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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
Month August 16, edition 000812, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- DEPARTURE FROM THE PAST
- BACK TO SQUARE ONE
- THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY - SANDHYA JAIN
- THE NOISE BEFORE DEFEAT - AJAI SAHNI
- RISING NPAS MAY LEAD TO MELTDOWN - SHIVAJI SARKAR
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- POLITICS OF SLANDER
- TIME TO REBUILD
- CIVIL SOCIETY'S CHALLENGE - MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
- THE JAP'UN'EASE WAY - NARENDRA NAIR
- DON'T ALLOW THEM TO LEAVE
- GIVE DOCTORS INCENTIVES TO STAY
- A LIFE OF COMPLETE GRACE - SURAKSHA GIRI
- NO NATION IS AN ECONOMIC ISLAND
- THEY'RE FLYING HIGH
- THE BUZZ
- AN UNEVEN FIELD - PRANAB BARDHAN
- WELL BEGUN, BUT HALF DONE - NAVEEN JINDAL
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- PRICE RIGHTS
- LOOKING TO LEAD
- STRAW WOMAN
- TIME TO STEP BACK - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
- UNCERTAINTY RULES - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
- LAND, WATER, FIRE - GIRISH_KUBER
- 'THIS IS FRAUGHT WITH SERIOUS DANGER TO THE VERY EXISTENCE OF
- PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY' - P A SANGMA
- IN IOWA, PRE-FABRICATED REPUBLICANS FAIL TO RISE TO THE TIMES - FRANK BRUNI
- 'THE WORLD HAS NO IDEA' - NEAL GABLER
- IN THAT DAWN TO BE ALIVE - INDER MALHOTRA
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- MORE WORRIES AHEAD
- FREEDOM TO DO BUSINESS
- THE NANO THAT WASN'T - RISHI RAJ
- FUND RAISING IN A LIMBO - PRITHVI HALDEA
- THE TEXAS UNMIRACLE
- AFRICA MUST GIVE MORE TO FAMINE AID, SAYS GROUP
- A BROTHER OUT OF CONTROL
- QUANTITY VERSUS QUALITY
- 'I BELIEVE THERE IS A CONCERTED CAMPAIGN TO DISCREDIT THE KASHMIR PANEL'
- WHY THE WEST IS LOSING ITS STEP IN THE ARAB SPRING - SUHASINI HAIDAR
- IT'S TIME WE TOOK A STAND FOR ARTISTIC FREEDOM - SHARMILA TAGORE
- TO THE NATION
- TRADING ACCUSATIONS
- ANNA ACTIVATED CIVIL SOCIETY - BY SUDHANSU R DAS
- ENDS OF EDUCATIONREDEFINING PURPOSE - BY UMA RAMACHANDRAN
- CONGRESS IN A DEEP CRISIS - BY KALYANI SHANKAR
- A REASSURING ADDRESS
- CHINESE TAKEAWAY
- AMERICA'S FIRST DEBT CRISIS - MARK ROE
- MEDIA BYTES - UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL - VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR
- FISC - THE CUTTING EDGE - A K BHATTACHARYA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- ANNA SHOULD DESIST
- A GOOD IDEA
- DRINK, LOVE & GDP
- FAST AND FURIOUS
- THROUGH THE THIRD EYE - PARALLEL WAR
- TEA PARTY'S MODEST PROPOSAL - SIMON JOHNSON
- MOBILE CARNAGE
- UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN SIDE OF RAMA - NIRMALA SITHARAMAN
- DOWNGRADE UNLIKELY TO DERAIL INDIAN ECONOMY - BISWA SWARUP MISRA
- FOR FAIRPLAY IN LAND ACQUISITION - CHHAVI BHARADWAJ
- THE LONG ROAD TO REAL FREEDOM - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
- CHAIN REACTION - R.SUNDARAM
- INDIA HAS TO FIGHT ON MANY FRONTS
- A TEST OF WILL
- AMERICA MUST STOP CODDLING THE SUPER-RICH
- ANNA'S LONG SHADOW ON RED FORT
- 'I' FOR INEQUALITY
- ARE YOU REALLY FREE?
- ARREST THE SLIDE
- ''INDIA WENT INTO THE ENGLAND SERIES UNDERCOOKED.''
- OUR OWN APARTHEID - SAEED NAQVI
- LET THE ANNA IN YOU TAKE YOU TO AZAD MAIDAN
- COMPARING 'THEN' AND 'NOW' - ANTHONY SIMOES
- THE BLAZE AND THE BLAME
- THE GREAT GIVEAWAY - BY MOSHE ARENS
- IT'S TIME FOR A MILITARY HAIRCUT - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
- TIME TO RAISE A RUCKUS - IN RUSSIAN - BY LIZA ROZOVSKY
- CURLING UP ON OUR SUMMER SOFA - BY AMIR OREN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- A RACE TO REPUDIATE GOVERNMENT
- AN INDUSTRY IN NEED OF ACCOUNTABILITY
- MILES AND MILES OF DROUGHT
- WHAT IS BUSINESS WAITING FOR? - BY JOE NOCERA
TIMES FREE PRESS
1. STEVEN F. CONRAD, 1924-2011
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- TACTICS WITHOUT STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN
- CHP NEEDS TO ABANDON ARCHAIC RHETORIC ON FOREIGN POLICY
- THE AKP'S FIRST 20 YEARS
- WHY WOULD IRAN CAPTURE KARAYILAN?
- SOUTH AFRICA: MALEMA'S GAME
- INDEPENDENCE IRONY
- TERROR AND THE ANNIVERSARY
- PROGRESS IN A MESSY DEMOCRACY - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
- WHERE IS BUDGET 2011-12? - DR ASHFAQUE HASAN KHAN
- SOME MISUNDERSTOOD ATTRIBUTES - DR SANIA NISHTAR
- WHERE IS MY COUNTRY? - IFTEKHAR A KHAN
- SOME MORE REAL CHANGE IN FATA - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
- FACING REALITY - RUSTAM SHAH MOHMAND
- BLT'S LETHAL BLAST ON INDEPENDENCE DAY
- OPPORTUNITIES TO BECOME ECONOMIC GIANT
- DUE EXPECTATIONS FROM CIVIL SERVANTS
- POLITICAL REFORMS IN FATA
- GOVT APATHY & TEXTILE CRISIS - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
- THE RIGHTLY GUIDED CALIPHS — 15 - SIRAJUDDIN AZIZ
- MOVING BEYOND ISLAMIC TERRORISM - MARIA SYED
- DANGERS OF SECULARISM IN THE ME - DANIEL PHILPOTT
- DON'T TAKE US FOR GRANTED
- CONVOY OF DISCONTENT ROLLS ON
- SWITCHING FROM COAL, BUT BOB STILL NOT HAPPY
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- HOW TO POLICE THE SUPERCOPS?
- THE COURT SENDS THE CLEAREST MESSAGE OF ALL
- STATE SHIRKS AIRPORT RAIL CHALLENGE
- POLITICIANS AND THE RIOTS: SPEAKING FOR ENGLAND
- AFTER FUKUSHIMA: NUCLEAR DIRTY TRICKS
- IN PRAISE OF ... RUTH WILSON
THE JAKARTA POST
- STILL PROUD
- MASS MURDER IN SYRIA
- WE ARE NO LONGER INDEPENDENT - LIMAS SUTANTO
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY INDONESIA! - ADELINE TUMENGGUNG-COOKE
- ISLAMIC REFORM AND INDEPENDENCE - KHAIRIL AZHAR
DEPARTURE FROM THE PAST
BUT PM FAILS TO INSPIRE CONFIDENCE
Unlike the past seven years when the Prime Minister's customary address to the nation after unfurling the Tricolour atop the ramparts of the Red Fort would invariably be packed with meaningless platitudes, vacuous promises and the many 'achievements' of his Government under the benign leadership of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, this year he has chosen to be precise and upfront on issues that are agitating the people of this country, especially corruption in high places. If till now Mr Singh was charged, and rightly so, with remaining strangely silent on the misdeeds of his Cabinet colleagues and other high officials of the regime, on Monday he was extraordinarily eloquent on the issue of corruption. His address to the nation marked a sharp departure from his reluctance to accept the stark reality of his Government being tainted by corruption. It was also in sharp contrast to his earlier position, as enunciated on various occasions, that his Government was being targetted unfairly by the Opposition. It is anybody's guess as to what could have prompted Monday's public admission, but that Mr Singh spent 15 of the 35 minutes he spoke on corruption, its impact on the people's confidence and the country's image, and how to eradicate this malaise would indicate either a possible change in tactics to disarm critics or a new-found determination to do what should have been done much earlier. Be that as it may, it would be pertinent to mention that Mr Singh cannot be faulted for saying what he did, especially that while "the world recognises our potential to be one of the major economic powers globally, the problem of corruption is a big obstacle in such a transformation".
What Mr Singh left unsaid is how his Government proposes to tackle and defeat the menace of corruption. Merely asserting that the Government is "taking the strictest possible action" is neither here nor there. Much, if not all, of the "strictest possible action" that we have seen is in the form of judicial intervention to bring those guilty of corruption to book. The Government, on the other hand, stands accused of trying to gloss over the crimes that suddenly appear to agitate Mr Singh. Yes, the Prime Minister is right when he says that any debate on corruption and its consequences "should reflect the confidence that we can overcome these challenges". But little or nothing has been done by the UPA regime under his tutelage against corruption that inspires confidence. Just as the Government has utterly failed to translate into action other concerns that have been expressed by the Prime Minister in the past and reiterated by him on Monday. For instance, although the Prime Minister has repeatedly described Maoist violence as the biggest threat to our internal security, the Government's actions have pointed to the contrary. No less callous and indifferent has been his Government's response to repeated terrorist attacks; Mr Singh's justified concerns about the evolving situation in the region are in conflict with the policies his Government has been pursuing. It would, therefore, not be an exaggeration to suggest that Mr Singh's words spoken on Monday will not be reflected in his Government's subsequent actions. Yet, the very fact that he has had to admit what he has been avoiding all this time shows a certain weakening of resolve of the UPA regime, more so the Congress, to brazen it out on the issue of corruption. The coming days will tell us how far this assessment is correct.
Moreover, Mr Singh's specific comments on the Lokpal Bill were also much welcome. There has been a lot of debate about it in recent months but rarely has this country heard its Prime Minister's views. On Monday, Mr Singh finally spoke freely and frankly on the matter. First, he committed himself to a strong Lokpal that will effectively prevent corruption in high places but also put the onus on the common man to fight graft for they are often just as much a part of the problem. Second, he exhibited a welcome openness towards accepting suggestions from Parliament. The Bill is not carved in stone and it should be thoroughly discussed and debated, before it is enacted into legislation. Third, Mr Singh correctly stated that those outside the immediate lawmaking process have all the right to approach Parliament, policy-makers and even the Press to put forward their suggestions and opinion on the Bill, as this paper had opined in an earlier editorial, but must not resort to bullying the Government through fasts and hunger strikes. Overall, this Independence Day, the Prime Minister was found to have tackled head-on several contentious issues which included not just corruption but also Maoism and terrorism. While this is a positive sign, it would however mean little if Mr Singh fails to convert his words into effective action. Particularly, on the issue of corruption if he wants his speech to be taken seriously, it is imperative that he deliver on his promises not just to curb graft but also to annihilate the enemies of this state.
BACK TO SQUARE ONE
LOW POLITICS OF HIGH INTRIGUE IN NEPAL
Nepal is witnessing a fresh round of low politics of high intrigue as work on drafting the Constitution without which there can be no republic comes to a grinding halt once again. Any hopes that may have been raised when Mr Jhalanath Khanal took charge as Nepal's fourth Prime Minister in two years at the head of coalition Government have proved to be extremely short-lived. Mr Khanal's failure to hold together a UML-Maoist coalition Government, the insatiable demands of the Maoists and the intransigence of the Nepali Congress collectively reflect what many Nepalis now believe: It is impossible to sustain the Constituent Assembly any longer and it is only a matter of time before the inevitable becomes the reality. It could be argued that Mr Khanal tried his best to keep the Maoists in good humour while risking the ire of his own party colleagues and that it is unfair to blame him for the collapse of yet another Government under the weight of inner contradictions. It could also be argued that the Nepali Congress paved the path for the formation of the Khanal Government by not getting in the way of the UML and the Maoists signing an agreement that frankly renders the original peace accord of 2006 irrelevant. Nor can the Madhesis be blamed for the latest political crisis to hit Nepal. Yet, none of the key players is free of blame; given the fractured verdict of the 2008 election, it was incumbent upon each one of them to ensure the smooth functioning of the Constituent Assembly, drafting of the Constitution within the stipulated two-year timeframe, and holding of fresh polls to elect a new Government that would be backed by the Republic of Nepal's Constitution. Instead, bitter rivalry, infighting and intrigue have consumed much of the time while the Constituent Assembly's tenure has had to be extended twice — by all indications, its tenure will have to be extended once again after August 31.
Meanwhile, President Ram Baran Yadav has given the political parties time till August 21 to form a national unity Government. Predictably, all the parties have expressed their commitment to form a national unity Government; equally predictably, none of them will be found wanting in trying to scuttle the formation of such a Government. If there are any winners in this game of mutual acrimony and war of attrition, then they are the Maoists who could well regain the Prime Minister's office — whatever else Mr Baburam Bhattarai may or may not be, unlike Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, he is definitely not open to the idea of reconciling ideology with democracy. Which would suggest that the slug-fest will intensify in the coming days and Nepal will have to put off its date with a fresh election under a brand new Constitution for the foreseeable future.
THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
If Manmohan Singh wishes to restore public confidence in his Government, he must give the CBI a free hand to investigate Sheila Dikshit and her colleagues.
If a single event encapsulates the corruption, sleaze and political callousness that bedevil the common man today, it is the Commonwealth Games of 2010, whose reverberations are still roiling the polity and the ruling Congress. Even as the unending price rise drives the middle-class and poor to despair, and the Ministry of Finance and the Reserve Bank of India insist no relief is likely, a brazen Delhi Government threatens citizens with a staggering 60 per cent hike in power tariffs after having scandalously intervened last year to inhibit a price cut that was originally envisaged by the relevant authority.
That is the true measure of the rot wrought by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. A necessary corrective would be to return this essential service to the public sector, while ensuring zero protection to power theft that makes the utility unviable. In fact, the profit allowed to the private companies would have ensured the necessary modernisation of equipment, on which they anyway dragged their feet.
Ms Dikshit, meanwhile, despite blistering indictments by the Prime Minister-appointed VK Shunglu Committee and the Comptroller & Auditor-General's report on the Commonwealth Games, got powerful protection from the chief controller of the Congress and the fraying UPA. She refused to resign, forcing the Congress to make a dramatic volte face from bragging about how it had secured the resignations of Mr Shashi Tharoor, Suresh Kalmadi, Andimuthu Raja and others caught in one or other controversy, to rallying around the impugned Chief Minister. Ironically, the BJP forced Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa to resign only so it could confront Ms Dikshit.
The reports of the Shunglu Committee and the CAG have placed the spotlight of corruption on Ms Dikshit who was in-charge of the major expenditure, totalling Rs 16,560 crore, on just eight city projects (including the sub-standard Barapullah flyover). Both have found that the Delhi Government overspent and wasted money by manufacturing an artificial crisis of deadlines by delaying the start of CWG-related projects till literally the last three years of a seven-year timeframe. This led to 'emergency' decisions, compromising cost and quality.
Though a full year has not passed since the Games were held, a drive through CWG-related areas shows pot-holed roads, bumpy flyovers, crumbling pavements and chipped tiles, dead or dying plants on road dividers and the peculiar green net and stakes that were installed to prevent plants from spilling onto the roads now creating a traffic hazard. They should be removed without further ado before they cause accidents like the utterly ill-conceived and murderous BRT corridor. The BRT corridor — another money-making consultant-driven scheme — needs to be ripped up, not extended. Even if the BRT corridor is workable in theory, the Metro makes it redundant.
In this writer's mind, the most evocative image of the Games concerns the collapse of the new foot over-bridge near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, just 12 days before the inauguration ceremony, critically injuring several workers. The PWD Minister in Ms Dikshit's Government, Mr Raj Kumar Chauhan (recently indicted by Delhi Lokayukta but protected by his boss), glibly asserted that the structure collapsed because the pins were not secured properly. The then Union Minister for Urban Development, Mr Jaipal Reddy, had said, "This is a minor incident. The Games will not be judged by this."
But Ms Dikshit took the cake. Stupefied citizens saw her on television, brushing aside the media with Antoinette-like memorable words: "The over-bridge was for spectators, not for the games officials or the athletes…" Did she mean she could bump off spectators, ordinary citizens like us? She got away with it because the Prime Minister appealed to let the Games happen for the sake of the nation, and old-fashioned nationalism carried the day. But in those heady months of untrammelled power, Ms Dikshit merrily spurned the Commonwealth Games Federation's screams over the state of the Games Village even as the filth of the residential towers became an international scandal.
Actually, the Commonwealth Games was from inception a non-Government affair. Bizarre as it may sound, it was the brainchild not of the then ruling party, but of the then Leader of the Opposition! This explains much of the confusion in the execution of the CWG-related project and the ability of the London-based Federation to covertly foist Mr Suresh Kalmadi as chairman of the Organising Committee, keeping governmental supervision at bay (to its own regret).
The Delhi Government's functioning was opaque; the selection of consultants was arbitrary; standards and specifications were amenable to instant modifications, and budgets eminently stretchable. The CAG found overspending of over Rs. 100 crore on streetscaping and beautification alone, with average cost for projects pegged at Rs. 4.8 cr per km. By contrast, a four-lane national highway costs Rs 9.5 crore per km; railway tracks come at Rs 4.1 crore per km.
Money was made on street lights (forget the contract to a disqualified firm). Violating norms, tenders were restricted to manufacturers of luminaries of international repute and higher financial eligibility, keeping competition restricted. The MCD allowed deviance from design specifications in lighting standards, leading to a larger number of poles and luminaries on certain roads and avoidable expenditure. Bids were altered in Phase I and II of tendering, again escalating costs.
The CAG has found that the Chief Minister ordered imported lighting equipment for Type A and Type B roads, and indigenous lights for Type C roads. Besides creating a caste hierarchy of city roads, she permitted a huge cost differential which benefitted two private firms. One firm imported luminaries from a Gulf country at the rate of Rs 5,440 per unit while charging Rs 25,704 per unit. Worse, Ms Dikshit imperiously ordered that all tiles installed in Connaught Place should be ripped out as she did not like their colour.
The bottom-line is that when Ms Dikshit won the Delhi Assembly election again in 2008, work for the 2010 Games had hardly begun. As decisions were to be taken on street-scaping, road signages, horticulture, purchase of a new fleet of buses, etc, she took direct control of all CWG-related projects costing over Rs 100 crore. Now, as the fancy and costly low floor buses are failing (remember the brake jams and fires?) and maintenance costs are eating up the DTC budget, she cannot evade responsibility for her actions. Not when we citizens are bearing the costs.
If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wishes to restore public confidence in his Government, he must give the CBI a free hand to investigate the Chief Minister, her colleagues and protégés, and bring them to book. We must know whether we are a free country or a banana republic.
THE NOISE BEFORE DEFEAT
Barack Obama may project an ordered withdrawal from Afghanistan as victory but the truth is that America's strategic failure in Afghanistan under his presidency has been worse than during the years of George W Bush. Backed by the Pakistani Army and the ISI, terrorist groups on both sides of the AfPak border are gaining ground while the US struggles with incoherence and the ISAF seeks to engage with an oxymoronic 'moderate' Taliban
It's the worst day in our history by a mile," an unnamed Naval Special Warfare source told the US Navy Today, commenting on the shooting down of a Chinook Transport Helicopter by the Taliban in the Wardak Province of eastern Afghanistan on August 6, 2011. Thirty US troops, including 22 Navy SEAL's from the elite Team 6 — the unit that neutralised Osama bin Laden in the Abbottabad raid — six Afghan National Army commandos, and one civilian interpreter, were killed in the incident. As the US confronts the reality of its worst single disaster in nearly a decade of intervention in Afghanistan, the utter incoherence of its AfPak policy is being brought into sharp and inevitable focus.
On June 22, 2011, President Barack Obama announced what has been described as the "long retreat" from Afghanistan, declaring that as many as 33,000 US troops would be withdrawn, at the latest, by September 2012, with 5,000 returning home in July 2011, and another 5,000 by the end of the current year. By 2014, no US combat forces are to remain in Afghanistan, though a 'substantial' military presence in support roles is slated to continue indefinitely. As on June 6, 2011, there was a total of just 90,000 US troops in Afghanistan, within a total strength of the International Security Assistance Force of just 1,32,381. Several other 'troop contributing nations' are already in the process of diluting their presence in the country. At no stage of the intervention in Afghanistan has the ISAF ever attained the levels that military planners considered necessary to secure effective counter-insurgency dominance.
Since Mr Obama's June 22 announcement, a succession of high profile assassinations and attacks have created a sense of panic, chaos and paralysis across Afghanistan. The most significant of these incidents include:
July 12: Ahmad Wali Karzai head of the Provincial Council of the Kandahar Province and younger brother of President Hamid Karzai was assassinated by one of his guards at his residence. The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident.
July 13: A suicide bomber blew himself up inside Sara Mosque in Kandahar city, where people had gathered to pay homage and pray for Ahmad Wali Karzai, killing Mawlawi Hekmatullah Hekmat, the head of religious council of Kandahar, and four others.
July 17: Jan Mohammad Khan, a senior advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Hashim Watanwal, a Member of the Afghan Parliament, were killed when two assailants stormed Khan's house in the capital city of Kabul.
July 27: A suicide bomber blew himself up killing the Mayor of Kandahar city Ghulam Haider Hamidi.
Indeed, 2011 has been a bloody year for the fragile establishment in Afghanistan. On May 28, a bomb attack in the northern Takhar Province killed General Mohammad Daud Daud, the top Police commander in Northern Afghanistan, and General Shah Jahan Nuri, the provincial Police chief. On April 24, Haji Zahir Arian, a tribal chief, formerly the District chief of Marja in the southern Helmand Province, was assassinated in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. On April 15, the Police chief of Kandahar Province, Khan Mohammad Mujahid, was killed by suicide bomber at his office. On March 10, the Police chief of the northern Kunduz province, Abdul Rahman Syedkhili, was killed along with seven policemen, by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle, in Kunduz city. On February 10, a suicide bomber in Chardara killed District Governor Abdul Wahid Omarkhil and four others. On February 7, Syed Mohammad Khan, administrative chief of the Bak District in the eastern Khost Province, was killed when armed men opened fire on his vehicle. And on January 29, the Deputy to the Provincial Governor of the southern Kandahar Province, Abdul Latif Ashna, was killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar.
Three hundred seventy-nine ISAF personnel, including 282 from the US, have already been killed this year, adding to as many as 711 ISAF fatalities in 2010. A total of 2660 ISAF personnel (including 1728 US soldiers) have been killed since 2001. Though no authoritative estimates are available for Afghan fatalities, one unconfirmed source indicates 1,734 ANA personnel and at least 10,292 civilians were killed since 2007.
It is within this context of a rising loss of control that the US leadership is trying to package and project a process of ordered flight as a 'victory' and a 'fulfillment of goals', with Mr Obama declaring, "We have put Al Qaeda on a path to defeat". US and Nato commanders have, however, repeatedly warned that precipitate diminution of the ISAF in Afghanistan will jeopardize the limited gains of the past years, including the significant attrition of leadership cadres in the Al Qaeda and Taliban.
Indeed, the US strategy in Afghanistan has seen a decade of near continuous failure, and the Obama years are looking even worse than the George W Bush presidencies. To focus only on ISAF fatalities, the seven years under George Bush saw just 630 killed; two-and-a-half years under Mr Obama have seen 2,025 ISAF fatalities, though strategic incoherence has robbed coalition forces of any enduring gains.
As the Western will disintegrates — and will continue to do so at an accelerated pace, certainly till the US presidential elections of November 2012 — the forces of disorder in Afghanistan and Pakistan have scented blood and are escalating their disruptive violence. Terrorist groupings on both sides of the AfPak border, backed by their state supporters in Pakistan, have long benefited from Western ambivalence and strategic incoherence, with the US and its coalition partners gambling on the compromised Pakistani Army and its Inter Services Intelligence, even as a range of lawless militia with uncertain loyalties were armed and encouraged on Afghan soil, and as ISAF strategists sought to engage with an oxymoronic 'moderate Taliban'. The inherent contradictions of this approach have led to a progressive spread of violence and loss of control from the Southern districts into the West and the North.
It is, however, along the Pakistan border in South and East Afghanistan, that the principal thrust of Pakistani strategists and their Taliban proxies, continues to focus. Just three Provinces in Afghanistan — Daykundi in the central region, Sar-e-Pol towards the North, and Badakshan in the Northeast — have been free of ISAF fatalities since 2001, with the remaining 31 registering at least one fatality. It is, however, Helmand (758), Kandahar (382), Konar (163), Kabul (136), and Zabol (99), among the worst affected provinces along or proximate to the Pakistan border, which have seen the largest number of ISAF personnel killed. It is here that what Pakistan and the Islamist extremists see as the Afghan 'endgame' is playing out, with some strange, though unsurprising, bedfellows.
Three principal groupings of the Afghan Taliban dominate the insurgency in the country: The Taliban, headed by Mullah Omar and the 'Quetta Shura'; Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami; and the Jalaluddin Haqqani Network. Though there is no unified leadership, there is evidence of some coordination among these groups at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels — including through several shuras located in and patronised by Pakistan. Each of these groups dominates its own area of influence. It is, however, the Quetta Shura-dominated Provinces — Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan, Zabol, and Paktika — which have witnessed the worst violence.
Significantly, Pakistan's own bête noire, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, is also making common cause with these forces, both to create room for manoeuvre when it comes under pressure in Pakistan, and to launch attacks against the 'infidels' and 'invaders' in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials claim that some six to seven hundred TTP militants have set up bases in Afghanistan, facing the Mohmand Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan; another four to five hundred were based across the border from the Bajaur Agency; and an estimated 300 were located across the border from the Upper and Lower Dir Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The total strength of the TTP in Afghanistan is estimated at around 1,500, principally based in Kunar and Nuristan, where US-led coalition forces abandoned remote outposts after suffering heavy casualties in 2009, and where the Afghan Government has little physical presence. Reports indicate that the 'deputy chief' of the TTP, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, was currently operating from the Kunar Province, while Maulana Fazlullah, head of the Swat chapter of TTP, was believed to be based in the Nuristan Province.
Significantly, on December 10, 2010, the head of the TTP in Upper and Lower Dir, Hafizullah, and two of his aides, Dr Wazir and Muftahudin alias Shabbar, were killed in US drone strikes in Afghanistan's Kunar Province. US air strikes also killed at least 35 TTP militants in the Paktia Province, when a group of about 100 TTP militants fired missiles and rockets at a convoy of foreign troops on July 23, 2011. Pakistani authorities claim that TTP cadres were crossing in from Afghanistan to execute attacks in Pakistan.
Pakistan has immediately sought to cash in on these disturbances, launching an unrelenting succession of artillery and rocket barrages into Afghanistan. On June 26, 2011, for instance, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused Pakistan of firing over 470 rockets into the Kunar and Nangarhar Provinces, bordering Pakistan. Officials put the death toll at 36 civilians, including 12 children. Subsequently, on July 5, the Afghan Interior Ministry claimed that nearly 800 rockets had been fired from Pakistan into Afghan territory since early June, killing 42 civilians and injuring 55. Separately, Fazlulluh Wahidi, the Governor of the Kunar Province, stated that 645 rockets had been fired into the Province, killing 22 people and wounding 40. On June 27, 2011, Pakistan's chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas claimed that there had been five "major attacks" by the TTP, launched from Afghanistan, which had killed 55 Pakistani Security Force personnel in a month. Justifying the missile and artillery barrages into Afghanistan, he argued, "The fleeing militants were engaged by the SFs and a few accidental rounds going across cannot be ruled out."
Ironically, no report in the open source indicates that even a single TTP militant has been killed in the Pakistani shelling on Afghan territory, and Mr Karzai has repeatedly raised this question with Pakistani authorities, even as he has come under rising pressure in Parliament on demands that Afghanistan break all ties with Pakistan till because the "non-stop shelling" has killed many civilians.
Indeed, while the presence of the TTP in border areas of Afghanistan is a reality, Pakistan has seized upon this as an opportunity to push its dominance further into Afghanistan, as ISAF presence and will erode. The objective appears to be to force more and more civilians out of these areas, in order to create wider and safer sanctuaries for the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine — even if the TTP benefits temporarily.
Thus, Afghanistan's Eastern Border Police Commander Aminullah Amerkhail remarked, "Pakistan is looking to clear out these areas in order to deploy fighters who will pursue Pakistan's interest once the international community leaves Afghanistan." He observed, further, that the attacks were related to Pakistan's unease about the prospects of Afghanistan signing a strategic agreement with the US: "Our neighbours want a weak government in Afghanistan — that's why they do it. They want to undermine us as we get ready to sign a strategic agreement with the US. They don't want that."
Mr Marc Grossman, Mr Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, was in Kabul to discuss the agreement with Afghan officials on June 24-27, 2011. Rejecting the Pakistani claim of "a few accidental rounds going across", Afghan Ministry of Defence spokesman Major General Zahir Azimi noted, "The shelling is far too regular to be a mistake. The shelling does not appear to be targeting fleeing fighters, but villages."
The US strategy in Afghanistan has seen a decade of unrelenting failure. The US has sought to repackage the killing of Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda-Taliban leaders as a grand strategic success and a prelude to an ordered withdrawal from Afghanistan. The truth is, despite this handful of symbolic successes, the disruptive dominance of Pakistan-backed radical Islamist forces has consolidated across progressively widening regions of Afghanistan. Kabul has little capacity to control these forces, and will simply collapse in the face of sustained dilution of the coalition presence.
Unless current coalition policies are dramatically reversed Afghanistan will inevitably pass into the control of an even more radicalised, violent and internationalised Islamist extremist order, than the one that prevailed before 9/11, even as a dramatically destabilised Pakistan feeds into the rising threat of trans-national Islamist terrorism.
-- The writer is the editor, SAIR; and Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi
RISING NPAS MAY LEAD TO MELTDOWN
As the Reserve Bank of India persists with a monetary mechanism to contain inflation and put the economy back on its growth trajectory, the non-performing assets of banks are rising. If this continues, it will lead to a severe fund crunch
The rising prices and Reserve Bank's insistence on repeating the same prescription — raising interest rates — are telling on the health of the banks. Bad loans — non-performing assets — are growing phenomenally.
If the trend persists, it would not be a surprise to see a repeat of Lehman-type crash not only of the banks but of the entire economy. The locale this time might be India.
In the April-June quarter, gross NPAs rose by almost Rs 5,000 crore. In the January-March quarter it stood at Rs 60,685 crore. It rose to Rs 65,318 crore by June end. This is stated to be the highest rise of bad loans in over five years.
If the proper management of the NPAs is not undertaken, it would hamper the business of the banks. If the concept of NPAs is taken very lightly it would be dangerous for the Indian banking sector. It may lead to severe fund crunch.
Till 2008-09, the real estate and housing segment contributed highly towards the NPA. As the economy started heating up, other sectors have also started defaulting. The challenges before the banks in India today are the rising NPAs in the retail sector, propelled by high consumerism and lowering of moral standards.
The corporate sector, which had shown improvement in their repayments, once again is defaulting owing to the pinch of high interest rates.
It is not that all payments are unrecoverable. But as the amounts are mounting, banks would have to consider restructuring loans — euphemism for acceptance of delay in repayment. They have little option. As the economy slows down, less business is generated leading to cash crunch. So there is a different jargon to understand the actual level of bad loans — largely doubtful assets — and it is called net NPA. It has risen by almost Rs 3,000 crore in the quarter ending in June from Rs 24,914 crore in the previous quarter to Rs 27,311 crore. It signifies an increase of 9.62 per cent.
One of the major defaulters, of late, has been the small and medium enterprise segment, Bank of India chairman and managing director AK Mishra has said, as they are finding it difficult to service their loans.
Overall two out of every three banks are seeing rise in their NPAs. The public sector banks naturally are the worst hit. But some private sector banks, including IDBI Bank, are also not free from the malaise.
The percentage change in gross NPA to gross advances ratio and net NPA to net advances ratio over the years states that public sector banks makes more provisions in gross NPA and gross advances as compared to private and foreign banks. Public sector bank managers blame this on RBI guidelines. Earlier, NPAs were calculated manually. Since many banks used to conceal facts, RBI issued instructions to decide it on the basis of computer system generated 'recognition'. Many bank top officials say that it inflates the reality. Now the system is based on 90 per cent information. By September it would cover 100 per cent. Technically, the September figures would be much higher.
There is truth in the assumption because the computer system does not recognise whether the delay is by a day or several months. So the bankers' assumption that this inflates the gross NPAs may not be incorrect.
But when it comes to net NPAs, they do not answer the queries.In short, they agree that the problem is aggravating.
The bane of Indian banking system as of now is the high interest regime. Even RBI recognises it. But its insistence on containing inflation in a hackneyed manner through monetary mechanism is causing problem.
The RBI prescription is further adding to inflation and also slowing down all other industrial activities.
Another fallout of high NPA, according to a study by NR Institute of Business Management, is burdening honest depositors, creditors and other users with high unwarranted fees. This makes banking expensive and ultimately again adds to inflationary pressure. It is also not a guarantee that NPAs would come down. In reality, banks are subsidising defaulters at the cost of others. This may help them in the short-run but in the long-run this is no insurance for a severe breakdown.
The banks need to bring down their fees to encourage people to use their services more. Many organisations are looking for alternative route for payments, as bank services have become expensive instruments. This has led to asset quality deterioration, a term that signifies a crunch of funds with the banks.
The banks now saddled with high credit burden are awaiting a relief from RBI. They are expecting that as in 2009-10, in the event of the US and European economic crash, RBI would allow them to restructure their loans. That would technically relieve them of immediate gross NPA worries. But that is not a solution for the rising net NPAs. It is difficult to prevent unless inflationary pressures come down, people once again start flocking to the market for buying goods and industrial production picks up. If it does not happen, the meltdown may impact dreadfully.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
POLITICS OF SLANDER
The government may well have a bone to pick with Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement. But it has made a strategic and moral error by heaping unmerited abuse on the Gandhian activist and his associates, going to the extent of describing them as 'A Company' (suggesting an analogy with 'D Company', or Dawood Ibrahim's gang). Everyone may not agree with the version of the Lokpal Bill championed by Anna and his team, or even the form of protest chosen by them. But few doubt the personal probity of Anna Hazare and most members of his team, which includes Magsaysay Award winners Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal. Going by the scurrilous imputations made against them with little supporting evidence, it certainly looks as if the government is nervous and has something to hide.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did well by addressing the issue of corruption frontally in his Independence Day speech, and outlining the steps the government is contemplating on this front. His case would have been more robust if the government had presented a stronger version of the Lokpal Bill in Parliament, or if it had found a way to engage civilly with the many alternative versions being proposed, without necessarily agreeing with them.
Instead the rhetoric engaged in by spokesmen for the government sounds like a throwback to the 1970s, when nebulous enemies - "forces of right reaction", "funded by invisible donors", "destabilising forces" and so on - would be invoked to strike down one's political adversaries. If the government indeed has evidence of corruption on the part of Anna Hazare and his associates, it has the power to bring them to book after presenting the evidence in a court of law. It has dredged up corruption charges against Anna in the Justice Sawant commission report, dating back to 2003. If the charges are valid, why has the government not acted on them or the party spoken out about them for so long?
Such a politics of insinuation is precisely the reason that politicians have acquired the reputation of speaking with a forked tongue. Neither is it going to help by insisting that because the matter is in Parliament, civil society groups have lost the right to speak their mind on the issue. Anna Hazare has the backing of a substantial section of the middle class. By making a martyr out of him, the UPA government could lose the support of this influential section of society.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
TIME TO REBUILD
Having gone down 3-0 in the ongoing Test series against England, Team India - and Indian cricket - stand at a crucial juncture. The fall from the No.1 Test ranking may be hard to swallow, but it will serve a purpose if it leads to serious introspection and a much-needed rebuilding process. M S Dhoni and his men were found ill prepared, jaded and out of their depth in this series. The English, on the other hand, were clinical and played to a well laid-out plan. They outplayed India in every department. So how could the world champions capitulate in such a fashion? A combination of factors stemming from intrinsic weaknesses is the answer. Barring individual excellence from Rahul Dravid, the batting crumbled under sustained English attack. With the youngsters not stepping up, the team was relying heavily on the senior batsmen - most on the wrong side of 35 - to see them through tough English conditions.
The same could be said of the bowling department where injuries to Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh left Indian bowlers at sea. But seniors can't carry the team forever. Spotting young talents and blooding them for the international arena need to be prioritised. Instead of mollycoddling them, youngsters need to be baptised through hard foreign tours. Although he did not say so openly, Dhoni also alluded to players being tired courtesy a hectic playing schedule. The BCCI must deal seriously with this issue, so that the team can arrive fresh before each tour and have at least three warm-up games under their belt. The English series defeat is a wake-up call for Team India. It cannot afford to rest on its past laurels.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CIVIL SOCIETY'S CHALLENGE
MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
Given the widespread support received by the campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill, the Congress has discovered a new threat in civil society - not just to its own existence but, by the hyperbolic extension typical of the 'Indira is India' mindset, to democracy and the Indian state's stability. Therefore, it is busy marshalling all its resources to draw a Lakshman rekha, which defines limits - thus far and no further - for civil society organisations (CSO).
Though this nomenclature has acquired popular currency in recent years, there is no agreement on what constitutes 'civil society' because the term was mindlessly borrowed from the West. While the term civil society has a longer history, the nomenclature 'civil society organisation' is of recent vintage. For example, a Google search on 'civil society' shows the definition and legiti-macy provided by the World Bank, which uses the term CSO as almost synonymous with NGO (non-governmental organisation).
The term NGO was coined by the UN in 1945 to refer to bodies not under the direct control of the government or any political party. But it came into popular currency in the 1970s with a larger influx of western donor agencies as well as various arms of the UN offering funds to organisations and individuals willing to adopt their 'development' agenda. This agenda depoliticises poverty by attributing it to the backwardness of the people concerned, with the 'developed' and intellectually 'advanced' West providing reso-urces and guidance to overcome poverty and backwardness in 'underdeveloped' countries.
Before being called NGOs, these organisations were known as voluntary organisations (VOs). They were renamed since donor agencies could not justify giving large salaries to those who claimed to do "voluntary" work. In the last decade, VOs-turned-NGOs adopted yet another identity when the World Bank took the lead in giving them their new name and claim - CSOs. This way the funders could claim that those they support actually represent society at large.
The usage of this term is as inappropriate as the term "voluntary worker" for a person who draws a handsome salary. Barring a handful, most CSOs have no roots in this society. A genuine civil society organisation should necessarily draw financial sustenance from the social groups it claims to represent. But self-proclaimed CSOs owe no such accountability to any social group in India. They get grants from western agencies because they tune into the social, cultural, economic and political agendas of their donors. In return, the donor agencies lobby actively for their recipients to get international awards and ensure they are included in the policymaking bo-dies of their respective countries.
In the last three decades, CSOs have become an integral part of policy- and law-making process in India. Every single legislation involving education, women's rights, environment, forest rights, unorganised sector workers and welfare schemes for the poor has emanated from CSOs. They are also the driving force in slowing down the agenda of liberalisation and clearance of corporate projects. Congress governments have allowed CSOs more clout than any other political party.
The RTI movement also received its high profile because well-endowed NGOs mobilised support for it. The powerful Ganga River Basin Authority, headed by the prime minister, has a handsome representation of CSOs. Centre for Science and Environment, one of the best-endowed NGOs, has been represented on every committee drafting environment-related laws. Most non-government members of our 'super cabinet', the National Advisory Council, have been members of influential NGOs/CSOs. When questioned about the NAC's legitimacy, Congressman Manish Tiwari is on record saying, "NAC members are constructive but Anna Hazare's team is the destructive face of CSOs."
Some of these organisations, especially those providing valuable services for marginalised sections of society, have done outstanding work and deserve to be included in the policymaking process. But many are commercial operators. Many of the laws invoked by our NGOs, including pious sounding laws like the Right to Education Act, are draconian and arbitrary.
In sharp contrast to CSOs, the 'civil society' mobilisation led by Anna Hazare is being treated as a menace, not because they are less 'civil' but because they have tapped a much larger consti-tuency of citizens, including the influential and articulate middle and upper middle classes. With Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar making common cause with the anti-corruption movement, the scale of participation shot up phenomenally.
Unlike most NGOs that cannot mobilise more than a few hundred people for their protests because they focus on sectional concerns of marginalised sections of our society, the anti-corruption movement has touched a raw nerve cutting across gender, caste, community, regional and religious divides. For the first time since the 'JP movement' in the 1970s, the Congress is confronting a mobilised citizenry capable of influencing its electoral fortunes.
The message is clear: CSOs that serve the Congress party's interest are "constructive" and therefore welcome. Those who don't are to be treated as predators and deserve a suitable drubbing. For this loyalty test, the Congress has set simple criteria - assurance of obsessive, aggressive and incessant BJP and Modi bashing no matter what the occasion or the issue - because it knows it can ride back to power only if voters believe the BJP is even worse than the Congress.
The writer is professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE JAP'UN'EASE WAY
The American girl in Tokyo shook hands saying, "Ohio gozaimas." It was my first day and assuming - erroneously as usual - that in Japan introductions required you to say where you came from, i replied, "Bombay gozaimas." Everyone around us laughed; "Ohio", she told me was not the US state. Ohio gozaimas was 'good morning' in Japanese.
I have tripped over the language many times. Yonekura's six-year-old daughter showed me her painting and i unconsciously exclaimed in Hindi, "Arre wah!" Kid and father looked around puzzled; it turned out that 'Arre-wa' is 'over there'. Shirato, showing me his family album, pointed to a wrinkled lady that resembled Rembrandt's 'Mother' and said, "Haha". I nearly laughed too, stopping in time when he explained that Haha means 'my mother'. I placed my arm around his shoulder and said friendly-like, "Mama, right?" He gave a start and shook off my arm a little testily. Later, i discovered 'mama' means 'relax, it's OK'. My friend Suri has a problem too; when he introduces himself, people move away. Suri is 'pickpocket' in Japanese.
I had quickly learnt that one, two, three was ichi, ni, san etc. But when i asked for ichi glass of water, they tittered. Apparently, when asking for liquids, one is 'ippai'. It got crazier; I said, "Ni fuirumu," wanting two rolls of film, and the salesgirl stared dumbly till someone helped out with "Futatsu". Goods, it seems, are numbered issatsu, futatsu etc. Even if i knew it, i'd be embarrassed to say futatsu.
All over the world, people say, "Hello," on the phone, but in Japan, they say, "Moshi-moshi". Or take the vertical pronoun 'i'. In any language, 'i' is a single syllable. In Japan it is three; wa-ta-shi. Maybe because the Japanese function less as individuals, therefore a more accurate way of referring to yourself may be as 'one-of-many' rather than a single one. Their names have very interesting meanings too. In Yamamoto, for instance, yama is mountain and moto is origin, and in Kawasaki, kawa is river and saki is edge.
Do they speak English at all? Certainly, but are more loquacious when energised by sake. Consonants are followed by a vowel, like esu, efu, exu and eru for s, f, x and r. Nair was either Nairu or Naya. In Malayalam, naya is dog, so i preferred Nairu. All over Japan, l is r: on Election Day, the visitor might wonder just what the hell his host was talking about.
Nihongo borrows from other languages too. Thus, cream is kurimu, tea is o-chai, dance is dansu, chocolate is chocoretu, soup is supu, news is nyusu and jam is jamu. Spoken Nihongo gets quite animated; there's a lot of, "Hai-domo-arigato-gozaimasu-suimasen", which is 'thank you' and 'excuse me'. Animated conversations often sound like a commotion in a poultry farm. A common word you hear is 'Hai!' which is 'yes!' The ladies expel it in a sighing, orgiastic "Haaeee", bending low at the waist. For boys and men it's a short bark, much like kids in Mumbai say, "Hut!" accompanied by a sudden sharp downward jerk of the head that would decapitate someone with cervical spondylosis.
Something you notice all over Japan is the absence of a moustache on the male upper lip; coming from India where moustaches abound like an endemic disease, the bleak, hairless expanse of sub-nasal skin all across the island nation is unnerving. When a moustache suddenly appears, the effect is startling.
Despite several daunting features, the visitor from India can still take heart from the reassuring discovery that when eating soup, you don't have to worry about Emily Post etiquette. Just lift your bowl with carefree abandon and quaff deep, long and loud. In the cafeteria, loud slurps indicate the unfettered joy of a contented populace enjoying soup.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
DON'T ALLOW THEM TO LEAVE
That as many as 767 doctors may have left India by the end of last month for foreign shores comes as a grim reminder that the country remains a net exporter of doctors. This is when the country faces a staggering gap of at least 6,00,000 doctors for its population, which impacts rural populations and the urban poor. Economic growth and expanding opportunities in the field of medicine hasn't stopped this medical "brain drain". If anything, it exposes the fallacy that better incentives and opportunities can contain this flight of human capital. Such logic perpetuates the philosophy behind the brain drain, as developed countries are better poised to provide incentives and opportunities.
Hence, a more proactive approach in the form of a policy intervention is needed to ensure more of India's physicians stay at home. The MCI must consider imposing a ban on the migration of doctors. It is justified on both moral and economic grounds. Ethically, it is a great dis-service to the nation as well as to a noble profession like medicine when millions of people are suffering due to short supply of doctors. According to the World Health Organisation, the number of physicians per 1,00,000 population for India is 70, at par with low-income countries. The situation is far worse in the public sector where just 20 doctors are available for 1,00,000 people.
In terms of money, our government spends a large sum of the taxpayer's money every year on the training of doctors through its generous subsidies for higher education. Isn't it logical that the society should get returns on its investment? Doctors can't shy away from their responsibilities. They must be made to serve the country.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
GIVE DOCTORS INCENTIVES TO STAY
The Medical Council of India (MCI)'s latest figures point out a problem area for India - a brain drain of doctors. India has just one doctor for every 1,700 people, while the global ratio is one doctor for every 670 persons. It's estimated that 60,000 Indian physicians work abroad, and the MCI says 767 more doctors left this year, till July 27. The potential for improving India's doctor-patient ratio by retaining more medical personnel is obvious. But the best way to do so is not by making it tougher for trained medical professionals to make their living elsewhere; it is by giving them incentives to stay.
This can be done by providing financial incentives and improving working conditions, to cite just two possible measures. Vast swathes of rural India lack access to even the most basic healthcare. Why not provide adequate financial compensation to incentivise doctors to apply for such postings? Improving the condition of government health facilities - notoriously lacking in many states - is another way. Doctors move abroad not just in search of better compensation but also out of frustration at being unable to do what they are trained for due to a lack of proper infrastructure.
The problem also needs to be addressed from another angle - boosting the effectiveness of the supply chain that produces doctors, nurses and technicians. The higher education sector in the country is decaying and in urgent need of reform. That affects medical institutions too. There is no need to see the number of doctors in the country as a zero-sum game. We should produce more of them, and welcome it if some travel abroad and come back home with enhanced skills. Build the institutions, and they will come.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A LIFE OF COMPLETE GRACE
A dazzling display of fine enamel work caught the eye of many visitors, at an exhibition recently. The stall keeper was explaining the difference between two bowls. One was made of alloy and the other of brass. The brass bowl could reflect objects placed before it. The bowl made of alloy, though smooth and radiant, was unable to reflect any object. I was immediately reminded of Adi Sankara's eighth verse in the Jeevanmukti Annada Lahari:
"A silent one among the silents, virtuous among the virtuous, a scholar amidst scholars. Suffering among the suffering, joyous among the joyful, a contented man in the company of pleasure seekers because he has attained all pleasures. A fool in the company of fools, a youth when he is with the young women. Eloquent among men of eloquence, such a man is blessed indeed in the world; whoever he is the one who is avadhoota amidst avadhootas (saints free of attachments)."
To have the quality of reflecting your surroundings you must have cleansed all grit and grime out of your mind, thoughts and inner space. Without removing the impurities - however glossy and brilliant the surface is - you will not be able to reflect as well as the one who has removed all traces of impurities from his system. It is as though the very identity that you cultivate through learning and education has to be taken out, ultimately, to achieve a blemish-free state.
As the verse above suggests an awakened individual is one who is fluid, pliable and accommodative. Take a coconut and throw it into the water. However it is thrown, the coconut rights itself and floats. Similarly, an awakened person will also adapt to situations and surroundings. The individuality is for functioning and not to project a self-portrait as a constant reiteration of your importance.
The process of keeping yourself pliant and supple is called "antah karana shuddhi", cleansing the inner instrument, the mind. The mind serves as the gateway to Self-realisation and also the getaway to a self-imposed identification.
The practice of antah karana shuddhi is what a seeker, a sadhak has to adopt to reach the sadhya, the goal. The goal is not separated by time or space but only by ignorance. The practice of antah karana shuddhi is to dissolve ignorance, the limited identity, to allow the Self to be reflected. Knowing the Self is being one with Creation, with all beings, with myself. There is no longer any sense of emptiness or separation.
Reading and studying the Upani-shads under the guidance of a Preceptor, reflecting and contemplating on their declarations, meditating, performing pranayama, engaging in work for common benefit, charity and non-violence of thought, speech and deed, daily prayer, a life of probity - these are some of the disciplines you can take up for your daily application to further spiritual growth.
An individual of completeness, who is one with all, is now a reflection of billions of lives; one who is no longer separate from Creation but who is an intrinsic part of Totality! He is one with the Self, one with the Truth; there is no more you and me, i and they. Such a person is the reflection of happiness, rather, is - even Bliss Itself!
NO NATION IS AN ECONOMIC ISLAND
The Indian government has been blasé about the economic turmoil in the western world. There are some grounds for this attitude. The Indian economy has weathered, in quick succession, a global commodity price spike and a global financial crisis. It is now about to face the fallout of a global public debt crisis.
On closer examination, this view may be Panglossian. If the world economy does slip into a second recession, it will impact the Indian economy in three negative ways. One will be a fall in export demand. The present de-leveraging problems besetting the US and European economies will, if not managed, slash demand from two of the three biggest markets for Indian goods and services. Exports have been one of the success stories in the past several years, both in terms of growth and diversification. If they run aground, growth, job creation and India's current account deficit will pay a stiff price.
Two, a double-dip will constrict capital flows. The sensex collapse that followed the sub-prime crisis was triggered by the flight of foreign investors needing to cover debts at home. The global corporate sector is far less leveraged today. This could moderate the scale of another ebb of capital. But in times of uncertainty, money seeks safety - a reputation that still evades India. Three, confidence, intangible but all-important in a modern economy, will go downhill. The pronouncements of Indian ministers failed to instill confidence in the post-Lehman Brothers period. Today, when New Delhi has run its political capital down to minimum balance, officialdom's ability to hold up market sentiment is even less likely. India's economy is sound if one goes by the numbers. But the beating heart of the economy is the corporate sector. This creates the bulk of new jobs, pays the most government taxes, carries out most of the country's investment and is the real source of India's dynamism. This sector is wholly globalised. The Tata group, India's largest conglomerate, earns half its revenues overseas. If the world falls to its knees, the legs which hold up India's prosperity will also buckle. The government can compensate - but India is already the most red-inked emerging economy.
Optimists hope a recession will tame domestic inflation - as happened in 2009. This would allow the Reserve Bank to relax its monetary policy, the primary dampener on the economy. This may be wishful thinking. The worst sources of inflation, like food prices, are unaffected by the swings of Wall Street. Inflation-adjusted, oil prices are already at unexceptional levels. And the central bank will probably ignore market whimsy and hold the line on rates.
THEY'RE FLYING HIGH
There are two ways to fly. Spend hundreds of hours in flight simulators and then in creaky turboprops learning to control the joystick. Or, down half a bottle of your favourite pick-me-up. The second option is ridiculously cheap. Which explains why it has now come to light that several pilots on Indian carriers are in various stages of inebriation when taking to the skies. Why blame our pilots for choosing this method of defying gravity? Anyway, Boeing and Airbus make planes that fly themselves, don't they? Oops, you just pressed the button to open the doors at 35,000 feet. Never mind, the onboard computer takes care of human transgressions. Under the influence or out of it.
Flying drunk is such a breeze. No signals, no overtaking, no oncoming traffic, no strolling pedestrians, and no cops. Makes you wonder why pilots bother to be sober at all. A man behind the wheel needs quite a bit of his faculties to get from the pub to his house in one piece. Commercial pilots, in sharp contradistinction, don't need their eyes, their ears, or even their hands. Staying awake is the toughest thing they need to do under the circumstances. If cars were as smart as jet planes, drivers could live it up every weekend without having to brave the breath analyser. Lurch out of the bar, get in the back seat and mumble "Home, Hic!" That is, if home is where you are headed. Those magnificent fellows at Volvo should be working on it.
Flying isn't what it used to be. Time was when you had to fly by the seat of your pants. Now you can put an airborne city block through its paces even if you've left your pants at the airport hotel room. With so much laying over, which pilot in his right mind would want to stay sober. Next time you ask the airhostess for a scotch within a scotch within a scotch, send one across to those blokes in the cockpit. They need their sleep too.
Not a paper tiger at all
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley reads his favourite newspapers on his iPad, which he finds easier than actually flipping through pages, particularly on busy days. An early riser, Jaitley finishes his first reading of newspapers on the tablet before he is ready for his morning walk around 6 am. Out of sheer habit, he does, however, go through print editions before he comes to Parliament - just for the 'feel' of the broadsheets and the creative ads. He certainly needs all the news he can use.
Mine not to reason why
Will the infamous Reddy brothers of Karnataka - Gali Janardhan Reddy and Gali Karunakar Reddy - dump the BJP and move to the YSR Congress party floated by Kadapa MP YS Jaganmohan Reddy? The buzz is that the Reddy brothers are upset with the saffron party as they have lost the Cabinet berths in the newly-formed Sadanand Gowda government because Lokayukta Santosh Hegde exposed their mining business. Worse still, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, who is considered the godmother of the Reddy brothers, has abandoned them. She has been avoiding them after their names surfaced in the report. For the first time, she skipped her annual visit to Bellary for the Varalakshmi puja with their families. However, in an attempt to placate the mining magnates, BJP chief Nitin Gadkari inaugurated a mass marriage organised by them. But he told them that a "ministerial post is not permanent in politics". They seem left to negotiate the political minefield on their own.
A terror when it comes to error
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's meticulousness when dealing with files is legendary. But he surprised some visitors recently when his diligence even extended to visitors' slips. Apparently, the veteran catches errors like spelling mistakes or wrong references and those who made the mistake would invariably draw his ire. Recently, his aide sent a chit prefixing 'Dr' before the visitor's name. Mukherjee summoned the aide and asked, "Since when he has become a doctor?" and then wrote 'Mr' in his own hand on the chit before calling the visitor in. He's got an alternative career as an editor.
A post for the police
The search has begun for the coveted post of Special Secretary (Internal Security) in the home ministry, the only senior-level post in the ministry held by Indian Police Service officers. UK Bansal, the 1974 batch officer who holds this post, is set to lead the Border Security Force, creating the vacancy. In the race to step into Bansal's shoes are IPS officers from the 1976 and 1977 batches including Subhash Joshi from the Central Reserve Police Force,
PK Mishra from the National Investigation Agency and Arvind Ranjan from the BSF. Securing internal security here.
AN UNEVEN FIELD
The rural development ministry has put out a draft of the proposed National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) bill for public comment. There is no doubt it is a big improvement on the 1894 colonial law that was long overdue for repeal; in particular, it is intended to be far more farmer-friendly. Yet, in several respects the Bill is patently inadequate, both in its objectives and the mechanics of implementation.
First, on the controversial issue of whether the land is to be necessarily acquired by the State or left to the market for private transaction between the buyer and the seller, the bill seems to leave things open. Those who argue for the former say that left to the market, on the seller side numerous small sellers will be no match in bargaining for a good price when confronted with a large corporate buyer (or its touts), and on the buyer side the (administrative and time) costs of transacting with thousands of tiny sellers particularly in densely populated parts of the country may be prohibitively high, so on both grounds the involvement of the State may be necessary (but the bill makes the conditions quite stringent for this).
Those who argue for the market point out that State involvement always brings political complications and agitations and high-handed (and possibly corrupt) bureaucratic behaviour in dealing with farmers, and it is cleaner and more straightforward to leave things to the market. I am personally in favour of the former position, since land market in India is not like any other market of economics textbooks, and it often involves the manipulation and strong-arm tactics of land speculators and the land mafia in collusion with the politicians. The State, after all, is, or can be made to be, politically accountable. Since in view of the recent politically explosive events on the land acquisition question in different parts of India politicians and officials often do not enjoy the trust of farmers, I'd delegate the task of administering and implementing the land laws to an independent quasi-judicial 'Land Regulatory Commission' (with periodic public hearings and accountability to the legislature). This to me is a much better way of dealing with the problems than either a State commissioner in charge of overall administration or the district collectors deciding on the awards, as envisaged in the proposed LARR bill.
I suppose the bill wants to leave the matter to the discretion of the state governments, where different states may want to follow different modes. The current West Bengal government, for example, has expressed preference for the market process, with minimum involvement by the government. A prisoner of its recent electoral rhetoric, it does not realise that if things are left to the market, corporate business will usually prefer going to less densely populated parts of the country where the transaction costs of negotiating with numerous small sellers are much less.
On the matter of leaving things to the states, the LARR bill does not show an awareness of a tension between two other conflicting issues. On the one hand, deciding on a compensation of not less than six times the market value of the rural land acquired or Rs 2,000 per month as a uniform annuity for resettlement as the bill suggests, ignores the gross unfairness of such one-size-fits-all formula in a country of widely varying land values in different areas. On the other hand, if things are left entirely to the state governments then there may be a race-to-the-bottom competition for attracting private capital, and in this richer states (like Gujarat) can outbid the poorer ones (like West Bengal or Orissa). A pre-announced per acre value for different zones of India (coordinated on the basis of negotiations between the states and the Centre) may be helpful here.
Other potential issues with the provisions of the bill include:
(a) If in anticipation of land acquisition, land speculators carry out large pre-emptive buying of land from less-informed individual farmers, will the latter be included in the definition of 'project-affected families' long after their land sales to the speculators?
(b) Shouldn't there be the option of long-term land lease by the farmers instead of just outright sales?
(c) The distinction between public and private purpose is vague: if a private company buys land for commercial development where large numbers of jobs are created, does that count as public purpose?
(d) Multi-crop irrigated land left out of bounds of land acquisition in the bill may work against some densely populated states (again, for example, in West Bengal this will leave out some areas where infrastructure is also better; corporate capital then may prefer other states where infrastructure is generally better instead of moving to infrastructurally backward, largely unirrigated, lands of West Bengal, say, Purulia). We have to give up on agrarian populism and consider the fact that the surplus generated from the non-agricultural use of land may be many times the current productivity even in multi-crop irrigated land, a surplus which can then be potentially redistributed to the ex-farmers.
(e) Who certifies the 'livelihood losers' from land sales (say, unregistered sharecroppers and landless workers who have been working on the land)? Anyone around may claim this, so the panchayats should be involved in a public and transparent certification process. Since in the case of acquisition the consent of 80% (which I believe in any case is too high, giving undue power to some recalcitrant minority of people) of not just land-owners but also of these, often more numerous, 'livelihood losers' is made necessary in the bill, this certification will be crucial. Also, instead of mandatory employment (irrespective of qualifications) for one member per affected family, a more sensible policy will be a publicly-subsidised scheme of skill formation and job training.
(f) The proposed resettlement package includes the offer to landowners of shares up to 25% of the compensation amount. This ignores the low risk-bearing capacity of the small farmers as share values fluctuate. Instead I have suggested in the past that the company shares should be put in a professionally-managed pension fund, that will generate a steady flow of annuity income for a retiring farmer. If the shares of several land-buying companies are put together in this pension fund, the purpose of risk-pooling and hence lower cost for the government may be served. Similarly, a betterment levy on all nearby land which will gain from value appreciation may also be put into the fund.
The LARR bill is a step in the right direction, but it still requires a great deal of reworking.
Pranab Bardhan is a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley.
The views expressed by the author are personal.
WELL BEGUN, BUT HALF DONE
The lokpal bill is being seen as a panacea for the ills of our society. But it would be effective only if all facets of corruption are understood and addressed. Apart from the enforcement of any legislation, we must understand its preventive and educative aspects. At present, we are only stressing on the enforcement part of the Jan lokpal bill.
Having reviewed the experiences of other countries and their responses to corruption, I believe there is immense scope to further strengthen the lokpal bill's proposed mandate. Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is a good example for India since both places face a similar problem.
ICAC was established in the mid-1970s when it came to light that senior police officer Peter Fitzroy Godber had got away after amassing over 4.3 million KKD. It wasn't as if Hong Kong didn't have an anti-corruption branch. But the branch was structurally incapable to lead the charge against the problem.
The emergence of Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission is a more recent case. It can investigate and prosecute. Till date, it has had a 100% success rate in conviction that includes politicians and senior government officers.
The enforcement rate in China is also very high and punishment includes the death penalty. But there is only enforcement - with minimal effort at prevention or public education about corruption. As a result, public perception of corruption remains unchanged.
Singapore, on the other hand, has approached the issue more holistically. Blessed with a prime minister determined to rid Singapore of its 'Sin Galore' image, the country has its counter-corruption office directly under the PM. Solid systems of prevention, firm enforcement, public education on the dangers of corruption and the certainty of punishment have ensured that graft no longer threatens the fundamentals of its society.
The lesson from these countries is that success has been achieved when a three-tiered programme of enforcement, prevention and education is applied. At this stage, the Jan lokpal bill consists only of enforcement. Prevention comprises repairing the system and/or correcting certain processes. This requires a capacity to review systems and procedures through the lens of integrity to spot possible loopholes and reduce the potential for abuse. The ombudsman or the commission should be constantly looking for patterns of corruption. These patterns can be found in people's complaints and should be used to check whether there are the bugs in the system (preventive measures) or if the problem lies with individuals (enforcement measures). Any institution set up to tackle corruption must be empowered to recommend improvements to systems and procedures.
Another element of successful counter-corruption strategies is education. It involves understanding corruption - defining what comes under the purview of corruption and what does not. People should also understand that they don't have to engage in corruption to get what they want.
We must remember that corruption can't be contained overnight. It is a complex socio-economic-cultural phenomenon. At the heart of corruption lies the disparity of power. So the solution to corruption lies in making our society more egalitarian in more ways than one. The Jan lokpal bill, then, is only a good beginning.
Naveen Jindal is a Member of Parliament.
The views expressed by the author are personal.
T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".
Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."
No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.
Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Controlling rising prices is a primary responsibility of any government," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his Independence Day speech at Delhi's Red Fort. This is a necessary admission. "We have continuously taken steps to rein in prices," the PM continued, "but, unfortunately, sometimes we have been confronted with a situation in which the reasons for rising prices lay outside the country." This is a familiar refrain; wheat prices internationally have risen, forcing foodgrain prices within the country up; oil prices have been erratic, unpredictable, and high; and, worldwide, even edible oils have seen a spurt of inflation. Given these factors, we are reminded, a single national government can do little. It is in a bind; it is forced to accept the international inflationary environment, and yet it is called on to control prices domestically. Under such circumstances, the "primary responsibility" to control prices seems to be impossible.
However, while the root causes of much inflation may lie abroad, other causes emerge from the burgeoning demands of an increasingly aspirational India, the methods by which galloping inflation can be addressed are well within the power of a national government with the will to do so. Oil prices might be high internationally, and there is little the government can do to affect that; but food, for example, is another matter. India's consumers are feeling the pinch of higher oil and vegetable prices; what needs to be done to address this is to fix agricultural productivity and the supply chain. The PM spoke of the need for a second green revolution, and increasing irrigation in those areas of India's east and south that continue to be overdependent on rain-fed agriculture is important. It is also important, however, to upgrade India's rural infrastructure, so that farmers can get their goods to markets; to loosen government controls over agriculture, so that private sector players can introduce efficiencies, and farmers' incentives to grow more vegetables, for example, are streamlined; and to address vexed land titling questions and create a proper market for agricultural land, which would enable consolidation of holdings and greater investment in productivity.
That the prime minister has used the Red Fort address to highlight the problem of inflation is welcome. Not all inaction, however, is justifiable because the causes are apparently external. The solutions, even then, can be internal.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
LOOKING TO LEAD
Jhalanath Khanal's resignation as Nepal's prime minister did not exactly come as a surprise, since he had been continuing on borrowed time. But Khanal had held out till the last minute, literally, till his own party — the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) — made it impossible for him to continue. When Khanal had assumed charge as PM in February, it was after Nepal had endured a governance vacuum for seven months. That it took 16 attempts, and that Khanal's way was cleared only after Maoist chief Prachanda withdrew his candidacy, was symptomatic of everything not working in Nepal's politics. And that was most things. Khanal had inherited the May 28 deadline for the promulgation of the new constitution, which is now almost certain of missing its revised August 31 deadline. Nepal now has to choose a PM all over again.
But this time round, parties have been fighting not just each other, but also, and more conspicuously, their own. Each of the three major parties — the CPN-UML, the Nepali Congress and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) — is divided and such divisions have defined Nepal's politics through Khanal's tenure. The CPN-UML had been pressuring Khanal given his closeness to Prachanda, to whom the PM owed his office and seemed to show absolute loyalty. The UCPN-M itself is fractured, with its vice-chairman Baburam Bhattarai, Prachanda's rival, projected as the Maoist candidate for PM. Irrespective of the August 31 deadline, Nepal's two major projects remain the constitution and the rehabilitation of Maoist combatants. A lot of time and opportunity have been wasted, and more may now be wasted.
However, the situation is not beyond rescue, since some progress has also been made. In any case, there cannot be any going back in time. Although the major parties are far from popular right now, they will have to move forward. As a big neighbour, India will have to take an active interest in what's happening in Kathmandu, advise and encourage Nepal's political parties to work together.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
It's hard to look away from Republican Congresswoman and presidential contender Michele Bachmann. As Newsweek fully exploited, putting a wild-eyed Bachmann on the cover, ostensibly to reflect her unique intensity, but in fact, confirming what many onlookers and opponents believe about her "crazy" hyper-conservatism. But Bachmann has focused her sights where it matters, winning the Iowa Republican straw poll. This means little in concrete terms, given that the only candidate to have won the straw poll and gone on to wrest the presidency is George W. Bush. But it still clarifies the contours of the Republican challenge: between Tea Party favourites like Bachmann and establishment candidates like Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, or someone like Senator Rick Perry of Texas, who potentially appeals to both.
And for Bachmann herself, this is very significant validation, and proof that she can transcend her evangelical base if she stresses on a libertarian antipathy to government, an idea that now resonates across the board for Republicans. So far, she has been mocked and laughed at for her beliefs on abortion, homosexuality, evolution, and her conviction that earthly law is an instrument to realise biblical values. Her lack of executive experience has also been held against her, as have her legislative gaffes (after hearing China was calling for abandoning the dollar as reserve currency, she freaked out about Americans being forced to part with their greenbacks, and introduced a resolution to "bar the dollar from being replaced by any foreign currency").
However, now, a newly energised Bachmann is set to put all that behind her. If she can emerge as a convincing rallying point for all those who want to "send a message to Barack Obama", then Bachmann might just be the next person to move from the Iowa straw poll to bigger things.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
TIME TO STEP BACK
PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
History repeats itself, first as farce and then as more farce. But in this drama both the so-called civil society and the state are bringing out the worst in each other, to the point where they both, in different ways, represent a threat to democratic values. There is no doubt that Anna Hazare's movement powerfully expressed anger against corruption, even as its own proposed solutions border on unreasonable daftness. But it has to be said that the way in which state power is being exercised to control and squelch protest is a dangerous trend for Indian democracy. Democracy requires a delicacy of moral judgment. So we are now in the awkward position of worrying that though the state is right in asserting the supremacy of institutions, it is becoming dangerously arbitrary and arrogant. Hazare's approach and proposals are ill-considered. But the right of that movement to protest needs to be defended. Unfortunately, both the state and civil society are in a "if you are not with us, you are against us" mood. That does not augur well for Indian society.
Consider the state first. It is becoming apparent to everyone that the Indian state has several tools at its disposal to regulate and curb protest. No one denies that the state needs to regulate certain forms of protest for logistical purposes or law and order. But it is now clear that the state regulates protest to an unconscionable degree, remnant of a licence-permit raj. The idea that the capital does not have a space where large numbers of people can, of their own free will, assemble is a travesty of democracy. The Delhi Police's requirement that the number of protesters be specified in advance or limited to 5,000 is absurd. Coming after the eviction of thousands of supporters of another farcical movement headed by Baba Ramdev, this portends a dangerous trend. There is no evidence yet that any of these movements intended violence or incited any criminality.
"If we don't have a right to protest, we don't have anything at all." These words were uttered by none other than Law Minister Salman Khursheed, criticising Mayawati's use of Section 144 to curb protest. The irony of this should not be missed. The Congress feels entitled to walk into a state and rabble-rouse in a situation that was actually violent; but it will use every bureaucratic means at its disposal to thwart protest. Its integrity is compromised right there; and its ability to pre-empt movements through the use of state power should frighten those committed to a liberal democracy. We don't see too many protest movements because the state is, oddly enough, quite effective in pre-empting them.
Add to this the fact that the state's attitude is bordering on thuggishness. In Ramdev's case, the state used its machinery to go after the movement, after the fact. Congress spokespersons have been articulating veiled threats of this kind at movements that oppose the government. This threat is being circulated in a wide range of cases, including Jagan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh. And the Congress is no longer disguising the fact that it will use its state power to discredit any movement it finds inconvenient. Whatever the excesses of the Anna movement, the aggression of the Congress party is a matter of worry: the way it holds out threats, uses innuendo, concocts any argument that suits it. The need of the hour is some statesmanship, not bullies fighting to the finish. Whether or not the charges it pursues are plausible has become moot. The state's timing and selectivity in doing so is only compromising its credibility. Make no mistake about it: the Congress will use any state power it can to protect itself and intimidate opponents. This issue will require vigilant social action.
The Anna Hazare movement meanwhile continues to propagate the tyranny of virtue. It has elided the distinction between protest and fast-unto-death. The former is legitimate. The latter is blackmail. Second, it has elided the fact that this is not just a contest between two players, the state and the knights in shining armour of the movement. There are many other actors in civil society who disagree with their institutional proposals. By threatening a fast-unto-death, they are violating two norms of democratic society. First, they are not acknowledging that there can be legitimate differences in a democracy. And to insist that only one proposal is correct is to slight not the state but other citizens. Second, they are violating the norms of reciprocity. Their sense of virtue cannot entitle them to deny that other citizens are also making good-faith arguments to better our democracy. And in the case of a disagreement, we have to resort to the only adjudicative mechanism we have agreed on: our representative democracy.
The movement should learn from its own success so far. The significance of actors in a democracy is always complex. Often movements achieve good despite themselves; and often they produce more destruction despite noble intentions. The Hazare movement has done both. The aims of the movement embodied in the Lokpal bill are ridiculous. But it has to be acknowledged that it galvanised a consciousness on the issue of corruption. Social pressure is important. The movement should also recognise that various other institutions of the state, from the opposition to independent bodies, have, albeit imperfectly, swung into action. The game is beginning to change. But it should not destroy its own historical achievement by being unreasonable on the methods of protest, or the choice of institutions it supports.
There is also a danger that the moral climate being created by Manichean worldviews of good versus evil will ill serve the cause of justice. It is already becoming apparent that even other institutions like the court are succumbing to this view. The court's attitude on the denial of bail to the 2G accused at various levels has less the imprimatur of the rule of law. It seems to be borne out of a fear that its legitimacy will be immediately questioned in this atmosphere that recognises no shades of gray, no fine distinctions, no patience with forms. Civil society should not contribute to this frenzy, lest it itself become the victim.
One hopes that the continuing farce will not end in tragedy. All actors in the current system, whether it is the executive, courts, independent agencies or civil society, will serve society better by discharging their proper roles, not by extending their power on any pretext. We need a fine balance, not an insolent civil society or a tyrannical state.
The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
The prime minister of Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal, has resigned. He goes unwept and unsung. Prachanda, the Maoist chief and architect of the radical left takeover, had tried to delay Khanal's resignation, but that amounted to going against the current political tide and he gave up at the end. The resignation, on August 14, came over a fortnight before the term of the Constituent Assembly expires on August 31.
On May 29, Khanal had promised to step down "immediately", following an agreement between the three big parties — the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML). But he managed to stay at the helm, saying his exit, without a consensus on a successor, could jeopardise the drafting of the constitution and give power back to "right reactionaries" and their "external patrons" who, he said, were out to destabilise the country.
Even as his party, the CPN-UML, pressured Khanal to resign, he had the backing of Prachanda. The Maoist leader feared that, on Khanal's exit, his arch-rival Baburam Bhattarai would become the next prime minister.
Khanal, in return, did everything he could to appease Prachanda since he took over on February 6. He gave the home ministry to the Maoists, first to K.B. Mahara and then Narayankaji Shrestha Prakash. When he reshuffled the cabinet last month, he again gave key portfolios to the Maoists, defying explicit instructions from his party's central committee.
However, Khanal's resignation by itself has not provoked a debate outside the parties and the parliament. The ongoing discussion on various public fora is more on whether there should be a roll-back on the demand for a federal structure on the basis of ethnicity and caste, a demand that many NGOs and the UCPN-M have endorsed. Should there be a fragmentation of society, or a restoration of social accord that Nepal has been known for? The political parties, meanwhile, are reduced to the villains of the piece.
"The current dispensation has failed to establish the authority of the state, honour the rule of law, check corruption and address people's issues, including their security," says Damannath Dhungana, a leader of the Nepali Congress who was the speaker in the early 1990s. But it is not just the CPN-UML. The public has never expressed a loss of confidence in the entire political structure as it has now. The culture of distributing perks, privileges and key political appointments among the top three parties and the immunity that politicians are enjoying in major corruption cases have contributed to the loss of the image of the big parties and their leaders.
On August 12, Mahesh Basnet, the chief of the Youth Force Nepal, a militant youth wing of the CPN-UML, said his organisation would effect the closure of a media house, and have one of its editors put behind bars. The media house was targeted because of its consistent demand for the arrest of a regional leader of the Youth Force absconding for the past three months after assaulting one of its reporters. Like the Young Communist League, affiliated with the Maoists, the Youth Force enjoys considerable power and privileges and have a say in the allocation of government contracts.
In the midst of this chaotic stage in Nepal's politics, Rakesh Sood, who clearly reversed India's pro-Maoist policy initiated since November 2005, has left Nepal on completion of his term as ambassador. The radical left is celebrating his departure, hoping that his successor, Jayant Prasad, will not be as hostile towards Maoists as Sood was. In fact, India continues to be criticised in most quarters in Nepal for having promoted radical elements, mainly the Maoists, and sidelined traditional allies, including the monarchy.
With another political crisis in Kathmandu, and no chance of a constitution being delivered by the August 31 deadline, a semblance of normality can be effected only by a rapprochement between the old order represented by the former king and the new one represented by the Maoists and other political parties, possibly with constructive engagement by Nepal's two neighbours, India and China. Another political experiment will only add to uncertainty and anarchy.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
LAND, WATER, FIRE
After land, it's water. The watery war near Pune that has taken three lives so far could well be the first among many in Maharashtra. Having undergone rapid industrialisation, parts of Maharashtra's hinterland are bursting at the seams. What happened in the Maval region, where protests by villagers opposing water supply to a nearby township turned violent last week, is a manifestation of a friction that will only grow.
The battlefield near Pune exemplifies the disputes. The district houses one of the biggest of state-of-the-art IT parks at Hinjewadi, with the who's who of the IT world present. Adjacent to it are two of the largest industrial zones in the country; you name a big corporate brand, and it's there, from the Tatas, Mercedes, GM and Bajaj to JCB via Nestle and many others. Next to it is the country's first planned — and controversial — hill station, Lavasa. Add to it two very big (one of which is among the richest in Asia) municipal towns: Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. All this in a district that has a record number of dams, 24. And yet, water-related issues have been unaddressed.
Farmers in the Pune district already felt that they were constantly under pressure to give up land without sufficient compensation, whether for industrial projects, or the country's first autobahn, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, or townships. There is growing resentment in the farming community that they are being deprived of their share of the fruits of this development. Spanning the divide in the district, between the areas that have witnessed massive industrialisation and those that have been left with agricultural activity, is the political establishment — which up until now was represented by the Pawars, Maharashtra's numero uno political dynasty.
Sharad Pawar, his daughter Supriya, and his nephew, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, represent Pune district. The elder Pawar had the uncanny knack of holding together two factions with widely differing viewpoints. That is the reason he is equally popular with the corporate class and the state's farming community. He put the region on the world map by successfully bringing almost every big industrial house to Pune and its environs. After his nephew Ajit Pawar took over the reins of the region from him, it started losing the balance that Sharad Pawar had brought between the two interest groups. It resulted in a peculiar situation.
The township, Pimpri-Chinchwad, that has triggered the water conflict, is run by Ajit Pawar. And the region from where it is trying to draw water is the opposition's stronghold. It was much easier for the opposition to market its you-are-always-sufferers story. The locals have every reason to believe that the government is hell-bent on diverting their water. Even before the latest dispute about the Pavana dam turned violent, allegations were levelled that the Lavasa township was allowed to "snatch" water meant for Pune city. The promoters of Lavasa and the state government tried hard to respond and clarify the situation; but many were unwilling to buy either the state's or the company's arguments. They would claim that there were precedents from elsewhere in the state.
The first spark was the Hetawane dam near Alibaug which was to be a part of the Maha Mumbai SEZ. Having spent over Rs 270 crore in building the Hetavane dam, the state government happily allowed the SEZ developer to appropriate it. The decision was revoked only after affected farmers went on a hunger strike, and the agitation against the state's decision turned violent.
There are other two similar, and parallel, examples. One is in nearby Nashik, another highly industrialised — and very agriculturally rich — belt. The city has witnessed many protests of late over the state's decision to divert a large quantity of water for a nearby SEZ, and also over a power project using the water from a dam that had been supposedly constructed to quench the city's thirst. A similar situation arose in faraway Amravati district, part of the drought-prone Vidarbha region. In order to help farmers irrigate their parched lands, the state government constructed the Upper Wardha dam. Even before agriculture could turn 450 villages in the region green, the state government changed its mind and reserved water from the dam for a power project.
Maharashtra has over 1,800 dams. The Maharashtra government in April 2011 changed its 35-year-old policy on water usage. Earlier agricultural usage had precedence over water meant for drinking and industrial purpose. The renewed policy pushed agriculture a notch down. Yet, even though the industrial usage is last on the priority list, in practice it might well get preference over the other two, which is bound to create problems. And it links up to land too: the government pays peanuts for agricultural land, citing public purposes such as irrigation and drinking water — but in the end, can wind up handing it over to empire-builders instead.
The writer is Executive Editor, 'Loksatta'
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
'THIS IS FRAUGHT WITH SERIOUS DANGER TO THE VERY EXISTENCE OF PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY'
P A SANGMA
Corruption has seeped deep into the vitals of our society. Your emergence as a crusader against corruption is most welcome, though belated. I fully agree with the spirit of your movement and extend my whole-hearted support. I don't think anyone should have any contrary view to your mission, unless of course, he is either insane or unpatriotic. Your proposal for exemplary punishment to the corrupt is most apt.
But I wish to convey to you certain apprehensions that need your urgent and untainted attention.
In your draft Lokpal bill, you have sought to bring the prime minister, MPs and judges under the ambit of the Lokpal. This, I am afraid, is fraught with serious danger to the very existence of parliamentary democracy, under which the legislature and the judiciary are most sacrosanct.
Let me mention here that MPs can be taken to task for any misdemeanour. One must not forget that almost 10 MPs belonging to different political parties were stripped for parliamentary membership in the infamous case of cash for questions. There certainly are adequate provisions to deal with erring MPs or even ministers. The recent arrest of a central minister and two MPs vouch for these provisions. Therefore, I do not see any point to bringing MPs under the Lokpal's ambit.
So far as the prime minister is concerned, it would be most desirable that a provision be made in the Lokpal bill to take action against him for any misdemeanour only after he demits office. The prime minister, in fact, is responsible for his council of ministers and, therefore, his office becomes highly sensitive. I do not think it would be in the interest of the nation to hang a Damocles' sword over his neck. He has to be allowed the freedom to function without any fear.
In any case, he is responsible to Parliament, which has the authority to impeach him on any issue of impropriety. Bringing him under the ambit of the Lokpal would encourage his critics and vested interests to make him dysfunctional through unfounded allegations. In our environment of a statutory right to information, a section of people have a tendency to apply immense pressure for the resignation of public office-holders even without waiting for any substantial proof of wrongdoing. Therefore, in the best interests of the nation, the prime minister should stay out of the ambit of the Lokpal, with a rider that he could be put on trial for any wrongdoing after he demits office.
Regarding the judiciary, I see no reason to bring them under the Lokpal because there are very many provisions to deal with them. I may mention here that one Supreme Court judge had to face impeachment before Parliament, and yet another senior judge is currently faced with the same prospect.
Dear Shri Anna Hazareji, I beseech you to with draw your plans of fasting in view of your advanced age, and the fact that Indian society today needs your guidance. Instead, a fresh dialogue could be initiated with the government with an express desire that a Lokpal bill be drafted with deep understanding of all issues and our national ethos.
Having served the government for almost two decades as a Union minister holding various portfolios, and having presided over the Lok Sabha, I am of the considered opinion that it is high time that a fresh dialogue is initiated with the government with an express desire to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of civil society, while giving due consideration to the pitfalls.
I do trust, you will appreciate the points I have raised and give no room to such forces who wish to destabilise our great nation.
The writer is a former Union minister and speaker of the Lok Sabha
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
IN IOWA, PRE-FABRICATED REPUBLICANS FAIL TO RISE TO THE TIMES
Ames, Iowa — Was it a debate or a horticultural seminar? The eight Republicans who gathered on a stage in this fecund state last week spoke of the US government as if it were some monstrous plant, each of them promising to come at it with shears sharper than any rival would wield. Their mantra was cut, cut, cut.
Tim Pawlenty made it clear that homeowners might have a new, inexpensive gardener at their disposal. If they could find a crop of specific entitlement-reform plans, he said, "I'll come to your house and mow your lawn." It was a cute bit. Problem was, I'd heard it before, two days earlier, when he appeared briefly at a coffee shop in the town of Sully. Then again, I'd already heard most of what Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney said at the debate, too. The moderator had implored everyone "to put aside the talking points" and "polished lines," but that was like asking aardvarks to go easy on the ants. A species can't be denied its subsistence diet.
Republican presidential hopefuls descended on Iowa, travelled its breadth, paid homage to the butter cow at the state fair and provided the most concentrated glimpse of campaign 2012 to date. It was an intensely dispiriting spectacle, because it was an entirely familiar one: the same-old same-old at a moment of extraordinary global uncertainty and national anxiety. Americans are more frightened and pessimistic — and DC is more dysfunctional — than they've been in a very long time. But the script in Iowa was unchanged.
Photo-op followed photo-op. Prefabricated one-liners abounded. Strenuously folksy riffs and poses prevailed. And candidates vying for the opportunity to lead a diverse nation nonetheless played a tired game of Excite the Right, dwelling on their opposition to gay marriage and trumpeting their anti-abortion credentials. Those aren't and can't be the issues this time around. Not with the European debt crisis, the Arab world convulsing, the Dow jackhammering and America's joblessness. It's past time for nobler, smarter, more substantive politics. But that's not what Iowa presented.
Evangelical voters seem to have taken quite a shine to Bachmann, who was investing heavily in her strong finish at the straw poll. She planned to bus supporters there, spring for their $30 tickets and accommodate them in an air-conditioned tent with free barbecue and live music.
Bachmann's debate performance was troubling. In her opening remarks, she caromed from senseless to ear-splitting, first saying that her vote against raising the debt ceiling had proved correct and then veritably yelping that Obama would be a one-term president. But that wasn't the scary part. The scary part was how little distance there was, really, between her and the others on the stage. There was a stunning ideological uniformity on display. Among the eight candidates, not one brooked the possibility of any tax increases to help solve the debt problem.
How can that be? It's because all of the Republican Party is running scared of its super-conservative faction and because the nominating process rewards a rightward tilt — to the party's and the country's detriment. Obama is a flawed president confronting epic challenges; he needs to be drawn into a serious conversation with a Republican nominee who represents a plausible alternative, not with someone boxed into a corner. Is that where Romney, the current front-runner, would end up?
In Iowa he talked repeatedly about his 25 years in the private sector; he focuses on his career in business, saying it gives him economic chops Obama will never have. Speaking of chops, Romney went to the state fair on Thursday and donned a red apron to grill pork, because grilling pork is of course a vital part of being president. He also made remarks from a makeshift stage with bales of hay in the foreground. Bales of hay seem to emerge out of nowhere and creep into the camera frame whenever politicians touch down in farm states. Over several days I heard Romney say "sure as heck," "fella" and "darn well." I half expected him to take a pitchfork to that hay.
If politicians exhibited some silliness in Iowa, so did reporters. Like hounds heeding a whistle, they swarmed to Sarah Palin when she dropped by the state fair, rewarding her coyness about the presidential race with extra-rapt attention. She dithers; we drool. She was asked if the president was to blame for the nation's credit downgrading, and said yes. "Because from the top, leadership starts from the top, the leadership of our country," she said, syntactical as ever. She was also asked if she was looking for votes. "I'm looking for fried butter on a stick as soon as I can get there," she said. She deserves as much. And America deserves something much, much better.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
'THE WORLD HAS NO IDEA'
Ideas just aren't what they used to be. Once upon a time, they could ignite fires of debate, stimulate other thoughts, incite revolutions and fundamentally change the ways we look at and think about the world. They could penetrate the general culture and make celebrities out of thinkers — Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould. The ideas themselves could even be made famous: for instance, for "the end of ideology," "the medium is the message," "the feminine mystique," "the Big Bang theory."
If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it's not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don't care as much. We are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can't instantly be monetised are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding.
The real cause may be information itself. It may seem counterintuitive that at a time when we know more than we have ever known, we think about it less. Courtesy of the Internet, we seem to have immediate access to anything that anyone could ever want to know. And that's just the point. In the past, we collected information to convert it into ideas that made sense of the information. We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas.
Marx pointed out the relationship between the means of production and our social and political systems. Freud taught us to explore our minds as a way of understanding our emotions and behaviours. These ideas enabled us to get our minds around our existence and attempt to answer the big, daunting questions of our lives. But if information was once grist for ideas, over the last decade it has become competition for them. We are inundated with so much information that we wouldn't have time to process it even if we wanted to, and most of us don't want to.
The collection itself is exhausting: what each of our friends is doing at that particular moment and then the next moment and the next one; who Jennifer Aniston is dating right now; which video is going viral on YouTube. We prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value. It keeps us in the loop, keeps us connected to our friends and our cohort. Ideas are too airy, too impractical, too much work for too little reward. Few talk ideas. Everyone talks information, usually personal information.
It is certainly no accident that the post-idea world has sprung up alongside the social networking world. Even though there are sites and blogs dedicated to ideas, the most popular websites are basically information exchanges, designed to feed the insatiable information hunger, though this is hardly the kind of information that generates ideas. It is largely useless except insofar as it makes the possessor of the information feel, well, informed.
The implications of a society that no longer thinks big are enormous. Ideas aren't just intellectual playthings. They have practical effects. An artist friend of mine recently lamented that he felt the art world was adrift because there were no longer great critics to provide theories of art that could fructify the art and energise it. Another friend made a similar argument about politics. While the parties debate how much to cut the budget, he wondered where were the John Rawlses and Robert Nozicks who could elevate our politics.
The successors of Rosenberg, Rawls and Keynes are not likely to get traction in a culture that has so little use for ideas, especially big, exciting, dangerous ones. This is especially true of big thinkers in the social sciences like the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, who has theorised on everything from the source of language to the role of genetics in human nature, or the biologist Richard Dawkins, who has had big and controversial ideas on everything from selfishness to God. But because they are scientists and empiricists rather than generalists in the humanities, the place from which ideas were customarily popularised, they suffer a double whammy: not only the whammy against ideas generally but the whammy against science, which is typically regarded as mystifying at best, incomprehensible at worst. A generation ago, these men would have made their way into popular magazines and onto television screens.
We have become information narcissists, so uninterested in anything outside ourselves and our friendship circles or in any tidbit we cannot share with those friends that if a Marx or a Nietzsche were suddenly to appear, blasting his ideas, no one would pay the slightest attention.
What the future portends is more and more information — Everests of it. There won't be anything we won't know. But there will be no one thinking about it.
The writer is a senior fellow at the University of Southern California
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
IN THAT DAWN TO BE ALIVE
Nearly two-thirds of a century later, memories of August 15,1947, remain astonishingly fresh in my mind, and I would rather relive them than write about the state of the Union on Independence Day's 64th anniversary, when there is so little to be cheerful about.
The first thing of which the younger generation might be unaware is that on the magic day, the whole of north India was almost completely paralysed. There was hardly any law and order or any rail and road transport. Even government offices were practically dysfunctional more often than not. This was so because the ecstasy of Independence and the agony of Partition were presaged by unimaginable carnage and the largest mass migration during peacetime in history. Madness prevailed on both sides of the new divide.
Yet the striking fact was that, as we woke up on August 14, there was an incredible change in the public mood. Over previous days one was used to witnessing a lot of anger, even fury, over the loss of loved ones and homes on the other side of the border. There were also threats of "revenge" at all costs. Now there was not a whiff of this. Everyone seemed full of joy. People were waving the tricolour, embracing one another and distributing sweets. My happiness was even more exuberant.
I was 17 then. Months earlier, together with my elder brother and three of his classmates, I had left the hostel of our college 150 miles away, and we were camping at my father's house in a place called Nangloi, a small railway station no more than ten miles from Delhi, where my father was station-master. Now completely swallowed by the greedy maw of urbanisation that has made it a part of the national capital, Nangloi was then a nice, isolated place, surrounded on all sides by fields, dotted only by a small village.
We, the Gang of Five, had made up our minds to walk to Delhi and be there in good time to join the celebrations. But just when we were starting, I found it necessary to stop in my tracks. I was furious because the girl next door, trying to explain to her young brother what the huge excitement was about, silenced him by saying: "Aaj Nehruji ki taaj poshi hai (today is the coronation of Nehruji"). So livid was I that I wanted to go and tell the foolish girl that we were ushering in an independent and democratic India, not a monarchy. Luckily, my brother restrained me. For, over the years, I have sometimes wondered whether that semi-literate girl I was so angry with wasn't more prescient than I.
The padayatra to Delhi was tiring. At some stage we found a tonga. Its owner was willing to take us to Lodi Colony where our gracious host lived. After some rest and an early dinner, we were on the march again, this time to Parliament House where we reached in good time, but found that tens of thousands of people had preceded us. More and more men, women and children were joining every minute but the broad boulevards around the circular building could accommodate us all. At the midnight hour, we heard Nehru's magnificent tryst-with-destiny speech and wept with joy.
A while later we drifted on a sea of humanity towards Connaught Place in search of something to eat. It was awake, jam packed, and brightly lit. Food was also available in plenty. Almost every enterprising refugee had converted a wheelbarrow into a food stall.
While we were eating something absolutely unexpected happened. Someone shouted: "Yeh azadi nahin, barbadi hai (This isn't independence, it's destruction)" — the standard cry of displaced humanity. But almost everyone around him fell on him like a tonne of bricks. They told him, also in Punjabi, that he must not express such ideas on the Great Day. "Other nations", someone said, "had paid an even higher price to win freedom". A tall man with a handlebar moustache asked for silence to declare: "I have left behind two buildings in Lahore. I will erect four here. So can all of you".
It was time to get home and to bed. How we managed to do this, I don't know. But we were fast asleep the next morning when the Chief Justice swore in Lord Mountbatten as the Indian Dominion's first governor-general at Parliament House. Later in the day, we learnt that after the ceremony he almost failed to make it to the Government House, as the Viceroy's House had been renamed until it became Rashtrapati Bhavan in 1950. Crowds outside Parliament House were so dense that even the 400-strong bodyguard could not force a passage. Ultimately, Nehru climbed on the roof of the carriage and waved away the crowd that obeyed him instantly. No one else could have done that.
The rest of August 15 was a succession of jubilation and parties across the city. Our destination was the main event at 6 — the unfurling of the national flag at India Gate by Nehru. The army band was in attendance and an elaborate programme had been drawn up. As usual, we got there two hours earlier. But once again, around the appointed time, the crowds had become so enormous that the carriages of Nehru and Mountbatten could not get through. The planned military parade and speeches had to be abandoned.
From a distance, the prime minister signalled that the flag should be raised and the guns should fire the salute. As the flag broke on top of the pole, a lovely rainbow appeared in the sky behind it — an auspicious sign.
It is only fair that I should record honestly the vision of five of us of independent India. We were agreed that within 20 years of Independence, curses like untouchability, illiteracy, bribery and dowry would disappear from the Indian scene. Moreover, as the Mahatma wanted, caste would also vanish, and now the British had either left or were leaving, there would be no Hindu-Muslim problem. How utterly naïve one can be!
The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
MORE WORRIES AHEAD
Though SBI has managed to eke out more from borrowers as compared to what it pays depositors—SBI's net interest margin, at 3.62%, is one of the highest in the business—the bank's earnings have done worse than what most expected. Indeed, the latest numbers suggest the next quarter may also be poor unless there are some positive surprises. SBI's operating profits rose 18%, from R6,134 crore in Q1 FY11 to R7,242 crore in Q1 FY12, but higher provisioning by R2,439 crore meant net profits fell from R2,914 crore to R1,584 crore in the same period. Part of this is the cost of having to provide for the sharp rise in non-performing assets due to aggressive expansion in the past—fresh NPAs rose to R6,180 crore in Q1 FY12 as compared to R5,645 crore in Q4 FY11, R3,153 crore in Q3 FY11, R4,412 crore in Q2 FY11 and R4,081 crore in Q1 FY11. As a result of this, R2,782 crore had to be provided in Q1 for loan loss (that's a 60% hike over that in the corresponding period last year). Another R1,048 crore (compared to -R298 crore in Q1 FY11) had to be written off on account of investment depreciation—rising interest rates eating into the capital value of SBI's bond-holding valuations. The bank's gross NPAs are now 3.52%, as compared to 3.28% in Q4 FY11.
As a result of this, including a R7,927 crore writedown of pension liability in the March quarter straight to the capital account, SBI's capital has badly eroded. At 7.6%, Tier I capital is above the RBI-specified 6% but below the 8% RBI is comfortable with—the Basel III norms, still some years away, will likely require this to be around 13%. Which means the government will have to pump in some serious money into SBI. With GDP growth slowing and interest rates rising, bad loans and provisioning needs are likely to rise further. For SBI, that can only be bad news.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
FREEDOM TO DO BUSINESS
Thanks to 20 years of economic reforms, at 64, India is dramatically different from what it has been at any point in its history. The headline numbers of this remarkable story indicate both the movement and the task ahead. With 85 crore mobile phone connections, India has more people connected to a phone network than to a sewerage one; private sector mobile phone companies have far more rural customers but it is the public sector BSNL and MTNL that continue to get taxpayer-funded subsidies; private airlines fly a lot more passengers but the government wants to plough in another R42,000 crore into the sick public sector Air India; the government spends R29,000 crore each year on elementary education but Indians spend more than this on private tuition/schooling and are deserting government schools for private ones in even rural India; realising the emphasis being put on education by even the poor, the government makes the right to education a fundamental right, but puts the onus of providing quality education on the private sector by forcing schools to reserve a fourth of their seats for those the government decrees have to be given admission; 'unrecognised' private schools are providing education to the bulk of the population, but legislating the imposition of physical standards (size of classrooms, for instance) and salary levels for each school, the government is threatening their existence; GDP growth has gone up compared to the 'Hindu rate of growth' days, but it goes up when private investment growth rises and falls when this reduces …
Judged against this reality, there is little in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech that suggests a radical change from the business-as-usual approach. Sure, there were references to a new public procurement law to check one sort of corruption, a strong Lokpal, the judicial accountability Bill, a Bill to make regulators more accountable, a new land acquisition Bill to take care of the interests of land-losers. The Prime Minister was right when he spoke about the need to be cautious and to not do anything to endanger stability (in the same vein, the President spoke of the need to respect the separation of powers), about how Parliament was the forum to debate laws and that fasts-unto-death were undemocratic … The real issue, however, is about whether the government, as in 1991, is prepared to get out of the way, to unleash a million mutinies by letting people do their business; it's about whether, critical in areas such as judiciary or healthcare, the government is prepared to add on the necessary muscle. What we have instead is the promise of more government intervention where it isn't required—a Right to Food Bill and possibly even more restrictions on private sector service providers with the universalisation of secondary education. An Independence Day speech, it is true, is not the place to spell out details of planned reforms, but it is a useful signalling device—the signal yesterday was government-as-usual.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
THE NANO THAT WASN'T
The slowdown in auto sales has been well recounted in the news pages by now. Beginning this fiscal it hasn't exactly been rocking like the previous two years, but what has not been noted is that the same numbers signal the end of a big dream—a dream that promised to change the motoring landscape of India, something that would have wiped off two-wheelers and mopeds from the Indian roads. Yes, we are talking about the small, R1-lakh car, Nano, from the house of Tatas. Not only was this seen as an engineering marvel considering its shape, size and price, but also promised to add 'car' to the aam aadmi's dream of roti, kapda, makaan aur mobile.
Surely such promises and hopes were a little dashed when three years ago the bookings for the Nano started and only some 2 lakh-odd consumers showed interest. And then there were teething troubles, shifting of the plant from Singur in West Bengal to Sanand in Gujarat. In between also came some manufacturing defects but they don't matter much because recalls happen even in cases of noted global auto majors like Honda and Toyota. Still, three years down the line, the car has failed to deliver on all the promised fronts. This, in a way, tells a larger story of a good product a little late to enter the market, and also demolishes certain myths about consumer categorisation and aspirations in the Indian market, something that one hopes marketers would keep in mind in future.
The latest auto sales numbers for the month of July have gone down for all the major manufacturers, including Maruti and Hyundai. But what strikes is the dismal sales of the Nano—the number slipped to 3,260 units from 9,000 units in the corresponding month last year. This is not a one-off case; since the beginning of this fiscal, sales of the Nano have sequentially declined. In April, the number stood at 10,012 units, May (6,515 units), June (5,452 units) and July (3,260 units). Interestingly, Nano's sales during 2010-11 have been lower than Tata Motors' hatchback Indica!
Now, the lower sales are understandable for cars being produced by the likes of Maruti-Suzuki and Hyundai because of the sentiment factor—rising interest rates on car loans as well as rising fuel prices. Ideally, such factors should have propelled sales of Nano—lower cost and higher mileage. Erroneously, most of us see the auto market as a monolith. For instance, the quarter has certainly seen declining numbers for car sales but when it comes to two-wheelers, sales have been rising.
Now let's see the logic behind the birth of the Nano. Since a vast majority in India use two-wheelers because of the affordability factor, it was felt that a car like Nano would make them upgrade to a 'car' and make their lives better. If this was the case, sales of Nano would be on a rising curve instead of the reverse. Further, in times like this when interest rates and fuel prices are on a high, Nano's sales should have only increased because consumers should have cut back on buying a Maruti 800, an Alto or a Santro and instead opted for a Nano. Since the difference in price of a Nano and a motorcycle isn't much, the former's sales should not have been affected if motorcycles are still selling like hot cakes.
Herein lies the fault in looking at the two-wheeler market as a monolith. The two-wheeler market comprises of three kinds of consumers: (a) the rural folk who prefer it because of utility and terrain, not the cost factor, (b) the urban college-going youngsters who prefer it because of style and power, not because of affordability, and (c) the low-income office-going strata for whom affordability is a factor. The first two categories either own or can afford to own a car and their choice would never be a Nano. This brings us to the third category, whose size isn't that big to fuel sales of the Nano. Even this category has aspiration levels such that when it plans to buy a car, this is not at the entry level but a little higher than that, so the Nano goes out from here as well. This brings us to a fourth category—retired government officers in tier II and III cities who are living off their pension and whose old Maruti 800 has also started pinching them! No wonder Tata Motors has recently started talking about the scope of the Nano in tier I and tier II cities.
The other car manufacturers understood this very well and therefore were never perturbed with the coming of the Nano. In fact, the former managing director of Maruti, Jagdish Khattar, had put it best when he said that going by the logic that two-wheeler buyers would upgrade to a Nano, they would come to Maruti for their second upgrade, so why worry?
The larger picture is that the auto market in the country has been hugely transformed in the last 20 years. These are not the days of entry level cars like Maruti 800 as can be seen by its falling sales. Maruti had to invent an Alto. Sales of Santro have dwindled and Hyundai had to come up with an i10. True, players offering mid-size cars are getting into making small cars but they are not exactly entry level small cars but what are called premium compact cars categorised as the A2+ segment by the industry. In fact, the growth of the A2+ segment (Swift, i10 etc) is higher than the A2 (Alto, Wagon R etc).
Somewhere, Tata Motors too realises the end of the Nano dream, and that's why it has also started talking about a bigger and costlier Nano. But the point is, once it becomes bigger and costlier, it doesn't remain a Nano any more.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
FUND RAISING IN A LIMBO
The US economy is in turmoil. But turmoil is nothing new to India. The primary capital market has been in a state of disarray much before the US crisis, for several reasons including the mounting fallout of mis-governance. Fund raising requires a buoyant, or at least a stable secondary market. What we have been witness to in the past several months is a declining or very volatile market. Let hard data tell the story.
Given our stage of growth, India should have been on a continuing ascending path in terms of fund raising. But we seem to hit the descending path every so often; some times for global reasons but mostly for domestic reasons. Even if we look at the recent few years, this has indeed been the story. First the public equity issues market, because this requires the highest level of stability and confidence in the future. This market had witnessed issuances worth R21,000 crore in fiscal 2004-05, which rose year-on-year to touch R52,000 crore in 2007-08. The global financial crisis of 2008 changed all that and brought the raisings to only R2,000 crore in 2008-09. Having weathered that crisis, the market bounced back with R47,000 crore in 2009-10 and a reasonable R46,000 crore the following year. In the current fiscal, the amount mobilised has been a meagre R8,500 crore.
That fund raising has been in limbo now for long can be seen from the fact that currently as many as 54 companies are holding Sebi approval to go ahead with their public issue plans to raise nearly R21,000 crore and another 52 companies have filed with Sebi for approval to raise nearly R18,000 crore. A worrying feature of this list of 106 prospective issuers is the dominance of the two sectors that are currently not the investors' favourites; of the total R39,000 crore, as much as 31% is planned by real estate companies and another 10% by power companies.
That the markets have been in a depressed stage for long is most strongly coming out from the number of companies that have allowed their Sebi approvals with one year validity to expire. In normal circumstances, companies rush to the market soon upon clearing the last and biggest hurdle, that of Sebi approval. In the past couple of years, as many as 19 companies, most of them with mega issues planning to collectively raise a huge R30,000 crore, have joined this list, which has Jindal Power (R7,000 crore), Reliance Infratel (R5,000 crore), Sterlite Energy (R5,000 crore), Gujarat State Petroleum (R3,000 crore), Lodha Developers (R3,000 crore) and Ambience (R1,000 crore). Significantly, Reliance Infratel has allowed its approval to lapse twice. Many of these 19 companies are again from the real estate or power sector. Worse, that these 19 companies have abandoned, at least temporarily, their IPO plans is clear from the fact that none of them have still refiled for Sebi approval, which means that even over the next 6 months to a year, they do not expect the markets to be conducive. In addition to the above, there have been another 16 companies that just withdrew their application from Sebi, given the market conditions.
A major casualty of the uncertain market has been the disinvestment programme of the government, which has been and was expected to be the major driver of the primary market. In the current fiscal, divestments have amounted to a paltry R1,144 crore, down from R22,760 crore last year. Although issue plans have been announced from several PSUs, including ONGC, Oil India, BHEL, SAIL Power Grid, MMTC and NBCC, the signals from the government to go ahead appear very weak, and the R40,000 crore target set for the current fiscal is likely to take a big hit.
Rights issues have not been a preferred route by the corporates. While the preceding two years saw mobilisation of R8,000 crore and R9,500 crore, this is currently down to only R377 crore in the current fiscal.
Qualified institutional placements (QIPs), as a method of fund raising by listed companies, was a good measure but it has been wrongly designed as a buoyant market instrument; it, in fact, should be market-neutral. When the markets were buoyant in 2007-08, QIPs raised R26,000 crore. The next year saw it crashing down to R188 crore. With markets reviving, the amount increased to a high R40,000 crore in the next year, with the falling market seeing this go down again to R24,000 crore in the next year. This stands at just R900 crore this fiscal.
There have been, in any case, very few overseas issuances. Both the ADR/GDR as well as the FCCB markets seem to have dried up with just R1,800 crore being raised this year until now (compared to R32,000 crore that was raised in 2009-10).
In such a scenario, corporates are increasingly being forced to look at debt. While bank loans have been on the rise, the bonds private placement market has remained very buoyant, with R1.92 lakh crore raised last year, and R50,000 crore already raised in the first four months of the current fiscal. The public issue route for non-convertible debentures is also seeing action. A dead market for nearly two decades, one offering was made in 2007-08 raising R1,000 crore, which rose to 10 companies raising R9,400 crore in the last fiscal. There have already been three issues this fiscal and many more are in the pipeline. On the other hand, external commercial borrowings are also likely to rise.
We are coupled in many ways and any global development impacts us. Yet very often, we seem to be decoupled enough, being a marginal economy, not to be influenced by global news. India should utilise the current times to push for major reforms, and not hope and wait for the world to set our markets right. It is a good time to rethink our over-dependence on FIIs, and rather make our domestic institutions stronger. It is time to build a strong market-oriented pension system (NPS and EPFO). It is time to introduce measures to attract more household savings into the capital market. It is time to push for a new paradigm in our mutual fund industry. It is time to infuse life in the SME capital platform. It is time to rethink our strategy on divestments. India has enough depth within the country to maintain a steady growth in fund raising. Let us focus more on that. New issue activity will rise if we get our micro economic factors and policies right.
The author is founder-chairman & managing director of PRIME Database
THE TEXAS UNMIRACLE
As expected, Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, has announced that he is running for President. And we already know what his campaign will be about: faith in miracles.
Some of these miracles will involve things that you're liable to read in the Bible. But if he wins the Republican nomination, his campaign will probably centre on a more secular theme: the alleged economic miracle in Texas, which, it's often asserted, sailed through the Great Recession almost unscathed thanks to conservative economic policies. And Mr. Perry will claim that he can restore prosperity to America by applying the same policies at a national level.
So what you need to know is that the Texas miracle is a myth, and, more broadly, that Texan experience offers no useful lessons on how to restore national full employment.
It's true that Texas entered recession a bit later than the rest of America, mainly because the State's still energy-heavy economy was buoyed by high oil prices through the first half of 2008. Also, Texas was spared the worst of the housing crisis, partly because it turns out to have surprisingly strict regulation of mortgage lending.
Despite all that, however, from mid-2008 onward unemployment soared in Texas, just as it did almost everywhere else.
In June 2011, the Texas unemployment rate was 8.2 per cent. That was less than unemployment in collapsed-bubble States like California and Florida, but it was slightly higher than the unemployment rate in New York, and significantly higher than the rate in Massachusetts. By the way, one in four Texans lacks health insurance, the highest proportion in the nation, thanks largely to the State's small-government approach. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has near-universal coverage thanks to health reform very similar to the "job-killing" Affordable Care Act.
So where does the notion of a Texas miracle come from? Mainly from widespread misunderstanding of the economic effects of population growth.
For this much is true about Texas: It has, for many decades, had much faster population growth than the rest of America — about twice as fast since 1990. Several factors underlie this rapid population growth: a high birth rate, immigration from Mexico, and inward migration of Americans from other States, who are attracted to Texas by its warm weather and low cost of living, low housing costs in particular.
And just to be clear, there's nothing wrong with a low cost of living. In particular, there's a good case to be made that zoning policies in many States unnecessarily restrict the supply of housing, and that this is one area where Texas does in fact do something right.
But what does population growth have to do with job growth? Well, the high rate of population growth translates into above-average job growth through a couple of channels. Many of the people moving to Texas — retirees in search of warm winters, middle-class Mexicans in search of a safer life — bring purchasing power that leads to greater local employment. At the same time, the rapid growth in the Texas work force keeps wages low — almost 10 per cent of Texan workers earn the minimum wage or less, well above the national average — and these low wages give corporations an incentive to move production to the Lone Star State.
So Texas tends, in good years and bad, to have higher job growth than the rest of America. But it needs lots of new jobs just to keep up with its rising population — and as those unemployment comparisons show, recent employment growth has fallen well short of what's needed.
If this picture doesn't look very much like the glowing portrait Texas boosters like to paint, there's a reason: the glowing portrait is false.
Still, does Texas job growth point the way to faster job growth in the nation as a whole? No.
What Texas shows is that a State offering cheap labour and, less important, weak regulation can attract jobs from other States. I believe that the appropriate response to this insight is "Well, duh." The point is that arguing from this experience that depressing wages and dismantling regulation in America as a whole would create more jobs — which is, whatever Mr. Perry may say, what Perrynomics amounts to in practice — involves a fallacy of composition: every State can't lure jobs away from every other State.
In fact, at a national level lower wages would almost certainly lead to fewer jobs — because they would leave working Americans even less able to cope with the overhang of debt left behind by the housing bubble, an overhang that is at the heart of our economic problem.
So when Mr. Perry presents himself as the candidate who knows how to create jobs, don't believe him. His prescriptions for job creation would work about as well in practice as his prayer-based attempt to end Texas's crippling drought. — © New York Times News Service
Where does the notion of a Texas miracle come from? Mainly from widespread misunderstanding of the economic effects of population growth.
AFRICA MUST GIVE MORE TO FAMINE AID, SAYS GROUP
African governments must make more substantial donations to the international relief effort aiding the more than 12 million people affected by the Horn of Africa drought and famine, an international aid group has said.
The British group Oxfam said it has launched an initiative to get Africans and their governments to donate more.
Irungu Houghton, an Oxfam official, said that donations from African governments have been inadequate, with only South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Sudan making contributions.
He noted that citizens in South Africa and Kenya are contributing money and food to the aid efforts in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, but that, overall, the response from Africa has been too small. While Namibia has pledged $500,000, South Africa has pledged $1 million, increasing its donation upwards from an earlier pledge of $150,000. Houghton said the pledge by the South African government is not enough taking into account the country's economic status.
The U.N. says that more than $1.4 billion is needed for famine relief efforts. Houghton said his organisation expects African governments to raise at least $50 million.
The United States has been the biggest international donor to famine relief efforts, with about $580 million in aid this year. Britain is the second-biggest donor at $205 million, followed by Japan and Australia. Saudi Arabia is next at $60 million. — AP
A BROTHER OUT OF CONTROL
Two years after defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and eliminating it as a military entity, Sri Lanka is still struggling to emerge from the woods on some important fronts. Two issues are predominant. One is the nature of the peace, and the efforts by the Sri Lankan government towards a political reconciliation between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority. The military victory over the LTTE, and President Mahinda Rajapaksa's strength in parliament, gave the government an unprecedented opportunity to put in place a progressive political framework to heal the wounds of a 30-year war, and address Tamil grievances that predate the war. That it has taken only nominal steps in this direction is a matter of concern even to friends of Sri Lanka, such as India, which stood by its military efforts against the LTTE. The second issue, which has found strong voice in a recent documentary by a British television station, Channel 4, and in a United Nations report, has to do with the nature of the military operations in the final stages of the war in 2009. Both make allegations of war crimes against the Sri Lankan Army, accusing it of knowingly aiming fire at civilians such that thousands lost their lives, of killing captives in cold blood, and of possible sexual assault. It is shocking that instead of addressing these issues in the right spirit, a high-ranking official of the Sri Lankan government, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a brother of the Sri Lankan President, has chosen to vitiate the atmosphere even more with his intemperate remarks against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, and by attributing motives to the adoption of resolutions on Sri Lanka by the State Assembly.
Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa's comments, made in the course of an interview to Headlines Today television, reveal a troubling contempt for the Tamil minority. He has trashed "the political solution talk," asserting, among other things, that it was "simply irrelevant" because "we have ended this terrorism in Sri Lanka," making the egregious assertion that when the 13th Amendment was being drafted, "the government of Sri Lanka was not involved," and proposing that with the LTTE "gone," there was no further need to amend the Constitution. President Rajapaksa would be well advised to distance himself swiftly from his brother's stream-of-consciousness on sensitive issues that are not his business. This includes an outrageous comment that because a Tamil woman, an "LTTE cadre" who was a British national, interviewed in the Channel 4 documentary was "so attractive" but had been neither raped nor killed by Sri Lankan soldiers, the allegation of sexual assault by soldiers could not be true. For this statement alone, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa must be taken to task.
QUANTITY VERSUS QUALITY
To observers of the technological education scene in Tamil Nadu, it will come as no surprise that as many as 45,062 engineering seats out of the 149,000 put up for admission through the single-window system remain vacant at the end of the counselling process. This is consistent with the pattern of recent years, not only in this State but in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra as well. Tamil Nadu has reported a marginal fall in the number of admissions — down from 112,000 last year to 104,000 in 2011 — even though the number of seats on offer has gone up by nearly 30,000. Behind these numbers lies a story of thoughtless quantitative expansion, lack of elementary attention to quality, an acute shortage of competent faculty, and parental anxiety to strike a deal with private college managements even before the single-window admissions begin. There are a handful of first-rate or very good private engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu, which is possibly ahead of other States in this respect. But the problem is that technological education is mostly seen as a lucrative business, with little attention paid to academic values, ideals, and good practices. Mindless of ground realities, the All India Council for Technical Education has been approving at least 50 colleges every year in the State, where the number has crossed 520, next only to Andhra Pradesh. Some years ago, the State government appealed to the AICTE to stop sanctioning new colleges, but the Council's contention was that it had no choice but to approve any proposal that fulfilled its norms.
A key reason for the high vacancy level is that students seek out institutions that have sound potential for placement. They also tend to factor in the college's academic performance, the quality of the faculty, the infrastructure on offer, and perhaps also locational attractiveness. If the problem of vacancies is to be addressed, colleges must be encouraged and indeed required to invest more in training, research, and development so that the capabilities of their students are significantly upgraded. There are positive indications that the Tamil Nadu government is thinking on these lines, but there are other issues — such as the insistence on nativity certificates for students who have passed out of school in other States, which means good students from traditional feeder States such as Bihar, Jharkhand, and Assam can be admitted only to expensive management seats — to be sorted out. There has been enough quantitative expansion for now; the strategic need is to work systematically to raise the bar.
'I BELIEVE THERE IS A CONCERTED CAMPAIGN TO DISCREDIT THE KASHMIR PANEL'
Prof. Radha Kumar, who offered to resign from the panel of three interlocutors on Jammu and Kashmir, is working towards completing the group's final report. She and chief interlocutor Dileep Padgaonkar were criticised by their colleague, M.M. Ansari, for attending seminars on Kashmir abroad, organised by individuals accused of being financed by Pakistan. Though such allegations have served to undermine the panel and its mission, she feels the final report would be a comprehensive document that will live up to the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Excerpts from an interview to Vinay Kumar.
What is the status of your resignation from the panel of interlocutors?
The government has made it clear to me that they don't want me to resign and, of course, it is a matter of few weeks for us to prepare our final report. In any case, I had always committed that as far as report writing would go, I would be always work on that. We are looking at September to complete the report.
In the past 10 months, the panel must have made at least a dozen visits to Jammu and Kashmir.
We made 11 visits, mostly of about six days each and we have been to almost all the districts. There are a couple of districts we would like to go to again because we were not able to have exhaustive meetings there as we were in other places. For example, Baramulla town, when we visited it, was still in a state of unrest, so we could not have comprehensive meetings. Shopian, we had gone to visit the family of those ladies who tragically died. And Samba in Jammu remains for us to visit.
So are there any more visits to the State on the cards?
Well, I think that is something for the Ministry to decide. I will say this, that all of these allegations have had a very unfortunate impact. One, because they have continued for six weeks now, they have had an impact of attempting to discredit the panel and the mission and, of course, the focus shifted very foolishly on to individual problems rather than remaining on the mission. And this has, understandably, I suppose, made people quite nervous. So that means even a proper completion of this mission which would require that we cover the areas that we were able to only partially cover for the final report is now in jeopardy.
But yours will be a complete, comprehensive, final report, won't it be?
Certainly, in terms of what we have been able to do,which is that we met the entire political leadership excluding formal meetings with the Mirwaiz and with Syed Ali Shah Geelani. We met the mainstream leadership, others, dissidents, and so on. We have met opinion makers of a range of sorts from the law and media professions which, you know in Kashmir, are very influential. And we met about 600 delegations, and that is not counting the people who also came to us in Delhi or individually…. So, I can say that as far as opinions are concerned, it has been fairly exhaustive and it has covered both the leadership and the public at large. I do not think this kind of thing has been done in a very long time.
Can we assume that when the panel began 10-11 months ago, the sailing has been smooth right till the time controversies broke?
No, that is not correct. You will recall, when we were appointed there was a huge controversy which actually started in New Delhi. There were all sorts of criticism of the choice [of interlocutors], and that had its impact in Kashmir. This is something which we do not realise in New Delhi — that what happens here has a huge impact in the Valley, in Jammu and least impact in Ladakh. Certainly, it disheartened people in the Valley, so we began with a lot of doubts about what is our mandate, what was the nature of our mission, how much we will be able to achieve or not achieve. We were fortunate that within a month or two, we received a very warm response in Jammu and Kashmir which really indicates to me, the real desire for a resolution and for peace and stability in the region. So we were able to emerge out of that problem…but as you know when we were appointed, how inflamed the situation was and how much simmering violence there was. In that situation, you have to expect obstacles. I can only say that it was a very good discovery to find that the people of the region themselves are committed to somehow preventing instability.
Did you think at any point of time that allegations made by your colleague wrecked your standing as an interlocutor or discredited the panel?
Let me put it in a more abstract form. You have a group of any sort and one member asks for another member and that too the chairman's resignation. How exactly can it not be wrecked? It is extremely awkward and difficult when that happens and when that continues and there is no retraction of any sort, it creates a lot of doubt and ambiguity, especially in the people concerned. For example, people in J&K wonder what is going on, whether there is any seriousness in this endeavour. And to that extent, I am sorry to say that I do believe that a very substantive undermining of the mission and of the aspirations and hopes in Kashmir has taken place as a result of the past few weeks of allegations.
But the foreign visits by you and Mr. Padgaonkar took place three or four years ago.
I cannot exactly remember which year he (Mr. Padgaonkar) went. I went in 2006. I would like to make one distinction. I find suddenly in the last couple of days the media is saying I attended Fai [Ghulam Nabi Fai] organised conferences. That is absolutely, factually untrue. I have never been to a single Fai-organised conference, I went to one conference that Tramboo organised, in which Fai was present along with a bunch of other persons, including President Musharraf. It is an important distinction because Fai is under prosecution and Tramboo is under investigation. I would prefer never to judge somebody unless the proof is there. In my case, it is very clear that I was asked to go. And there is no question on that. I did not go on my own. So I feel [this is] something I did for my country and the government. I do not feel I have anything to explain in this instance because the facts are so very clear. I could have refused, I could have said to people in the government who advised me that I won't go.
Did the Home Minister make any assurance on removing the trust deficit from the panel of interlocutors?
What we did get was an assurance that he would try and we would try and see that no more allegations are made. And the focus remains on the report... I would like to make two or three points. One is that I believe that there is some kind of concerted campaign to discredit this panel. It appears to me to be no accident that all of this is happening at a time when we have to write and submit our report. In the worst case, the impact would be that nobody will even read our report. I believe that we are not going to get to that worst case. And I think we can make sure that the report is of such a nature that we will leave the people of J&K feeling that we have accurately reflected their sentiments and aspirations. That is the bottom line for us. The second bottom line is that this report should not create tension or add to tensions in any way. If there are existing polarisations and tensions, this report should help fulfil a bridge building function rather than a divisive function. And finally, our hope would be that we would be able to provide at least an idea of how the process of resolution and reconciliation can be initiated and come to a satisfactory conclusion.
Looking back, how would you say the panel has contributed to easing the situation in the State?
When we were appointed, it was a very inflamed situation and part of the task was to try to undo all the alienation of hearts and minds, find out where we had gone wrong. What should we be doing to rectify and how to begin to win hearts and minds.
What can we expect in the final report? Certainly, it will be much more than a compilation of your earlier reports.
I think it will comprise different sections, we will have some on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) which were recommended over the past 10 or 11 months and then there will be a section on political contours, a road map section and, we hope, a section on development. These will be separate sections.
Interview with Radha Kumar, an interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir.
WHY THE WEST IS LOSING ITS STEP IN THE ARAB SPRING
Foreign policy has very few tongue-in-cheek moments. Yet, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad called on the British government to show restraint while quelling its rioters, and suggested a full report on human rights violations in the United Kingdom, many Arab leaders found it hard to conceal a grin. Western (read American, British, French) interventions in West Asia this year have met with few success stories, and as the international community steps up the pressure on Syria after weeks of a brutal military crackdown on protests in Hama, Daraa and other towns, a drum roll is under way.
If anyone feels that no action is likely at present, remember that the U.S. went from calling for strikes on Libyan 'adventurism' to joining NATO in raining Tomahawks on Tripoli in a matter of days. In Syria too, the language has toughened. After weeks of demurring, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice is now directly calling for Assad's removal, saying 'Syria would be better off without him." But whether it has been direct intervention as in the case of Libya, a barrage of special envoys as in Egypt, or mild rebukes, as in the case of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the western powers have not achieved the results they desired. In fact, the much heralded Arab Spring seems to have lost, well, the spring in its step. Either way, a ground reality check is in order.
The first revolution in Tunisia is one example, ending as it did before the world could even react to it. While 23 of ousted President Ben-Ali's family members and friends have since been put on trial, real power remains with the Army. Already, plans for elections have been postponed once — from July 14 to October 23. The unkindest cut, perhaps, was a New York Times report from the town of Sidi Bouzid, home of iconic protestor Mohammad Bouazizi who set himself ablaze and sparked off the revolutions. That report claimed that his townsmen are so disillusioned by the lack of real change in their lives that they have torn down all posters showing him.
In the democracy-chaser's lexicon, though, it is Egypt and not Tunisia that heralded true hope. Here was a revolution that played out day in and day out for 18 days on TV screens across the world as young protesters came out to fight in Tahrir Square for an end to military rule and the tight control of intelligence forces, and for a complete set of political reforms.
Despite several strong statements, the international community has been unable to guarantee much to them. While Hosni Mubarak and his sons are on trial, many of his loyalists in the military continue to hold key positions. The army or the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) has maintained a tight grip over the country. Men in uniform are still present in all key Ministries, including the Telecommunications Ministry that has full surveillance powers.
The voices of Tahrir have also been subdued; some prosecuted and silenced, others just ignored. A case in point was that of technocrat Hazem Abdel Azem, who was due to be sworn in as the first revolutionary leader to be included in the Egyptian Cabinet of interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf in July. Hours before the swearing-in ceremony, the SCAF withdrew Dr. Hazem's name, citing trumped-up charges that he was an Israeli agent.
Perhaps the greatest blow to the pro-democracy protesters has been dealt from within the Tahrir Square movement — the liberals now pushed aside by the religiously conservative Salafists. Last month, a massive rally called for the 'Day of Unity' ended without much unity, as Salafists and Islamists overran everyone with a massive show of strength, making a call not for reform, but for the Sharia to be implemented in Egypt. Many now fear that these extreme right-wingers, who effectively won the vote on a constitutional referendum in March (with a 77 per cent majority), could overtake even the Muslim Brotherhood in the elections (now postponed beyond November 2011). The international community has had little say in Egypt, or in other countries that saw massive demonstrations: Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia have also seen sparks of revolt dying with little or no pressure in their favour from the West.
However, nowhere have the questions been more uncomfortable for the world to answer than in Libya. It was here that the U.K., France and the U.S. focussed their intervention — but despite five months of relentless bombing, they have achieved little by way of peace, or the ouster of Muammar Qadhafi. They have succeeded only in pushing the country towards civil war.
Since March 19, when those U.N.-sanctioned strikes began, rebel forces have made some gains. But they have been largely restricted to the Cyrenaica region, and are nowhere near taking the Tripolitana or Fezzan regions controlled by Mr. Qadhafi. This fact alone should indicate that Mr. Qadhafi retains some popularity, and that despite being given weaponry, support and recognition by Paris, London and Washington, the rebel forces have not received the widespread popular welcome that was expected. None of the charges of genocide and mass rape levelled against Mr. Qadhafi's forces has been proven either — despite the U.N. Secretary General's own commission of enquiry visiting the hardest hit towns. Yet, NATO continues to bombard Libyans in Qadhafi-controlled areas and has killed hundreds of people. Last month, its forces even targeted Libyan TV in Al-Jamahiriya for what NATO called "terror broadcasts." That strike killed three journalists, and was condemned by the chief of UNESCO. Meanwhile, news that the rebel military chief, Abdel Fattah Younes, was killed by one of his own men created new worries for the rebel leadership of the Transitional National Council (TNC), and cast doubts on its ability to control tribal rivalries if Mr. Qadhafi were to go.
Perhaps the real problem is that the world identified each of these uprisings as purely democratic, unifying movements. In fact, they have exposed more fault lines inside the Arab world than they have bridged — Shia-Sunni tensions, tribal rivalries, long-simmering seperatist movements, and the economic divide between the haves and the have-nots.
Another problem is that according to statistics, shows of massive public strength as we have seen do not always translate into positive change for the people. Author Omar Ashour points out how all studies on 'nations in transition' point to quite the opposite: according to one published in the Journal of Democracy , of 100 countries in stages of upheaval between 1970 and 2000, only 20 became full-fledged democracies. Five relapsed into dictatorships (like Algeria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan), and the rest were stuck somewhere in transition. Another study by Columbia University finds that about 43 per cent of countries that have defeated a dictator through an armed popular uprising, have subsequently fallen into civil war.
All this history, and particularly the experiences of other Arab nations in 2011, should weigh heavily on the U.N. Security Council as it considers its next step on Syria. India, Brazil and South Africa have chosen to distance themselves from the West's clamour for tougher action against Assad for now, sending their own teams to Damascus to ascertain facts. And even as the visuals from Hama and Daraa have chilled the world; Assad's tanks seen brutally blasting through civilian areas, and police firing at unarmed protesters — it may be better to consider more effective methods of protecting Syria's people, lest unfortunate comparisons of the sort Britain faced this month hit home.
(Suhasini Haidar is Senior Editor, CNN-IBN.)
Instead of raising the spectre of regime change, the West must learn from its experiences in the Arab Spring and find more effective ways of helping the Syrian people.
IT'S TIME WE TOOK A STAND FOR ARTISTIC FREEDOM
"Fanaa," "Parzania," "Jodha Akbar," "My Name Is Khan," "Such a Long Journey," M.F. Husain. "Aarakshan" is the latest in the list to have joined the 'banned'-wagon. Recently, freedom of expression in India has been put to the test in a way that it has not before, barring the Emergency, and we seem to be moving more and more away from the very ideals that shaped our Constitution.
What generated no comments 40 years ago has now become breaking news, despite the fact that as a nation we should have matured and gone beyond such issues. We talk of ourselves as a giant superpower in the making, yet our political parties act with tunnel vision.
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is a body set up by the Central government for a definite purpose. The merit or demerit of censorship in a society like ours is a debatable issue, beyond the scope of this piece. But surely it is unacceptable for any group or organisation to object to a film when the CBFC has seen it fit to clear the film for screening.
What makes things truly disturbing is that the State, which should in the first place be at the forefront of upholding what one of its own wings has decided, succumbs to misplaced populism on unfounded fears. For State governments to say that a film has the potential to incite violence or create a law and order problem is a specious argument. First, at a fundamental level, how can any government infringe on one's right to choose what to watch or not? Second, is it not the government's first duty to ensure law and order, come what may, in the face of threats by intolerant and unreasonable individuals or groups?
What is it that has triggered discontent and media speculation on issues that would probably not garner such mileage 20 years ago? And what are the issues on which bans are being called for? Drop the word "barber" from a film's title because the word insults a community? Use "Mumbai" in place of "Bombay"? (What if the film/novel is a period piece set in the 1960s or 1970s, when people called it Bombay?) A word in a song that has the potential to upset a community, when no one probably has even paid attention to the word in the first place? Surely we have graver issues at hand to occupy us?
The rise of the electronic media is one reason: Nowadays, mischief-makers cutting across party and religious lines know that they need to just indulge in some acts of vandalism to get their 15 minutes of fame.
The problem is exacerbated because we the people have lacked the courage to stand up to these elements. Too many of us are scared of our business interests being hurt, our public image being sullied to call the bluff of the rowdy elements, who consequently draw courage from our cowardice. Once we stand up to be counted, I am sure the saner elements in society, who far outnumber the fringe lunatics, will come out in support and force the lumpens to beat a retreat.
It is heartening to read that Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni has come out in support of "Aarakshan" being shown without cuts, pointing out that in the first place and for this particular film, the CBFC was expanded to nine members. But the government should now walk the talk.
As a member of the film fraternity, I am saddened and disturbed by the losses our industry is suffering as a result of these bans and protests. In this atmosphere of fear, film-makers will not be able to make anything but the most banal and superficial of films and the common audience member will choose not to risk life and limb time and time again to defend his or her freedom to watch films.
There is a civilised way of articulating one's views and registering one's protests. In this, the government and State agencies have the primary responsibility to ensure the safety of life and property, instead of getting cowed down at the first hint of trouble.
It is a very disturbing signal to send out by saying an extreme step like banning a film is being taken to ensure there is no violence.
I personally believe in what Voltaire said: "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the last your right to say it." And I have every right to demand the same of my government.
( The author is an actor and former chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification .)
In the wake of the controversy over 'Aarakshan,' for State governments to say that a film has the potential to incite violence or create a law and order problem is a specious argument.
In her customary address to the nation on the eve of 65th Independence Day, the President seemed to be obsessed by the controversy over the Lokpal Bill. On this issue the civil society and the Government are at loggerheads. Though she touched on other aspects of importance as well like terrorism, education, agriculture, economy, inflation etc. but she seemed to be unhappy about the logjam on anti-corruption issue. Thus her main stress was on preserving and promoting the democratic institutions which our constitution has created and the state has preserved. In other words, the President would want to send a message to the civil society that all issues including the all-encompassing Lokpal would be decided by the Parliament alone where it will come up for debate in the shape of a draft bill tabled by the UPA Government. There are no two opinions about the authority and jurisdiction of the Parliament. The civil society is well and adequately represented in the Parliament. But the fact remains that it is the Parliament first and foremost that must uphold and respect its independence, dignity and authority. A Parliament degenerating into a fish market, a parliament where personal vendettas are freely traded, where intimidating speeches and insinuations are made, where issues of public concern are trifled away, where scams are sought to be kept under wraps is not a parliament that is committed to holding its prestige. A Parliament that is unable to make the Government implement the verdict of the Apex Court as well as of the Head of the State to punish the culprits who attacked Parliament using brute force with the motive of taking lives of peoples' representatives does not mean to maintain its prestige and status. Will such a Parliament be trusted to protect the democratic institutions? This puts a big question mark on the otherwise very passionate address by the President on the eve of Independence Day.
As the nation was preparing to celebrate 65th year of its Independence, ministers of Indian National Congress (I)-led UPA coalition Government unleashed scathing attack on the civil rights activist Anna Hazare and his team. It is Government versus civil society. And the Government elected by the people of India wants to behave like a ruling oligarchy. Intensification of anti-civil society campaign and even handing out veiled threats to disrupt the proposed fasting rally of Anna Hazare is to tell the Congress chief in absentia that her team of henchmen is more loyal than the king. This is a symptom of the culture of servility that marks our political behaviour. Carrying the discourse on corruption to the fringes of vendetta, the Congress spokesman went on to say, "If someone was suffering from a combination of grandeur and grandstanding, then he needs to be shown his place." He also accused Hazare of trying to spread unrest. 'If someone thinks that creating unrest is their birthright, then there has to be political response.' This type of vengeful discourse is far removed from established norms of statesmanship which a representative government is desired to adhere to. Trading threats and accusations is the culture of oligarchies and not of popular governments. Earlier, the UPA Government "politically responded" to Ramdev's rally nut country's Apex Court found it feasible that the Government explain its action.
Not feeling confident that intimidation would work to dampen the spirit of Anna & Co, the Congress spokesperson went a step further and interpreted the US' comment for restraint as reaction to the action of the civil society leadership. The US does not deal with civilian organizations but with the governments. It warned the Government not the civil society. And the argument of one senior minister that constitution allows the freedom of protest but not at a "particular place or site and time" is a classical example of understatement. This is strange argument. Did this argument hold well when his party held mass rallies in the past and at present at Ramlila Grounds or the Jantar Mantar? Why impose the ban on holding the rally in Jantar Mantar? Did not the rallies of other parties disrupt the traffic and why make a discriminatory decision against the civil society for anti-corruption steps.
As regards bringing accusation of corruption against Anna Hazare, if any formal enquiry had established a misdeed against him, why did not the Government prosecute him all these years but let the case collect dust? Why exhume it now and brandish it to denigrate him while he is sitting at the neck of the Government to make anti-corruption mechanism foolproof?
However, having said that much in defence of the struggle of civil society, it has to be made clear that in a democratic state things, howsoever crucial to society's health and integrity, are not done through intimidation, fast unto death or by instilling the mobs with some sort of histrionics. If Gandhi adopted the fast unto death as the style of his political struggle, we should not forget that he was struggling against a colonial power where the Indian masses were suppressed and repressed endlessly. But Anna Hazare is living in a time when India has a parliament of elected representatives responsible and answerable to the people. He is not fighting a colonial power. Therefore he has to address the Prime Minister or the Congress Chief or other ranked personalities with due courtesy keeping in mind his or her status. It is unacceptable to tell the Prime Minister of India things like "with what face will you unfurl the Tricolour on 15th August at Red Fort"? This brings down the moral status of the civil rights activist. There is much truth that the Lokpal Bill even if not entirely to the satisfaction of Anna and his group, will be debated in the Parliament by peoples' representatives. Why become jittery about it being pushed by the Government?
In final analysis, both sides should stop trading accusations, sarcasms, and insinuation. This is much below their dignity and status. This will show that they are running personal vendetta rather than caring for the interests of the people and the state. Let sanity and restrain prevail on both sides.
BY SUDHANSU R DAS
When Anna Hazare started his first phase of his hunger strike a few months back his bank balance was Rs 60000 and the cash in hand was Rs 3000. His village folk had contributed to meet his travel expenses. Anna has donated everything to his village and lives in a village temple. He donated his entire land for community development. The Megasasay Award winner Anna Hazare worked tirelessly for about 25 years to make his village Ralegaonsidhi a visible sustainable development model for the entire world. Anna is undoubtedly a master in micromanaging development activities in his village. Anna's village looks like an oasis in the usually dry Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. It could happen to Ralegaonsidhi because of Anna's selfless leadership. He has better understood what is sustainable economic development than many high flying economists. Anna firmly believes no development is possible unless people in the village develop civic sense; grow finer human traits like love, fellow feelings, moral courage, physical stamina and compassion for others. Majority of his villagers were once addicted to liquors. Before micromanaging development, Anna quarantined his village from addiction with people's participation. What Anna has achieved for his village amid negative forces is an eye opener for the entire nation.
One TV journalist asked Anna Hazare how long he will continue with his agitation. Anna paused and replied as long as I have the last breath of life. The second question from the TV journalist was what could be the reason for the overwhelming support from the mass? Anna replied the life of common man has become miserable due to corruption and people want to get rid of this kind of life. Anna's agitation is not against any individual or against any political party. He is out to improve the quality of life of majority of Indians. Even, corruption will not let the life of corrupt people smooth. What the corrupt people will do with their wealth if roads become unsafe, employment sinks and crime rate increases as an after effect of their corrupt deeds. The societal behavior change of people for lavish life with public loot has become a fashion. Every political leader in India has admitted that corruption is the main stumbling block before inclusive growth. Anna Hazare has only echoed what the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said while presenting his budget in the parliament "I do not foresee resources being a major constraint, at least not in the medium-term. However, the implementation gaps, leakages from public programmes and the quality of our outcomes are a serious challenge." Former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram while presenting one of his budgets said we have no dearth of funds but we lack in deliverance. So many surveys reports including former Prime Minister late Rajeev Gandhi admitted hardly 20 percent of the development fund reaches the beneficiaries. Transparency International finds India grows shoulder to shoulder with Ethiopia in corruption. Indian Railway reflects the nation's dark side very well. The railway which is considered as the middle class hope has become a corruption on wheel. In spite of salary hike railway TTs continue to loot the passengers daily as if they have certain target to achieve. On 8th July 2011, a railway vigilance squad entered into Visakha express at Balugaon station of Orissa and collected penalty from passengers who were travelling in upper class compartments. When seats were available and people were ready to pay the difference why penalty was collected from passengers. Surprisingly no TT had checked tickets in the previous stations from Bhubaneswar to Balugan station which takes the Visakha express two hours to cover. Passengers who refused to pay the penalty were forced to get down in small stations. The responsibility of the squad is not limited to collect the penalty but to see whether the assets are in good conditions and whether the railway officials are performing their duty. In many train compartments one will come across the defunct mobile charger, missing bath room mug, broken bulbs, non functioning AC and service staff behave rudely with passengers. Railway services have degenerated very fast in the last ten years. The senior railway officials must compulsorily travel in sleeper class to have a feel of the terrible situation. People travel like cattle in an unsafe situation. Corruption has made common man's life hell. Go for a birth certificate, a ration card, death certificate, BPL card, for bank credit; everywhere the begging hands extend for extra buck for the services people rightfully deserve. Today money walks, money talks and money moves everything which has eroded entrepreneurship.
Anna Hazare has dared to do what India's millions of youth force, social activists, political leaders, social reformers, saints and intellectuals have failed to do in the last many decades. His movement has shaken the intellectual apathy of this country. People from all walks of life found Anna as their savior-the new Kumfu Panda fighter. How could Anna'a corruption issue has triggered a mass movement when politicians have failed to do so in the past? It happened because politicians of all hues have lost their credibility. The decline started when Congress Savadal stopped working for Mahatama Gandhi's total freedom. The decline was faster when RSS cadres tasted power and left their unfinished agenda of inculcating discipline and nationalism in the minds of youth. The progressive degeneration was even faster when the once dedicated communist cadres resorted to hypocrisy and worked for personal gains. Many Indian sadhu babas polluted the atmosphere by giving their blessings to corrupt people in order to ensure a comfortable lifestyle. Today the majority of Indians found themselves helpless before the might of corrupt people who have created a wide network of like minded people who help one another at the time of crisis. Whether Anna's army can destroy this network whose affiliation goes beyond any political party? But Anna said his Jan Lokpal Bill will start sending people to jails which will create fear and that fear will check corruption. Desperate Supreme Court Bench of Justice S B Sinha and Markandaya Katju expressed similar view "The only way to rid this country of corruption is to hang a few of the accused on the lamp post so that it acts as a deterrent for others. Whether Anna Hazare will succeed in his mission or not he has activated civil society who will no longer let the corrupt people live happily without facing embarrassment. Blackening of corrupt people's face, embarrassing them in their own locality through protest in front of their houses, road show, social boycott and shoe throwing has already started in various places. This is high time for politicians and corrupt people to mend their way.
BY UMA RAMACHANDRAN
Amartya Sen, in a speech delivered in New Delhi in 2004, bemoaned the inadequate attention paid to the classics of ancient India. If one takes a generous view, the recent edict issued by the government of Karnatka to teach the Bhagavad Gita in schools can be termed an effort to fill this gap. There are, however, several significant dimensions to the issue as evident from the controversy it has triggered. It would be shortsighted to adopt a simplistic 'for' or 'against' approach in dealing with the issue, which presents an opportunity to revisit our understanding of the purpose of education.
To be clear, the curriculum in most schools is based on the model developed in colonial India and is confined to the so-called 'core' subjects - namely, languages, mathematics, science and social sciences. The curriculum is essentially designed to equip students for employment in the contemporary industrial-technological-consumer society. With its focus on the employment market and its western origin, education today is almost completely about the 'outer' dimension of life, and does not treat the inner spiritual element seriously. Indeed, with its emphasis on scientific methods and sensory perception the system hardly acknowledges the possibility of a spiritual side and its educational value.
The educational methods developed in colonial India were a matter of concern, among others, to Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. It was an incentive for Tagore to establish Shantiniketan as an institution offering alternative education that was more rounded. To be fair, it is more or less a necessity to prepare students for gainful employment in the prevailing socioeconomic model with its principles of profit motive and competition, but it can't be the only purpose of education.
If we accept that the content of present education is incomplete, the next issue is about the need for spiritual education. A well-designed and inclusive spiritual curriculum can have an ennobling impact on the character and personality of students and help them balance the different elements of human life - material and spiritual. It can help them realize the purusharthas - namely, artha, dharma, and kama.
If we achieve a reasonable consensus about the benefits of spiritual education, the next task is to institutionalise it in the educational system - rather than leaving it to chance, as is the present case. As things stand, some individuals might, at some stage in their, life develop an interest in spirituality, while others will not. Even those who develop an interest might not receive guidance in understanding the complex ancient texts, often written in inaccessible style. Considering the stresses of modern life and the competitive pressures most people face - in student life and later - providing them a spiritual compass can help them handle the challenges better. This is too serious an issue to be left to chance.
This is not to deny the challenges in developing a spiritual curriculum. There can be little doubt that ancient classics such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads are valuable resources. From personal experience, I am aware of the positive impact they can make on the personality and behaviour. Their teachings can sensitise us to the spiritual dimension and strengthen our unity with the cosmos and other beings - the universal spirit. This can, in turn, tame our ego and our acquisitive and possessive tendencies, leading on to greater harmony and better quality of life. Specifically, the Bhagavad Gita with its emphasis on disinterested action can inspire us to work without being overly concerned with the result which can reduce stress levels.
In a pluralistic, multicultural country like India, how do we develop a spiritual curriculum that is broadly acceptable to large sections of the society? Considering the historical issues including the partition on religious lines that occurred in 1947, how do we prevent the exercise from becoming politicised or turning into an instrument for building or strengthening vote banks? These would be unfortunate results of a noble effort.
A workable option is to develop an inclusive spiritual curriculum through a consultative process - rather than issuing government edicts. The curriculum can be inter-faith and include material from all major religions, which would be truly representative of all sections of the society and enrich the exercise. Hopefully, the consultative process will result in a harmonious output and check temptations for one-upmanship among the groups with each trying to prove that its particular creed is 'superior.' Indeed, a proper study of the classics should undermine parochial and provincial attitudes, and engender a broader and more universal spirit.
A few years ago, Karnataka took the initiative in responding to the evolving needs by including the Indian constitution, environmental science, and computer studies in the school curriculum. This ensures that students get to know about the country's political system and are sensitized to the environmental concerns which have become serious lately.
Similarly, all students become familiar with computers which have emerged as an integral part of human life. The inclusion of these subjects in the curriculum reflects sensitivity to the changing demands of education, and is commendable.
Continuing in the same spirit, the current round of debate on the Bhagavad Gita can be productive and lead to enrichment of the curriculum with a spiritual component.
An inclusive approach in developing the curriculum will provide the students with an introduction to the origin and tenets of different faiths and enable them to appreciate the points of view of each of them. (INAV)
BY KALYANI SHANKAR
The Congress party is fighting not only to save its skin at the centre but also in some of the states. Look at the way it has to defend its two chief ministers -- Sheila Dikshit and Oommen Chandy -- with the opposition demanding their heads on corruption charges.
`Already facing a series of scams, these are the additional headaches for the central leadership. The problem for the Congress is decision making. Right now with the Congress president Sonia Gandhi undergoing surgery abroad, the decision making process has become a question mark although she has set up a four member team to run the day to day affairs. Interestingly, of these four members, Rahul Gandhi is still abroad. There is no chance at present of the Delhi chief minister or Kerala chief minister resigning on their own.
If Sheila Dikshit issue has become prominent after the CAG pointing a finger at her Government regarding the Commonwealth Games, the Omen Chandy palm oil case is a very old one, coming back from the nineties. In both the states the opposition has become vociferous in demanding their heads, which the party is in no mood to agree. If the BJP is vociferous that Sheila Dikshit should go pointing out that the Congress demanded and got the head of the BJP chief minister Yediyurappa recently on the Lokayukta, the left parties are demanding the ouster of Omen Chandy. In both cases a section of the local Congressmen would be smiling if they were removed.
This brings us to the question whether the two chief ministers should resign. Take the case of Sheila Dikshit. It is the indictment of the CAG that is being cited by the opposition that she should go. It is common knowledge that it is the job of the CAG to scrutinize the government expenditure with a fine toothcomb and that is exactly what this CAG has also done. There is a process before the report is submitted to Parliament as the CAG sends his queries to the State Government for their comments. If he is satisfied, those paras are dropped from the report. If he is not satisfied they remain. As far as the CWG is concerned, several paragraphs raising questions have remained, as the CAG is obviously not satisfied with the replies.
Now that the CAG report is submitted to Parliament, the normal procedure is that it is the PAC, which will go through the report and come up with its recommendations. Even before that the chorus has begun that Sheila Dikshit should go. But should she? Gone are the days when the chief ministers and ministers resigned on even allegations but today even after constitutional institutions point a finger at them, they have no wish to quit nor does the party wish tell them to resign unless it is inevitable. It is a mystery at what point they feel indicted.
There is another interesting aspect. If the Congress adopts the same standards as in the case of former OC chairman Suresh Kalmadi or A Raja in the case of 2 G scam, there is a reason for Sheila to be removed. But today the Congress is in a mood to protect Sheila Dikshit. With the Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev drawing the country's attention on corruption, the chorus for the ouster of Sheila Dikshit is growing day by day. Will the Congress take a quick decision instead of rubbishing the CAG report? As for Chandy, the case is in the court.
Why is the Congress adopting these double standards? If it thinks that the PAC alone has the right to examine the CAG report, why did it send Kalmadi to jail? If on the other hand, it has some guidelines, then it should apply the same standard in the case of Sheila Dikshit or Oommen Chandy.
If you ask the Congress leaders, they complain that the media, particularly the electronic media, sets the country's agenda. To a certain extent it is true -- it is the media trial, which is hurting the politicians. For instance, the CAG is a 150-year-old institution and it has always submitted critical reports about the government all these years. But now the 24/7 channels hungering for news and a weak opposition taking the cue from the media, there is demand for ouster of chief ministers and ministers and fingers are raised at even the Prime Minister. The public is willing to believe the worst because of the increasing awareness of corruption. The Congress party is worried about the impact of this negative publicity and some times has knee- jerk reactions in its damage control exercise, which worsens the situation. The media management of the Congress as well as the government is pathetic even as more and more scams are tumbling out of the cupboard. The UPA 2 is a classic example of how the Government could face a series of crisis and spend its time in defending the scams rather than governance and development.
How can this situation be rectified? First of all the politicians should not follow the media agenda and work out their own to save themselves front the media trial. Earlier, it was the political parties, which set the agenda and the media merely followed it. For this purpose they have to have some introspection why the media has a bigger role today.
Secondly, the Government should realize that by rubbishing the institutions like the CAG will not be good in the long run as they are creatures of the constitution and should function in their role assigned to them.
Thirdly, the Congress party and the Government should realize that time has come to stop playing to the gallery and apply double standards and be responsible to the people who have reposed faith in them. There is a limit to their tolerance of corruption and once this is crossed, the result would be disastrous. People should feel that their representatives are ready to quit on the mildest allegations and come back once they are cleared. (IPA)
A REASSURING ADDRESS
MANMOHAN SINGH RECLAIMS GROUND WITH THE RED FORT SPEECH
Given his falling personal popularity ratings, the inability of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to regain political initiative from a divided Opposition and faced with an unfriendly media that remains enamoured of non-governmental activists, it is not surprising that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose to use his eighth Independence Day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort both as a report card and a reality check. The fact is that Dr Singh has much to be proud of as prime minister. Not only has he given India seven years of unprecedented economic growth, with its ups and downs, but he has also made the growth process more inclusive, financing major programmes for rural development and employment, health and education. His claim that the UPA has prevented communal conflict in the face of provocations from terrorists is well founded. The future will judge Dr Singh's most important achievement as being his government's ability to steer the Indian economy through difficult global waters — something for which he still gets less credit than he deserves. So it is not surprising that he began his Red Fort address by drawing the nation's attention to India's ability to tide over choppy waters. In this context he called for national unity and political stability to overcome external challenges and this call is worthy of favourable consideration by the Opposition, which still has three years to go before it can seek to unseat the government.
The prime minister also addressed squarely and fairly issues of governance in matters of inflation and corruption. His plea to political activists like Anna Hazare not to resort to undemocratic forms of protest and allow Indian Parliament to take a consensual view on the Lok Pal Bill is well taken and is a plea to which Mr Hazare and his team should respond positively. Dr Singh is right in claiming that there are no magic solutions to eradicate the cancer of corruption and that institutional reform, including judicial reform, is key to the solution. His important announcement on a proposal to introduce greater transparency in public procurement and his emphasis on proper functioning of regulatory institutions point to the way ahead in the battle against corruption. In the end, it is not some all-powerful ombudsman who will eliminate corruption in public life; it will require ever-vigilant people and transparent economic and administrative systems where discretion is minimised and market principles of competition and competence are brought into play.
That India's challenges are at home was re-emphasised by the fact that Dr Singh devoted most of his speech to domestic issues and only a passing reference was made to the outside world. The prime minister could easily have claimed some credit for India's near-unanimous election to the United Nations Security Council under his watch and for an across-the-board improvement in India's bilateral relations with all major powers, including China, and all neighbours, including Pakistan. All these are no mean achievements. If Dr Singh faces a credibility gap at the moment, it is more on account of political inertia on the part of the ruling coalition in defending his record in office. Perhaps more frequent communication with the public, and not just from the heights of the Red Fort but from more intimate forums, would help. On balance, Dr Singh has an impressive record, as briefly illustrated by his speech, and his leadership has been – and will continue to be – good for India.
THERE ARE LIMITS TO WHAT CONSUMPTION CAN DO FOR GROWTH
China's efforts to move away from an economic structure where economic growth was driven by high investment and export demand in favour of domestic consumption-led growth may come up against hurdles in days to come. China's strategy to boost domestic consumption had three major components: increasing the size and scope of credit markets, abolishing agricultural taxes and allowing a gradual appreciation of the renminbi. Of the three, the expansion of credit markets was scaled down considerably after fears that it was leading to the creation of asset bubbles, particularly in the housing market. The agricultural tax rebate has had little impact, because returns from the land are rapidly diminishing, leading to large-scale migration to urban areas, despite China's oppressive hukou (residential permit system). While the renminbi has appreciated almost 15 per cent against the dollar, the rise is not large enough in itself to significantly alter China's balance of trade. Additionally, given that almost half of China's foreign exchange reserves are dollar denominated ($1.6 trillion out of a total of $3.2 trillion), a sudden rise in the renminbi relative to the dollar will send the dollar's value crashing, creating a global crisis that nobody wants. China's consumption-to-gross domestic product ratio, thus, remains at 40 per cent (the corresponding ratio for India and the United States is over 60 per cent).
What are the odds that China will step up to the plate and be the "consumer of last resort"? Low, if the present evidence is anything to go by. With inflation raging at 6.5 per cent, boosting consumption is the last thing on the minds of the Chinese authorities. China's ability to play saviour, as it did in 2008, by boosting global liquidity is restricted. China needs to grow at over nine per cent to generate the kind of employment needed to preserve social stability. To do so, it is likely that it will fall back on the tried and tested technique of boosting investment spending, given that growth in its dominant export markets of North America and the Eurozone is expected to be muted.
Can China's investment be a trigger for growth for the global economy? Again, the scope is limited except in certain select raw materials. As part of an indigenisation strategy underway for almost a decade, China has opted to domestically manufacture several intermediate products that it imported from south-east Asia. As a result, China has sharply lowered its trade deficits with the region, which compensates for a decline in exports particularly to the United States, to which export growth rates have dropped by 20 percentage points over the last year! Expect China's economic policy stance to be increasingly defensive in nature in the foreseeable future. It would mean a deceleration in China's own agenda to rebalance its economy by increasing the share of consumption. The global economy, on the other hand,
AMERICA'S FIRST DEBT CRISIS
BOTH EUROPE AND THE US CAN LEARN A LESSON FROM AMERICAN HISTORY TO OVERCOME THEIR DEBT PROBLEMS
The West is ensnared in a debt crisis. The United States, as everyone knows, came perilously close to defaulting on August 2, and Standard & Poor's downgraded US debt from AAA on August 5. In Europe, the outgoing head of the European Central Bank recommends more centralised fiscal authority in Europe in order to deal with likely defaults by Greece, Portugal and Spain.
Both Europe and America can learn a lesson hidden in American history, for, lost in the haze of patriotic veneration of America's founders is the fact that they created a new country during – and largely because of – a crippling debt crisis. Today's crises, one hopes, could be turned into a similar moment of political creativity.
After independence from Britain in 1783, America's states refused to repay their Revolutionary War debts. Some were unable; others were unwilling. The country as a whole operated as a loose confederation that, like the European Union today, lacked taxing and other authority. It could not solve its financial problems, and eventually those problems – largely recurring defaults – catalysed the 1787 Philadelphia convention to create a new United States.
And then, in 1790-1791, Alexander Hamilton, America's first treasury secretary, resolved the crisis in one of history's nation-building successes. Hamilton turned America's financial wreckage of the 1780s into prosperity and political coherence in the 1790s.
To understand Hamilton's achievement – and thus to appreciate its significance for our own times – we need to understand the scale of the Revolutionary War debt crisis. Some states lacked the resources to pay. Others tried to pay but would not levy the taxes needed to do so. Others, like Massachusetts, tried to levy taxes, but its citizens refused to pay them.
Indeed, some tax collectors were met with violence. Indebted farmers physically disabled the repayment machinery in many states, most famously in Shay's Rebellion in Massachusetts.
Even private debt-payment mechanisms via courts didn't work. James Madison, who would become the Constitution's principal author, couldn't borrow to buy land in frontier Virginia, because lenders lacked confidence that Virginia courts could enforce repayment. George Washington bemoaned that America was not a "respectable country". He found Shays Rebellion so worrisome that he came out of his first retirement to preside over the 1787 convention.
Today, the US Constitution's most noted features are its allocation of power between Congress and the presidency, and its guarantee of individual rights via its first ten amendments. But, at the time, its key role was as a government-debt-repayment mechanism. The Constitution would create a new national government that could coin stable money, borrow, and repay debts, including the states' defaulted Revolutionary War borrowings.
With the Constitution ratified by 1789, Washington became President and appointed Hamilton – still in his thirties – to head the Treasury. Hamilton had not been a finance person. He was Washington's Chief of Staff during the Revolutionary War and a quick study: when it was time to learn battlefield tactics, he read military manuals; when it was time to become a national leader who understood finance, he read finance books.
Yet, it was no accident that two military men were key to making the US a "respectable nation" in financial terms. Both thought that only a fiscally strong US could have the military prowess needed to defend itself from the European powers, whose return to American soil both men expected.
But getting the dollars to repay the debt was not easy. There were no entitlements to cut or government funds to redirect. Hamilton knew that the wrong kind of taxes would weaken the already-fragile economy. He focused taxation on imports and non-essential goods, like whiskey.
And Hamilton needed Congress to approve the federal government's assumption of the states' debts, which at first seemed unlikely. Some states, like Virginia, had already paid much of their debt, and others saw their debt as having become a financial game for New York speculators. As a result, many states feared federal assumption would mean that their taxes would go to pay northern speculators or to retire the debt of big borrowers, like Massachusetts.
Virginia and several other southern states that owed little or had repaid what they owed voted against Hamilton's first assumption bill and defeated it. They were expected to be adamant — an outcome that could well have brought about the young country's demise.
Jefferson and Madison, the southern leaders, opposed Hamilton's assumption plan, and Madison was critical in blocking it in Congress. But then the three met for dinner and cut a deal. Jefferson and Madison did not want the country's capital to be in the north, and Hamilton reluctantly agreed to support moving it to an area carved out of Virginia or Maryland. They, in turn, would secure the votes for the federal government to assume and repay the states' defaulted debts.
A responsible fiscal state emerged from that grand compromise. Despite the enormous cost – more than half of the fledgling government's expenditures in early years went to debt service – the economy shook off the 1780's depression and entered a growth boom.
Hamilton's task was both easier and harder than ours is today. It was easier, because there were few choices: no income-tax rates to adjust or entitlements to cut. And it was harder, because the US was an unknown entity, and there was little reason for confidence in the American non-nation.
Today's trajectory is the reverse of that of the 1780s and 1790s. It is hard today for America (and, until recently, the world) to imagine a US default, because there has been no strong reason to fear one since the 1790s.
Americans today know what must be done: some combination of entitlement cuts and tax increases. Europeans, too, know a new balance that needs to be struck. But, until Europe and the US find leaders with the authority and willingness to repeat a modern version of the deal-making example set by Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison 200 years ago, their debt problems will continue to weaken their national foundations.
The author is a professor at Harvard Law School
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011
MEDIA BYTES - UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
ANECDOTES FROM THE FRONT LINES OF THIS CRAZY WORLD CALLED THE INDIAN MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited, or ABCL, was set up sometime in the mid-nineties. A couple of years later two senior journalists and a photographer from Businessworld magazine went to chairman and superstar Amitabh Bachchan's home to interview him for a cover story on ABCL. After the interview it was decided that the actor would be photographed on the lawns of Prateeksha, the Bachchan home at the time in Juhu, Mumbai. The photographer, a somewhat arty chap, fiddled with the camera and all his equipment for a longish bit. Then he turned to the man who had spent more than 20 years facing the camera for a living and said, "Mr Bachchan, don't be conscious of the camera." "I will try," responded a deadpan Amitabh Bachchan.
This is my favourite anecdote from the front lines of this crazy world called the Indian media and entertainment industry. There are many others: sweet, poignant, insightful or plain funny. All of them cannot be told. Here are a few of them.
* It was the summer of 2000 and James Murdoch had just taken over as the head of News Corporation in Asia. This was a depressing market for Star at that time. It had been around for almost eight years without making money. Analysts worldwide were hammering News Corp because Chairman Rupert Murdoch had invested about a billion dollars into India and China and those markets weren't delivering yet. James, a 27-year-old Harvard dropout, was the maverick of the family. He had set up Rawkus, a music company specialising in rap-metal bands. He had dabbled in cartooning with a strip called "Albrecht the Hun". He was also a new media geek pushing News Corp to invest in all kinds of internet properties (remember that those were the bubble days).
On his first visit to India, I met James Murdoch along with a senior colleague from Businessworld. It turned out to be one of the most fun interviews. He was extremely intelligent, guileless and enthusiastic. After the interview, Star India's then CEO Peter Mukerjea, who was headed towards South Mumbai, offered to drop me to my office in Worli. James Murdoch too was in the car. He kept asking questions about everything on the streets and was fascinated by all the things being sold at the traffic signals. When a gajrewala (flower seller) came up to us, Mr Murdoch got very excited. "What's that stuff he's selling?" he asked. The gajrewala kept looking expectantly at us while I explained that they were flowers to adorn the hair. He laughed, touched his head and said; "I don't have enough hair." We left one very irritated vendor behind!
* It was in the middle of the last decade. I was in Chennai meeting with several people. One of them was the head of a very large publishing group. This was my first visit to their office. As we settled in, a peon entered, bent at the waist, and spoke in Tamil to the gentleman I was meeting. Coffee was ordered. It came while we were deep into our discussion. A couple of men served the coffee. They then stood there, bent at the waist, their eyes down. They kept standing for a long time, much like pieces of furniture, till my interviewee realised that they were there and dismissed them. It told me so much about India's newspaper barons.
* Sunil Lulla (now CEO of Times Global Broadcasting) was the head of marketing at HMV (now Saregama) when I first met him many moons ago. He looked completely corporate and serious and even wore a tie to work. It was the look to have in the early nineties. Several years later, Mr Lulla became the head of MTV in India. This was the time MTV was really happening. While interviewing him I found myself staring at the colourful, actually lurid, pair of socks he was wearing. Later I heard that he liked collecting socks. Over the years in various meetings with him in his various avatars at Sony, Times and Real TV, one automatically noticed his socks. While there was one parrot green pair with some hideous creatures on it, another one had frogs — you get the drift...
At a Confederation of Indian Industry cocktail party last year I decided that I had known the guy long enough to ask him, "What's with the colourful socks?" Mr Lulla did not blink before responding, "How often do you put your foot in your mouth?" "Quite often," I replied. "I rest my case," said he.
FISC - THE CUTTING EDGE
MANMOHAN SINGH RETAINS THE BEST RECORD IN CURBING THE FISCAL DEFICIT
A K BHATTACHARYA
If finance ministers were to be judged by their fiscal consolidation efforts, the story of what happened in the past 20 years appears quite interesting. Between 1991 and now, the Union government has seen five finance ministers — Manmohan Singh, Palaniappan Chidambaram in two different stints, Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh and the current incumbent, Pranab Mukherjee.
Manmohan Singh, who took charge of the finance ministry in 1991, is easily the winner in the race for achieving the deepest cut in the fiscal deficit among all of them. Chidambaram is a close contender, but there is some dispute over that, particularly after the sharp spurt in the deficit in his last Budget in 2008-09 and recent revelations in the latest report of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council. Sinha's performance was perhaps the worst.
Jaswant Singh had only one Budget in which he brought down the fiscal deficit by a good margin of 1.4 percentage points to 4.5 per cent of GDP. Mukherjee has done well as far as steadily bringing the deficit down is concerned, but this is nothing compared to what Manmohan Singh achieved in his first year as finance minister.
The government's fiscal deficit in 1990-91, under Madhu Dandavate as finance minister, had ballooned to 8.4 per cent of GDP. Singh in one year, with the help of his first Budget, brought that down to 5.9 per cent. The progress thereafter was slow: the deficit went down to 5.7 per cent in 1992-93 and, indeed, it went up the following year to 6.3 per cent. Singh, however, made amends in the remaining two years of his tenure in North Block. The fiscal deficit came down to 4.6 per cent in 1994-95 and to 4.1 per cent in 1995-96. In other words, during his five years as finance minister, Singh brought down the fiscal deficit from 8.4 per cent to 4.1 per cent — a fall of 4.3 percentage points. No other finance minister achieved that.
In sharp contrast, Yashwant Sinha's tenure of about five years as finance minister saw the fiscal deficit steadily climb in the first four years and decline marginally in the fifth year. Sinha took charge of the finance ministry in 1998-99 and the previous year, the fiscal deficit was 4.7 per cent of GDP. The fiscal deficit went up to 5.1 per cent in 1998-99, rose to 5.4 per cent and 5.6 per cent in the following two years, rising further to 6.2 per cent in 2001-02, before declining to 5.9 per cent in 2002-03.
In his defence, it could be said that Sinha's tenure coincided with the crisis in the Asian economies and the nuclear tests that India conducted, both of which had an adverse effect on the economy. In addition, he had to suffer the adverse consequences of steep tax cuts announced by his predecessor Chidambaram, which in view of a downturn in the economy, failed to generate the kind of revenue buoyancy that had been projected. However, there can be no defence to what the numbers show. Sinha took charge when the previous year's deficit was 4.7 per cent and after presiding over the government finances for five years, he allowed the fiscal deficit to go up to 5.9 per cent.
Mukherjee, too, had a difficult task because he took charge of the ministry after the Great Recession of 2008 had already begun affecting the Indian economy. He had inherited a fiscal deficit of six per cent of GDP in 2008-09 and allowed the fiscal stimulus to continue for one more year, a policy that raised the deficit to 6.4 per cent in 2009-10. Subsequently, however, Mukherjee has reined in government expenditure to end 2010-11 with a fiscal deficit of 5.1 per cent and now he proposes to achieve the more difficult task of reducing it to 4.6 per cent. As of now, the target appears difficult.
Chidambaram had two tenures as finance minister. The surprising thing is that in his first stint, he brought down the fiscal deficit to four per cent in 1996-97, but the following year, when he presented the "dream Budget", he allowed the fiscal deficit to go up to 4.7 per cent thanks to large doses of tax cuts. In his second tenure, Chidambaram steadily brought down the fiscal deficit from four per cent in 2004-05 to 2.7 per cent in 2007-08, a remarkable achievement. The following year, however, he had to agree to the fiscal stimulus measures because of the global economic downturn and concede a fiscal deficit of six per cent — the sharpest rise in one year since at least 1991.
Thus, in spite of maintaining a low level of fiscal deficit for four consecutive years until 2007-08 (between four and 2.7 per cent), Chidambaram had the misfortune of ending his tenure with the steepest rise in deficit in 2008-09. Worse, the latest report of the PM's Economic Advisory Council shows that the government's off-Budget liabilities rose sharply during Chidambaram's tenure as finance minister. In other words, the actual fiscal deficit for four years between 2005-06 and 2008-09 was higher by margins ranging between 0.6 and 2.2 percentage points of GDP. Previous finance ministers also took advantage of off-Budget liabilities, but Chidambaram was among the biggest beneficiaries.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ANNA SHOULD DESIST
INSTEAD, HE SHOULD GIVE PARLIAMENT A CHANCE, AS HE HAD PROMISED
Anna Hazare and his supporters would do well not to go ahead with their plans to go on another fast. Their campaign has achieved initial success. A Lokpal Bill has been introduced in Parliament and a standing committee is studying it. True, the Bill does not have as much teeth as many would like, but it has far more bite than anything the government has come up with in the past. Can it be improved, say, by including the Prime Minister within the ambit of the Lokpal or by removing proposals that would make blowing the whistle a high-risk enterprise? Most certainly. Should civil society — and those sections of the public at large that have not been lucky enough to be honoured with this sobriquet but are vitally concerned about having an efficient Lokpal — now lay off and leave everything to the august wisdom of Parliament and its institutions? Most certainly not. Representative democracy does not mean that only the elected representatives have the right to engage in politics, while the people, who chose those representatives, busy themselves browsing, grazing and bleating their approval. But how and when the people mobilise themselves to influence the conduct of their representatives depends on the issue at hand. The Lokpal Bill is not an occasion for an all-out assault on the state. Anna and his minders present the Lokpal as a one-shot cure for corruption. This is senseless, as is the demand to bring the judiciary and the legislature under this self-same ombudsman. Reform on multiple fronts, starting with political funding and extending to creating a functional judicial system, is the heart of the battle against corruption. The Lokpal adds a layer of deterrence, that is all. Yes, it could be made more effective than the Bill would allow it to be. Civil society and its uncivil cousins should engage Parliament and its standing committee on the subject, with reason and argument, not force and intimidation. The government, on its part, would do well to conduct itself with restraint, even if Anna & Co flouts the conditions laid down for their agitation. The battle, ultimately, is for the hearts and minds of the people, not against some individuals.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A GOOD IDEA
REGULATORS NEED GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY BUT NOT LOSS OF THEIR INDEPENDENCE
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has signalled the government's intent to enact a law to oversee regulators and make them more accountable, without compromising their independence. This is wholly welcome, to bring transparency to the functioning of regulatory authorities and make regulation more effective. It would also help thwart regulatory capture, a process by which regulatory authorities, formed to act in public interest, act in ways that benefit one or more of the entities they are charged with regulating. Parliament must hold regulators to account, through its committees, rather than any super-regulator. The proposed law could ensure that regulatory authorities are overseen by different parliamentary committees, with structured interactions and periodical reporting. The system could work on the lines of the US Federal Reserve making itself accountable to the US Congress. It reports twice a year to the US Congress on its plans for monetary policy. Also, the Chairman and other Federal Reserve officials often testify before the Congress. There is no reason why India's parliamentarians cannot quiz independent regulatory authorities, established now in many areas that were earlier in the government's domain. Take the power sector. The mounting losses of state electricity boards — estimated at . 70,000 crore, or 1% of GDP in 2010-11 — is a telling reflection of poor regulation. Regulatory authorities have neither allowed needed hikes in tariffs nor stamped out theft. Yet, neither the central power regulator nor any other agency has been able to intervene to remedy such regulatory failure. This is untenable.
The government must not undermine the independence of regulators while holding them to account. Regulators should be accountable to society at large, through committees of the elected representatives. But equal attention must be paid to appointing the right people to the regulators: knowledgeable, honest, independent and capable of working under pressure. Structured accountability to parliamentary committees would help regulators preserve these qualities, and, therefore, regulation.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DRINK, LOVE & GDP
SOMETHING PROFOUND IS HAPPENING IN INDIA, AND THE GOI IS DOING NOTHING
The recent IIP data, for the month of June, showed healthy industrial growth — but that's not the point, the point is beer and condom sales showed significant slowdown. Is the government even concerned? We see no evidence of that. Beer sales slowing down in India in June — the peak of summer — has profound implications. First, may be global warming is getting replaced by global cooling; less-than-blisteringly hot summer may have got beer sales down. In that case, what will happen to the massive sunrise global warming analysis industry; what will happen to India's commitments on this score? Second, far more significant, was the IIP beer data an early indicator of a national mood change towards alcohol — are Indians going to drink less and less, no matter the weather? In that case, what will happen to Kingfisher Airlines, which needs Indians to drink healthy amounts so that the money Vijay Mallya's UB makes can fuel the airline? More important, what kind of country will this be when alcohol consumption levels start falling significantly? Let us not make the mistake of assuming it will be a better country — things are more nuanced than that. Certainly, asking a group of ministers to look into this seems to be in order. But, of course, don't expect the government to act fast or decisively.
And slowing condom sales? If June was cooler than usual, if not too much time was getting devoted to drinking beer, and condom sales still fell… then what? Is it like that 3G services ad you see on the telly: everyone is b iji with 3G? But 3G services weren't even rolled out properly in June. Surely, it couldn't have been anticipatory behavioural change? Maybe Indians are just too b iji, no time to have a drink or to make love. This could mean good news for GDP. Watch out for the July IIP data.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FAST AND FURIOUS
ANNA'S FAST WILL BOOST TELEVISION RATINGS, IROM SHARMILA'S IS FOR A JUST CAUSE
By the time you read this, Anna Hazare would have started his fast and his well-fed handlers will be stationed in front of television cameras.
Independence Day, grey and wet was a holiday with no breaking news, so after the Red Fort speech, all airtime was taken over by talking heads debating the Anna fast. The talks generate lots of heat: "Think about the future," or "Aren't we also members of civil society?" or "Why weren't any women on the Lokpal panel?" But where's the light?
After the final break, we're off to salute our brave jawans at Nowshera, above Srinagar, with Katrina Kaif. Phew.
The government, also glued to TV, is engaged in the futile task of refuting every charge of corruption on prime time. Everything else can wait. So, Manmohan Singh says that we need to eliminate corruption to grow faster.
But he's only half correct. How so?
The kind of graft that grabs headlines relates to stuff like new telecom licences, the kind issued by ex-mantri Andimuthu Raja. It's alleged that Raja or his party the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam made vast amounts of money by tipping off a few players to jump a queue and get telecom licences ahead of rivals.
Even if the charges of corruption are proved in court, would Raja's actions have slowed growth? Quite the opposite. After the new licences were issued, India ended up with 12 players, up from six, in each of around two dozen markets. If, say, you need at least 1,000 employees to run a telecom service, that's 6,000 jobs that were immediately created by doling out the new licences.
Other income streams, from peddling phone cards to fixing equipment and servicing them on the field, to putting up billboards advertising the new services have also followed. If you take Raja and the 2G licence allotments as a benchmark, socalled corruption has only created jobs and incomes, not cut into growth.
Actually, the sort of corruption that has India frothing at the mouth — the Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Housing and the telecom scams — have little or nothing to do with anything in our lives. Money is routinely salted away from public projects, kickbacks are routine in the purchase decisions of every state and central government.
These are seldom speed breakers to growth. But there are other forms of corruption that eat into the incomes of ordinary people, make their lives difficult and their pregnancies and illnesses hazardous.
Every . 700 that the beat cops extract from a Delhi street hawker every month is a heavy tax on a precarious income. Every time the cops impound cycle rickshaws from the street, the rickshaw drivers have to come up with a hafta to get their livelihoods back.
Uttar Pradesh has been rocked by a series of murders of medical officers, as a bunch of crooks try to erase evidence of massive graft in the procurement of medical supplies and cash doles for safe pregnancies. This sort of corruption corrodes the fundamentals of our society and eats into growth. A few thousand rupees squeezed out of millions of people around the country adds up into a huge river of cash. But this is not a sexy TV story and there's no faux Gandhian on a TV fast against crooked cops ripping off rickshaw pullers. Kaushik Basu, economic advisor to Pranab Mukherjee, made a sensible point recently when he wrote a little paper on decriminalising people who're forced to pay extortion money or bribes to minimise harassment. He argued, quite convincingly, that people who are told to pay money to receive a copy of an examination marksheet, or to get a bed in a sarkari hospital, are forced to collude in the crime, because giving a bribe is as illegal as taking one. If, he argued, the giving of a certain kind of 'harassment' bribe were not made into a crime, then people would report if they'd been ripped off. Greater risk of exposure would deter people from asking for bribes.
This was a very sensible idea, well worth turning into policy. So, what happened? The same media that idolises Anna and starts frothing at the mention of graft, laughed Basu out of couzrt: "Finance ministry advisor says bribery should be legal." As I write this, I get a text, similar to what you've doubtless also received. It reads: "74 year old Anna staking his life for your kids. Govt plans to arrest him. What will u do? Do nothing or come on the roads. Fwd2all."
Actually, I won't fwd2all. That's because there are people out there fasting for causes greater than picking holes in the draft Lokpal Bill.
One November evening, 11 years ago, our valiant military shot 10 civilians in the town of Malom, Imphal, the capital of Manipur.
The stomach-churning brutality of the event — the oldest victim was a 62 year old woman, the youngest a boy of 18 — convinced a 28 year old poet and social worker to go on a fast.
The fast was supposed to convince the government to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a brutal law that allows military and paramilitaries to arrest anyone without charges, hold them and even kill people on suspicion, with legal immunity.
Three days after the fast began, Irom Sharmila Chanu was arrested on suicide charges. A tube was introduced through her nostril into her stomach and she was force fed in jail. Every year, she's released for a day and then jailed again.
Eleven years have passed. The tube remains. The AFSPA, despised by citizens of Kashmir and the north east, also remains in force. In all these places, people continue to disappear and executions of innocents are palmed off as battles won against terrorists. Some kinds of corruption matter more than others. Some issues, as Sharmila and not Anna teaches us, merit a fast to death.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
Even before the Centre and Congress decided to take on Anna Hazare, a parallel war had started on the Internet with a group of self-proclaimed activists showing their zeal to take on the civil rights activists around Anna. Journalists have suddenly started getting emails from this group of activists who call themselves 'Today's Youth for the Nation'. Their first shot was at Kiran Bedi, by detailing what they called the donations, running into crores of rupees, one of her NGOs allegedly received from many national and international private firms. Then they turned their attention to Arvind Kejriwal, by giving details of the funding his own NGO too allegedly received from similar donors. As the UPA and Anna started battling it out, the Congress too asked Kejriwal and Bedi to come clean on the funds their NGOs had received. Team Anna says these are attempts to malign them. That may very well be the case. Yet, what is beyond dispute is that many members of the Team Anna are opposing a Bill proposing to bring all NGOs under the scanner of the Lokpal.
It is rehabilitation time for some rootless Congress leaders who got battered when they ventured out to ground war. Many Congress eyebrows had gone up when Suresh Pachauri was made Madhya Pradesh PCC chief in 2008 as he is known as a 'Delhi durbar' member with no skill for mass politics or organisational building, his appointment as PCC chief was seen as a sure recipe for disaster. But his supporters were talking about Pachauri becoming CM after 'the Congress victory under his leadership'. His mission and dream collapsed after the Congress defeat in MP and his own failure to bag a safe Rajya Sabha seat, leaving him in suspended animation in Bhopal. Finally, Pachauri is back in AICC as the head of party's research cell. Now, the joke at 24, Akbar Road, is that Pachauri's first research paper for high command should be about the perils of trusting rootless wonders with organisation building. Sure, he can do it with a personal touch.
Senior Congress leader and ex-minister Jaffer Sharief, who had become a sort of a rebel, is keeping a low profile these days. His increasing belligerence had also coincided with him being out of Parliament and the Congress inner circles. Although there had been talk about this veteran leader too joining a recent conclave of the 'unhappy and leftout Congress leaders', Sharief finally chose not to attend it. Now, a little bird says that Sharief and the AICC are seriously discussing the possibility of Sharief getting a gubernatorial posting.
Left's post-UPA-I meltdown/ isolation is making some members highly imaginative. When a CPI-M delegation under Sitaram Yechury recently met the PM to discuss a Kerala issue, the PM made some innocuous remarks about their 2004-08 tie-up. Soon after, some Left leaders started spinning this as evidence of how the PM has now started 'missing' the company of the comrades. While even some seasoned Left leaders felt this in-house spin was too churlish, the Congress leaders ridiculed it as the evidence of how some CPI-M leaders are desperately hoping that Congress and Mamata will split one day, helping the comrades find their way back to the UPA court. Then, what is life sans a spin!
Come Thursday, RSP leader Abani Roy's 13-year stint in Rajya Sabha will come to an end. He and Brinda Karat are among those whose parliamentary innings suffered a guillotine courtesy Left's rout in Bengal. With Abani's exit, the RSP now faces the prospects of losing possession of 17, Ferozshah Road, party's national headquarters for 34 years now. Since the party does not have a senior MP, entitled to retain this bungalow, it is packing time for around half-a-dozen party workers who have been living at the HQ along with Abani, who is a bachelor. Along with Abani, who started living in this bungalow in mid-1970s as the secretary to RSP veteran Tridip Chowdhary, two of his wellgroomed pets — a Labrador and a Golden Retriever — are also set to move out. Whitewashing has started at an old Chandni Chowk building that used to be the RSP office in the 1940s, for welcoming the 'home-coming comrades'.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TEA PARTY'S MODEST PROPOSAL
America's Tea Party has a simple fiscal message: the US is broke. This is factually incorrect — US government securities remain one of the safest investments in the world — but the claim serves the purpose of dramatising the federal budget and creating hysteria around America's debt levels. This then produces the fervent belief that government spending must be cut radically, and now. There are legitimate fiscal issues that demand serious discussion, including how to control growth in healthcare spending and how best to structure tax reform. But the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party cares more about small government than anything else: its members insist that federal tax revenue never exceed 18% of GDP. Their historical antecedent is America's anti-revenue Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, not the original anti-British, pro-representation Boston Tea Party in 1773. Most importantly, their tactics have proven massively destructive of wealth in the US. Since the prolonged showdown over the budget began earlier this year, the stock market has lost about $10 trillion, 20% of its value. In effect, the Tea Party is working hard to reduce publicly-funded social benefits — including pensions and Medicare — even as its methods dramatically reduce the value of private wealth now and in the future. Part of the Tea Party's founding myth, of course, is that smaller government will lead to faster growth and greater prosperity for all. Never mind that the eye-popping growth projections in Representative Paul Ryan's budget plan, for example, are utterly implausible; these projections matter politically, because, without them, the full sting of Ryan's proposed cuts would be readily apparent.
Standard & Poor's has received some justified criticism for the analysis behind its recent decision to downgrade US government debt; after all, there was little economic news that could explain the move's timing. But S&P's assessment of the political situation is on target: by creating a dysfunctional paralysis at the heart of government, the Tea Party has shown that it is willing to impose dramatic costs on the broader economy and depress growth.
Confrontation and brinkmanship have become the new watchwords of US politics, even when the government's legal ability to pay its debts is on the line, owing to the Tea Party's ideological rigidity. And the tone of political debate has become much nastier By signing a pledge not to raise taxes, Tea Party representatives have credibly committed themselves not to acquiesce in any middle-ofthe-road compromise. If they break this pledge, presumably they will face defeat in the next round of Republican Party primaries. So, while a budget deal would technically be easy to achieve, it looks politically impossible in the near term. Indeed, while Congress and the Republican Party have become less popular during 2011, support for the Tea Party has remained remarkably constant, at around 30% of the population. Its tactics thus appear politically sustainable, at least through the 2012 elections.
Perhaps the most damaging outcome of these tactics is to take countercyclical fiscal policy off the table. Regardless of what happens to the global economy, it is inconceivable that any kind of meaningful fiscal stimulus would get through the House of Representatives.
It remains to be seen whether the US Fed would also feel constrained by the political mood on Capitol Hill. Clearly, influential Tea Party supporters would strongly resist any attempt now by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to find unorthodox ways to run a more expansionary monetary policy. And, as for protecting the financial system against disaster, the current majority on the House Financial Services Committee is clear — they favour use of the bankruptcy system when megabanks get into serious trouble. If the eurozone crisis continues to spiral out of control, the US should expect to see Lehman or near-Lehmantype collapses among exposed financial institutions.
The irony of the Tea Party revolt, of course, is that it undermines the private sector more than it reins in "big government." The S&P downgrade resulted in a "flight to quality," meaning that investors bought US government debt — thus increasing its price and lowering the rate that the federal government pays to borrow. It was the value of the stock market that fell sharply — which makes sense, given that counter-cyclical policy is now severely constrained. The government part of the credit system has been strengthened, relatively speaking, by developments over the past few months, while the private sector has taken a beating.
Unless and until America's private sector recovers, investment and job creation will continue to stagnate. But today's atmosphere of fear and aggressive budget tactics are combining to undermine private-sector confidence and spending power.
As Jonathan Swift put it in 1727, "Party is the madness of many, for the gain of the few."
(The author is a former chief economist of the IMF)
© Project Syndicate, 2011
The current plight of mobile service providers underscores an old truth of neo-classical economics: Conditions in capital intensive-industries are, by their very nature, such that they cannot support a market structure that approximates perfect competition. In the mobile phone business, there are 10-12 operators in a service area. This has led to a free-fall in tariffs without an increase in business. Economists have known for a long time that — be it airlines, shipping, railways, telecom, or any other capital-intensive business — near-free entry leads to ruinous competition for market share with profit margins eventually shrinking to nothing. This is what has happened in the mobile business in India. Some firms will now have to throw in the towel because even the big boys are in trouble. Vodafone's profit margins have seen a sharp decline in 2011 from their levels in 2007; Bharti Airtel's return on capital employed has similarly gone down during this period. A combination of mounting costs and declining revenues are hurting them. Idea Cellular's operating expense, as a percentage of revenue, for instance, has increased from 12 per cent to 31 per cent during this time. The industry's average revenue per user has declined from Rs 262 in 2007 to Rs 100; minutes of usage per user have fallen from 465 to 369; and net subscriber addition has fallen from 14-15 million a month to just over 8 million. In short, they are all spending more and more to earn less and less.
The industry thinks lower taxes and charges will help. Mobile operators in India pay 19-28 per cent of their annual revenues to the Government in the form of licence fees, spectrum charges and service tax. They are also paying for the cost of implementing mobile number portability — estimated to be around Rs 500 crore. Then, there are costs relating to security requirements. Add to this the normal costs of expansion, which have to be financed with less FDI and more expensive credit, and the industry's debt burden has shot up. It is little wonder, then, that Tata DoCoMo, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone have all increased tariffs over the past two months, indicating a reversal in the trend since 2004.
Clearly, the policy-makers have to step in quickly to stop the carnage. A clear and liberal policy to encourage M&As will help ensure that there only five-six players in the market. Current restrictions on buying out rival operators in the same area of operations should be done away with and, post-merger, the combined entity should be allowed to keep the spectrum. Simultaneously, the government should tweak the current licence fee regime to lower the cost burden on operators even as spectrum pricing is left to market forces. As quid pro quo, the Government can tighten the roll-out obligation to ensure that operators don't misuse the sops given to them.
UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN SIDE OF RAMA
This is Ms Arshia Sattar's third book from the Penguin stable. Ms Sattar had published an 'abridged' translation of Valmiki Ramayana and also teaches it as a part of classical Indian literatures course in various universities.
Lost Loves is a set of seven essays which explore and imagine the thoughts and feelings of Rama and Sita during their years of trials and separation. The author does this by "approach(ing) him as a literary character…" who (sic) "kills without justification and twice abandons the woman he loves most." Ms Sattar assures that the essays stay located in Valmiki's composition declaring that it is the "furthest" from the "all-encompassing bhakti universe that renders Rama's deeds unquestionable and beyond reproach."
Indian epics, ithihasa, do narrate, as if a running commentary on an as-is-where-is style. Several oral and subsequent written narratives too have retained the spirit of that tradition without whitewashing the flaws in the characters. That has not diluted the bhakti bhava nor has it stopped critical study of existential conflicts faced by Rama or Sita even by the devout. The reviewer wishes to cite here a series of thirty lectures delivered by V.S. Srinivasa Sastri, in 1944, in the Sanskrit Academy in Chennai, "with a professed object of presenting Rama in a purely human aspect, ignoring His place among the Great Avatars…"
Ms Sattar too recognises "the indigenous tradition of interpretation… commentary and opposition…is as old as the text itself." However, in her introduction to the essays she underplays this tradition and even asserts that, "…interpretations and retellings have been prompted by those aspects of the text that have made tradition uncomfortable when Rama appears to violate dharma." For her, Rama's story "cannot be ignored because of its hero's remorseless transgressions from the code, the dharma that he was born to uphold."
In the seven essays after the introduction, Ms Sattar's narrative thankfully, is in the spirit of the "card –carrying feminist" now being "more involved with Rama" — reflecting through "inclusion rather than rejection of Rama".
Ms Sattar's analysis of the code of living in the three cities of Ayodhya, Kishkinda and Lanka is interesting. Dharma it may be in Ayodhya, but is it the same in the other two which are vanara and asura domains? Are the conflicts and the resultant transgressions of dharma by Rama due to super-imposing of his dharma where they may not be appreciated? Ms Sattar's pertinent questions, which Sastri and his likes had answered: "we must judge Rama not by the light of modern theory or modern aspiration but by the standards of his time. La Gloire was a kshatriya's creed and he was expected to extend his dominion." Ms Sattar is lucid in her narration of Sita as a woman of "courage and defiance in her final act on earth." Her analysis of how love lives in the shadow of public lives and commitments gets reinforced in the fifth essay. "Lost Loves".
The essay on "Remembering in the Ramayana" elaborates on Rama's innermost thoughts as expressed in three different occasions. This essay also draws a lot of comparisons from Kalidasa's Abhijyana Shakuntalam; comparisons of Sita and Shakuntala.
Sattar claims that the essays are "rooted in the modern quest for individual fulfillment ." It is an eternal quest. Ms Sattar's essays are a welcome addition to addressing this quest.
DOWNGRADE UNLIKELY TO DERAIL INDIAN ECONOMY
BISWA SWARUP MISRA
The lowering of the US' sovereign rating to AA+ from AAA on August 5, was a jolt to the standing of the economic superpower. The ratings downgrade evoked extreme reactions from some sections of the media on the possible consequences for India.
Some feel the downgrade will lead to a post-Lehman like situation. Such a comparison may not be appropriate. The bankruptcy of Lehman brothers in September 2008 was a tangible event, whereas the downgrade is an opinion on the US economy's capability to reduce its debt. The political squabble amidst the slowing pace of recovery in US has made debt consolidation difficult and triggered the downgrade. Besides, it should be kept in mind that rating agencies were assigning the best of ratings to companies till the time they went bust.
Unlike the deterioration in the case of US, the debt situation in India has improved in the last few years and stands at 65 per cent of GDP in 2010-11. India has also been among the few nations which suffered little output loss after the global financial crisis of 2008.
Except for the equity and forex markets, the condition in the money market has remained stable, and some softening was observed in the g-sec yields. The benchmark Sensex fell by almost 450 points and the rupee depreciated by 48 paise in two trading sessions following the downgrade.
The movements in the Sensex and the forex market have been guided by FII flows. The net FII selling was close to $280 million on August 7. The yields on benchmark 10-year g-sec have softened from 8.31 per cent on August 5 to 8.23 per cent on August 8. The slide in the Sensex has not only been guided by the developments in US, but also the uncertainty about the quantum of bail-out needed for the weaker Euro area members and the ability of ECB to fund these bailouts.
The RBI's move to calm the markets by assuring adequate rupee and forex liquidity helped smoothen out the situation. As has been pointed out in the editorial in this paper, markets may respond to sentiment in the immediate term but it is fundamentals that eventually govern investor confidence and flow of resources in the medium term.
TRADE AND GROWTH
The Indian economy is affected by global events through three channels — trade, finance and the confidence channel. As things stand, growth in US and Europe will be below the trend growth rate in the rest of 2011. Indian exports in the first six months have been quite resilient. This has been possible on account of the change in the composition and the direction of India's trade. The US and EU which used to account for 46 per cent of India's exports in 1995, accounted for 32 per cent of exports in 2009.
Notwithstanding the lower dependence on the US and the EU, exports will be affected to some extent because of a deceleration in global trade growth. As per WTO estimates, the global trade volume is set to grow by 6.5 per cent in 2011, compared with 14.5 per cent in 2010.
As far as the finance channel is considered, India has seen robust FDI flows in the first half of 2011, though FII flows have been rather weak. As growth prospects in India remain much better than in the developed world, one can expect capital to flow to India in search of better returns.
The confidence channel plays through the uncertainties created after an event. It is a matter of time before the risk-return trade-off will prompt a flow of resources to economies having higher growth potential. During the previous global recession, the Indian economy posted a respectable growth of 6.9 per cent in 2008-09. This was possible because growth is fuelled by strong domestic demand. The forces driving domestic demand remain intact in 2011-12. In fact, the central bank has been trying hard to contain domestic demand for quite some time by raising interest rates 11 times in the past 18 months.
Muted growth in the developed world is likely to have two major implications. First, export growth might weaken and, second, pressure on commodity prices might ease.
Brent Crude had fallen to $99.68 on August 8, down from a peak of above $127 in April 2011. On the one hand, if commodity prices soften further or are maintained around the present levels because of growth deceleration in advanced economies, a potential source of inflation in the Indian context might ease.
This would ease the pressure on RBI to raise rates further to control the demand side of inflation. On the other, weak export growth will have a dampening effect on overall GDP growth. Thus, we could have a combination of lower growth and moderate inflation by the end of 2011-12.
FOR FAIRPLAY IN LAND ACQUISITION
The Allahabad High Court recently quashed the acquisition of 600 hectares of agricultural land, expropriated using the urgency clause and later handed over to private builders by the Uttar Pradesh government. Nearly 50,000 people, who had invested in flats in the proposed Noida extension, are baffled by the developments.
In the past three years, Noida-like protests by farmers against forcible land acquisition have raged in 40 out of 610 districts in India, bringing 40,000 acres of land, proposed to be acquired, under dispute.
In the policy vacuum created by the obsolescence of an antiquated law, several State governments have rushed to enact eclectic, divergent laws. Meanwhile, the proposed National Development, Acquisition, Displacement and Rehabilitation Bill is before Parliament.
At the heart of contention is the definition of 'public purpose'. Land can be expropriated compulsorily by the State from private holders only for a 'public purpose'.
Accordingly, 'public purpose' needs to be aligned closer in meaning to 'public use' — provision of goods and services of a non-excludable nature to the general public. It's not that the 'private goods industry', with its limited externalities, is unimportant.
What is not defensible is invocation of an eminent domain principle to obtain land — a scarce and valuable resource — forcibly from unwilling individuals, unfavourably placed in terms of bargaining power vis-à-vis private businesses.
An alternative, as suggested by the Ashok Chawla Committee on Allocation of Natural Resources, is that stretches of land — degraded land in particular, lying idle with the Centre and State governments — are inventorised with Geographic Information System (GIS)-enabled location mapping and parcelled into land banks exclusively earmarked for industry, thereby reducing the likelihood of prime agricultural land being diverted for industrial purposes.
Transparent, open auctions of land so identified may be organised to facilitate price fixing. This would preclude the possibility of land allotment at throwaway prices — an allegation that the political executive has often had to face.
Checks may be put in place to nip cartelisation attempts at such auctions. Once land identified has been allotted at such market rates, private land parcels that fall in the project area may be purchased by way of negotiated settlements with the land owners.
Considering the pace with which industrial activity is expected to rev up constructive policy-making on this issue is of the essence.
It is necessary to protect the interests of the disadvantaged, say, the tribal communities, as well as provide to the private client a support structure that clearly delineates a transparent, consultative process to define interactions between the project proponent and the land owners.
This framework, which may be drafted along the lines of International Finance Corporation's Performance Standard 5 (IFC PS 5), should entail participation of the project-affected at all stages of the cycle, in an interactive paradigm with the project proponent, with the local authorities possibly playing the part of a third-party facilitator.
As for compensation, the central idea would be not just arriving at 'market rates', but also designing a 'compensation schedule' that pays to the farmer, a long-term, inflation-linked income, which appreciates with the temporal appreciation in value of the underlying asset. Compensation for assets must be at their replacement cost and include consequential losses as well.
A basket of payment alternatives must be framed for the recipient to choose from — a percentage in lump sum at the time of sale plus annuities, a certain percentage of compensation converted to debentures of the company, fixed deposit-cum-annuities etc. and recipients should be clearly educated about the advantages of each.
The Draft Bill proposes compulsory acquisition for private companies only when 75 per cent of the land owners submit a written consent in favour of the company.
Since projects may run into motivated resistance, it makes sense to acquire compulsorily only when private clients fail, despite demonstrably plum offers, to negotiate purchase of isolated pockets of land in a project area. But it is important that governments be legally disallowed to acquire land claiming 'public purpose' only to sell it off later to private parties at ridiculous rates.
Moreover, if compensation issues are ever to be cleanly resolved, the systemic malaise afflicting land records management would need to be addressed, with eventual switchover to a conclusive property titling system.
Therefore, for private companies, government land in land banks should be allotted only by way of open auctions to industry.
As for private land, the government may desist from invoking eminent domain except in extraordinary circumstances, and instead, facilitate negotiated settlements with clear policy structures.
THE LONG ROAD TO REAL FREEDOM
One friend on my BlackBerry Messenger (a space I have succeeded in not crowding yet) has changed his profile picture to one taken against a huge tricolour; another one has put up a fist with a glove proudly displaying the colours of the tiranga. On Monday morning, the first thing I did was to put " Sarey jahaan sey achcha, Hindustan hamara", on my personal status in the same space.
Every time I return from abroad and the aircraft approaches the Chennai airspace for landing, as though in a reflex action, I start humming Mohammed Rafi's lovely song " Ae watan, ae watan, humko teri kasam, teri raho mei jaan tak luta jayengey". Much more than being any great show of patriotic fervour, it's just a burst of happiness at returning to India. Tens of thousands of Indians bitten by the travel bug, as I am, must experience a similar feeling when they return home from a foreign trip.
While on foreign soil, you yearn for news on India and while, increasingly nowadays, an International Herald Tribune or Wall Street Journal gives you longish articles on India, not all the time is the reference to this country complimentary.
Of course, it makes you bristle, but there is little you can do about it. But, yes, we have come a long way from April 1999, when I had to read about the Vajpayee government losing the vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha by just one vote on the 21st page of a British daily in London. It was a two-para news item.
Adding to the good feeling that suffuses one's being when India or anything Indian is mentioned, when I opened the Google page to confirm that it was indeed Rafi who sang Ae watan, it felt great to find its logo, in white, perched against the Red Fort (a wee deviation from the actual kesariya colour of the tricolour is acceptable) with some green grass completing the three-colour palette.
Pride and belonging?
But flag-hoisting, returning to the comfort and familiar sounds and smells of your own home after a foreign trip and national pride apart, how many Indians feel the same pride and sense of belonging to this country? Or long to return to a home which is comfortable… or even exists physically as a 'home', as we, the more privileged, define it?
A truthful answer will draw out huge numbers who feel marginalised, overlooked, discriminated against or totally left out, if not shunned, from India's growth and development story.
Moaning and groaning under the heavy burden of insufficient incomes or unemployment, violence and deprivation, debt and disease, squalor and poverty, illiteracy and the prospects of a bleak, dark future, what do they think of an Independent India? To many of us this may sound like a clichéd question… When will they ever get independence from hunger, disease, deprivation, hopelessness? Nevertheless, it is a very serious rider to the lives of millions of Indians.
Reading Ramesh M. Arunachalam's book titled The journey of Indian micro-finance: Lessons for the future, brought home, yet again, the horror of a wonderful scheme meant to lift millions of poor women out of poverty, having gone terribly wrong.
Over two decades beginning with 1990, I have visited Indian villages and seen for myself the magic that a properly administered microfinance scheme, working through SHGs, can weave in the world of the poor. Children going to private schools, decent food at home, a small concrete or mud house, a TV set, an electric grinder, smiling faces, and grudging respect for the woman of the house, who may be actually wearing some gold jewellery!
But, post-2006, particularly in the last couple of years, an aggressive bid to grow the microfinance sector, coupled with the greed of MFIs, resulted in the pushing of one easy loan after another on women, plunging them into a debt trap.
Worse, it made cheats out of honest women, who were thitherto repaying their loans faithfully. Thanks to a few black sheep the entire microfinance sector was both vitiated and demonised, driving needy women back to the door of the usurious village moneylender.
High interest: 11% vs 120%
As the more privileged among us moan and groan at the interest on our housing loans, availed of to buy fancy apartments, if not villas, in gated communities, creeping up to a "punishing" 11 per cent or so, I am in real danger of losing my cook, who has borrowed sums ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000 from various moneylenders near my house in Chennai, paying a horrendous rate of interest between 60 and 120 per cent. If the pressure on her continues, she may not turn up for work one fine day. I have bailed her out several times in the past, and will have to do so once again. Not only is the delicious biryani she makes irresistible to my entire family, there is also no guarantee I will be able to find a suitable replacement. But as in the past, there is no assurance that she will not fall right back into the clutches of the moneylenders or the slumlords who have tasted blood.
Her son-in-law might thrash her daughter in a fit of drunken rage and send her to her mother with a demand for Rs 10,000 or more; or her son will throw up his job and hit the bottle, or….
My phone pings. "Happy Independence day", says a text message, followed by a smiley, and the rider: "If you're married, ignore this message!"
Makes one wonder how many million Indians, married or otherwise, will also have to ignore this message.
Vroom! The motor bike with a pillion rider swishes past close to the woman walking in the street; she feels as if she has been stung by a wasp near the shoulder, she gropes for the pesky moth and alas she finds her valuable gold chain is gone. Women victims are most often too dazed to shout or report to the police immediately.
Recent reports suggest that there is no safety for women even when they walk in groups. For most women the pain of parting with a prized possession and consequent loss of money is compounded by sentimental value, if it happens to be thali. For a few days, the women experience emotional trauma characteristic of robbery victim; anxiety and fear of recurrence.
Years ago, my wife and mother have both been prey to the predator, my mother in Avadi, Chennai and my wife in Kolkata. In my mother's case the police dog lost the trail after reaching the railway station and there ended the story except for the recurrent dreams.
In the case of my wife, the action of the police was typical. When she first reported the incident to the police, the inspector admonished her for not yelling since in Kolkata, the culprit, if apprehended by the mob, would be thrashed on the spot leaving very little for the police to do. Then, some pressure was put on the police through massaging contacts among high ranking officers. After some weeks they informed her one day that the chain was found and summoned her to one of the courts in Alipore.
When she went there, a cop instructed her to merely say "yes" if and when the judge spoke to her. It was an awesome experience by itself for a housewife to see so many lawyers in black robes, judges in dark and dingy hovels, hand-cuffed accused, being escorted, crowds in walkways and above all, total confusion and chaos or so it seemed to her. That done, she was called to Lal Bazaar the City Police Headquarters where she was admitted to the vaults in which several packets of molten pieces of gold and ornaments were stashed . She was given a piece of molten gold and asked to sign a receipt that her "lost chain had been received in original condition". Case closed.
Usually cases of chain snatching are not followed up at all by the police except for the first few days . However, when pressure is applied from top, one of the habitual offenders in the cops' list confesses and molten gold is taken from goldsmiths who act as fences and they are presented as the accused and material evidence respectively. Not a day, now, passes without newspapers reporting chain snatching in all the major cities and towns of India. No longer the city police can brush it away as a lowly crime and allow it to go unreported or undetected.It is time the police give the crime a heinous index ranking just below eve teasing as most victims are senior citizens and also provide a separate helpline. Of course, police and women's organisations should sensitise women to the personal risk they run when they flaunt jewellery in markets and footpaths.
INDIA HAS TO FIGHT ON MANY FRONTS
It is a sign of the times that Independence Day this year should be marred by a bitter street-style confrontation with the government initiated by social activists — who ostensibly subscribe to the Gandhian way, and claim to be icons of probity — on the issue of the best approach to combating corruption. Thus, the subject of the Lokpal appears to have acquired a life of its own. Perhaps this is an inescapable rite of passage for India as its democracy enters a new phase and its people insist on articulating their expectation of freedom from corruption in their everyday lives that is usually traceable to greedy elected representatives and officials. So serious has the issue become — the corruption as well as the confrontation — that the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had to acknowledge the state of the rot in his customary Independence Day address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Monday. The President, Ms Pratibha Patil's message to the people on the eve of Independence Day also dealt almost exclusively with the subject. In the Prime Minister's speech, too, no other issue found the same prominence. Revolutions, real or imagined, have been triggered in different parts of the world by the issues of poverty, power, and the rights of the people in relation to those of the rulers, and are taking place even today. But it is hard to think of another instance when national passions have been made to rise to the surface on the question of corruption which demeans people, distorts the development process (through sheer theft of public funds), and discourages investment for growth. Those whose exertions have made this possible are right about the extent of the problem and the urgent need to vanquish the monster which blights our lives. To them goes the credit of initiating the fight against corruption, if that's the right way to describe what's happening. But they make it sound like they have a here-and-now solution in the notion of the Lokpal they have projected. They are dead wrong. And the Prime Minister is dead right. Ending entrenched systemic corruption is not a one-shot thing that rests on a single-track engagement. The fight has to be waged on many fronts at the same time by the government with the cooperation of political parties and ordinary citizens. Otherwise, it will be lost. This is what Dr Singh tried telling his fellow citizens on I-Day. It bears emphasising that the civil society elements have given the impression of packaging a special formula, or having reached a eureka moment. This is the populist way to go about things and has the potential to unleash an extra-parliamentary storm, with deleterious consequences. Those pushing for a certain type of Lokpal take it for granted that corruption cannot be dealt with unless their prescription is followed. They have not cared to explain their messianic approach, and prefer to speak only in generalities underscored by rhetoric. If laws begin to be made on the street, anarchy will ensue. The Prime Minister, therefore, did well to underline that the Lokpal law, too, must go through the normal parliamentary process. This by no means takes away the right of civil society to protest peacefully and to mount pressure on the political class in pursuit of its agenda. Of course, in a democracy, no one's rights or privileges can be unrestricted.
A TEST OF WILL
Cricket fans with long memories spent the Independence Day weekend wondering when the Indian team had previously had such a humiliating series. Saurav Ganguly, the captain who gave India's Test team a new identity, was brutal in his assessment: "Let us accept we were very ordinary… I have not seen an Indian team like this in the last 10 years." Perhaps the specific example Ganguly had in mind was the tour of Australia in 1999-2000. A disjointed, confused team, playing under Sachin Tendulkar in the final days of his captaincy, lost all three Tests. So complete was Australia's domination that Rahul Dravid managed a mere 93 runs in six completed innings. India has lost on foreign soil more often than it has won. Even so, for psychological destruction, the tour of England has few parallels. It would not be unfair to compare it with the annihilation of Sunil Gavaskar's team by Imran Khan's destructive bowling and Pakistan's rampaging batsmen in the winter of 1982-83. Yet there is a difference. In the 1980s and 1990s, as earlier, the Indian Test team was a poor tourist. Roughly since the England tour of 2002, however, India has hardly had a bad series abroad. It has fought and often won. Not once has it been the pushover of this English summer. Obviously, Indian cricket is not used to such a drubbing anymore. For two years, India has been the world's leading Test team. Playing its closest rival, it was supposed to deliver pulsating cricket. Instead it surrendered time after time. What went wrong? It has become something of a cliché that the Indian XI is a slow starter when it travels outside. Indeed, Indian commentators repeated this, almost as a slogan of pride, after the thrashing in the first Test at Lord's in the ongoing series. There was a happy certainty that India would find form in the second Test and be back to its winning ways by the third. There are two things wrong with such an approach. First, it sets the bar low. India would have been quite happy to have returned from England with a 1-1 shared series. This is not the way the world's top team should be thinking; it should have greater ambition and gumption. Second, an inevitable question is being ducked. Why is India a slow starter? There is no divine rule that decrees Indian batsmen must fail in the opening match of a Test series abroad. As has been pointed out, it is generally a matter of scheduling. A tour as important as the one to England — after all it was known a big defeat would cost India its No. 1 Test team ranking — was planned in a lackadaisical and feckless manner. There was just one warm-up game before the first Test. Players arrived in England after a long break or after playing a very different opposition in very different conditions in the Caribbean islands. Some of the members of M.S. Dhoni's team were recovering from injury. Others had not played competitive cricket since the Twenty20 (T20) games of the Indian Premier League (IPL). What is the solution to this? Is it to abolish the IPL and wish away T20 cricket? Is it to force cricketers to drop out of lucrative tournaments and lose income? Those who have suggested these as options are living in an unreal world. Such drastic measures are not practicable, and neither are they called for. All it required was for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to prioritise the tour of England above the tour of the West Indies, attempt to play that series later and at any rate steer clear of limited-overs internationals in the Caribbean. If nothing else, this could have allowed Dhoni's men to turn up in England 10-15 days earlier, and given them those crucial two or three extra practice games. The reason the Indians didn't bother was that they didn't give their art — cricket — and their number one status the respect that was deserved. Nothing reflected this more than the decision to fly down Virender Sehwag straight from a shoulder injury into a Test match, with an apology of a county game as practice. This decision insulted sport and mocked the calibre of the English team. Sehwag and India paid for it. An analogy would help here. In 2004 (as in 2000 and 2008), Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi were India's great Olympic medal hopes. In 2004, at Athens, this writer saw them lose a tennis doubles semi-final that they were widely expected to win. They lost to an unknown pair of Germans, Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler. A few days later Paes and Bhupathi lost the bronze medal play-off as well and came away from Greece without a podium finish. By 2004, Paes and Bhupathi had long ceased to be doubles partners on the international circuit. Before the Athens Olympics, they came together for two tournaments — just two — and thought these would be enough to rediscover their coordination. In contrast the Germans were both singles players who made sacrifices in preparing for the Olympics. Realising they would be representing their country at Athens, they began to partner each other six months before the Olympic Games and played nine tournaments together. They showed a work ethic, an honesty of effort and a respect for their opponents and for the Olympic arena that Paes and Bhupathi did not. The results were there for all to see. What India's cricketers did in the build-up to the series against England was similar. They treated their preparation period with nonchalance. No doubt the BCCI is to blame. Yet so is the captain. Dhoni is not diffident in making demands for greater reward money. It is an open secret that he did so to the then BCCI president as early as 2007, when he had just become captain and taken his team to victory in the opening T20 World Cup. Why then can't he insist on a more sensitive itinerary and more practice games? * Ashok Malik can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
AMERICA MUST STOP CODDLING THE SUPER-RICH
Our leaders have asked for "shared sacrifice". But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched. While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labours but are allowed to classify our income as "carried interest", thereby getting a bargain 15 per cent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 per cent of their gain taxed at 15 per cent, as if they'd been long-term investors. These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It's nice to have friends in high places. Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 per cent of my taxable income — and that's actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 per cent to 41 per cent and averaged 36 per cent. If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot. To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 per cent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 per cent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It's a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 per cent and 25 per cent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends. I didn't refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 per cent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what's happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation. Since 1992, the Internal Revenue Service has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 per cent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 per cent. The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.) I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn't mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering. Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country's finances. They've been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It's vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country's fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality. Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can't fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 per cent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current two-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get. But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate. My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It's time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.
ANNA'S LONG SHADOW ON RED FORT
The shadow of Anna Hazare loomed large over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Independence Day speech. Though he did not mention him by name, Dr Singh's concern over the anti-corruption campaign and his government was apparent. But, by holding out veiled threats against him and by trashing those who are rallying behind him, the cheerleaders of the government and the Congress Party are willy-nilly elevating Mr Hazare's stature — perhaps to a position as high as that of Jayaprakash Narayan around whom the Right and the Left came together in the 1970s in the wake of the imposition of the Emergency. The UPA government, which returned to power in May 2009 with a stronger mandate, and free of its dependence on the Left, has been in a state of atrophy in recent months. This is largely a consequence of the growing perception that the government is far from sincere about tackling corruption in high places. What has added to the unpopularity of the government has been its inability to control inflation in general and food prices in particular. Compounding its problems has been the slowdown in the economy and a hostile international economic environment. The anger and outrage of large sections of the population about corruption, inevitably articulated by a stridently vocal section of the middle classes in urban areas, has found expression and empathy in the support and solidarity being given to certain representatives of civil society. Nature abhors vacuum. The vacuum that has been caused by the weakness of the political Opposition on the Right as well as the Left is being filled up in this unexpected manner. At a loss to counter this upsurge in popular resentment, the government and the ruling party is stooping low and thereby, unwittingly, exposing the chinks in its armour. First, the attack by Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh — with more than a little help from former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh and his expertise in the area of disclosure of tapped phone conversations — focussed on Shanti Bhushan's properties. The powers-that-be presumed that they had succeeded in raising doubts about the credibility of the Bhushan father-son duo. Subsequently, the fine print of the reports of the commission of inquiry headed by Justice P.B. Sawant on various trusts controlled by Mr Hazare and his supporters was resurrected to claim that he was "neck-deep" in corruption. (Baba Ramdev, with his many companies and his aide whose nationality was questioned, turned out to be a relatively easier target.) Thereafter, the attacks have become more acrimonious, revealing a certain degree of desperation. On Sunday, the ruling party claimed Mr Hazare was suffering from "grandeurisation" which is supposed to be a combination of delusions of grandeur and grandstanding. Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari described the group around Mr Hazare as a "conglomeration of armchair fascists, closet anarchists and overground Maoists funded by invisible donors". Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal added: "His attack on the PM is unlike a Gandhian. A fast is meant for personal purification and not publicity". The Congress and the government would have been better off if their spokespersons had been more temperate in their language and not put spokes in the wheel of a peaceful agitation. By their counter-attacks, they are making Mr Hazare a superstar which he is not. One may have a lot of quibbles with his views and with the Jan Lokpal Bill which is certainly no quick-fix solution to curb corruption in the country. The Prime Minister is right. There is indeed no magic wand either to contain corruption or, for that matter, rising food prices. The problem here is one of credibility — rather, the absence of it. Dr Singh's government is being seen to have just not done enough to bring down inflation. On the contrary, he and his confidantes have been making periodic predictions about an imminent fall in the inflation rate which never seems to materialise. As for corruption, the government is not being given credit for the fact that Suresh Kalmadi is behind bars or, for that matter, the removal of Ashok Chavan from the post of chief minister of Maharashtra. There is a perception that those in the highest echelons of the government knew exactly what Mr Kalmadi, a Congress MP, was doing but chose to turn a blind eye in the interest of a smooth conduct of the Commonwealth Games. As far as Mr Chavan is concerned, two of his predecessors, Sushil Shinde and Vilasrao Deshmukh, are sitting pretty in the Cabinet. Whereas the names of all three former chief ministers of Maharashtra have come up in the context of the Adarsh Housing Society scam, the last-mentioned was severely indicted by the Supreme Court in a money-lending case that took place during his tenure. As for A. Raja, the fact is that the government did not act against him until it was literally forced to do so by the Supreme Court of India. When it rains, it doesn't rain; it pours. This analogy may be singularly inappropriate at a time when Lord Indra is not smiling benevolently on the country. The torrential flow of bad news has come at a time when the growth rate of the Indian economy has slowed down. What is worse, the world economy looks particularly vulnerable. The American debt crisis has highlighted what was apprehended by many, which is that the Great Recession that began in 2007 and peaked the following year is far from over three years down the line. With the crisis in the US economy showing no signs of abating in a hurry, there is considerable consternation about whether the dreaded "W-shaped", double-dip recession will soon become reality. That would be terrible news indeed, especially since global investment flows have shrunk and the Doha Round of negotiations at the TO are in paralysis. The finance ministry has more or less fallen in line with what the RBI has been saying for a while: that it will be tough for the economy to grow above eight per cent during the current financial year, that after a good start the monsoon has spread unevenly, and, most importantly, expecting the inflation rate to come down substantially would be unrealistic. With interest rates likely to remain hard, the domestic investment climate appears dull (with many large Indian entrepreneurs preferring to invest outside the country). Consequently, the growth-inflation trade-off could well degenerate into a stagflation-like situation in the foreseeable future. Those in government are putting up a brave front but they can at best hope to bungle along till the next big test comes its way, namely, elections to the Legislative Assembly of the country's largest state, Uttar Pradesh. * Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator
'I' FOR INEQUALITY
Last week, as television brought the riots in Britain into the living room, images from a visit to another town more than 20 years ago came hurtling back. It was early 1990 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Apart from its notorious religious divide, what I remember most graphically about that city was a forest of dish antennae in a housing estate in a very poor neighbourhood. Satellite television had not yet arrived in India, and colour TV was still a status symbol. My Indian eyes were startled to see satellite TV dishes sprouting from peeling walls. Curious, I went inside one of those run-down apartment blocks and started talking to the residents. Many of the young men and women were glued to their TV sets the whole day. Most did not have work, and had not seen their parents work either. Through the 1990s, as I travelled, I got used to more such visual paradoxes. The image of the BlackBerry-wielding looter kindled those memories and raised questions anew. Personally, I think the time for debating whether the miscreants were part of the "feral, something-for-nothing underclass" or members of Britain's "lost generation" — misguided and socially excluded — is over. They may not have all been downtrodden. But whatever they were or weren't, clearly, none of them had any stake in the system. Few who feel part of a "community" would loot or torch a community-owned shop. It was not just London's high street that took the brunt. The youngsters who looted, burnt and attacked the police have tossed up issues which go far beyond Britain's shores. We need to debate them in our own interest. Does having a BlackBerry mean having a future? How do we deal with people who have BlackBerry, but no sense of belonging to the community in which they live? Back home, the "I" word this week has been Independence. But in India, as in Britain, is it time to bring that other "I" word, inequality, out of the closet? Independent India at 64 has a lot to be proud of. The economic progress of the last two decades has improved the lives of millions and has given us global standing. But there are millions more who cannot tap new opportunities because they lack the basic attributes to get them out of the poverty trap. Nearly 30 per cent of Indians still cannot read or write, according to the most recent National Family Health Survey. And almost half the children under the age of five (48 per cent) are chronically malnourished. That means they are too short for their age or stunted. Without education, skills and good health, how are the millions at the bottom expected to tap into opportunities in the new Indian economy or reap the benefits of globalisation? And now there are many still in the poverty trap but no longer blissfully ignorant of what others are doing. The spread of satellite TV, Internet, cellphones and social media has enabled people everywhere to know about the lifestyles of the richest, both domestic and international. Comparisons are inevitable, and so is the spectre of new tension. Street riots in Britain are just one example. And that is why the "I" word is no longer just the pet peeve of Left-liberal commentators. Consider some of the others who are loudly and publicly worrying about the dangers of a rising gap between the rich and the rest. In the wake of the riots in Britain, the Economist, hardly a mouthpiece of the Left, observed, "There is clearly a cadre of young people in Britain who feel they have little or no stake in the country's future or their own. The barriers that prevent most youngsters from running amok — an inherent sense of right and wrong; concern for their job and education prospects; shame — seem not to exist in the minds of the rioters. Britain needs to try and understand it." The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has also sounded the alarm on rising inequalities in the region. Topping the list of challenges that Asian leaders face and would need to address is "increasing inequality within countries, which could undermine social cohesion and stability", according to "Asia 2050: Realising the Asian Century", a recent ADB report. India's corruption scandals and mutinous civil society are in the news. The steady drip-drip of news about the crores of rupees that have been looted alongside flagrant display of obscene wealth by some makes for a deadly cocktail, especially at a time when millions are being ravaged by inflation. Social unrest is erupting in China as well. Recently, thousands of rioters took to the streets in the south-west of that country, with some smashing and burning vehicles, after a municipal official reportedly injured a woman while trying to confiscate her bicycle for illegal parking. The riots carried on the whole night, the city's main roads were blocked, and some 10 police officers were wounded. This is one among several manifestations of recent public protests in China, underlining the many paradoxes that exist alongside rapid economic growth. The persistence of inequality could trigger social and political tensions, and lead to conflict on a much larger scale than we have seen. Rising inequalities pose a risk to stability and, therefore, to growth and economic progress, cautions the ADB report. "Growth plus inclusion," therefore, has to be more than just nice-sounding words. Inequality is rising across the country and India@64 needs to discuss why, with an open mind. Just two figures illustrate the alarming chasm within the country. In a nation of a billion plus, only 35 million, or about three per cent of our population, pay income tax. * Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at email@example.com
ARE YOU REALLY FREE?
I am inspired to explore ideas of freedom in this month of freedom — go deeper, from the external into the internal realm, from the metaphorical-philosophical to the practical relevance of the idea of freedom in our average daily lives. We appreciate the popularly aspired idea of "born free" where every individual deserves to be born to freedom defined in terms of common parameters like equal and just economic, health and political opportunities. The closely linked spiritual context would add attainment of moksha as the ultimate form of aspired freedom for all living forms. Such liberation may not come easy as different sects of faiths and beliefs have their own prescription about the spiritual path for attaining God, the ultimate symbol of freedom. So is achieving this freedom a tall order? And if all of these ingredients were in place, would we be free? There is a basic Vedic tenet which can be used here as a suitable illustration: "Yatha pinde tatha brahmande". This means, the universe is but an expansion of the processes observed in the micro-pinda body of ours, that we hold the mystery of an entire universe within our own being. Hence, if we were to understand, learn to engage through practice and master the art of working one micro body, it would stand representative for the entire universe. Such is the importance of individual training as the critical functional founding unit of the cosmos — Brahmand. But shifting focus on ourselves to build a world of greater freedom is not an easy task. What does freedom mean to most of us in our daily lives? It would be interesting to ask this question and observe answers. Don't be surprised at the findings — they may reveal yourself to be a prisoner of unexpected chains and gridlocks of your anger, jealousy, anxiety, fear, sorrow, desires, ambitions, attachments, past regret, future uncertainties and many more. Given the choice of experiencing freedom closest to my heart, I would seek release from these mental burdens that I carry all the time on my person, making me a miserable prisoner locked up inside my mind, a dungeon of negative thought processes. Here I would like to share a quote of Buddha as a possible roadmap for finding the escape route to freedom: "All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him." Living with mindful awareness is a constant, 24x7 practice of meditation that alerts our mind to our seed negative thoughts, which can be then transformed into positive compassionate understanding so that we are saved future pain from ill-informed negative actions. Let us practise walking on the path of positive journey which automatically brings us to the land of freedom, not a distant destination but an approachable experience available to us provided we develop the tools to appreciate it. Lord Buddha said: "I do not care to know your various theories about God. What is the use of discussing all the subtle doctrines about the soul? Do good and be good. And this will take you to freedom and to whatever truth there is." — Poonam Srivastava has published a book of Zen poetry, A Moment for the Mind, which expounds on the practice of Mindfulness Meditation. She is also involved in popularising new ideas of change in the social sector. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
ARREST THE SLIDE
''GOVERNANCE HAS DETERIORATED OVER THE YEARS.''
Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day is a privilege accorded to the incumbent prime minister, but at a time of great turmoil and expectation, prime minister Manmohan Singh, making his eighth consecutive I-Day speech on Monday, could not have sounded more hollow or tired.
He covered a range of issues from corruption to inflation to internal security to land acquisition. He had nothing new to offer on the issue of fighting corruption and stuck to his party and government's known position. Much as every one agrees with him that there is no magic wand to end corruption, he would have carried more credibility if the government had taken convincing steps to deal with it. With Team Anna Hazare snapping at his government's heels, Manmohan Singh simply can't get away with excuses for not instituting an effective Lokpal to deal with corruption.
Of course, Independence Days are occasions for national stocktaking and renewal of the commitment to the ideas on which the nation was founded. Some of these principles are freedom, equality, participatory democracy and good governance. Through the roller coaster ride of the nation state for more than half a century some of these principles have been challenged but in the end the spirit of 1947 has always won.
There were times when one or another of the ideas seemed to be more important than or in conflict with others. But ultimately there was realisation that it was their interdependence that made the totality of the national idea strong and sustaining. The state of the nation has sometimes worsened from one August 15 to the next, but has brightened up later.
The nation seems to be in such a phase now. Governance has deteriorated over the years at the Centre and in states. Ideas of accountability of those holding public offices and transparency in public life and policy have suffered. The pervasiveness of corruption and the inability and unwillingness of governments to fight it have become the distinguishing themes of the last year.
The redemptive feature is that there is resistance by the people and a keenness to stop the slide, and they are expressed by a wide spectrum of society across the country. There is an attempt to calumniate this urge as anarchic and undemocratic. But we know from experience that such corrective movements have often wielded greater moral and political force than cynical and stubborn establishments.
TIME TO INTROSPECT
''INDIA WENT INTO THE ENGLAND SERIES UNDERCOOKED.''
Their performances hardly reflective of their top-dog status, India surrendered the world number one Test ranking to England most abjectly last weekend. It wasn't so much the loss of the top spot as the manner in which Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men undid all the good work of the last three years that was particularly galling.
For three Tests running, India have been thoroughly outclassed and battered by an England side playing at the top of its game. For the first time since they were crushed 3-0 by Australia in 1999-2000, India face the genuine prospect of a whitewash, a far cry from four months ago when the nation was on a collective high following the emotional World Cup triumph in Mumbai.
While India deserve the strongest condemnation and censure for the lack of fight and spirit in England, it will be little short of myopic to overlook the consistency at home and overseas that catapulted them to the top spot in the first place. Insular experts in England have questioned if India ever deserved the number one ranking.
They are, it must be surmised, ignorant because they are unaware of the path India charted to the top place, not unlike England have done now. Before this tour, India hadn't lost a Test series since August 2008. Indeed, this was Dhoni's first series loss as skipper since he assumed charge in November 2008. India haven't done anything in England to do justice to their position at the helm, but that shouldn't detract from the array of glittering performances, that allowed them to scale the summit.
India went into the England series somewhat undercooked, and were dogged by ill-luck as they lost a string of key players, none more so than Zaheer Khan, to injuries. That said, at no stage have they replicated the steely resolve and character of the past. Their supposed strength, the famed batting, has turned out to be their Achilles' heel.
Not once in six innings have they even threatened 300, and barring Rahul Dravid, no one else has showcased the temperament and technique needed to counter an English attack that fused familiarity with conditions and high skill levels to a nicety. The temptation for a radical overhaul in the face of this unprecedented pasting will be overwhelming, but this is more a time for introspection than for knee-jerk, panic reactions.
OUR OWN APARTHEID BY SAEED NAQVI
LIVING IN SEPARATION, IT IS SO EASY FOR HINDUS AND MUSLIMS TO CONJURE UP OGRES, ONE ABOUT THE OTHER, DURING PERIODS OF STRESS.
It was an extraordinary group of five that turned up at Delhi's Jama Masjid at 3.30 am last week for 'Saheri,' or the last meal before the day's fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Saheri derives from Saher which means dawn.
Only those in the vicinity of mosques make it a congregational affair. And, when the mosque happens to be one of the world's great monuments, Jama Masjid, people sometimes travel long distances to participate in this remarkable confluence of faith and aesthetics. The incentive to visit the area multiplies because of several well known restaurants, particularly Karim's renowned for a special fare during Ramadan — Nihari, mutton cooked all night on slow fire and paya, or goat's trotters, with 'khamiri' roti or leavened bread.
These may sound like mouth watering delicacies but not when one of us happens to be an Arya Samaji, acute vegetarian, Swami Agnivesh, from head to toe in his elegant saffron outfit. (I carried from home cooked vegetables for him.) Others in the group were Lord Meghnad Desai, a Nagar Brahmin from Gujarat, now member of the House of Lords who was in the reckoning to be the Speaker plus a distinguished professor at the London School of Economics.
His wife, Kishwar Ahluwalia a Sikh by origin, a writer and their daughter, Mallika, who has just completed her masters in politics at Harvard and wishes to plunge headlong into Indian politics — an eclectic group, you would say.
My qualifications as a Ramadan guide would be quite as suspect as Ghalib's would have been. Asked by a magistrate to declare his religion, Ghalib said: 'I am half a Muslim.' The puzzled law officer asked him to clarify. 'I drink but I do not eat pork!' In his letters, he is frank about his attitude to fasts. 'I keep the fast mollified – a piece of bread here, a gulp of water there.'
Let me place on record the fact the each one of the group except Meghnad (he had to travel) actually fasted that day in exactly the sort of spirit that many of us participate in Deepawali, Holi or Christmas. The simple compact is: your religion exudes a culture which decorates my spaces too and the other way around!
Every Ramadan, I visit Jama Masjid with family and non Muslim friends in pursuit of a singular purpose. This is my small contribution towards making ourselves aware of the apartheid system in which we live. Apartheid, as we know from South Africa and Rhodesia, means separate development.
In South Africa, apartheid, consisted in parcelling whites, Indians and African Blacks in totally separate compartments. It was in Lenasia, the prosperous exclusively Indian township (two swimming pools per bungalow were not unknown) that I first learnt how comfortable Indians can be with this kind of separation.
Preserving purity of race
Jayant Patil, a Lenasia businessman, told me in 1992 (on TV) that apartheid was 'good' because it 'helps us keep the race pure.' How would Mahatama Gandhi, who spent 21 years in South Africa, have reacted?
This annual ritual was triggered by an incident in Allahabad. I was jolted out of my shoes during a lecture to a group of youth during communal tensions in Allahabad soon after Babari Masjid was demolished. I asked for the Hindus in the group to raise their hands.
Half the hands went up. I asked how many had Muslim friends. Not one. I asked the remainder, all Muslims, if anyone of them had ever seen a 'tulsi' (Holy Basil) plant in a traditional Hindu courtyard. Not one had.
Does it not resemble apartheid? In fact, it appears to me to be even more pernicious because here separation has not been imposed. It has evolved voluntarily. Living in separate compartments, it is so easy for popular imagination to conjure up ogres, one about the other, during periods of stress. Worse than a negative image, however, is total disinterest in each other. This disinterest, at the level of governance, becomes benign neglect of the disadvantaged group, in this case Muslims.
What was the profit from this group's visit to Jama Masjid? Well, we saw warm, smiling, hospitable people. Declining quality of cuisine. Total lack of any civic contribution to a sense of décor or cleanliness. It were not just the grimy streets, but even the wide stairs leading upto an ill kept gate opening onto a jewel of a monument, one of the very best in the world. History is being lost as the number of visitors, both Indian and foreign, decline in direct proportion to the squalor on the pavements.
There clearly has to be a muscular Jama Masjid in Ramadan Committee to take responsibility for lights, cleanliness, and general ambience. The Lt Governor and chief minister must at least visit the area to see what they can do.
As for corroding the apartheid system, Swami Agnivesh and others were quick to latch onto a social engineering idea the late Basheer Hussain Zaidi spelt out. 'Let every Muslim family in the country find a corresponding Hindu one (and vice versa) as a friend to be visited every month — not just for a meal but even such serious consultation as fixing the date for the daughter's wedding.'
I know this language is syrupy nonsense to most today, but not to Swami Agnivesh. Incidentally, is uninstitutional apartheid not part of the problem behind the current violence in Britain?
LET THE ANNA IN YOU TAKE YOU TO AZAD MAIDAN
Democracy's biggest festival will be on display today. When lakhs of indians all over the country will be taking small steps that will give strength and fillip to one giant leap- of a nation against corruption. Today is India's A day, when we unite in support of not just a man called Anna Hazare but also a spirit of awakening that this gentle Gandhian has instilled in us.
Somehow, the essence of this spirit gets lost in the myriad twists and turns of the Lok Pal bill and the Anna vs Government debate on the nature of the bill. Let us step back from the legalities and difficulties of the Lok Pal bill and the nitty gritties of its implementation and see this from our hearts. When has the generation born in the seventies till now, seen a spontaneous non political citizens movement against the biggest albatross around the neck of free India-corruption?
When has facebook, twitter and the humble email joined hands with the good old posters, pens and paper to communicate the spirit of a movement which healthily feeds on each other and makes it grow?
When has the nation screamed in one voice –forget the semantics, admit that we are a corrupt nation and cleanse it?
The government should not mistake this as a movement for Anna's Lok Pal Bill. It is a movement against corruption. The battle is not for the medicine which will cure, the battle is to get the government show the resolve to admit to the disease and get ready for treatment.
August 16, will be historic day. And it doesn't matter if Anna is picked up or arrested. The Nation will neither be picked up or arrested. The Nation has picked itself up in anger, defiance and disgust.
On Aug 28, 1963, Martin Kuther King jr, delivered one of the most defining speeches in the history of the civilization, known as the "I have a dream" speech, where he called for and an end to , in the pinnacle of the civil rights movement in America. Here's an extract from that speech
"It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges"
In twelve days time, it will be the fiftieth anniversary of this speech. Read it in the context of India's movement against corruption as Luther Kings movement was against white oppression. This nation will not return to business as usual. There will neither rest or tranquility till the Indian is granted freedom from corruption.
For us in Goa, let us go to Azad Maidan today to seize this freedom and shake the foundations of this nation until the bright day of a corruption free India emerges.
COMPARING 'THEN' AND 'NOW'
In another four months Goa will be getting ready to celebrate 50 years of liberation from Portuguese colonialism. Some people even call it 450 years of slavery. I was 18 years old when the Portuguese were forced to leave Goa. With the B.B.S.M. going hammer and tongs at Digu-bab over the medium of instruction issue and accusing him of inviting linguistic slavery, I decided to compare the Goa of today with the Goa of my childhood and teen years.
So here we go:-
1. Mud roads have been replaced by tarred roads. Although many of the tarred roads are nothing but short strips of asphalt connecting thousands of potholes.
2. An average of one murder every 20 years has been replaced by 20 murders every year. The number is increasing. Some murders are passed-off as suicides or accidents.
3. One suicide per year has now given way to one suicide a week and these numbers are rising rapidly too.
4. Sometimes it rained in Goa for days on end, but we never experienced flooding. Now if it rains heavily for a couple of hours our ferry-boats can cross into our towns and cities after crossing the rivers.
5. Throughout the year every man, woman and child had access to free, clean, sometimes medicinal potable water from wells, springs and even surface water. Today water is becoming an increasingly rare and expensive commodity. As for potable water, the less said the better. For those who can afford it they can buy bottled water or risk contracting dysentery, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis or worse.
6. Of course now there are free hospitals where people can be admitted if poisoned by 'potable' water. But later you might find you have been infected by A.I.D.S. or hepatitis or some infectious disease that was unheard of 50 years ago in Goa.
But thank God for the tremendous strides we have made in the medical field. We now have a special hospital that deals with infectious diseases in Ponda. So the patient can always be rushed there on our potholed roads. Of course we still do have problems with malfunctioning autoclaves and sterilising equipment. Fungus on the walls of operating theatres, clogged toilets etc. But once we go for the P.P.P. mode, these problems will all go away. There may be a few lakhs of people who cannot get admission into these P.P.Ps
7. Fifty years ago there was no garbage or sewage for all to smell and get sick. But then there were no stray dogs or crows. These scavengers thrive on garbage. So today we have a million crows and half a million stray dogs thriving on garbage.
8. 50 years ago I remember the whole of Bardez being controlled from the Mapusa 'Camara'. It was run by one 'Paklo' officer with the assistance of six African or Angolan policemen. The whole of Bardez was permanently de-criminalised. Today, the Mapusa police station has under its jurisdiction any number of police stations and police out-posts. These are manned by dozens of officers PIs, PSIs, and hundreds of beat-policemen, but every conceivable crime is being reported at these police stations throughout the day. The worst part is that people are afraid to complain about a crime, to these upholders of the law lest the tables be turned on them.
9. We all remember the officers who sold confiscated drugs back to the drug-peddlers. There are also those officers who helped disseminate counterfeit currency notes into the system.
10. We all remember the custodial death of Cipriano Fernandes and the suicide of constable Gawas at the crime branch.
However, I feel our greatest achievement is our secretariat replacing Adil Shah's palace, especially when I watch the proceedings (on T.V.) of the assembly in session. They give a complete new meaning to 'Satyameva Jayate'.
THE BLAZE AND THE BLAME
THE STATE REPORT ON THE CARMEL FIRE RESPONSE HAS SEARED THE PRIME MINISTER. HE AND ALL OTHERS RESPONSIBLE MUST GIVE A PUBLIC ACCOUNTING SO THAT OFFICIALS WILL NEVER FEEL THEY HAVE DONE THEIR DUTY BY SENDING LETTERS TO EACH OTHER.
On Sunday, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss sent his draft report on last December's Carmel fire disaster to some 20 civil servants and elected officials. The final report, which will reflect the recipients' responses, will be published only after the Jewish holidays in October; and perhaps upon reading these responses, the comptroller will suddenly see some factual or legal point in a different light than previously, enabling the respondent in question to escape unscathed.
Nevertheless, the bulk of the report is expected to remain as is, including the harsh wording drafted by Lindenstrauss and employees of his office. It is already fair therefore to see this as a landmark in the history of the comptroller's work: It assigns blame to ministers and, above all, the prime minister - either because they were personally negligent, or merely because the systems for which their ministries were responsible failed.
This does not absolve the relevant functionaries of responsibility, each according to his own level. But it seems the comptroller was wise enough to assign blame proportionally: The more senior the office-holder and the greater his power, so too, the greater his obligations and responsibility are.
Therefore, if the comptroller discovers problems in the staff work of the police and Prison Service, or in how they functioned in the field, there is an address - the public security minister. If he shines his spotlight on the long list of serious problems at the Interior Ministry (in the firefighting services, for which it was responsible at the time, in the local authorities and in the functioning of Interior Minister Eli Yishai personally), it will be proper to move from faceless, generalized statements to focusing responsibility on the most senior official.
And if the subject is the Finance Ministry, which, in its well-intentioned but presumptuous effort to curb government spending, allocated funds in a miserly manner that undermined the preparedness of the fire and rescue services, who knows better than Finance Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz that there is no effect without a cause, and no guilt without a guilty party?
But above all - precisely where he longed to be, in the position he first attained, then lost and finally returned to - is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His public response upon receiving the draft report was eyebrow-raising but typical: There were "decades of neglect" - meaning all the years in which he served as either prime minister or finance minister.
This report has seared the prime minister. Now, he and all the other responsible parties must give a public accounting, so that elected officials will never again feel they have done their duty merely by sending letters to each other.
THE GREAT GIVEAWAY
IT IS NOT CLEAR THAT YEARS OF PRIVATE OWNERSHIP HAVE DONE BUSINESS GOOD, BUT THE SALE HAS BROUGHT VAST RICHES TO THOSE WHO BOUGHT THE COMPANY, PROFITS THAT COULD HAVE DIRECTLY BENEFITED THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL IF THE COMPANY HAD NOT BEEN PRIVATIZED.
BY MOSHE ARENS
When the time finally came to reform Israel's economy, after years of the Histadrut labor federation owning and controlling much of the country, privatization became one of the mantras of the reformers.
"The government has no business to be in business" the reformers said. And generally, they were right. Why should government bureaucrats run businesses? What do they, who are no more than administrative clerks, know about running a business? Turn it over to the private sector, to the entrepreneur who knows how to turn a profit, who will know how to cut waste and will never forget the bottom line.
And so the great giveaway began. In Russia, as the Soviet Union collapsed, private individuals with initiative grabbed many of the natural resources of that great country and became oligarchic billionaires overnight.
In Israel, it was not to be that easy. There would have to be competitive bidding for the purchase of the controlling interest of a government company on the block, and the purchaser usually needed to obtain huge bank loans in order to finance the acquisition.
When it came to selling government controlled banks, the potential bidder would have to pass inspection by the Bank of Israel. Within a few years, not helter-skelter but at a pretty good pace, Israeli governments succeeded in selling off a good number of government companies, and the age of the tycoons began.
Looking back over the years, some of these transactions may appear to be successful from the national point of view, but most certainly not all of them. Look, for example, at Israel Chemicals, a company that exploited Israel's natural resources in the Dead Sea, chemicals which belonged to the nation and were in growing demand throughout the world.
It is not clear that the years of private ownership have done the business good, but the sale has certainly brought vast riches to those who bought the company, profits that could have directly benefited the people of Israel if the company had not been privatized.
Was it sold for the right price, by the government bureaucrats who managed the sale, or did it end up being a giveaway? And how about the Israel Land Development Company sold for a small fraction of its real value.
"What's done cannot be undone", Lady Macbeth said. But what about the future? Is there great value hidden in companies presently owned by the government that may be for sale, and would this sale be justified? And to whom would it be sold, and at what price?
These questions are relevant when we look at Israel's defense industries, which are still mostly government owned. They are a gold mine. A store of knowledge, technology and experience that has been amassed over the years by virtue of great investments and the application of Israeli high tech and manpower.
They are among Israel's most advanced industries, largest companies and biggest exporters. Rafael advanced defense systems, the government-owned weapons developer, is today the leading tactical missile maker in the world.
Israel Aircraft Industries has the potential of being the world's aerospace leader. Israel Military Industries, one of its most profitable operations, is being sold off and is presently mired in debt and deficits. Nevertheless, it has considerable potential if properly managed.
The government has given notice that it intends to privatize Israel Aircraft Industries, has withdrawn its plans to merge IMI with Rafael and wants to privatize IMI. Is this wise? Who is making these decisions? Are they being made by people who know the aerospace business, or by clerks obsessed with privatizing everything?
It should be clear that when it comes to the defense industries, we are dealing with a national treasure that should not be lightly given away. Past mistakes should not be repeated.
The idea that some tycoon, who knows nothing about the aerospace business, is going to run it more efficiently is most likely all wrong. Leveraging the know-how that exists in these industries in world markets and increasing the value of these companies for the benefit of the country will not be accomplished by new owners hungry for immediate returns on the bank loans they have taken.
It can be done, but it is not likely to be achieved by hasty privatization.
IT'S TIME FOR A MILITARY HAIRCUT
ALL OF BARAK'S TALK ABOUT SOCIAL SENSITIVITY IS ONLY DECEPTION. HE IS DEMANDING AN ADDITION TO HIS BUDGET, WHEN HE KNOWS VERY WELL THAT WITHOUT A DEEP CUT IN DEFENSE, IT WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE TO RESPOND TO EVEN A SMALL PART OF THE TENT PROTEST.
I almost stopped breathing when I heard the words of MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima), chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee: "We have to open the defense budget already today, and to cut back. Don't let them threaten us, because I won't panic."
What courage, what power!
And Mofaz continued: "Channeling budgets to social welfare is a strategic move that is as important as any ambitious and pretentious project of the defense establishment. We have to spread out and streamline the project. We have to transfer the Israel Defense Forces to the outlying areas," he said, striking out mercilessly at the sacred defense cow.
But the moment I recovered and resumed breathing as usual, I recalled that Mofaz was once chief of staff and then defense minister too. During those not so distant days, he used to speak in the cabinet about "the poverty and the gaps that are destroying society," but demand additional funds for the IDF in the very same breath. "You're experts at harming the weak," he would say to the officials at the Finance Ministry, and immediately thereafter demand another NIS 1.5 billion for the army, arguing that if it were not paid immediately, the IDF would be unable to defend the Jewish people. How frightening!
At the time, Mofaz would invite a large group of senior officers, including the chief of staff, to the cabinet sessions, and they would describe the surrounding threats to the ministers, with the aid of sophisticated PowerPoint presentations showing frightening red arrows directed straight into the heart of the country. The stunned ministers would quake with fear, and the prime minister would ponder the next commission of inquiry − and they would all approve the additional funds.
And it made no difference that Israel's strategic situation had actually improved at the time, with the eastern front against it having collapsed when Iraq fell, and America a presence in the heart of the Arab world.
This is precisely the tactic of incumbent Defense Minister Ehud Barak. On the one hand, he talks about the importance of the social protest and about the fact that his Atzmaut Party "was formed with the precise purpose of dealing with social injustices." Interesting; we actually thought it was formed in order to provide jobs for several party hacks. And then, in the very same breath, he goes on to say, "We have to remember that we aren't living in Switzerland. Look what's happening around us in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Bahrain and Iran." In other words, the scare tactics continue.
But the revolutions in the Arab world, in Syria for example, may actually be reducing the dangers from there because the regime's efforts to survive are preventing it from finding time for war at this point? And maybe the economic crisis in Egypt is weakening it?
The defense budget has increased greatly in recent years. It jumped from NIS 46 billion in 2006 to NIS 54 billion this year, and will go up to NIS 55.5 billion in 2012. This is the result of the Brodet Commission to examine the defense budget, which was formed after the failure in the Second Lebanon War. The army claimed at the time that the reason for the failure was budget cuts. However, the Winograd Committee, which investigated that war, ruled that the failure was totally unrelated to the size of the defense budget, but was instead the result of unprofessional leadership and an untrained army.
But what do the facts matter? The army applied pressure and the Brodet Commission was formed. Its only role was to increase the defense budget, and it carried it out faithfully − so much so that that the government decided in 2007 to increase the army's budget by a whopping NIS 70 billion, to be spread out over 10 years, with NIS 46 billion taken from the state budget and NIS 24 billion to come from additional American aid.
The government decided too that the army would implement a comprehensive streamlining plan in order to strengthen it, for a total of NIS 30 billion. The army was supposed to submit its streamlining plan a long time ago, but it simply is not doing so. All it is doing is receiving the additional funds and constantly demanding more.
Kobi Haber, who was the treasury's budget director during those years, said that the Brodet Commission would only represent the minimum demands of the defense establishment, and that is exactly what is happening. Only recently did the IDF present the National Security Council with a plan to increase the defense budget by another NIS 10 in 2013, in order to prepare for all the surrounding dangers.
In other words, all Barak's talk about social sensitivity is only deception. He is demanding an addition to his budget, when he knows very well that without a deep cut in defense, it will be impossible to respond to even a small part of the tent protest.
TIME TO RAISE A RUCKUS - IN RUSSIAN
SO WHY AREN'T THE RUSSIAN-SPEAKERS BEING HEARD, YOU ASK? PERHAPS WE ARE TOO OBEDIENT, TOO CAPTIVATED BY THE MAGIC WORDS "FREE MARKET," TOO DESPAIRING.
BY LIZA ROZOVSKY
When Foreign Minister Avidgdor Lieberman and his flock brand the tent protest "rich-people's problems," are they taking into account the people Yisrael Beiteinu claims to represent - the immigrants from the former Soviet Union - whose voice is hardly heard among the tents?
All the data indicate that this community is very far from rich, and has its share of housing problems. In fact, it is the main victim of housing prices in Israel.
The construction of public housing was halted by the first Netanyahu government, while Lieberman was director general of the Prime Minister's Office. This was six years after the large immigration wave from the former Soviet Union started.
Let's ignore the cynical attempt of Netanyahu's first government to "compensate" the needier immigrants with densely-packed "matchboxes" the state paid contractors exorbitant prices for. Let's not talk about the State Comptroller's report of 2010, which found the conditions in the public housing that still remained constitute an "infringement on human dignity" and let's not try to figure out how many billions landlords made at the expense of the Russian-speaking immigrants.
Even without all these, it is absolutely clear that privatizing the housing market and the price rises hurt renters first and foremost. The Central Bureau of Statistics' figures show that in 2008 only 47 percent of the immigrants, less than half, owned apartments.
Let's put aside the young immigrants, whose parents will never be able to help them buy an apartment, and the tens of thousands who immigrated in middle age, make minimum wage and have no chance of receiving a decent pension. Let's focus only on the weakest of the weak.
There are 140,000 families in Israel who live on allowances for the elderly, income supplements and/or receive rental assistance from the Housing and Construction Ministry. These consist of the elderly, single mothers and disabled people.
The absolute majority of them are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The assistance grants have not been adjusted to the price index for years. The grant for a single person is NIS 650 to NIS 1,000 a month. A family receives a grant of NIS 700 - NIS 1,250 a month.
With these sums one cannot rent even a single room - certainly not in the center of the country. The elderly immigrants make up the difference from their income supplement (about NIS 2,700 per person, NIS 4,000 per couple ). Do you want to know what is left for the remaining expenses - medicine, transportation, food, electricity? Use your imagination.
So why aren't the Russian-speakers being heard, you ask? Perhaps we are too obedient, too captivated by the magic words "free market," too despairing.
Perhaps the needy among us don't know Hebrew well enough to get on the pulpit. Whatever the reason, this silence is disastrous. The programs Netanyahu has presented in answer to the protest make no mention of challenges faced by the immigrants, nor will there be.
If this is the situation now, at the peak of the protest, what will happen when the storm blows over? Who will speak out for the immigrants? Who will care for them in their old age?
One thing is certain - it will not be Lieberman. But someone must do the job. Otherwise, any result the housing protest yields will miss the housing crisis' main victims. It is time the Russian-speaking immigrants stop being amenable, obedient, cynical tenants, unite and raise a bit of ruckus with their landlords. Afterward it will be too late.
The writer is a Russian-language journalist and a staff member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
CURLING UP ON OUR SUMMER SOFA
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA WILL NOT SAVE NETANYAHU; OBAMA'S OPENING POSITIONS BECOME MORE FLEXIBLE THE CLOSER WE COME TO A DEAL, WHILE NETANYAHU IS ADOPTING THE TRIED-AND-TESTED ISRAELI METHOD: THE HELL WITH STRATEGY AND LONG LIVE TACTICS.
BY AMIR OREN
Newly born Israel arose while suffering a surprise blow. On the morning of May 15, 1948, Egypt's air force dared attack Israel's sleepy air force at Sde Dov. Sometimes, however, the surprised is the one that pulls a surprise. During the Six Day War it was one way, during the Yom Kippur War it was another.
In fact, during the 1973 war, Israel surprised itself, because the events deviated from its fundamental security concept, which is based on a fear of bad surprises. This view is founded on intelligence alerts and a rapid transition from the routine of a small regular army to the mobilization of reserve units. The idea is that the one who "comes to kill you" is the one who gets killed when he arrives; for example, when King Hussein moved a tank brigade west of the Jordan River, or the flow of Egyptian tank units to the Sinai Peninsula.
In view of the importance of the element of surprise in Israeli strategic thinking, a strange surprise has taken shape in recent weeks. Sweeping alerts, which sound like public invitations to a duel, have been received with yawning disinterest. For reasons of his own, the teacher informs his students that "there will be a surprise quiz tomorrow," and the pupils are apathetic and do nothing with this valuable information. The Palestinians announce that on September 20 they will obtain the UN General Assembly's consent to establish an independent state, and Israel curls up on its summer sofa - everyone inside his tent or next to the air conditioner, especially the person named Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the case of that old surprise, the 1973 war, the story's protagonist, Anwar Sadat, warned in every public and secret outlet that war was on the horizon. His warnings were recorded but not understood; the steps that had to be taken in line with these warnings were too taxing for Israel's political leaders, so the warnings were never digested.
This time, the speaker is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is buoyed by international support and popular demonstrations. And he's warning about violence and even about resigning, which would plunge the West Bank into political chaos. His hands on the helm, Netanyahu is speeding straight ahead; he is standing up straight and completely still, ignoring warnings about falling into the abyss. Another 40 days and he will be thrust out of this comfort zone.
U.S. President Barack Obama will not save Netanyahu; Obama's opening positions become more flexible the closer we come to a deal. A creative diplomatic maneuver at the last moment could stave off a bad outcome, but since politicians hate to make decisions, lest they anger their opponents (and their supporters would also find reasons to oppose decisions ), Netanyahu is adopting the tried-and-tested Israeli method: the hell with strategy and long live tactics.
The prime minister is allowing the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet security service and the police to devise a "comprehensive operational plan: the prevention and control of disorderly disturbances and terror acts, with a minimum of gains notched by the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs in the realm of public consciousness, while encouraging early intelligence gathering and preparation at expected points of confrontation, using a large deployment of trained forces, all for the purpose of guarding the sovereignty of the state, its laws and public order."
This densely worded statement would leave any news presenter breathless. And there, alongside Netanyahu, is Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whose resume sounds like a Frank Sinatra song. At 20 he received his first decoration from the IDF chief of staff, at 30 he commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, at 40 he became a major general, at 50 he was chief of staff, at 60 he was prime minister.
And heading toward 70, he has plummeted from these heights and plays the role of Netanyahu's hapless assistant. This is a person who ardently hopes the state comptroller's report on Boaz Harpaz - in a controversy surrounding the selection of the latest chief of staff - will crucify former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. But Barak doesn't find in the comptroller's scathing report on the Carmel Forest fire any reason to distance himself from Netanyahu.
This is a moment that warrants an aggressive stance by the opposition. The opposition should enlist enough MKs to convene a no-confidence vote, dissolve the Knesset, hold early elections and put new political, security, economic and social issues on the agenda. In 1999, the crisis with the Palestinians was deferred until a new government was formed, one without Netanyahu. This surprise quiz can be deferred to a makeup date, one when we might have the correct answers.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
A RACE TO REPUDIATE GOVERNMENT
At one level, it's ridiculous that 17,000 people in a small Iowa town could cast a vote that ended the campaign of a major Republican presidential candidate, Tim Pawlenty. Given the nature of the Republican primary system — and the mood of its voters this year — it has its own grim logic. Why not let a handful of conservatives and libertarians winnow the field? It will toughen up the candidates for the extremist gauntlet to come.
That's why Mr. Pawlenty couldn't last. The principal purpose of the Ames Straw Poll these days is to trim from the bottom of the field, and this year that refers to anyone who ever harbored moderate thoughts. Although he apologized for it time and again, Mr. Pawlenty had once expressed support for sensible ideas like a cap-and-trade energy policy. There was apparently no forgiving that.
That's also why Mitt Romney — who won the straw poll four years ago — didn't bother to campaign this time. He knew that his creation of universal health care in Massachusetts while governor would be anathema to a crowd that was wildly enthusiastic for Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, the top two finishers this year.
Both parties' primary systems give far too much weight to a small coterie of true believers. This year, the Republican system is amplifying the voices of those who are determined to shut out all reasonable debate and reward only the most angry and extremist views.
Mrs. Bachmann, in fact, embodies her party's sputtering disdain for government — and outlandish and often vicious attacks on President Obama — better than any other candidate. But her fury is so volcanic, and her experience is so thin, that many Republicans have openly longed for a similarly hard-line candidate who can avoid her gaffes and appear more grounded. That created an opening for Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who instantly becomes one of the most conservative candidates ever to be taken seriously in the race for the Republican nomination.
If he wins, Governor Perry would certainly be the first modern major-party nominee to ridicule Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as "Ponzi schemes," and to suggest that the movement that produced them "was the beginning of the deterioration of our Constitution."
We look forward to hearing his explanation to the millions of Americans who not only rely on social insurance but consider it one of the finest fruits of American government. When he says he wants to make Washington "inconsequential," any voter who drives on an interstate highway or hopes to find clean water coming from a tap should listen closely.
Mr. Perry has money, has executive experience and is a better campaigner than Mrs. Bachmann. As he begins to jockey for position with her and Mr. Romney, voters will get a chance to decide whether his extreme laissez-faire message is right for a country in desperate need of strong Washington leadership and sensible government help.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A RACE TO REPUDIATE GOVERNMENT
At one level, it's ridiculous that 17,000 people in a small Iowa town could cast a vote that ended the campaign of a major Republican presidential candidate, Tim Pawlenty. Given the nature of the Republican primary system — and the mood of its voters this year — it has its own grim logic. Why not let a handful of conservatives and libertarians winnow the field? It will toughen up the candidates for the extremist gauntlet to come.
That's why Mr. Pawlenty couldn't last. The principal purpose of the Ames Straw Poll these days is to trim from the bottom of the field, and this year that refers to anyone who ever harbored moderate thoughts. Although he apologized for it time and again, Mr. Pawlenty had once expressed support for sensible ideas like a cap-and-trade energy policy. There was apparently no forgiving that.
That's also why Mitt Romney — who won the straw poll four years ago — didn't bother to campaign this time. He knew that his creation of universal health care in Massachusetts while governor would be anathema to a crowd that was wildly enthusiastic for Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, the top two finishers this year.
Both parties' primary systems give far too much weight to a small coterie of true believers. This year, the Republican system is amplifying the voices of those who are determined to shut out all reasonable debate and reward only the most angry and extremist views.
Mrs. Bachmann, in fact, embodies her party's sputtering disdain for government — and outlandish and often vicious attacks on President Obama — better than any other candidate. But her fury is so volcanic, and her experience is so thin, that many Republicans have openly longed for a similarly hard-line candidate who can avoid her gaffes and appear more grounded. That created an opening for Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who instantly becomes one of the most conservative candidates ever to be taken seriously in the race for the Republican nomination.
If he wins, Governor Perry would certainly be the first modern major-party nominee to ridicule Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as "Ponzi schemes," and to suggest that the movement that produced them "was the beginning of the deterioration of our Constitution."
We look forward to hearing his explanation to the millions of Americans who not only rely on social insurance but consider it one of the finest fruits of American government. When he says he wants to make Washington "inconsequential," any voter who drives on an interstate highway or hopes to find clean water coming from a tap should listen closely.
Mr. Perry has money, has executive experience and is a better campaigner than Mrs. Bachmann. As he begins to jockey for position with her and Mr. Romney, voters will get a chance to decide whether his extreme laissez-faire message is right for a country in desperate need of strong Washington leadership and sensible government help.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AN INDUSTRY IN NEED OF ACCOUNTABILITY
The Justice Department sent a powerful message last week when it filed suit against the nation's second-largest for-profit college company, charging it with fraudulently collecting $11 billion in federal student financial aid from 2003 through June 2011.
The suit against the Education Management Corporation, which enrolls about 150,000 students in more than 100 schools, puts the for-profit sector on notice that the government is at last prepared to move decisively against the unscrupulous conduct that appears to be all too common in the industry.
The Education Management case began in 2007 when two former employees of the company filed a lawsuit charging that the company had knowingly defrauded the government by illegally paying recruiters based on the number of students they enrolled. Federal rules that forbid incentive compensation are supposed to discourage companies from recruiting unqualified students for their federal student aid dollars.
Earlier this year, the Justice Department took the unusual step of saying that it would join the whistle-blower lawsuit, which described a "boiler room" atmosphere in which recruiters sought out poorly prepared students who had no chance of graduating.
The Justice Department's complaint, filed jointly with California, Florida, Illinois and Indiana, asserts that schools operated by Education Management falsely certified that they were complying with the law to make themselves eligible to receive student aid. The suit was filed under the False Claims Act that provides for triple damages, which could be as much as $33 billion in this case.
The for-profit schools are fighting a new Department of Education rule that will eventually cut off federal education aid to programs whose graduates end up saddled with debt they cannot repay. Having taken a strong stand, the Obama administration must now hold the line against lobbying pressure from this troubled industry that clearly needs more regulation, not less.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MILES AND MILES OF DROUGHT
This year, Texas has received less than half its normal rainfall: 6.53 inches instead of 16.03. Climatologists say this dry spell is the worst one-year drought since Texas began keeping rainfall records in 1895, and they predict that the cause of the drought — the weather created by the Pacific current called La Niña — may well extend into next year. For farmers and ranchers, this is a disaster. Agricultural losses have already surpassed the record — $4.1 billion in 2006 — and could double.
There are no economic numbers for the wider ecological impact of this drought. Half the streams and rivers in the state are running well below ordinary flow, and lakes and reservoirs are faring no better. Wildlife of every kind is suffering as badly as livestock. Even if rainfall returns to normal, the next few years are likely to see serious reproduction declines in many species, especially those that depend on grasslands. Insect-eaters — bats and many birds — may not reproduce at all. Species that migrate to Texas in winter will find a desolate landscape awaiting them.
The real fear is that this may not be a one- or two-year drought, but the kind that lasts for 30 or 40 years. Droughts of that extent appear often enough in tree-rings, which suggest that they are part of normal historical weather patterns across the Southwest. Texans who recall the last extended drought, in the 1940s and '50s, find themselves fearing that 2011 is the precursor to another desertlike decade. Like them, we earnestly hope that won't be the case. The hard part is knowing that there is almost nothing to be done except to wait and see.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHAT IS BUSINESS WAITING FOR?
BY JOE NOCERA
When the German economy turned south after the 2008 financial crisis, the pain was mitigated by a program known as "Kurzarbeit."
The word means short work. Instead of laying off workers, German companies cut back their hours. The government then used money set aside during good times to pay the workers around 60 percent of their lost wages. The labor unions went along because they believed it was better to keep people employed even at reduced pay. This is the German social compact.
As we suffer through our own economic hard times, the German approach is something we can only envy. Here, companies quickly lay off workers, many of whom never find their way back into the full-time labor force. Corporations shy away from investing for the future, even though investment is what will turn the economy around. The government, for its part, invariably starts talking about "job creation," but rarely does anything that makes a difference.
This downturn is no exception. What are the latest unemployment figures? Some 25 million people — more than 16 percent of the work force — are looking for full-time work. Companies are hoarding cash while reporting record profits.
As for the government, President Obama's idea of job creation is extending unemployment insurance, on the one hand, and painting grandiose pictures of far-off "green jobs," on the other. He is bereft of ideas for creating jobs in the here and now. Meanwhile, the Republicans insist — despite mounds of evidence to the contrary — that more tax cuts would create jobs. By now, most Americans have lost hope that our current government will come up with a viable jobs program. It won't.
I am coming more and more to think that with the government essentially paralyzed for the foreseeable future, the only way we're going to get jobs is by turning to actual job creators: business itself. With all their cash, companies shouldn't be waiting for Congress to give them tax incentives to hire people. They should be trying to jump-start the economy — and fend off another recession — by making investments, and hiring workers, that will lead to renewed prosperity.
The only way that's going to happen, however, is if our society implicitly makes the kind of compact that German society makes explicitly: We have to be willing to allow companies to sacrifice short-term profits for the long-term good of the country. As the leadership expert Michael Useem wrote recently on The Washington Post's Web site, business needs to make "people a priority, not just earnings."
What makes that hard for executives is that they've spent the last 30 years having it beaten into them that the only thing that matters is delivering "shareholder value." Over time, this phrase has become code for focusing on short-term profits — and chief executives who have ignored this mantra have often found themselves kicked to the street by impatient investors like Carl Icahn.
But as Useem points out, it hasn't always been this way — and doesn't have to be in the future. "What might seem an idée fixe of the American way is really a moment's artifice," he writes, "a prescription that served a past era but less well the current one."
Indeed, it turns out that the focus on short-term profits is nowhere enshrined in the law. On the contrary: Delaware law, where many big companies are incorporated, gives directors enormous leeway to ignore short-term gain if they believe that doing so would ultimately benefit the corporation.
Does it ultimately benefit American business if the country gets back on its feet again? It seems to me that you can make a pretty strong case for that. If enough companies started hiring — while wrapping their actions in the mantle of patriotism — even Carl Icahn might have trouble complaining about it.
There is, of course, another reason corporate executives might be reluctant to sacrifice short-term profits by putting people to work. What if their competitors didn't go along? Then they would find themselves at a disadvantage. Useem would tackle that by having a credible group like the Business Roundtable leading the charge, rounding up companies that would agree to start hiring.
But Marc Groz, a financial risk expert I've gotten to know, has what I think is a more intriguing approach, which he calls a "contingent commitment facility." "Everyone is waiting for someone else to go first," he told me the other day. Using his facility, a company would agree to hire X number of new workers. But the commitment would only become binding if certain conditions were met — such as having other companies in the same industry agree to do likewise. Once that happened, all the companies would have to do what they'd promised.
Groz's idea is new and fresh and untested. It could fail. In other words, it is exactly the kind of out-of-the-box "job creation" idea that our stymied government no longer has the ability to come up with. The ball's in business's court now.
TIMES FREE PRESS
STEVEN F. CONRAD, 1924-2011
Steven F. Conrad, who died last week in Valdosta, Ga., at 87, was not a native of Chattanooga, but a Chattanoogan by choice. His decision to live and work here was a boon to the community he was proud to call home. His willingness to serve fellow residents, his progressive outlook and his unflinching commitment to fairness and equality were the hallmarks of a life worthy of remembrance and emulation.
Conrad, a native of New York and a decorated veteran of the tough fighting in the Pacific Theater during World War II, came to Chattanooga to work at WDEF-TV. As news director and anchor there, he quickly became a community fixture, known for civic service as well as his professional achievements.
Given his willingness to serve and his concern for the community, it was a natural progression for Conrad to move from broadcasting to public service. His campaign to become Chattanooga's commissioner of public utilities was successful, and he quickly put his stamp on the office and on the city.
Chattanooga changed perceptibly during his time as commissioner. Under his direction, the number of parks, recreation centers, tennis courts and summer and beautification programs mushroomed. At a time of social unrest, he was a voice of calm and reason, urging residents to work with political, civic and religious leaders to build friendships and relationships that would help make the city stronger and more attractive.
Conrad served Hamilton County government, as well. His tenure as registrar of the Election Commission was marked by a calm that belied the sometimes stormy upheavals that were part of a changing political scene here. He fulfilled the duties of his office in a principled manner, earning praise for his fairness, efficiency and unflappability from those of all political views.
That demeanor was notable, as well, in other endeavors. Conrad was active in many civic and community groups. He was a communicant of the Lutheran Church of the Ascension and served as lay assistant to the pastors there for almost three decades. And despite his involvement in so many activities, Conrad was extraordinarily devoted to his family -- Marian, his wife of 62 years, a son and daughter, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Conrad was a man of many interests and multiple talents for whom public service was an integral part of life. Though Conrad's loss will be felt most intensely by his family, the community he served lovingly and well should remember him with both respect and appreciation.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
TACTICS WITHOUT STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN
Cables From Kabul – The inside story of the West's Afghanistan campaign. By Sherard Cowper-Coles. 296 pages. Harper Press.
Just as I was in the final pages of this new and riveting insider's account of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan over the weekend, habit prompted me to take a quick look at the news. It was a simple segue: "Nineteen people, most of them civilians, were killed and more than 30 others wounded in a suicide and gun attack on an Afghan governor's compound just north of the capital on Sunday," reported Agence France-Presse.
The latest news could have been used to illustrate the arguments of just about any chapter's insight from Sherard Cowper-Coles, the recently retired British ambassador to Kabul. Like the attack whose death toll grew throughout Sunday afternoon, the four years recounted in this book go from grim to grimmer. That America's longest war in its history was poorly conceived, disastrously executed and tragic in its implications is hardly an original thesis. Many have made that argument since it began, 10 years ago come October. But "Cables From Kabul" makes the case with unique authority. For the career diplomat, fluent in Arabic and Hebrew and later conversant in Pashtun, was hardly a novice when dispatched full of hope and enthusiasm in 2007 to help the American allies wrap up what so many in his trade – Cowper -Coles included – believed the "good war." It clearly has not been.
Loyalty to Western goals in Afghanistan is a constant theme throughout this book. And there is no shortage of praise for many of those involved, particularly British troops who were tasked on Cowper-Cole's watch for the lead military role against the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand. The ambassador evinces empathy for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his lieutenants. But the narrative quickly becomes a portrait of superpower self-delusion. "We are making progress, but challenges remain," is the refrain of almost everyone.
Cowper–Coles details his own private war with his American counterpart William Wood over the latter's plans to end opium poppy cultivation across the country by spraying poison from helicopters. He chronicles the rise of hope as the Obama Administration came to power and its subsequent fall as Americans continued to reject any political solution. Ultimately Cowper-Coles was promoted to "special representative" to match the title of new U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke. He too is pushed aside by the dominant Pentagon planners before his untimely death last December.
"One had a sense of a great leviathan rolling forward, spending money, establishing programmes, but without really knowing what everything was for, and how it would deal with the real problem," he writes.
Cowper-Coles concludes hopeful that Holbrooke's successor, former ambassador to Turkey Marc Grossman, may succeed where others have failed. But there is little sense of optimism as he details how the doctrines of counter insurgency have "the characteristics of a cult."
Only bringing the ousted Taliban itself into the discussion, only a negotiated settlement can bring peace to Afghanistan, he argues.
Let's hope that Grossman reads "Cables From Kabul."
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
CHP NEEDS TO ABANDON ARCHAIC RHETORIC ON FOREIGN POLICY
While the United States and Europe are struggling with economic crises, Middle Eastern countries are experiencing huge political/social turbulence. This situation tells us that Turkey's relations with both sides are not mutually exclusive and that one cannot be the alternative to the other.
Having said that, the turmoil in the Middle East should especially show us the asymmetry in our relations with both sides in terms of the intensity, strength and the ideological roots and structure upon which they have been developing.
Looking at it from an economic point of view, despite the difficulties facing them, European countries remain not only our main trading partners but also the most stable and predictable ones. In spite of some contraction, Turkey's exports to Europe have not been hit by a deadly blow. The advantage of having trade relations with democratic countries is that you don't need to evacuate thousands of your workers in a matter of days, as happened in Libya, or you don't need to take a flight and pay a visit to the president just to loosen the purse strings on the money owed to your entrepreneurs, as in the case of Turkmenistan.
Strong commercial ties with Europe should not impede the search for other markets. At times, however, there has been too much emphasis on other markets that were increasingly being presented as an alternative to Europe. This has led some, even within pro-Justice and Development Party, or AKP, circles to say that Turkey no longer needs the European Union.
One would hope that the current situation in the Middle East would be an eye opener that would help them understand that it is risky to rely on trade relations with anti-democratic regimes.
One would expect a similar eye-opening effect on the political front as well.
At times, the AKP has unfortunately operated on the basis that Turkey has more ideological affinity with the "Muslim" Middle East than "Christian" Europe. In the eyes of AKP circles, sharing the same religion and region was enough to have the best of relations. "We are like meat and bone. We are like the fingers of a hand," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once said to emphasize this affinity.
The failure to convince Syria to enact democratic reforms, as well as Iran's support to Damascus, has shown that we are ideologically far apart from the cruel regimes of the Middle East, far apart from the Iran-Syrian axis and that we share more with Europe than the AKP would like to admit.
In contrast to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's rhetoric that Turkey was the game maker in the Middle East, the case in Syria has shown that, while a crucial player in the region, Turkey still needs partners to bring about change in its neighbors. And these partners happen to live in the West.
So, it is only natural for Turkey to have intensified contacts with its American and European allies.
But at a time when the AKP might come to the point of grasping the importance of its alliance with the West, it is hugely ridiculous for the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, to accuse the AKP of being the West's spokesperson in Syria. The CHP needs to abandon its traditional and archaic policy of accusing political forces of being the puppets of others.
Instead, it should highlight the AKP's U-turn by saying that it is finally aligning itself with the democratic world rather than bloody dictatorships.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE AKP'S FIRST 20 YEARS
It has been 10 years since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was founded. This also corresponds roughly to the anniversary of the AKP's coming to power. The intervening period has proved that the party, under the leadership of its irascible yet highly popular leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, not only has political staying-power, but also has an agenda for the country that appeals to the electorate.
Those who oppose the AKP fear this agenda has a sinister secret dimension, which is fundamentally Islamic in nature, and which aims to drag Turkey away from its traditional Western orientation toward greater solidarity with the Islamic world. Domestically, on the other hand, the fear is that the AKP is gradually "Islamizing" the country with a view to transforming it into a Sunni version of Iran.
These fears of Turkey's staunchly secularist military and civilian establishment, as well as many in the West, continue to linger today. Many feel Turkey has already drifted away from the West, and that "creeping Islamization" is well underway in the country.
They point to Ankara's developing ties with Iran and Syria as well as its ties with militant groups like Hamas as proof. The collapse of what was believed to be strategic ties with Israel under the AKP administration has also reinforced this fear.
Apparent interferences in lifestyle issues, such as certain regulations concerning where restaurants and bars can serve alcohol, on the other hand, are considered to be the domestic expressions of the AKP's secret agenda, even though the government explains this on public welfare grounds.
But others – including those who voted for the AKP for pragmatic reasons, or who are simply trying to be objective – argue that Turkey is a heterogeneous country and this is what is becoming more apparent now that the staunchly Kemalist order, which attempted to establish a homogenous nation, is collapsing.
They maintain that "the real Turkey" is emerging now in all its diversity, with its ethnic and religious fault lines, which makes it almost impossible to impose a single order, other than a democratic one, on the country.
As for the links being formed with the Islamic world, they explain this as being the side-product of a "diversification in foreign policy," arguing that this does not represent a drifting away from the West, but is just a factor of Turkey increasing its options in the world.
They say that the political, strategic and economic "critical mass" attained by Turkey dictates this as a necessity. They also add that the shoddy treatment meted out to Turkey in terms of its European Union bid is also, as acknowledged by many Western analysts, one of the driving forces here.
A case for optimism
The simple truth is that Turkey is still very much a "work in progress," with the AKP also realizing as developments unfold that the only way the country can go forth is to accommodate a social diversity that is bound to destabilize the country as a whole if not taken seriously. The Kurdish question is a clear example and points to the kind of serious issues that the government has to address today.
Having become a manufacturing and export-driven country with the world's 16th largest economy, and with ambitions to eventually join the planet's 10 largest economies, it is doubtful that the AKP, regardless of what may rest in its heart-of-hearts, can pursue a one-dimensional strategy of Islamizing the country and pursuing an exclusively Islamic foreign policy.
Its only real option is to be pragmatic and aim for further democratization if the stability and prosperity desired by ordinary Turks, be they religious or otherwise, is to be attained. Many Turks, after all, cast their votes for the AKP for this reason.
It is clear that Prime Minister Erdoğan's positive place in history will be determined in the end by the extent to which he is succeeds in this regard. The jury may still be out on this but there are more reasons today to be optimistic than pessimistic.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
WHY WOULD IRAN CAPTURE KARAYILAN?
Claims that Murat Karayılan, the top figure on Kandil Mountain had fallen into Iran's hands turned out to be unsubstantiated after remaining in circulation for about two days.
It would have been an astounding development, had it been confirmed. Why would it have been astounding?
Here is why: At a time when the popular uprising in Syria threatens not just the Baath regime, but also the fate of the Syria-Iran axis, which is vital for the geopolitics of Iran and just as Turkey, which warned the Baath regime that it was running out of patience and was ready to do what was necessary, had positioned itself in a manner that contradicts Iran's regional interests...
Why would Iran strike a hand that reached out to it only a week ago? Karayılan had spoken to Fırat News Agency, or ANF, one week ago, declaring that his organization's Iranian wing, the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan, or PJAK, would no longer stage attacks against Iran, and that they were expecting Tehran to reciprocate their move.
And thus went Karayılan's message to Iran:
"As the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party] PKK, we have not declared any war against Iran. We do not wish to fight against the Islamic Republic of Iran either. Why? Because one of the aims of the international forces who seek to re-design the region is to besiege Iran. Currently, they are more preoccupied with Syria. If they just manage to work things out there as they wish, it will be Iran's turn next. As Kurds, we do not think it quite right to be involved in a war with Iran at such a stage."
Karayılan had issued this call: "You have no interest in targeting the PKK ... You must end this conflict. It is America that wants this conflict to go on. Because these attacks of yours serve America's interests. They want both the PKK and Iran to grow weaker."
Karayılan had explained to the ANF that Iran had halted its intense offensive operations targeting Mt. Kandil, and that PJAK had toned down its activities in return.
And finally, Karayılan had indicated they had moved armed elements of the PJAK from border areas toward the interior to avoid inciting Iran to renew its offensive; he also requested that "Iran take these unilateral measures [by the PKK] into consideration."
The PJAK was a "solution" devised by the PKK to find shelter in Iraq that came under the occupation and tutelage of the United States in the aftermath of 2003. Turkey removed itself from the equation by turning down the March 1 resolution, which would have allowed the U.S. to cross Turkish territory during its invasion of Iraq. The PKK, in turn, carved out a place for itself as part of the existing situation as an active element of the new regional equation in return for destabilizing Iran, or by acting in the interests of the U.S. The PKK is still in that place.
Nevertheless, as the Arab Spring that engulfed Syria continues to turn the balance of power in the region upside down and shake up the situation, causing alliances to crumble, while turning enemies into friends, and friends into enemies, Mt. Kandil is also trying to adapt to the circumstances of a new geopolitical framework by reviewing its position.
Back in the 1990s, Iran was the enemy of its own Kurds, and a secret friend of the PKK. After all, back at that time, it was facing Turkey, which it perceived as a threat.
Now, just as the Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, Turkey is abandoning its bankrupt strategy of "zero problems with neighbors" while realigning itself with the "Western Alliance" in the context of the Arab Spring, why would Iran want to capture the top field figure of an "old friend" who no longer wishes to fight it?
Kadri Gürsel is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece originally appeared Monday. It was traslated into English by the Daily News staff.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
SOUTH AFRICA: MALEMA'S GAME
Julius Malema did something unusual on Saturday. The leader of the Youth League of South Africa's ruling African National Congress, or ANC, apologized for something he had said. "We are a young people who will time and again commit mistakes and are prepared to learn from those mistakes," he declared.
There were only three things wrong with his apology. One was the use of the "royal We": it was Malema himself who said that the ANC should work to overthrow the government of neighboring Botswana, not some anonymous group of youths. Secondly, he is not actually a youth: he is 30 years old. And thirdly, his remark was clearly premeditated, and he is not really sorry for making it.
Julius Malema is increasingly seen as a likely future president of South Africa: President Jacob Zuma has said that he is a good leader who is "worthy of inheriting the ANC." But this doesn't necessarily mean that Zuma really likes Malema. Most of the ANC's leaders dislike him, but they also fear him, for he has the enthusiastic support of millions of the poorest people in South Africa.
The ANC's goal was to bring power and prosperity to South Africa's black majority, but it has only half-succeeded. Seventeen years after it took power, one-third of the country's people are still living on less than $2 a day, and they are almost all black. So there is a promising political niche for somebody who articulates their anger and advocates radical solutions, and Malema has won the competition to fill that niche.
He won it by being more radical than anybody else. He's the only prominent member of the ANC who has scolded the president for not being sufficiently supportive of Robert Mugabe, the octogenarian dictator who has reduced neighboring Zimbabwe to penury. He advocates nationalizing South Africa's mining industry (by far the country's biggest source of employment and revenue), and seizing the land of white farmers without compensation.
He insists on singing "Shoot the Boer" (the white farmer), the old apartheid-era "struggle" song, despite South Africa's laws against hate speech and the fact that 1,489 white farmers actually have been murdered since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994. So the poorest and most marginalized people in the country love Malema for his ferocity and recklessness, and that gives him enormous leverage within the party.
Only once before has the ANC tried to discipline him, in May 2010, when he was forced to make a public apology, fined, and ordered to take anger management classes after he "brought the party into disrepute" by criticizing President Zuma. But he didn't attend the anger management course, and before long he was back at it.
After his latest outburst, calling for regime change in Botswana, which he said was "a foot stool of imperialism, a security threat to Africa and always under constant puppetry of the United States," ANC leaders called again for him to be disciplined, but it didn't happen. Malema made a semi-apology ("We should have known better"), but he did not abandon his plan to use ANC Youth League resources to support the opposition in Botswana.
Neither did he repudiate his call for the nationalization of the mines, and the ANC is so afraid of him that it has said that nationalization "requires further study" – even though the party leaders know that it would cause the collapse of the South African economy.
Does Malema understand that? Perhaps not: he only finished high school at the age of 21, with near-failing grades. But since his whole political strategy requires him to be a raving extremist, he would probably still be arguing for the same measures even if he understood their consequences. Perhaps the heavens would fall if he got power, but so what? He would be in power, and that's what counts.
It must also be acknowledged that the people who would lose in a South Africa ruled by Malema are not the people who support him, for they have absolutely nothing to lose, and there are a lot of them. The ANC's leaders know that, and dare not take him on directly. They scheduled a meeting on Monday to discipline Malema for his most recent transgressions, but then they lost their nerve and canceled it.
So could this reckless, ruthless demagogue end up as the elected leader of South Africa? Yes he could, and that would be the end of the brave experiment in tolerance and democracy that South Africa has been living through for the past two decades. But it depends on two things: how well the economy is doing, and how badly the ANC is doing in the opinion polls.
The two things are clearly linked: the better South Africa's economy is, the more popular the ANC will be. An ANC that is not afraid of losing power in the next election would never give Malema a chance to take power.
But an ANC that foresees itself losing power in the next election – and after 17 continuous years in power, its popularity is eroding fast – might well turn to Malema in the hope of turning its political fortunes around. That's unlikely to happen in the next general election in 2014, but by the one after that it could be a real possibility.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.
I. THE NEWS
Independence Day this year was a day of irony. The country's economic crises intensified and widened this year; the government failed to get key financial legislation passed, especially with regard to tax reforms – a prerequisite for receiving IMF funds; terrorism remained alive and well and manifested itself in a range of deadly attacks across the length and breadth of the country; Karachi exploded in a burst of phenomenal violence that refuses to stem; the insurgency in Balochistan continued. The list of governance failures, in essence, read very real and very long. And yet, when Prime Minister Gilani appeared before the country on Sunday to deliver his speech on the occasion of Pakistan's 64th Independence Day, the only truth we learnt was that none of the statesmanship Pakistan so desperately needs from its leaders was going to be on show that evening. The PM did not honestly acknowledge the above failures; he did not press his government to do better. Instead, he delivered a speech that lacked substance, leapt from one cliche to the next and betrayed, in its effusive praise of the government, a scandalous apathy to the problems this country faces.
Where this apathy was most visible was when the PM spoke about the loadshedding problem. He said the government had inherited the problem from the previous government and had successfully added 3,000 MWs of electricity to the national grid. He also said the government was striving to put an end to unscheduled loadshedding. The prime minister needs to understand that ending unscheduled loadshedding does not equal overcoming the electricity crisis. He also needs to realise that however many thousand MWs his government claims to have added to the national grid, it has done nothing to end the up to 18 hours of power outages in rural areas and 10 hours in the cities. We keep hearing that work on the Basha and Munda dams is underway, and that another ministerial committee has been formed to cope with the energy shortfall. We don't want empty promises. We want an end to sleepless nights. We want power to enable us to go on with the daily business of our lives and do the basic things that people in other independent countries take for granted.
Despite the fact that the future is a very uncertain place in Pakistan, people found reason to celebrate on August 14. Heavily burdened by all the problems that the prime minister forgot to mention in his speech, their expectations are limitless. And why not? This is a country that should have had golden prospects. It could have become a cornucopia of wealth. But where have we reached instead? In countries around the world, the road from bondage to freedom has too often been the proverbial road to hell. Independence is an event, but it is also a process, long-drawn out and filled with danger. And 64 years after Pakistan's independence, we are still not firmly out of the danger-zone.
I. THE NEWS
TERROR AND THE ANNIVERSARY
August 14, a day of national celebration, has not passed peacefully in the country. At least 14 people were killed in Dera Allahyar in the Jaffarabad district of Balochistan when an explosive device ripped through the building. More than 20 others were injured. Various reports have suggested that a little known nationalist group that calls itself the Balochistan Liberation Tiger is responsible. A spokesman is reported to have said that crowds celebrating Pakistan Day were targeted. Also present at the scene was General Commanding Officer North Waziristan, Major-General Ghayoor Mahmud, who fortunately escaped injury. Similar motives appear to have inspired a series of attacks in the tribal areas. In Miramshah, North Waziristan, three members of the Frontier Corps were killed and 23 others were injured when rockets were fired at a military ground where Independence Day celebrations were underway. Retaliatory fire was ordered and the celebration was called off as the wounded were transported to a military hospital in Bannu. This was not the only attack in the region. Rockets were also fired at another military camp in the Razmak area and at the Razmak Cadet College. Mercifully, there were no casualties. There were also no reported casualties in South Waziristan where some seven rockets were fired at military installations, including three at Wana Airport, where an August 14 function was in progress.
The attacks took place on a day when national unity should prevail. It is sad that there are so many diverse elements out to kill and maim even on occasions like this. It is also not insignificant that in the tribal areas, the attacks occurred in places where the military has recently reached a peace deal with the militants. Tribesmen belonging to areas from where the rockets were fired are being questioned – but the broader issue of peace deals also needs to be examined. These have brought few dividends in the past. More importantly, we need to address the continued rise of militancy in our country. The attacks in two regions, staged apparently by varied groups on our most important national holiday, augur ill for the future. Dissent continues to rise. We must do more to hold our country together and to ensure that it is not torn into fragments by attacks of the kind we saw on Sunday.
I. THE NEWS
PROGRESS IN A MESSY DEMOCRACY
The pace and content of Pakistan's democratic discourse engender little confidence within Pakistan, and much trepidation among countries that have major interests in Pakistan. This is why many intelligent and patriotic Pakistanis are infatuated by political theatre like the impressive dharnas staged by Imran Khan's PTI. It is also why many very powerful nations, including the United States, believe that taking a tougher line with Pakistan will help achieve the long-term goals originally conceived by the Obama Administration, in short order.
Time has repeatedly proven that impatience could be the most cardinal of all sins when it comes to Pakistan. At home, Pakistanis have welcomed military interventions into civilian matters because of the notion that the boys trained at Kakul somehow are more capable of governing, and better pre-disposed to loving Pakistan than the politicians that consistently perform at the ballot boxes.
Abroad, foreign governments have routinely supported the military's voracious appetite for resources, because of the notion that the military can stabilise Pakistan more readily than an embedded democratic and pluralistic political culture. Both notions have been deliberately cultivated over a long period of time by the military establishment. Both notions have been proven to be patently false.
The hard truth is that without the sustained agony of building institutions, brick by brick, Pakistan will never exit the cycle of corrupt, venal and incompetent governance that has defined both military and political governments for the duration of its existence. The international community doesn't like to hear it, but it really has no other choice. Pakistanis definitely don't like to hear it, either – which is why so many are so keen to indulge Imran Khan. This movie has played before.
Every time there is upheaval, there is also hope. The expectation that hope can be converted into transformational policy however, when none of the mainstream political parties have a transformational agenda is ridiculous. Think PPP, PML-N, MQM and PML-Q. The only thing more ridiculous is the expectation that political parties that do have a transformational agenda, can actually deliver with the paper-thin political and policy depth they possess. Think PTI, or the religious parties, or the Pakhtun, Sindh or Baloch nationalist parties.
This really leaves two options. The first is for mainstream parties to develop transformational agendas, and the second is for the transformational agenda parties to develop mainstream credentials. Both of these options are realistic possibilities, but neither can be achieved in less than a generation. This necessarily means Pakistani politics has to stumble and bumble along, without having another genius from the Pakistani military, attempt to fix Pakistan. The collective genius of three 'transformational agendas' with enforced 'mainstream credentials' – Ayub's, Zia's and Musharraf's – have taken a heavy toll on Pakistan.
One of the common complaints that many very smart, loving and impatient Pakistanis have is that the mainstream parties will eat away at Pakistan and leave nothing to be reformed. This mortal fear, that corruption will actually cause the termination of Pakistan may be exaggerated, but it is legitimate fear. Corruption is indeed a mortal threat to the country's status as a credit-worthy entity, and an investment-worthy destination. But even the answer to corruption lies in the deepening of democratic institutions like the parliament, and like the decentralisation of fiscal, administrative and political powers from federal to provincial and from provincial to local governments.
The argument for decentralisation as a vehicle for countering corruption should not be too hard to understand. Centralised decision-making tends to gloss over crucial differences, and provide solutions in bulk. Most solutions require procurement and contracting out of goods and services. Where are the incentives for making a quick buck greater? In a massive tender that caters to all of Sindh, or smaller tenders that cater to five, ten, twenty or even thirty sub-provincial units, such as districts, or divisions? Of course, it is not only the smaller size and the distribution of rent-possibilities across larger groups that helps reduce corruption. Decentralisation also enables people to have greater access to and oversight over resource allocation decisions made in their name.
When residents in Rahim Yar Khan don't get the roads and hospitals promised to them in a decentralised governance environment, they'll be able to reach the Rahim Yar Khan based politicians and decision-makers more easily than they could ever reach those based in Lahore.
In the morass of the political intrigue and violence in Sindh, what we may be missing is the exciting emergence of a political discourse about decentralisation that is slowly approaching the kind of mature and meaningful discussion that Pakistan really needs around the issues of local government.
There are two clear trends in the teasingly long and agonising slow-dance between the MQM and the various groups competing with it in Karachi – from the ANP, to the PPP, to remnants of the Haqiqi infrastructure, to the new infrastructure of aman committees.
The first is that the MQM's insistence on local government for Karachi is distinct and unique, from the political demands being made of the PPP by its constituents outside Karachi. The second, is that the issue of policing is clearly now, as a matter of public policy, intimately linked to the issue of local governance. In short, we are seeing the contours of a distinction being made between urban and rural spaces, and the unique and distinct administrative and policing needs of both.
This simple configuration is not so simple for a centralised set up to recognise. Ample proof is available through both the 1979 and the 2001 ordinances, decreed by military governments. It has been made possible because of the dramatically enhanced autonomy enjoyed by Sindh, after the 2008 elections, and the 18th Amendment passed in 2010.
Bespoke decentralisation is not only needed to cater to the differences between urban and rural areas. It is also needed across provinces. Balochistan and Punjab, for example must not only develop decidedly different models of local government within each province, but must also argue for and demand different benchmarks and separate treatment from the federal government. In fact, the National Finance Commission processed amply demonstrates that they already do.
Of course, much remains to be improved in the decentralisation conversation in Pakistan. We have yet to hear any major party argue for direct mayoral elections – because this would blow away the personality cults of the owners of political parties.
More importantly, despite the emerging contours, little by way of detail has been prepared in terms of what Pakistan could learn from the distinctive rural-urban policing models used by countries like Turkey. Most worryingly, the political parties still rely almost exclusively on civil servants to help redefine the democratic system. This is investing a most unrealistic hope in senior officers at the provinces and in Islamabad. Nevertheless, there is progress. As long as democracy is sustained, it shall continue.
The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy.
WHERE IS BUDGET 2011-12?
DR ASHFAQUE HASAN KHAN
The finance minister, Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh presented the government's fourth and his second budget on June 3, 2011. Like last year (2010-11), the current budget failed to see the light of the new fiscal year. The budget 2011-12 that the parliament passed in the end – June 2011 has become non-functional in the very first month of the year.
In my earlier article (June 14), I described the budget 2011-12 as 'a non serious budget' because massive risks, both on revenue and expenditure sides, were starring at our face. The events that began to unfold in the very first month of the fiscal year provided empirical evidence to my assertion. While fixing the revenue target for the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) for the year 2011-12, an inflated base of Rs1588 billion was used against the widely held opinion of the experts that the FBR may collect Rs1530 billion with some great difficulty.
Since the finance team used Rs1588 billion as a base for next year's target, they wanted to achieve the same 'by all means'. Little they realized that there is always more than one person in the room and in a free media like ours, it is simply impossible to jack up the number artificially. The futile attempt to demonstrate 'extraordinary performance' in tax collection did not work. The nation was told that instead of Rs1590 billion, the FBR has in fact collected Rs1550 billion – some Rs40 billion less than the earlier announced number. This act of the finance team embarrassed the government and tarnished the image of country.
The FBR is targeted to collect Rs1952 billion in 2011-12. This target was a non-starter even with the collection of Rs1588 billion. Now that the base has been adjusted downward, the tax collection target for the year has become redundant. The new target must not be more than Rs1800 billion to avoid 'extraordinary performance' at the last minute. There are serious risks associated with non-tax revenue as well. For example, the targeted revenue against the sale of third generation cellular licenses, coalition support fund and the profit of the SBP.
There are serious risks associated with the expenditure side as well, prominent among those include interest payments, power sector subsidies, and allocation to rotten PSEs. The finance minister has already announced that the current year is an election year, therefore, slippages in expenditure are a forgone conclusion. Thus, downward adjustment in revenue and upward adjustment in expenditure would result in a budget deficit in line with the average of the last four years (6.0 - 6.5 % of GDP) unless the fiscal framework is reworked to keep budget deficit at four percent of GDP.
Fiscal policy is one of the critical instruments of the macroeconomic management. The execution of fiscal policy in Pakistan has become a difficult exercise in recent years for a variety of reason. Firstly, the way we prepare our budget is in itself a major source of slippages. We first finalise our expenditure and subtract a targeted budget deficit to arrive at a revenue number. In other words, revenue is treated as residual items and such is invariant with respect to the level of economic activity.
Secondly, the new NFC Award has added significant risks to budget and hence to overall macroeconomic stability. The bulk of resources are being transferred to the provinces where there exist little capacity and discipline to spend money prudently. The initiative to achieve fiscal consolidation and hence macroeconomic stability has now been shifted to provincial governments. It has become a difficult exercise to conduct fiscal policy at the federal level.
Thirdly, a weak and fragile economic team has failed to educate and convince the political leadership about the dividend of sound fiscal policy. Consequently, the sanctity of the budget has evaporated. The budget, passed by the parliament, has never seen the light of the new fiscal year at least for the last two years in a row. The budget-making exercise has become a routine exercise. More importantly, fiscal policy as a tool of macroeconomic management has become redundant.
What needs to be done to restore the sanctity of the budget and achieve fiscal consolidation? In the light of recent developments Pakistan needs to revise it current and medium term fiscal framework. Let this framework be prepared by a professional team under the fiscal commission as it was done recently in India. The salient features of the framework must include mobilisation of resources, rationalisation and prioritisation of expenditure, resolution of the rotten PSEs and circular debt issue. The new framework must be consistent with Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act 2005.
The role of the provincial government would be important in preparing a new fiscal framework. The provincial governments will have to enhance their capacity to spend money prudently on war footing and maintain fiscal discipline in their respective provinces. Provincial fiscal efforts are on the decline. They need to undertake resource mobilisation efforts on their own. Most importantly, some binding constraints will have to be introduced to ensure that provincial governments generate targeted surplus. This is the only way to protect the new NFC Award and maintain fiscal discipline.
Let the fiscal commission headed by a professional of international repute complete the work in 2-3 months. The new framework must be a medium term spreading over 3-5 years. In the meantime, Pakistan should seek additional resources from the IMF and get their support for new fiscal framework. Pakistan may seek technical assistance from the IMF to support the work of the fiscal commission.
The country cannot afford a non-serious attitude of the finance team in budget preparation. We have seen the sanctity of the budget destroyed, the role of parliament becoming redundant and the budget making exercise becoming a routine affair.
The writer is principal and dean, NUST Business School, National University of Sciences & Technology, Islamabad.
I. THE NEWS
SOME MISUNDERSTOOD ATTRIBUTES
DR SANIA NISHTAR
In this rapidly changing globalised and inter-connected world, some recent events are compelling us to redefine the existing norms and practices. Burgeoning tensions earlier in the Middle East highlighted the need to accord higher priority to mainstreaming democracy. Recent riots in Europe underscore the salience of social reform whereas the global financial crisis necessitates greater attention to transparency within global and domestic financial and regulatory systems.
Pakistan is undergoing unprecedented transformations in this changing world. The country has opted for deep-rooted reform of its federating system through the 18th Constitutional Amendment at a time when many conventional as well as human security challenges lurk on the economic, social, and demographic fronts.
The local government system is in flux, calls for new provinces are echoing loud, and remodeling of governing arrangements has become the basis of settling political disputes. Can these broader-brush "reform" measures enable Pakistan to address its core systemic distortions, its key determinants of past failures and the challenges we are faced with today? Do reform attempts grounded in constitutional amendments and ordinances hold promise? Can separating territories, carving provinces, redefining government hierarchy and redrawing boundaries improve governance? Can these changes transform resource utilisation and help achieve equity? Can they improve the ability of the government to accrue benefits to people, root out extremism and ensure a peaceful positive role for Pakistan in this globalised world?
The purpose of this comment is to underscore that without embracing five attributes, any reform, no matter how radical, will not work. I will attempt to draw attention to what these attributes actually mean, as some of these are terribly misunderstood.
'Democracy' is the first misunderstood term in this respect. Democracy, which is conventionally understood as 'majority rule' is not just about popular vote. It is a set of institutional arrangements or constitutional devices. It is about individual behaviours and practices of openness and collective deliberations, consensus-building, participation, and evidence-guided decisions in state governance, as well as governance of the political parties themselves. And it is about values of liberty, equality, freedom, and rights. The advent of majority rule is a positive step in Pakistan and democracy must be supported so that it can take root. However, alongside, it is equally important to ensure constitutional restraints upon any elected government.
The second misunderstood term is 'politics', which refers to matters relating to the organisation of the affairs of the state. The instrument of politics, or political institutions have a specific role, which has to do with fostering and providing human resource and the strategies and tools for the purpose of organising the running of the state and its organisations. Training and identifying effective leaders is one of its core functions. Since politics is about gaining control of representative institutions, some level of power play is expected. However, in our country, power struggles, internal disputes, personal rivalries, and individual and institutional divides and their interplay with ethnic and religious tensions have assumed preeminence. Consequently, our societal political culture has also been aligned on similar lines. This fundamental misconception needs to be corrected. The true essence of politics must be understood and practiced.
'Governance' is the third misconstrued attribute. The act of governing has been defined as "decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance". Related processes and systems, which involve management or leadership, are typically administered by a government, which is where we tend to place the onus of responsibility-and for good reason. Bureaucratic quality, governance capability, capacity of political authorities, policy consistency, and implementation capacity deeply impact overall growth and development, public services, and the business environment.
But other actors should also bear the responsibility for how we are governed. When taxpayers scheme with tax administration, when private entities collude with regulators in allocation of subsidies, licenses, quotas and price ceilings, when commercial interests bypass procedures in order to increase market shares and when some business entities exercise influence to modify policies to suit their interests, they become parties in undermining governance. When contractors are in cahoots with procuring agencies, citizens subscribe to 'sifarish' and actors pilfer resources with private sector accomplices, the role of actors outside of the government in shaping governance is additionally evident. We, therefore, must know what it takes to govern effectively, and what our respective roles are.
In the fourth place, 'corruption' and the closely linked dimension of 'transparency' are critically important. The former is often viewed narrowly through the lens of financial corruption, and the latter, which needs to be embraced, is poorly understood. The corrosive impact of state and elite capture, which manifests itself in a number of systemic problems, is not fully appreciated. These include misuse of authority, circumvention of procedures, manipulation of laws, nepotism and cronyism, political patronage, unfair competition, discriminatory tariffs, collusion in price and quality controls and licensing, crony privatisation, granting excessive protection, turning a blind eye to regulatory collusion, and the list goes on.
There is a longstanding history of attempts to address corruption through disciplinary and penalising action in Pakistan. In contrast, very little attention has been paid to building institutions and systems that limit opportunities of collusion in the first place. Policies, which enable this, help to institutionalise transparency within the system. There have been some recent positive developments in this respect, such as media freedom, the trend towards judicial activism and the introduction of Article 19-A in the Constitution relating to freedom of information. However, transparency-promoting reform necessitates many other measures, which I have attempted to discuss in these columns on March 18, 2008.
Lastly, nothing overtakes 'accountability' in being misunderstood. The word has been synonymous with politically motivated punitive action and chasing financial scams, which do not leave a paper trail and which our justice system finds very difficult to punish. We do not fully appreciate that accountability, or the lack thereof, is one of the core determinants of the mayhem we see all around us. There is no accountability of decisions that led the country to its present state, riddled with mammoth debt, severely crowded out fiscal space, shameful plight of its public sector enterprises, pervasive extremism, a sprawling government, a crippling energy crisis, and two others in the tow-water and food crises. The low-priority accorded to accountability legislation and related institutional parameters, and the excessive list of exclusions from the ambit of accountability in the current iteration of the law, indicate that the attribute and its importance are deeply misunderstood.
Without attention to these and some other attributes such as separation of powers and attention to conflict of interest and rule of law, the premise enshrined within reforms cannot be realised. Regardless of the manner in which the provinces are carved, the government hierarchy is stacked, and decision-making prerogatives are defined, key outcomes will not be achieved. Let us try and understand what these attributes mean for governing. Learning is the first step in order to embrace change, and the need to internalise that in our country is pretty critical.
The writer is the founding president of the NGO think tank, Heartfile. email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
WHERE IS MY COUNTRY?
IFTEKHAR A KHAN
In his book, Dude, Where Is My Country? Michael Moore questions George W Bush and his neocon collaborators what they had done to America by pushing it into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The wars that were to sink the national economy and render one out of six Americans unemployed. It resulted in countless Americans becoming homeless and a large number going on food stamps. Moore was as concerned about his country as a vast majority of Pakistanis are about theirs.
Prime Minister Gilani has toured the Seraiki belt to sell his preposterous proposal for the creation of new provinces. The government, as usual, is showing indecent haste in taking such an important decision that could have far-reaching consequences in future. And who is demanding new provinces? Do large segments of people want it, or merely a handful of politicians, who give priority to their personal interests over national interests? As a right of inheritance, a new crop of young men and women of the political clique is readying to foist itself upon the hapless nation.
However, the government must spell out its compulsions for carving out new provinces. Have we struck oil and gas, and are we producing more electricity? Has the power shortage, which has pushed the country into the Dark Ages, abated? Has the government addressed the basic requirements of healthcare, education and employment? Why, then, has splitting Punjab into many provinces suddenly become pivotal for national harmony and smooth functioning of the state? Mr Gilani owes the nation an explanation, substantiated by facts not theatrics.
The political mountebanks might get away with the creation of new provinces, but who will pick up the tab for the exercise? How much will the sprawling mansions for the governors, chief ministers, assembly speakers, ministers and advisers, not to mention their security protocols and guesthouses for assembly members, cost the exchequer? Pakistan cannot even meet the expense for repairs to its railways engines. When industries are closing down because of power outages, there is galloping unemployment, amid a serious law-and-order situation throughout the country, should the government plan development projects or should it create more black holes to sink whatever is in the till? Political thinker and philosopher Bertrand Russell, wrote in one of his essays: "It seems that politicians would rather lead their countries to destruction than not be in the government. A greater wickedness than this it is not easy to imagine."
However, creating or renaming provinces is no substitute for good governance. How much has the performance of the government in the former NWFP improved after the province was renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. After the renaming of the NWFP, the demand for Hazara as separate province has started. Some politicians propose new provinces on administrative basis and not on linguistic or ethnic grounds, which is nonsense. Instead of carving the land up into more provinces, we need to improve the system of governance at the national and provincial levels, by ridding Pakistan of corruption, nepotism and maladministration, and by forcing politicians in power to follow the rule of law. Isn't abiding by the law anathema to politicians?
Moreover, the coalition government at the centre is hardly in a position to take the major decision of splitting the country into more provinces. If such a decision is indeed imperative, the government had better leave it to the government that will come to power after the next elections – a government unshackled by the vicious NRO, which remains the most divisive wound inflicted on the nation, and whose chief architect cools his heels in London.
What's wrong with PML-N stalwart Javed Hashmi, who has suggested that four provinces be carved out of Punjab? Such a will not help the party shore up its sagging popularity in the province. Already the people believe that the Sharif Brothers' strong remarks against the PPP are part of a "fixed" fight. Nevertheless, if Punjab is carved up, people will rightly ask, where is our country?
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
SOME MORE REAL CHANGE IN FATA
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar.
The last time any meaningful reforms were undertaken in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas was in 1997 when people inhabiting this tribal borderland of over 27,220 square kilometres were granted universal adult franchise. Until then only hereditary and appointed maliks, or tribal elders, could vote and contest election for parliament. There was opposition even then to this move by sections of the bureaucracy and the security establishment, but President Farooq Leghari went ahead and gave the right of vote to every tribesman and tribeswoman.
Now, 14 years later more piecemeal reforms have been announced by extending the Political Parties Order, 2002, to Fata to allow formation, organisation and functioning of political parties in the seven tribal agencies and six Frontier Regions and amending the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) 1901 to try and bring this law in conformity with basic human rights. The fact that the Political Parties Order in its present shape dates back to 2002 and has been extended to Fata after nine years shows the slow and cautious pace of introduction of change in the tribal areas. More importantly, FCR 1901 has been amended for the first time in 110 years and this alone explains the significance of the occasion and the importance of the amendments made in this old British-era regulation. In fact, the FCR dates back to 1848 and was promulgated in 1901 by adding new acts and offences to it to extend its scope for serving the interests of the British colonial rulers and enabling them to control the fierce freedom-loving Pakhtun tribes.
The Fata reforms were signed into law by President Asif Ali Zardari in the presence of representatives of the stakeholders including tribal parliamentarians and elders on Independence Day in Islamabad and were meant as a gift to the tribespeople on an auspicious occasion. Independence Days in present-day Pakistan don't bring any real happiness due to the sorry state of affairs in our lawless, insecure, politically unstable and economically depressed homeland. The fact that the tribal people, whose population according to the imperfect 1998 census was 3.1 million but should be more than six million now, were considered worthy of enjoying some of the fruits of freedom for the first time since 1947 is a sad commentary on the uncaring and visionless governments that have selfishly ruled Pakistan to-date.
Besides, announcing reforms and taking credit for heralding a change is one thing and ensuring implementation of the amended laws is another. Didn't President Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani announce a decision to do away with the FCR and initiate other reforms in Fata two years ago without doing their homework, and then backed away after realising the enormity of the task they had undertaken? They demanded and received accolades for the announcement, as all politicians do, and then tried to wriggle out of the embarrassing situation by forming committees to suggest recommendations on Fata reforms. In fact, setting up committees and commissions to propose Fata and FCR Reforms has been an endless exercise all these years, but there has been no implementation.
The verdict on the crucial issue of implementing the reforms in Fata will have to wait because the tribal people need to feel the change before deciding whether the amendments were good or bad. Indeed, the biggest challenge now and in future would be realising the potential of the reforms in view of the uncertain and dangerous security situation in Fata. No real reforms and development could take place in the seven tribal agencies, all of which border Afghanistan except for Orakzai Agency, unless the security situation sufficiently improves to allow the military to end its operations and curtail its presence in Fata and enable the political administration to once again administer the land and its people in a normal way. Only then will the political parties be able to operate freely and the benefits of the amended FCR pass to the tribal people. There is, however, no real hope that the security situation will improve to the desirable extent in Fata unless the Afghan conflict comes to an end. And that isn't going to happen any time soon due to the still ambiguous US agenda in the "Af-Pak" region and the determination of the Taliban to fight as long as it takes in a bid to return to power.
Every political party and all civil society groups have welcomed the reforms, though some have commented that these are still inadequate. The government did well to consult the stakeholders and take into consideration the recommendations of the newest Fata Reforms Committee in which all political parties were represented and the previous FCR Reforms Committee that was non-political and headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice Mohammad Ajmal Mian. The members of the FCR Reforms Committee had visited almost all the tribal agencies to hold town hall-style meeting with tribal elders and commoners. They came to the conclusion that the majority of tribesmen wanted amendments to the FCR to make it a humane law, while a minority, who were mostly political activists, wished to scrap it altogether or in case of the privileged tribal elders sought to maintain the status quo. The trick was to find a balance to curtail the arbitrary powers vested with the political agent and give the right of bail and appeal to every accused. Though a Fata Tribunal was already working to hear appeals against sentences awarded by the political agents and their deputies, the tribunal has now been formally invested with powers similar to the high court. The concept of collective responsibility in the FCR has also been amended and now women and children below 16 and elders above 65 years will be exempt from this clause and the whole tribe won't be punished when punitive action is taken against an accused. Collective punishments and arrests of any accused on the orders of the political agents without assigning reason and denial of bail or appeal had prompted jurists, lawyers and political and civil society activists to describe the FCR as a black law. It remains to be seen how the administration of tribal areas would be able to operate effectively in these insecure times without such arbitrary powers.
More importantly, the FCR amendments have come soon after the federal government issued two identical regulations, Action (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation 2011 for Fata and Pata, to give unprecedented powers to the armed forces operating against the militants in the conflict areas. The regulations provide legal cover to the "unlawful acts of armed forces" during military operations with retrospective effect-i.e., Feb 1, 2008—and empower the security forces operating in both federally and provincial administered tribal areas to keep terror suspects in custody at undisclosed location for 120 days. Despite government claims that the regulations will specifically target militants, lawyers and human rights activists have been critical of the move due to fears of misuse of power. If these fears turn out to be real, the FCR amendments will be like giving rights with one hand and taking them away with the other.
As for the political parties now legally empowered to function in Fata, it will require courage and effort on the part of their leadership to organise and win the support of the tribal people. Most parties were already operating in Fata and even fielding candidates in past elections, but now this will no longer be illegal. They will now have a level playing field as earlier secular and nationalist political parties complained that the religious parties were able to use the mosques and the madrassas for influence and votes.
The real test of the reforms would be creating conditions through development inputs for mainstreaming Fata to bring this under-developed part of Pakistan at par with the rest of the country. That should be a long-term project as most tribal people not only want the special status of Fata to stay as they don't want to give up some of their privileges but also favour a separate province instead of merger with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
I. THE NEWS
RUSTAM SHAH MOHMAND
As expected, the latest talks between India and Pakistan have not succeeded in bringing about a visible reduction in the trust deficit. It must be conceded however that the event had substantial symbolic value if only for breaking the stalemate that had paralysed diplomatic relations between the two countries since the tragic massacre of innocent people in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.
It appears that the two South Asian countries are in the grip of an inertia which they themselves helped create. Perhaps a leadership that was cognisant of the lessons of history would have taken more courageous (and unpopular) decisions to get past the many insurmountable barriers and ensured a working relationship between the two countries – a leadership that would have facilitated trade, commerce and travel between India and Pakistan. A people-based relationship would have, in turn, created an environment of trust and understanding which is vital for the settlement of Kashmir and other outstanding issues.
More than six decades of strained relations, at a colossal economic and social cost to millions of poverty-stricken people of the sub-continent, should have taught the decision makers many lessons. But nations seldom learn from history.
When will it dawn upon the Indian leadership that the 'status quo' in Jammu and Kashmir is not sustainable, and that structural adjustments are necessary for a durable solution to the conflict?
Equally importantly, Pakistan must realise that it is inconceivable that Kashmir be separated from the Indian Union. Any such move would never be acceptable to India because it would, in the eyes of many, mean the beginning of the unravelling of the Indian Union – considering that it faces Naxalite rebellion in 11 states.
A solution based on full autonomy for Kashmir within the Indian Union, along the pattern of Hong Kong vis-à-vis China needs to be explored and pursued. A complete autonomy solution, guaranteed by a special clause of the Indian constitution, would be in accordance with the wishes of its people including the "Hurriat Leadership".
The same autonomy could then be applied to the Pakistan-held part of Kashmir. Boundaries would not change, but a solution that corresponds with the aspirations of the people would be found.
An accord on these lines would usher in a new era of trust. Old, rotten, cliches such as 'India wants to dismember Pakistan,' would be buried and a new generation of Indians and Pakistanis, fired by more positive mindsets would hopefully emerge.
An overwhelming majority of the teeming millions of both Pakistan and India want an immediate improvement in relations but are hostage to a cause which they have never accepted as rightful or expedient. How callous that a miniscule minority in both countries has succeeded in converting a façade of hostility into actual enmity which in turn has forced unnecessary wars on South Asia, with devastating implications for the millions who inhabit the region.
The question is, would India and Pakistan ever throw off the shackles of a tragic post-Partition era and set out on a road to sustainable prosperity? Would they ever begin to trade freely and create a huge common market which could eventually be joined by China and Iran?
Any accord on Kashmir would set the scene for all other disputes including water. Siachen and Sir Creek are two issues that are ready for resolution should the two countries show vision and courage. Any agreement on these two issues would generate an unstoppable euphoria and a conducive climate for the Kashmir peace process.
Together the two countries can change their destinies; together they can change the world.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: rustammohmand @hotmail.com
BLT'S LETHAL BLAST ON INDEPENDENCE DAY
ONE may recall that on the country's Independence Day last year (2010) 16 Punjabi-speaking persons, including two security personnel, were shot dead while five others wounded in two separate incidents of target killings in Bolan District and Quetta. The assailants had intercepted a passenger coach going to Quetta from Lahore at Aab-e-Gum area of Bolan district, asked all the passengers to show their identity cards, separated 12 residents of Punjab from rest of the passengers, took them to nearby mountains and opened indiscriminate firing on them. Similarly, six labourers hailing from Multan were sprayed with bullets in Khilji Colony of Quetta on the day.
And this time again, 14 people lost their lives and 22 others were injured in a bomb blast in a hotel at Dera Allayar in Jaffarabad. A new body called Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) has accepted responsibility for the dastardly act. But this was not an isolated incident of the kind on the Independence Day of the country as two children were injured in a bomb blast in Mastung, attacks were carried out on FC Fort and Police Station as well as 220 KV Guddu-Uchh-Sibi transmission line. These acts of terror and sabotage have been carried out not by Taliban, who are blamed for all ills, nor these can be blamed on those who are against the Government but a handful of elements, who are working on foreign sponsored agenda and by doing so on the auspicious occasion of Independence Day they are sending a particular message to all. No one can doubt credentials of Baloch people who are as patriotic as people in other parts of the country but certainly there are some elements who are being funded and trained by some foreign forces and their mission is to destabilize Pakistan. Balochistan, because of its strategic importance and wealth of natural resources, is increasingly becoming a battleground for foreign intelligence agencies and their local agents. There is, therefore, dire need that our security agencies should focus their attention on countering their designs. We would also urge patriotic people of Balochistan that they should rise above everything else and keep a close watch on the activities of these elements, who are creating a sense of insecurity and obstructing progress and development.
OPPORTUNITIES TO BECOME ECONOMIC GIANT
THERE is no doubt that at present the economic scenario of the country is quite depressing as local and foreign investment is dwindling mainly due to law and order situation, budgetary deficit is widening, trade deficit is assuming dangerous dimensions, debt burden is sky high and people are hard pressed due to alarmingly high inflation and unemployment. As there seems to be no silver lining on the economic horizon, people on the whole are losing faith in the managerial skills of the economic team of the Government.
In this perspective, Dr Salman Shah, former Finance Minister and an outstanding economic expert, in an exclusive interview with this newspaper, has drawn attention towards brighter side of the picture. In his assessment, which would surely be a morale booster for the countrymen, Dr. Shah has pointed out that Pakistan has all the ingredients to turn into an economic giant, provided a well-thought out game plan is devised to exploit unlimited opportunities available within and outside the country. He has attributed this potential to four pillars of geography, demography, modernity (comprising technology and managerial sophistication) and work culture. As for geography, the country is located at the cross-roads of important regions and can attract unlimited investment. It is also true that the country has one of the world's largest youngest population, which is considered to be a demographic dividend but a comprehensive and sustained programme is needed to equip them with latest knowledge and skills. Mastery over complicated nuclear technology and distinctions achieved by Pakistani students and scholars in the global arena in different spheres of life clearly show that sky is the limit for our people if they are given right kind of environment to excel. There is also immense potential to increase agricultural productivity and overcome most of our challenges by exploiting our huge natural resources like Thar Coal, tight gas and precious minerals in different parts of the country. For this to happen, our political leadership would have to shun its jaundiced attitude that has entangled it into political cobweb, leaving no time for them to focus on real issues of economy that can also made the country politically sovereign in true sense of the word.
DUE EXPECTATIONS FROM CIVIL SERVANTS
PUNJAB Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has rightly pinned hopes on the civil servants to deliver their best for the development of the country and welfare of the masses. The Chief Minister was speaking at a ceremony where cash awards were distributed among officers of various Provincial Government departments for their outstanding performance.
The logic and validity of the proposition that bureaucracy is the nucleus of governmental management has long been acknowledged by scholars of development administration. We agree with the Chief Minister that people in civil service are important part of the State structure, they remain in place for a long time and contribute their level best in delivery of public services while the governments and elected people come and go. In Pakistan particularly the civil servants on the whole are professionally sound and trained as they come through a transparent competitive process. Through professional expertise and experience in different fields, they have made tremendous contributions in the development of the country despite numerous constraints. Even during their secondments to other under developed countries, they made their mark and the host governments recognized their potential. But unfortunately during the last about three decades there is a depressing process as the successive governments tried to politicize bureaucracy. Those who resisted such attempts were removed or sidelined and thus the civil service has been made shaky. What is also worth mentioning is that the salary structure is not such to attract the best talent and the honest and dedicated officers feel insecure. We believe that there should be reforms in the civil service providing security of job, fix tenure of posting at a particular job and promotions in a transparent way. While the government and the people rightly expect from the civil servants to deliver, it is essential that there should be enabling environment including right man for the right job instead of providing lucurative posts on contract to those having connections in the corridors of power. We are confident that if this is done, the civil servants can perform wonders.
POLITICAL REFORMS IN FATA
NEWS & VIEWS
President Asif Ali Zardari has signed two orders regarding Amendments in the FCR (2011) and Extension of the Political Parties Order 2002 to the Tribal Areas, which could be a prelude to far-reaching administrative, judicial and political reforms in tribal areas. The signing ceremony was held in the Presidency which was witnessed by tribal elders drawn from all the seven tribal agencies, five frontier regions, FATA parliamentarians, provincial cabinet of KPK, diplomats, media persons and representatives of a number of NGOs. Spokesperson to the President Farhatullah Babar said that representatives of various political parties, who had earlier formed multi-party Joint Committee on FATA reforms, also witnessed the signing ceremony. Amendments have been made in Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCRs); in fact these repressive laws of the colonial era should be done away with, and the laws of the land should be applicable to FATA as well.
We have been listening to the vows of the government that political reforms in FATA announced on 14th August 2009 would soon be implemented to bring the tribal people into the mainstream of national life, but so far no progress was made, though President Zardari had directed Governor Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Barrister Masood Kausar for early implementation of the reforms in consultation with FATA parliamentarians. At this point in time when formation of new provinces in Punjab and elsewhere is being debated, and when Gilgit-Baltistan has already been declared as an autonomous region with the promise to give it full status of a province after making necessary amendment to the Constitution, the government should give special consideration to establishment of FATA province as well. The FATA region merits a provincial status by every canon, unquestioningly. Bring up any criterion and the region emphatically makes for a compact province area-wise, population-wise, resources-wise, administration-wise, as well as ethnically and linguistically. In other words, the FATA's case is very sound and incontrovertible. And if in spite of that the name FATA is not figuring up in the debate on creating new provinces, it is a question mark on the political partisans and the intellectual elites alike. The political class is haggling over creation or non-creation of new provinces clearly with their political considerations in their minds. Those campaigning for new provinces obviously feel that that would stand in good stead politically, and those resisting or dithering think that this would hurt them politically one way or the other. It goes without saying that they had made FATA a separate province, it would have been calm and tranquil part of the country.
In October 2009, the International Crisis Group (ICG) in a report titled "Pakistan: Countering Militancy in FATA", had examined the Talibanization in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and argued that only reforms that encourage political diversity, enhance economic opportunity, and guarantee civil and political rights will address the problem. The ICG had suggested to the US and the international community to combine aid with a robust dialogue on institutional reform in border areas of Pakistan. The report warned that "this ongoing operation is unlikely to succeed in curbing the spread of religious militancy in the FATA, unless the Pakistan government implements political reforms in that part of the country". But the ruling elite were preoccupied with bickering and debating over power-sharing formulae, and did not have the time to focus on matters of public interest.One does not need to be an expert in the subject of crisis management to understand the causes for the lack of development of the region, and also the measures to be taken to address the situation. However, more than once studies were conducted and plans announced but such ideas had never gone beyond noble sentiments. On 28th March 2009, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the floor of the National Assembly had delivered a comprehensive speech and among other things he promised to abolish Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCRs) and introduce reforms in FATA, but no progress seemed to have been made since then due to lack of political will and resources. Unfortunately, international community has also been found wanting and rendering lip service only. Friends of Democratic Pakistan's meager contribution to the fund for rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons and to help Pakistan, is a case in point.
It has to be mentioned that the FCRs are remnants of British Raj framed in 1890 by which it administered the tribal areas through political agents. Under this system, if an individual of a tribe commits a crime, the entire tribe is penalized, which is against the very concept of justice. It goes without saying that the people of tribal areas are very much citizens of Pakistan, and are entitled to the same rights and privileges enjoyed by the people living in other parts of the country. They should have had the right to form political parties or become members of the existing political parties of Pakistan. Had they been part of mainstream politics, religious fanatics would not have had the influence to aid and abet the foreign militants to create problems for Pakistan. If political reforms were introduced to bring tribal areas in the mainstream politics, political parties would have reached the voters, circulated their manifestos and created political awareness. By doing so, moderate trends would have flourished and moderate elements prevailed over the extremist elements that have tarnished Pakistan's image in the world. It should be noted that more than 70 per cent residents of FATA live below the poverty line due to lack of physical protection, legal rights and economic opportunity for a large number of subsistence farmers. And they are likely to become easy militant recruit for the terrorist outfits. So far, there has been no sign of establishment of much publicized Reconstruction Opportunity Zones in tribal areas, despite pledges by the US in 2005, said a report parepared by the NWFP department of industries and manpower. The report had also stated the US-led war on terrorism is being fought mainly in the FATA, which has destroyed 80 per cent of the local economy, reducing employment opportunities. Of course, the war on terror had adversely impacted the economy, which led to resource restraints vis-à-vis lower federal revenue.
The decision to establish Reconstruction Opportunity Zones in FATA was made with a view to providing boost to the local industry, jobs to people affected by the war on terror and also the people affected by the earthquake in the Hazara region. Under the proposal, the US was to set up industrial units in FATA and earthquake-hit areas as part of the ROZs and facilitate tax-free export of products to the United States. Additionally, local people were to get jobs on priority basis in the industrial units. A few months ago, the US diplomat Robin Raphel had reaffirmed the United States' determination to assist Pakistan in maintaining stability and economic prosperity. According to the plan, the products of the ROZs would be exported to the United States. But nothing concrete has been done for establishment of ROZs. In fact, whenever the US wants Pakistan to extend war on terror, it makes promises and then forgets after the objective is achieved.
—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.
GOVT APATHY & TEXTILE CRISIS
ALI ASHRAF KHAN
On this 64th Independence day I recall having read in Maj General Akbar Khan's book " Raiders in Kashmir" that when on this day in 1947 newly installed Governor General Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinah was receiving dignitaries from armed and civil administration, General Akbar had after felicitating the Quaid said, Sir, what type of Independence is this, when we in the army are not Independent, we still continue to serve under General Douglas David Gracey, C-in-C and Joint Supreme Commander Field Marshal Auckenlec. The Governor General replied " You the officers of armed forces have no business to indulge in politics, get back to your barracks and perform your duties professionally" Today I am thinking about the looming dangers to our country and the nation, when people in the street put a barrage of questions about the future of our young generation. Unfortunately our leaders and media on this day portrays as if everything was alright thus put every thing under the carpet.
We are not comfortable with the direction of events that are unfolding in Pakistan against our vital national interest under dictation from our foreign master, that overnight we have changed and accept India as our benefactor because US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has bridged the gap, while it has been reported that Pak-US deal for replacement of PC-3 Orion aircraft destroyed during the attack on Mehran Base has been scrapped by US. Why so, has forced us to think that may be this has been done under a scheme of things to please India, may be there was some hidden hand involved in the Mehran Base incident. In this hour of serious crises the nation looks towards the President of Pakistan, who is fighting for survival of his political arm the PPP, the opposition party in center and ruling party in Punjab the PML (N) is facing a challenge that may seal their future on endorsing of demand for Siraiki province by PPP and PML (Q) to settle their score with them, which has opened a Pandora box on demand for more provinces, while the common man continues to suffer. Supreme Court of Pakistan is trying to establish its constitutional position in implementing decisions pertaining to laws and provide justice across the board. The army has opted to remain silent but according to a recently issued press release, they have endorsed the current situation as normal and alright. So in nutshell it looks as if all and sundry are working not only to re-write their own history, but trying to take a lead in selling their souls to Americans. The sub-nationalists in KPK, Sindh, Balochistan and Southern Punjab appear to be already on board with the outside lobbies that matter in creating such a situation of anarchy in Pakistan. Lawyers are grinding their own axe at the cost of national confusion. The governments in the center and provinces also appear to be lost and confused instead of grave situation starring in their eyes straight.
The enemies of Pakistan, now has all its assets in place and the anti-Pakistan game plan would be unfolding in the near future, US, India and Israel nexus appears to be too desperate to create a larger separate Pashton region based on ethnic lines as envisioned in the greater Middle East plan for Pakistan. The Holy month of Ramzan and sizzling summer season is on, load shedding of electricity and gas is going on without any hope for its reversal. Law & order is broken completely, prices of essential consumer goods are touching the sky, wheel of productivity is jammed putting back breaking pressure on the system, which is not able to cope with the challenge of time. In 21st Century one thing is clear that peace and progress will only be achieved now from the economic barrel of the gun. So we must try to address our economic issues on top priority. The on-going crises in Textile sector needs to be addressed in its true perspective keeping in view the realities before us without any political expediency.
The unholy alliance with the US has also helped to further ruin Pakistan's economy. Interference and dictate of IMF and WB have damaged an economy which was anyway affected by mismanagement, corruption and negligence. One example is the ruin of Pakistan's textile industry, once upon a time a leading export branch of the country. Textile exporters fear a massive fall in textile exports because of enormous decline in cotton prices and majority of Pakistani textile associations would have to develop a joint strategy to achieve the $ 14 billion export target, which is an up hill task. During the last year the cotton price had surged up to Rs.15, 000/- per mound globally which increased our textile exports from $ 10.22 billion to 13.8 billion in the fiscal year 2011. However, the arrival of the new cotton crop and the decline in the Chinese demand for cotton the prices have fallen down to Rs. 6,000 per mound with an expected bumper crop of 17 million bales our textile made-up sector is going to suffer adversely and our exports will fall sharply and our spinning sector is going to suffer as well because they had procured and stored cotton with bank borrowing at 16,000 rupees per mound, which is now Rs. 6,000/- and may fall further if we don't change our direction. Reports are that 350 textile manufacturing units have closed down in Faisalabad, once know as Manchester of Pakistan due to electricity and gas shortage. Cottage and auxiliary industries are the most affected sector, more than 50% of the power loom units, that provides employment to some 2 million skilled and unskilled workers have gone out of business due to power and gas outages.
This reliance on fake help from US instead of activating our own resources and cutting unproductive expenses of our government and the parliament is damaging our economy further and might drag us down into the abyss into which the US and Western economies are about to fall. Reports are that even China is facing difficulty in selling their textile products, hence they have reduced the product prices drastically and the government has come out in supporting their domestic industry to continue productivity to retain their share in the world market. While it is unfortunate that Pakistani government has not realised their responsibility to make Pakistani textiles export sustainable by immediately providing subsidy or grants as they have done in the case of KESC without achieving any result. Will our government realise the magnitude of this problem and take remedial measure without fail of time or keep waiting till we lose more then 50% share in textile export market due to the prevailing situation. It is unfortunate that Bangladesh and India have stood behind their textile industry and providing support in this crisis period, while our rulers are oblivious of the entire situation and rather continuing to increase day by day the cost of utility services including: electricity, gas, LPG, CNG, Insurance and Bank interest rates on borrowing. The net result would ultimately be collapse of textile sectors exports in a cotton growing country leading to complete economic breakdown. Today's prevailing economic strangulation leading to self-inhalation needs to be recuperated on war footing. Textile and its ancillary industry, which provides employment to more than half a million people and contributing 60% of our foreign exchange earning is facing a really serious crisis in our history, and if immediate remedial measures are not taken on war footing today by providing special concessions and viable infrastructure the remaining export of manufacturing industry will soon be lost because of in-competiveness in the thin air. I as chairman of one of the textile exporters association know the ground reality and difficulties faced by these entrepreneurs, and I fear that our textile exports will be reduced to 50% in 2012 with further increase in un-employment and stagflation of economy. The entrepreneurs and all the textile associations are crying hoarse to attract attention of the concerned quarters in the government to come to their rescue. Though there is little hope that our economic & financial managers will realise this problem and interact with the stake holder-the industry and provide proper relief for sustainability of our wheel of productivity, which is a great national service of these entrepreneurs, otherwise they will be forced to take extreme measures by liquividating their industry.
In this confused national scenario one thing is not understandable, as to why our government is sleeping and has not addressed the problem, which has lead to closure of many textile units; on the contrary government is taking adverse measures to further cripple the already sick units, which are very vital for our economy. Pakistan is cotton producing country and textile exports not only generates financial viability but provides employment to a large number of people. Bangladesh is not a cotton producer but their government has stood behind their textile exporters and provided financial as well as reduced the utility prices to provide an edge to become competitive in world markets and this is the secret of Bangladesh's sharp growth as a leading exporter of textile made-ups. Let us realise this situation and mobilize our resources to build a strong Pakistan and stop looking for foreign assistance, we must do little soul searching and see what they can do for Pakistan and stop think for taking anything from Pakistan. God bless Pakistan with Unity, Faith and Discipline.
THE RIGHTLY GUIDED CALIPHS — 15
MONTH OF BLESSINGS
The English word Caliph is a translation of the Arabic word 'Khalifa'. Khalifa is the short form of 'Khalifatu Rasulilah' which means 'successor of the Messenger of God' i.e. the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The mission of Mohammad Pbuh was to encourage people to enter in the fold of Islam. The objective was to enlighten and awaken people to the divine truth that there is no power more omnipotent and omnipresent other than Allah. He is the creator of universe and will sustain till the end of the world. The divine injunctions are documented in the Holy book, i.e. the Quran and it is incumbent upon all believers to follow it for all times to come
In terms of conception, after the prophet, there is a need for a successor to carry forward the prophet's message and to act in the capacity of a guide for the Muslim Ummah. This role has to be played by a trusted and responsible guardian who can act with full responsibility of ensuring compliance of the Holy injunctions throughout the various levels. Islamic history boasts of four such formidable personalities who acted in the privileged roles of Caliphs to further the cause of Islam and to spread the Prophet's Pbuh word after his death.
These caliphs truly followed in the footsteps of the Holy (PBUH) and were therefore titled as 'Khulafa e Rashideen' ie the rightly guided caliphs. In terms of hierarchy and order the Khulafa-e-Rashideen followed a sequence commencing from Hazrat Abu Bakar Siddiq R A, Hazrat Umar RA, Hazrat Usman R.A and Hazrat Ali ibn Abi TAlib A.S. If one were to undertake a detailed study of their individual lives over the course of Arabian history one would be inundated with instances where their mannerisms have been a true reflection of a believer, just the way the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had guided. They also had the privilege of working so closely to the Prophet and observing him in his exemplary conduct, getting groomed by him that it was but natural to assume a disposition which could be close to perfection.
Hazrat Abu Bakr R.A was one of the closest companions of Holy Prophet (PBUH) apart from being the first caliph. His daughter Hazrat Aisha R.A was in wedlock with the Prophet Pbuh whom he loved dearly. Hazrat Abu Bakr was one of those companions who was given the glad tidings of entering heaven by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) during his lifetime. Hazrat Abu Bakr commanded great respect due to his humble and pious character.
He was the most trusted companion of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and also earned the title of "As-Siddiq" (the most truthful and sincere person in faith) from the Holy Prophet (PBUH). He alone accompanied amongst all the companions with the Holy Prophet (PBUH), during migration from Makkah to Madinah. He participated in all the battles of Islam with Holy Prophet (PBUH). The Holy Prophet (PBUH) held him in high esteem. He is reported to have said that, "If I were to take a friend other than my Lord, I would take Abu Bakr as a friend." When the Holy (PBUH) first invited his closest friends and relatives to Islam, Abu Bakr was among the earliest to accept it. After the death of Hazrat Abu Bakr, Hazrat Umar RA took over the reins of caliphate. Hazrat Umar was appointed caliph during the illness phase of Abu Bakr RA Hazrat Umar entered the fold of Islam in an interesting manner. One day at a meeting of the kuffar the question arose: 'Who will kill Muhammad?' Umar volunteered to execute this task. He picked up his sword and set off. Along the way he met Sa'd Bin Abi Waqqas who asked: "Umar, where are you off to?" Umar replied: "To slay Muhammad." Hadhrat Sa'd said: "Umar, first tend to your own home. Both your sister and brother-in-law have accepted Islam."
This made Hazrat Umar furious and he went home and assaulted them. Only when they said, '"Umar, you can do what you like, but you cannot turn our hearts away from Islam." It took a transformational effect on him. He was moved by the words of the Holy Qur'an which his sister shared with him. He went straight to Prophet's house and vowed allegiance to him. He made no secret of his acceptance of Islam and openly gathered Muslims for prayers. The boldness of his personality and his extraordinary courage raised the morale and spirits of Muslims of Mecca.
The soundness of 'Umar's judgment, his dedication to the Holy Prophet (PBUH), his forthrightness and integrity won for him a trust and confidence from the Prophet which was second only to that given to Abu Bakr. The Prophet gave him the title 'Farooq' which means the 'Separator of Truth from False hood.' During the Caliphate of Abu Bakr, 'Umar was his closest assistant and adviser. Subsequent to Hazrat Umar, the caliphate was taken in the hands of Hazrat Uthman. Hadrat Uthman (R.A.) was a very pious companion. He was the most modest of all the companions. Once the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was sitting with some of his companions and the shin of this leg was not covered. In the meantime somebody informed him about the arrival of Hadrat Uthman (RA). The Holy Prophet (PBUH) immediately covered it and remarked: "Even the angels have regard for the modesty of Uthman"
He was a strict follower of the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Somebody asked him the reason for smiling after wudu. He replied he had seen the Holy Prophet smiling after making wudu, so he smiled to follow him. He was extremely God fearing. Tears used to roll down his face because of Allah's fear. Whenever the consequences to be faced in the grave were described before him, he used to weep so much that his beard could get wet with tears. Sometimes he wept and cried seeing a corpse or a grave because of fear of Allah. He used to say, "Grave is the first stage among all the stages of the Hereafter. If a person is successful there, he would be successful on the Day of Judgement too. If a person faces difficulty in the grave, other stages would also be difficult for him."
The title of caliphate went to Ali ibn Abi Talib after Hazrat Usman. After the assassination of Hazrat Usman (RA) the insurgents approached Hazrat Ali to be the Khalifah as the city of Medina had descended into a chaos and anarchy.
Hazrat Ali was a very brave man. He participated in almost all the battles against the non-believers during the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The stories of his bravery are famous in history. Because of his bravely Hazrat Ali was popularly called "Asadullah"(The Lion of Allah). The mission of each caliph centred around a common theme; to reinforce the Prophet's message and inculcate the divine injunctions in the lives of all Muslims. To create a surrounding based on peace, equality, justice and they were successful in this. They continue to serve as apt examples till eternity for us to learn from and to follow.
MOVING BEYOND ISLAMIC TERRORISM
The Norway incident has come as a shock to all. The massacre of dozens of people in broad daylight by a lone fanatic Anders Behring Breivik was just gruesome. What is appalling is the efforts put in to understand Breivik. Why he committed such a horrific act it? What led him to such insanity? Many explanations have come forward. Such as Breivik belonging to a broken family, not having a girlfriend and God knows what. Funny enough, one person actually came up with a story that in Norway jail inmates are encouraged to exercise and have access to personal trainers. Hence, Breivik systematically killed all those people to have his own good looking female personal trainer. Some international commentators have described it as an act of insanity. But ruling out this act on the basis of insanity is not right, it may set a dangerous precedent. Then probably the 9/11, 7/7, terrorists were all insane too.
Don't we wish that the same understanding had been extended towards other people, perpetrators of terrorism. Maybe they had much more real grievances to tell. The people who belong to conflict-ridden areas and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Or people with real economic or social deprivation or victims of political injustices. The collateral damage caused and the loss of innocent civilians in counter-terrorism operations certainly give way to vindictive feelings and hence terrorism. Could they have escaped the clutches of terrorism if the causes of terrorism had been understood?
Surprisingly, Breivik's fifteen hundred pages manifesto did not catch any attention of the authorities. In the aftermath of 9/11, western governments have taken many steps to ensure internet surveillance such as cybercrime act in the United States, and the Europe Convention on cybercrime. Interestingly, if you remember that a girl named Samina Malik was sentenced to nine months of jail in UK for scribbling an extremist poem and downloading extremist content. Apparently, absolute focus on 'Islamic terrorism' just let this 1500 pages manifesto escaped the attention of the authorities. But could this be justified as a lone act by an individual? Definitely not.
The European governments have been playing their part ingraining deep hatred for the Muslims in their societies. Through acts like stringent policies on immigration, passing of legislation in France and Belgium banning the Islamic veil, banning of construction of minarets on Mosques in Switzerland, the anti-Muslim sentiments have enjoyed state patronage. British Prime Minister David Cameron publicly stated in February this year that state multiculturalism has failed. By condemning Muslims and immigrants the states set dangerous a pattern. It was convenient to blame Muslims than to find fault with their own system. The increasing Islamophobia has been highlighted by Baroness Warsi, co-chairperson of United Kingdom's Conservative Party. According to Ms. Warsi anti-Muslim prejudice has become commonplace in British society and anti-Muslim bigotry helps sell newspapers like hot cakes.
Since 9/11, the hate material against Islamic terrorism, not terrorism, has seen unfathomable depths. Notions like Islamic fundamentalism, Islamophobia and extremism have been relentlessly used. It was President Bush after all who used the term crusade and thus gave a religious connotation to the War on Terror. At certain times it would actually seem delusional. However, thanks to lack of intellectual capacity on part of Muslims, no counter terminology or argument was put forward and the whole world accepted these as established terminologies. Maybe Christian Fundamentalism should be given a shot at now. May be not. It is true that if Islamic terrorism is such a menace then so are other forms of terrorism. Nevertheless it is no time to give typologies of terrorism, to tell Islamic terrorism from Christian terrorism, but to condemn and prevent terrorism in its entirety, in all its forms and manifestations. It is time to move beyond Islamic terrorism. It would be wrong to declare the death of multiculturalism and write diversity off in west as yet.
Despite the Norway incident and the like the Western societies have huge merits. Values like diversity, understanding and tolerance have been nurtured and upheld by the West for long. It would be wrong to reverse this policy at the behest of a few. The Norway incident however calls for serious rethinking, a new political debate and a change in policies. The growing Muslim population in west is a reality and cannot be changed. The trick is not to treat them as 'others'. The charter of United Nations' Charter endorses the human rights — 'human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want' regardless of race or sex. The right-wing must learn a lesson now that by embarking on such policies it has put its head in a noose. The success lies in diversity, in cohesion not in alienation.
—The writer is a researcher at IPRI.
DANGERS OF SECULARISM IN THE ME
Since the Arab Spring began last December, Western analysts have voiced a recurrent fear: that a long era of Arab stability will be replaced not by secular democrats but by Islamic theocrats. In Egypt, they warn, the Muslim Brotherhood will overtake the young secular activists who bravely brought down dictator Hosni Mubarak. In Syria, they have claimed, Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship may be brutal, but it is a lesser evil than a Sunni majority that will oppress Christians, Shiites, and women. Such anxiety plays perfectly into the ruling rationale of the region's secular sultans, who have resisted popular governance with the argument that it spells theocracy.
But such fear and false choices should be resisted. A stable Middle East will be achieved not through the suppression of religion but through its robust inclusion in politics. The choice facing Arab Spring nations at this point isn't one between religion and secular government. It's a choice between democracy that includes all parties – religious and secular – and a regime that imposes a rigid and exclusive secularism. By allowing religious parties to have political participation, is there a risk that such groups will win some votes and acquire some political power? Yes. The question, though, is not whether such groups oppose liberal democracy and threaten stability – some surely do – but which kind of political environment mitigates their extremist tendencies. And which kind intensifies them.
The reflexive fear of politically active religious groups is rooted in an ideology of secularism that persists among elite American foreign policy makers. Now, if secularism means a healthy distinction between religious and political authority, it is essential to democracy. Pope Benedict XVI called this "positive secularism." Negative secularism, by contrast, presumes that religion is irrational, premodern, violent, and headed for extinction – and has no place in democratic politics.
Negative secularism mistakenly equates religious political participation with religious takeover and the subversion of democracy. Its answer to theocracy is "seculocracy:" the absolute supremacy of nonreligious principles in politics. Pro-government forces in Syria illustrated the attitude of seculocracy last week in Hama after they crushed protests there. They scrawled on the walls of the city such slogans as: "No God but al-Assad" and "God falls down and Assad lives." During the cold war, negative secularism undergirded America's policy in the Middle East. America's overriding concern was finding reliable allies against the Soviets. In a few cases these allies were highly religious, as were Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Far more often, though, they were regimes built on nationalism, economic and social modernization – and the secular containment of grassroots Islam.
From Tangiers to Tehran, such regimes sought to control Islam by marginalizing, privatizing, and sharply regulating it. They gave legal and financial support to approved moderate Muslims; they jailed and tortured traditional dissident Muslims. When Western liberals questioned why Mr. Mubarak imprisoned 20,000 of his Egyptian citizens, Mubarak replied: It's either me or the Muslim Brotherhood. The US bought the argument. Such thinking partly explains why the Obama administration was slow to abandon xzMubarak. Only days before the dictator's downfall, according to The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, a White House official summarized Mubarak's message to the US as "Muslim Brotherhood, Muslim Brotherhood, Muslim Brotherhood."In the end, however, America's policy of promoting secular dictatorships has simultaneously undermined democracy and stability and bolstered religious radicals. Instead, the United States will best advance its long term interests by encouraging the Middle East's transitioning regimes to invite all non-violent religious groups into the political arena. Conversely, we find that religious groups are most likely to be peaceful and supportive of democracy when they live under regimes that respect their autonomy. Islamic countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mali, Senegal, and Turkey demonstrate that when Islamic parties participate in politics they not only operate by the rules of the democratic game but also, in time, become more moderate.
If the United States wishes to advance democracy, stability, and the defeat of terrorism in the upheaval in the Middle East, it must continue to abjure the brand of secularism that views religion only as a threat. It must realize not only that religion is here to stay but also that, in the right kind of setting and through the right kind of policies, religion can become an ally, not an enemy, of American interests and ideals. The writer is an associate professor of political science and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame. — Courtesy: The Christian Science Monitor
DON'T TAKE US FOR GRANTED
WHEN US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Kurt Campbell told The Australian in an exclusive interview this week that US foreign policy needed to pivot away from the Middle East and towards Asia, he was giving rare public voice to a widespread view across the Obama administration.
Neither Dr Campbell, nor anyone else in the Obama administration, wants the US to shirk its continuing responsibilities to the Middle East. Nor, indeed, does Asia, not least because of the pivotal role of the Persian Gulf in Asian energy supplies. But the Obama administration understands that in the 21st century, the most important forces of global history will play out in what might now best be termed the Indo-Pacific region, that is, in the great fulcrum encompassing the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.
The US has enormous interests at stake throughout this region, and is essential to its wellbeing, in economic and security terms. A deep realisation of this lay behind the high-level US attendance at the Australian American Leadership Dialogue in Perth at the weekend. This dialogue has become a unique and important private initiative in Australian diplomacy that brings together leaders, beyond the scope of government, from both nations.
For Australia, there is an overriding interest in maximising the US position in Asia. This helps ensure the peaceful and constructive integration of China, and also helps the region take full advantage of the emergence of India, the re-entry of Vietnam into mainstream global economic activity, and the continuing success of Southeast Asian nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Mainstream Australian policymakers have no interest in the foolish suggestions of some academic commentators that we should ask the US to diminish its position in Asia. Nor does the US budget deficit debate suggest the US will be unable to fill the central role of balancer and stabiliser that it has long played in Asia. In all of this, the relationship between Australia and the US becomes more important, and more intimate. The danger is that too many will take it for granted, whereas such a complex relationship across security, economic, trade, cultural and political fields requires more, not less, attention. The dialogue, and the leadership of officials such as Dr Campbell, suggest this reality is widely understood.
CONVOY OF DISCONTENT ROLLS ON
TRUCKING blockades are nothing new. During the past three decades, the leafy avenues of Canberra's parliamentary triangle and main roads in capital cities and towns have been jammed numerous times by hundreds of trucks, horns blaring in protest over fuel prices, the withdrawal of logging licences, tariff cuts and general discontent.
Such demonstrations, which cost truckies thousands of dollars, tend to be forgotten quickly. Politicians who ignore the underlying sentiments of such protests, however, run the risk of electoral backlash and driving support towards populist protest parties such as One Nation or Bob Katter's Australian Party, which have little to contribute to policy but help aggrieved voters feel someone is listening. All politicians should be listening, but must not be steamrolled into simplistic, populist reactions.
It is no surprise that the anger in rural and provincial Australia has erupted in the shape of the well-organised "Convoy of No Confidence", which is gaining support as it moves to Canberra from 11 starting points as far apart as Port Headland, Cairns and Bendigo. It promises to be the largest protest of its kind seen in Australia, with participants' grievances including legitimate concerns about the Gillard government's carbon tax, its mishandling of the $320 million live cattle export trade and, as outlined above, tensions over mining encroaching on prime farming land.
The convoy has also caught the imagination of voters angry about government waste, about Labor's failure to stop the boatloads of asylum-seekers, and who feel that the government has forgotten its working-class base in its eagerness to pander to the urban elites who support the Greens. Predictably, the convoy has also tapped into resentment about the importation of Chinese apples, the general protectionist sentiment that pervades the bush and pent up frustration among those who are struggling economically despite the most lucrative mining boom in history.
There is no justification for the early election its organisers want. But the history of One Nation shows that such widespread discontent could cost the major parties dearly. Without bowing to populist pressure, politicians must engage with the vast constituency who increasingly feel forgotten and isolated in regional and outer urban areas.
SWITCHING FROM COAL, BUT BOB STILL NOT HAPPY
BOB Brown and his colleagues seem to have conveniently forgotten that the carbon tax they brokered with the Prime Minister is designed to push energy producers away from dirty coal to cleaner energy sources. Indeed, the Greens' opportunistic legislation to limit coal-seam gas exploration looks more like another effort to beat up big mining rather than a rational approach to the reduction of carbon emissions.
Senator Brown was busy yesterday accusing Tony Abbott of a confused response to the deep conflicts between mining and farming now emerging in communities from the Darling Downs to Victoria. But the Greens leader might like to examine his own commentary and ask himself whether he is undermining the very carbon price regime he wants to impose.
Environmentalists and gas companies used to be on the same page about the merits of gas over coal, with even extreme climate change campaigners seeing gas as a reasonable interim energy source until renewables are able to provide base-load power. Some environmental groups now argue that (along with concerns about the impact on water sources) the methane released in the production of coal-seam gas is not as greenhouse friendly as once thought. This area is contested, but in the absence of nuclear power or viable renewables gas is really the only alternative to coal. That has not stopped the Greens, who once again have glossed over the complex economic issues and obvious trade-offs involved in this debate in their rush to wedge the Opposition. The end result is that a political party committed to destroying the coal industry is now talking down the energy source that represents a viable replacement for modern, industrialised nations.
Make no mistake, the rush to mine is a red-hot issue in rural Australia. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh's decision to block exploration leases within 2km of towns of more than 1000 people is a recognition of the political clout now being wielded by farmers and their communities. Crown ownership of minerals is not new, but the national contract is being tested because of the speed and scale of onshore gas projects -- as well as open-cut coal mines. As environment editor Graham Lloyd writes today, big gas companies have always known about the huge reserves of coal-seam gas below our farmland: it's just that until the present rise in demand and prices there was no need to extract it when they could easily meet demand by mining offshore.
Increased demand is coming largely from the need to fuel Asia at a time when the global efforts to address climate change have focused on dumping coal. The irony is that the stampede for leases has been driven by investors who fear that, thanks to people such as Senator Brown, the global price on carbon emissions in the next few years will be too high. The energy market is responding to price, as it should. Now it is up to the states that hold responsibility for licensing exploration to respond to the concerns raised by farmers over food production, lifestyle and water purity.
If he wants to help, Senator Brown should listen to farm leaders such as NSW Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson, who said yesterday that farmers wanted to regain some power so they could negotiate "proper commercial terms" for access.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
HOW TO POLICE THE SUPERCOPS?
THE conviction of Mark Standen has rightly prompted calls for the full ramifications of his corruption and criminal behaviour to be explored. As assistant director at the NSW Crime Commission, with some 25 investigators reporting directly to him, Standen had an extraordinary level of trust placed in him. The commission itself has extraordinary powers, including the right to compel answers from suspects even at the risk of self-incrimination and to freeze and seize property deemed the proceeds of crime.
This trust and these powers were sorely abused by Standen. Though paid $247,450 a year, he was trapped by his own greed and self-indulgence in a cycle of debt. The illegal drug trade which he was paid to smash appeared as his financial rescue. No doubt he convinced himself that the chemical ''recreational'' drugs enjoyed by a wide group of partygoers and clubbers were a victimless product, with law enforcement agencies blocking only a small fraction of the supply meeting the demand.
Whatever the debate about the criminalising of drug taking, Standen deserves no sympathy. He opened a massive doorway of corruption into an organisation charged with tackling a far greater array of criminal threats than party pills.
Like its federal counterpart, the Australian Crime Commission, the state agency is charged with attacking organised crime and its many supporting activities. He has badly weakened this effort.
These ''supercop'' agencies grew out of numerous royal commissions into predecessor police units. One great flaw, however, is that their personnel have included some like Standen whose career started in the very units that were replaced. Their secrecy and autonomy have also shielded questionable compromises, such as the bargaining over asset seizures that make the commission a pathway for money laundering. Earlier this year we had the unedifying spectacle of the NSW Crime Commission seeking to block a Police Integrity Commission hearing into its activities and sequester records from Herald reporters covering the clash.
The lesson is, once again, that no police agency can be made permanently immune from corruption. Every 15 or 20 years, scandals may build up that shake their leadership. The cleansing is painful, but necessary. The Police Minister, Michael Gallacher, has made a start with a special commission of inquiry into the NSW Crime Commission. He should also reflect that successive police ministers and commissioners have been sitting on the commission's management committee while this corruption occurred. Both federal and state governments should vigorously follow up allegations of wrongdoing at earlier stages of Standen's career, and against others he worked with, and how widely his corruption tainted other cases he handled.
City of runners
IT'S hard to believe the Sun-Herald City2Surf has turned 41 - but the evidence is there for all to see: 85,000 people entered and most ran, walked and crawled half way across the city yesterday in wet, overcast conditions to attend the party. And many more would have taken part if they could have been squeezed in.
The event should take a bow. It has broken hearts, broken records, and may even be a little bit crazy, but Sydney loves it. The immortal image of the teeming thousands launching themselves down William Street every year is engraved in our consciousness, and the 14-kilometre haul from Hyde Park to Bondi Beach captures our imagination: the agony of Heartbreak Hill, the ecstasy of that final sprint - or stagger - past the beachside pavilion. The race started small - 2000 people competed in the first running in 1971 - and grew to become the world's biggest timed fun run, an event in which champions and mere mortals pound the pavements in collective tribute to the geographical wonder of our town. Like all sporting contests, it has its legends. Steve Moneghetti's four consecutive wins, including his 1991 race record, which still stands, live on, as does Robert de Castella's gutsy personal best, just four seconds slower over the distance.
But the heart of the nation's premier road race beats just as strongly in the chest of every accountant from Pymble, every student from Newtown or pensioner from Panania who dons the numbered bib of a contestant, some 1.5 million of them over the decades who have taken the challenge. If the facilities were available the event would be twice its size, so great is the interest in competing.
The City2Surf defies the technology-driven trend towards a segmented community of closeted individuals living virtual lives secluded from one another. It's an outlandish celebration of good health, and a spectacular fund-raiser for more than 550 worthy causes. The record for this year's race - led off by a new elite wheelchair group - will show that Liam Adams, Jessica Trengrove and Kurt Fearnley won the men's, women's and wheelchair categories respectively. But all the finishers deserve the medal they get. It's certainly no stroll in the park. More runners than a Senate election, more outrageous costumes than a Milanese catwalk - and no losers. As it has been for four decades, it was as Sydney as the Heads - cheeky, full of ups and downs, and above all, good fun.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
THE COURT SENDS THE CLEAREST MESSAGE OF ALL
THE state government's controversial intention to introduce mandatory jail terms for some young criminals carries the mantra that this would ''send a clear message'' that gross violence offences would not be tolerated. The ''tough on crime'' measures proposed by the state Coalition during last year's election campaign, and reinforced since the Baillieu government took office, have met with considerable opposition from rightly concerned judicial and social groups. Yet, the government continues to push its law-and-order line, even when more informed opinion has it otherwise. For Mr Baillieu and his Attorney-General, Robert Clark, who are anxious to see their proposals become law, the medium is still the message.
But there are other, conflicting, messages that the government might find hard to ignore. Yesterday, The Age reported that the Court of Appeal (Victoria's highest court) has ruled that general deterrence - discouraging others from committing the same crime - should play no part in the sentencing of children.
The court made the comments last week when resentencing a 15-year-old boy found guilty by a Supreme Court jury of various serious assault and burglary charges. The boy, who was acquitted of another charge of attempted murder, had his three-year sentence in a youth detention centre reduced on appeal to 194 days detention and an 18-month supervision order on release.
Justices Chris Maxwell, David Harper and Lex Lasry said that sentencing under the Children Youth and Families Act must fit in with established principles, designed in the best interest of the child and not designed to stigmatise. The judges ruled that general deterrence was ''entirely foreign'', and that ''the language of the statute conveys a clear legislative intention to exclude general deterrence''.
In other words, general deterrence legally now has no part in the juvenile sentencing process. In May, the government asked the Sentencing Advisory Council to consider the mandatory-sentencing proposals, and the SAC is due to report next month. Even if it is in favour of the plans, it would take a determined government to introduce legislation that has already attracted criticism for understandable reasons. For example, last month, Victoria Legal Aid, in its submission to the SAC, said there is ''overwhelming evidence'' that mandatory sentencing does not create safer communities, and that ''rigid rules'' could lead to injustices in individual cases. In May, the Law Institute of Victoria said the government's ''severe reaction'' is not warranted by statistics that show the targeted offences make up just 0.2 per cent of proven cases in the Children's Court. Also, the court's president, Judge Paul Grant, has unequivocally said there is ''no simple connection between 'locking them up' and stopping offending behaviour''. There are also general concerns at how the laws would work in practice, especially in a state whose custodial capacity is already stretched.
In the face of all this criticism, what does the government do? It massages the message. Mr Clark, in response to the Court of Appeal's ruling, told The Age, ''The government sees no inconsistency between the CYF Act and its statutory minimum sentence initiative''.
The appeal judges clearly thought differently, saying the deliberate use of language in the act dealt only with specific deterrence (our italics) and said ''nothing about the need to deter others from committing violent and wrongful acts''. This was, in their view, ''a clear indication of legislative intention''.
While the courts face a challenge in dealing with extreme violence by minors, a government mindset skewed towards popular prejudice is unhelpful and runs the risk of turning us into a needlessly harsh and fearful society.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
STATE SHIRKS AIRPORT RAIL CHALLENGE
THERE is something perverse about giving priority to a rail link to Avalon Airport over Melbourne Airport. One offers a handful of domestic flights a day, carrying 1.5 million passengers a year. The other is an international gateway, with 200,000 flights a year carrying a fast-growing total of 28 million passengers. Avalon is 56 kilometres from central Melbourne but readily accessible by road. Melbourne airport is closer but the 22-kilometre trip - by car, bus or taxi - is an unpredictable nightmare. Yet the state government is moving first on Avalon. ''There are challenges around an airport link for Melbourne,'' said Aviation Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips.
The government must remember that Labor's failure to tackle tough challenges prompted Victorians to turn to Ted Baillieu's Coalition. Government inaction is the reason that logistical difficulties cited by the government have become greater and more costly in the 41 years since the airport opened. A rail link was planned 48 years ago. A week before the state election, Mr Baillieu promised to deliver one at last. ''John Brumby's broken promise to build an airport rail link has left Melbourne behind Sydney, Brisbane and many international cities. [Our] plan will put an end to the slow crawl along the freeway, expensive taxi fares and lugging heavy suitcases from Southern Cross train platforms to the [Sky]bus.''
Mr Baillieu surely knew the same plan was proposed by the Bolte, Hamer, Cain, Kirner, Kennett and Bracks governments; if it was cheap and easy, one of them would have done it. However, a rail link has never been more badly needed. The repeatedly widened Tullamarine Freeway isn't coping and cannot handle a projected doubling in airport passenger numbers by 2027-28 and growing air freight that amounts to a third of the Australian market. Travellers and the RACV certainly see the Melbourne link as a much higher priority.
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The Baillieu government's allocation of $50 million to preliminary work on an Avalon rail line and $6.5 million to a feasibility study of the Melbourne link suggests a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the more urgent project. The Melbourne Airport project needs to be assessed in terms of the totality of impacts on travellers, business and the state economy.
The feasibility study must be made public to minimise the influence of vested interests. Labor's refusal to release the last study was unacceptable. It would be equally unacceptable for the Coalition to have made an easy promise in opposition with little intention of starting work on a Melbourne airport rail link in the foreseeable future.
POLITICIANS AND THE RIOTS: SPEAKING FOR ENGLAND
While Tory and Labour leaders have rightly taken the opportunity to debate the riots, little has been heard from the Lib Dems
Conventional wisdom says that voters do not pay much attention to politicians in August. But it is possible that the street riots have punctured that assumption. Last week's shocking events may instead have created a fresh appetite for active political responses. If so, David Cameron and Ed Miliband were smart and right to address it in contrasting speeches yesterday. Professional sceptics may continue to think that serious politics in August are a waste of time, yet both the Conservative and Labour leaders seem to feel that this is an important opportunity to speak for England – or at least for English swing voters. It is hard to disagree. The riots are a hugely important national moment which demand an appropriately important national debate. This in turn raises the question of why so few distinctive views on the riots have yet been heard from the Liberal Democrats. Not for the first time, Mr Cameron appears to be bouncing Nick Clegg into a place where a Liberal Democrat leader ought not to be comfortable.
There were things in Mr Cameron's speech that impress: the readiness to address difficult issues, the clarity of some of the views expressed, and the sense of a senior politician confident that he has found his voice in a crisis. It is clear that Mr Cameron thinks that the riots have provided him with an opportunity to define the purpose of his premiership afresh around the idea of fixing a broken society. The problem, though, is that much of what he said was in fact a rehash of old policies and prejudices, some of them good in some ways, but many of them not good in any. This was not an occasion for a populist attack on human rights laws, for instance, or even the health and safety culture, whatever its flaws. These riots have posed far more profound and more complex issues than the prime minister, focusing exclusively on crime, allows. Call him brave or call him reckless, but he has set himself up to fail on that front. His pledge to turn around the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families in the country during this parliament is noble but naive. It would be an inspiring goal, if there was a serious strategy. But there isn't. Even with the best will in the world, it is not going to happen.
If Mr Cameron thinks he is the first politician to have identified the importance of personal morality and social behaviour, he is deluding himself. All his predecessors, Tory and Labour, have done this – and the early Tony Blair government did a lot more serious work on the subject than the coalition has done. The same goes for policies which aim to strengthen families and relationships, fine though the prime minister's words on this were. The problem is not, as Mr Cameron claims, that Britain had not woken up to its social problems until the riots put them on the agenda. It is that Britain has not found an effective and sustainable way, under any modern government, of addressing these problems. Mr Cameron's speech was strong on rhetoric but it lacked the serious detail, not least on spending priorities, that might make it into a credible strategy.
Mr Miliband's speech may do less to make the political weather than Mr Cameron's, which appears to be aimed at cementing the Tory leader's position in his own party rather than putting the national interest first. But it was a much more balanced and serious response – and much more commensurate with the gravity of the issues. The Labour leader is right to berate Mr Cameron for moving from the sensible position he once held that both behaviour and deprivation matter in the fostering of social exclusion and crime to his current simplistic "this was about behaviour" approach – the Lib Dems should be criticising this too. And Mr Miliband is also right to call for a proper commission into the riots. The government's refusal to sanction an inquiry is increasingly perverse. A bit of Lib Dem support for Mr Miliband's campaign would be useful here too.
AFTER FUKUSHIMA: NUCLEAR DIRTY TRICKS
After nearly half a century of producing nuclear power, Japan has finally separated regulation from promotion
The Japanese cabinet decided this week to transfer the country's nuclear safety agency from the trade ministry, where it nestled in a department also dedicated to the expansion of nuclear power, to the environment ministry, where, at least in theory, there is some chance that its operations will not be subverted or manipulated by Japanese energy firms. After nearly half a century of producing nuclear power, Japan has finally separated regulation from promotion, but the move may well have come too late to restore public trust.
In a country where people have to use their own detectors to check on local radiation levels which the government failed to release, where information about threats to life and health after Fukushima dribbled out so haphazardly, and where a nuclear industry apparently unabashed by that disaster has been resorting to dirty tricks to influence public debate, mere bureaucratic rearrangement will hardly suffice. The latest blow to confidence came when it was reported last month that workers at the Kyushu Electric Power Company had been asked to pose as ordinary citizens with no connection to the industry and send emails calling for the resumption of operations at two nuclear reactors in southern Japan to a televised public hearing. Investigations showed this was standard behaviour long before Fukushima, with other power companies admitting that they had sent employees to make up as many as half of the participants in similar forums as far back as 2005.
As if this were not bad enough, two of the utilities said they were urged to do so by the nuclear agency itself. It was this revelation which appears to have led to the decision to fire three top officials, including the head of the agency, and then to reorganise and move it.
Japan's polarised industrial culture, which veers between the heedless pursuit of short- term interest, on the one hand, and confessions, tears, and apparently heartfelt apologies when things go wrong, on the other, makes it an extreme case. But the same factors are at work in every country that has a nuclear industry. The impulse to minimise the inherent risks of the most dangerous technology man has ever tried to master, the tendency to conceal or downplay accidents, the assertion that each succeeding generation of plants is foolproof and super safe, and the presumption, so often proved wrong by events, that every contingency has been provided for, all these have been evident again and again. Angela Merkel, one of the few leading politicians who is also a scientist, saw the writing on the wall. Her decision to phase out nuclear power has revived a global debate which has been dormant for far too long.
IN PRAISE OF ... RUTH WILSON
Theatre critics have been left breathless by the actor's performance in the Donmar production of Anna Christie
It is only six years since she graduated from drama school. But she has established herself on stage, television and film as an outstanding talent in a very talented generation. She has a face that flits from luminous to plain, and a mouth whose long upper lip gives her the mobility of expression she exploits so dangerously. The critics are breathless. Last week in her latest role, as the eponymous Anna Christie in the Donmar production of the Eugene O'Neill play, Ruth Wilson won warm reviews that singled out her "languorous cadences" and her "toughness and vulnerability" – a hint at her ability to convey lightening mood changes without jeopardising the utter authenticity of her character as a woman heartlessly abused but not yet broken. Remarkably, Anna Christie is only her fourth professional stage role: she scored an equal triumph as a woman descending into madness at the Almeida last year in Through a Glass Darkly , and the year before in her debut at the Donmar in A Streetcar Named Desire, where she picked up an Olivier as best supporting actress. On stage, she is easily as powerful as the big names she appears alongside (Jude Law in Anna Christie, Rachel Weisz in Streetcar). She seems to thrive on the complex and the gritty. But as Jane Eyre on the BBC in 2006 she did stillness and gravity along with endurance. She does funny, too: see her first TV role, Suburban Shootout, and watch how today's feisty has its origins in earlier cocky. A courageous, edgy and compelling talent.
THE JAKARTA POST
Much can be found to fault the state of the nation around us. A sense of prevailing injustice to an inept political system soaked in a stench of racketeering.
There is state greed in the face of a country, home to more than 30 million still living below the poverty line, not to mention the 24 million unemployed or those who do not have stable incomes.
Yes, many feel glum as this nation commemorates its 66th independence anniversary, when the romanticism of 1945 ideals is bleached by political gluttony and the helplessness of the everyday Indonesian.
Were the sacrifices endured by our forefathers all for naught?
Nevertheless, amid the sea of cynicism of the urban sprawl, the creaky rural dwellings and isolated hamlets from Sabang to Merauke, there stands this week beacons of pride. Like a lighthouse in rocky shores, perched on high-priced metal poles to makeshift bamboos the red-and-white bustling in the wind recollects our national core.
We Indonesia, are a community created through a long struggle. A sum of its 13,400 islands are not just conceived as a history of a gloried past. Neither is our love of country the kind of chauvinistic nationalism which makes people kill and hate for their country. A one-dimensional nationalism fabricated through a systematic instilling of nationalist ideology via the educational system, regulations and the media.
Our love for Indonesia is an advanced, complex platonic devotion that sees both the right and does not hide its mistakes.
Never forget, we are a nation that refuses to accept conditions as they are and prefers to instead always look forward with the optimism to create something better. The struggle for independence was not a war of independence. It was a revolution to change the facets which hinge social structure.
From emancipation through education in 1908 to nationalist movements such as Jawa Dwipa which aimed to abolish the social hierarchy of the Javanese culture, the recurrent theme of Indonesia's revolutionary struggle has been about liberation and truth.
The struggle was aimed to awaken the nation from the sleep of servitude to the consciousness of independence.
Hence nationalist leader Muhammad Yamin's assertion of the "Age of Proclamation" — the post-1945 independence — as the final epoch of the nation's long history.
It is this epoch that we reflect upon this week.
A modern day nationalist cringes at the events of the day — the absurdity of the Nazaruddin scandal — and detests the continued injustice toward minorities in this country and the complete lethargy at the high echelons of power.
But he/she will also resolve that dishonesty is not a cultural trait of this nation, that our secular values are stronger than our bigotry, and that history has shown us to produce leaders of moral fiber. These are facts that will sustain if none of us lose the spirit of unity and independence, like our forefathers.
True nationalists, heart-tugging lovers of this nation, are those who will never give up on it. No matter how dark the clouds are, or intolerable the mechanics of society can be. We should be proud because of the very fact that we, Indonesians young and old, have full unfettered ability to shape our own destiny.
How many nations in the world do not even have this very basic luxury?
We do. Merdeka!
THE JAKARTA POST
MASS MURDER IN SYRIA
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may have taken his cue from Winston Churchill — who wrote that "dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not to dismount" — in desperately clinging to power by killing as many people as they need to.
Or they may have seen the humiliation former Egypt strongman Hosni Mubarak is going through at the hands of the people he once led for over 30 years. Or they might be inspired by Libya leader Muammar Qaddafi, who is also killing his own people and has virtually split the nation in two to resist pressures to step down.
Unlike Qaddafi, who faces an armed resistance, Assad is dealing with mostly unarmed and peaceful demonstrators who were initially calling for political reforms, but now nothing short of his resignation.
Rather than silencing the protesters, Assad's gun has brought more Syrians into the streets. The death toll, meanwhile, is rising by the day, with estimates ranging from between 1,700 and 2,000 since the protests began in March.
There has not even been a respite during Ramadhan, with Assad's army going on the offensive. On Friday the military was deployed in full force with tanks, armored cars and gunboats to confront protesters in several towns. The BBC quoted activists as reporting that 16 people were killed.
With the country virtually closed off to foreign journalists, it is difficult to know what is really happening inside Syria. But what little credible information becomes available suggests a horrifying mass murder is taking place.
The world is watching, unable, or perhaps unwilling, to do very much to stop the killing. Condemnation by the UN Security Council and the withdrawal of ambassadors by several countries has had little or no effect on the killing, nor has the US call for an economic boycott by Syria's trading partners.
So much for the UN principles of Responsibility to Protect, which mandate the international community's responsibility to intervene, by force if necessary, against a state which fails to protect its citizens. How many deaths will it take for the world to know that too many people have died?
THE JAKARTA POST
WE ARE NO LONGER INDEPENDENT
The core of the struggle for independence carried out by the founders of the Republic of Indonesia was an all out effort to realize (not only to wish for) a life that impregnated by humanity which really is the value of constructive solidarity among the indigenous people of the country.
This constructive solidarity brings about integration and unity of the nation, which then necessitates a logical consequence: standing up as a nation and a state, free from the colonizers.
That's why Indonesian independence could not be separated from the unity of the Indonesian nation and from the establishment of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia.
The founders of the Republic not only wished for independence, but they realized the independence in their day-to-day struggle. And because the struggle was inspired by a value which they upheld, they had the courage to sacrifice themselves for the value.
We may summarize five elements of the reality of the independent life from the struggle for independence. They are a really living noble value, constructive solidarity among indigenous people of Indonesia, integration and unity, the praxis of really independent life that is not merely dreamed of but manifested in daily life and the courage to sacrifice.
At this moment, we are sensing and witnessing that the five elements of the really independent life have been decreasing significantly.
So, it is not redundant to state that we are no longer independent. Around the year 1945, we were more independent than now.
At this moment, we are witnessing people upholding pragmatism for the sake of their own advantages, defending materialism and over-consumption to indulge their own desires and sustaining glorified self-appearances to satisfy their narcissistic needs.
At present, we are shamelessly creating instinctive creatures that are almost completely oriented to just only primitive needs such as bodily and materialistic desires and narcissistic longings.
In accordance with this condition, the elites are highly corruptive, like to enrich themselves, but have no sensitivity to or awareness of abject poverty facing millions of people in the country.
Government officials and politicians work not to enhance prosperity of the people but to enrich themselves through misuse of their power.
They talk to each other inside luxurious buildings while people work hard to earn a small amount of money just to survive outside.
In this regard, constructive solidarity among Indonesian people is continuously slumping. The decrease has catastrophic and horrible impacts, such as threats to national unity, sales of national assets to foreigners, conflicts in the name of religious symbols and tribal identities and discrimination against the minority. Of course, consistent with the decline of constructive solidarity, integration and unity of the nation is in jeopardy.
Hypocrisy and dishonesty are widespread in line with the fall of the praxis of really independent life. The absence of that praxis will imprison the elite in illusions.
This is the nucleus of hypocrisy and dishonesty. In the midst of hypocrisy and dishonesty, the elite often talk about their wishful thinking and utter their false promises. Surely, all of them cannot be realized.
With our life no longer independent, our courage to sacrifice for the sake of a humanitarian value also diminishes. Officials who deal with justice have no courage to uphold the value of justice and honesty which really are their original and authentic spirit.
National leaders have no guts to sacrifice their personal needs and desires for the benefits of the nation. They declare their commitment to fighting corruption in order to satisfy their personal and primitive desires.
A basic question is why are we no longer independent? There is deprivation of archaic need which remains unresolved within the architecture of our nation's psychosociocultural history.
Deprivation is a failure to meet a need that is important to be fulfilled along with the occurrence of a favorable development of person and society. The archaic deprivation is centered on the failure to meet the most basic need of the majority of the Indonesian people for minimum prosperity.
The failure then creates significant poverty. In the past, people were impoverished by the colonizers, while at present they are impoverished by members of the nation who live instinctively, pragmatically, consumptively, materialistically, narcissistically and corruptively.
There is only a small number of the poor people who are able to transcend the poverty by taking and realizing noble values from the poverty itself, such as the value of simplicity which can manifest in a simple life, harmonious co-existence with nature, flora and fauna, and a life that is full of gratitude to God.
When a person, who has a history of archaic deprivation and poverty, has at a point of his or her life an opportunity to fulfill the demand that arises from that deprivation and poverty, the person will use that opportunity to fulfill that demand in the forms of impulsive and compulsive earning of bodily and materialistic advantages for the self.
That occurs when the person gets a position in the government, professional position, functions as a politician, and when the person steps up ladders to join the elite. This is the critical point where independence vanishes.
Starting from the deprivation that demands bodily and materialistic fulfillment, people (especially the elite) destruct independence by themselves.
The most important thrust from the celebration of the anniversary of Indonesian independence is the necessity to overcome and eradicate poverty. Whoever the leader of the republic, he or she should concentrate power to overcome and root out poverty.
The feasibility of candidates of future leaders of Indonesia is neither determined by their age, nor physical appearance, but by their seriousness and courage to liberate people from the shackles of poverty.
The writer is a psychotherapy-consultant psychiatrist in Malang and chairman of the Psychotherapy Section of the Indonesian Psychiatric Association.
THE JAKARTA POST
HAPPY BIRTHDAY INDONESIA!
Happy 66th birthday, Indonesia! I never thought much about my country when I lived there, but now that I am an expat living in England, I have to say that I am proud of Indonesia.
"Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective and maybe objectivity," wrote commander of the B-17 Flying Fortress Memphis Belle Robert Morgan during World War II. This is what I feel now — 7,336 miles away and a few years after leaving my birth place.
England today has just woken up from a nightmare quite similar to Indonesia's in 1998. Although Manchester is not as badly affected as Jakarta in 1998, the sense of crisis is identical.
There is the shock and the anger — both over the criminals who did this to the city as well as to the government for allowing the poor to become poorer and the rich to get away with corruption. And then there's the blame game.
After the riot, what we saw in the media are all big wig politicians blaming everyone but themselves — from single mothers, the police force, the underclass to the previous government.
But there is another thing that feels the same — the good side of human nature. Just like hundreds of human right activists in Jakarta picking up the pieces of humanity left by rioters in Glodok, Klender and Tanjung Priok, hundreds of volunteers in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool turned up the next day with their brooms and bin bags picking up broken glasses and a broken sense of humanity.
On Sunday after the riots, a peace gathering took place in Birmingham. A father who lost his son during the riot spoke of peace and community spirit. There were no words of hate from the grieving Tariq Jahan.
In democracy and civil society life, Indonesia is still a teenager, growing and learning each day. Whilst in the UK, where democracy was born, the country of Magna Carta and John Locke, people feel that democracy is dying.
When the elected government allow wealthy criminals to avoid taxes, member of parliaments to claim expenses for ornamental gardens and media tycoons to gain power over politicians, it comes as no surprise that the underclass suddenly had the urge to help themselves to flat screen televisions, clothes and even food.
Both the upper-class and the underclass committed crimes. But the sense of justice here in England 2011 feels exactly the same as in Indonesia during my childhood — a poor Joe nobody who stole his neighbour's chicken got beaten up in the police station while Mr. Big Wig businessmen who stole millions in public money got away with their crimes.
I guess there is a standard recipe for social disaster. Just like baking a chocolate cake — it can have thousands of different varieties, ingredients and methods.
The main ingredients stay the same. Take economic inequality as the flour, social injustice as eggs and the marginalized part of society and small number of criminals as butter. Mix them with different types of government policy as the different type of chocolates — it could be powdered chocolate like authoritarianism, or a melted chocolate block as cuts to education, libraries, police and social service budgets.
Blend all the ingredients, put them in the oven for some period of time, then choose any icing you like — people's protest that ended in the death of innocent students, or a man shot dead by the police. Voila! You have your cake of social disaster.
Living in England today, I do not see the difference between "first world" and "third world" or "developed country" and "developing country". I really cannot see any reason why Indonesia should feel inferior to the developed or "first world" countries.
Indonesians have a sense of nationality. Yes, we have had our moments of embarrassment, when we had to admit that it is us Indonesians who invaded Timor Leste and violated human rights in Aceh and Papua. We have had our dark moments when terrorists bred on our doorstep shattered Bali and Jakarta, targeting foreigners.
And yes, poverty is still a huge elephant in the room. Huge regions of our beautiful rain forests are disappearing and being converted into palm oil plantations owned by multinational corporations.
Still, I think Indonesia is not doing so badly. In fact, Indonesia is doing very well, being only a teenager in democracy.
See the quick statistics. With a population of almost 250 million, Indonesia's literacy rate is 90 percent. What I see in Indonesia is that every parent wants their children to go to university and reach the stars.
The majority of Indonesians are working hard to make sure that their children have better lives — even those living in cardboard makeshifts are working hard scavenging, selling food and drinks, pedalling becak (and running away from Jakarta's authorities).
Even without a comprehensive benefit system, the poor Indonesians are able to live by helping each other. Helping each other, gotong-royong, is a beautiful concept that I hope will stay alive in all Indonesian hearts.
In hindsight, I now remember the Pancasila Moral Education from my school days. I hated it then, had all the excuses I could find to skip the classes and doodled during the 100 hour Pancasila lecture at university. I know in practice it is all difficult and far from perfect, but Indonesia does have a philosophy to cherish.
It was a very good reminder when US President Barack Obama mentioned Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, unity in diversity, on his visit. Indonesians are so diverse, yet we can all live together in peace if we still believe. Long before equality and diversity became a political norm in the Western world, Indonesia had practised this in everyday life.
The Indonesian Constitution states in article 33 that all major means of production are to be controlled by the state. It means that no multinational companies should take over water, gas and electricity so that the poorest of the poor could still have access to these. I hope Indonesia will stick to this principle.
Democracy as a relatively new concept in Indonesia is actively being discussed in universities, schools and independent study groups. Local and national NGOs thrive in assisting small businesses, educating people about the meaning of democracy and fighting corruption.
Yes, corruption, collusion and nepotism still exist in Indonesia. But they also exist in the UK today — the MP's expenses scandal, the collusion and nepotism surrounding Rupert Murdoch and so many big wig politicians.
The three modern sins are the common enemy from within that both the developed and developing countries should be aware of and keep on fighting against.
There are many more points to praise Indonesia, but I shall end this with a hope that the country of over 13,000 islands, 300 ethnic groups and 700 different languages and dialects will preserve its native wisdom of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.
I hope that the young teenager in democracy will mature to become one of the wisest nations in the world, that the people will say no to the consumerist greed from the West and instead learn from the wisdom of its native tribes.
The writer is a freelance journalist and alumni of Driyarkara Institute of Philosophy, Jakarta
THE JAKARTA POST
ISLAMIC REFORM AND INDEPENDENCE
In 1930, Shaykh Muhammad Bashuni, a prominent cleric in in Sambas, West Kalimantan, wrote to al-Manar magazine in Egypt on two important questions.
First, why are the Muslims, especially those in the Malay world, in a state of weakness and decline? Second, why are non-Muslim nations advanced, and is it possible for Muslims to emulate their model of advancement without compromising their religious principles?
In response, Shakib Arslan, an Egyptian reformist wrote a series of articles, which were later published as a book entitled Limaaza ta'akhkhara al-Muslimun wa taqaddama gairuhum (Why are the Muslims backward and why are other believers advanced?).
The questions were also discussed in al-Imam magazine, a reformist publication that has been published in Singapore since 1906. It even came up with some sharp self-criticism (or self-consciousness) conferring Muslims' backwardness, their domination by foreign powers, ignorance of modern knowledge, laziness, complacency, conflicts and lack of cooperation among themselves.
To Indonesia, nearly every struggle for independence conducted by Indonesian Muslims was then inspired by a consciousness that they had been colonized for a long time because of illiteracy and lack of modern science and technology.
They needed enlightenment through modern schooling and universities. They were aware there should be intensive learning of knowledge other than just of traditional religious disciplines.
The ethical policy introduced by the colonial Dutch at the beginning of the 20th century in Indonesia thus made the wish more possible despite its limitedness. The national awakening was then machined by intellectuals with a Middle East educational background and also by the ones with modern European credentials.
Indonesian independence was reached by the endeavors of those diverse but "factually" united intellectuals in 1945. And we clearly see in history that sound intellectual minds defeated shallow sectarian thought proposed by certain Muslim leaders at that time, which were based on an incomprehensive understanding of Islamic teachings.
More than a century after the monumental Muslim awakening, the question "Why are the Muslims backward and why are other believers advanced?" sounds somehow relevant to today's Indonesian Muslims, not only on behalf of themselves but also on the continuity of plural Indonesia, which is contemporarily hampered by particular issues to change the relatively harmonious Muslims relationship with the others.
Looking deeply at the Muslim community, many of them have actually been advanced in matters of education or the economics.
Plenty have acquired science and technology, and studied at the best universities in the world. But, to our sadness, apart from the "enlightened ones", more than hundreds of millions of Muslims have been left behind and are impoverished. They seem to be abandoned by the intellectualized ones.
Simply said, the fortunate Muslims fail to serve as the dream locomotive, which will pull the wagons with more than 100 million passengers on board.
The circumstances are surely never positive for any party. With the incapability to undertake massive changes, middle-class Muslims can only be on the other side of the same coin. While the less-fortuned Muslims become a societal burden in terms of economy or social problems, the fortuned ones can potentially be the engineers and donors of incessant conflicts.
Inter-religious issues with this societal pattern, for example, have always been a diehard to cope with, such as those in some Islamic countries in the Middle East.
That is why an Islamic reform, particularly in relation to the upcoming Indonesian Independence Day, should be something to think about. It can be the proper momentum when we, at least, remind ourselves, that there is always the possibility to endorse a change in Islamic society as occurred in the beginning of the 20th century.
In a more practical sense, we actually cannot wait for the reformist middle class of Muslims to touch the earth in their effort to reform their society.
Beside being conscious of how the pro-violent radical thoughts should be abolished, the reformists must act more properly among the mainstream Muslims. They should, for example, avoid using offensive measures that will only seed antipathy instead of sympathy. Their voices should become something, not disappear into thin air.
On the other side, the romanticist Muslims, who are peculiarly tied to the middle-age and Middle East Islam, should stop dreaming and learn the facts of today's Muslims' circumstances. They need to criticize themselves, and at the same time positively think about others and the goodness modernity promises.
As shown in some research, this typical Muslim middle class is potentially supporting radical violent practices among Muslims, not only because of their capabilities in terms of economy and skills, but also their shared and intellectualized ideological sentiments that radical Muslims from lower classes do not.
Consequently, the effects they may instigate are far more perilous than the ones with merely roots in poverty and illiteracy.
That is why, in welcoming this anniversary of Indonesia's independence, endorsement of Islamic reform should be made by both Muslims and non-Muslims, simply because its urgency is now commonly recognized: To the truer independent days, merdeka (freedom)!
The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation.
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