tax the reserves to try to encourage more lending. It could also resume buying Treasuries or other securities to provide additional monetary stimulus. A more aggressive strategy would be letting inflation rise above the Fed's comfort level of 2 percent or so to, say, 4 percent. That could help the economy by easing the repayment of debt.

In the absence of stimulative fiscal policy, even assertive moves by the Fed are unlikely to turn the ailing economy around. But they could help, if only the Fed would deploy them.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

TIMELY HELP FOR THE PORT AUTHORITY

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York have both expressed concern about the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's proposed 50 percent increase in bridge and tunnel tolls — from $8 to $12 as soon as next month, with another $2 jump in three years. Mr. Cuomo called the increase a "nonstarter" but promised to study it. Mr. Christie said his first reaction was: "You're kidding, right?"

It is hard to imagine that either governor was taken by surprise because the two officials essentially control the authority, which manages not only bridges and tunnels but also the area's ports, airports and the former World Trade Center site. Let's hope this is nothing more than the usual gubernatorial theatrics because the authority has a challenging agenda and needs help.

The authority has come a long way from its highly politicized past and in recent years has streamlined operations and trimmed personnel — 12.5 percent in 7 years. Yet it has suffered financially as the economy weakened and fewer people commuted to Manhattan. Additional revenues would help the authority protect its bond rating and pay for a $33 billion, 10-year capital plan. That, in turn, would make possible a host of critically important projects: finishing the public works part of the World Trade Center site by 2015; replacing the suspender ropes on the 80-year-old George Washington Bridge and the spiral roadway that leads to the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey; enhancing security at regional airports; maintaining a transportation network that feeds the entire region.

The authority's board is expected to vote next week on these increases. Either governor can veto the whole package, a move that would be certain to gain headlines at the expense of the entire region. A better choice would be a $2 increase now for most cars and another $2 increase in 2014. Instead of hitting PATH riders with an immediate $1 increase in the base fare (to $2.75), the authority should phase it in over the next few years. That would spare commuters. It should also work politically for the governors.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SERVING SHAREHOLDERS AND DEMOCRACY

When the Supreme Court ruled that the government may not ban campaign spending by corporations in the landmark Citizens United decision last year, it argued that disclosure of contributions would protect American democracy from hidden corporate agendas.

The court reasoned that "prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters."

American elections have since been flooded with corporate money. And the court's reasoning is proving to be wrong: Shareholders of most American companies can't determine whether corporate campaign spending is in their best interest because they haven't been told how the companies are spending in political races.

During the campaign for the midterm elections, secret donations to social welfare advocacy groups known as 501(c)(4) organizations by companies, unions and other interest groups soared to nearly $130 million. That figure will most likely pale against the anonymous donations expected to swamp the 2012 campaign season.

Senate Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats last year to increase disclosure of campaign donations. But there is another way to expose some of these contributions to public scrutiny: the Securities and Exchange Commission could pass a rule demanding more disclosure of political expenditures to shareholders.

Last week, a group of legal scholars sent a petition to the S.E.C. urging it to craft rules requiring companies to disclose to shareholders how they use corporate resources for political activities.

Shareholders clearly want to know. In 2011, a quarter of the companies on the Standard & Poor's index of 100 large corporations included shareholder proposals seeking more disclosure of political spending in their proxy statements to be considered at annual meetings. In fact, more than half of these large companies already disclose to some degree their political spending. For instance, Microsoft keeps an annual list of campaign expenditures on its Web site, including contributions to 501(c)(4) groups, and it discloses its contributions to business organizations that spend on politics.

The S.E.C. should move swiftly to craft such a rule. It has the authority to demand increased corporate disclosure — as it did in the 1990s in tightening rules on the disclosure of executive pay. A uniform rule of disclosure of political contributions in corporate proxy statements once a year or through some other means would help shareholders assess the profitability of a company's political activities and protect democracy from the flood of money unleashed by the Citizens United decision.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

KESEY'S TRIP, IN LIVING COLOR

Ken Kesey's cross-country bus trip with the Merry Pranksters in 1964 was supposed to be a movie. "The world's first acid film," as Tom Wolfe explained, "taken under conditions of total spontaneity barreling through the heartlands of America, recording all now, in the moment." That's why the bus was packed not just with LSD, speed and grass, but also speakers, mikes and wires.

But the Pranksters were lousy moviemakers; the footage was chaotic, out of focus and all but impossible to edit. It ended up moldering in rusty cans on Kesey's Oregon farm. Still, we saw the film another way, by reading "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," Mr. Wolfe's still-dazzling retelling.

And now — hold on — with that merry band long dispersed or dead, the amazing moment has arrived after all. "Magic Trip," a new documentary by Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood, rescues the old footage, and Kesey's vision, through a miracle of digital restoration and editing.

To which we can only say: Whoa! How often does that happen? A book gets its own corroborative video, 40-some years late. The same indelible images, the word made fleshy. Here's Kesey in his prime, his legendary charisma made obvious. There's Neal Cassady, hopped-up at the wheel, and, man, he won't shut up. And there are those other young men and the women they loved, ogled, chased and ignored. There's Stark Naked at Larry McMurtry's house, tripping badly. Here's Generally Famished, pregnant and tired and mostly not acting like an idiot. The whole story of what free love was like for women in the prefeminist '60s is captured in her weary, wary eyes.

Nearly 50 years on, the film shows why squares in shiny shoes thought the Pranksters were ninnies. It helps explain why the '60s were necessary, if not always interesting. And it only deepens our admiration for Mr. Wolfe, who married a wild imagination to a writer's discipline, and got his raw material into shape. In 1968.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE DAY OUR LEADERS GOT UNSTUCK

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

This is a scary economic moment. The response we need is not easy, but it is totally obvious. We need a Grand Bargain between America's two parties — and we need it right now. Until you read the following news article, we'll be stuck in a world of hurt.

Washington (AP) — It was a news conference the likes of which the White House had never seen. President Obama stood in the East Room, flanked by the House speaker, John Boehner; the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell; the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid; and the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi. The president asked Mr. Boehner to speak first:

"My fellow Americans," the Ohio Republican began. "We have just concluded a meeting with the president, prompted by this moment of extraordinary economic peril. Our party, as you know, is convinced that the main reason for our economic decline is that we have too much debt, that government has grown too big and that taxes and regulations are choking our dynamism. But I have to acknowledge that, over the years, our party has contributed to this debt burden and government spending binge. We are not innocent, and, therefore, we owe the country a strategy for governing and for fixing a problem that we helped to create — instead of just blocking the president. The G.O.P. is better than that and has more to offer the nation. Therefore, we have informed the president that our legislators are ready to reopen negotiations immediately on a 'Grand Bargain' to address all these debt issues once and for all and that everything will be on the table from our side — including tax reform that closes loopholes and eliminates wasteful subsidies, and, if need be, tax increases. To those who voted for us, rest assured that we will bring our conservative values to these negotiations and an emphasis on markets and meritocracies, but also a spirit of compromise and a recognition that both sides will have to bend if we are going to get the kind of comprehensive budget agreement the country needs. To my Tea Party colleagues, I say: thank you. Your passion helped spur the nation to action, but the country cannot be governed, and our future secured, by bowing solely to the passions of any single group — liberal or conservative. I know that the Tea Party activists are true patriots and they will work with us as well. President Obama: Let's fix the country together and then compete in 2012 over who can best manage a growing pie rather than a shrinking one."

President Obama warmly embraced Mr. Boehner and then took the podium and said:

"Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell, thank you for your commitment to act in our nation's highest interests. Let me say publicly what I committed to you privately: I have asked Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson to revive their deficit commission and to use their recommendations for how to cut spending and raise revenues as the starting point for our negotiations. But it will now be called 'The National Commission for American Renewal.' Because in addition to the original Bowles-Simpson members, it will include Senator McConnell, Speaker Boehner, Senator Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi, and its goal will indeed be a comprehensive plan for American renewal. Everything will be on the table — spending cuts, tax reform and increases, a framework for restructuring the debts of Americans whose homes are under water and the investments we need to renew the primary sources of our strength — infrastructure, education and scientific research. Each component will be integrated and timed to minimize pain and maximize job creation — and the entire package will be presented to Congress for an up-or-down vote. I am confident that real tax and entitlement reform will unleash billions of dollars in investments.

"But the most important thing that will be on the table will not just be a plan to make our country solvent. It will be a plan to make America great and guarantee that another generation will enjoy the American dream. Any fair-minded person who looks at all the stimulus investments I've made in education, clean energy, research and infrastructure can see that this has been my goal from the start. But I know those investments can't be sustained without a new long-term budget deal. And I, too, have a confession: I've done a poor job integrating my nation-building ideas, including health care, into a single vision so people understood where I was going. I also let tactical political considerations — like abandoning the Bowles-Simpson commission — intervene, so Americans lost sight of my priorities. That will not happen again. No one loves this country more than I and my Democratic colleagues. While we will bring our traditional concerns for social justice and equality to these negotiations, we will not quit until a Grand Bargain to ensure American greatness is enacted into law."

At that point, all five leaders shook hands and retreated into the Oval Office. It was exactly 9:29 a.m. One minute later, the New York Stock Exchange opened. The Dow was up 1,223 points at the open — an all-time record.

What's sad is how much this is a fantasy and how easily — with just a little political will — it could be a reality.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

WITHHOLDER IN CHIEF

BY MAUREEN DOWD

DES MOINES

Even the Butter Cow at the Iowa State Fair is not enough to sweeten the mood.

Three years ago, Barack Obama's unlikely presidential dream was given wings by rapturous Iowans — young, old and in-between — who saw in the fresh-faced, silky-voiced black senator a chance to leap past the bellicose, rancorous Bush years into a modern, competitive future where we once more had luster in the world.

"We are choosing hope over fear," Senator Obama told a delirious crowd of 3,000 here the night he won the Iowa caucuses.

But fear has garroted hope, as America reels from the latest humiliating blows on the economy and in Afghanistan. The politician who came across as a redeemer in 2008 is now in need of redemption himself.

Faced with a country keening for reassurance and reinvention, Obama seems at a loss. Regarding his political skills, he turns out to be the odd case of a pragmatist who can't learn from his mistakes and adapt.

Many of his Democratic supporters here, who once waited hours in line just to catch a glimpse of The One, are disillusioned.

"We just wish he'd be more of a fighter," said one influential Democrat with a grimace. Another agreed: "You can't blame him for everything. I just wish he would come across more forceful at times, but that is not the dude's style. Detached hurts you when things are sour. You need some of Clinton's 'I feel your pain' compassion."

The president has been so spectacularly unable to fill the leadership void in Washington that the high-spirited Michele Bachmann feels free to purloin Obama's old mantra.

"The power behind our campaign is hope and a future," she chirped to a sparse crowd Monday in Atlantic, Iowa. "That's all I believe in." That and making America safe for old-fashioned light bulbs and not those weird curly ones.

Obama's response on Monday to Friday's Standard & Poor's downgrade and to the 22 Navy Seal commandos and 8 other soldiers killed by a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan was once more too little, too late. It was just like his belated, ineffectual response on the BP oil spill and his reaction to the would-be Christmas Day bomber; it took him three days on vacation in Hawaii to speak about the terrorist incident when the country was scared about national security, and then he spent the next week callously shuttling from the podium to the golf course.

Bachmann has been riding around Iowa in her bus, with Elvis music and her name emblazoned 25 times on the outside, mocking Obama for going to Camp David last weekend and burrowing in, while the country was roiling.

His inability to grab a microphone and spontaneously assuage Americans' fears is strange. If the American servicemen had died on a Monday, he wouldn't have waited until Wednesday to talk about it. He doesn't like the bully pulpit, just the professor's lectern.

After failing to interrupt his Camp David weekend to buck up the country on one of its worst days in history, he tacked on his condolences for the soldiers' families to his economic pep talk, in what had to be the most inept oratorical segue of his presidency.

He long ago should have gone out into the country to talk to Americans in person and come up with a concrete plan that people could print out from the White House Web site and study. Hasn't he learned how dangerous it is to delegate to Congress? His withholding and reactive nature has made him seem strangely irrelevant in Washington, trapped by his own temperament. He doesn't lead, and he doesn't understand why we don't feel led.

Speaking from the State Dining Room of the White House, he advised America it was still "a triple-A country" like some cerebral soccer coach urging the kids to win one for the London Interbank Offered Rate.

With traders hearing nothing new, just boilerplate about "common sense and compromise" on deficit reduction, the Dow Jones industrial average, which had already fallen 410 points, fell 20 more points while the president was talking around 2 o'clock. By the 4 p.m. close, the Dow was 634 points lower.

Obama has spent a lifetime creating his persona — superior, wise, above all parties and interests, all-seeing, calm, unflappable.

But as Drew Westen, a liberal psychology professor at Emory University wrote in The Times on Sunday, puzzling about what has happened to his former hero's passion, the president never identifies the villains who cause our epic problems.

It's unclear, Westen wrote, whether that reflects his aversion to conflict or a fear of offending donors, or both.

Obama's assumption that you can rise above ascribing villainous motives has caused him to waste huge chunks of his first term seeking bipartisanship from Republicans who were playing him for a dupe. And it has led to Americans regarding the nation's capital as a place of all villains and no heroes.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

A MASS GRAVE, 70 YEARS LATER

BY MORDECHAI I. TWERSKY

Khotyn, Ukraine

HERE in the land of Tevye, the roosters still crow. Cows graze in open fields. But Tevye doesn't live here anymore.

I have set out from Israel to Ukraine to trace my ancestors. My first stop is west of Kiev, in a corner of the czarist-era Pale of Settlement for Jews, where "Fiddler on the Roof" was set. Here sits an old Jewish cemetery, now a plowed-over field. It bears not a single headstone, just a house-like memorial for the late-19th-century maggid, or preacher, Mordechai of Chernobyl, my paternal ancestor five generations back.

I continue on, more than 250 miles, to the outskirts of Khotyn, a 1,000-year-old Bessarabian fortress city beside the Dniester River. I enter another open field to connect with a far darker time. I find a 30-foot-long concrete slab, etched at its head with the names, in Hebrew, of 45 men, women and children. First are my grandfather and uncle: "The holy Rabbi Mordechai Israel Twersky and his son, Aaron."

Following a Jewish tradition, I remove my shoes. This is sacred ground — one of three mass graves in the city, containing in all an estimated 1,900 Jews who perished early in the Holocaust, 70 years ago this summer.

"The earth shifted for days," an old, toothless man tells me in Russian. He is one of Khotyn's 15 remaining Jews and among the minyan, or quorum for worship, who accompany me. "They couldn't bury them fast enough."

I had never fully understood what happened here in 1941. Growing up in New York, I heard stories from my father, who survived five labor camps before making it to Ellis Island and becoming a rabbi. Not one to subject his three children to horrors, he focused on how his father had lived. On this visit, I wanted also to learn how my grandfather had died.

In the quiet streets of this city, where a Jewish community of 15,000 once thrived, I find no living witnesses. But I carry vivid testimonies written and spoken by Khotyn's survivors, a guidebook from another era.

The history is complicated; it begins with the Soviet occupation in 1940 of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, which the Nazi-Soviet pact allowed Stalin to detach from Romania. The Romanian Army's withdrawal, and its return a year later with the invading Germans and their mobile S.S. killing units — the notorious Einsatzgruppen — unleashed a systematic Romanian-German campaign of torture, rape and mass murder. Then the Romanians deported some 23,000 Jews from the Khotyn district, which includes the city, to an occupied zone known as Transnistria.

Over a three-week period in July and August of 1941, approximately 50,000 Jews were murdered in Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, the historian Avigdor Shachan wrote in "Burning Ice: The Ghettos of Transnistria." According to the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, 280,000 to 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews died in Transnistria during the war.

They were victims not just of Germany, but at least equally of Romania's anti-Semitic government. Just days before the dictator Ion Antonescu's henchmen murdered my grandfather, experts on the Holocaust say, his next in command, Mihai Antonescu, advised top officials about the coming deportation of Jews. The ministers, he said, could be "indifferent if history judges us as barbarians ... This is the most opportune moment in our history. If need be, use machine guns."

On Stefan Cel Mare Street, I gaze at my grandfather's house. A couple sits outside at a table, drinking beer. What was once a synagogue sanctuary is now a grocery store.

"Your grandfather prayed from that balcony," says Genya Cherkes, pointing upward and narrating a history her Jewish family bequeathed to her. "On the Sabbath and holidays," she says, "people gathered below just to hear him pray."

Ms. Cherkes, now 60, says her grandparents told her they had hidden my grandfather and his family in their orchard (in a non-Jewish neighborhood) after the Russians evicted the Twerskys from their home, leaving them to fear being deported or shot.

I stare at the locals. My thoughts turn to the many collaborators, Romanian and Ukrainian, who assisted the Romanian and German armies in their atrocities. "They entered the homes of Jews with axes in their hands," Nahum Morgenstern, a survivor, said of the collaborators, in a remembrance on file at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance institution and archive in Jerusalem. "They forced the Jews to undress and took their clothing. Then they decapitated them."

I am taken to a deserted compound about a mile away. It resembles a warehouse, with large glass windows and a high ceiling. A cow grazes outside. "In 1941 this was a girls' school," says one of my guides, a man named Ilya, whose mother survived the war. "Here," he says of the Romanians and Germans, "they gathered all the city's Jews, then picked out the Jewish leaders. Your grandfather was one of them."

I feel that I know this compound. For years, I imagined it as I read testimonies depicting Jews' being herded into classrooms, gasping for air, debating whether to rejoin their leaders. "I was pressed up against the second-floor window," Mr. Shachan himself recalled when I spoke with him. He was 8 at the time.

Here, according to testimony at a war crimes tribunal held in Bucharest in 1945, Jews pleaded for their lives with a Romanian police commander who, in quieter times, had engaged Jews in fluent Yiddish. But he told the assembled Jews that day that he had a new name: "My name is Hitler."

I open my briefcase. I show Ilya an account from the Yad Vashem archives. A Jew, sensing the end was near, asked Rabbi Twersky to make sense of it all. "It will be good," the rabbi replied, in Yiddish. "One must always have faith."

We trace the path taken by the doomed Jewish leaders — doctors, lawyers and teachers, but also scribes, butchers and pharmacists — along the Dniester River, where hundreds of Khotyn's Jews were shot. My grandfather was seen breaking from the line. "He jumped into the river to purify himself," according to testimony from a survivor, Rachela Katz, cited in "On the Roads of Exile: Memories, 1941-1945" by Solomon Shapira. "The soldiers pulled him out and beat him."

We arrive at the spot — a foul-smelling marsh — where, in Ms. Katz's account, the Jews were forced to dig their own grave. There is an eerie quiet. The grass is high and thick. I recite psalms and a prayer for the dead, El Moleh Rachamim (God Full of Compassion). I read from Ezekiel, "Son of man, can these bones live?"

Roosters are crowing now, seemingly louder and louder. To these ears it is a piercing, heckling sound — Tevye's roosters sounding out an impudent "Taps" for a community where real Tevyes once lived.

A towering poplar engulfs the grave in its soothing, protective shade. "It is a sign," one Jew tells me in Russian. "Life can still sprout here."

Time is short. I must travel to Murafa, where my grandmother Batsheva, Rabbi Twersky's wife, rests. She died there of malnutrition and typhus in a ghetto set up by Romanian authorities in 1942.

Before leaving, I ask Ms. Cherkes, who tends Khotyn's centuries-old Jewish cemetery and the graves of her forebears, how she can still live in a city where the martyrs so far exceed the remaining Jews.

"You can't begin to understand," she says, annoyed by the question but forcing a smile. "You will never understand."

Mordechai I. Twersky, a freelance writer and broadcast journalist, is a doctoral student in Jewish history at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE REVENGE OF THE RATING AGENCIES

BY JEFFREY MANNS

Washington

THE credit rating agencies are taking advantage of the country's financial problems to increase their own political power. They want to ensure that regulators do not reduce their autonomy and influence.  

Their strategy is brilliant. They are not piling on all at once by downgrading the United States in concert. Standard & Poor's is the bad cop for now, taking the first swipe at the United States last Friday, and seeing its influence confirmed by the stock market's dramatic reaction. Moody's and Fitch are playing the good cop — exercising restraint about a potential downgrade, yet still flexing their muscles by criticizing the government both publicly and behind the scenes.   

The rating agencies have the federal government over a barrel. If politicians ignore rating agencies' warnings, they risk a withering assault of additional downgrades that could undercut confidence in the government and inflict soaring interest rates. The good-cop, bad-cop routine is especially potent because a downgrade by two of the three major rating agencies could lead to negative consequences, such as requiring some bond issuers to secure additional collateral.

Since the 1970s, federal statutes and regulations have mandated that debt issuers obtain ratings as evidence of creditworthiness. An oligopoly of rating agencies used this authority to effectively control access to the financial system.  Even a threat of a downgrade from a rating agency could cause credit to dry up, and few inside or outside of Washington dared to challenge their dominance.

The financial crisis jeopardized the agencies' privileged position. Politicians and pundits accused them of being asleep at the wheel, if not complicit with issuers, in camouflaging risks and misleading investors during the run-up to the subprime mortgage crisis. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, enacted a year ago but not fully implemented yet, threatened to introduce unprecedented oversight and regulation. 

The law called for exposing rating agencies to civil liability in securities lawsuits if their ratings were inaccurate. It also challenged the oligopoly's dominance by calling for the Securities and Exchange Commission to explore the feasibility of having an independent organization select rating agencies for asset-backed securities, instead of having the bond issuers select and pay the agencies, as they now do.

But the rating agencies struck back, first through civil disobedience.  To evade potential liability, they threatened to freeze the markets for asset-backed securities by refusing to allow their ratings to be quoted in S.E.C. filings. The S.E.C. quickly caved and suspended the rule. Meanwhile, the rating agencies have begun a guerrilla campaign of behind-the-scenes lobbying to weaken the commission's efforts to carry out other parts of Dodd-Frank.  

The S.& P. downgrade has elevated this simmering standoff to an overt clash. Politicians will be tempted to wave a white flag by granting the agencies a pass from tough regulation in exchange for the agencies' not downgrading federal debt further. While that approach may give the United States breathing room in the short run, the government should not give in to such extortion.  

Instead, politicians must take the hard medicine of a downgrade in stride and get America's house in order, because the country faces ruin if the budget imbalances continue, regardless of what rating agencies say. At the same time, they should not forget the rating agencies' role in the crisis and allow these monitors of creditworthiness to revert to their pre-crisis ways of lax ratings and blindness to deception.

Jeffrey Manns is an associate professor of law at George Washington University.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

TEA PARTY MADNESS

The disturbing retreat of the stock market the past few days, barely skirting the official bear market boundary before Tuesday's iffy rally, has been more than enough to prove two core points.

One is that no-holds-barred political extremism -- like the garrote employed by Republicans' hard-right Tea Partiers in manufacturing a slow-motion, confidence-shattering political crisis over the specter of a government default -- actually can do severe damage to the economy and to the confidence of investors on which it relies.

The second is that a positive approach to job creation -- the tonic needed to revive economic growth from the nearly static eight-tenths of 1 percent this year -- should not have been allowed to play second fiddle to near-term deficit reduction. It should have been front and center all year.

The tragic irony is that it would have been the top priority if Tea Partiers and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives had not hijacked the jobs agenda, handcuffed Congress, and engaged in a counter-productive assault on near-term pump priming and smart job-growth strategies.

Their insistence that the $14.3 trillion national debt (and any near-term increase that will occur until the economy kicks in gear and regenerates lost tax revenue) must take absolute priority is self-defeating on its face. In fact, every backward fiscal policy they embrace is self-defeating in terms of reducing the long-term debt, restricting new economic growth and resulting tax revenue, and lowering costs to federal and state governments for unemployment and health-care aid.

Eroding investor confidence in the dollar by creating a fiscal crisis, for example, risks raising the interest cost that Treasury must pay on new bond issues to Treasury to service the government's 30-year accumulation of debt. A 1 percent increase in the yield on Treasury bonds, for instance, would add $1.3 trillion to federal debt right away.

Likewise, demanding cuts in already minimal social programs will just make life harder for many American families by raising their cost of living and diminishing their discretionary consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of economic activity. Indeed, it is the higher cost to government of economic contradiction -- the enduring ripples from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the nearly 8 million jobs shed then -- that still haunts the economy. Sending the nation back to deeper austerity won't reverse that. It will just aggravate the problem and stall recovery.

What ails the American economy is not the cost of Social Security: Its current trust fund surplus could easily be extended for many decades by incremental tweaks and by ending its salary cap for high earners, whose prosperity depends on a broad and healthy middle-class.

Nor is Medicare or Medicaid the core source of our national debt. Indeed, a bona fide national public health care program -- i.e., Medicare for all who would choose to pay that premium -- would drive down overall health cost to the far lower per-capita rates that all other industrialized nations pay for universal care. It would also force private insurers, the pharmaceutical industry and ancilliary providers to compete by streamlining and reducing extravagant executive overhead.

Closing corporate tax loopholes, restoring equity in a progressive tax rate (the nation's wealthiest 1 percent now pay the least percent of taxes they've paid in 80 years) and investing more in clean energy, education and job training and job creation incentives, would do wonders for the economy.

There's no need for a doomsday mindset, not unless our so-called job creators keep off-shoring the nation's jobs. There is just a great need for vigorous, forward-looking leadership, and truth-telling about the corporate shills and Wall Street cronies that the Republican Party has become while scamming the public with so-called family values to camouflage policies that would grind America's marginalized middle-class into the dust.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

'THE STRUGGLE OF THIS DECADE'

We shouldn't really be shocked that our national credit rating has been downgraded. We were warned, after all, that it could be if we didn't start dealing realistically with our debt.

But even though the federal government long has spent far more money than too-high tax rates have brought in, it seems to astonish many that Standard & Poor's rating of U.S. credit was recently reduced from AAA to AA+ for the first time in history.

Some Democrats in the U.S. Senate are so upset that they evidently plan to investigate S&P -- rather than face the economic irresponsibility that led to the downgrade!

Not everyone has been taken by surprise, though.

"This news shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone and is further evidence that Washington is dysfunctional and our country's battle with spending is the struggle of this decade," U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., correctly noted in a press release.

Corker had proposed a rigorous plan -- the CAP Act -- to get our nation on the right path by capping spending. But ultimately Congress passed a watered-down package of new borrowing and limited spending cuts.

"Unfortunately, the plan passed last week was the best we could get under the current administration and Republican control of only one house of Congress," Corker added, "but it's not nearly enough ... ." He commendably intends to press for larger cuts.

His fellow Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander, also declared that our debt load cannot be ignored: "This problem didn't happen overnight and it can't be fixed overnight, but the American people have a right to expect Congress to work across party lines to reduce the federal debt by at least $4 trillion over the next 10 years," Alexander said in a news release.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., was equally troubled by the circumstances that led to the credit rating downgrade: "We must end our addiction to government spending," he stated. "Over the last six months the Republican-led House has worked diligently to rein in government spending and get our country back on the path of fiscal responsibility. However, Senate Democrats and the Obama Administration have hindered all attempts at fiscal responsibility.

"Instead, they have carried on with a mindset of 'tax, borrow, spend'; ... [the] downgrade by S&P makes it clear this is no longer a viable option. ... Spending money we do not have must end now. Period."

So, what are some of the financial conditions that contributed to the reduced credit rating?

·         We now have a national debt of $14.6 trillion.

·         That amounts to nearly $47,000 per citizen.

·         But not all citizens pay taxes, so our debt comes to more than $130,000 per taxpayer.

Are you comfortable with that? Should anybody be?

Corker, Alexander and Fleischmann are among the members of Congress who are seeking to exercise more financial responsibility. But obviously they are not in the majority.

We need a president and majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives who are determined to practice financial common sense and make our country fully worthy once again of the highest possible credit rating.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

RAGE AND RIOTS IN LONDON

Residents and police officials in London prepared for additional violence Tuesday following three nights of what police said was the worst rioting in the city in decades. The scope of the violence left some parts of the city in ruins. Local and national officials worked feverishly to end or to significantly reduce the widespread lawlessness.

A spokesman for the London Metropolitan Police said 16,000 officers -- some called in from other jurisdictions -- would be on the streets Tuesday night. That's more than double the number on duty Monday. The question, though, is whether the additional police presence and other measures will produce the desired result.

For three nights, the gangs of mostly young people who have taken to the streets have outmaneuvered the police. They used instant messages to report the movements of law enforcement officials. They directed their cohorts -- many traveling on bicycles and mopeds that could move more swiftly through urban streets than police vehicles -- to sites lightly protected or unprotected by police. Law enforcement officials expect more of the same.

The rioting, which began Saturday in n economically deprived area of London, spread quickly. Politicians and other officials say the violence is the work of criminals and other misfits. That claim is disputed by observers who say social, political and economic tensions are the root of the trouble.

There is some evidence to support that claim, though most who make it agree that peaceful not violent means should be used to address those problems. At the moment, though, those who espouse disorder have prevailed.

Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a vacation to return to London and called Parliament into emergency session to address the unrest. That's unlikely to help. Protesters, angered by budget cuts to public programs and the government's inability to create jobs and bolster a faltering economy, want policy changes that will address their concerns. Cameron and other politicians are unlikely to provide that in an emergency session or in the near future..

In the short-term, then, police officials have to consider other options. They apparently have discussed tear gas and water cannons, which have not been employed in Britain for years. They have talked about the use of plastic bullets that can knock a person down without damaging the skin. Widely employed in Northern Island, the bullets have never been used by police in Britain itself. The fact that their use has been discussed is an indication of the government's determination -- some would say desperation --to end the rioting.

Law and order likely will be restored in London sooner rather than later. Still, the riots are a powerful reminder that normally law-abiding people who feel disenfranchised because government places fiscal and political issues above human ones can develop an anger so palpable that it sometimes turns into violence. That's a valuable lesson that should be taken to heart by other nations where political expediency trumps equitable governance.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

BACK TO SCHOOL!

The calendar says fall does not officially begin until Sept. 23. But for about 42,000 public school students in Hamilton County, there may be a bit of sadness that summer break is over and they must return to school today.

Fortunately, any sorrow they might feel at seeing the carefree days of summer vacation pass will likely be matched by excitement about the first day of the new school year. That means new teachers, new classmates, new courses and, for many, a new building as they transition into higher grades.

This is a time of anticipation and hope -- and we suspect that there are a few grown-ups out there who are perhaps just a little envious that they are not heading back to school this fall themselves.

It's also a time for fresh beginnings.

So we urge every student in Hamilton County to jump into the new academic year with a determination to take full advantage of the educational opportunities provided.

Of course, not all schoolwork is fun, and certainly not every student likes every subject equally.

But there are wonderful prospects and rewards for students who will apply themselves vigorously to their studies and absorb as much knowledge in every subject as they possibly can.

Some of those rewards are tangible: High school and college graduates generally earn a good deal more money over their lifetimes than those who drop out of school.

But there are equally important intangible benefits of education. Developing a love of reading, for instance, can enrich anyone's life and open up a whole new world of interesting ideas.

Therefore, we wish all our local students every success as they embark on or continue their academic careers this year. The possibilities are endless for those who work hard and set high expectations for themselves.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

RIOTING IN ENGLAND

We usually think of our British cousins as rather reserved and well-mannered. So it is a shock that news from London -- and other major British cities -- tells us there have been several nights of rioting, looting and vandalism among young people.

The British police have been hard-pressed to subdue mobs rampaging in London, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool. Prime Minister David Cameron rushed back from vacation in Italy to try to deal with the problems.

What's it all about? There was no good explanation -- and certainly no valid excuse. The outbreaks reportedly had no single cause, although some rioters said it was their way of protesting cuts in government spending.

The unrest began after police killed a man last week under unclear circumstances. Racial friction in some immigrant ethnic communities has caused trouble in recent decades and may explain part of the violence.

At any rate, it is all very unfortunate -- and very "un-British."

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TOLERANCE OR ENDURANCE?

There might be no limit to the consolidation of political Islam in this country. Electoral support of one in every two Turks must be sufficient enough to demonstrate that transformation of the axis of political power towards Islamist conservatism has reached a very advanced stage. Yet, apparently there are Islamist theologian-writers unsatisfied with the "great strides" of political Islam achieved particularly over the past nine years and who dream of a "State of Islam."

Reading such comments, it is indeed impossible not to feel sorry for the democracy and democratic freedoms in this country. "To live together with people not living like Muslims is possible only with endurance," a "fatwa" issued by an Islamist penslinger underscored this week. What he tried to say was indeed very clear and rather straightforward. There were two kinds of people in this country. There was a "first class" group of people who were good Muslims living according to the teachings of their religion and those infidels, who thanks to endurance by good Muslims, are leading a life in this country not in conformity with Islam.

Such a statement, of course, is sheer criminality as there is a sharp difference between "tolerance" that Islam calls for and "endurance" of the powerful, the upper class, the better race or the "good Muslims" for the "infidels." Is it not a crime under the current Turkish penal code to disseminate hatred, discrimination and indeed racism – as the writer was suggesting that Muslims were "enduring" others as if they were superior to others?

Will any public prosecutor do anything against that Islamist writer or scores of others who have been disseminating such dirty perceptions on TV screens and in newspaper pages? I bet, none… Secularism is a constitutional principle but unfortunately for many decades it was applied as a tool to regulate religion and now political Islam is reshaping the state to conform to the culture of Islam, yet still claiming that secularism is a sacrosanct principle. However, in a secular state how would a group of people who are "good people," – though they "hate" those infidels – demonstrate endurance and allow people who are "not that good people" to exist in this country?

As the controversy over these remarks swept the country – yeah, Turks do discuss issues apart from the economic crisis in Europe, S&P downgrading U.S. credit rating for the first time since 1940s, Syria developments and the so-called Arab Spring, Afghanistan or the London rebellion of the refugees – another Islamist theologian-writer rushed to provide a deeper meaning for his good Muslim brother. Accordingly, Babur Shah, the Moghul emperor of India, separated "Indians worshipping cows" and "Muslims sacrificing cows" and thus enabled peace and order in the country despite huge contrasts.

Of course we are not living in the 14th or 15th centuries. Establishing ghettos, subjecting a section of the population of the country to forced resettlement or trying to achieve some sort of ethnic, cultural or religious cleansing are not valid ideas that might fetch good money; hopefully! Yet, as studies of eminent sociologist Professor Yılmaz Esmer showed in this growingly Islamist-conservative society "others" are no longer "welcome" be they not-so-good Muslims, Jews, Christians, gays, lesbians or whatever different.

Shall we celebrate the replacement of the "culture of tolerance" we have been so proud of with the "culture of endurance"?

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ZERO PROBLEMS, A HUNDRED TROUBLES

 

BurakBekdil - burak.bekdil@huriyet.com.tr

The honeymoon is officially over.

The willing trio of Islamist/anti-Zionist/Third Worldist "brothers" Turkey, Syria and Iran have split into a duo and a soloist who straddles between a soloist career and the good old band days. Zero problems with neighbors Iran and Syria were beyond dreams; even a few minor problems based on common Islamist ideas and commercial pragmatism were a not-so-modest dream from the beginning. That policy could well have been called "ostensibly-zero-problems-and-actually-a-hundred-troubles-pushed-behind-the-prayer-rug-doctrine."

The policy of constant Israel-bashing each time the Jewish state disproportionately responded to terrorism and killed a few or more than a few – sometimes innocent – Muslims, while Muslim states killed mostly innocent Muslims by the thousands, was unsustainable from the beginning, if Turkey was a modern democracy. When you have troubling neighbors, you have troubled borders, and cannot have zero problems with them just because you belong to the same faith.

Naturally, Syria cracked first, with "zero problems" swiftly becoming many serious problems; and now the "brotherhood" with Iran went back to its traditional trajectory it has been on since 1639. The "passage to Persia" first cracked in March when Ankara informed the United Nations Security Council that it had found weapons and ammunition aboard an Iranian cargo plane bound for Syria. The cargo included rocket launchers, mortars, rifles, explosive materials and ammunition – a breach of U.N. resolutions banning Iran from exporting arms.

Then came the big divide on what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accurately described as "savagery" as nearly 2,000 Syrian protestors have been killed by the Assad regime which, for the Mullahs, was a well deserved end for "terrorists." Recently, one Mullah Pravda accused Turkey of systematically providing "Syrian terrorists" with arms. More recently Sobh'eh Sadegh, one of Iranian Revolutionary Guards' media outlets, sternly warned Turkey against its stance against Syria, emphasizing that Iran stands squarely with the Assad regime.

The newspaper said: "Should Turkish officials insist on their contradictory behavior and if they continue on their present path, serious issues are sure to follow." It also said that Iran will choose Syria over Turkey, if it had to choose. And according to Sobh'eh Sadegh, "Syrian protestors are puppets of Zionists and the United States." The proof? "It can be seen in their alliance with the enemies of Islam and their denunciation of Hezbollah."

That was the voice of a regime with which Turkey sought to have zero problems. A regime that ideologically gives a carte blanche to Muslim dictators killing thousands of Muslims. Zero problems with Iran and Syria could only be a film project with the title "dangerous liaisons," if not "Alice in wonderland."

And most recently the stakes were further raised when Turkey intercepted another arms shipment from Iran that was destined for Syria (or Hezbollah in Lebanon). This time the Mullahs had preferred a land route in place of an aerial line, as a truck full of weapons was stopped in Kilis near Turkey's Syrian border.

In the meantime, the inventor of the "zero problems with neighbors" policy has said that he intends to publish his second book. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has chosen an interesting title for his new opus: "From the Ancient to the Global." I understand his doctrinaire ambitions are moving from regional into historical and global. Watch out. Just in case...

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

SO, WHO WILL PROTECT SECULARISM NOW?

The question in my headline is asked by many these days, especially in light of the gradual decline of the Turkish military as an intruder into Turkish politics. But the question itself is questionable, for it seems to overlook a few crucial facts.

First of all, the self-styled secularism that Turkey's generals (and likeminded judges) used to impose was nothing like that seen in the democratic West. Inspired by the radical French Enlightenment, and the German "vulgar materialism" of the 19th century, it was based on zeal against, not neutrality toward, traditional religion. On the other hand, it sponsored the same religion with the sole aim of manipulating it for state purposes. So, it had bizarre consequences, such as the bans on headscarves and Sufi orders, and Ankara-issued mosque sermons that preached "martyrdom" in the ranks of the Turkish military for the sake of the national homeland.

Creating enemies

In other words, the self-styled secularism that Turkey's generals (and likeminded judges) used to impose was inconsistent, undemocratic, and illiberal. It violated the rights of not just Turkish Muslims, but also Turkish Christians, whose churches and missions were also severely limited. (The closure of the Halki Seminary of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in 1971, for example, was the work of a military junta.) So, it is only good news that the enforcers of this illiberal laïcité are getting out of the way.

But what about the Islamists, who reject even the most liberal forms of the secular state, and rather insist for an "Islamic state"? Who will protect Turkey from them now?

Yet this question also needs to be scrutinized a bit, for it fails to ask where Islamism came from in the first place: Was it always there? Or was it a reaction to something? If you try to answer this question in the context of Turkey, you will see that Islamism in this country emerged mainly as a response to the military-imposed secularism that we are talking about.

In the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey had become a constitutional monarchy, and most of its Islamic opinion leaders were in favor of more democratization. This emerging tide of Islamic liberalism was crushed, and its evolution was cut short, by the ultra-secular Kemalist regime of the second quarter of the 20th century. Yet still, when the "multi-party" era began in 1950, pious Muslims did nothing other than support the center-right Democrat Party, which not only brought religious freedom, but also created an economic boom and joined NATO.

Thugs in uniform

However, the thugs in uniform did not tolerate even the Democrat Party and launched a bloody coup against it in 1960, imprisoning all of its deputies, executing three of its ministers, including the all-popular Prime Minister Adnan Menderes. Only after this frontal attack on the center-right did Islamism emerge as a political force in the late 1960s under the banner of Necmettin Erbakan, who promised an "Islamic NATO," and, ultimately, an Islamic state.

So, when Turkey's generals attacked the Erbakan government in 1997 with their "post-modern coup," they were only eliminating a "threat" that their forbearers helped to create.

The same dynamic can be seen also in the other bête noir of Turkey's generals, Kurdish separatism. Since the mid-1980s, Turkey's generals have led a massive counter-insurgency against Kurdish separatists while disallowing any political reform on the "Kurdish question." Little have they realized that it was the very strict Turkish nationalism that they imposed on all citizens, including humiliating bans on the Kurdish language, and the very violence they inflicted on even peaceful Kurdish activists, that created the trouble in the first place and perpetuated it.

Only with the removal of the military from the scene, have we been able to begin discussing the interpretations of secularism, the remedies to the Kurdish question and even taboos such as the tragic fate of Ottoman Armenians. So far, we have not fallen prey to any of the "domestic and foreign enemies," which our generals claimed to have been saving us form. With them in their barracks, actually, we seem to be doing just fine.

*For Mustafa Akyol's complete works, including his recent book on Islamic liberalism, visit his blog, TheWhitePath.com.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

OLIVE OIL SECTOR EYES CHINA AND JAPAN

The north Aegean town of Ayvalık, where I have spent most of my vacation, has ambitions of producing the best olives and olive oil.

The owner of Has Ada on Cunda Island, Hasan Gülören, smiles when he tells me that he takes orders for 45 parcels a day.

A few years ago, the Ayvalık Chamber of Commerce was able to qualify for Turkey's first "geographical indication." It is now training experts for the International Olive Council through the connoisseur courses it has launched.

The courses are expected to last nine months, the head of the chamber, Rahmi Gencer, said, adding that nearly 30 people have participated in the courses but only 12 of them would be selected.

No doubt, Ayvalık has made a major contribution in the rebirth of olive and olive oil culture in recent years.

According to writer-journalist Nedim Atilla's book titled, "Monuments of Olive Oil," or "Zeytinyağı Anıtları," olive harvesting began in 4000 B.C. for the first time in Southeast Anatolia before reaching western Anatolia; from there, it traveled to Greece, Italy, France and Spain.

Even though olive and olive oil have spread from this land to Europe, Turkey ranks fourth in production after Spain, Italy and Greece.

Moreover, it occasionally switches places with its closest competitor, Tunisia.

Turkey produced 160,000 tons of olive oil last year. We look at Spain: Its production is 1,250,000 tons. There is a huge difference between us.

Can the 2015 target be reached?

The head of the National Olive and Olive Oil Council, Mustafa Tan, said Turkey's target for 2015 was 700,000 tons.

Tan said there were around 5 million to 6 million new olive tree saplings planted every year and that this target would be approached if not met.

The head of the council, who assembles all the stakeholders of the olive and olive oil sector from the producer to the exporter, from the Agriculture Ministry to the Undersecretariat of Foreign Trade, notes that the numbers in production were always going up.

In parallel with production, the numbers of exports are also following a positive course. For example, olive oil which was exported at a price per kilogram of $3.34 last year can find a buyer at a price of $4.43 this year.

Tan emphasizes that there has been a significant change in olive oil exportation.

The bulk olive oil that such countries as Italy and the United States buy and market with their own brands are gradually being replaced by branded olive oil.

"When we take a look at export figures, we see that the bulk olive oil markets are shrinking while those markets buying branded olive oil are expanding," said Tan.

While exports to China in the first half of last year were 184 tons, this figure rose to 260 tons in the first month of this year.

Similarly, black olive sales to Japan in the first half of the year increased to 4,000 tons from 3,000 tons and green olives from 3,500 tons to 5,600 tons.

Nicknamed the "olive professor," Tan said Turkey was on its way to becoming a brand: "Even small producers and investors have come to the point of exploring new markets."

It is important that a big player like Komili enter China and Japan but it is an indication that the sector has a bright future when small investors also are eyeing these markets.

One last piece of data: Of the 80 countries that Turkey is exporting olive oil to, 95 percent are buying packaged goods – in other words, branded production.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

'HANDCUFFING' VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN TURKEY

DİLEK KARAL


Family and Social Policies Minister Fatma Şahin recently announced that husbands who inflict violence upon their wives will be barred from their own homes and tracked by a monitoring system that will utilize electronic handcuffs. Moreover, Şahin also promised that the ministry would regulate standards for women's shelters in Turkey to protect women from violence. While the electronic monitoring technique and future reforms for women's shelters are the topic of wide discussion, the diverse aspects of violence against women that we come across every day in Turkey should be considered once more.

In August 2010 the Justice Ministry reported that there had been a 1,400 percent increase in the number of female murder victims in the last seven years. The General Directorate of Security and the General Gendarmerie Command have also stated that 226 women were murdered in the first seven months of 2010.

Similarly, Hacettepe University's 2009 study, "Domestic Violence Against Women in Turkey," revealed that 39 percent of women were exposed to physical abuse and 15 percent to sexual harassment. According to the study, more than half of the women interviewed (52 percent) discussed the violence they suffered with their acquaintances, yet only 8 percent of women made an appeal to a government agency or nongovernmental organizations. The most stunning aspect of this study may be that more than one third of women are exposed to violence by their husbands, boyfriends or close relatives.

Some studies point out that socio-cultural and economic factors are also increasing the tendency toward violence. The probability of being exposed to violence is increasing for women who are economically dependent and have lower levels of education than men. These women do not tell anyone about the violence they are exposed to. The violence continues in families like a genetic or infectious illness. Children who grow up in an environment where domestic violence exists become more likely to inflict violence on their partners or be exposed to violence by them.

The role of existing social policies and laws in the repetition of domestic violence is significant. Academic Ayşe Buğra, who has conducted extensive research regarding social policy, indicates that Turkey's social policy approach, which developed especially after the 1980s, preserves a conservative social structure on the assumption that only women are responsible for household work, such as looking after children, the elderly and the handicapped. This social policy approach defines the family unit, but by doing this, restricts women to the home. In this structure, women face problems in explaining their victimhood due to their dependency on men. Consequently, the comprehensiveness of social policy appears as one of the most important elements determining the position of women in family relations.

Apart from applying electronic handcuffs and increasing the number of women's shelters in order to prevent violence against women, the Family and Social Policy Ministry is anticipating changes to Law No. 4320 on the Protection of the Family and articles of the Turkish Penal Code No. 5237 (29/1; 82/1) which cover punishments for homicide. The prevalent penal code reduces life sentences to a variety of punishments in the event the homicide is committed as a result of "unjust provocation," but women's rights defenders have demanded that the reduced sentence should not be applied for homicide crimes that are motivated by gender discrimination.

These new deterrents are vital for the sake of eliminating violence against women. However, legal revisions must also facilitate structural changes in the way that many women's associations have been demanding. Otherwise, attempting to limit this criminal behavior through mere legislation without the addition of reforms to social policies will yield nothing but superficiality. It is apparent that we require radical changes to "handcuff" violence against women rather than just resorting to token efforts.

*Dilek Karal is an analyst at the International Strategic Research Organization, or USAK, Center for Social Studies. dkaral@usak.org.tr

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TOWARD AN ISOLATED SYRIA

As Syrian forces continued to press ahead on regime dissidents with an unending brutal crackdown causing fury in the international arena, the chorus of global criticism of Syria is getting expanded in a way to isolate disobedient Syrian leadership.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait recalled their ambassadors from Damascus as Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu held critical talks with President Bashar al-Assad and other officials on Tuesday. Envoys from India, South Africa and Brazil were scheduled to arrive in Damascus on Tuesday to deliver a message from the United Nations as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was planning to submit a report to the Security Council on Thursday. Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council have issued statements over the weekend repeating similar calls on the Assad regime.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah's statement calling on Damascus to stop the killing machine and end the bloodshed was particularly important; as for many, it was an indication that the Saudi kingdom is burning bridges with Assad. There is no need to revisit statements from Western powers who already voiced their unease with Assad treatment on dissident.

What is seen currently is a developing coalition against Assad in regional and global scale. Damascus' insistence in not trying to establish a good dialogue with dissent and heed sincere advices from Turkey and other friendly countries is obviously not helping Assad. To the contrary, a months-long military campaign, which claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 people, helped build an anti-Assad coalition in the world, leaving Damascus and Tehran alone in their friendship.

On Tuesday, Davutoğlu flew to Damascus under these conditions. However, when his very critical meeting with Assad began early in the morning, the news agencies reported that "Syrian tanks stormed into the northwestern Idlib province bordering Turkey." Agencies said there were casualties in Idlib and two people were killed in Hama as security forces opened fire, an indication that the Assad regime will not easily order his army to return to its military barracks.

If Assad would turn a deaf ear to Ankara's advices, then it will be only natural to see a radical change in Turkey's policy toward Syria. Based on a full engagement policy, Ankara was very keen in boosting ties with its northern neighbor in almost all fields, which it sees as a sample case for its zero-problems-with-neighbors policy.

Obviously, this era would follow with a disengagement policy, the initial form of its isolationist approach. It will normally join the international chorus in implementing measures that will seemingly be taken in coming weeks. No doubt, this will seriously affect bilateral relations with a suspension of joint projects and even dialogue mechanisms.

A military intervention into Syria is neither today's nor the future's preference for Turkey. However, the Turkish military will continue to take all measures in case of a growing instability in its neighbor. Turkey sees the situation as an open-ended process whose fate will only be determined by the actions Assad will take or not.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

SERVING JUSTICE

 

Dealing a serious blow to the PPP-led government's efforts to sideline Zafar Qureshi from the high profile National Insurance Company Ltd (NICL) scam, the Supreme Court has annulled the suspension of the chief probe officer and directed him to expeditiously complete the investigation as Additional DG FIA. In the same breath, the SC has – while reiterating that the executive has the discretion to pass administrative orders – also ruled that such discretion must be exercised judicially and in accordance with the law and that it is very much within the ambit of the SC's power to ensure that this is how things are done. Before anyone cries that the SC is "overstepping its boundaries," let it be said that in exercise of the power of judicial review, the apex court is well within its constitutional right to scrutinise executive and administrative actions of the state and its public bodies, especially when such actions run contrary to the law and violate fundamental rights as guaranteed by the constitution. If the executive acts without jurisdiction, in excess of its authority or abuses or misuses its power, how can it be considered unreasonable for the court to exercise its power of review? In this case, it would not be uncharitable to charge the PPP-led government with doing all of the above through its act of punishing an honest officer by posting him to an innocuous department because he implicated influential power players in scams.

It bears repeating that the NICL case came to Zafar Qureshi as per routine and that it was the prime minister, not the Supreme Court, that appointed him to the FIA. It was only when the investigation revealed that PML-Q chief and PPP coalition partner Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi's son was a major beneficiary of looted NICL money that Qureshi was removed. The Supreme Court wants the investigation completed and in that spirit has ordered that Qureshi be allowed to complete it. The court has not appointed or transferred anyone. It has simply asked – as it has asked in the case of Hussain Asghar and the Haj scam – that an honest man be allowed to do his job without fear or favour. There is clear political interference in this case and the court also intends to get to the bottom of this and has constituted a special commission headed by Justice Ghulam Rabbani to look into media reports about the government's meddlesome attitude. Thus, the court's assertiveness, and what many are calling its inflexibility is not an inherent inflexibility towards the PPP government; it is instead its inflexibility when it comes to ensuring that justice is not hindered. The Supreme Court is standing firmly between the law and a government bent on breaking it.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

CALL FOR CALM


Karachi's frightening descent into violence over the past few months remains unchecked. So far political parties have failed to do very much to tackle the anarchy which has claimed 800 lives since this year began – many more in the years before. It is thus hardly surprising that the military has, for the very first time, expressed concern over the lack of law and order in Karachi and also over the impact this is having on the economy. Karachi, as the country's commercial capital is obviously significant in more ways than one. It is also true that at least two major parties in the city have already called for army intervention. The MQM and ANP have said that troops should be deployed. This reflects their level of concern and lack of faith in the government's ability to control the situation. Given that things appear to have gone from bad to worse quite rapidly, the army's concern is easy to understand. Ideally, the institution should refrain from making forays into politics. Under General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani it has largely avoided doing so. The short, terse statement issued by the ISPR however reflects growing alarm that is shared by many in the country. The millions who live in Karachi, and have suffered most, occupy first place among them.

We must hope the steps announced by the Interior Ministry will succeed. It has been decided that all existing arms licenses will be cancelled from September 1. We can only hope that this deweaponisation drive will work where many others in the past have failed. There is to be an effort to control the illegitimate use of Sims while the police has been asked to keep a closer watch on neighbourhoods. For months now Karachi has been engulfed in violence. It is imperative that the government sorts things out. Military interventions are never desirable. But then neither are continuing chaos and the disruption of life. Our most urgent need at the moment is to bring this anarchy to an end any way we can.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

UK RIOTS


The physical and social costs of the rioting in London and other parts of the UK are not yet estimated, but will be in the tens of millions of pounds whilst the social costs are going to lie in fragmented, disaffected poor communities with a deep mistrust of the police. The trigger was the shooting dead by the police of a man they wanted to arrest as a part of Operation Trident, which is aimed at countering gun crime. There was an uncomfortable familiarity about the way the police initially told the story of the man's shooting, and the circumstances of his death now seem far less clear-cut than originally reported. The story could have been taken from the pages of any of our own newspapers reporting a death during a police 'encounter.' Seemingly we do not have a monopoly on dubious behaviour by the constabulary – or its lack of transparency. Protests that followed quickly turned violent. This was not a protest against police actions, it was a series of linked acts of criminality, destroying property, endangering lives and ruining livelihoods. It is possible that the army will be called upon to support the civil power as matters have moved beyond the control of the police.

Focused as we are on our own problems we sometimes tend to see places like the UK as utopian – which they are not. The UK is policed by consent, but that consent may be fast ebbing. It has large numbers of unemployed and angry urban poor, mostly young. They are not overwhelmingly black or white or Asian, but there is often a strong sense of anger directed towards the police who are seen as heavy-handed and biased. The fragility of social order and the collapse into rioting, mass vandalism and targeted looting are indicative of a deep malaise. They have the power to shock us, but perhaps should not surprise.

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

BJP'S KARNATAKA CATASTROPHE

 PRAFUL BIDWAI


If the Bharatiya Janata Party's top leadership had decided to demonstrate its cynical disregard for political decency, tolerance for colossal corruption, lack of political judgment and sheer organisational incompetence, it couldn't have done better than it did in Karnataka.

 

The collapse of the BS Yeddyurappa government after it was indicted for monumental corruption by the Lokayukta (ombudsman), and the political manoeuvres that followed, constitute a humiliating debacle for the BJP. That a secret ballot was necessary to get the new chief minister elected speaks to the BJP's sordid state. The choice of DV Sadananada Gowda as chief minister speaks to Yeddyurappa's clout.

This debacle should instantly end the BJP's dream of using its first-ever election victory in a south Indian state as a stepping-stone to power elsewhere in the south. Indeed, the party stands publicly discredited and viciously divided between warring factions and caste-based cabals. It would be lucky to retain power in Karnataka without splitting.

The latest fiasco shows that the BJP's central leadership possesses little moral authority over state satraps. It failed to rein in Yeddyurappa long after it became evident that his involvement in large-scale illegality would cost the party a grievous, and potentially unbearable, loss. At its centre was a mafia-style mining operation run by the Reddy Brothers, Janardhana and Karunakara, and their chief accomplice B Sriramulu.

The BJP brass became complicit in Yeddyurappa's corruption and use of money power. It received funds from him. Reportedly, Yeddyurappa gave Rs 160 crores to its 2008 state election campaign. Even the RSS is said to have received generous donations from him for its new office buildings. Yeddyurappa used money power to neutralise and control the party leadership.

The leadership was so compromised that it couldn't even secure Yeddyurappa's resignation immediately after Lokayukta N Santosh Hegde submitted his report. The chief minister took four days to announce that he would quit – on condition that he would choose his successor, and also control the state party.

While announcing his resignation, Yeddyurappa declared in his typical tawdry, vulgar style that Sadananda Gowda would succeed him. Rather than countermand him, senior national leaders Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh, deputed by the central leadership to ensure an orderly and consensual transition, stood and watched.

Yeddyurappa will go down in history for infusing an enormous amount of sleaze into Karnataka politics. Justice Hegde's 464-page report, backed by over 25,000 pages of evidence, shows the chief minister was complicit in the operation of a humongous racket based on the illegal mining of iron ore and its clandestine export to China via seven ports in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu at least since 2006. His family too made crores from mining companies' donations.

"They [the Reddy Brothers] claimed they were doing no mining in Karnataka", Justice Hegde said. "We have enough documents to the contrary." The Brothers created what the report terms "a pool of illegalities", including mining beyond permitted areas and in larger quantities, overloading trucks, bribing officials, faking or destroying documents, and laundering money through a network of companies based in Singapore and the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.

The mining racket proper consisted in the outright looting of 29.8 million tonnes of high-quality iron ore, worth a mind-boggling Rs 12,228 crores, without payment of royalty or taxes from April 2006 to July 2010. The Reddys' profit margin on the ore, after paying bribes, is estimated at 1,300 percent! The direct loss to the exchequer is estimated at Rs 16,085 crores. Justice Hegde has asked that this entire amount be recovered through legal proceedings against the nearly 800 officials and politicians involved.

The Reddy Brothers are believed to have amassed Rs 30,000 crores over the years. The BJP has been the greatest political beneficiary of their largesse. No wonder the BJP was loath to sack Yeddyurappa. It stonewalled questions on his corruption, and avoided taking a decision until his damning indictment by a statutory authority (Lokayukta Hegde) left it with no choice.

The BJP has not taken its disgracing to heart and decided to dispense with politicians of the Yeddyurappa ilk. It will not only continue to do business with them, but will rely on them to push its agendas.

Yeddyurappa carried money power-based politics to heights never before scaled in India. This variety of politics is admittedly not a BJP monopoly. The Congress has long practised it – for instance, under the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy. He was instrumental in creating new realty markets and boosting old ones, and in doling out infrastructure contracts to all manner of shady firms, which have recently built more large dams, airports and highways all over India than any other companies.

But Yeddyurappa is special. He practises a brand of politics for which money power and Robber Baron-style criminality are not only indispensable props; they are the essential ingredients of politics – and at the heart of the murky transactions that sustain leaders in power. Factors like caste, communalism and ethnicity help them win elections. They are necessary preconditions of power. But the exercise of power and generation of patronage is dependent on the ingredients of money and criminality.

Yeddyurappa can be, and is, virulently communal. His education minister has made the Bhagwad Gita compulsory in schools. Those who oppose this, he says, "are free to leave our country". Yeddyurappa can be even more casteist than the politicians of Uttar Pradesh.

This deadly combination of communalism, casteism, money power and outright criminality has taken politics to new depths in Karnataka. But unlimited money power, based on crime and plunder of public resources, cannot guarantee political pre-eminence for the BJP in Karnataka. Its social and political base in the state remains relatively thin. Although it won 110 of 224 seats in the last assembly elections (2008), it bagged a smaller vote-share (33.9 percent) than the Congress's 34.6 percent, with 80 seats.

The BJP has a chameleon-like character in Karnataka. Its original and strongest base is in Dakshina Kannada (the southern coastal region near Mangalore-Udipi). But in 2008, it suddenly sprouted in the northern and central regions where the Lingayats are strong.

The BJP could build a strong Lingayat base partly because of the marginalisation of Lingayat leaders in other parties. This doesn't reflect the BJP's independent strength. This strength is limited. In general, the BJP has gained in Karnataka from the long-term decline of the Congress, the rise of the Janata Dal under Ramakrishna Hegde, and later, the split within the JD.

The defector faction, the JD (S), led by Deve Gowda and his even more maverick son H D Kumaraswamy, suddenly and opportunistically joined hands with the BJP to form a government. Kumaraswamy was meant to give the BJP a turn at the chief ministership after half-time. But he refused. The BJP gained from the sympathy factor.

However, these phenomena are transient. The BJP hasn't built an enduring strong base for itself. Its rule has been marked by bad, unresponsive and unaccountable governance, spread of communalism and decline in social indicators. Outside of Bangalore, itself a mal-developed pocket of IT success and prosperity, Karnataka remains wretchedly backward. After the present fiasco, the BJP's future looks pretty gloomy in Karnataka.



The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: prafulbidwai1@yahoo.co.in

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

JUDICIAL ACTIVISM

 ABID HASAN


Pakistan is slowly slipping into a chaotic and ungovernable state, resulting from decades of military rule, dysfunctional parliaments and democratic governments, poor governance and the declining quality of public institutions. Deep transformational reforms are needed to reverse the slide. But they are not on the agenda of any major political party. These parties are all captured by dynasties of the corrupt and criminals, and their personal interests would be threatened by fundamental reforms.


While pressure from media and civil society can make some difference, the only institution that can now force transformational change is the superior judiciary. The present one has the moral authority and public support to become the game changer, in addition to its legal responsibility to ensure good governance that is the cornerstone of constitutional rule.


The present judiciary has made some important strides in the last two years. It now needs to shift its focus to broader issues of governance. Good governance is not a luxury that can be delayed. The Supreme Court needs to urgently take suo moto action of critical governance issues and corrective actions are required before Pakistan reaches the "tipping point" and slides into the status of a failing state.


The fundamental focus of the judiciary should be legally nudging and obligating parliament and the government to redesign the formal rules (administrative and legal) under which key institutions of the state operate and deliver "governance". Although informal and cultural norms, and "habits of the heart," are as important to the behaviour of institutions and policy makers, these change over the long haul. Formal rules need to be changed to: enable greater public oversight and accountability; being less discretionary and more transparent, and; reward performance. Rule changes, even simple ones, can bring about important, game-changing transformations of political and economic governance.

 

The most important is electoral reengineering since well-functioning political institutions hold the key for the effective performance of all other state institutions. Besides strengthening the Election Commission (EC) and ensuring its independence to conduct competitive, free and fair elections, the following key electoral rules also need to be reviewed and changed:


(i) Rethinking the type of electoral system first-past-the-post, proportional representation, or combined – that would maximise the legitimacy of parliament by reflecting views of the electorate and not just a majority.

(ii) Changing rules to improve voting accessibility and reduce voting difficulty. Here, allowing the use of modern technology could have a salutary impact. For example, electronic voting machines using Nadra ID cards could reduce vote rigging and allowing voting with cell phones could enable tens of millions of 'lazy and disenchanted' voters to easily vote; if people can conduct banking while in bed, why not voting ?

(iii) Providing adequate time and resources for transparent and impartial pre-screening of candidates to ensure that they meet acceptable standards in respect of financial integrity, tax behaviour and adherence to the rule of law. Thus several months ahead of elections, candidates would be required to submit all their wealth and tax returns, and matching of life styles with income declared on tax returns. This would be available for public scrutiny as well as scrutiny by independent forensic auditors engaged by the EC. A robust pre-screening would screen out, to a large extent, the corrupt and criminals from participating in elections.

(iv) Changing party election and candidate nomination rules to reduce dynastic capture of leadership positions.

(v) Strengthening campaign finance and spending rules to reduce influence of 'black money' and enable the less wealthy to participate.

Also in need of suo moto action are the rules that govern the functioning of parliament. These include rules for: voting, agenda setting, quorum and attendance, speaking time allowed for each member, working of committees, and code of conduct and ethics of office. Functioning of parliament and the committees could improve significantly with the adoption of global best practice rules.

Third, there is need for a judicial review of rules that are key to improving performance and accountability of public institutions. These include rules for: ensuring security of service and safeguards against arbitrary and mala fide removal and transfers of public officials; swifter removal on grounds of corruption and poor performance; ensuring merit-based recruitment and promotions; enhancing accountability to users; strengthening code of conduct and ethics of office, and; establishing performance benchmarks for employees and institutions.

Fourth, suo moto action should be taken on the un-constitutionality of the discriminatory tax policies whereby large segments of income are exempt from taxes. These exemptions reflect the hold of vested interest in parliament and on public policy. Pakistan's economic survival and independence, and the ability of the state to provide basic services to all citizens, is critically dependent on the adequacy of tax revenues. This can only be achieved by removing all exemptions and when every citizens pays income taxes, irrespective of the source of income.

Fifth, there is need for a judicial review of rules which create opportunities for corruption and abuse of office. These include: public procurement and allocation of quotas and licenses; transparency of economic decision making; provision of subsidised land and perks to public officials.

Finally, the superior judiciary needs to redouble its efforts to improve the functioning of the lower judiciary. Progress has been slow and now threatens the credibility of the superior judiciary.

For the first three issues, the Supreme Court would need to require the government to establish independent blue-ribbon commissions and obligate parliament and the government to debate and implement the recommendations, within a specified time. The electoral reforms should be completed well ahead of the next elections, so that those are held under the revised rules. Repeated elections under flawed rules will simply perpetuate sham democracy.

Ordinarily all the above reforms should be championed by either parliament or the cabinet. But since changing the rules is not in their interest, and they continue to exhibit Nero-like behaviour, it is obligatory for the third pillar of the state – the Supreme Court – to take the lead.

Pakistan currently faces stark choices and a dark future. Changing the formal rules of governance could be a giant step in the long march for a well governed Pakistan. The Supreme Court must try to force change, even if past records indicate that this parliament and cabinet will block such initiatives.



The writer is a former operations adviser at the World Bank. Email: fffhasan@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

A PARANOID ISRAEL

 TAYYAB SIDDIQUI

 

The Oslo Accord signed between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin provided for the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and the West Bank by April 13, 1999. The commitment till date has remained on paper and only the tiny enclave of Gaza inhabited by 1. 3 million Palestinians was relieved from the brutal occupation of Israel in September 2005. The withdrawal however proved only symbolic as Israel has continued to control water resources and passage rights by land, air and sea.


The situation radically changed in 2006 when after the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004, in the general elections to elect the new Palestinian leadership, Hamas received overwhelming support and formed the government. Israel and the US regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation as it did not recognise Israel, nor is it willing to negotiate.

Israel decided to punish Gazans. In retaliation to a couple of rockets fired at an Israeli settlement from Gaza territory, it unleashed a full scale war. In a matter of three weeks (December 27 to January 18, 2008) 1,417 Palestinians including 826 civilians and 300 children were killed and 5000 dwellings were destroyed, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports. Israel lost 10 soldiers and three civilians in the offensive. Not content with the brutal massacres and savagery, Israel imposed a total blockade of Gaza.

The inhuman blockade has transformed Gaza into a huge concentration camp and added immeasurably to the miseries of inhabitants. While the international community has remained passive to the extreme rigours of Gazans' lives, a Coalition of International Activists was organised last year by the "Free Gaza Movement" with assistance from Turkish NGOs. Six hundred peaceniks in nine ships forming a "Freedom Flotilla" carrying 10,000 tonnes worth of aid for suffering Palestinians in the besieged Gaza sailed from Istanbul in May 2010. It was however stopped in international waters. Israeli commandos stormed the ships killing 10 activists including nine Turks. Sixty were injured and 500 were taken prisoners. Israel's brazen contempt for human life and violation of international law provoked global condemnation. The UN was moved to investigate the matter and submit its report by July 7, 2011, which under Israeli pressure has not yet been submitted.

Turkey withdrew its ambassador, suspended military cooperation and closed its airspace to Israeli military aircrafts. "Unless Israel officially apologises for its unlawful action, pays compensations for those killed and lifts its embargo on Gaza, normalisation of relations is unthinkable," declared an irate Erdogan.

The plight of the Palestinians continues to evoke widespread sympathy and support and this year another flotilla of 10 ships was organised to mark the anniversary of 'Freedom Flotilla'. Organisers of the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign also made arrangements for 600 activists to fly to Israel from European capitals to spend a week with Palestinians families as a mark of solidarity.

Israel, in pursuance of its policy of showing total disregard for human rights or international law, decided to preempt the campaign. It used every stratagem and used every lever to stop the flotilla. The flotilla was to sail from a Greek port but under Israeli pressure the authorities did not allow it to sail. Some other ships were blocked or sabotaged by a clandestine operation. The airlines were threatened with ugly consequences. Hundreds of passengers were forcibly prevented from boarding planes. Consequently, only some 25 activists managed to reach Tel Aviv and were either deported or arrested. Thus, another effort to highlight the plight of the Palestinians failed.

Israel's policy of using blackmail and intimidation tactics seems to have succeeded in containing the trouble and smothered the protests. But at a deeper level its brutal assault on peaceful and non-violent efforts has generated global outrage and further exposed Israel's real face as a rogue nation and an international outlaw. A non-violent civil resistance movement called BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – is gaining ground. Israel may have to face even more serious challenges to its ruthless policy in future.

Israel's proverbial inhuman policies have roused anger and disgust even among its friends. A commentary in Israeli daily 'Haaretz' says: "Non violent demonstrators who pose no threat to Israel security are being portrayed as enemies of the state and of the people, not to mention of all humanity. If it were not so sad, it would be funny. Israel is becoming grotesque."



The writer is a former ambassador.

Email: m.tayyab.siddiqui@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

AFGHANISTAN: THE WINNERS AND THE LOSERS

 SALEEM SAFI


In terms of security the beautiful city of Kabul has better arrangements than Islamabad. But what I noticed in my last week's stay at Kabul is that the city is poisoned with confusion, hassle and distrust. I visited President Hamid Karzai for condolence on his brother's death, and for the first time I found him grieved and under stress. At lunch the young poet and journalist Haroon Hakimi introduced a youngster from Zabul province.

The young man had a group photo of his ten siblings and with tears in his eyes described that his father has died in a recent target killing incident. And now he is receiving the same threats so he is not able to continue work or education in his hometown. He was appealing to Hamid Karzai to relocate him somewhere in Kabul so that he could live and shoulder his family responsibilities. Karzai handed over the case to his chief of staff Abdul Karim Khurram. With tears in his eyes President Karzai alleged that every day he attends to dozens of such cases. Every noble Afghan is being killed and Afghan children are not allowed to attend schools.

Hamid Karzai is indeed in a real fix. His dissent with US has now transformed into differences. Americans are more interested in teaching lesson to Karzai than in devoting their energies to their anti-Taliban efforts. And Karzai is also busy fighting back US conspiracies and follies and is thus left with less energy to deal with the Taliban. The US considers him a major obstruction in their regional agenda. Informed circles in Kabul whisper about a likely attack on him in the near future, somewhat a replica of the Bahawalpur incident against Gen Ziaul Haq.

Karzai wishes to negotiate with Taliban and all other opponents but their terms of negotiation, the complete exit of foreign forces is something beyond his capacity. At the same time, the US is forcing Karzai to sign a strategic agreement allowing US military basses in Afghanistan after their exit in 2014. Karzai so far has refused to sign any such document. There is gloom about any possible negotiations with anti-government forces and simultaneously, besides Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazara, even the Pakhtuns mistreated during the Taliban government, are against any such negotiations with the Taliban. The Taliban and Hikmatyar have no sympathy for Karzai, but the abovementioned groups, in media terms, see Karzai as an agent of the Taliban. In the opinion of the Pakistan media and masses Karzai is a US agent but in the Afghan media, which is mostly in the hands of non-Pakhtuns, he and his group are termed agents of Pakistan and the ISI and are painted as traitors. If he moves cautiously in relations with Pakistan, Islamabad act in disbelief and if he gets closer then he has to face US pressure. If he step forward towards Tehran, relations with Saudi Arabia get colder, and if he turns to Riyadh, Iran is alienated. In the same way Pakistan's role in Afghanistan is not welcomed by India and Indian ties with Afghanistan are seen in Islamabad with matching antipathy.

The cause of the present situation in Afghanistan is the latest approach of the US on Afghan affairs. David Petraeus after the complete failure of its war strategy introduced target killings in Afghanistan. Like Iraq he sanctioned a new plan of target killings of second and third levels leadership of the Taliban, which got identical reaction. The net result is a burning hell. The Pakhtun belt of Afghanistan today is red-hot with target killings by unidentified persons. Any person of note is not spared in the area. If you are tribal head, political leader, jihadist, journalist, poet, author, entrepreneurs or anyone who some reason has claim to social leadership, the ultimate reward is death. The source may be bullet, landmine, or suicide bomber but the reasons always remain a mystery.

The killing of Ahmed Wali Karzai is an example. In Pakistan he was termed the enemy of Pakistan and in Afghanistan the agent of Pakistan. Even his family members are positive that the Taliban have nothing to do with his killing but Zabeehullah Mujahid, the spokesperson for the Taliban accepted the responsibility. With active the instigation of the US anti-Karzai lobby proclaimed that Ahmed Wali was killed by the ISI and they even tried to stage a public demonstration in Kandahar. But in Afghanistan every Pakhtun believes that Ahmed Wali was targeted by the CIA. People do ask in public that if the Taliban are behind all these target killings why they are not targeting their real opponents like Rasheed Dostam and old-time communists. Instead the target of maximum such killings are old jihadists and Pakhtuns.

There is no doubt that in the past, Hamid Karzai committed two serious mistakes. First, having resources and supportive factors he has not formed his own political party. Secondly, he did not allow any person to emerge as a second-tier leader. Ahmed Wali Karzai had potentials for that but he is not among us now. In case of any mishap with Hamid Karzai, there is not a single person among the Pakhtuns to shoulder the responsibilities. Consequently Afghans, the US and the world will prefer any non-Pakhtun leadership, which would not be a good thing indeed for either Pakistan or Taliban.

It seems that Afghanistan again is on its way to anarchy. In Afghanistan it is popular belief that the maverick stance of Hamid Karzai and Pakistan infuriated the US. Now the Americans are irritated and want to take revenge by converting both countries into scorching hell. The safe and secure way in Afghanistan is an alliance of the Taliban, the Hizb-e-Islami and Hamid Karzai. In the same spirit Pakistan and Afghanistan now should develop and promote sincere ties. Indeed, the relations between two are closer and more coordinated than before but there is long way ahead. Pakistani policies are still not trusted by Afghan government and Hamid Karzai is also not seen as a trustworthy ally in Islamabad. The two countries need to devise a new plan and should be in constant consultations with Iran and China.

A big power like the US and its new Great Game could only be defeated if those four powers are in full agreement, and at least Afghanistan and Pakistan, instead of having lukewarm relations, should enter into real and lively relations. The process also requires active support from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Otherwise in such a state of affairs a complete defeat is awaiting not only for the US but also for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Americans will go back to their country after their defeat but who could endure the inferno in the case of the defeat of Pakistan?



The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: saleem.safi@janggroup.com.pk

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

WE BREED AS RABBITS,

MOHAMMAD MALICK

 

 The writer is editor The News, Islamabad.

Our (mis)ruling elite has this uncommon ability to insult the intelligence of the common man. As people fell like chips (bargaining chips actually) in Karachi while the PPP, ANP and the MQM remained entangled in a deadly turf tango, we were told that criminals and a 'third party' were responsible for the bloodbath. Journalists who insisted that the killers and arsonists were all protected by the same political outfits were immediately branded as conspiracy theorists working at the behest of the 'third party' or the famous 'foreign hand'. And guess what, the moment these very political parties iron out their key differences and get into bear hugs, vehicles are torched no more, mobs of masked young men get swallowed by the very narrow lanes that had spewed them, and people stop dying without knowing their killers.

Logically speaking, killings and violence should have witnessed a sharp increase, as surely the third party would not have wanted the political forces to succeed in thwarting its endeavours. But then, politics and principles are conflicting concepts in Pakistan. Clearly the 'third party' belongs to these three very peaceful political parties. Poor, ordinary people died so that the ruling elite could continue to live out its privileged existence and play out its power games.

This isn't the first time it has happened, and it definitely won't be the last.

This callous inhuman politicking brings one fundamental question to the fore: why is human life so cheap in Pakistan? Why don't the heavens fall when hundreds are mowed down inexplicably and then forgotten shamelessly? Cruel as it may sound but the answer is shockingly simple: There are simply too many of us. Too many poor. Too many mouths to feed. Too many jobs to create. Too many illiterate children to educate. Too many sick to heal. Just too many dispensable statistics. So what if we lost over 25,000 in our War against Terror? Who cares that 17 died in a single day only because Zulfiqar Mirza didn't know what to say. Nobody broke a sweat when 300 'irrelevant' perished while the MQM, ANP and PPP flexed their muscles. Our mandated autocrats – it would be blasphemous to call them democrats or creatures of democracy – have already buried their hatchets and are planning their umpteenth reunion while the dead rot away forgotten.

Unless the runaway population problem is treated as a national crisis, nothing will work even if the government was being run by celestial beings. And that is hardly the case here anyway. Our country is broke and run by a morally bankrupt leadership. Within 36 months, an unprecedented number of federal finance secretaries, finance ministers, governors of the state bank, planning commission head honchos etc have been shuffled like a worn out deck of cards. The government continues borrowing over Rs1.28 billion every single day and spending it like crazy. Billions of rupees were blown away without lighting an additional light bulb. Corruption has already eaten away at the national innards. The executive is treating the judiciary with a disdainful contempt, but for some strange logic of 'saving the system from de-railing' the courts are taking it lying down.

Exploitation of the poverty stricken has reached alarming proportions and the country's urban ghettos and rural hinterlands are proving to be fertile recruiting grounds for the religious extremists and terrorists. The army top brass routinely mumbles its customary dissatisfaction with this national ailment or that and then goes back to the comfortable ways of its own exclusive world. The few and far between government actions aimed at keeping its head above the water remain precisely that: few and far between. And while all this non-action is taking place, we quietly continue breeding like rabbits, oblivious to the consequences and smug in the belief that the green grass will never run out.

For starters, the grass is almost gone as there is little margin for its replenishment here. There are so many of us that just to maintain the present level of our collective national misery for the next decade, we need to maintain an economic development rate of double digits while we are inching forward at a miserable 1.2 per cent annual growth rate. At 180 million, we are the sixth most populous country in the world and are doomed to become the fourth largest population by 2050. News flash: In a country where supposedly nobody is indulging in this despicable thing called sex, we are adding 11,500 children to our ranks every singly day. That, ladies and gentlemen (and our ruling leaders) comes to over 479 babies every hour or almost eight babies per minute. And you thought nothing much could be achieved in 60 seconds?

By 2025 alone, our projected population is expected to touch a numbing 210 million. And if you think that isn't alarming, here are a few more statistics to make your day. Already, over 40 percent of us live officially under the poverty line. This by the way comes to almost 7.2 crore abjectly poor and desperate individuals. Add to this the fact that over 65 percent of our population is under 25 with barely 16 percent being literate in the real sense of the word and the explosive impact of the simmering rage of the young and the disfranchised human bomb becomes fairly clear. Add another 30 million (we're talking minimum projections here) to this boiling cauldron of social discontent over the next decade and the consequences should not be difficult to fathom.

Ever wonder why agitating mobs are getting bigger and bigger in size and turning more violent? There are simply too many, too angry at being squeezed into a suffocating socio-economic environment, and too young to fear anyone in taking down any system that does not deliver change.

Far from developing, Pakistan may also not be able to exist in its present physical form unless we make a serious commitment towards population control. We are even unable to provide resources to our present population let alone cater for the coming human waves. Whatever development plans are made by whoever are laid asunder by population explosion.

Unfortunately, both the federal and the provincial governments of the day appear criminally oblivious of this critical issue. Negligible funds, if any, have been allocated for creating awareness amongst masses about population control. The unmet need for family planning persists above 30 percent with a very high rate of abortion registering a significant urban-rural differential. Crores of Pakistanis don't have the foggiest idea how population control could change their lives for the better and even the paltry few that do realise its importance, don't know how to go about it.

Shahbaz Sharif will never have enough money to build homes for the shelterless because there are simply too many. Gilani can run from pillar to post inaugurating this project or that but it will prove nothing more than expensive photo-ops because there are simply too many of us who remain uneducated, undernourished, and now increasingly hopeless.

We have a large population, which with the right capacity building could be our biggest asset but if left untended it harbours the potential of causing an implosion from within. The lot of the existing population will only get better over the years with the pacing of the coming generation. Doing so makes social, economic, and even political sense.


 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

LOOK SAUDI POLICY

 

PRIME Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani's visit to Saudi Arabia and comprehensive discussions with Khadim-e-Harmain Sharifain King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz have added new dimensions to bilateral relationship between the two brotherly countries and hopefully the interaction between the two leaderships and the understanding reached on different issues would go a long way in deepening their ties further.

The visit assumes greater significance as it was part of a flurry of a high level visits to the Kingdom by Pakistani leaders in recent weeks conveying an impression that the country was now pursuing the direly needed 'Look Saudi Policy' in its foreign relations, which has the potential to help resolve some of the major woes of Pakistan. President Asif Ali Zardari visited Saudi Arabia only last month (July 2011) and earlier in April Hina Rabbani Khar, then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, visited the Kingdom and held meaningful talks with her Saudi counterpart Dr Nizar bin Obaid Madani and vice Finance Minister Dr Hamad bin Sulemain Al-Bazai on widening political and economic cooperation. Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan visited KSA during which the two countries not only discussed ways and means to promote bilateral ties in the field of information but also agreed on a plan to coordinate at OIC level to counter propaganda against Islamic world and project Islam in its true perspective. While President Zardari's visit was in regional context, the Prime Minister's was focused on cementing commercial and economic links at a time when the United States was threatening to withhold assistance and Western-dominated multilateral financial institutions were dragging their feet on delivering even the pledged economic aid. Pakistan has always banked upon the brotherly countries of Saudi Arabia and UAE during periods of stress and strain and on one such occasion — after nuclear tests in 1998 when the West curbed unjustified sanctions — it was KSA again that provided not only cash assistance but also ensured supply of oil on deferred payment or even without payment. We have been emphasizing in these columns that sustained efforts should be made to further enhance Pakistan's relationship with countries like Saudi Arabia and China that offer assistance without attaching humiliating conditions but regrettably our rulers have not been consistent in this endeavour apparently due to Western pressure. The change in the policy of the incumbent Government is welcome and it should strictly pursue it in the larger interest of the country.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

GOING BACK TO DARK AGES

 

FOR the last three years the Government has not been able to resolve the problem of circular debt, which has made the entire country hostage to power crisis. The Independent Power Producers (IPPs) have now given a warning that if they were not paid their arrears of Rs 150 billion by PEPCO within ten days they would stop generation of about 7700 MW of electricity.

According to figures available PEPCO owes about Rs 210 billion to the IPPs and if this amount is cleared, they can generate additional 2500MW of electricity thus reducing the shortfall between demand and supply significantly. There is no doubt that the country has generation capacity of nearly 20,000MW of electricity from the available resources including Hydel, Thermal and Rental as against the peak demand of 18000MW. So the problem is within the system because if we purchase electricity from IPPs, we are duty bound to pay for that. Power tariffs are being frequently raised under the pretext of higher cost of generation and despite that the circular debt is on the rise instead of coming down. The fact is that the authorities are not coming up with the hard truth that the higher cost and increase in debt is due to theft, corruption and line losses of about 30%. The electricity tariffs have been increased by100 per cent in nearly three years and despite reduction in fuel prices, the consumers were only given relief once whereas fuel prices remained volatile and often decreased. The increase in the electricity prices could not provide any relief to consumers who were still facing torturous load shedding while the federal government had withdrawn all subsidies being provided to consumers. It is really a matter of inefficiency and lack of will on the part of the concerned authorities that generation cost is increasing, the circular debt is not coming down despite infusion of billions by the Federal Government to keep the system running. The government must therefore realise that electricity theft and recovery of dues can no longer be overlooked and need to be dealt with firmly so as to pay the dues of IPPs otherwise the country would be travelling back to dark ages sooner than later.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

ALARMING RISE IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING

 

A LATEST media report has highlighted the growing menace of human trafficking and the urgent need to take measures to check it through a coordinated and firm approach. According to the report, human traffickers threw 10 Pakistanis in sea on not getting money from them. Bodies of three of them, who were going for greener pasture to Greece, reached Gujrat sending shock waves among people while the alleged trafficker and his accomplices have gone underground.

Human trafficking is going on unchecked since 1950 but regrettably despite a chain of regulatory bodies and law enforcing agencies, the cruel practice is still flourishing, as the influential and organized mafia is minting money at the cost of life-long savings and even life of the poor. Traffickers, their modus operandi and the routes used by them are fully known to the authorities concerned but corruption obviates any effective action against the crime. Three main frequent routes used by traffickers in Pakistan include Makran Coast, Thar and porous border with Afghanistan besides the sea routes of Karachi, Ormara, Pasni Gwadar and Jiwani to get to the Gulf. According to a study carried out by a reputed NGO, illegal recruiting agents, corrupt officials, parents, family, friends, relatives and the community are main actors involved in trafficking process, adding, the public departments that can aid or abet this process may include immigration authorities, travel agents and passport issuing authorities. There are also allegations that human trafficking in Pakistan is aided or facilitated by some influential figures. The problem can be resolved through a comprehensive strategy involving measures like purging the relevant agencies of corrupt elements, effective monitoring of their operations, streamlining of immigration procedures, strengthening border control, addressing the issue of poverty, ensuring provision of basic education and skills and launching an all-out awareness campaign.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

AMERICANS: BEWARE OF ECONOMIC DOOM!

SAEED QURESHI

 

The statistics are hair-raising. The national debt of United States currently stands at $ 12 trillion which if divided on a population of 300 million comes roughly to $40,000 for every man, woman and child in America. The budget deficit for the year 2009 is estimated to be an all time high at $1042 billion. The cost for both Iraq and Afghanistan war in 2010 would be around $ 1046 billion. In 2014 America's debt-to GDP ratio would reach 108 percent. By 2019 payments on the federal debt would rise to $799 billion. China and Japan are the two biggest creditors of United States, thus far holding 798 billion and 751 billion worth of U.S. Treasury securities. The trade deficit that was zero in 1991 soared to 763 billion in 2006. If this trade deficit is not checked, by 2030 it will rise to 15 percent of the GDP or $ 5 trillion annually. By November 2009 the mortgages of 16 million Americans were upside down. So far 100 banks have closed their businesses, 416 are at risk of bankruptcies. By 2013, the projected losses on account of bounced real estate loans will be 600 billion. The acute economic downslide places the United States in a risky situation of losing reserve currency status of dollar as well as its superpower status.

There is a growing loud thinking that the United States has already lost its superpower status. It is being feared that America's economy that is in extreme dire straits, would impinge on its superpower status. Besides, its leadership in the field of science and technology would be prodigiously hampered due to the paucity of funds. It is surmised that the China and Japan will outpace United States in the scientific research. There is also a very potent apprehension that since United States would need more credits from Japan and China; these countries could also influence America's foreign policy and her conduct of external affairs. The European Union, a conglomeration of 27 countries is emerging as a strong economic contender or rival of the United States. EU's common currency Euro is 1.5 times stronger than the US dollar. It means one has to pay 1.5 dollar to buy one Euro. EU is world's single largest market with a population of 500 million individuals.

United States war bill will astronomically soar if it decides to expand its war on terrorism to Yemen and those pockets where the terrorists are resettling. A military action against Iran preceded by clamping of sanctions and embargoes on that country would not be a one sided affair. Like the Somali pirates a similar kind f blockade can be mounted by Iran in the Strait of Harmus which might lead a calamitous conflagration in the area between the United States and west on one side and Iran on the other. Bu the paramount question is that in the face of a crumbling economy and much dependence on foreign loans, would this be a rational or the prudent course to adopt? Will not the armed standoff, if not the actual engagement, spell further disaster for the American economy? Should United States still push for opening more armed conflicts around the world, despite the stalemated war situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the domestic economic decline with closure of such giant enterprises as Chrysler and General Motors, complete mess in real estate and closure of elephantine financial institutions,? We can chase the Al-Qaida all around the globe with our forces and huge military potential but is there is an iron clad guarantee that this pursuit would end at some point of time with absolute success. Besides these economic disasters, it is being conjured that with the unfunded liabilities and payments to the million of retiring baby boomers in the coming times, not only would create chaos in social security, Medicare and Medicaid but also push up the American national debt to a horrifying level of 50 trillion. So what is the prudent and safe way-out of this treacherous marshy situation in which we can further sink instead of jumping out of it with a victorious banner in our hand? The enemy is not stationed or concentrated at one place. If it is defeated in one part of the world, it slips to another part, thus forcing the United States to move to the new places and sactuaries as well.

A better, pragmatic or discreet strategy could be to assign the task of hunting, combating, and eliminating the terrorists to the countries from where they operate or are based. This strategy is paying its dividends in Pakistan where Pakistan's army has earned the singular distinction of subduing the radical militants and terrorists in various parts where they were well entrenched since the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1989. The bulk of the miscreants and their local abettors have been exterminated or forced to surrender or flee. The incumbent U.S. administration was passed on the cataclysmic war hysteria by former Bush administration manned by extreme right radical wings commonly known as neo-cons. Imbued by a misplaced fervor to conquer the anti Christ nations, in this case the Muslims, they launched their mighty military forays against Iraq which was a blatant transgression of the international norms governing the interstate relations.

Saddam was a person no less than a devil. He was sinister both for the region and for his own suppressed people. But merely to remove him at a huge cost was such a grievous blunder whose baneful and ruinous repercussions continue to this day. The United States should have withdrawn once the tyrant was fallen. The tyrant however never gave an impression that he was an adversary of the United States. If United States mounted that gubernatorial military adventure for the safety of Israel then it should be understood that by saving Israel, America ruined itself economically, militarily and even morally.

I would like the United States to make the world and United States safe havens by killing all the terrorists and the anti American elements. But this cannot be achieved by fighting unnecessary and self destructive wars on foreign soils. What the United States have not achieved at the cost of making it economically broke, could have been achieved by giving a fraction of the war funds to the countries where the terrorist elements were hiding. A mighty and majestic country, a well deserved superpower after the defeat of communism is beset by rampant and escalating unemployment, huge debt burden, and trade imbalances. There is in the making a doom's day scenario exacerbating with every passing moment. The streets of United States look run down; the roads cannot be repaved for want of funds, and are instead resurfaced with ugly uneven patches.

The bridges are old, the signboards are obsolete. The loans are scare and not easily available; the air travelling is turning into a nightmare. The educational institutions don't get the adequate funds; the hospitals are overcrowded and handicapped because of insufficient budget allocations and so on. The social-civic sector that was an exemplary hallmark of American society is now in the throes of decline and decay. Name one sector that is financially sound and stable in the face of the ongoing economic meltdown. A realistic reevaluation of the prevailing frightening situation that is devouring the wealth of this great country is called for. Concurrently the war on terror can be won with much less hassle and loss and at much less cost and without committing the American troops to fight in foreign uncharted and inhospitable terrains. Moreover, they look like occupation forces.

—The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

CORRUPTION, TERRORISM & INVESTMENT

HASHIM ABRO

 

Our economic situation is, indeed, murky. Our economy is characterized by poor governance, ongoing political instability that undermines credible reform progress, and heavy reliance on foreign assistance. Overall, weak reform efforts have failed to stimulate broad-based economic growth. Bureaucratic bottlenecks increase the cost of conducting business. Despite some progress in streamlining the process for launching a business, other time-consuming requirements reduce the efficiency of the overall regulatory system. A curse of corruption is one of the main causes of precarious economic situation. Corruption is perceived as widespread. Anti-corruption laws and regulations are unevenly enforced. The Police and lower judiciary are viewed as the most corrupt public institutions, and extensive delays lead investors most often to pursue out-of-court settlements. Corruption in customs clearance enables wide-scale smuggling of certain consumer items.

Islamabad-based diplomats of different countries regard unchecked corruption as the biggest threat to Pakistan's economy, bigger even than the security situation. They opine that Corruption is a greater impediment to investment than deteriorating security and law and order. That foreign investors had to give up contracts of investment in Pakistan because of the corruption prevalent in the country.

They are of the view that Pakistan cannot expect its economy to get better, let alone prosper, without adopting solid measures against corruption. They have also voiced their deep concern about the growing menace of corruption in walks of life, particularly, in the public sector including judiciary which demoralize and de-motivate the foreigners to make investment in Pakistan.

Since Pakistan, suffering from political and economic corruption, has been the victim of terrorism and extremism. Terrorism is, indeed, a great hurdle in our economic prosperity, political stability, geo-strategic sustainability and energy security. Development activities are halt due to affected areas such as NWFP and FATA. Rise of terrorism is self-generated threat of Pakistan due to its weak policies, corruption and political instability. So far the terrorism has greatly affected the foreign investment in Pakistan. Foreign investment is decline to $ 910.20 Million from $1.4 Billion in FY 08-09. Dye to decline in investment poverty and unemployment rises. Poverty has reached to 41.4% from 37.5% in 2008-09. Due to unstoppable terrorism acts in Pakistan World Bank has blocked two lending key loans of worth $820 Million till the conditions ameliorate to the paradigm.

Similarly, Terrorism increases the expensive of the forces to meet their needs to fight against terrorism. Pakistan has received total disbursement of $11,998 Million from US under Coalition Support Fund (CSF), out of this amount $3,129 Million were economic related aid and security related aid amounted to $8,869 Million. In addition, risk of the investors and more troops in Afghanistan deployment by US rise the risk of investors to invest in Pakistan that cause serious downfall of deposits of banking sector that shows deposits fell from Rs.3.77 Trillion to Rs3.17 trillion on September 2009.

In 2002, Karachi stock exchange (KSE) was awarded "The best performing stock market of the world for the year 2002". Similarly, On December 2007, KSE closed at index of 14,127 points with capitalization of Rs.4.57 trillion. But after war declared by government within Pakistan dropped its index to 4,675 points with a market capitalization of Rs.1.58 trillion, a loss of over 65% from its capitalization in 2007. Furthermore, terrorism also promoted smuggling in Pakistan, due to porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan smuggling becomes the source of culprits and expedients for terrorists to wash their hands from it to meet their financial needs. According to US-Pak business council report (2009), Pakistan is prime victim of Afghanistan's instability and due to which Pakistan economy has so far suffered directly or indirectly huge loss of $35 Billion.

It is the sine quo non for the present government to bottle the gene of corruption and for it has to take remedies to put to end the loss that may hurt Pakistan severe. It is an established truth that rampant corruption is a symptom of widespread failure of institutions throughout the country. To reduce corruption, therefore, we need to strengthen these institutions; although a process that takes a long time but we must have carry out that task for the survival and stability of Pakistan because every public institution in Pakistan is corrupt. They include judges, politicians and bureaucrats.

Every time someone comes into power, either politically or officially, they take it as a license to rob this country. Assuredly, all humans are susceptible to corruption if the price is right and the circumstances so compel. Consequently all the laws in the world will not result in the scourge of bribery and corruption being minimized in Pakistan if the popular will balks at demanding fiscal accountability from the public sector and from our politicians. The best mode of combating corruption rests in the hands of the ordinary citizen, through the utilization of the public trust doctrine or the other manifold laws and regulations. Individuals and civic groups need to continue to impress upon our legislators to introduce legislation such as a freedom of information act that would provide the framework for citizens to take action. More than ever, however, we need to take the current debates on taxation and tax controls out of the realm of a purely taxation-focused environment and acknowledge that the effective control of bribery and corruption is a key to a successful strategy in this regard.

The government is under obligation to fight financial and administrative corruption. It should be the top priority of this government and the government in waiting the opposition to eliminate corruption wherever it is and wage full scale war against terrorism. Rationally speaking, our national economy today is facing tremendous challenges but at the same time there are opportunities. What we need to do is to be always positive and deal with consequences in a professional way.In this matter it will be apt to bring financial stability because financial stability is an essential element for any efforts tailored to attract investment.

Investment performance should be in accordance with a clear roadmap and should be based on an organized institutional work so as to remove the existing deformities in the investment process. Pakistan has to de-link and destroy every source that encourages corruption and strengthen terrorism aim to destabilize and crippled the economy of Pakistan. Pakistan has already faced huge decline in investments, foreign exchange, trade and privatization. The sooner, the better it is to combat corruption and terror and terrorists effectively, efficiently and collectively so as to have economically vibrant and politically stable Pakistan.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

REPENTANCE — 9

SIRAJUDDIN AZIZ

 

The word 'Tawbah' in Arabic means 'to return'. This word has been used on many occasions in the Holy book and the context of this word has been to relinquish what is forbidden and to enjoin what Allah has ordained upon us. This concept of Tawbah is at the heart of Islamic beliefs. The Holy Quran mentions: " ... and turn you all together in repentance to Allah O believers, that you may be successful" An-Noor (24:31). Surah al-Baqarah, says: "Surely Allah loves those who turn unto him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves." (2:222). Holy Prophet PBUH signified the importance of repentance with the following: "Allah is more delighted with the repentance of His servant than one of you would be, who suddenly finds his camel laden with supplies after losing it in a barren land".

Allah has created the human being as a marvel amongst His creation indeed; however, we are all epitomes of mistakes and are fallible. We err on many occasions throughout the day during the course of our normal lives. Many of our actions advertently or inadvertently detract from the righteous path and we are but sinful creatures. Much as we deviate from truth and veer towards the vice, in equal measure and infact much more, we find the merciful aspect of Allah Subhanatallah manifesting itself on many occasions. Despite our wrongdoings and our failings Allah continues to grant us with multitudes of bounties. He showers upon us his countless blessings, whether we ask for them or not, He grants generously inspite of our unbecoming deeds. Every chapter of the Holy Quran opens with the verse 'In the name of Allah, the most beneficent and merciful'. The prophet is reported to have said that the kindness of Allah far exceeds his wrath and he loves His creation equivalent to the love of 70 mothers. "Say: O my slaves who have transgressed against themselves! Despair not for the mercy of Allah, verily Allah forgives all sins. Truly he is oft forgiving, most merciful." Az-Zumar (39:53) Allah addresses the believers in a Hadith–ul-Qudsi. "O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me, and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it."

Allah has prescribed a life time to each individual on this earth. The differentiation between rights and wrongs has been clearly indicated. We have been given the discretion to judge between virtues and vices and based on that each soul is accountable for their worldly deeds. Whether it is as insignificant as squatting dead a fly or removing an obstacle from the road while travelling, each act will be brought to justice. Therefore, a believer must constantly seek pardon for those actions which may displease the Almighty. A believer only does what pleases Allah and the purpose is to seek divine nearness through constant repentance, be it through silent conversations with God or by shedding tears of guilt.

The prophet PBUH said: "Allah accepts the repentance of His servant, so long as death has not reached his collar bone"He also stated: "O people! Turn to Allah in repentance and seek His forgiveness, for surely I make repentance a hundred times every day." "One who repents from sin is like one without sin." Allah has made this temporary abode extremely very attractive for us. There are temptations at every step of the way. At the same time the will of the human being is enfeebled with the constant cajoling and coaxing of Satan. Given the luxuries of this world and the clear indication of the easy path, we succumb to the trap and land into a sinful engagement. This is the test that we are put to every now and then and only believers are expected to win over this dilemma. As an alternative, if one is found in a compromising state there is always a path of salvation in the form of honest and sincere repentance. It is the most beloved and exalted form of obedience for Allah. Allah loves those who truly repent. Its stature near Allah is equivalent to worship. Repentance tends to foster in the heart a sense of humility and the recognition that human beings are subservient to the mighty will of Allah and that He alone possesses the power to pardon us.

Allah says in the Qur'an: "Except those who repent, have faith and good deeds, those Allah will charge their sins for good deeds. Certainly Allah is most forgiving and merciful." (Qur'an 25:70) Repentance creates a soul satisfying experience. It relieves the self of burden and brings the believer in a closer bond with Allah. On the contrary when one sins without any remorse, the ill deeds tends to harden the heart and to deter seeking forgiveness. It seals the mind and soul towards seeking Allah's blessings, the sinner gets further entwined in a spiral of sins. Eventually this life of indulgence and ignorance leads to blatant rejection of Allah's commandments which eventually isolates him from the right path completely. The only recourse for such people is to awaken their conscience and to reflect on the wrong and then to seek Divine forgiveness with the purest of intentions and therefore never to return to the world of misdeeds. Hazrat Abu Bakr Al siddiq narrated: "I heard Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) saying: 'There isn't a man who, when he commits a sin, rises, makes ablution, and offers two rak'as of prayers, but Allah forgives his sins.'

The Holy Quran says: "Those (are the true believers) who, when they commit an evil deed, or wrong their souls, remember Allah, and seek forgiveness for their sins - and who but Allah forgives sins? They do not insist upon the sins they have committed, and they know (that Allah is forgiving)." (Qur'an 3:135) Seeking forgiveness of sins is a sure shot solution to all our trials and tribulations. It has been noted that once a person came to Hazrat Ali (as) and asked him for the solution of repaying the debts, Hazrat Ali (as) was told to do Tawbah and seek repentance from Allah (SWT). The other person came asking for the remedy of a sickness, Hazrat Ali (as) was prescribed the same Tawbah and seek repentance from Allah (SWT). Yet another person came asking for the bestowing of an offspring from Allah (SWT) and Hazrat Ali (as) was also told to do 'Istighfar' as much as possible. Hazrat Ali (as) said: "The sin that makes you sad and repentant is more liked by Allah (SWT) than the good deed which turns you arrogant." Allah has His doors of mercy open upon His beings. He forgave Adam and Eve for their sin of eating the forbidden fruit. Allah says that He shall forgive every sin except 'Shirk'. When a sinner repents Allah says: "My servant committed a sin and then he came to realize that he has a Lord who holds the sinner responsible and accountable, and also that he has a Lord who forgives the sins if asked for forgiveness: So let him be forgiven."

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "Our Lord comes down to the lowest heaven when one-third of the night remains, and says, 'Who will call upon Me so that I may answer him? Who will ask Me so that I may give to him? Who will seek, My forgiveness so that I may forgive him?'" (Narrated by Muslim, no. 758) Sincere repentance is not mere lip service through words. It has to be enacted in spirit by refraining from the dislikes of Allah and devoting oneself to the righteous causes with a concrete vow of abstinence.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

A SIRAIKI SPEAKING PROVINCE?

ALI ASHRAF KHAN

 

Suddenly a debate has been triggered in support of carving out Siraiki province in Punjab only, which I think would not be appropriate keeping in view the long outstanding demand for Siraiki province initiated as far as I know by my fellow brother from legal fraternity Mr Taj Mohammad Langah in seventies. Now PPP led government has decided in favour of creation of a Siraiki province, so I wish to know whether PPP is on board with the aspirations of the Siraiki speaking people who live from Nawabshah to Jacobabad, Bhawalpur, DG Khan and upto Dera Ismail Khan, and have the concerned Provincial Assemblies passed resolutions in favour of creation of a sixth province.

There is no denying the fact that Bhawalpur State had its own administrative machinery prior to creation of One Unit to politically match with East Pakistan to claim parity and defuse political move to oust Ghulam Mohammad. Makhdoomzada Hassan Mehmud, the real uncle of PPP Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani was the Chief Minister and Malik Mohammad Qasim was a vocal opposition leader in Bhawalpur Assembly. I distinctly remember once when I asked Malik Qasim, in eighties that why he does not associate himself in demanding a Siraiki province. Late Malik Qasim had bluntly told me that though a Siraiki province stretches from Nawabshah to D. I. Khan but the common people in these areas who have got amalgamated with the existing administrative setups will not be benefited and the reason why I did not involve into, was because I was never approached by Siraiki people to demand a province and if I was ever asked to lead a Siraiki province movement, it was suggested to me by Sardar Balkh Sher Khan Mazari.

India had at the outset in 1952-53 appointed a committee to re-organize the existing 14 states, after a threadbare discussion they recommended a formula and now India has more then 24 states. Demand of Siraiki province was heard alongside demand for a Pothwar province and then Hazara province. Since I have been associated with the MRD and PDA alliance, where PPP use to be a major party and Air Marshal M Asgher Khan (Retd) was also a vocal leader, who I remember has been very realistic in demanding empowerment of all the existing administrative divisions into provinces with a lieutenant Governor as its head to ease out common man in getting resolve their administrative problems without point scoring under political expediency as has been done by giving a province like status to Gilgit-Baltistan by the present PPP government without establishing any constitutional institutions or protection as enshrined in 1973 Constitution.

If PPP is serious this time in devolution of power at the grass root and establishing Siraiki speaking province to its legitimate contenders then it should be done by introducing constitutional amendments and not by an executive order as has been in the case of Gilgit & Baltistan without establishing a provincial assembly, a regular High Court, a provincial public service commission etc., etc. The past history of protecting peoples rights is also not very bright, with great efforts of PPP and our legislature a unanimously approved 1973 constitution was enforced within hours it clauses relating to fundamental rights were put in abeyance, the concurrent list with a 10 year life is still hanging giving reasons to smaller provinces to detest. Lastly since I belong to the first generation of Pakistan, I keep thinking when will our national leadership mature politically, you recall the happenings in fifties, when the majority of elected Members of Federal Assembly mostly belonging from East Pakistan were busy in signature campaign to oust the Governor General Ghulam Mohammad through democratic means, the Governor General instead of facing this move on the floor of the house rather acted strongly with the connivance of then Chief Justice Munir.

The then Chief Minister of Sindh Mr. Abdul Sattar Pirzada was summoned by Governor General to support creation of One Unit in West Pakistan, Sattar Pirzada refused. By word of mouth the Chief Minister was removed in GG House and within few hours Mohammad Ayub Khurro arrived in GG House to take over as the new Chief Minister and then One Unit was created, which ultimately led to debacle of East Pakistan. Do our leaders know the consequences of their immature demand for creation of a Siraiki province or creation of 3 to 4 provinces in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtonkhwa. Or is this a move to settle few dozen more friends and associates in the corridor of power at the cost of national exchequer.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

CAN AMERICA STILL LEAD?

E J DIONNE

 

The first week of August 2011 will be remembered as a singularly irrational, wasteful and shameful moment in the political and economic history of the United States. It reflected much of what is wrong with the priorities of our political elites and the obsessions of those who now hold effective veto power over our government. It began with the world hanging on to every development in the debt-ceiling negotiations as it fretted over whether Washington's dysfunction would lead to American default and global calamity. Even robustly pro-American commentators and politicians wondered aloud if the United States could still govern itself.

Yet by Thursday, even though default was averted through a deal that largely capitulated to Republican demands, calamity arrived anyway. Around the world, markets imploded. The debt-ceiling crisis artificially created by right-wing American politicians didn't matter nearly as much as the dangerous fragility of the global economy and Europe's far more profound debt crisis. And to complete this portrait of fecklessness, Standard & Poor's, which once happily and profitably stamped triple-A ratings on rip-off mortgage-backed securities, ended the week by downgrading the federal government's creditworthiness. S&P once caved to pressure from Goldman Sachs in its rating of private securities, yet it refused even to pause in its dissing of American creditworthiness despite the Obama administration's successful challenge to some of its numbers. We need to learn far more about what forces pushed S&P to this outlandish and highly politicised decision.

In our fixation with a deeply ideological debate over government spending, we have lost track of what really matters. Washington, acting in concert with other nations, should be focused on creating jobs and restoring growth. It needs to deal with a housing mess and personal debts that have destroyed the balance sheets of millions of households. It needs to increase consumer purchasing power. And it should be expanding public investments in the nation's future, not cutting them. Yet the world is looking to the United States to help power a recovery and provide leadership at a time when we are suffocatingly inward-looking — and when ultraconservatives are so dogmatic about slashing government that they are prepared to boot away our nation's influence. Default? No problem.

"We weren't kidding around, either," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told The Washington Post. "We would have taken it down." He said it with pride, yet the "it" involved the American economy and America's standing around the globe. This is patriotism? Watching the week that was from abroad has been sobering, and you wonder if President Barack Obama fully grasps how much disappointment there is among the tens of millions around the world once so hopeful that he would restore the United States to a position of responsible global leadership. America's friends overseas know that the debt crisis was instigated by Obama's opponents. Yet they worry now about how strong Obama is, whether he will draw lines and if he can seize back the initiative.

On Friday, I met with a leading British Conservative, a rising member of Prime Minister David Cameron's Cabinet who spoke of his liking for Obama. His take on the politics of the debt fight perfectly captured the ambivalence of those who genuinely wish Obama well. "As a political strategist, he is often underestimated," this shrewd politician said of Obama. "He's playing a longer game." While "the Republicans have allowed the tea party tail to wag the dog . . . Obama will be able to say, 'I believe in spending cuts, but I also believe that the richest in the country should pay a little more.'" Republicans will counter by arguing for steep cuts in Medicare and other popular programs, but he noted that where public opinion is concerned, this will give Obama the high ground. Then came the downside: that Obama "seems to be a passive figure at a time when the world needs a leader." Obama and his advisers should pay heed to this quietly devastating observation. Even if they're right about where Obama is positioned politically, they have to worry whether all the concessions and manoeuvring undercut a president's most important asset: an earned image of strength rooted in principle.

The central question is whether the United States is still capable of leading the world out of economic turmoil. Obama's response to this challenge will have far more impact on both the country's future and his own re-election than all the sloganeering, polling and positioning put together. The writer is a Washington based syndicated columnist. — Courtesy: The Chicago Tribune

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

IT'S A BEAR MARKET, BUT WE HAVE TIME TO GET USED TO IT

 

WE have no particular truck with the American Tea Party but its members are right about one thing at least: the US is carrying too much debt. The Chinese leadership agrees, and so do the financial markets. Three years after the credit excesses that led to the global financial crisis, the globe has been hit with another financial reckoning and realignment of economic power. Whether or not it comes to be defined as the double-dip recession, the world faces the prospect of several years of bear markets and lowered expectations, especially in Europe.

The Tea Party forced Washington to the brink and has been unfairly blamed by some for the Standard & Poor's downgrade. But the impact of the lower rating on the US economy is more symbolic than real. It will make politicians there cautious about priming the economy but will not destroy profits or the entrepreneurial capitalism that will eventually pull America out of crisis.

The real debt disaster is in Europe, where the slide towards bankruptcy of several economies cannot be arrested without a massive reallocation of debt, with German taxpayers taking on the burden of their more profligate neighbours. Events in recent months have revealed the flaws in the common currency, with countries of such disparate economies locked together by a single exchange rate and unable to devalue and trade their way out of trouble. Every day brings evidence the eurozone faces economic and political challenges that are testing the bonds of the European project.

Australia, so much better placed than Europe and the US in terms of debt, jobs and growth, is not immune to the global realignment of economic power. Robust fundamentals will help us weather lower commodity prices and a bear market, but the speed with which the dollar dropped yesterday shows how we are locked into the rest of the world via China. A fall off in demand in struggling economies in Europe and the US means a slowing of Chinese exports, which in turn will slow our mineral exports. China pulled no punches when it admonished Washington for its debt "addiction" but there are two sides to this coin and Beijing will come under pressure over its own trade surplus with the US. China must move to a more balanced economy, stimulating domestic demand and allowing its currency to strengthen further. In Australia, Labor's economic credentials will be tested as it attempts to get the budget into the black in 2012-13. This is a problem of its own making, having spent about twice as much as needed to stimulate the economy during the GFC. The Australian named former prime minister Kevin Rudd as its 2009 Australian of the Year because Labor helped stave off a recession through its "cash splashes" in 2008 and 2009. But we consistently argued that our Keynesian Treasurer, Wayne Swan, overshot the mark with stimulus spending on schools and insulation, which added to the deficit and diverted capacity from private development. As Australians come to terms with a global slowdown, the Gillard government will be pressed to explain why it is increasing debt with a $36 billion expenditure on the National Broadband Network and at the same time adding to household bills with a carbon tax.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

LONDON'S BURNING DISCONTENT

AS London and provincial cities burn and mobs of hoodlums wreak anarchy, British authorities face two major challenges. The first is for police, security services and, if necessary, the military to bring the violence under control. The second, which will take longer, is to redress the unemployment, economic malaise and failed social and welfare policies that have created a seething, intergenerational underclass.

Restoring law and order, securing personal safety and protecting property is the most important duty of the police. The intensity and diverse geographic spread of the uprisings demand a cogent response that replaces the "touchy feely" policing of recent decades with a strategy akin to the "broken windows" zero-tolerance approach employed by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s. Based on the idea that petty offences and vandalism escalate into serious felony, it resulted in significant falls in urban disorder and serious crime over a decade and restored quality of life.

There is no excuse for the wanton thuggery that has forced ordinary citizens to run for their lives, or leap from burning buildings. But obviously the severe economic downturn that has created Britain's worst youth unemployment in decades -- one in five 16 to 24-year-olds, with much higher levels among non-whites and in disadvantaged areas -- has created a cauldron of boredom and discontent. Even liberal-left critics such as Clive Hamilton and Robert Manne must concede that the "affluenza" and "Australian smugness" they bemoan are far healthier than the harsh consequences of economic failure.

Britain's coalition must not cave in to pressures to back down on its austerity measures. However uncomfortable, they are essential to restoring a more productive, prosperous economy. After bringing the disorder under control, Prime Minister David Cameron's best course would be to build on the reforms of the Clinton and Blair era to dismantle the remaining vestiges of the welfare state. After compulsory skills training, dole recipients should be nudged a few stops along the Tube line to access service jobs like those that eastern European immigrants have no trouble finding in London. The unemployed should also work for their benefits. The imperative for authorities is to restore and maintain civil order and resist the dictates of the mob.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

GILLARD SEEKS POLITICAL ASYLUM

THE fortunate beneficiaries of the Malaysian asylum-seeker deal are the 4000 refugees, mainly Burmese, who will be resettled in Australia. The first of these families will arrive later this week and, while their lives have been traumatic to this point, they now have the wonderful opportunity to start a new life in our country.

We hope they find us a generous and welcoming nation, and that they settle in, prosper and contribute to our society. Immigration, including through our refugee intake, is a vital part of our national development. This newspaper has supported an increased humanitarian quota as a trade-off for enforcing a strict policy against the people- smuggling trade, which has been illegally selecting much of our intake. However, the fact the extra 4000 refugees will settle in Australia, regardless of whether we are able to transfer any asylum-seekers to Malaysia, demonstrates what a mess the Gillard government has made of the border protection issue. It inherited just six people in detention, then deliberately unpicked a tough regime that worked. As the boat arrivals then built up, Labor argued Australian policies had no impact; that it was all about push factors. Later, with the people-smugglers doing a roaring trade, Julia Gillard floated the nonsensical East Timor plan and nothing happened. But when 50 lives were dashed against the rocks of Christmas Island, Labor finally accepted the need to remove some of the incentives for sailing to our shores.

However, Ms Gillard announced the Malaysian deal before it was much more than a thought bubble, handing all the bargaining power to Kuala Lumpur. Since then hundreds more asylum-seekers have arrived, discontent has simmered among the 6000 detainees in our centres and the deal has been stalled by a High Court challenge. Many Australians understand the need for a firm approach but might draw the line at sending children to a country with its own serious refugee problem and which is not beholden to the UN Convention on Refugees. All the while, the option of reviving the Pacific Solution by reopening the Australian-built and operated Nauru detention centre has been rejected. It seems this alternative has been ignored for one reason only -- politics. Ms Gillard does not want to concede that John Howard was right. That is a terrible reason to add to people's suffering.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE FIX FOR AN AGE-OLD PROBLEM

THE Productivity Commission has produced a ground-breaking report on aged care - the next demographic milestone to be passed by that revolutionary generation, the baby boomers.

The demands that the generation born immediately after the Second World War is about to place on the health and welfare systems as they leave the workforce are well known, thanks to successive intergenerational reports published with the federal budget. The problem in a nutshell: by 2050 for every aged person there will be barely half the number of taxpayers there are now. The report sketches a practical way to pay for this greatly increased aged care burden.

In effect, the commission sets aside the existing system to replace it with one which is less prescriptive and more market oriented. Instead of the government issuing licences for beds, which under the present system care providers may not be able to supply profitably, the government would assess the level of care each individual required, which would then entitle them to that level of care - accredited, and mostly funded by the government. The market would be free to cater for the demand. With the caveat that government supervision must be sufficient to ensure standards of care are maintained in an increasingly profit-oriented system, it would solve many of the present system's problems.

The biggest change is to make most individuals seeking care responsible for paying more of their accommodation costs as well as their care. They could thus choose the quality of accommodation they wanted but, to afford it, home owners - subject to a means test - might have to borrow against the value of their home in a government-backed scheme.

We believe the commission is right to expect individuals to meet this responsibility. We have argued before that the overgenerous tax treatment of owner-occupied housing skews investment decisions. The commission's recommended structure is one way to unlock some of that value for a legitimate public purpose.

But voices have already been raised against the move, most notably by the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW, which characterised the measure as ''flogging the family home''. It would seem an easy target for a populist campaign. But too much has been made of the so-called Australian dream of home ownership. The retired often do not share it: many already trade the family home for somewhere smaller and use the balance to pay for holidays or boost income. Why not for accommodation in their old age?

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

MAKING THE BEST OF BARANGAROO

BARRY O'FARRELL will have the public of Sydney on his side as he jawbones Lend Lease out of the most contentious element of its Barangaroo project - the high-rise hotel on a pier jutting out into Darling Harbour. It is an idea that should never have received approval.

The review commissioned from two distinguished Melbourne city planners by the Coalition government - soon after its sweeping victory against Labor predecessors utterly discredited by, notably, its planning record - has plenty to say about how this hotel addition was approved. It was ''difficult to believe'' State Parliament intended that a planning minister could approve a project prohibited by state planning policy and planning regulations. The Premier is also mystified.

There are several other suggestions for improving what the Labor government handed over as a signed $6 billion deal. The tick for shifting cruise ships to White Bay will not concern the public greatly. The refinement of the design for the southern part of Barangaroo will be of more interest, particularly to see if the ''visual bulk'' of the office towers can be moderated, and the public domains and micro-climates at ground level made welcoming. The removal of the hotel will put more focus on the quality of design in the buildings on land - from which perhaps it was meant to distract.

The review is neutral about the part especially dear to the former prime minister and self-appointed aesthete-in-chief Paul Keating, the naturalistic headland to be built above a car park at the northern end. He says this will ''bookend'' Dawes Point (at the southern end of the Harbour Bridge) with the Botanic Gardens to the east. But then Keating also proclaimed the hotel a wonderful ''exclamation point''. Fortunately this is one part of the project that can be modified relatively easily if it turns out a sterile, little-used precinct.

Meanwhile, the Premier needs to beef up supervision of this important project. He has replaced the former head of the Barangaroo Delivery Authority, Mike Collins, with Terry Moran, the former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet - a good first step in restructuring this deficient organisation. The design excellence review panel, chaired by Keating from its inception in June 2009 until his recent resignation, has been singled out by the review as having failed at reassuring the public that design quality was being protected, with two of its members having a ''conflict of duty'' because of connections to bodies with an interest in the outcome of the panel's deliberations. Let transparency be the rule from now on.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

LOOSE LIPS CAN SINK MARKETS AND ECONOMIES

Our leaders must consider the cost of reckless politicking.

IN THE perpetual contest between fear and greed, fear won out in recent days, driven by raw memories of the global financial crisis and recession.The bottom fell out of markets in Australia and worldwide as nervousness turned to full-blown panic. No one can say how far a herd will stampede or when it will stop. By afternoon, bargain-hunters and rumours of stimulus measures were enough to drive a recovery. Government interventions did end the last recession, but many nations incurred huge debts, and associated instability, as a result.

Australia is among the less vulnerable nations, as its status as one of a dozen countries with a triple-A credit rating attests. This nation is buffered by its ties to Asia as an exporter of essential commodities to countries that are running surpluses and whose growing markets represent more than a third of the world's population. Of course, China is exposed to the debt crisis - it is the largest foreign holder of US government bonds - but the factors that kept Australia out of recession are still at work.

While Europe and the US have all but exhausted monetary policy options for reviving economic activity, Australian interest rates never hit rock-bottom and are back to near-neutral settings. Should the need arise, the Reserve Bank has ample scope to cut rates again. The government can afford a spending boost because debt remains relatively small - a single-figure fraction of annual economic output compared to US and European debts that are equal to or greater than GDP. Nations may be united in their pledges to restore stability, but some of their cupboards are bare.

None of this is news, though; Europe's run of debt crises caused only minor tremors until now. The origin of the panic appears to lie elsewhere. The brinkmanship in Congress over lifting the US debt ceiling - with Tea Party conservatives imposing their delusional demands - tipped the balance, certainly in the eyes of ratings agency Standard & Poor's. The world's biggest economy was downgraded from triple-A to AA-plus for the first time. The agency cited the political dysfunction that preceded the last-minute deal, and the unconvincing nature of deficit-reduction plans. In short, as many observers had feared, the US and the world are paying dearly for political paralysis and the uncertainty it creates. Stronger-than-expected US job figures on Friday counted for nothing.

Australia is better off because the government and central bank have been able to move promptly to stimulate or restrain the economy, to spend or pay off debt, as circumstances require. Neither Labor nor the Coalition has obstructed urgent policy responses for partisan or ideological purposes. In the US, a majority of Congress did just that.

Yet, despite bipartisan support for Australia's stimulus measures in 2008-09, partisan point-scoring has held sway since. A besieged government accuses the opposition of talking down the economy. The Coalition has given Labor some cause to do so as shadow treasurer Joe Hockey and acting Opposition Leader Warren Truss made reckless comparisons to debt-laden Greece and wrongly suggested the government could not afford more stimulus spending. Mr Truss made one wonder at his grasp of the gravity of events when he said the market crash was the excuse Labor had been looking for to ditch its promise of a budget surplus by 2012-13.

That deadline was always politically motivated, timed to precede the next election, but a return to surplus could reasonably be delayed if the economy again requires stimulus. It is wise to build a surplus in good times, and the Coalition legacy helped ward off recession, but inappropriately austere budgets can make bad times worse.

Australian politicians should learn from America's folly. This is not a time for point-scoring without regard for the needs of the economy and of Australians who expect their elected leaders to do the right thing by them. This is a time to put the national interest first.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

FEELING THE HEAT BEYOND LONDON

THIRTY years ago, parts of urban Britain, particularly London, were under siege in the worst riots seen in the country for generations. The wanton violence, random destruction and wholesale looting were fuelled by a combination of factors including racial unrest, economic hardship and the inability of the police and the Conservative government of the day to come to terms with the realities of social conflict.

It is perhaps too easy to spot the similarities between the incendiary incidents of Brixton and Toxteth in 1981 and the fires this time, which have blazed not only in many parts of Greater London but further afield, including Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. Yet, several other factors point to significant differences that are beyond the powers of any single democracy to attempt to bring under control. For one, such disruptions are not endemic to Britain but continue to break out across the eurozone and across the Atlantic, as various countries struggle with the international debt crisis and their citizens try to come to terms with the increasingly harsh economic pain they have to bear.

The obvious popular reaction is to take to the streets - the huge public protests in Greece and Spain, railing against the economic policies of the EU, the rallies in the no-longer-triple-A-rated United States, and, indeed, this week's riots in Britain have all been predicated, in one way or another, as mass responses to vulnerability and uncertainty. The other difference, however, is in communication: the way technology can martial thousands of activists with terrifying swiftness. Witness the effects of social networking on the Arab Spring uprisings, and how Egypt's former president, Hosni Mubarak, was effectively brought down by Facebook.

In Britain, however, what should have been reasonably well-ordered protests have been seized upon as an excuse to wreak indiscriminate recklessness and violence, creating widespread public fear, testing police resources and challenging the capability of the country's coalition government to restore law and order. The country's Prime Minister, David Cameron, has returned from his summer holiday to deal with a crisis that only adds to the strain on his financially beleaguered government. But it is too early to apportion blame, let alone suggest Britain has not learnt from the racial divisions so explicitly identified 30 years ago. There will be time to examine these matters - but of more immediate concern is extinguishing the fires.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

URBAN RIOTS: THE BATTLE FOR THE STREETS

In not much more than 72 hours since the first looting, the riots have become a defining contest between disorder and order

For three increasingly unbelievable days, violent and lawless events ran shockingly ahead of the collective ability to anticipate or control them once they erupted. With the benefit of hindsight, this was a huge failure, shared between politicians, police, communities and households – easy to condemn, as many local residents did on Tuesday, much harder to anticipate in any truly effective way. Tuesday, therefore, was a day for steadying the national nerve in several ways, ranging from the political returns to London and ministerial walkabouts to the community spirit of local cleanup campaigns. But the steadying that matters most urgently is in the streets.

On Tuesday night came the first fully prepared test of a determined political and logistical effort to regain the necessary grip. Almost inevitably, the instant conclusions on Britain's shocked streets are likely to be provisional. Rioting, like brush fires, can flare up at almost any time and almost anywhere. Successful containment in one trouble spot coexists with harrowing failure elsewhere. But a big picture is clear, all the same. In not much more than 72 hours since the first arson and looting in Tottenham, Britain's 2011 riots have become a defining contest between disorder and order. In that contest, important caveats notwithstanding, there is only one right side to be on. The attacks, the destruction, the criminality and the reign of fear must be stopped. The rule of law in the cities of Britain must not only be defended against delinquent destruction. It must also be enforced. There can be arguments about wider issues later. Today, in this moment of threat, the necessary position is to stand behind the police.

Important immediate policing choices had to be made nevertheless, and Tuesday's Cobra meeting appeared to make the least worst of them. Bringing the army on to the streets, for instance, may become irresistible at some stage in the future; that decision will depend on the evolving calculus of success and failure last night, tonight and over many other nights to come. But it has rightly been resisted for now. The police are better trained than soldiers for public order work, have a more sensitive feel for their communities, and they must also, importantly, live with the consequences. To call in the army would be a much more serious admission of governmental and policing failure than can yet be justified even by this week's torrid events. It was the right decision, too, to deploy greatly increased police numbers last night rather than to lurch at dubious technological panaceas which may produce tough headlines but sow dragon's teeth on the streets. Water cannon and baton rounds have their place in public order policing, but Northern Ireland has long proved that they should be weapons of absolutely last resort. Teargas, used disastrously in Toxteth 30 years ago, is even less desirable. Draconian legal measures, such as curfews or the suspension of basic rights, enabling more arbitrary arrest of suspects, should be resisted too. The streets are a battleground, but the nation is not at war. Containment and patience remain the wisest long-term approaches. Right now, kettling suddenly looks a sensibly proportionate approach.

Parliament has been recalled on Thursday, and rightly so. Democracy must be asserted. Hopefully, MPs will find the right tone of humility rather than grandstanding or partisanship. It will be a pleasant surprise if they rise to the occasion. But do not hold your breath. Through no fault of his own this time, Mr Cameron has again been caught out by dramatic events. His enemies, from Ed Miliband to Boris Johnson, not to mention the police themselves, have been quick to muscle in. These may seem important political skirmishes to those involved. But the more urgent fight for the nation's soul is still being fought out in the streets. Right now, this is about control.

This article will be opened to comments from 9am (UK time) on Wednesday

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … POSTCARDS

Why send slivers of cardboard from the Taj Mahal when an internet cafe will enable you to round-robin all your friends?

Blogging for the New York Review of Books last week, the poet Charles Simic glumly noted that he had received only one postcard so far this summer. Coming from a desert in Mongolia, it was suitably exotic – but until a few years ago rare was a summer's day "without the mailman bringing a postcard from a vacationing friend or acquaintance". What happened? In short: the internet. Who needs to send slivers of cardboard from the Taj Mahal when an internet cafe in Agra will enable you to round-robin all your friends? Why send individual missives from Disney World when a Facebook status update and a few digital snaps will fill in all your friends, family and acquaintances? Yet postcards have three singular advantages. First, they are a personal treat. "We are apart and I am thinking of you," they say, through all the efforts at writing, stamping and posting the thing. Second, postcards effortlessly convey distance: they take time to arrive, they carry foreign stamps, postmarks and, sometimes, the imprint of the mailing staff. And they encourage brevity: no time to hang about on an A6 bit of card, nor space to drone on. Simic imagines a newlywed couple crafting a honeymoon message to mum and dad: "We lost our last penny … in Las Vegas and have been hitchhiking ever since, spending a night in jail at times so we could avail ourselves of whatever local cuisine the law enforcement provides in Texas." Some humour is suited to particular forms. The postcard witticism will not be easily replicated.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

HORN OF AFRICA: HUNGER MARCHES

It is cash that is desperately needed: last week the UN declared that two more areas in Somalia qualified as famine zones

Britons give generously to disaster appeals. The DEC fund, opened less than a month ago to bring help to tens of thousands of starving people in Somalia and Kenya, has passed £40m and is climbing steadily. It is cash that is desperately needed: last week the UN declared that two more areas in Somalia had passed the bleak hurdle that qualifies them as famine zones. Money saves lives. But giving that is triggered by a single catastrophic event distorts the process and can undermine efforts to develop food sustainability. Much better to think harder about avoiding the crisis in the first place.

Oxfam calls the Horn of Africa famine a catastrophic breakdown in the world's collective responsibility to act. It is not only that some countries (France, Italy; but notably not Brazil) have been slow to stump up for the UN's $2.5bn appeal, which is still at least $500m light. Unlike the Haitian earthquake, or the Pakistan floods, this is a disaster that has been unfolding before the public gaze for nearly a year. The soaring price of food staples like red sorghum tells the story even without the surveys of the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit. Their critics say the weakness of these indicators is that they describe what is happening without providing a detailed prediction of what will come next. That makes it hard for the agencies to go out on a limb and demand support for the early intervention that would not only save lives, but help avert the total destitution that brings the next crisis so much closer.

Media coverage is decisive in shaping perceptions. This leads not only to a generous response to countries like Japan, after the earthquake and tsunami, which did not need outside support, but makes it difficult to raise money to pre-empt disaster. All the same, by the end of last year the UN was calling for extra support. But media indifference was only one of a series of hazards to be overcome. Somalia is a desperate place to work, a paradigm of how political instability is the unpalatable, intractable heart of the crisis. The World Food Programme has had 14 aid workers murdered in two years and the US has issued contradictory warnings about aid being hijacked by the notorious al-Shabab militants. Even where there is peace, the pastoralists are politically and geographically marginalised. Bringing in food aid can exacerbate the problem. The local economy depends on trade, and if food aid undercuts local prices it risks doing as much harm as good.

It is easy to say this must be the last time. Only the most buoyant optimist would suppose that it will be. But with each tragedy we learn more about how it should have been avoided. We must listen harder, act sooner. And focus on the politics.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

LET SKITTISH INVESTORS GO

The meltdown that started last Friday on the Asian stock markets continued during the first two days of this week, though at a slower rate. The markets in the United States and Europe were also in an economic bloodbath on Monday as investors were increasingly concerned about a possible global recession, after Standard & Poor's (S downgrading of the US' credit rating from AAA to AA+.

The Jakarta Composite Index, which tumbled by 5 percent last Friday, fell another 5 percent during morning trading on Monday, before recovering in the afternoon to close that day with a drop of less than 2 percent, the level of the average fall suffered by the Asian market.

JCI lost nearly 3 percent on Tuesday.

This rout was not a complete surprise because of the increasing integration of the global financial market. The market also usually tends to overreact to a negative development, as it did last Friday and early this week.

Still, the impact seemed to be inordinately excessive because the difference between AAA and AA+ rating is actually not so big, with the former being classified as "prime" and the latter as "high grade". Put another way, in case of AAA bonds, the likelihood of getting repaid is extremely strong, while under a AA+ rating, the probability of repayment is very strong.

The two other major ratings agencies, Moody's and Fitch, last week still affirmed their top rating of US debt albeit with a negative outlook.

What made the impact rather shocking is the fact that it was the first ever downgrade of the US sovereign credit rating; a dreaded thing that was unthinkable before, in view of the US' status as the world's largest economy and printer of the world's reserve currency.

However, the global economic outlook could worsen leading to the brink of recession if the US government remains politically complacent regarding its fiscal management, and the Federal Reserve Bank does nothing to help stimulate the economy. In which case, the two other rating agencies would eventually support S&P's verdict.

There was a respite, though, when banking regulators emphasized that the downgrade would not affect the risk-based capital requirements for US banks, limiting the potential fallout for thousands of commercial banks and savings institutions.

Neither will S&P's downgrade directly impact short-term obligations, which are the focus of money funds' mandates, unless ratings firms decide to downgrade short-term debt.

Most analysts rightly ruled out an adverse impact on Indonesia by the US credit rating downgrade, as the economy is quite resilient and Bank Indonesia, which has been closely monitoring the situation, has repeatedly assured the market it will act firmly and quickly to maintain stability.

In fact, as our economic fundamentals remain strong, with government 10-year bond yields relatively high at about 6.80 percent (compared to 2.5 percent returns on US Treasuries), and concerns over European debt woes still lingering, Indonesia will likely become more attractive to overseas portfolio capital.

We may see another panicked overreaction given the high volatility in the financial market, but the correction should only last for the next few days.

But then, if skittish foreign investors continue to unload Indonesian stocks, let them go. That would be a good opportunity for domestic investors to start buying, notably the shares of resource-based companies and those which do not depend largely on the international market.

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THE JAKARTA POST

VIEW POINT: REMEMBERING RAMADHAN, LINE BY LINE

JULIA SURYAKUSUMA

I read a funny-but-true story last week about Ie Seng Hoan, an 88 year-old Indonesian man who couldn't remember why he was suing Citibank Singapore. It turned out it was because he had suffered investment losses, but when Citibank's lawyer asked Ie various details about the case, he couldn't remember any of them. In fact, he couldn't even remember what year it was. Oh dear! (flixya.com/blog/3528654/elderly-indonesian-vs-citibank-singapore-i-dont-know-why-im-suing).

But don't laugh too loud. Many of us Muslims become like 88-year-old Ie when Ramadhan comes around each year. We forget why we're doing it and continue to behave in ways we shouldn't. As a devout Muslim friend of mine said, the fast becomes the end, not the means.

Other religions practice fasting as well — several Christian denominations, for example, as well as the Bahá'í, the Jains and the Jews. The Protestants don't, because they see it as a purely external act, but for Hindus it is an integral part of their religion. Lay Buddhists also don't fast, as they see it as a deviation from the Middle Path. Buddhist monks do though, on the days of the new and full moon, as a means of purification. Some Tibetan Buddhist monks even fast to aid yogic feats, like generating body heat. Oh baby!

There can also be health and medical reasons for fasting, to say nothing of that well-established political technique, the hunger strike. In any case, most people who fast usually have a clear reason for doing so – and they usually remember what it is. Not so for many of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, despite fasting being one of the five pillars of our religion. We seem to have suffered the fate of old man Ie: We've forgotten why we do it.

I came across an essay about Ramadhan by Tariq … err … Ramadan, the renowned Muslim author, scholar and activist (www.tariqramadan.com/lessons-from-ramadan)

According to Ramadhan (the man), the essence of Ramadhan (the month) is an opportunity to think about life, its meaning, our priorities and objectives. Not eating and drinking from sunrise to sundown isn't easy, so there has to be a pretty important reason for it. Tariq says it's a demanding physical effort to gain spiritual achievement and, indeed, find the divine spark in ourselves.

Divine spark?? You could have fooled me, given the way so many Muslims behave during Ramadhan! The reality is that some actually eat more during the fasting month. Sure, they starve during the day, but once it's time to break the fast, they gorge on mounds of special foods served only during Ramadhan.

And like Christmas, Ramadhan and Idul Fitri have been sucked into the capitalistic consumer system. People spend more on food, clothes and other goods during this month than at other times of year, despite the fact prices go up early, often weeks beforehand. Why, Yayah, my cook, tells me that in the first week of the fasting month the price of chicken has already gone up a whopping 37 percent, from Rp 27,000 to Rp 37,000.

The result is that rather than people becoming more honest, Ramadhan can become a time for increased corruption. Makes sense really. How else do people make up for price rises and their suddenly swollen needs?

"To fast is to rediscover the meaning of mercy [rahma] and compassion", Tariq says.

So how come Ahmadiyah groups in Indonesia start quivering as Ramadhan approaches? Their leaders say it is because this is the month when they most fear attacks by hardliners. And given that our courts recently gave killers who murdered three sect members very light sentences of just a few months, the survivors are right to be nervous. Ramadhan is a time for "purification", so what better time in the sick minds of hardliners to clean out Ahmadis? What better way to make everything "pure" and "sacred" if not through "holy jihad" in the holy month? Last year Ahmadiyah homes and a mosque were destroyed by mobs during the fasting month – why should it be different now?

"Ramadhan is a month of peace [salam], inner peace as well as peace in the community … and a month [to] spread our love all around us", Tariq says.

Well, there sure as hell ain't a whole lot of lovin' being spread in Afghanistan right now. Already on the second day of Ramadhan three suicide bombers have attacked a guesthouse used by foreigners in the northern province of Kunduz.

But then, historically, wars have always been fought during Ramadhan. Syria and Egypt launched their 1973 war on Israel to recapture territory lost in the 1967 war during the fasting month. In present-day Libya, neither the rebels nor the pro-Qaddafi forces are likely to lay their arms down and shower each other with hugs and kisses, even though they are all Muslims. In Syria, no one expects dictator Assad will go all lovey-dovey and embrace Muslim pro-democracy protestors either.

Back to old man Ie. Because he had "difficulty remembering almost everything," the judge said his lawyer should take him through his affidavit, line by line.

I reckon that's what we Muslims all need to do too. We should all jog our memories – and our hearts and souls — regarding the true meaning of Ramadhan, by going through the fundamental reasons for fasting, line by line.

The author (www.juliasuryakusuma.com) is the author of Jihad Julia.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

SOCIAL HARMONY À LA INDONESIA AND RELIGIOUS TOLERATION

CARLO ARGENTON

When we see politicians or government officials behaving in morally inexplicable or aberrant ways, we tend to automatically awake the specter of self-interest and argue that it must be the personal quest for either political power or financial gain that is working behind the scenes.

In this way we aim at psychologically neutralizing the disorienting impact such behavior is bound to have on us and reconcile ourselves with it.

The sight of Indonesia's Ahmadiyah sect besieged and brutalized, legally as well as physically, is amongst the most acute of these deeply disquieting phenomena. Thus, the mob that enacted the horror of the Banten lynching last February must be a pawn in some grander political game being fought out among the elites.

Similarly, government officials and provincial governors who blame the victims for "causing conflict," and who seek a total ban of such a small and non-violent sect in order to "prevent more conflict" and guarantee communal "harmony" and stability cannot possibly be sustaining a principled position; rather, electoral success and personal political aggrandizement is what must be dictating these political choices, we assume.

Though elements of self-interest are undoubtedly often at work in politics, this is clearly but a partial picture of political agency, as the great 18th century Scottish moral psychologist and philosopher David Hume would have recognized.

According to Hume, human agency is driven by "principles" (abstract ideas and ideologies), by "affections" (attachments to specific individuals or groups), as well as by crude self-interest.

What if we enquire into the political role of "principles" and "affections," rather than self-interest? What if we were to take the principled claims of these self-proclaimed guardians of stability seriously?

If we were to do so, we'd have to concede a basic truth to the government officials and provincial governors who have sought or are seeking to ban the Ahmadiyah sect: the existence of Ahmadiyah is indeed, as they argue, the "trigger", or "cause", of religiously-motivated violence in Indonesia.

Ceteris paribus, in the absence of Ahmadiyah there would indeed be much less religiously-motivated acrimony, conflict and violence in the country: there would be more peace, more harmony.

A humaner, blander version of Stalin's grotesque but impeccable "no man — no problem" equation seems to be at work here.

Once political pre-eminence is ascribed to the values of political peace and social harmony, the anti-Ahmadiyah movement's legislative and political efforts to have the sect banned throughout the country acquire a certain degree of soundness, if not of legitimacy.

This proposition is obviously not in any way meant to rationalize the shockingly weak sentences just handed down to the perpetrators of the monstrous violence against Ahmadis in Banten that occurred last February.

It points, rather, to the central importance of identifying the basic values that — explicitly or, more usually, implicitly — are at the heart of the public justification of political decision-making and advocacy.

The discourse of stability, social harmony, and unity is pervasive in contemporary Indonesian politics and society.

Religious minorities, "heretic" sects, "liberal" movements, separatisms, indigenous rights' claims, Playboy: all these socio-political phenomena are often read, first and foremost, from the perspective of social harmony and peace.

"Blasphemy" is but one of the many triggers of these centripetal, disciplining dynamics, though it is certainly the one that has been behind some of the most atrocious acts of violence in recent years.

This political centrality of "blasphemy" would not have surprised Hume. Unlike other matters over which human beings argue, conflicting religious principles seem to be almost intractable.

No "two men, reasoning upon opposite principles of religion" can pass by each other "without shocking" each other. The human mind in this case "always lays hold on every mind that approaches it," and is "shocked and disturbed by any contrariety."

Societies characterized by religious pluralism are bound, it seems, to develop a less rigid understanding of what stability is all about if intend to conserve their pluralistic nature.

That stability and harmony have been such a central political concern in Indonesia is, for historical reasons, certainly comprehensible. One of the most diverse nations in the world, it has struggled long and hard over the course of its life as an independent nation to achieve a certain degree of stability, peace and coherence.

This stability has allowed millions to escape poverty and obtain the material and psychological means to more freely act upon their conception of the good, their own understanding of what it is that gives their lives meaning. This outstanding achievement clearly cannot be praised enough.

But stability, it is becoming increasingly clear, is in deep conflict with a set of other fundamental values Indonesia has rediscovered in its post-Reformasi democratic phase. Most importantly, "social harmony" à la Indonesia and freedom of conscience (in which religious freedom, also guaranteed by the Indonesian constitution of 1945, ultimately has its roots) are visibly at conflict with one another.

For what is a "stable," "harmonious" social arrangement? Essentially one in which the interests and sentiments of the majority are not perceived (by the majority, of course) as being under threat.

What is at issue is not even an objective, tangible threat. Rather, a majority's purely imagined threat, since we cannot know what long-term consequences a policy of toleration of Ahmadi belief would yield.

It is therefore not simply by sentencing the perpetrators of such acts of unbearable cruelty to longer imprisonment terms, by more draconian penal measures that the issue will be solved.

This is necessary, but not sufficient condition. It is only by undermining the rhetoric of "social harmony", by profaning it, that a more genuine adherence to the principle of "unity in diversity," of unity in freedom and democracy, can be achieved.

Far from being confined to the case of Indonesia, the tension between stability and the freedom of individual conscience is manifest in Western societies as well, as they with varying degrees of success struggle to come to terms with the growing presence of immigrants from different religious and cultural backgrounds on their soil.

What the Indonesian Ahmadiyah case reveals, however, are the type of horrific extremes the sacrifice of individual conscience at the altar of stability and social harmony can generate.

The writer has conducted post-graduate studies on Indonesian economic history and is starting a PhD in political philosophy at the London School of Economics.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

NOT GETTING BETTER: WE NEED UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE COVERAGE

VICTORIA FANGGIDAE

Coordinating People's Welfare Minister Agung Laksono said in a statement (The Jakarta Post, July 14, 2011) that the government was not ready to provide universal healthcare coverage as mandated by Law No. 40/2004 on National Social Security System (SSJN) because of problems with access to healthcare facilities and the availability of health workers, particularly in remote areas.

The remarks appear to have fueled further the controversy over the delays in putting the bill into practice, following a Central Jakarta District Court ruling that found the government guilty for not doing so.

Prepared following the 1998 financial crisis, it took a long time for the bill to be enacted in 2004.

Seven years have passed in limbo waiting for the government to prepare infrastructure, including restructuring the existing social security system with the much-debated UU BPJSN (Social Insurers Bill). And now a minister says we are not ready because of inadequate infrastructure.

This is certainly not news, but is the problem of providing universal healthcare coverage really about being ready or not? Should the millions of Indonesians not covered by health and other social insurance have to wait until their government is ready? No!

First, as Thabrany, a prominent supporter of the SJSN, says, the statement about the government's "unreadiness" is "one of the most frequent misleading opinions on the SJSN" (Thabrany, 2007).

Many other countries have started implementing social security systems when their economies were in even worse shape than that which Indonesia is currently in, such as our neighbors Malaysia, the Philippines or Thailand.

Sulastomo, in his testimony as a former team leader for the establishment of the SJSN at Central Jakarta District Court last March, said the government had lost the opportunity to mobilize up to Rp 278 trillion (US$32 billion) for welfare because of the seven-year delay. So, the longer we delay, the more we stand to lose.

Second, contrary to the logic the minister put forward, people with health insurance are less likely to seek medical services, near or far.

In the longer run, it may exacerbate their health condition, because poor people who have no insurance usually opt not to check their health condition earlier and are more likely to see doctors only when their illnesses become complicated (and thus treatment is more expensive), and the chance of recovery is diminished.

Routine checkups are definitely cheaper than costs incurred when illnesses are diagnosed only in the later stages.

On the whole, delaying treatments leads to poor national health outcomes. There is no need to remind the government that Indonesia will most likely be unable to reach its MDG targets related to health outcomes in 2015, such as for infant and maternal mortality rates.

Third, in the age of global competition and volatile financial system, it has been proved that our economy is largely dependant on the informal sector — a sector whose workers are almost entirely uninsured.

In addition to this, our labor force is one of the least competitive and least productive in the region, so a delay in providing universal social security means extending the un-productivity chain: workers will worry about their hospital bills, the unavailability of an adequate pension after retirement, or about mass lay-offs, and would certainly not be as productive as their counterparts who are adequately protected by health insurance or a pension scheme.

While it was indeed correct for the minister to say that the number of hospitals and health workers needs to be increased and that distances to healthcare facilities is a major problem.

But why is that? The minister must be aware that our health budget was just 2.2 percent of the state budget in 2010. It must be adjusted to the level mandated in the 2009 Law on National Health, which is 5 percent, or even to 15 percent as per WHO standards.

Once adjusted, we will see how many more hospitals can be built, and how many more health workers can be recruited and placed. Not to mention if the billions of leakage could be saved.

With the low budget, leakage and only a bit over half a million health workers nationwide (Health Ministry, 2010) to serve around 240 million people in Indonesia, the question of whether we are ready or not is indeed hypothetical. There are simply way too many reasons to say Indonesia is not ready, and never will be. This is as hypothetical as Soeharto questioning whether Indonesia was ready for democracy in 1998.

If we had waited until we were "ready", we would probably still be under the autocratic regime. Luckily we did not wait too long. An affirmative step was taken, a breakthrough was made, and it brought us to the democratic state we are in now.

A similar step must also be taken to make Indonesia "ready for universal healthcare". Providing universal healthcare is an affirmative step toward becoming a more respected country, not a pariah country whose citizens are tortured and murdered without sufficient bargaining power.

With healthy, more productive and more competitive workers, we can create our own jobs here rather than sending their necks to be hanged in rich countries. The long-term benefits of investment in universal health coverage are longevity and quality of life. And these things should be enjoyed by all Indonesian citizens, without delay.

The writer is program manager at the Center for Welfare Studies, Jakarta, and a graduate of the Development Studies Program at  the University of Melbourne.

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