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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month september 03, edition 000827 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- SAUCE AND SENSIBILITY
- THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM
- TAILOR-MADE FOR MODERN MAN
- DANDY IS MERE EYE-CANDY
- TAKING IT TO THE STREETS - NAYAN CHANDA
- MORE POSITIVES THAN NEGATIVES
- CALLED INTO ACCOUNT - VINOD BHANU
- AN AUTUMN OF SILENCE - NAMITA BHANDARE
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- PLAN FOR AN END
- PASSING JUDGMENT
- FREEDOM OF METAPHOR
- ANNATIONALISM - SHEKHAR GUPTA
- WATCHING BHATTARAI - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
- THE REGULAR SPATS IN OUR REGULATORY INSTITUTIONS - P. VAIDYANATHAN IYER
- WHAT ARE THE PMO, THE RBI, AND THE FINANCE MINISTRY SMOKING? - SURJIT S BHALLA
- FIGHTING OVER KARACHI - RUCHIKA TALWAR
- TARGET: BARACK - JENNIFER STEINHAUER
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- STOCK IN TRADE
- BEWARE THE CHINAMAN
- AUDITOR CAN'T HEAR THE TREE FALLING ON SINO-FOREST - JONATHAN WEIL
- WHO'S GOING TO FIX SEBI'S CREDIBILITY? - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- REBEL COMMANDER PLAYS DOWN ISLAMIST PAST
- NIGERIA'S UNTAPPED RESOURCES
- THE HIDDEN RIVER
- MOST ALLEGATIONS AGAINST SRI LANKAN ARMY 'NONSENSE' - NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN
- A THOUSAND DEATHS - T.R. ANDHYARUJINA
- 'NEPAL WON'T JEOPARDISE ANY GENUINE INDIAN INTEREST'
THE ASIAN AGE
- NEPAL'S NEW PM FACES CRITICAL TASK
- MIRROR, MIRROR, WHO'S TO BE MASTER OF ALL? - FARRUKH DHONDY
- THE TIMELESS POSTER BOY OF HINDI CINEMA
- AFSPA RIGMAROLE
- ANNA'S ANTI-CORRUPTION MOVEMENTEXPRESSION OF PUBLIC COURAGE - BY ML KOTRU
- FOUR PILLARS OF MUST FUNCTION IN HARMONY - BY BRIJ BHARDWAJ
- DANGERS TO GLOBAL GROWTH - BY DR SATISH MISRA
- WITHDRAWAL THAT WASN'T
- SEN & GOOD SENSE
- PAK JUSTICE SYSTEM
- ANNA'S BALANCE SHEET - BY B.G. VERGHESE
- MY TEACHER, MY FRIEND! - BY ARCHANA R SINGH
- WHY PUNJAB IS COOL TO JOB SCHEME - SUCHA SINGH GILL
- GET RELIGION - T N NINAN
- SKILLS AND GROWTH - INDIRA RAJARAMAN
- ASIA'S MAJOR TOURISM TOPPER - SUNIL SETHI
- UNSETTLING DEVELOPMENTS - V V
- RIGHT TO REJECT IN CIVIC POLLS
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- FIX TAX HOLES
- A FULL THALI
- IT'S TIME FOR INDIA
- THE ANNA SPRING
- THE GREAT BANK ROBBERY
- THE ANNA CLINCHER & POST-PLAY - C L MANOJ
- NEPAL'S NEW PM FACES CRITICAL TASK
- KEJRIWAL'S TAXING PLIGHT
- MIRROR, MIRROR, WHO'S TO BE MASTER OF ALL?
- IRENE'S NOT THE REAL GAME, IT'S JUST A COVER STORY
- SPEAK, AND BE DAMNED
- DRAFT DISCORD
- ARMY CONVULSING
- OH, DEER!
- JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE -BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
- 'IT ISN'T OUR JOB TO LISTEN TO CYNICS'
- ROLLBACK IN FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION? - RAJINDER PURI
- PLAYING TO THE GALLERY - ML KOTRU
- THE WONDER OF IT
- MAP OF SENSIBILITY
- GROWTH STUNTED
- STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE
- THE ANNA EFFECT - RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- THE TRUTH BEHIND STOP-AND-FRISK
- TURKEY, ISRAEL AND THE FLOTILLA
- A BAD CALL ON OZONE
- THE STORY OF A DEAD SAILOR, HIS WIDOW AND A BUNCH OF BONEHEADED POLITICIANS - BY SERGE SCHMEMANN
- IN HONOR OF TEACHERS - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
- ON RACE, THE SILENCE IS BIPARTISAN - BY DESMOND S. KING AND ROGERS M. SMITH
TIMES FREE PRESS
- STREET SIGN REPLACEMENT MANDATE WITHDRAWN
- PROFITS BEFORE HEALTH?
- DIM OPINIONS OF PRESIDENT, CONGRESS
- RISING SCHOOL ENROLLMENT, INADEQUATE FACILITIES
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- THE STORY OF FAILURE IN TURKISH-ISRAELI DIPLOMACY
- KOREANS TO RESCUE GREECE FROM EXPENSIVE FERRY TALE
- KEMALIST TURKEY: GOOD FOR THE JEWS?
- KARL MARX IN CORPORATE BOARDROOMS
- OUTCOME OF ELECTIONS WILL REPRESENT EGYPT'S DEMOCRATIC FACE
- CENTRAL ASIA, THE CAUCASUS, AND 21ST-CENTURY SECURITY - ROSS WILSON
- FOR ANKARA, IT'S TIME FOR DEEDS NOT WORDS ON SYRIA
- STORMY DAYS
- VIOLENCE ON EID
- ARM'S LENGTH
- HEC – WHY INDIA FELT THREATENED - PROF ATTA-UR-RAHMAN
- THE KARACHI QUESTION - SALEEM SAFI
- DEVOLVING HEALTH-PART - II - DR SANIA NISHTAR
- BEYOND BACHCHA SAQQA STATES - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
- DOING THE RIGHT THING - BABAR SATTAR
- MEMO FROM USA - ANJUM NIAZ
- CJ'S WAKE UP CALL TO SINDH GOVT
- HANDING OVER POWER HOUSES TO PRIVATE SECTOR
- COST OF US ADVENTURISM
- ASSAILANTS OF TWO-NATION THEORY - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- ZARDARI'S TURN TO GET DITCHED ! - ASIF HAROON RAJA
- THE TRIAL OF HISTORY - SIRAJUDDIN AZIZ
- LIBYA: BRIDGEHEAD INTO AFRIC - WAQAR KHAN KAURAVI
- BUSH AND CHENEY: BAD MEMORIES - EUGENE ROBINSON
- PHILISTINES FOR PALESTINE
- BORDER POLICY WOES SHOW LABOR'S DEEPER PROBLEMS
- LESSONS FROM A LEAKY INTERNET
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- ADRIFT WITHOUT A COMPASS
- IT'S TIME FOR REAL LEADERSHIP ON ASYLUM SEEKERS
- 3, 2, 1, ZERO ... AND THAT'S YOUR LOT
- NO CASE, NO NEED
- EDINBURGH TRAM PROJECT: A RIGHT ROYAL MILE
- DEFENCE CUTS: IMPERIAL ECHOES
THE JAPAN TIMES
- NET SURVEILLANCE DANGERS
- DOCTORS AMONG VICTIMS IN ARAB UPRISINGS - BY CESAR CHELALA
- SAFE CHOICE, BUT WRONG CHOICE? - BY BRAD GLOSSERMAN
THE JAKARTA POST
- AGAINST THE CURRENT NORM: MOVING TO JAKARTA - MAYANG ARUM ANJAR RIZKY
- ANTICORRUPTION ACTIVISTS VS CORRUPT ACTORS - FITHRA FAISAL HASTIADI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
SAUCE AND SENSIBILITY
Food, glorious food! It's a source of vital sustenance - and delicious politics. Chew on this - every Eid sees a host of Iftar parties where even those politicos who've never skipped a mini-morsel break their, ahem, abstinence over lime-crusted kebabs and sublime kheer, spiced with hot gossip about who's munching with whom. While most Iftars unite yaars, Kashmir's Mirwaiz Umar Farooq found the Pakistan high commission's do driving a wedge between the two. Once-favourite invitee, the Hurriyat was dropped this year, leading to the Mirwaiz's speculation about Pakistan trying to please India now. Tsk. From biryani to sour grapes. You are what you eat - and who you eat with.
Didi, meanwhile, isn't letting the saag grow under her feet. Mamata Banerjee, finding food inflation even more worrying than corruption, has Kolkata in a tizzy with surprise checks at vegetable markets. When Mamata appears, veggie-wallahs down prices. We always said governance begins at the grassroots. Now, if only Mamata could appear in vegetable markets across India all at once, like multiple manifestations of a goddess before her devotees! The government would have its answer to spiralling food inflation.
There's also food for the soul - something you can't eat. Anna Hazare spread his anti-corruption message through fasting, not feasting. As Anna sipped water for 12 whole days onlookers' hunger pangs grew, and dosa and bhatura sales soared at Ramlila Ground. Well, an army marches on its stomach. As observers of Ramzan know fasting is followed by feasting. The Catholic calendar merely reverses this sequence by having Lent, the season of abstinence, follow the carnival.
But the crowds at Ramlila Ground stayed hungry for change, not even assuaged by consuming 'Anna cakes' topped with vanilla topis. Hopefully, their sugar rush will speed up that Lokpal Bill. And the aam admi will have something else to swallow than today's bitter food inflation, pressure-cooked to double digits despite all that political apple-sauce on how it's just about to come down. Pranab Mukherjee now says supply chains need to be looked into. What were they looking into all this while? Iftar party plates?
Meanwhile, the government needn't get too mad at Anna. Look at it this way. What are the two big issues affecting the government's image today? Corruption and food inflation. Viewed through the prism of corruption, Anna's movement is certainly bad news for the government. But viewed from the angle of inflation, Anna's example could be its salvation. If the Mamata solution fails, Anna could be answer B. Imagine if all of us were to really emulate Anna and go on a sympathy fast. Voila, demand for food goes down, and the government's supply problems get solved! If not Mamata, the UPA should offer the food ministry portfolio to Anna Hazare forthwith.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM
Just as the witticism in American politics today is that the intellectually challenged Tea Party activists are pitted against the snobbish Coffee House elites, a witticism for the current Indian situation is that 'Anna' Hazare is taking on what we might call the 'Rupaiah' politicians and bureaucrats who have corrupted Indian governance. Indeed, he is. But if he is to flog the problem, instead of flagging it, the nature of the beast to be tamed must be understood.
Corruption in India, whose absence was among the hallmarks of Indian political virtue in the 1950s, has broken out like the devastating bubonic plague of the mid-14th century. But if it is to be attacked effectively, we need to distinguish between two forms of corruption.
First, corruption is rampant at the level of politicians selling licences and top bureaucrats using their discretion to get perks in kind. This is corruption where the authorities are rewarded for doing what they are supposed not to do: i.e. giving licences to those who bribe rather than to those more deserving. This may be called high-level corruption and is the legacy of the permit raj which created what economists call "rents"; windfall profits generated by enacting licence-defined barriers to entry by domestic and foreign firms, leading to monopolies.
A recent Supreme Court bench, composed of judges Sudershan Reddy and Surinder Singh Nijjar, in a judgment in a case involving unaccounted monies, attacked "neoliberal" reforms starting in 1991 as the cause of corruption. In fact, the reforms reduced high-level corruption. Foreign firms could now enter most industries, though not yet freely. Entry by domestic firms was made even easier with the virtual elimination of conventional industrial licensing. And while some focus on the gigantic family firms like that of the Ambanis to suggest that India is like Russia with its privatisation-created oligarchs, they forget that gigantic new firms, with no historical family brands like Birlas and Tatas, have been springing up in India often from scratch entirely thanks to the substantial freeing of entry. Just think of Infosys, Wipro and the Kotak Mahindra Bank.
The ability of huge firms or cronies to bribe governments into creating monopolies that create rents which they capture and share with the obliging politicians and bureaucrats is no longer what it was when we had strict licensing and government-created monopolies in all kinds of activities were accepted as 'normal' and even desirable. The 2G spectrum scam is far less stereotypical today than it would have been in the pre-reforms era.
On the other hand, we have now a far more pervasive second type of corruption: the low-level corruption where one has to bribe clerks to get them to do what they are supposed to do. The middle class, in both urban and rural areas, has long been fed up with having to grease every palm that handles documents such as birth certificates and driving licences. The huge response to the Anna-centred agitation is the surface manifestation of this deeply felt sense of malaise that has been growing on the Indian scene with recurrent encounters with bribe-taking petty bureaucrats and officials.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
TAILOR-MADE FOR MODERN MAN
According to industry insiders, Indian fashion will increasingly turn to promoting haute couture for men. While the market is still evolving, the trend represents a much-needed respite from the obsessive focus on women's designer clothing and cosmetics. The fact is that very few designers and beauty product makers around the world exclusively devote their work to making men look stylish. So, the driving force behind the change is growing awareness among men as consumers regarding fashion and cosmetic brands. This is also socially beneficial: it will serve to break down gender stereotypes.
For far too long the bromide about men being macho, rugged and rough has domi-nated popular culture. This has dictated how men see themselves. However, thanks to the forces of globalisation, orthodox definitions of masculinity are slowly giving way. Men knowing about skinny jeans or making appointments for facials and mani- cures is no longer seen as incompatible with their manliness. This is further bolstered by the fact that the global market for male beauty products is estimated to be worth around 16 billion annually. New Zealand's fashion public relations guru Murray Bevan asserts that style has become a barometer of social standing for men much as for women. So, why shouldn't men be interested in moisturisers and hair conditioners?
Modern man isn't insecure about his masculinity. This is bound to reflect in contemporary fashion trends. Designers such as Sanjay Hingu believe that Indian men have become more fashion-conscious over the last five to seven years. While this doesn't mean all men are aware of the latest designer clothing or product, there's certainly more space to experiment with styles and brands without being judged. Freed of prejudice, men can be more creative about their appearance, expressing themselves in their own unique way rather than conforming to social expectations.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
DANDY IS MERE EYE-CANDY
Boys will be boys, right? Wrong. Boys, it seems, will be pretty boys. Consider the heightened male interest in fashion frills and jeweled accessories, skin and teeth whitening or having more weaved hair on the head than on the shaved chest. The fashion and cosmetics industry is prospering worldwide with 'men's lines'. And men-turned-eye candy are lapping it all up: outlandish clothes, aromatic lotions and acne-busting creams, hair-removing laser treatment or beauty-boosting botox. It'd all be harmless if it weren't for the formulation of a crafty new credo: functionality is out; dandyism is in. Conform, or else.
Time was when preening before the mirror wasn't a guy thing; it was a largely non-productive and vainglorious pastime unfairly imposed on women. Given their natural inclinations as problem-solvers, men down the years have been grease monkeys tinkering with cars, clogged sinks or computers rather than perfumed peacocks wearing lip-gloss and sunscreens. Men got dirt under fingernails instead of polish on their nails - a liberating sense of unselfconscious agency denied women for centuries. Will this male breed head for extinction even as women question beauty myths?
Some argue rigid notions of masculinity have lost force in urban, post-industrial society, which explains the gender-bending fashion trends. It's said men and women today have equal avenues for appearance-enhancing leisure. In short, looking good is a matter of choice for men as for women. The contention is disingenuous. It's precisely choice men now risk ceding. When increasingly brainwashed into resembling models on fashion ramps or fairness cream ads as the 'done' thing, what people sacrifice is individualism at the altar of conformism. The tyranny of sartorial and beauty codes tailor one to being part of a herd. It's an old, insidious form of social domestication that goes beyond appearance. This, as writer Naomi Wolf noted, has already happened with women. Now it's happening with men.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
With the last few weeks of 24/7 televised drama featuring Anna Hazare's fast against corruption, India has joined in the year of protests. What began as a despondent young Tunisian's self-immolation late last year has grown into a storm blowing through North Africa, sweeping away three governments and wounding several others. What makes India's mass protests different are their divergent objectives. While the youth of the Arab world have been fighting to install a representative government that would look after their interests, India's demonstrators want to reform a democracy that has turned into a kleptocracy.
The almost carnival-like atmosphere that defined Anna's protests stands in sharp contrast to the violent suppression of the Arab protests. Even so, one should not dismiss the importance of the anti-graft struggle. How pervasive corruption is handled will not only affect India's demographic dividend but also its ability to play a global leadership role, attract foreign investment and protect its democracy.
The overwhelming spread of corruption - both at wholesale and retail levels - is connected to the economic expansion brought about by globalisation. The ascent of the middle class and the proliferation of cable television and internet have also enabled protest movements to coalesce and spread with lightning speed. The ubiquitousness of retail corruption - from the policeman taking a few rupees to clerks at the passport office demanding thousands - has been growing apace with the economy. The rising urban middle class, increasingly exposed to the world norm of transparency, chafe against the daily levy charged by corrupt officials. For the country's youth, who constitute nearly half of the population and are considered to be the source of its prosperity, corruption has become a major barrier thwarting their ambitions. A series of major scandals - from the Commonwealth Games to the 2G scam and Radia tapes - damaged India's self-image and, in their sheer brazenness, proved to be the final straw. By the time Anna and his suppor-ters emerged on the scene, the urban middle class, freshly inspired by televised images of rebellion by the youth of the Arab world, was ready to take to the streets.
Fighting corruption is more than an issue of good governance; corruption seriously threatens India's future as an economic power. It stands as a serious roadblock to the rise of the country's youth as a productive force, able to reap the 'demographic dividend' while other economies begin to slow down under the burden of their greying popu- lation. It is noteworthy that many of Anna's supporters are educated workers from the private sector who, despite their economic achievement, are oppressed by corruption at every level of officialdom.
Then there is the corrosive effect of graft at the higher levels of government, which discourages foreign investors and damages growth prospects. Consultancy firm KPMG's March study of 100 leading Indian and foreign businesses concluded that corruption poses a risk to India's projected growth rate. The study predicted accurately that persistent high levels of corruption "may result in a volatile political and economic environment". Just over half of those surveyed said graft would make India less attractive to foreign investors. With tens of millions of young men and women joining the labour market every year, discouraging investors would not only stunt growth but also create conditions for social instability.
Beyond dampening economic prospects, the boiling anger against corruption reveals the systemic risk faced by the country. The pro-Anna protests are a relatively benign warning of a far more serious danger facing Indian democracy. Romain Rolland said, "Where injustice is the order, disorder is the beginning of justice." That the Indian electorate has the right to 'throw the bums out' every five years does not change the fact that everyday injustices will increase the anti-democratic temptation to ignore parliamentary rules and procedures. Even though the urban middle class constitutes a minority, its concentration in cities and the saturation media coverage give it power and influence far beyond its numerical strength.
Unless the government is able to weed out corruption, its success in alleviating rural poverty or creating infrastructure like the unique identification of citizens for transparency in governance would be drowned out by an increasingly vocal and angry urban minority.
On September 5, it is customary to celebrate India's former president Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's birthday as Teacher's Day. This celebration gives the teaching world an opportunity to introspect. It also gives an opportunity to teachers, students and the education world to do something new and innovative.
When i was a student i really loved celebrating Teacher's Day. Students were given a chance to become teachers for a single day. We observed our teachers and their way of teaching. This chance observance gave us an insight into building our future lives.
After becoming chief minister, i had two desires. I located some 25 of my childhood friends and called them to my house. The second strong desire i had was to call all my teachers to my home and show my love to them and acknowledge their contribution in shaping my life. I got that chance on November 17, 2005 during my book Kelave te Kelavani's release function, where i called all my teachers. I publicly bowed to them in deference for being my tutors once. On this function, a 90-year-old teacher of mine along with over 35 others gave me their blessings which deeply touched me.
I am sure the teaching fraternity and public at large would be interested in knowing what is happening in Gujarat in the field of education. In the past decade, many new initiatives have been introduced and newer heights have been scaled.
Our prime focus was on 100% enrolment of children, girls in particular. Hence, every year in June since 2003-04 the government has been organising Shala Pravesh Utsavs (school enrolment) and Kanya Kelavani (girl child enrolment) drives. During these enrolment drives, all arms of the government visited different schools across various talukas.
In 2009, we also launched "Gunotsav" as a quality evaluation drive for primary teachers in which the performance of schools is evaluated, with an aim to grade school teachers accordingly. There's a special focus on improving infrastructure in schools and providing human resources. Gujarat has taken great strides not only in primary education but also in higher and professional education.
The literacy rate has risen from 69.14% in 2001 to 79.31% in 2011. The female literacy rate has risen from 57.80% in 2001 to 70.73% in 2011. And the dropout rate has decreased remarkably among students of 1st to 5th standard from 20.93% in 2000-01 to a meagre 2.09% in 2010.
During the past nine years, 1.2 lakh teaching staff have been recruited to help realise the state's dream of inclusive education and 13,000 more are to be recruited this week. Also, over 10,000 teaching assistants have been recruited since the inclusion of Standard 8 under primary education.
Kanya Kelavani Rath Yatra and Shala Pravesh Utsavs have helped achieve nearly cent per cent enrolment of children of admissible age in the state; 64,000 new classrooms and over 43,500 additional sanitation blocks have been built. Remarkable growth has been registered by all tribal districts in female literacy indicators. Nearly 65,000 seats have been added in professional engineering courses. The number of universities in Gujarat has risen from 11 in 2001 to 39 in 2011, giving a boost to higher and professional education. Numerous specialised universities have also been set up in recent years.
When the country is celebrating Teacher's Day, there is an urgent need for our coming generation to switch to learning mode from the teaching mode. On the happy occasion of Teacher's Day i also wish you all a happy Ganesh Chaturthi, Ramzan Eid and Paryushan.
In Jain tradition there is a custom to say "Michhami Dukkadam" during the Paryushan festival. Michhami Dukkadam means i ask forgiveness for any hurt i may have caused you by thoughts, words or actions, knowingly or unknowingly. Michhami Dukkadam to you all.
The writer is chief minister of Gujarat.
To comment, log on to http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/narendra-modis-blog/entry/the-yoga-of-teaching.
MORE POSITIVES THAN NEGATIVES
Changes to our copyright law realign it with legislation available in the developed world by giving content creators their due. But there is grumbling among the distributors of Indian creativity that amendments to a law enacted half a century ago could upend the entertainment industry. The
Copyright Amen-dment Bill, which has been vetted by a standing committee after being tabled in the Rajya Sabha in April 2010, tries to cover much ground in our treatment of intellectual property but falls short of what the World Intellectual Property Organisation would have us enact. The law we are drafting is aligned with the Berne Convention for the protection of literary and artistic works, to which India is a signatory. We have, however, chosen not sign up for tighter copyright protection deriving from trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS).
The resistance to giving authors, lyricists, singers and directors a share of the royalties is based on the way the Indian entertainment industry is organised and which introduces an localised set of issues. Films form the biggest chunk of entertainment Indians consume. Playback singing is a preserve of Bolly-wood and all its regional cousins, and so far the film and music industries have got along famously by paying songwriters and singers an upfront fee in lieu of their rights. The draft law bans the transfer of these rights. Now royalties will have to be multi-party contracts instead of the current practice of the music company paying the producer of the film. And it doesn't end there. The director of every film will henceforth be a joint owner of the copyright, thereby bumping up the number of people that each contract will have to accommodate.
But it is this very structure of entertainment distribution that squeezes out independent deals between artists and music companies. In fact, the existing copyright regime works in favour of the film industry. Technology is upsetting all the rules of mass media and amendments to our copyright law are in tune with the opportunities the digital world provides. However, the Bill discriminates among lines of creativity and their distribution. Song and story writers get their due but not all the other authors of artistic work. Likewise, restricting statutory licensing to radio is unfair to TV. These must be fixed before the law is enacted. Also, by perpetuating the integrity of the original work, there is a risk of lessening its appeal to later generations. A Tagore song set to music set in 1920 is unlikely to strike the right chords with an audience in 2020. Finally, the Bill does not address government-funded works: taxpayers must be free to use stuff they paid for.
CALLED INTO ACCOUNT
After his 12-day fast on the lokpal issue, social activist Anna Hazare has made a call for giving the voters the right to reject elected candidates either by negative voting or using a right to recall law. Such options require very important reforms in our electoral system as well as in political
parties. Right to recall provides citizens an important democratic licence to remove non-performing or corrupt legislators from office before their term ends. The non-responsiveness and non-performance of our elected representatives have damaged our democratic institutions. So the idea is that legislators with such a track record should not be allowed to continue in office that is maintained with public money and has in-built immunities and privileges. On the contrary, accountability is a diffused idea for for our elected representatives. Once elected, they are not answerable to the electorate for five years.
Over the years, there has been a growing mistrust between the people and representatives and that has extended towards political institutions. This was reflected amply in the massive support for the recent anti-corruption movement across the country.
There is hardly any doubt that Indians are proud of the fact, as stated by Sharad Yadav, that Parliament is an institution "where Dalits can be seen as equals and where names like Pakodi Lal, Garib Ram, Ghurau Ram walk around as MPs". However, the same "Pakodi Lal or Garib Ram" have not always lived up to the expectations of the people. This indicates that there is an accountability deficit in the system. Electoral sanction is dated and often uncertain. Accountability based on the electoral system needs to be expanded to include both a functional model of institutional mechanism and other safeguards like recourse to a referendum, complaint procedures, legal redress, watchdog groups, activities of civil society and recall election.
Recall is a democratic instrument that enables citizens to re-engage with electoral politics and democracy. The first models were created in Switzerland along with other direct democracy tools such as initiatives and referendum. The system of recall became operational in the US during the early years of the 20th century. In the US, 18 states authorise recall of state level officials, and 36 states allow recall of local-level officials.
In 2003, the Governor of California, Gary Davis, was called back by the electorate and later replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, it was a one-off case. The Venezuelan constitution also recognises and enables recall of elected representatives including the president. In 2004, an unsuccessful attempt to recall the President was made. Other countries where recall is allowed or is being debated are Canada, Uganda, Guyana, Sweden, The Philippines, New Zealand, Zambia and Germany.
Our Constitution, however, does not say anything explicitly about such a provision. However, the Constitution has room for more inclusive and participatory politics. In India, provisions for recall of legislators exist at the level of local bodies in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar. Section 47 (recall of president) of the Chhattisgarh Nagar Palika Act, 1961, provides for holding of elections to recall elected presidents due to non-performance. The process of recall is initiated when three-quarters of the total number of elected representatives in the urban bodies (councillors) write to the district collector demanding a recall.
After verifying the circumstances, the collector can report to the state government. Once the report has been considered, the government can recommend to the state election commission to conduct a poll to recall presidents. Unlike in Chhattisgarh, in Bihar the recall process begins with the voters of urban civic bodies who can remove the elected representatives from office, if two-thirds submit a signed petition to the urban development department. In the Bihar model, there is some democratic improvement, as the power to recall is vested directly with the voters. In Chhattisgarh, the recall process starts from the councillors, and, therefore, can be politically motivated. Nonetheless, neither of these models are foolproof.
There are detractors of this democratic tool of accountability, especially among the political class. Right to recall is an idea that is being debated now and it is imperative that it is put into practice to ensure accountability of our elected representatives.
Vinod Bhanu is executive director, Centre for Legislative Research and Advocacy, New Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.
AN AUTUMN OF SILENCE
Autumn was to have been the season of hope; a time for words and ideas, listening and learning. A time for the Harud (autumn) literature festival which would have made Srinagar join that membership of cities in the region that host litfests - Jaipur, Kovalam, Karachi, Galle and
Kashmir is a long way from Jaipur where the same organisers, Teamwork Films have managed to achieve such iconic status that hardboiled journalists like Tina Brown call it the 'greatest literary show on earth'. It was also at Jaipur this year where the organisers attempted a tentative test-drive with two sessions on Kashmir including one that featured Basharat Peer (Curfewed Night), Mirza Waheed (The Collaborator) and Kashmir-born journalist and author Rahul Pandita.
But Harud was doomed to be an autumn of discontent. Even before the authors could be announced, Facebook went viral with innuendo. Some reports suggested, erroneously, that Salman Rushdie had been invited, leading to the creation of a Facebook page that called for a boycott, hate mail and death threats. Now that the festival is off, the Facebook page has mysteriously disappeared.
That was just one of the problems. Earlier this month, Peer and Waheed wrote an open letter, signed by over 200 other writers, journalists and citizens listing various misgivings. To hold a literature festival in a state where 'basic fundamental rights are markedly absent' would be a travesty, they said. Moreover, the use of the word 'apolitical' by festival adviser Namita Gokhale (to whom I am related) became a red flag. In a state where 'political reality is denied, even criminalised' how could a literature festival be apolitical? The choice of venue, DPS School and Kashmir University, became contentious. And finally, there was apprehension that the festival was part of the 'state's concerted attempt to portray that all is normal in Kashmir'. The organisers said there was no state-funding or patronage, to no avail.
To expect art to be divorced from politics is naïve. To expect that a literature festival in Kashmir where an estimated 70,000 people have died and the Human Rights Commission recently confirmed the presence of unmarked graves with 2,000 corpses, would go off like a decorous tea party is even more naïve. Its geographic location alone was enough to ensure debate, dissension, heat and noise.
Cultural boycott has been a powerful tool, used most effectively against the apartheid regime of South Africa. Earlier this month, five of 20 Indian artists who had been invited to the Tel Aviv State Museum declared they would not go to protest the 'apartheid policies' of Israel. Also this year in Galle, writers Arundhati Roy and Noam Chomsky responded to a call for boycott by Reporters Sans Frontieres while Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai nixed travel plans to protest the suppression of dissident voices by the Sri Lankan government.
The cancellation of the Harud festival has led to an inevitable blame-game: organisers say it was cancelled due to security concerns (local writers had apparently been receiving calls to steer clear) and the 'hijacking' of the festival 'by those who hold extreme views in the name of free speech'. Harud's opponents say they never asked for a boycott; the organisers chose to shut shop rather than allow for dissent. Rebuttals and counter rebuttals are flying off the internet.
Of course, the dust will settle. But for some writers in Srinagar there is a sense of despondency. "For local authors this would have been a chance to interact with writers of reputation but we have been let down by the lobby of writers who pretend to speak for Kashmir," says Neerja Mattoo, head of the English department, Govern-ment College for Women. But perhaps the greatest loss is that of the audience, in Kashmir and outside. Srinagar is only an hour-and-a half away from Delhi. Yet in terms of imagination the distance is often huge. Harud would have given Indians and the world a chance to hear the voices within Kashmir, personal, first-hand and direct. Voices of anguish, of hope, of pain, of revolt from a part of India that is often seen but seldom heard. For now, we'll just have to wait.
Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. 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
PLAN FOR AN END
One of the most baffling distinctions in Indian public finance is that between Plan and non-Plan expenditure. Fittingly for a holdover from India's socialist past, the meaning and effect of this distinction has changed over time, become ossified and malign. The original idea was that Plan expenditure would be spending imagined and directed through the Five-Year Plan, and thus, theoretically a government's expenditure on growth. Non-Plan expenditure would be other forms of spending; which lent itself easily to a persistent Plan is Good and non-Plan is Bad caricature. Naturally, this caricature grew ever more distant from the truth. Plan expenditure might cover the expense of a new canal system. But maintaining it could well become part of non-Plan expenditure. When combined with the pressure to appear to be spending on "good" things, and thus an effort to shrink non-Plan expenditure arbitrarily relative to Plan spending, India wound up paying through the nose for canals that became clogged and useless soon. India's landscape of shoddy, half-maintained public infrastructure owes no small debt to this misguided categorisation. Additionally, new schemes bulk up Plan spending for a year; old schemes don't. Which is why our policy landscape is littered with old initiatives falling into disuse while new ones are designed, lauded and launched.
The exact nature of Plan and non-Plan spending no longer even overlaps conveniently with capital and current expenses. In effect, any spending routed through the Planning Commission is Plan expenditure. This administrative distinction is insufficiently valuable to compensate for the enormous distortions the artificial division of expenditure has caused. It is welcome, therefore, that the PC itself seems amenable to the idea of phasing out the socialist-era division. A report from the economic advisory committee to the prime minister has suggested that the Plan/ non-Plan distinction be done away with, and has recommended various other reforms to minimise the last-mile policy distortions it has already caused. This could mean a great deal of infrastructure expenditure, for example, is no longer monitored from the PC but from the finance ministry. The PC is behind the idea; it is refreshing to see a large statutory body in Delhi gladly reshaping its power and responsibilities for a new era.
The reform of expenditure should go along with re-examining the effectiveness of infrastructure spending, involving careful evaluation of outcomes, not input; and the creation of strong and independent regulatory bodies for infrastructure sectors. Twenty years since reform began, these are useful and overdue changes.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Soumitra Sen, a judge on the Calcutta high court, has decided to quit rather than be fired. After Rajya Sabha voted overwhelmingly against him in the recent impeachment proceedings, Sen decided to resign before Lok Sabha begins its deliberations on the matter.
Accused of keeping money received as an advocate-receiver in the Calcutta high court in the 1990s, Justice Sen had presented a spirited defence in Rajya Sabha. However, the subsequent debate took apart his arguments, and in the process addressed larger questions about the critical balance between legislature and judiciary. Sitaram Yechury, introducing the motion, stressed the fact that this was not a move to question the integrity of the judiciary, but to strengthen it, by not allowing the act of a single judge to besmirch the entire institution. Arun Jaitley also took pains to clarify that Parliament now invoked this rare power to remove a man but save the dignity of the office. He demolished Sen's defence point-by-point, saying that as a judge he should not cite technicalities to avoid the rigours of the law. The debate ranged further, on vital questions of the judiciary's independence and credibility. The system of appointing judges is widely acknowledged as flawed, and rife with discretion. It's also near-impossible to remove errant judges. The Rajya Saba debate discussed the need to introduce some accountability mechanisms that would still protect the independence of the judiciary. The debate was deeply conscious of its own gravity, and made repeated reference to the separation of powers, of making sure that no branch of government, the legislature, executive or judiciary, encroached upon each other's preserve. Jaitley, for instance, cited recent examples of judicial activism that trod on the executive's turf, and spoke of the sanctity of the "lakshman rekha" dividing the three institutions.
Regardless of what happens next in the Justice Sen saga, it's important this debate carries on in the same spirit of responsible course-correction.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
FREEDOM OF METAPHOR
Nasser Hussain probably meant what he said. His observation on Indian fielders wasn't an instance of malapropism or a careless disconnect between head and tongue. Hussain surely meant what he said. But what he forgot to do was a consequence analysis. The former England cricket captain forgot his context — the mirthless mind-your-language-or-else that political correctness and ultra-vulnerable national egos have imposed on the commentator's freedom of metaphor. Hussain forgot that a team hammered to hell wouldn't stand even a standard classroom rebuke reminiscent of the days of yore when teachers were still nasty, brutish and sharp-tongued.
However, Hussain will probably also fail to note that the BCCI's going rouge at the mention of "one or two donkeys in the field" is evidence of a cultural disconnect. It isn't impossible that someone in India's gigantic sport bureaucracy saw through Hussain's eyes and pictured a couple of the said animal rising up to catch or running to chase the ball — and, of course, missing it altogether. And after such knowledge, what forgiveness for the offender? The BCCI has promised to "look into" the matter, and pronounced the inviolable necessity of respecting every player "irrespective of his performance".
Sport, on the field and in the commentary box, indeed often witnesses overt or covert, deliberate or unintended offence-giving, some of it inadmissibly racist or personal. However, if Nasser Hussain's "donkey" is how the post-modern world's constant fear of offending somebody, somewhere dehumours sports, this is the time the literal-eared Indian establishment went for a crash-course in figurative language. Perhaps then they'll know when not to take offence. Hussain meant what he said — only as a figure of speech
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Pratibha, daughter of L.K. Advani, has recently produced a very impressive documentary titled Tiranga, on the history of our national flag. She might need to update it a bit. Because never in its eight-decade history has the Tricolour been made to work as hard as lately, since it became the standard of the Anna movement. You have lately seen it waved from the windows of cars, from motorcycles that whizzed past you on your city's streets, you have seen it on protesters' caps, shirts, foreheads and even on the cheeks of the two little girls who offered Anna nariyal-pani to break his fast.
You cannot quibble with the way people use their national flag in a democratic, peaceful protest. But, if you see this along with much else by way of hyper-nationalistic imagery and metaphors, you would ask what is going on. Never in India's history, not even during the freedom movement or war-time, has such aggressively patriotic fervour been unleashed. Mahatma Gandhi never used portraits of a tiger-riding Bharat Mata, and Bhagat Singh's battle-cry was not Vande Mataram. In their own distinctive ways, the three major streams of our freedom movement, Gandhi, Netaji and Bhagat Singh, reflected the respective beliefs and ideologies, and competed in the philosophical space of nation-building. Democratic plurality, ideological diversity and argumentativeness were integral to our freedom movement. Which is the reason why, not just independence, but also such a marvellous Constitution emerged from it. Read the debates of the Constituent Assembly. The founding fathers of our nation differed, disagreed and argued with each other, but nowhere did one pull out the flag and say to the other: if you are patriotic like me, you have to agree with me. The use of patriotism, in a political debate, is no different from the use of religion, or an invocation to God. Because that squashes all argument.
So here is the quibble. Once you produce the national flag, and Bharat Mata, all arguments cease. Because then, if you disagree with me, you are unpatriotic: mere paas tiranga hai, Vande Mataram hai, aur Ma (Mother India) hai, tumhare paas kya hai? In effect, if you then disagree with me, you are unpatriotic, and your arguments are immoral, pro-corrupt. A democratic movement has to give space for disagreement, argue with those who have a different point of view, not wave the national flag and shut them up.
The use of the flag is just one of the more visible metaphors of Bollywood-style hyper-nationalism employed by Team Anna. Vande Mataram, forever a gentle, polite salutation to Mother India was used in an almost martial fashion, like a rousing regimental war-cry, even by Anna himself each time he spoke to the crowd. Inqilab Zindabad, Bhagat Singh's invocation to revolution, was also adopted fully. Bharat Mata's portrait, which formed the backdrop at Jantar Mantar and attracted some adverse "secular" notice, was replaced with Gandhi's. But young schoolgirls dressed and painted as Bharat Mata were routinely paraded in the crowds and on the stage so the patriotic fervour was not lost. Baba Ramdev made an appearance on day nine, grabbed a microphone and, the rock-star that he is, walked up and down the stage singing a stirring ballad: utho jawan desh ke, vasundhara pukarati, desh hai pukarata, pukarati Ma Bharti (rise, the youth of India, your motherland, Mother India are calling you to rise). To rise against whom, nobody made clear.
Almost each day a new super-patriotic metaphor was rolled out. My favourites: Anna kissing a vessel containing soil from Jallianwala Bagh, and even more dramatic, Kiran Bedi, while being taken in the bus following her arrest on August 16, waving both arms out of the window and shouting: ab tumhare hawale watan saathiyo. Of course, I haven't been able to check with her if her inspiration was the more recent Akshay Kumar-Sunny Deol starrer on the "rescue" of Indian POWs in Pakistan. But given her vintage — and mine — I would suspect it was the original, Kaifi Azmi's song in the gut-wrenching last moments of Chetan Anand's Haqeeqat (1964) when the last Indian soldier fighting the Chinese on that Ladakh outpost — of course, Sunny Deol's father Dharmendra — lies dying, still clutching his rifle. Now, the language and style of popular protest are driven by their own heady mix of hormones, but really, to borrow words from a dying Indian soldier in such an unequal war while merely courting "preventive" arrest for a day is a bit touching.
But can we really go so far as to suggest that this movement is employing Sunny Deol-style "patriotism" to rouse its supporters and to kill all disagreement? Go to YouTube to see what a vigorous shakedown the Tricolour has been given through this movement, not least of all by Kiran Bedi herself. She now even has a large, slanted Tricolour behind her desk — like judges in Hollywood — even when she speaks to television channels. In comparison, the brick wall of Abhishek Manu Singhvi's home provides such an inconsequential backdrop. His problem is he is a politician, and one good thing about party politics is that politicians cannot wrap themselves in the Tricolour. Because they are, at least presumably, accountable to that flag: in the form of Parliament, the judiciary, and to we, the people.
The Tricolour has been used to impale the bad guys in our movies. The most dramatic use of a national symbol, of course, was Dilip Kumar drawing the map of India with bullets on the chest of the villain (oops, oops, it was none other than the most vocal Anna supporter from Bollywood now, Anupam Kher). There was a bit of that in this movement as well, though incidents when policemen, and in one case a journalist, were thrashed with reversed flags, were only a few.
The civil society group around Anna is smart and committed. But in wrapping the movement in the Tricolour and images of Bharat Mata, they have scored a self-goal. The emergence of civil society as such a powerful pressure group is a genuine achievement of Indian democracy. Because, along with the courts, the media and the Election Commission, civil society forms a counter-balance to the likely excesses of electoral majorities. But by packaging itself in majoritarian, exclusivist colours, Anna's civil society has scored a self-goal. They will now be spending some time retracing their steps. Symbolism like having Dalit and Muslim girls to help Anna break his fast — with the Tricolour painted on their cheeks — will look as fake to those who feel excluded as the Muslim driver of Advani's rath, as he led the Ram temple campaign. By the way, when was the last time you saw a child described as a Dalit from a public stage in Delhi? And we accuse our politicians of being casteist and cynical!
In any case, how can you use the Tricolour to fight your own constitutionally elected Parliament? It's a facile argument to say that our Constitution puts "we, the people" above Parliament. The will of "us, the people" rests in our Parliament, elected by our votes. A constitutional democracy's most hallowed concept of "we, the people..." cannot be reduced to "we, the mob...", no matter how many "votes" we might have on e-mail, SMS or Facebook, or how vigorously we wave and shake the national flag. Because I may choose to disagree with you even more vigorously, and the flag and the anthem will remain as much mine as yours.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Baburam Bhattarai's election as prime minister was smooth. The United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), with 71 members in the parliament, decided to back him and helped give him the required majority. The next day, the House extended its tenure by three months without even a debate following an assurance from the new government that the peace process would be completed and the constitution delivered by November 30.
Yet, can one expect that Bhattarai may be luckier that his predecessors who failed to keep similar promises? The hope pinned on him at home, in India, the EU, Scandinavian countries and the US is enormous. Will he be able to deliver? Or could that pressure be the cause of a quick downfall?
Bhattarai was the unchallenged ideologue of the decade-long insurgency that took nearly 14,000 lives. It ended in 2006, after Nepal's seven major political parties and the insurgents came together on a common agenda of peace, democracy and economic prosperity. Subsequently, parties agreed to have a new constitution drafted by an elected Constituent Assembly by May 2010, a task yet to be accomplished.
But after the elections to the CA in April 2008, the promised politics of consensus became the first casualty, as political parties started making deals for power, much against the spirit of the common agenda. Bhattarai is no exception. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) and the UDMF signed a four-point agreement. Bhattarai agreed not to form a "state restructuring commission", something envisaged in the interim constitution, and in lieu of that got the UDMF's support to have all cases pending against Maoist leaders and activists during the insurgency withdrawn. He agreed to initiate recruitment of upto 10,000 from Madhesi groups in the Nepal army amidst fears it may provoke other territorial and ethnic groups to have similar regiments.
For the Maoists, the Nepal army still remains the biggest obstacle in their mission to capture state power, democratically if possible, otherwise if required. A weak or confused army will be in their long-term interest. With the integration of at least 7,000 Maoist combatants at the top of Maoist priorities, and group entry from a single territory will have its own impact on the army's morale. Control of power by the Maoist-Front alliance also marks the shift of state power from the hills to the plains decisively, and Bhattarai, despite his hill origin, has agreed to experiment.
But it will not be easy for Bhattarai. Nepal's two major parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) — have decided to sit in opposition. That will deprive the government of the two-thirds majority required to have the constitution adopted. But Bhattarai's embittered relations with Maoist chief Prachanda and sharp division among top leaders in choosing the new ministers may be indicative of future trends. Prachanda believes India was instrumental in bringing Bhattarai and Madhesi groups together.
Bhattarai pursued his higher education in India and his political ideology took shape during his time at Delhi's JNU, then a left bastion. He opted for armed insurgency in Nepal upon his return when he felt dejected after a brief flirtation with the parliamentary system during 1991-94. Bhattarai also maintained a close link with his school establishment and the United Mission to Nepal (UMN) associated or allied churches that currently enjoy enough clout in Nepal's politics. During the past few years, he has also been able to convince the EU, Scandinavian countries and the US that he is actually pro-human rights, pro-foreign investment and a votary of industrial capitalism — that in essence he is everything that his party in principle is opposed to. At the same time, he has been able to keep his cadres happy by withdrawing cases against them, interestingly without drawing any flak from the human rights groups at home and abroad. Nonetheless, Bhatarai's image as a "liberal democrat" is largely perceived and its efficiency untested.
But he is different from Prachanda in another sense. He identifies one enemy at a time and builds a powerful lobby, domestic and international, to crush it. In 2005, it was the king; now, it is the Nepal army. However, there are much bigger odds against him this time round. The Madhesi Front constituents are fighting over plum portfolios. His own party's senior vice-chairman, Mohan Baidya, has opposed his decision to bringing Maoist combatants under an all-party special committee and to hand it the keys to weapon containers. Bhattarai took some populist decisions like using a local vehicle instead of an expensive imported one — but when he declared his family assets, he conveniently excluded his wife's.
For Bhattarai, it is going to be a struggle to live up to his perceived image.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE REGULAR SPATS IN OUR REGULATORY INSTITUTIONS
P. VAIDYANATHAN IYER
On the face of it, the recent spat within the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) — where a board member, K.M. Abraham, an IAS officer himself, raised the serious allegation that his chairman, U.K. Sinha, was succumbing to pressures from the finance ministry to manage high-profile corporate cases, and Sinha, in turn, claimed the member was suffering a persecution complex — seems like a stray episode. The Indian Express reported extensively on the spat and its possible implications in three different reports (including one with the finance ministry's clarification) during the last 30 days. But beneath the surface of the fracas that dragged Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, his advisor Omita Paul, and further, raised questions about the prime minister's decision to send a copy of Abraham's letter to the party against whom accusations were made, are deep governance and transparency-related issues.
The stock market regulator, Sebi, is not an institution of great antiquity: though it was set up in 1988, it received statutory backing only in 1992. Initially, similar to the earlier years of the Election Commission, it was a single-member regulator. It was only in 1999 that an amendment to the Sebi Act made it a multi-member body. One may recall the raging battle in the mid-'90s between the Chief Election Commissioner, T.N. Seshan, and G.V.G. Krishnamurthy during the initial years of a multi-member Commission. In fact, N. Gopalaswami, who served as CEC between 2006 and 2009, had even demanded the ouster of fellow member Navin Chawla three months before he retired in April 2009. Chawla, of course, went on to become the CEC.
The point is that differences within multi-member bodies are not unusual in India. It takes political overtones in the case of autonomous, constitutional and quasi-judicial bodies such as the Election Commission. In the case of a financial regulator such as Sebi, it results in murmurs about the corporate-politician nexus in a throbbing and rapidly growing political economy. Sebi perhaps witnessed a full-fledged multi-member board working together for the first time during M. Damodaran's tenure (2005-2008). Sinha's predecessor C.B. Bhave also worked with three full-time members (2008-11).
But the job of the regulator has become daunting, to put it mildly — given the dramatic rise of equity markets, the burgeoning participation of retail investors and the sophisticated technology that market players have access to. Besides intellect and intelligence, an enduring quality that regulators must possess to track financial crimes is integrity. Finding such candidates is an equally daunting task. The wrong choices could erode market confidence and do long-term damage to fledgling institutions. It is hence critical that members are not just fair, but also seen to be fair.
Let me come back to the recent ugly turn of events at Sebi. In his rebuttal to Abraham's allegations, amongst other things, the new Sebi chairman Sinha spoke about a study undertaken by Sebi to analyse the orders passed by his whole-time members and adjudicating officers, raising vital issues of governance. Essentially, he illustrates the marked difference in the quantum of punishment or fines they levied. He notes that in comparable cases, one member passed orders for suspension 8 per cent of the time, while another did so in just 0.5 per cent of the cases. A third member passed suspension orders in one out of every four cases. Similarly, he points out that a debarment order has been passed in 50 per cent of cases by one member, in 75 per cent of cases by the second — and in 0.4 per cent of cases by the third.
He also elaborates on a significant variation in the suspension orders passed by the three members. The quantum of debarment varies from 50 per cent to a third to a sixth when the period of debarment of two to five years is calculated. In cases of corporates making misleading announcements, debarment has varied from six months to two to five years. Similarly, in orders passed by adjudicating officers, there is wide variation. For example, in cases of non-compliance of summons cases, the amount has varied between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 20 lakh.
To say Sebi is not transparent will be unfair. It makes its orders public and affected parties always have the option to appeal against it in the Securities Appellate Tribunal and further on, in the Supreme Court. Even consent orders are referred to an outsiders' committee chaired by a retired high court judge. Interestingly, during Bhave's tenure, almost one-third of such orders were rejected by the committee and Sebi reviewed these.
What is disturbing, however, is Sinha's observation — based on the study — that the quantum of punishment for similar offences varies significantly. Clearly, there cannot be one single slab, but simultaneously, marked variations must come with strong justifications.
Borrowing from Article 14 of the Constitution, it is important that equal treatment is meted out to similar or equal crimes. There has to be a relationship between the nature of a crime and the punishment. It will help if there are administrative guidelines or a manual to ensure this. It may also be worth considering handing over the majority of cases to a bench of more than one member than to a single member. To eliminate bias or prejudice, Sebi can also follow a broad principle that a member who handles primary markets in his administrative capacity does not hear cases in that segment while discharging quasi judicial functions.
Last but not least, it is most important that the government strictly respects regulatory independence for its own credibility in the long run.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WHAT ARE THE PMO, THE RBI, AND THE FINANCE MINISTRY SMOKING?
SURJIT S BHALLA
Dr Subbarao, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, has outlined five principles for policymaking. How does he, and his ultra-hawkish monetary policy, stack up against his own principles? Let us find out.
The first principle is that "people matter". Presumably that means that both growth and inflation matters: the latter because it hurts purchasing power, and the former because it hurts jobs. Inflation has been stuck at a high level of 8 to 10 per cent for the last six months, and that is both good news and bad news. Good that it hasn't increased, and bad that it is too high.
On growth, the RBI's record is not only not good, it is plain bad. Industrial growth has crawled to the slowest pace in the last 10 years (excepting the global recession months between September 2009 and October 2010), and growth in construction, where jobs and income and people really matter, has come to a standstill. According to the latest GDP data, year-on-year construction growth was just 1.2 per cent.
Second principle: when economists build models, they should fit it to the real world, and not the "real world to the models." What reality has the RBI targeted? It alone, in the entire policy making world, utilises a monetarist model to tackle inflation. Worse, it alone uses the WPI as an indicator of inflation. If the US were to use this indicator, then it would presently show inflation at a 6 per cent annualised rate versus the 9 per cent observed in India. Given that developing countries have a 2 to 3 per cent higher inflation rate than developed countries, it does not seem that Indian inflation is that much out of line. So maybe the good doctor can tell us about whether he is living in a model world of virtual monetarism?
Third — fourth and fifth and sixth? — principles: "Economic policymaking is more than a straight application of textbook knowledge; you need to apply judgment, avoid groupthink and have a sense of history."
History and Judgment: Subbarao's RBI increased the repo rate by 125 basis points from 6.75 per cent to 8 per cent in the space of just 3 months. This is the second fastest increase in history, nearly matching the gallop from 8 to 9 per cent in June-July 2008. In an eerie repeat of history, at the time Dr Reddy instituted the record hikes, industrial production growth had slowed to a near zero per cent rate in August 2008, actually 1.9 per cent. According to the new IIP index, August 2008 witnessed a low growth rate of 5.4 per cent; in both April and May 2011, IIP growth was a low 5.8 per cent.
The history lesson continues. In 2008, just two months after the record hikes, and level, of the repo rate, the world economy entered a big-time slide. In 2011, at the time of Subbarao's BMW speed hikes, the world economy is also in trouble. There was serious talk of a Euro, and European, crash. No one is raising rates anymore, and just a few days back, Brazil has actually reduced the repo rate notwithstanding the fact that inflation in Brazil is some 2 to 3 per centage points higher than the Brazilian "target" or "comfort" level.
Groupthink: RBI's hawkishness, and policy, has been nose-led by the groupthink of several domestic journalists and many investment bank economists. The argument by these scholars has been repetitive and grossly misleading. Unlike what their peers do in other countries, these scholars have failed to note the decline in the more accurate CPI inflation (from a level of 16.5 per cent in January 2010, to a flattish 9 per cent for the last 1 year) and the fact that commodity prices are a major determinant of WPI inflation — and that the trend in international commodity prices is something they, or the RBI, can do precious little about. To reiterate, even in the very low-inflation US economy, wholesale or producer prices are up a hefty 6 per cent. Indeed, non-groupthink would dictate that Dr Subbarao take the lead of his counterpart in Brazil.
Textbook knowledge: In the non-application of text book knowledge, the RBI has made a grievous mistake, and with slowing growth, grievously is India paying for it. In recent months, the RBI has constantly been mentioning one price as a major contributor to India's high inflation: the absolute price increases set by manufacturers of non-food items. It calls it "pricing power". According to the RBI, this pricing power is indicated not by an increase in relative prices, but by an increase in absolute prices!
If input costs go up by 10 per cent and output prices by 5 per cent, the RBI would have us believe that there is pricing power on the part of the firm when in reality (assuming productivity and technological change to be zero) the firm is going out of business. Textbook economics would say that pricing power means at least an increase in the price of output relative to the price of inputs. According to the latest GDP data, manufacturing inflation (output prices) has stayed steady at 5.5 per cent since Jan-March 2010; the GDP deflator (input prices) has averaged close to 10 per cent. In the good overall inflation years of 2004 to 2007, inflation in the manufacturing sector averaged a higher 6.1 per cent, and GDP deflator inflation averaged a lower 4.7 per cent. One did not hear of the possibility of pricing power then.
It should be mentioned, or at least noted, that in 2008 there were strong rumours of the PMO and/or the finance ministry, dictating to Dr Reddy the July 2008 rate hike of 50 basis points. Most likely, this occurred because of a traditional misunderstanding, and panic, in these quarters about the political impact of inflation and its determinants. Something similar may have happened in the last two rate hikes of Subbarao. If that is the case, it does not say much about the "independence" of the RBI. And if that is the case, then the ban on smoking applies equally to the three sets of policymakers, and their staff, and their advisers!
The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
FIGHTING OVER KARACHI
Fighting over Karachi
Sindh home minister and PPP stalwart, Zulfiqar Mirza, launched into a tirade directed at his party colleague, federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik — as well as at MQM leader Altaf Hussain — Daily Times reported on August 29. While placing a copy of the Quran on his head and swearing by it, Mirza declared "federal interior minister Rehman Malik a 'compulsive liar' and accused Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain of being part of a conspiracy to disintegrate Pakistan. Mirza said he had evidence that Malik was 'involved' in Karachi target killings and was 'hand in glove with criminals'. He said that he would forward evidence against Malik to the government, the army and the intelligence agencies if the need arises." He also added that he had "repeatedly" told the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leadership that Malik is a "liar," but acknowledged he was a "good politician and good human being," and that "if Pakistan is harmed in the future, it will be Malik's fault." He also charged the MQM with killing Geo TV reporter Wali Khan Babar earlier this year.
The MQM was quick to respond, a report in The News stated: "The MQM Coordination Committee said it was because of Mirza's patronage of killers, terrorists, extortionists and kidnappers that he kept silent when the Rangers carried out an operation in parts of Karachi, except Lyari." Lyari is the PPP's traditional pocket borough. Malik, however, appeared calm, as Daily Times quoted him as saying that Mirza was "just like his younger brother" and that he did not mind his statements, which were issued "in a state of anger". The News reported that soon after Mirza's press conference, he resigned as minister, vice-president of the Sindh PPP, and as a member of the provincial assembly; and that "in an equally surprising development, his resignation was accepted 'exceptionally promptly' by the Sindh CM." President Asif Zardari, on the other hand, also suspended his basic membership of the PPP.
The PPP disowned Mirza's remarks in a meeting convened by Zardari. Daily Times reported on August 30: "A meeting of PPP leaders from Sindh was held in the Presidency during which the party... termed Mirza's accusations as an unacceptable violation of party discipline, and contrary to the well-thought out policy of reconciliation as envisaged by Benazir Bhutto."
The News also reported that National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza constituted a 17-member special parliamentary committee to review matters of security in Karachi and Quetta. The committee has been tasked to present its report in 60 days to the speaker. Interestingly, Fehmida Mirza is Zulfiqar Mirza's wife.
Pakistan's chief justice has expressed dissatisfaction over the investigation reports submitted by the government in the suo motu case on the Karachi violence. The News reported on August 30 that Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry "observed that the law and order situation in the metropolis could not be controlled until the city was made an 'arms free zone'." He also directed the attorney general to produce reports from intelligence agencies over the unrest, in the absence of which the court can't reach any conclusion. The Supreme Court also took suo motu notice of the violation of fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to life and to freedom of movement.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
American presidents often have highly disagreeable relationships with members of Congress from the opposing party. While most of those fights stemmed from deep policy divides, the relentless acrimony between President Obama and Congressional Republicans also seems strikingly personal, almost petty.
And Democrats worry that Obama, hampered, too, by his own inexperience and dispassionate style, is increasingly weakened by what they fume is a party that fundamentally disrespects him and his office. The relationship was foreshadowed in 2009 when Joe Wilson yelled "You lie!" during a presidential address to Congress — a remarkably rare outburst on the House floor. Since then, Congressional Republicans have turned down requests for White House meetings, refused to return the president's call and walked out of budget talks.
Then, on Wednesday, Speaker John A. Boehner became what historians say was the first ever to tell a sitting president that no, he could not deliver an address to a joint session of Congress on the date of his choice. On Thursday, Representative Joe Walsh said in a Twitter message that he would fly home to Illinois rather than serve as "a prop of another one of the president's speeches." It seems they simply do not like the man. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said this year that his first goal was to see Obama defeated.
Obama has had his own contributing role. Often when he has met with Republicans he has taken a scolding tone that irks them. But the dynamic has irked many Democrats. "I think it is unprecedented of a leader in the Senate of either party to say the most important goal he has is to make the current president a one-term," said Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California. "That is about respect, that is about priorities and it is just wrong."
Julian E. Zelizer, a political scientist at Princeton, said that when it comes to Obama, Republicans "just keep gaining confidence to force his hand." "While there might be a few people whose words have become nastier than usual, I think this is really the new normal in Washington with a president who is always on the ropes,"Zelizer said. "I am not convinced that is about lack of respect so much as the feeling that this is a weak president."
Indeed, Boehner's spokesman said there was nothing personal about the disputes. "They may have different visions for government," he said, but "the speaker has great respect for the president, likes him personally and looks forward to hearing his speech next week."
The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said Thursday that the administration spent "zero" time worrying about whether Republicans in Congress are showing the president the respect that the office deserves. The president himself eschews making things personal, so his aides follow suit — at least when it comes to any hint that his critics' attacks are for reasons other than his policies.
There is the persistent and deeply uncomfortable question of race. Many African-Americans have complained that some of the disrespect for Obama stems from distaste among some whites at the idea of seeing a black man in the Oval Office. But White House officials, echoing their boss's aversion to suggestions of racism, never play that card, not even in private conversations with reporters. One administration official said that Obama "made it clear" when he came into office "that there wouldn't be people crying wolf on race every day."
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
STOCK IN TRADE
The OECD trade data which shows a slowdown in growth of merchandise trade of major economies in the second quarter of 2011 is bad news. The seasonally adjusted data at current prices and exchange rates show that the growth of exports of the G7 and Bric countries has slowed down from 7.7% in the first quarter of 2011 to 1.9% in the second quarter. And the fall in imports was much sharper with the growth sliding down from 10.1% to 1.1% during the period. Among developed countries, the worst affected was tsunami-hit Japan. In the US, export growth was cut by more than half to 2.6% while growth of imports fell to less than a third. Only Germany was able to at least partially stem the trade slowdown by containing the export dip to 6.1% and that of imports to 7.4% in the latest quarter. Among Bric countries, the worst affected was India where export growth dipped down by more two-thirds to 3.5% in the second quarter of the year and imports fell to 4.6%, just around one-fifth the levels touched in the previous quarter. In the case of China, the trends were disparate. While export growth surged from 2.9% in the first quarter to 10% in the second, imports growth slipped from 11.1% to just 0.7%.
The good news is that though the slowdown in world trade will negatively impact global growth, the magnitude of the fall in global output is likely to be much slower than the fall in trade. This is mainly on account of two factors. One is that the goods most affected by a global slowdown like industrial machinery and consumer goods have a larger share in global trade than in global GDP. And secondly, global supply chains push trade several times across national boundaries during the production process and this magnifies the fluctuations in trade much more sharply as compared to the GDP.
The bad news is that the recent trends show that a slump in global trade is more likely to affect the developed countries more even as their growth still remains anaemic as the instability in the financial markets increases uncertainties. So a quick shift to more credible fiscal consolidation plans and efforts to stimulate consumption may do a lot more for a recovery in trade and global growth.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
BEWARE THE CHINAMAN
It is just as well that the prime minister has appointed Anil Ambani as the head of the Indian side of the India-China CEO's Forum, a body where tricky trade/investment issues get thrashed out at a business-to-business level—in the case of the US, the CEO Forum has been an important factor in relations between the two countries, and hopefully the India-China CEO Forum will do the same. At a time when there is a cry to 'balance' the 'unequal' trade relations between the two countries—The Indian Express carried a story on Thursday on how various government departments were formulating a plan on this which included raising import duties and using non-tariff barriers—Ambani will inject a dose of much-needed realism. Chinese telecom equipment suppliers are acknowledged to be among the best in the world, a fact that can be ascertained by their rising market shares, and there is little doubt this has played a factor in lowering telecom costs in India. Apart from spending large sums on Chinese telecom imports, Ambani has also lowered his power generation costs by importing Chinese power equipment. Generous loan agreements have accompanied the deals. Any attempt to slow down or raise costs of Chinese exports to India, it has to be kept in mind, will not be without costs—so the government's plan of action must keep that in mind.
There is little doubt the structure of India's exports to China is very different from that with the rest of the world. Primary goods comprise 13% of India's exports to the world but are 56% of India's exports to China. Similarly, while India exports mainly raw materials to China, it imports mainly manufactured goods. To the extent this is due to non-tariff barriers for India's manufactured exports, India has to approach the WTO; to the extent there is dumping, India has to prove this and levy anti-dumping duties. But a large part of this surely has to do with the fact that China is a lot more competitive than India in the manufacturing space—the procedures are a lot simpler, the work force is more educated/skilled and China's intellectual property is far superior to India's. Only becoming more competitive will take care of this imbalance.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
AUDITOR CAN'T HEAR THE TREE FALLING ON SINO-FOREST
The credit rater Standard & Poor's may have been late to throw Sino-Forest Corp into the wood chipper when it withdrew its opinion on the company's debt this week. At least it wasn't last. The end seems near for Sino-Forest. The Chinese-Canadian timber company's bonds are priced for a default. Securities regulators in Canada have accused the company of fraud and suspended trading in its stock. One question lingers: Which of the company's paid opinion merchants will be the last to step aside? Will it be a credit rater? Or will it be the company's auditor, Ernst & Young LLP in Toronto, which has yet to rescind any of its reports on Sino-Forest's finances?
So far Ernst looks like the favourite, with only one rating company left in the hunt. Think of it as a contest between giant tortoises to see which one is slower. This time-honored ritual—of market gatekeepers waiting to blow the whistle until long after a scam has been exposed—has become so familiar, we might as well revel in the spectacle.
Fitch Ratings withdrew its junk rating on Sino-Forest on July 14, six weeks after the short-selling research firm Muddy Waters LLC released a lengthy report accusing the company of fraudulently overstating its timber holdings in China. S&P pulled its rating this week after downgrading the company to CCC-, three levels above default, citing "heightened information risks". That's a euphemism for, "We have no idea what's going on here."
This leaves just Moody's Investors Service and Ernst, both of which, like S&P and Fitch, are paid by the same companies on which they render opinions. Moody's this week downgraded the company three steps to Caa1, its fifth-lowest mark. That's well into junk territory. So, at least Moody's is on record saying that Sino-Forest is a very high credit risk.
Ernst is still clinging to its position that Sino-Forest's books are clean, under the accounting profession's usual pass- fail standard. Beyond that, the firm refuses to speak publicly about its audit work for the company, whose board includes two former Ernst partners.
There's every reason to believe Muddy Waters' call was spectacularly correct. Once again, a Big Four accounting firm seems to have been caught with its pants down, having told the investing public for years that a multibillion-dollar enterprise's numbers could be trusted, only to see its imprimatur discarded by the markets and its conclusions upended by government investigators. Even the lowly credit raters, notorious for being slow to pull the trigger on dying companies, have been quicker on the draw this go-around.
Canada's main securities regulator, the Ontario Securities Commission, suspended trading last week in Sino-Forest's shares. The commission said Sino-Forest, as well as certain officers and directors, seem to have misrepresented the company's revenue, exaggerated its timber holdings and engaged in acts "they know or reasonably ought to know perpetuate a fraud".
As if that shouldn't have been enough to shake Ernst's confidence, Sino-Forest said this week that its chairman and chief executive officer, Allen Chan, had resigned, pending completion of an internal review of Muddy Waters' allegations. The company placed three other employees on leave "after certain information was uncovered during the course of" the review, without saying what that information was. In its August 28 news release, Sino-Forest said "the allegations made in the OSC's temporary order, while unproven, are of a serious nature".
Ernst's only public response has been to say nothing of substance. "We are aware of the OSC's temporary order and the company's press release, and are evaluating these developments," an Ernst spokeswoman, Amanda Olliver, said in an e-mail. "Our professional obligations prevent us from speaking more specifically about client matters."
Surely the company's officers and directors must be grateful to Ernst for keeping their secrets from the public's prying eyes. Meanwhile, the only thing investors have to go by from Ernst is the form letter it signed on March 14 attesting to the company's year-end financial statements. Whatever evidence Ernst had to support its view that Sino-Forest's books were kosher, it's hard to imagine the firm's partners could be so sure now.
Ernst does have options, aside from bracing for the inevitable years of litigation and investigations. It could resign, explain why it is doing so and face criticism for acting too late. It could withdraw its previous audit opinions. It could insist to Sino-Forest's directors that it be permitted to answer questions from the public about the work it has performed, as a condition of remaining onboard. Or it could hang on in silence, as it's doing now, and watch its reputation endure more damage.
That it's choosing the last of these approaches—and eating even the credit raters' dust in the process—reinforces the perception that Ernst fell down on the job and may have something to hide. No client could be worth this, no matter how much it's paying in fees. A plug-pulling is long overdue.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WHO'S GOING TO FIX SEBI'S CREDIBILITY?
The amount of money RBI ends up pumping into or sucking out of the market through any open market operation is usually less than 1% of the total broad money supply in the economy. But it works to give a direction to the market as banks and others read the signals carefully. The same goes for a regulator like the Securities and Exchange Board of India. It does not need, and neither does it have, the authority to clap offenders away in irons, but when it imposes a puny fine of R25 lakh on companies and brokers, the lesson is salutary.
In other words, the tap from the regulators for white collar crimes is based on the authority they command from those whom they supervise. The authority, in turn, takes years to develop through a carefully cultivated array of decisions, which are backed fully by the government of the day. That equation has got strongly impacted by the current spate of troubles at Sebi. The possible loss of authority will hurt most the retail investors of the country and consequently their faith in the ability of the market regulator to take upon itself the role of an unbiased referee vis-a-vis corporate shenanigans.
Controversies around Sebi are, however, not new. Each market scam since the 1993 Harshad Mehta one has created a demand for removing the then head of Sebi. From GV Ramakrishna to
M Damodaran, every chief has realised how hot the corner office at the market regulator is. But this is the first time, where two successive chiefs, CB Bhave and UK Sinha are in trouble apparently for things that have little to do with any market scams. Indeed, the markets are doing fine. Rather their troubles are related to the way they have gone after corporate wrongdoings or prevented them. This is where the government has possibly failed to support them.
At a time when there is a huge amount of informed discussion in the media on the over-arching role of corporates (for instance, should they enter the banking space), this is a serious perception problem. But the responsibility for the matters to have come to such a head mostly lies with the way the finance ministry has handled relations with the regulators in the past couple of years.
The current spate of accusations made by former Sebi member KM Abraham against the ministry in particular, accusing it of taking sides in corporate issues and the response by Sebi chief UK Sinha, can be traced back to Pranab Mukherjee's handling of the Sebi-Irda spat of 2010. Differences between regulators on the territory they cover are not unusual in economic literature. But the Sebi-Irda spat was singular for India as it was the first time when two financial regulators differed publicly. At that point, instead of intervening, the finance ministry strangely asked them to sort it out through a court battle. There is no reason, and certainly no precedent, in India why the courts needed to come into the issue at all, especially as successive finance ministers have assured Parliament that there is a high level committee on capital markets where all regulators are represented to sort out any differences.
To make matters worse, Mukherjee then decided to issue an ordinance, following it up with an order to settle the dispute. The ordinance was immediately objected to by RBI as it constituted a new financial sector development council to be headed by the minister. To settle this new row, the ordinance was modified to set up a sub-committee under the rubric of the council to be headed by the RBI Governor, which was in essence a reinstatement of the high level committee. The embers from that spat still linger. The latest is the emerging differences between Irda and Pfrda over which of them should regulate the pension market. It does not help that in the finance ministry, Pfrda and Sebi are under the secretary, economic affairs while RBI and Irda work with the secretary, financial services.
The loss of credibility hurt Sebi. The subsequent leaks of ministry file notings over the tenure of Bhave and Sebi members showed up the differences. Some of the companies that were to be hauled up promptly tapped these differences to try to save themselves. The issue was complicated as around the same time NSE's numero uno position in the equity market was sought to be challenged by MCX, where again going by Abraham's letter there are serious differences between the ministry and Sebi. That case, incidentally, is up for judgment in the courts next week.
The Abraham letters basically revolve around this fundamental issue, viz whether Sebi's ability to glare at corporate wrongdoers has got eroded.
Unlike other ministries, finance has had a long history of dealing with regulators. But as the setting up of the FSDC shows, in recent years it has tended to forget that history. The root of the problem lies there. That it has to face Parliament is no reason why it should usurp the role of the regulators. The government must only govern, leaving it to the regulators to resolve issues among those regulated.
As far as Abraham's accusations are concerned, there is no way they can be dismissed as trivial. If they are, there is no reason why the Sebi chief was asked to respond to them by the finance ministry and why the finance ministry in turn decided to issue a long release. Each of the Sebi members wield quasi-judicial authority and to dismiss their statements regarding some of the orders passed by them, would put under question the orders too. Surely that cannot be the government's intention.
Instead, the best course is to put every file on the issues in the domain of an investigating authority. That authority should ideally be the sub-committee of FSDC, where the Sebi chairman could recuse himself. This body has the eminence and the understanding of the financial sector that not even the CVC has, to come to a considered decision. It will also bring the clock back to where it all began, for retail investors to believe sanity has been restored in the conduct of the financial markets.
REBEL COMMANDER PLAYS DOWN ISLAMIST PAST
The rebels' Tripoli military commander, a former leader of an Islamist militant group that sent fighters to Iraq and Afghanistan, insisted on Friday that the new Libya would shun extremism and would not become a breeding ground for terrorism.
The commander, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, said he was detained in 2004 in Malaysia and sent to a secret prison in Thailand where he claimed he was tortured by CIA agents. Then he was sent to Libya and jailed for seven years by Muammar Qadhafi's regime.
But Mr. Belhaj, 45, played down his Islamist past, seeking to allay concerns about his emergence as a prominent figure in the Western-backed Libyan opposition movement.
He said he had been blindfolded, hung from the wall and beaten on his back in Thailand but insisted he holds no grudges against the West because of the shared goal of ousting Mr. Qadhafi.
"Revenge doesn't motivate me personally," he told The Associated Press in an interview at his headquarters at the sprawling military airport in central Tripoli.
Mr. Belhaj was a leader in the now dissolved Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which was deemed a terror group by the U.S. But he said he refused to join the al-Qaeda because he disagreed with its ideology of global jihad, or holy war, and wanted to focus on ridding Libya of Mr. Qadhafi.
Mr. Qadhafi, in courting the West in recent years, has insisted the al-Qaeda would gain influence in Libya unless he remained in power.
Mr. Belhaj dismissed those concerns. "We never have and never will support what they call terrorism," he said. "Libya is a moderate Muslim country." — AP
NIGERIA'S UNTAPPED RESOURCES
Nigeria's simmering ethno-religious tensions have entered a deadly new phase with the August 26 suicide bombing of the United Nations building in a relatively safe district of the national capital, Abuja. At least 23 were killed and 73 injured in this first attack on an international body in the country. The U.N. has condemned the bombing and stated that the mission's senior staff would remain at their post. The extremist Islamist group, Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility, as it has done for several other attacks and bombings since 2009. It is true that Nigeria's population of 160 million — the largest of any African state — is sharply divided on religious lines, with a Christian-majority south and a Muslim-majority north. But Boko Haram's propagation of hardline Islamism has been openly violent only since the middle of 2009, when followers rioted in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri and the central government cracked down brutally, killing more than 700 people in the process. The group's violence intensified further after its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, died in police custody.
Given Boko Haram's extremist ideology, it would be easy to neglect factors that have exacerbated the current tensions. Various northern Nigerian politicians had issued warnings about the group's proclivities, as had at least one senior police officer, but these were ignored. Secondly, the benefits of the country's oil wealth have not reached enough ordinary people, with northern provinces being particularly neglected. Further, official self-enrichment in one of the world's most corrupt countries is a longstanding cause of frustration and alienation for the bulk of the population. A positive factor is that Nigeria's main political parties are genuinely national. In the April 2011 presidential election, the winner, People's Democratic Party leader Goodluck Jonathan, had support throughout the country. The north witnessed a strong turnout of women voters, and northern politicians even apologised to Boko Haram for the severity of the 2009 crackdown. While some observers fear that the attack on the U.N. indicates contact between Boko Haram and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Nigeria has the political systems and the political culture to withstand such threats. It will, however, be vital for the central government to curb corruption and improve the functioning of public institutions if the trust and confidence the public showed during the elections are to be strengthened. That would also reveal whether the hard-line Islamist elements are more troubled by Nigerian Muslims' commitment to democracy than they are by the country's religious divide.
THE HIDDEN RIVER
The world's largest underground 'ocean' — a water-body about the size of the Arctic Ocean and located 700 to 1,400 km below the ground and extending from Indonesia to the northern tip of Russia — has found its match. Scientists have discovered in Brazil the longest underground river — running for a length of 6,000 km at a depth of nearly 4 km. It flows all the way from the Andean foothills to the Atlantic coast in a nearly west-to-east direction like the mighty Amazon River. The discovery was made public at a recent meeting of the Brazilian Geophysical Society in Rio de Janeiro. The river 'Hamza,' named after the discoverer, an Indian-born scientist Valiya Mannathal Hamza who is working with the National Observatory at Rio, makes it the first and geologically unusual instance of a twin-river system flowing at different levels of the earth's crust in Brazil. If the slowing down of certain seismic waves caused by the damp spot helped uncover the underground ocean, the unusual temperature variation with depth measured in 241 inactive oil wells helped locate the subterranean river. Except for the flow direction, the Amazon and the Hamza have very different characteristics. The most obvious ones are their width and flow speed. While the former is 1 km to 100 km wide, the latter is 200 km to 400 km in width. But the flow speed is five metres per second in the Amazon and less than a millimetre per second speed in the Hamza.
Several geological factors have played a vital role in the formation and existence of these subterranean water bodies. The underground ocean, discovered in 2007, has been formed when the plate carrying the Pacific Ocean bottom gets dragged and ends up under the continental plate. Water at such depths would normally escape upwards but the unusual conditions that exist along the eastern Pacific Rim allow the moisture to remain intact. In the case of the Hamza, the porous and permeable sedimentary rocks behave as conduits for the water to sink to greater depths. East-west trending faults and the karst topography present along the northern border of the Amazon basin may have some role in supplying water to the river. If the impermeable rocks stop the vertical flow, the west to east gradient of the topography directs it to flow towards the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike the Hamza, the 153 km-long underground river in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula and the 8.2 km-long Cabayugan River in the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in the Philippines have come into being thanks to the karst topography. Water in these places drills its way downward by dissolving the carbonate rock to form an extensive underground river system.
MOST ALLEGATIONS AGAINST SRI LANKAN ARMY 'NONSENSE'
Sri Lanka can initiate inquiries into allegations that have been levelled against its Army of war crimes in the final stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009 only if it is provided specific instances with prima facie evidence, a parliamentarian from President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling alliance has said.
In an interview to The Hindu in Chennai, Rajiva Wijesinha, who was nominated to Parliament by the ruling alliance following the 2010 elections, said the majority of the soldiers had "behaved impeccably."
He described as "nonsense" most of the allegations in the documentary aired recently by the U.K.-based Channel 4 and made in the report of the U.N.-empowered Darusman panel. "The one about excessive civilian casualties is nonsense, the one about attacking hospitals is nonsense, the one about trying to starve the civilians is nonsense," the parliamentarian, who is an adviser to Mr. Rajapaksa on reconciliation issues, said.
But he conceded that there were "a couple of things that I think we must look at further. One of these is the allegation that some people wanted to surrender and came out with a white flag and were killed, because there you have a date and a time... My argument has always been that if there is a specific allegation, we should look into it. But if there are general allegations, while we can argue generally by citing the facts, there is no prima facie case."
Mr. Wijesinha's comments come as Sri Lanka gears up for what could be a tough month for it at the United Nations. Both the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council meet this month. Following the release of the documentary and the Darusman panel's report, there have been calls from several quarters for an international inquiry.
The Sri Lankan government's position, Mr. Wijesinha said, was that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee would make a report. He suggested that the LLRC might also recommend indictments.
Those indicted, he hinted however, might be let off lightly.
"Our line is that while it is important to indict, if there is a guilty plea on matters that are not the type of torture we saw on the [Channel 4] film or executions, a plea will be accepted and there will be a suspended sentence."
The parliamentarian heads an organisation called the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, and is also the chairman of an international organisation called the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats.
"We don't believe in retributive justice, that's a very old-fashioned concept," Mr. Wijesinha said. "But there must be restorative justice. So the people who have suffered must be compensated."
He said the government should extend this facility to the LTTE cadres who had "confessed" as most of them had been conscripted and had only carried out orders.
Mr. Wijesinha said "not enough attention" was being paid to the suffering that had been caused by the LTTE and by those [among the Tamil diaspora] who had encouraged it to use civilians as human shields.
India's position, most recently set out by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna in the Lok Sabha, is that any inquiry into the war crime allegations must be carried out by Sri Lanka through a "transparent" process. It expresses confidence in the LLRC process.
New Delhi has preferred to emphasise the need for an early political settlement of the Tamil question through "institutional reforms," building on the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka's Constitution, an outcome of Indian mediation in 1987.
"The sooner Sri Lanka can come to a political arrangement within which all the communities feel comfortable, and which works for all of them, the better. Government of India will do whatever it can to support this process," Mr. Krishna said in his August 26 statement.
Mr. Wijesinha said India must help Sri Lanka counter pressure from the Western countries that were asking it to open a dialogue with pro-LTTE elements in the Tamil diaspora.
Conceding that "we know the LTTE in Sri Lanka is over," he said supporters of the LTTE, who while not calling themselves that, were still pursuing an agenda of violent separatism in Sri Lanka, including criminal activities abroad.
"Don't ask us not to be vigilant for the future," he said. "We can't take the risk, we have to remember how much our people suffered."
It was not fair on the part of the Western nations, the parliamentarian said, "to tell us to talk to the LTTE, to rumps of the LTTE, to the separatist transnational government [set up by LTTE elements in the diaspora], because [by doing so] they encourage people who still have an agenda of separatism and violence and it does not strengthen the democratic Tamil politicians and the Tamil people."
Mr. Wijesinha said despite some hiccups, his government was still in talks with the Tamil National Alliance, a coalition of Tamil parties that have representatives in Parliament and handsomely won recent local council elections in Northern Sri Lanka.
He suggested that the 13th Amendment would form the basis for a political settlement on the Tamil question, with the province as the unit of devolution.
Despite the "spoilers" among both the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority who saw devolution as a path towards separatism, "the vast majority of moderate people on both sides," he said, "realise that you need devolution simply in order to have a more efficient structure for the lives of people all over the place, and certainly the Sri Lankan political system for many decades was the Westminster-style democracy which was majoritarian and decisions were taken without any notice about the impact on minorities."
And, he said, this vast majority "are quite clear that the province should be the unit [of devolution]. After the 13th Amendment, I think now that the province is there, any effort to reduce it even on practical grounds would be counterproductive as it would also be seen as taking away."
Mr. Wijesinha said two other ideas — empowering smaller units in the province such as the pradehsiya sabhas (local councils) and creating a second chamber in Parliament — that have been controversial among Tamils, were also under consideration.
The second chamber, Mr. Wijesinha argued, was to involve the provinces in decision-making at the Centre, which would work to the advantage of the province. Strengthening the pradeshiya sabhas would give them powers to deliver to the people such important facilities as education and roads, as well as make it more accountable to them.
While the government was pushing these two ideas, the TNA, he said, was concerned about the "concurrent list" and the provision in the 13th Amendment that in cases of dispute between the Centre and the provinces, the former would prevail.
The TNA had also brought up the issues of giving police powers and land rights to the provinces, which is contained in the 13th Amendment but has not been implemented.
Mr. Wijesinha said it was possible to settle both issues through negotiations.
Rajapaksa adviser says majority of the soldiers behaved impeccably.
A THOUSAND DEATHS
An inordinate delay of 11 years occurred in considering the mercy pleas of the three death-convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, with their pleas being ultimately rejected on August 11, 2011 by the President of India. This is only one instance of the inhuman, unconscionable and arbitrary manner in which mercy pleas of convicts condemned to death are kept pending by the government for years on end.
Simultaneous with the rejection of the pleas of these three convicts, the Home Ministry has recommended to the President to reject the mercy plea of Afzal Guru. He was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court on August 5, 2005 and the government has not taken a decision on his clemency petition for six years now.
These are some of the prominent cases among pending mercy petitions, but not the only ones. Eighteen mercy pleas are pending with the President as on August 16, 2011, the earliest among them dating back to 2005. The government seems to be totally indifferent to the pathetic plight of such convicts who are kept in suspense for many years. Courts in all civilised states, including India's Supreme Court, have recognised that any prolonged delay in executing a death sentence can make the punishment, when it comes, inhuman and degrading. The trauma and psychological stress, coupled with solitary confinement, creating a conflict known as the "death row phenomenon," in themselves amount to a cruel punishment. The prolonged anguish of alternating between hope and despair, the agony of uncertainty and the consequence of such suffering on the mental, emotional and physical integrity and health of not only the convict but also his family members should never be allowed in a civilised society.
In a leading case from Jamaica decided by the Privy Council in 1993, the court said: "There is an instinctive revulsion against the prospect of hanging a man after he had been under sentence of death for many years. What gives rise to this revulsion? The answer can only be our humanity. We regard it as inhuman to keep a man facing the agony of execution for a long extended period of time. To execute these men now after holding them in custody in agony of suspense of so many years would be inhuman punishment."
In 1983, the Supreme Court of India observed that a self-imposed rule should be followed by the executive authorities that every such petition should be disposed of within a period of three months from the date it is received. In other cases, the Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment because of the unconscionable delay and suspense involved for the convict. As recently as on September 18, 2009, the Supreme Court specifically reminded the government of its obligations with regard to the 26 mercy petitions that were then pending with the President. The Government of India has been not only oblivious of the inhuman aspect of the procrastination but has disregarded the repeated directions of the Supreme Court.
The case of Afzal Guru has been a gross instance of political considerations coming in the way of deciding a mercy plea. Afzal Guru has been a political pawn, with the Bharatiya Janata Party in an unseemly manner demanding his immediate execution and making it an election issue. Meanwhile, for political considerations the government has delayed taking a decision, giving flimsy grounds such as that the file was not returned by the Delhi Government for four years.
As a matter of fact, it was revealed by the Delhi Chief Minister that the previous Home Minister had deliberately instructed the Delhi Government not to take action promptly on Afzal Guru's file. Afzal Guru's mental agony can be seen from a pathetic statement he made in June 2010. He said: "I really wish L.K. Advani becomes the next Prime Minister as he is the only one who can take a decision and hang me. At least my pain and daily suffering will ease then." On the United Progressive Alliance government's ambivalent attitude, he said: "I don't think the UPA government can reach a decision. The Congress party has two mouths and is playing a double game." Whatever his crime, surely Afzal Guru does not deserve this agony.
On September 30, 2009, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said he would consider afresh the cases of the 26 convicts awaiting the death sentence whose mercy petitions had been lying with the President for several years. He said the Home Ministry would examine each case turn by turn — as if deciding petitions submitted to the President was an act of grace or mercy.
It is a fallacy to believe that the power of granting pardon given to the President and the Governor under the Constitution is an act of grace or mercy. The power conferred on the President and the Governor is a part of India's constitutional scheme and is an integral part of the criminal justice system in the public interest. The convict has a constitutional right to have his or her petition considered by the President or the Governor on relevant grounds, including miscarriage of justice. And it should be decided expeditiously. To use the felicitous words of a U.S. Supreme Court judge: "When granted the pardoning power is the determination of the ultimate authority that public welfare would be better served by inflicting less punishment than what the judgment has fixed."
It appears that the Home Ministry has now fast-tracked death penalty cases because of petitions filed in courts. On June 12, 2011, the Gauhati High Court issued notice for the delay of 12 years in the case of Mahendra Nath Das. In July this year, the Supreme Court issued notice to the government in the case of Devender Singh Bhullar, forcing it to speed up the rejection of his mercy petition. On July 8, 2011, in a Public Interest Litigation petition moved by a non-governmental organisation against the government's inhuman and arbitrary practice of keeping such petitions pending, the Supreme Court issued notice to the government.
It is time the entire system of disposal of the so-called mercy petitions was set right once and for all by an authoritative pronouncement and correction by the Supreme Court. Individual cases such as those of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case that are now in court would raise the larger question of the working of the pardoning system by the government, and why cases of the other convicts on death row who are kept in similar suspense should not be simultaneously considered. This can only be done if the present system is examined and corrected by the Supreme Court for the benefit of all mercy plea petitioners.
( The writer is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, and former Solicitor General of India and Advocate-General of Maharashtra .)
Procrastination on mercy petitions is inhumane to death-convicts.
'NEPAL WON'T JEOPARDISE ANY GENUINE INDIAN INTEREST'
IN THE MIDDLE OF NEGOTIATIONS OVER CABINET FORMATION AND THE FUTURE OF MAOIST COMBATANTS, NEPAL'S NEW PRIME MINISTER DR. BABURAM BHATTARAI TOOK TIME OUT FOR AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PRASHANT JHA ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON AT HIS OFFICE. EXCERPTS:
You had consistently argued for a consensus government, but are now heading a majority government. Why did efforts at forging a national consensus fail?
I am still for a consensus form of government because according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the Interim Constitution, we need to take major decisions through consensus. The Special Committee (SC) responsible for the integration and rehabilitation of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) cadres has to function through consensus and the Constitution has to be adopted through a two-thirds majority. If we have a consensus government of major parties, it would facilitate those two processes. But unfortunately, since that could not happen, the second choice was to start with a majoritarian and work for a consensus government.
Immediately after my election, I reached out to the Nepali Congress, the UML and other parties. I need their support on the peace process. We have already chalked out a time frame of 45 days for integration and rehabilitation. If we reach broad consensus, we can stick to the deadline. By that time, the NC and the UML will also join the government, and it can then take the shape of a national consensus government.
What is the basis for the Maoist-Madhesi alliance, which many have called 'unnatural'?
Maoists and Madhes based parties are natural allies because on many cardinal principles and political line, there is common ground. The agenda of the Maoists is restructuring of the state and society. And Madhes based parties came forward with the agenda of the federal restructuring of the state. These are basic issues which the traditional NC and UML could not address. This natural alliance has brought a new dawn in Nepalese politics.
Given the tensions in the past, are you confident of the support of your party chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda'?
I have the full support of my chairman, comrade Prachanda. Though we have gone through series of ideological and political struggles, we have been in the same party committee at the leadership level for the last twenty years. We know each other. Despite our differences, there are a lot of commonalities. Our personal capacity is also more complementary, rather than competitive. We need each other. I need the chairman and the chairman needs me. Ideologically, politically and personally, continuity between the two of us has been prevailing and will prevail in the future.
What about the third component of the party, senior vice-chairman Mohan Vaidya 'Kiran'? He has already opposed your decision to hand over keys of the arms containers.
There was some confusion about this so called handover issue. This is a part of the integration process. It is implied in the CPA, and the earlier schedule worked out by the Special Committee. Formally, it had already been decided that the PLA and cantonments would be looked after by the Special Committee but in practice, there were some difficulties. After formation of my government, I took the initiative and practically handed over the PLA, cantonments, cadres and weapons to the SC. In that SC, both the PLA and the Nepal Army are there. It is not a question of surrendering to the state, but handing over to the SC which is a joint committee. The party chairman has already issued a statement fully supporting the decision of the SC.
But there seems to be a school within your party opposed to the whole process. Do you think they can obstruct it, or potentially cause a split?
There has been a consistent two-line struggle in the party over the political line followed since 2005. A section has had some reservations, but the overwhelming majority of the leadership and cadre are firmly behind this political line which has charted out a unique path of political transformation. Even if some leaders and cadre may oppose or some splinter groups may move out, it won't make much impact on the party's political line.
What is the meeting point on the contentious issues regarding the future of Maoist combatants?
First, for modality, we have more or less agreed that a separate directorate will be created under the Nepal Army. Second, international norms of security forces will be obeyed by all members to be integrated. But there will be certain concessions on age, education, marital status etc. Third, on ranks, our senior commanders will be brought back for political work and junior commanders can be adjusted. The fourth issue is package for those opting for rehabilitation or voluntary retirement or golden handshake. We are working out an honourable settlement. And on numbers, we proposed a figure between 8,000 and 10,000. With Madhesi parties, there was an agreement of around 7,000. Other parties have come to about 6,000. We will finally settle around 7,000; that should be the compromise number of those to be integrated. We can then immediately start regrouping, which can be completed in one month. And within two weeks after that, we should be able to complete the process of integration.
One of the points in the agreement with Madhesi parties is withdrawal of cases against those accused during the war and movements. Isn't this a travesty of justice?
There is already an agreement in the CPA for withdrawal of cases against political cadres stamped by the old state during the insurgency and People's Movement. We only said we will implement that agreement. The Maoists and the Madhesi parties have come through struggle. So, naturally pending cases should be withdrawn. It happens everywhere. This has nothing to do with human rights issues. We are fully committed to obey human rights.
Is the three-month extension of the CA enough?
Three months is not enough. If you go by the CA's schedule, we need at least six to nine months. We will need another extension. But let us try our best to take this process forward in the next three months and then, if need be, we can extend it again.
Your party has often criticised India's role in domestic Nepali politics. What was its stance during the government formation process this time around?
Nepal is sandwiched between the two huge states of India and China. Historically, our sovereignty and independence has been maintained by having well-balanced relations with these two big neighbours. Practically, we are more closely integrated with India, with an open border and closer economic ties. So we have more interaction with India and more problems also, which sometimes creates misunderstanding. The Maoist party and I am personally convinced we need to work more closely and do more business with the government and people of India. Despite certain misgivings in the past, I am confident we will have a very good working relationship in the future.
I don't think there is any role for any outside power in making and breaking governments in a sovereign country. But at times, certain misgivings arise. The political process in Nepal should be decided by the people and political parties of Nepal. But we need the goodwill of neighbours like India.
How would you respond to India's security concerns in Nepal?
There are security concerns of both India and China in Nepal. We are sensitive to those genuine concerns and we will address those concerns of both sides. I am confident I can win the goodwill of both our neighbours.
Indian investors in Nepal have often complained of harassment by Maoists. What is your position on foreign, especially Indian, investors?
Our party's position is that we need foreign direct investment in Nepal, though the priorities will be decided by the Nepal government. Unfortunately, during this transition period, certain unfortunate incidents have taken place. That is not in consonance with the official party position. I would like to assure all the foreign investors, both in India and elsewhere, that you are most welcome to invest in Nepal and the government will provide full security.
What is your expectation from policymakers in New Delhi?
I would like to appeal to our friends in India that Nepal is not anti-Indian. We want to have good, friendly relations with India. I myself studied and spent 12-13 years in India. There is a lot of room for cooperation between the two countries. I would like to assure that Nepal won't jeopardise any genuine interest of India in Nepal, security or economic or otherwise. We need cooperation to stabilise peace, democracy and development. Being a sovereign, independent country, we would like to maintain balanced relations with all our neighbours. And that should not be seen as being anti-Indian.
(The full text of the interview is available on our website, www.thehindu.com)
Interview with newly-elected Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai.
THE ASIAN AGE
NEPAL'S NEW PM FACES CRITICAL TASK
With the election of senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai as Nepal's new Prime Minister last week, there is now the smallest hope in some time that the Himalayan nation can begin making the first moves towards stability after years of political turmoil. Dr Bhattarai is thought to be given to reflection, moderation and consensus-building, the very qualities needed to heal the new Nepal established after the end of the monarchy.
The political space in Nepal is deeply fractured. The Maoists, who won the most seats in the Constituent Assembly (effectively the Parliament) in the April 2008 election, were too full of hubris. Under the leadership of Pushp Kumar Dahal, better known as "Prachanda", they sought to steamroller their way through despite not having a majority. They fought with the President, the Army Chief and two major political parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) — over integrating their 20,000 armed fighters into the regular Nepal Army. This factor became the biggest obstacle to the success of the peace process (after royal rule ended) and the framing of the country's new Constitution in the post-monarchy dispensation.
On becoming PM, Dr Bhattarai has sought an extension of three months — after several missed deadlines — to conclude the process of finalising the Constitution. It won't be an easy task. The incoming leader will have to strike deals with the NC and CPN (UM-L), although he has come to head the government with the support of the Terai's Madhesi MPs. This calls for statesmanship, and possibly also for overcoming opposition to the idea within the PM's own party. If Dr Bhattarai is able to bring the Constituent Assembly around to agreeing on some of the key principles that are holding up progress on the peace process, framing a new Constitution shouldn't be difficult.
The well-being of Nepal is riding on Dr Bhattarai's success. In the absence of a return to order and an end to uncertain politics, the country risks being thrown back to the era when the three-way confrontation — between royalist Nepal and the Maoists, between the King and the other key parties, and between the Maoists and other parties — had taken a big toll and normal life ceased to exist. Such a state of affairs, when forces of disruption can be tempted to use military means to take control, naturally causes acute concern in India. This country has ancient ties with the people of Nepal, and we have an open border. If the people of Nepal can't even give themselves a Constitution in the post-royal dispensation, the possibility remains of such forces taking over that are disruptive of democracy.
THE ASIAN AGE
MIRROR, MIRROR, WHO'S TO BE MASTER OF ALL?
"If Papa say 'no!'
And Mama say 'yes!'
What a mess, what a mess, what a mess.
If less is more
And more is less
With every aphorism we regress
Why every sneeze
Must draw a 'bless'
Only God can guess."
From Jelleybe Verses by Bachchoo
Anna Hazare had a dream, like Martin Luther King before him. It began with an idea of suffering. Did Martin free the blacks of the US? Will the Lokpal Bill end Indian corruption?
Chou En-lai was once asked for his opinion on the effects of the French Revolution on Europe. "Too early to tell," he said. We may now ask whether King, the militant Black Panthers, the liberal Kennedys and President Lyndon Johnson and their legislation were responsible for the progress of Afro-Americans. The answer has to be "all of these".
King's movement divided the US into whites and blacks, with some whites on the black side. Master Hazare's movement has divided the population into those who take bribes and those who give them — perhaps a 50-50 divide?
There were constitutionalists in the "nay" camp who maintain that a democracy has means to heal itself and calling Master Hazare a blackmailer.
The "yea" camp adopted Malcolm X's slogan "By Any Means Necessary", then settled for the legislative inclusions of Parliament in the Lokpal Bill and went home.
"The question is", as Alice might have asked Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, "can you make one law mean so many different things?"
"The question", answered Humpty Dumpty "is who is to be Master, that is all!"
And that really is the question: Can those who give bribes stop or bring to justice those who take them?
The Hazare movement posed the classic dilemma to the Indian legislators. It's like the "Have you stopped beating your wife?" question. If the legislators voted against anti-corruption law they could be seen as corrupt or at least pro-corruption. They had to vote for the broom that would sweep clean.
We onlookers can only welcome the legislation even if we doubt its ability to bring about change, or, in some instances, even the wisdom of its sweeping measures.
Take an example from real life: I am being driven late one night by a friend through the crowded streets of Mumbai. His mobile phone rings and he answers it while driving. As we approach the traffic lights and slow down, with my friend still holding the phone to his ear and chatting away, a police constable steps out from a hiding place at the crossing and flags the car down.
My friend doesn't put his phone away. With his free right hand he gestures "cash" to me. I take my wallet out and he peers in and extracts a `100 note from my wallet. His window is wound down and the constable is hovering outside. Still talking on the phone, my friend hands him the note, salutes him by touching his forehead and says, "Hang on, just moving off" into the phone.
"You gave it with pleasure, sir. I didn't ask for it, did I?" the constable asks in Marathi.
"Buy your wife a saree," my cynical friend says as he drives off.
(No judgments yet)
The next day I am in a rickshaw. A police squad car is parked around a corner and two police officers are waiting for vehicles that violate road traffic regulations. My rickshaw driver may or may not have gone through a traffic light as it turned from yellow to red. He is stopped and gets out to show some papers to the cop who is crisply uniformed and crisply rude.
The rickshaw man comes back shaking his head.
"It's gone up," he says.
"What has?" I ask as we drive off with the policeman looking stern in his semi-shaded glasses.
"Yellow-jumping used to be `30, he took 40," the rickshaw driver says.
And so to judgment. It is commonplace that policemen are paid paltry wages and subsidise their income through bribes. In the case of my mobile-toting friend to whom a hundred rupees is, as we say, haath ka kachra (especially if it's from my wallet), the subsidy the policeman took may not buy his wife a saree, but perhaps his children a meal or two. In the case of the rickshaw driver, he is as badly off or poorer than the policeman who leeched off him.
Officially both offenders should have been taken to court and fined. The fine, like the bribe, would make the rickshaw driver more conscious of the law when driving. It would make no difference to the mobile-toting habits of my "friend". The fine would pass to the public coffers and in a very roundabout way could end up, with millions from other routes, in the Swiss bank account of some corrupt land-developer who has swindled the public purse.
The other question which must be asked is who will police the anti-corruption police? Is Lokpal creating yet another layer of people with the power to extract bribes for turning a blind eye to the bribery they have investigated?
Even more intriguing is the possibility of anti-anti-corruption commissions monitoring the anti-corruption commission and then an anti-anti-anti-corruption commission to spy on them and so on, as in mirrors facing each other, to infinity.
THE ASIAN AGE
THE TIMELESS POSTER BOY OF HINDI CINEMA
Evenings at Mumbai's Prithvi theatre, he makes an occasional guest appearance — on a wheelchair. At the end of the performance, he smiles like a Chinese Buddha at those who halt to ask, "Hello sir, how are you?" He nods gratefully, his eyes greying. And then he's wheeled to his apartment in a high-rise opposite the theatre hub.
It's just another day in Shashi Kapoor's paradise. Confession: he was my hero, I-wish-I-was-like-him poster boy of the 1960s. Terrific looks, coiffed and cologned, a jagged but disarming smile, neatly turned out, advancing a fashion statement with those flapper collared silk shirts — floral printed! — and bell bottoms. Many of his films credited wife Jennifer Kendal with the costume designs. Below her credit, the name of the Taj Mahal Hotel boutique would be inscribed: Burlington's. The boutique is still there, you cannot walk past it without thinking of Shashi Kapoor.
Today's actors may be inheritors of the Dilip Kumar-Raj Kapoor-Dev Anand styles, but there's no one who comes quite close to the Shashi Kapoor charisma which was always equated with the "Western… angrez" stereotype. Nasir Husain, who directed him in Pyar Ka Mausam (1969), had said that he appeals essentially to the urban audience, but added, "When he leaves all his doubts at home, then he appeals to all, be it to a college student or a truck driver."
Indeed, it was facile to call Shashi Kapoor "westernised", and unfairly sourced in his personal life, since he had a "memsahib" wife. Also his roots in the theatre craft of the Kendals' Shakespearana troupe made him an oddity of sorts. He travelled extensively, believed in the Bard and literature and actually spoke in his interviews about his elaborate English breakfasts on Sunday. He was house-proud of a library with books that were actually read! And there was that music system playing Mozart, Bach, Beethoven.
For a starry-eyed boy studying in a Bombay school — the Cathedral and John Connon — where other students considered Hindi films infra dig, Shashi Kapoor was a guilty pleasure. When the Shakespearana troupe arrived at Cathedral one afternoon to stage excerpts from A Midsummer Night's Dream, he was royally ignored. Other students hadn't heard of him. Because Ivory-Merchant's The Householder (1963) had arrived and vanished, faster than breeze. Earlier, his B.R. Chopra film Dharmputra (1961), dealing with the serious issue of communal strife had tanked, too.
The fan in me never diminished for Shashi Kapoor. He was so likeable as the poor Kashmiri who in Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965) goes bonkers over swanky Nanda. I couldn't miss a single movie of his, it had to be devoured first-day-first-show. He looked best with Sharmila Tagore (evidence: Aamne Saamne) but was more successful with Nanda, forming a "hit pair" in that era's magazine terminology. With Hayley Mills in Pretty Polly (1966), he cut a sharp, saturnine figure, but the film was not up to scratch. There was a lull in Shashi Kapoor's career. Sharmilee (1971) marked the comeback in which he carromed between double-role Raakhees. Occasionally, there would be the odd movie like Dil Ne Pukara (1967) in which Rajshree must choose between him and Sanjay Khan. I remember a reader's letter to Filmfare. A woman reader deliberated, "But where's the competition between the two? Which woman would not opt for Shashi, eyes closed?"
I am not sure whether I liked him playing second fiddle to Amitabh Bachchan at all. Bachchan got all the powerful scenes in Deewaar (1975) but there's a silver lining here. It was Shashi Kapoor who delivered that classic line, "Mere paas maa hai". Take Do Aur Do Paanch (1980) though. What the hell was he doing, allowing himself to be completely overshadowed?
With time, alas, the urbane actor was typecast in vapid nice-guy roles, as in Namak Halaal (1982) and Ghungroo. Shashi Kapoor was taking the backseat, presumably because he was shifting gears towards producing films of the sensible kind. Monetarily, those films burnt him. Still that was his most admirable phase, as the producer of Shyam Benegal's Junoon (1978) and Kalyug (1981), Aparna Sen's 36 Chowringhee Lane (with the performance of a lifetime by Jennifer Kendal), Girish Karnad's Utsav (1984) and Govind Nihalani's Vijeta (1986).
The only film he directed, Ajooba (1991), brought him to the brink of bankruptcy. Compounded with the loss of Jennifer Kendal to cancer, he appeared to have lost his love for life and cinema. Never have I see a man turn from an Adonis to a corpulent figure overnight, his excess weight seemed to cry out, "Who cares?"
Of the three Kapoor brothers, Shashi (born Balbir Raj) was the youngest and the most boyishly endearing. He could have retained his Peter Pan looks but chose not to. Today Shashi Kapoor, at 73, darts a gentle smile. And for that I would like to write him a fan letter once again… to say, "Thank you, sir. I owe you for being my all-time poster boy."
Khalid Mohamed is a journalist, film critic and film director
For some time, MLAs in opposition have been raising hue and cry for withdrawing AFSPA. Separatist groups strongly support the demand. They are prompted by militant leadership which presumably has come under pressure of security forces destroying their dens and hideouts where they dump arms and ammunition in large quantity to continue armed insurgency and disruption of law and order in the state. Political parties that want withdrawal of AFSPA actually want to score a point in winning the favour of sections of population. Amusingly, of late, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has also joined the tantrum and has even moved officially to break the deadlock. The issue of AFSPA has been made controversial and complicated because there is clash of views on the subject. The NC leadership as well as the party in opposition and its allies look at political nuances of the demand while the Army and security forces differ from it because they look at it from security point of view. The clash of views has deepened, and more recently the Home Minister has come out with a statement that unless the State government clarifies its position on the Disturbed Areas Act, AFSPA will not be withdrawn unilaterally. Thus as far as the position of the Union Home Ministry on the issue is concerned, it has made it clear that not AFSPA but the Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) is the key to disabling AFSPA. The question of reforming AFSPA is not a Kashmir-related issue. However, the case merits close examination.
"Because of continued abetment and support from across the border to the militants it was felt that additional measures are taken to curb the militancy effectively and in a shortest possible time. In these circumstances the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, 1990 (Governor's Act No. 12 of 1990) was enacted, The actions taken under the Act have shown considerable improvement but the circumstances and the conditions due to which the law was enacted continue to be the same." This is the preamble of the Act. The fundamental question is this: have the circumstances and conditions owing to which the law was enacted changed or continue to be the same?" It was desired to determine an answer to this question that the Chief Minster constituted a committee in 2010 to address the issue and report. The Committee held two meetings so far. But the reaction of the army and the security forces is already known to all including the Government. During the meeting, Lt Gen Husnain pointed out that militancy was still a threat perception in the state and that there should be no dilution of the AFSPA in any of the areas in the Kashmir Valley, reported The Hindu. Apart from that the Defence Ministry has raised objection to the lifting of the controversial AFSPA, saying infiltration attempts were still continuing and terrorists could not be given any "opportunity to succeed" there. "Militancy has come down substantially but at the same time our feedback is not giving us comfort. Attempts for infiltration are still continuing... We cannot take any step that will give an opportunity for militants to succeed there," Defence Minister A K Antony had told reporters in New Delhi.
This is the ground situation in Kashmir. We have noted that for last three months or more, reports from reliable sources speak of nearly 3,000 well- armed terrorists waiting in the wings along LoC to infiltrate into our side of the line. A number of these attempts have been foiled by the Army but there is no relent from the other side. The recent incident of infiltration attempt in Gurez is still fresh with us and the killing of 13 terrorists in one strike shows that the terrorists are determined in pursuing their mission. Add to it the bold threats issued by Pakistan -based LeT chief of waging a jihad in Kashmir and Islamabad unable to contain his vitriolic.
There is also a legal aspect of the question of lifting DAA. It was the President of India who issued a Proclamation on the 8th July 1990 under Article 356 of the Constitution, in relation to the State of Jammu and Kashmir declaring inter alias that the powers of the Legislature of the State shall be exercisable by or under the authority of Parliament. Parliament has, under Article 357(1)(a) of the Constitution, now conferred on the President, the powers of the Legislature of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to make the laws vide the Jammu and Kashmir State Legislature (Delegation of Powers) Act, 1992 (21 of 1992). In this background it is only the President of India who can order lifting of DAA and not the State Government. The State Government can, at best, recommend to the President the areas in J&K where the application of Disturbed Areas Act is no more needed. With the lifting of DAA in such areas or the entire J&K State, the AFSPA loses its force and the army can be partially or fully withdrawn from that area. DAA essentially gives three main powers to the police/security forces and these are: (a) Power to fire upon persons contravening certain orders. (b) Powers to destroy arms dump, fortified positions, etc. and (c) Protection of persons acting under Section 4 against prosecution. Now if the State Government is convinced that these powers should no more be exercised by the security forces, it is free to make such recommendations to the President. The onus rests with the State Government. This should clear the position of the Army, and the people in general in Kashmir, including the vociferous political chapters and government quarters, have to be clear in their minds what they are asking for and with what consequences. It is one thing to play the card of politics but another thing to understand and react to the ground reality in Kashmir. The Government is bearing enormous expenditures on providing security to the political leaders and other important social figures who are asking for withdrawal of AFSPA. The Union Home Ministry would be very happy if the state exchequer was saved the huge expenditure on account of providing them security. Once the DDA is lifted, AFSPA stands withdrawn and so does the security to the politicians and others.
MEN, MATTERS & MEMORIES
BY ML KOTRU
The first round of the battle has undoubtedly gone to Anna Hazare, the septuagenarian, the former Army truck driver-turned social activist, for whom the fortnight he spent at Tihar Jail and later, amidst mass adulation of the rarest type seen at Ramlila ground in Delhi, his declared objective to call the corrupt to order. From Patwari (the lowest minion of the revenue department who touches the lives of the peasant and prince alike all over the land) to Prime Minister everyone, said Anna, is to be accountable to the Lok Pal, man or woman, responsible only to himself and the Constitution as he settles down to tell the corrupt from among the several million men and women working the government departments.
High voltage drama unfolded for two weeks as Hazare settled down to the business of starving himself to death, if necessary, with thousands of citizens in attendance, not to mention a few men and women who became his virtual shadows the days he spent fasting. Not a day passed without the doctors, with an eye-and-half settled on the hordes of electronic media, who had chosen to convert the fast, into a virtual carnival, a non-stop drama bringing to your drawing room giving every detail about Hazare's deteriorating health. Dr. Trehan of Gurgaon's Medicity, ensured that the tests, for the main, were held in full public view, before he took to the mike to tell the waiting multitude of how Anna Hazare was doing. Not to be outdone the media had its own men pronouncing opinions on the medical bulletins and not just that; how long would Anna survive if his voice was not heard? And young people waving the tricolour from the podium, two youths from a band among them constantly keeping up a pseudo religious chant of Gandhian vintage. There were film actors, film singers, assorted self-seekers, all of them in attendance. Some where so theatrical that they allowed themselves to swept away to unburden themselves of chats and songs denigrating the houses of Parliament and men and women who are supposed to be doing the nation's business. So much so that questions came to be raised about some of the cheer-leaders probably being drunk. Corruption - the fight against it, to be precise - we have been told in the past by one of Indira Gandhi's Law Ministers was nothing new, everyone was corrupt. Not just that corruption was a universal phenomenon.
I liked a poser by a Mumbai activist and one-time journalist who argued (where else but on at a TV show) that everyone talked of corruption but without reminding the viewers of the axiomatic saying that 'power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely and if you get to see who wielded power irresponsibly you didn't have to go beyond the limits of Ramlila ground. Only two entities the over enthusiastic TV crews and Hazare and his three or four handless. In the instant case it seemed to me that television wielded more power than Hazare himself. 24/7 the channels just wouldn't let you have even a short peek at what the rest of the world was doing. Whether Qaddafi had been ousted, whether Syrian President was still holding out, or, for that matter Obama's travails in search of solution to his country's dwindling fortunes etc. There was this channel which has the distinction of having helms man who presides over all the talkathons, conscious obviously that he knew best and who would not allow on his panel to finish in case the panelist did not fall in line with his interpretation. "I am afraid you are wrong, unconvincing - you have no respect for the man who is fasting and might even die." Day after day, night after night the man unfailingly brought together an array of men only to brow beat those who disagreed with him. He even did away with his obsession for Breaking News" replacing it with Breaking Now, the allusion being to his channel's name.
The all consuming obsession with Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill would not permit the TV networks to tell us why, they felt, the CBI, CVC and Lok Ayuktas were not working, nor would they ask who would do the leg work for the Lok Pal once he or she was appointed. In crucial situation one would have expected the channels to discuss, not 24/7, how a Lok pal of Hazare's dreams or Aruna Roy's or even the government's was to be appointed. Instead instant polls were being conducted whether viewers supported Anna or not.
Frankly there was no need for such polls, for the answer was known all the time. Instead the channels took to phone-back to tell us now and again which way the country was going.
The day before Anna decided to call off his fast I was flabbergasted to find Justice Hegde, a former Judge of the Supreme Court and former Lok Ayukta of Karnataka, who virtually sealed former Chief Minister Yeddyurappa's fate over the Bellary mess and other scams, begging of a TV anchor calling from Delhi to tell him about the latest Ramlila ground. Poor Justice Hegde was heading a massive pro-Anna meeting in Bangalore and hearing all kinds of stories. The anchor did oblige him by giving some positive news. But Hegde was disappointed that as a major activist, who had openly supported Anna was being kept out of the loop by the henchmen surrounding the fasting Anna. Hedge was infuriated by the henchmen's tirade against Parliament, which according to the former Supreme Court Judge epitamised the democratic character of the nation. "It's the most important Constitutional instrument, how can we bring it ill-repute. We are expected to debate/discuss issues in Parliament not ram them through. Indira Gandhi too realized at great cost to her image that brow-beating Parliament or judiciary was not the way out. In the instant case Swami Agnivesh, one of the original Team Anna men, had to admit to his great dismay, the wrong signals anti-parliament tirade by some team members was sending out to the nation. We have to discuss the issue with the self-same Parliament tomorrow how can were denigrated it just prior to that.
I have nothing against Arvind Kejriwal or Kiran Bedi of the Team Anna but both seemed throughout August as angry individuals only too willing to be swayed by the presence in front of them of thousands or Anna supporters at Ramlila grounds. Om puri, the very fine Bollywood actor, appeared to have been totally brainwashed by the Anna men when he took to the mike and belched forth a vituperative diatribe against the government, the Parliament and the MPs. "the Ardha Sathya" man was absolutely out of his depth as he addressed the Ramlila Ground crowd. Mr. Puri somehow seemed to have mistaken the Ramlila Ground platform for one his film sets. That's the most charitable view one can take of his ugly outburst. It sounded as amateurish as Manish Tiwary's unfounded allegations against Anna who according to the Congress MP was corrupt from top to toe. It's time someone tell Mr. Tiwari that good looks and facility with words does not make for a sound argument. These are scoring points which please your headmaster at school. He did later say in Parliament that he regretted, to make such an outrageous allegations against Anna Hazare. Tiwary who considers himself a rise and shine boy of the Congress Party did finally offer a handsome apology but it was too late. Regardless of anything that might have been said to the contrary the fact remains that the Anna movement has been one of the most impressive expressions of public outrage over corruption, in the Government from gram Panchayats upwards to the highest echelons of Governance. One can only hope that the Parliamentary Standing Committee does an honest and sincere job by marrying the best of the three drafts - Anna's, Roy's and the government's to produce a good Lok Pal Bill which creates of conditions in which the corrupt are easily identifiable and punishable with greater speed. The Lok Pal bill incidentally has been hanging fire in Parliament for four decades and more. Anna Hazare has given a strong enough push for it to be finally adopted - and in quick time too. So far as the government's handling of the crisis once in broke out I am convinced that to face such situations a country needs a Prime Minister his or her own MAN. I am reminded of the great Indian editor Frank Moraes's celebrated comment that Indira Gandhi seemed to be the only MAN in her cabinet.
BY BRIJ BHARDWAJ
The crisis created by the fast by Anna Hazare in support of early enactment of the Lokpal bill to check corruption may be over, with, the bill having been sent to the Standing Committee of parliament before being given final shape for endorsement by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, but the main cause for concern, that is, double digit inflation and slowing down of growth will continue to give sleepless nights to UPA leadership.
The main reason for the support that was generated for the Civil Society movement against corruption was a general feeling of uneasiness and disgust in the society over the fact that while the public at large was suffering because of high inflation particularly of food items a few were making huge gains through various scams that have surfaced with a regularity unheard of in the past. At the same time, one also saw a slowdown of economic growth which is leading to shrinkage of jobs and opportunities for the middle class which had benefitted from the liberalisation of economy and was the main supporter of UPA and Dr Manmohan Singh in the last elections.
The UPA leadership seriously needs to introspect why the middle class which had made it possible for them to sweep all metro cities in the last elections has become so disillusioned with them in a short period to now join hands with Civil Society and play a leading role in the agitation against them. The disappointment has not happened overnight but is a result of total inability on the part of the UPA Government to tackle issues like corruption in their ranks, high rate of inflation and at the same time slowing down of the economy.
Agreed India continues to grow at around 7.5 per cent but it is the slowest rate of growth during the last three years. This is happening when the economies of Europe and USA are either shrinking or registering marginal growth of one or two per cent. Such a performance would have been creditable but for the fact that the nation is seriously concerned at the manner in which public money is being looted by leaders in power. It is no consolation to public in general that not only leaders of the parties in power are involved in these scams but also leaders of political parties in opposition.
The result has been that no political party in opposition has been able to occupy the space vacated by the UPA. On the other hand, a general disillusionment with all political parties is growing among the general public which in turn is shaking their faith in institutions like Parliament and State legislatures. The members of parliament and leaders of political parties may be worried over the fact when judiciary day in and day out find faults with the executive and speaks in a derogatory manner about the political leaders.
At the same the time general public is refusing to support the elected leaders or come out in their defence when they are being criticised or humiliated by leaders of civil society or pulled up by the judiciary as they feel that these leaders are no more worthy of their support or confidence. Such a state of affairs could be a source of worry for all who care for a democratic form of Government which is based on parliamentary system
Democratic form of Government is based on electoral system in which persons elected by majority form the Government. It would be a sad day when unelected members of society belonging to judiciary or civil society gain predominance and elected members are subjected to ridicule or loose respect and support of public in general. Agreed Parliament has to reflect will of the people, but that will can only be determined through a process of democratic elections.
One may concede that the process of elections could be reformed or improved through electoral reforms so that role of money power and muscle power is reduced. But there is no better system in sight except election of public representatives through general franchise. Civil society and judiciary have a role in a democratic system but their role is limited. Judiciary can interpret laws, but can not undertake functions of executive. More so there are blacksheep even among the judiciary so judicial activism beyond a point will not be acceptable. Civil society can only advise, but not frame laws which is the function of Parliament.
Any attempt by any pillar of democracy including the media to try to unsurp the functions of other wings will only undermine the system and make its working difficult. A country gets the systems it deserves which is a reflection of society in general. What India needs is harmony at this stage and not a conflict between four pillars of society that is civil society, media, judiciary and executive working under political leadership. (NPA)
BY DR SATISH MISRA
Newly appointed Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde issued a warning on Saturday (August 27) to global policy makers that the global economy was in "a dangerous new phase".
The world is in turmoil. In Afghanistan, war is continuing. Entire Afro-Arab world is struggling to carve out a new world for itself with thousands fighting a battle for change. The Europe is caught in deep financial crisis and the US is faced with both political as well as economic uncertainty.
India too is being affected with the negative world trend as latest GDP figures strongly suggest. The UPA is in a serious dilemma as the combination of monetary and fiscal policies have failed to curb inflation but have indeed impacted negatively the overall economic growth.
Political instability has further confounded the economic confusion. Already world and domestic markets are highly volatile and growth figures are indicating a slowdown. Commodity prices including that of the oil are fluctuating sharply. That is why in absence of any concerted action, the world may slip back to another cycle of recession.
Speaking to top officials and leading economists from around the world, Lagarde said "stakes are clear; we risk seeing the fragile recovery derailed. So we must act now".
Obviously, the warning is serious. She has urged the policy makers rather the political class to pursue urgent action, including forcing European banks to bulk up their capital, to prevent a descent into renewed world recession.
Two years after the end of the worst financial meltdown, growth in the United States and Europe is spluttering as government debt burdens surge, the IMF chief said. The confidence is shaken and that is why borrowing costs are rising as lenders are hesitant to extend any but the shortest maturity funds in the fear of bank's exposure to shaky euro zone sovereign debts, Lagarde pointed out.
The impending economic crisis is largely the result of bitter fight within the political class who as policy makers are loath to take decisions and indulge in blame game in the hope of either retaining the political power or reclaiming it.
The root of the present crisis lies on both sides of Atlantic. In Europe, narrow nationalistic considerations are making European leaders fight over who should finance the raging sovereign debt crisis and thus endangering the common future.
The US debt crisis witnessed a classic battle of brinkmanship in which Republicans and Democrats damaged their respective political credibility before agreeing to raise the debt limit without agreeing on a course of action to address basic issues which were confronting the American economy.
With the US presidential election only months away, the two political parties are presently engaged in scoring debating points and are in no position to agree on a common approach rather a middle path to boost growth which can create jobs for the American people.
Not only in advanced rather developed economies, the political class is at loss to put their act together to agree on an action plan to put their national economies on the growth path but this malaise is equally hurting the developing nations where political rivalries often enough are preventing a wholesome fight.
Lagarde has suggested for a "mandatory substantial recapitalization through private channels if possible, but otherwise through some form of public funding. She has called for a Europe wide funding such as the European Financial Stability Facility and at the same time has also warned advanced economies from tightening their belts so fast that it imperils recovery.
"Put simply, macroeconomic policies must support growth", she observed. Earlier, the IMF chief had stressed the same point in her telephonic conversation with US President Barack Obama. The White House concurred with her saying that policies were needed which can spur job creation.
She also said that monetary policy must remain flexible as risk of recession outweighs the risk of inflation. The central banks must remain ready to jump back into unconventional policy actions if needed, Lagarde pointed out.
In the backdrop of the emerging threat to the global economic situation, the IMF chief has rightly asked the Group of 20 (G-20) nations to use the forthcoming two days meeting in Cannes, France, on November 3-4, to address the global economy woes in a convincing fashion and to push reforms in the global economic structures.
Apart from the need to further democratise global financial institutions, the G-20 must work on a plan to stabilize commodity prices particularly the oil prices which at present is crucial to economic growth.
In words of European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet "the need to safeguard price stability" was "a foundation for healthy growth". "It is something we consider absolutely essential for confidence", he stressed.
The need of the hour is to have a joint action plan in which those who have contributed willingly and whole heartedly for the revival of the global economy. The tendency to make a fast buck needs to be controlled and greed is required to be curbed. The crisis of one region or one country should not be seen as an opportunity for the other as danger of the recession is common to all. (NPA)
WITHDRAWAL THAT WASN'T
UNNECESSARY CONTROVERSY OVER SGPC VOTERS
The Centre has been quick to clarify in Parliament that the SGPC polls would be on schedule, and that it was not withdrawing a 2003 notification to the Sikh Gurdwaras Act which does not allow Sehajdhari Sikhs to vote for the SGPC members' election. Why it needed to do so is a tale that various 'explanations' have only muddled. However, the controversy that was raised following the statement in the Punjab and Haryana High Court by a senior counsel that the Centre was withdrawing the notification issued on October 8, 2003, raised a storm since, according to the notification, only Sikhs are allowed to cast their votes for the SGPC election.
Naturally, such a statement raised concerns about government interference in religious affairs of the Sikhs. The timing was also questionable since it indicated the possibility of the SGPC polls being postponed, days before they are scheduled to take place. The revision of rolls that such a decision would have entailed would have derailed the entire process. Only recently the Law Minister announced that the government did not consider it necessary to have a separate piece of legislation for registration of Sikh marriages, and would thus not amend the Anand Marriage Act, 1909. This had led to resentment among a section of the Sikhs. Then came this statement in Chandigarh regarding the withdrawal of the SGPC notification, which had been issued during the tenure of the NDA government.
No matter what clarifications are given by the Congress government, there is no doubt that the credibility of the party and the government will suffer because of this mishandling. Playing politics with religious sentiments is always fraught with danger, more so in Punjab, a state that had suffered much on this account. Much more deliberation and caution are expected from the government when it deals with issues that are likely to ignite passions of the people.
SEN & GOOD SENSE
The belated resignation of Calcutta High Court judge Soumitra Sen, the first judge to be impeached by the Rajya Sabha, may have been prompted by the writing on the wall. Following the debate in the Upper House, it was clear that the Lok Sabha too would vote for his impeachment. The judge's spirited defence that he was given a clean chit by a High Court bench, that his alleged improper conduct relates to the period when he was a lawyer and not a judge and, finally, that he had not made any money for himself and had returned the entire amount, with interest, that he had received and retained as a court-appointed Receiver, cut no ice with the MPs, who tore apart his defence. Sen, as the Receiver, had not only retained the money and kept quiet for over 20 years, he returned the sum only after the High Court intervened. He also tried to mislead the inquiry when he referred to a bank account maintained by another person by the same name, in a bid to prove that he had not withdrawn any money from it.
The discredited judge, however, must be thanked for giving the nation and Parliament a chance to debate on judicial appointments and accountability. The collegium system, in which the five senior most judges of the Supreme Court decide on the appointment of judges, has been criticised in Parliament for being arbitrary and discretionary. The system has been accused of ignoring lawyers from rural background for elevation to the bench and serious concern has been voiced on the kind of lawyers getting appointed as judges.
If the President accepts the judge's resignation, the impeachment motion in the Lok Sabha becomes infructuous. But if she keeps the issue pending, the lower House can still go ahead and impeach the judge, in which case he would even lose the right to function as a lawyer in the Supreme Court. To set an example, the judge must be impeached and made to pay for his misdemeanour. Justice Sen, however, is right in pleading that there are far more serious transgressions that other judges are guilty of . Therefore, the time appears ripe for a debate on the Judicial Accountability Bill.
PAK JUSTICE SYSTEM
The US State Department's assessment about Pakistan's justice system has not revealed anything unusual when it says that it is almost incapable of bringing to justice those accused of involvement in terrorism-related cases. The judiciary in Pakistan has always had an image of being pliable towards those in power. The US should, therefore, not feel disgusted when the State Department's annual report points out that the anti-terrorism courts in Pakistan have an acquittal rate as high as 75 per cent. And this means that the culprits behind the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack in which nearly 200 people, including six Americans, were killed can never be punished. Anyone who thought otherwise showed little understanding of the way the legal system functioned in that country. Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed, the founder-chief of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the terrorist outfit believed to have masterminded the 26/11 killings, walks free like anyone else as if his organisation has done nothing wrong. He appears the least bothered about how the world looks at his activities.
India provided sufficient dossiers to nail the 26/11 culprits, but in vain. Pakistan's response has, however, never given the impression that it is doing all it can to ensure the punishment of the LeT terrorists. But this is what should be expected of the courts in Pakistan. They have the dubious distinction of setting free almost everybody arrested in terror-related cases in Pakistan, where hundreds of people have died in such incidents during the past few years.
Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently admitted that 606 persons had been arrested for their alleged involvement in terrorist violence after the 26/11 Mumbai attack, but over 50 per cent of them had been set free and the rest might also be out of jail anytime now. Even a known terrorist belonging to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Malik Ishaque, was recently acquitted by a court in 34 of the 44 cases filed against him. He was no different from his mentor Riaz Basra, a dreaded Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorist, but was happily granted bail in 10 cases. This is how the judiciary functions in Pakistan despite the presence of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who fought valiantly against the Gen Pervez Musharraf regime.
ANNA'S BALANCE SHEET
DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS CAN'T BE IGNORED
BY B.G. VERGHESE
There was widespread relief over the ending of Anna Hazare's fast following unanimous adoption of identical sense of the House resolutions by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Parliament agreed in principle to take into consideration his three latest demands regarding a citizen's charter for timely delivery of public services, bringing the lower bureaucracy under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal and establishing Lok Ayuktas in the states. It was further resolved to transmit the proceedings of the debate to the Standing Committee "for its perusal while formulating its recommendations for a Lokpal Bill". Final decisions will now obviously be taken by Parliament itself as expeditiously as possible but without external deadlines.
Anna broke his 12-day fast on August 28. The government and Parliament acted with restraint and statesmanship. Joy on the streets was appropriate and understandable. India had won and democracy had triumphed. However, interpreting the sequence of events as a famous Anna victory and humbling of the government exhibits both hubris and humbug. Team Anna was charging at an open door. The government had made plain that all variants of the Lokpal Bill were or could be placed before the Standing Committee which would hear contesting views, incorporate such amendments as it considered fit and submit the draft consensus to Parliament.
Team Anna climbed down on virtually every single point. Look at the balance sheet of Anna's demands (D) and the outcomes (O).
D: Only the Jan Lokpal Bill (JLP) shall be considered and passed and the official "Joke Pal Bill" (which was burnt in public) must be withdrawn. O: Negated.
D: The JLP shall remain inviolate. O: The JLP was amended 14 times by Team Anna and has now been further "compromised" on major counts. The JLP will be considered alongside all other Bills and suggestions.
D: The Standing Committee must be bypassed and matters decided immediately and directly by Parliament by August 30. O: Rejected.
D: Every aspect of corruption must be placed under the single umbrella of the JLP, which shall oversee Parliament, the executive and the judiciary as a monolithic, supra-authority defying federal and constitutional principles. O: Comprehensively negated.
D: Parliamentary and constitutional procedures and institutions must be ignored in preference to people's power as expressed by the ultimate sovereign, "We, the People", gathered in the street, and duly sanctified and amplified by the media. O: Rejected. "We, the People" speak through their chosen representatives in Parliament and the state assemblies as prescribed by the Constitution.
D: Parliamentarians and politicians are criminals, corrupt, liars, "gavvars". Neither they nor the government can be trusted. Hence demand for here and now assurances in writing to Team Anna to accept and do its bidding. O: Categorically rejected. Corrupt politicians, ministers and judges are being and must be investigated, prosecuted, arrested and jailed through due process. To abolish politicians would be to abolish politics, overturn the Constitution and invite mob rule and anarchy.
D: "Anna is India and India is Anna". Hence consideration of his three final demands must be guaranteed by a parliamentary resolution communicated to him in writing. All this must be instantly conceded lest he be compelled to extend his fast and either die on stage before cameras or be removed by the police and force-fed in hospital. The unspoken threat was that in either event the country must risk unrestrained mob fury and violence fed on mass hysteria assiduously built up over the preceding days for which Team Anna would hold the government solely responsible.
O: Since consideration of all these and other issues had already been openly conceded, the government and Parliament agreed to offer Anna a face saving formula. This was gleefully clutched before Team Anna crumbled in consequence of mounting internal dissensions, competing egos and untenable rhetoric and emerging signs of hooliganism by Anna-capped supporters.
The cry is that Anna won and the government and Parliament were worsted. The government repeatedly "bungled" and the Prime Minister had to eat humble pie, his authority diminished. Nothing of the kind! If the government bungled – and it did mishandle some things – much of it was because it unprecedentedly broke with the due process and procedure to invite Team Anna for talks, and later negotiated with Baba Ramdev. Official concessions whetted the ego of Team Anna, which assumed an authoritarian and hectoring tone, setting conditions and deadlines or else …! This was fascist in temper and blackmail in substance. Anna's stance was un-Gandhian, with bewildering variants of Anna-speak.
Let it be clearly understood that the health and institutions of democratic India, for which millions struggled and sacrificed for 150 years, come first. Complaints regarding the right to protest were far removed from reality. The government leant over backwards to permit protest to the point of licensing potential suicide to the cheers and chants of thousands, amplified by unprecedented carpet coverage by the media of the rally and various side shows. Much of this coverage and commentary was unprofessional and targeted the official line and all dissenters in provocative and unrestrained language. Child warriors, bunking school and college, were "interviewed" and feted.
Some argued that a fasting Anna only risked taking his own life for a cause. Compare this attempted suicide by an Anna strapped to a ticking time-bomb in a crowded national TV maidan with that of a suicide bomber who destroys multiple lives in an instant of madness for a "cause". Comparisons with Gandhi, the man and his times are completely misplaced. Mature democratic debate and consensus building cannot be had at the point of a gun. What is the difference between the Anna gun, the Maoist gun, the bandit gun, and the mafia gun? Are some guns better than others?
However, everything said, one great good has emerged. People's anger at mis-governance, fraud and unconscionable delay was catalysed around a focal issue, corruption, and a man who flagged it, Anna. People were energised to protest and demand their rights as citizens. The government and Parliament, which have prevaricated on and obfuscated and relegated vital issues for years on untenable grounds have been warned that this kind of behaviour will henceforth be met head on by people's anger. That lesson has hopefully been learned.
What remains is to keep chivvying the government and Parliament to perform and to harness the popular energy unleashed by Anna for national reconstruction and reform to lend muscle and professionalism to fulfilling and monitoring many far-reaching rights-based programmes that are under way or on the anvil. This is what Anna and the government should be talking about.
MY TEACHER, MY FRIEND!
BY ARCHANA R SINGH
In the primary classes, the teacher was the fairy Godmother from our storybook. Whatever she said was always right and a smile from her made our day! She was very careful about her own etiquette so that she could set a good example on young minds. She made sure that the weak, the sick, the sad students got special care from her. She had to keep a hawk eye for the class bully, she felt very responsible for the `Tiffin lunch' that the students did not eat. She had to manage the students and also use every skill in the book to deal with young, overprotective parents.
She recognised the Einstein, the Keats, the Tagore, and the Bachchan before anybody else and when we grew up and reached high school, she stayed back in the primary section, wiping jam out of little hands, dusting dirt from white tunics, and smiling all the time so that all children just love their school.
As years went by, the teacher turned into a very wise friend. On the shoulders of the high school teacher lay the responsibility of making men out of boys and young ladies out of the girls. Teaching had to be interesting as well as informative, classroom sessions had to be disciplined as well as innovative, and her countenance had to be stern as well as benign, all because the students are children as well as grownups. The contradictions are part of her life as each batch of girls and boys pass out of the portals of the secondary school on their way to high school and college life!
Once in college and later the university, the teacher dons the role of a guide and a mentor. This is where future citizens are created. They make sure that the basic values that hold the society together are in place; equality, freedom and order. Too much freedom would lead to indiscipline, too much order would lead to regimentation, and unequal treatment would lead to lifetime resentment for authority. To add a measure of each and serve it to the young minds is akin to performing the balancing act all the time while making sure that individual self respect increases.
The responsibility is to create analytical minds, groom the professional, direct the performer, and prepare the scholar!
On passing out of the formal education system, we still long for the guiding hand of a teacher and some of us turn to spirituality, some to vocational training, some to hobby classes and some find their teachers in books. We never forget the teachers that we leave behind because we know that they are still there where we left them. We move on, achieve success, riches and fame, and when we meet our friends and classmates; we still refer to our teachers as `Sir' and `Ma'am'. The teacher lives on.
Happy Teachers' Day!
WHY PUNJAB IS COOL TO JOB SCHEME
LAUNCHED IN 2006, THE NATIONAL RURAL EMPLOYMENT GUARANTEE SCHEME (NREGS) HAS REDUCED POVERTY IN STATES WHERE IT HAS BEEN SERIOUSLY EXECUTED. IT HAS AFFORDED THE RURAL POOR BETTER ACCESS TO FOOD, HEALTHCARE AND EDUCATION. HOWEVER, PUNJAB HAS NEGLECTED THIS 90 PER CENT CENTRALLY FUNDED SCHEME
SUCHA SINGH GILL
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (NREGS) has been a major flagship programme of UPA-II in its efforts to make growth inclusive in nature. The programme is aimed at the rural population, especially the poor, for employment generation, which is expected to add productive capacity, save environment, recharge ground water, improve soil fertility and common property resources.
Under this programme 100 days employment is ensured at least for one member of a family holding a job card. Under this scheme 90 per cent of the expenditure is financed by the Union Government. In order to ensure employment generation, the use of power-operated machines/equipment is not allowed and material cost is restricted to the maximum of 40 per cent in order to keep the labour cost at 60 per cent of the total project cost.
Although any one living in the rural areas can apply for a job card and demand work, yet this programme is aimed at the rural poor doing manual labour. The programme at the same time is aimed at the empowerment of women as 33 per cent of the employment is reserved for them. The wage rate for a maximum of 100 days is provided at the national or state level of minimum wages, whichever is higher. The wages are paid through a bank/post office account in a transparent manner. There is no discrimination between the wages of men and women. This is the only programme in which women get a wage rate equal to that of men according to the piece work done recorded in the muster roll.
This programme was started in selected districts in 2006 and was extended to all districts in the country in 2008. The states and regions within the states where this programme has been effectively implemented it has added to the income of the rural poor (in lean seasons) helping them to cross the poverty line. This has led to an improvement in the environment, water conservation and soil productivity. This has added to agricultural production and productivity, leading to a higher growth rate in agriculture. The direct payment of wages through bank/post office accounts, especially to women, has led to the empowerment of women, a better access to food, health and education of children.
Among the major states Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have generated the highest average man-days per participating households – ranging between 48 days and 70 days. Consequently, the impact on poverty reduction has been more in these states. Also, the share of women employment in the rural areas is higher. States like Punjab, Bihar, Gujarat, J&K, Orissa and Haryana have generated minimum employment.
Sleepy and active panchayats
An analysis of the implementation of the scheme reveals that the key to success or failure of the programme lies in the rural power structure. The entire scheme is implemented through Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) ranging from the planning of work for approval by the higher authorities to the issue of job cards, allotment of work and employment, keeping of records and payment of wages. In the villages and states, where panchayats are active, well aware and favourable, this programme has done well.
Along with the panchayats, the states/regions where the poor are organised they are able to generate pressure from below on the leadership of panchayats to start the NREGS in their village. In some of the cases where panchayats were led by a pro-poor leadership or were under control of the poor through the reservation mechanism in elections the implementation has been better.
In fact, the implementation of this scheme helps generate employment, provide right-based employment, raise wage rates and earnings of the poor helping some households to rise above the poverty line. This process empowers the poor, increases their assertion and frees them from the domination of large, rich farmers. Therefore, it is not liked by the dominant rural power structure. In fact, this programme intends to change the local power structure.
Encroachments on common land
The evaluation of this programme in Punjab shows that in a large number (nearly half) of villages the programme has not been started. In some villages gram sabha meetings, a statutory requirement, have not been called for starting the programme. While in other villages resolutions have not been allowed to be passed by dominant class/caste groups for starting the NREGS. The villages where the resolutions have not been passed, it was found that the village common land on which public works were to be started were under the occupation of powerful persons.
In some villages, common village land has been encroached upon by the traditionally dominant families. There are cases in which the common land is neither occupied nor encroached upon by the dominant families yet the NREGS has not been started. In such cases the village panchayats are dominated by people who are against starting this programme. In some villages the panchayats are controlled by sarpanches belonging to the Scheduled Castes but they are ignorant of the benefits of this scheme.
The cases where the NREGS has been successful a combination of factors has played a positive role. These include an enlightened and pro-poor leadership of panchayats, availability of village common land, pressure of the bureaucracy, especially BDPOs who were able to persuade the panchayat leadership to initiate the scheme.
In some of the villages the existence of a workers' union, a club or some other organisation has created enough pressure from below, especially in the Moga and Jalandhar belt. In these areas some influential leaders from leftist organisations have played a positive role. There are also examples where representative of the PRIs, who got training and became aware of about the programme, took the initiative in this direction. Organisations like the State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD) and the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) have played a positive role in creating such awareness. In the districts of Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur, Bathinda, Amritsar and Muktsar the deputy commissioners took a keen interest in the programme and produced better results.
It is evident that programmes like the NREGS and social security schemes like the Old Age Pension and the Dal-Atta Scheme involve the inclusion/exclusion of deserving persons and families. The process of inclusion helps the poor and exclusion deprives them of the benefits. The working of the power structure in the rural society, the existence of organisations of the poor and a favourable/ committed bureaucracy makes a qualitative change in the situation.
No increase in minimum wage
The minimum wage of manual labour has not been revised in Punjab for the last three years. It stands at Rs.123 while prices of food items have increased at the rate of more than 10 per cent a year and in some cases they have doubled during this period. The minimum wages have been revised to Rs.170 per day in Haryana and Rs.169 per day in the UT of Chandigarh. Investigations have revealed that the Labour Commissioner is supposed to revise the minimum wages every year. But this has not been done due to pressure from the industrial lobby and some factions of the farm lobby which operate through the ruling alliance.
It is argued by them that the revision of the minimum wage raises the cost of production affecting profitability. This section opines that the implementation of the NREGS in other states like U.P. and Bihar has created labour scarcity in the state and pushed up wages in the busy season. They are against the revision of the minimum wage. Therefore, NREGS workers, especially women and labourers, continue to get lower wages although the entire burden is to be borne by the Union Government.
There is need to take up such programmes seriously. Efficient officers at the state level can sensitise their middle-level colleagues, especially BDPOs, for making the programme effective. At the same regular monitoring can produce positive results. A positive intervention from the top in the form of securing the release of common land from influential families, spreading awareness among panchayats and involving people's organisations can make the NREGS and other social security programmes more meaningful and effective, and consequently, make economic progress inclusive in nature. A regular revision of minimum wages indexed to food inflation can increase the effectiveness of the inclusion process.
The writer is the Director General, Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Chandigarh
T N NINAN
Now that the crowds have gone home, Anna Hazare is back in Ralegan Siddhi, and the TV Rottweilers are looking for other ways to boost their rating points, we can have a rational debate about not just the Lok Pal but the larger issue of corruption. The starting point has to be that no one person or set of agitators has a monopoly over the wisdom on the subject, and that no single solution exists. Also, some purported solutions may disappoint. Take the issue of citizens' charters, one of the three issues on which Parliament was pushed into promising action last Saturday. Did you know that these "citizens' charters" already exist, and that action on them started way back in 2002? Check them out at goicharters.nic.in. The Central Board of Direct Taxes is one of those with a charter; do you think it has made any difference to how the taxman deals with you, or the level of corruption among tax officials?
Many solutions don't need a "magic wand". It is easy to see that the Central Bureau of Investigation should be given autonomy, so that it ceases to be the handmaiden of the party in power. The old issue of doing away with the "single directive", under which prior permission has to be sought before prosecuting senior officers, seems to have survived Supreme Court orders, and is another corrective. There is also merit in the position that the primary focus should be on preventing corruption. While this should not come in the way of nabbing wrong-doers, it will turn the spotlight on needless controls, discretionary powers, policy-induced shortages, and solutions that become possible with the use of technology — like digitising land records, and card-based cash transfers.
A strong Lok Pal and strong Lok Ayuktas are entirely to be wished for. Those in doubt merely have to look at the Karnataka Lok Ayukta's report on illegal mining of iron ore, and the subsequent unseating of the chief minister. But the same Lok Ayukta has brought out a damning report on the corruption and maladministration in the state's public distribution system. Among other things, the number of cards issued is one-third more than the number of families in the state! This raises interesting questions. Will the state government start cancelling bogus cards? Will the country remain keen to extend the same, unreformed distribution system to deliver food security? Could it be that this scam has greater proportions than illegal mining? The answers might tell us whether we are serious about curbing corruption, or carefully selective in our anger. To take another instance, no one has picked up the issue that Rahul Gandhi mentioned: political funding. As it happens, Manmohan Singh had headed a Congress committee that went into the party's non-election funding question some years ago.
The problem with looking at the issues in all their complexity and working out options is that, for all its protestations, the government still gives the impression of a horse that is being dragged to the water. Talking to a few editors in late June, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that corruption as an issue had caught the imagination of the people — which was an interesting choice of phrase, as though that was why corruption had become a problem. Indeed, he blamed the messengers – the media and the Comptroller and Auditor General – for creating an environment in which he said no government could function. But the fact is that corruption is rampant, and a growing middle class wants action. So how about getting religion on the issue, and setting out a comprehensive agenda, with time lines, so that the issue is not hijacked and sent up some side street?
SKILLS AND GROWTH
TECHNICAL SKILLS IMPARTED BY ENGINEERING COLLEGES IN INDIA MUST BE TAILORED TO THE NEEDS OF INDUSTRY
The global market is in disarray. India can survive on the strength of its domestic market, but this calls for attention to the spatial spread of economic activity. The infrastructure for this in turn requires skilled personnel in volumes that are not even close to being met.
Engineering colleges are being set up at a frenetic pace all over India. But the mix of skills they produce is not tailored to the mix needed. Industrial training institutes (ITIs) are what we really need in much larger numbers, but funding seems to be going their way hardly at all. And they suffer from the lack of links to institutions higher up in the skills chain.
It might be instructive to go back to a time when the setting up of educational institutions in the country was more closely related to its manpower needs.
India has one of the oldest engineering colleges in the world. What in 2001 morphed into the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee was first started in 1847 as Roorkee College, soon renamed Thomson College after its visionary founder. What made the college unique for its time was that it was established to train civil engineers, when the term civil distinguished it from institutions for training military engineers. The skills imparted were the same, but the few formal engineering institutions in the world then existing were mostly under the rubric of the military (today, the term civil denotes a particular branch of engineering). Non-military engineers were taught through apprenticeship at the workplace. Professional education was functional, driven by need.
In a fascinating history of the new civil engineering college in Roorkee by K V Mittal, who taught there for many years, there are lessons for today. Education, particularly at the tertiary level, succeeds best when it is tailored to the skill requirements of the economy.
Roorkee College was a response by the colonial administration to the urgent need for restoration of pre-existing irrigation works, which had fallen into disuse with the political anarchy after the arrival of the British. Traditional management structures had collapsed, and the British administration needed to replace what had died. New works like the famous Solani aqueduct on the Ganga were started in 1842, to boost agricultural productivity in a fertile region, for a regime critically dependent on land revenue for its fiscal survival. The British engineers overseeing the new work were from the military. But they needed supplementary civil personnel with engineering skills. Roorkee, in close proximity to Solani, was chosen as a suitable location for a college to train non-military civil engineers.
Right from the start, the college had three streams: for engineers, overseers and suboverseers. Today, there is a very rigid distinction between degree granting colleges, and diploma granting institutions which impart training of a more hands-on variety. Thomson College made no such distinction. It was a residential college for all three streams.
Thomson College faced choppy waters, with a competing civilian institution chargeable to the Government of India being forcibly set up in England in 1869, whose graduates had prior claims on engineering jobs in India. What is relevant is that Thomson College survived. Its strength lay in the very wide range of skill levels on offer. Its initial core of broad spectrum education in all branches of engineering continued on multiple levels, to the point where its output of prized overseers and technicians threatened to dominate its reputation. But it continued to produce outstanding engineers like Sir Ganga Ram, famous for his canal irrigation network in the part of Punjab now in Pakistan, and Sir William Willcocks, who built the Aswan dam in Egypt.
The institution was renamed Roorkee University in 1949. In 1958, its famed two-year training course for technicians was upgraded to three years, funding came from the United Nations for training of students from other countries in Asia, and a new Diploma Polytechnic was created within the University to house it.
Then all of a sudden in 1964, the Diploma Polytechnic was closed, and its staff either absorbed into other departments of the University or scattered to the four winds. The ostensible reason was that there was another competing polytechnic in the town of Roorkee. The real reason was that a slew of IITs had come up in the fifties, with integrated science and engineering departments, and an academic aspiration that was wrongly thought to demand an appropriate distance from training in manual engineering skills. Roorkee University was pushed into shedding the very features that had made it closely integrated into the skill requirements of the Indian economy.
Another engineering institution which provided education at several levels of skill, originated in the Jamalpur workshop of the East Indian Railway, established in 1862. The final and most academic stream, introduced in 1927, has produced engineers valued for their hands-on engineering capabilities. E Sreedharan of Delhi Metro fame is one of them.
The IITs have achieved world renown. Aspirants for the IIT entrance examination have created a private industry in coaching centres, which may account for as much as one per cent of GDP (if service sector GDP were properly measured, which it is not). But aside from software, where famous practitioners like N R Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani were trained in the IIT system, the alumni of these institutions are as likely to be found adorning academic departments of finance, management and science, as in departments of engineering.
Meanwhile, Indian infrastructure suffers from a severe shortage of well-trained technicians in manual engineering skills. The configuration of IITs cannot now be altered, but what is certainly possible is the fostering of close links between these, and ITIs falling within a reasonable radius. ITI trainees fortunate enough to benefit from these links can then impart remedial training in the workplaces which will compete to hire them. Meanwhile, our infrastructure plans can forge ahead only if we admit Chinese and Korean technicians to come and train our people.
The author is honorary visiting professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi
ASIA'S MAJOR TOURISM TOPPER
In Indonesia's vast archipelago, the island of Bali at the south eastern tip of Java is, as one writer described it, "a pinpoint of Hinduism in a complex Islamic calligraphy". Bali has always been an alluring and colourful anomaly: linguistically and culturally distinct from neighbouring islands, it is a deeply traditional, codified society that remarkably sustains its reputation as a major tourism topper in Asia. It's a fraction of the size of India's leading tourist destinations such as Kerala or Goa – you can cover the entire coastline in a day's drive – but it has more foreign arrivals, at three million a year, than Kerala or Goa. From luxurious resorts to monolith chains, budget villas to inexpensive homestays, the range of accommodation is vast but never surplus.
Partly, its success rate is due to its geographical location: it is roughly a three-hour flight from either Kuala Lumpur or Perth and, being equatorial, has excellent weather for seven months of the year. Partly, too, it has varied landscapes concentrated in a relatively small space: lush rice paddies dissolve into steep volcanic mountains for trekkers, and serene beaches can lead to surf-pounding cliffs for deep sea enthusiasts. The standard guide book to Indonesia I carried devoted nearly as many pages to the attractions of Bali (106) as to the entire, densely-populated main island of Java (133).
Essentially, however, it is a combination of its cultural riches and cosmopolitan flair that makes Bali style unique. It is cool, urbane, well-mannered and hassle-free. In the five days I spent in Ubud, the cultural heart of the island, I hardly heard anyone shout, never saw a vehicle speed or honk unnecessarily, and was bothered by no vendor, tout, beggar or the assortment of creeps on Indian streets whose sole purpose seems to be to badger foreigners — or take them for some sort of ride. On Ubud's pavements the norm seemed to be for men to patiently hold up placards that read: "Would you like a taxi please?"
There is no great artistry in being courteous but what has made Bali so popular a getaway for outsiders since the 1930s is its refined, deeply-rooted artistic identity. Balinese architecture is as definitive as the language; it is difficult to instantly spot the difference between temple, palace or home – stone-carved dwarapalas and the welcoming Ganesha are identically placed in each – and spoken Balinese is as different from Bahasa Indonesia as, say, Gujarati is from Hindustani. Balinese music and dance, a big tourist draw, are stylised innovations of the Javanese originals.
Arcane Sanskrit rituals prevail in everyday life: "Om Swastiastu" – may God be with you – is the greeting accompanied by folded hands, and outside every doorstep – shop, household, restaurant or temple – are placed freshly hand-woven baskets of palm fronds with votive offerings each morning. In fact, Bali's version of Hinduism may be the superior article: there is no gradation, or degradation, of the caste system except for the priesthood. Centred on strongly-bound village communities, Balinese society is highly egalitarian compared to the social structures of an Indian village.
Given its long history of Hinduism terminating on a self-contained island, traditional life and the tourist boom confidently co-habit with ease. Bali is international but well-run. Every kind of cuisine, boutique, nightclub and cafe is on offer in the crowded tourist strips of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak but quiet village retreats are only a few miles away.
The island has had to pay a price for its popularity. Terrorist bombings in 2002 and 2005 killed and injured more than 500 people – the majority of them Australian revellers in a nightclub – but Bali bounced back. It elected Made Pastika, the man who investigated the bombings as governor, and both crime and commercial pollution have come down. The question often asked of Bali is: "can it be too popular?" Yes, it can.
There's nothing more pathetic in life than to see the middle class ... in the process of primary accumulation. – Leon Trotsky
When everything is in excess, nothing appears to be so. All the same, it is good to be reminded that corruption is a hydra-headed monster. From being short-changed in almost every transaction in the marketplace to the petty larceny of ticket collectors in buses to scams that break out frequently, we have become used to it as our normal way of life. But seen in a larger perspective, these are irritants compared to the games the big boys play with the two most lucrative sources for the really big bucks — land and real estate, which are, in a sense, two sides of the same coin. Aravind Adiga, who won the Booker Prize for The White Tiger (2008), now describes the underbelly of how the game is played in Last Man in Tower (Fourth Estate, Special Indian Price: Rs 560), where the middle class, hankering for a place of its own, is finally caught up in the relentless force of global capitalism, "red in tooth and claw".
Adiga opened his fictional exploration of modern India ("Shining India" as it was hyped at the time) with The White Tiger: here was a densely populated urban society, upwardly mobile on its way, not knowing where it was headed. The story was spun round Balram Halwai, a bania on the make, who, by his own admission, was made from "half-baked clay"; but he was street-smart and knew almost instinctively his way about town. The basic theme in Last Man in Tower is much the same except that the scene shifts to the suburbs of Mumbai where housing estates had sprung up on former mill lands or the slums surrounding them.
Dharam Shah, a property developer, is the villain of Adiga's second novel. He had successfully built high rises peopled by the ageing middle class of pre-liberalised India – accountants, middle men and small entrepreneurs – who moved to the suburbs where living was a little less expensive than central Bombay.
Shah has made his pile but that isn't enough; he has to grow but land in Mumbai is in short supply. The only way out is to buy Vishram Society, a housing co-operative south of Mumbai airport, and redevelop it into a condominium in which each apartment would be individually owned. Shah had already built a complex, The Fountainhead, that had gone off with a bang. He wants a repeat: "You should look around," he says to himself, "you should always be thinking, what does he have that I don't have? That way you go up in life."
This is the modus operandi of almost all property developers now and Adiga has got it spot on: buy old properties, knock them down and build a stack of luxury apartments, sell out each at a cut-rate profit. But it is never simple, as Shah discovers at some cost, because the problem with co-operatives is that every homeowner must agree for the deal to go through. Any individual member can veto the plan.
Opposing Shah's redevelopment plans is a group of residents for whom the old ramshackle building represents more than land value. The prospect of easy money is a great temptation for the middle class, but Shah has to encounter a range of voices and experiences: from the blind woman who navigates the building by touch to the secretary who has got used to a little money on the side for favours done to members and so on. Besides, most people are reluctant to move out of their settled ways.
Slowly, the opposition breaks down, thanks to intimidation and the lure of hard cash. Only Masterji, Yogesh Mirthy (the retired teacher), remains Last Man in Tower who holds out against the "encroaching gentrification and slum clearance". It would have been interesting to find out how the developers led by Shah bought the Last Man and whether it was money alone, and not physical threats, that made him finally give way. It is always a combination of the two. In any case, the new Mumbai is no country for old men.
There are different ways in which you could read this novel: for sheer entertainment or as a timely parable for the age of the property bubble and the corruption bred by greed and the vanity of redevelopment projects. Given that rampant corruption is the hot topic among the middle class, it is with the latter perspective that the book will make its impact on the common reader. But the bourgeoisie rarely turns the light inwards; it doesn't realise that its avarice is as much a problem as the greed of the land-grabber. What Adiga is saying in not-too-subtle ways is that both the bribe-taker and bribe-giver are accessories to the crime. Adiga has given us an unsettling novel suitable for the febrile and shifting city it seeks to reclaim.
RIGHT TO REJECT IN CIVIC POLLS
MAHARASHTRA CAN TAKE THE LEAD IN IMPLEMENTING AT LEAST ONE OF ANNA HAZARE'S ACTION AGENDA
Anna Hazare's fast in Delhi had an unexpected and happy ending. It was unexpected because both parties retreated substantially from the initial brinkmanship. It was happy because it allowed both parties to claim victory. The parliament-is-supreme crowd was satisfied that their principle remained intact. The people-are-supreme crowd were satisfied that parliament had heeded the people's voice and passed a semi-resolution. The Anna camp could crow that "har democracy ko ek Anna ki zaroorat hoti hai!" Anna himself however said this was a half-victory, and the agitation would continue, albeit more quietly. He said that after the Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill, the next step was an overhaul of electoral laws. The current laws allowed too much use of money and muscle power. Electoral funding remained opaque, and there is much black money in elections. His fast-ending speech mentioned two specific demands: right to reject and right to recall. These are both rights of voters, and need to be enshrined through suitable modification of the law. For example, the right to recall an elected person, means there has to be a mid-term referendum, a sort of performance appraisal. If there is sufficient evidence of non-performance, or worse, criminal conduct, then that representative loses his seat. And a fresh mid-term election is held for a replacement. All this is quite elaborate, and many practical details have to be worked out. Besides the law might need to be changed.
But Anna's first demand, of right to reject is eminently feasible, without any change in law. This involves introducing the "None of the Above" (NOTA) button on the electronic voting machine (EVM). If a voter does not find any candidate attractive, then he or she should have the right to press the NOTA button. This has been also been advocated by the Election Commission. You might say, if you don't want to vote for anybody, just don't go to vote. Stay away from the voting booth. Enjoy a holiday. But that is risky, because someone else may go and vote in your name (fraud voting). Even more importantly, you would not be exercising a positive influence on candidates. By pressing the NOTA button you are signaling to all the political parties, please give us better choices. The menu on the EVM is not good enough.
The good news is that introducing the NOTA option is completely within the powers of the election commission. Maharashtra, which is Anna's home state is holding municipal elections in the next few months. Polls are scheduled for 168 municipal councils, 12 municipal corporations and 33 zilla parishads. These include the elections to Mumbai and Pune corporations too. It would be great if we as voters insist that we want the NOTA button. If in any constituency the NOTA option wins, then all the candidates are disqualified, and new elections with new candidates have to be held. Because of this prospect, political parties will be under pressure to put up their best quality candidates. If voters don't like candidates with criminal cases, then such candidates will vanish, and not even appear on the ballot. (Is this wishful thinking? Why not try out the NOTA option.)
The State Election Commission (SEC), which conducts municipal elections is fully empowered to make these changes. If you feel strongly about this, why not write to SEC? The website is www.mahasec.com, which has telephone and fax numbers, and also email address. If enough voters write in, the SEC might be persuaded to introduce this important change. It would be great if Anna's clarion call for "right to reject" (also supported by the EC, the Law Commission and various citizens' groups across the country) comes up first in Mumbai and Pune.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FIX TAX HOLES
THE GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO MAKE CLEAR RULES TO CURB TRANSFER PRICING
The government's is correct to ask foreign companies to pay more tax for under-reported incomes in India. A report, published in this paper, says that the income tax department made transfer pricing adjustments of around . 22,800 crore in 2010-11. This is not small change. Multinational companies (MNCs) often use transfer pricing to shift profits out of India to countries that have zero or low tax rates. Software companies are said to be the worst offenders. However, IT MNCs with captive units complain that software development and back office sectors face aggressive transfer pricing audits despite the routine nature of their work. One way to check transfer pricing abuse is to fix a mark-up or an acceptable level of deviation from the market price for each industry. For this, the government needs to frame simple rules that MNCs can follow in pricing their services while doing business with their parent or subsidiaries overseas. Tax authorities can accept the transfer prices declared by these companies. However, the government is dilly-dallying in formulating safe harbour rules, despite making a commitment for the IT sector in 2009. The delay is only increasing the confrontation between software firms and tax authorities. The government should make up its mind quickly.
Another option to curb transfer pricing abuse is to enforce advance pricing arrangements (APA), an agreement between a taxpayer and the tax authority to compute transfer prices in advance for transactions within a group company. Most countries allow for APAs in their transfer pricing regulations to minimise disputes. The new direct taxes code (DTC) has proposed APAs. The government should enforce it in the next Budget. APAs will bring certainty to MNCs about their tax liability. Today, over 70% of MNCs' deals are within group companies and transactions are becoming more complex in a globalised world. Therefore, disputes between the tax authorities and MNCs are bound to rise in future. These must be resolved quickly. The functioning of the dispute resolution panel, set up a few years ago for faster resolution of all international tax disputes, should improve.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A FULL THALI
FOOD PRICES ARE SOARING; TIME FOR SOME CREATIVE REFORMS FROM THE GOVERNMENT
There aren't too many reasons for the government to smile just now, but it must be glad that national elections aren't round the corner. Inflation, as all Indian administrations know, is a vote killer for incumbents and rising food prices, which hit people in the gut, tend to vapourise popularity. By mid-August, food prices are up 10.1% year-on-year, something that even the normally-stoic finance minister terms, "seriously disturbing". The biggest jump is in onion prices, up more than 50% in a year, contributing to an overall vegetable price spurt of near-16%. The proximate reason for this is the weather, since some onion crop has been damaged by unusually high rainfall in western India. But it's pointless for farmers to blame the weather, just as it is for the Indian government to point to loose monetary policy in the US for inflation here. So, what should the government do to bring prices in check? If you go by Milton Friedman's dictum that inflation is solely a monetary phenomenon, then clearly, central bank has done its bit by raising interest rates 11 times in succession, the last, a 50 basis point hike that seemed to surprise markets. But tight money seems to have little impact on food prices.
To control soaring food prices, the government has to think creatively. It should note that India's farm productivity is among the lowest in the world. Boosting this should be a matter of national priority. The gains of the Green Revolution that galvanised food production in north India are petering off. The next push has to be in eastern India, where large productivity gains can be realised. Policy has focused on foodgrain; now focus must shift to vegetables and edible oil. About 40% of fruits and vegetables perish in storage and transit; this number must come down. Farmers' must get access to markets directly, instead of having to operate through middlemen and traders' associations. State governments must be encouraged to scrap laws that perpetuate this. Farmers in north India, who are big producers of grain, should be encouraged to diversify into vegetables and fruits. The reforms menu is long, but nothing is more important than the right of every Indian to have her daily thali full.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IT'S TIME FOR INDIA
LEO MESSI'S KOLKATA GAME SHOWS THAT FOOTBALL HAS WOKEN UP TO INDIA'S ALLURE
Leo Messi played in Kolkata last evening. He's the greatest footballer around today: his prolific scoring in Europe, his assists to set up even more goals and his total dominance in midfield and up puts paid to any doubt. There's even less doubt that Kolkata, the city that birthed India's oldest football club, Mohun Bagan AC in 1889, was the right place for the diety to have descended. Though the three major resident clubs, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting can no longer claim to be among Asia's better ones, nobody dreams football better than the Bong. Sure, there are teams from Goa that can outplay Bengal's storied teams, but where among Goa's swaying palms would you find a crowd to fill a stadium with 100,000 screaming fans? These attractions brought Pele, the greatest player of his generation, to Kolkata in 1977. It was the twilight of his career, the last year he played with the New York Cosmos. That match was a damp squib, played in rain, against a combined Bagan- Bengal team that spent all its ammunition in the first 10 minutes and allowed the visitors to, absentmindedly, score a couple of goals. Maradona probably the greatest player of all time, also came to Kolkata in 2008, long after his playing years were over. But Messi's arrival is special because he came at the peak of his career, with an all-star national team to play a full-force Venezuela. Though the latter is south America's lowest-ranked team, having never qualified for the World Cup, the match was played at a level never seen on Indian soil. Messi's arrival was foretold in the rise of a young, maturing India whose attractions are tough to resist for all nations. Football is a poor cousin of cricket in this country, but it's the world's most-played and watched game. Finally, in the world of football, it's time for India.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE ANNA SPRING
THE HAZARE MOVEMENT HAS AWAKENED INDIA TO THE NEED TO FIGHT CORRUPTION THROUGH CIVIL SOCIETY ACTION
From dabawallahs of Mumbai to IT professionals in Bangalore, almost everyone has joined Anna Hazare's fight against corruption. He has galvanised Indians from all walks of life — the young and the old, the poor, the middle class, and even the rich. Praise for Anna's struggle can be heard overseas, including in other south Asian countries. In Pakistan, it is reported, some are inspired to start a similar effort to weed out corruption — plus they also want to start a fight against the arms race in the region, which is often propelled with massive payoffs to politicians and government officials.
The Indian intelligentsia, in particular some prominent pundits in the media, however, are not so enamoured of Anna's methods of fighting corruption. Some are even concerned that excessive focus on corruption is diverting attention from "the bigger problem". The bigger problem they refer to is the challenge of keeping the Indian economy growing at a high pace, in general, and of keeping the Sensex rising, in particular. Indeed, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a somewhat similar argument to justify the arrest of Anna on August 15. Thankfully, the doctor did not use the Sensex as the barometer of economic productivity and growth, as many in the media often do. In his address to Parliament, defending the government's act of arresting the 74-year old Gandhian, Dr Singh said: "India is an emerging economy. We are now emerging as one of the important players on the world stage. There are many forces that would not like to see India realise its true place in the comity of nations. We must not play into their hands. We must not create an environment in which our economic progress is hijacked by internal dissension. We must keep our mind focused on the need to push ahead with economic progress for the upliftment of the aam aadmi."
Is Dr Singh right in asserting that any serious fight against corruption will hijack India's economic progress? Is he correct that a serious effort to weed out corruption will block economic progress for the upliftment of the aam aadmi? Are the common men and women of the country who have been inspired to join Anna in this fight against corruption misguided?
The effect of corruption on development and economic growth is a widely studied topic, and the overwhelming empirical evidence points to the contrary. This evidence shows that corruption erodes the legitimacy of the government, something the UPA government is hopefully learning. Corruption misallocates government resources and increases inefficiency in the government. It directs society's energy in activities that are redundant, and often counter-productive. It creates unfairness, inequality and inefficiency. It favours the rich who have the resources to pay bribes, and disfavours the poor, who cannot bribe. It reduces competition and slows down economic growth. Most of all, corruption erodes the moral fabric of the society.
Corruption takes place when a public official has discretionary power to distribute services or resources to the public — be that individuals or private organisations. The size of the bribe often depends on the benefit from the service or the resource and government's discretionary power. Policies that reduce the discretionary privileges of government officials decrease corruption.
Thus, the Lokpal Bill, if passed, will increase the risk of corruption and reduce its likelihood. The government's Lokpal Bill has very limited jurisdiction — it covers only 0.5% of all government officials and no teeth. Thus, it is much less likely to make a dent on corruption than Anna Hazare's Jan Lokpal Bill that will cover all government officials at the federal and state levels.
The economic reforms of 1991, under the stewardship of Dr Singh as finance minister, provide ample evidence of how policy changes that eliminate incentives and opportunities for corruption result in economic growth. In 1991, the government unshackled the Indian industry from the licence-permit raj. It is these reforms that have made India, to use Dr. Singh's words, "one of the important players on the world stage". For years, under the licence-permit raj, the Indian economy remained stuck in a low growth equilibrium. Competition reduced corruption and resulted in economic growth. People often cite the example of countries such as South Korea, Indonesia and Italy, where high levels of corruption and economic prosperity coexist, to argue that corruption does not affect growth. Some even argue that corruption greases the wheels of these economies. These are disingenuous statements with no empirical basis. High growth in Italy, South Korea, and Indonesia has occurred despite, and not because of, corruption. Indeed, corrupt societies are more likely to see a major proportion of their resources wasted in inefficient activities. Societies with very high levels of corruption are at a greater risk of falling into economic decline than societies with less corruption.
Corruption is often high in transition economies. Many of the policies that transition economies adopt such as privatisation create incentives for corruption. Some argue these societies should focus on economic prosperity and disregard corruption. There are at least two problems with such an approach. One, it destroys the moral fabric of the society. Two, such an approach is unlikely to lead to inclusive growth, an objective that all political parties in India now share.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE GREAT BANK ROBBERY
NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB & MARK SPITZNAGEL
For the US economy — and for many other developed economies – the elephant in the room is the amount of money paid to bankers over the last five years. In the US, the sum stands at an astounding $2.2 trillion. Extrapolating over the coming decade, the numbers would approach $5 trillion, an amount vastly larger than what both President Barack Obama's administration and his Republican opponents seem willing to cut from further government deficits.
That $5 trillion dollars is not money invested in building roads, schools, and other longterm projects, but is directly transferred from the US economy to the personal accounts of bank executives and employees. Such transfers represent as cunning a tax on everyone else as one can imagine. It feels iniquitous that bankers, having helped cause today's financial and economic troubles, are the only class that is not suffering from them — and in many cases are actually benefiting. Mainstream megabanks are puzzling in many respects. It is (now) no secret that they have operated so far as large sophisticated compensation schemes, masking probabilities of lowrisk, high-impact "Black Swan" events and benefiting from the free backstop of implicit public guarantees. Excessive leverage, rather than skills, can be seen as the source of their resulting profits, which then flow disproportionately to employees, and of their sometimes-massive losses, which are borne by shareholders and taxpayers.
In other words, banks take risks, get paid for the upside, and then transfer the downside to shareholders, taxpayers, and even retirees. To rescue the banking system, the Federal Reserve, for example, put interest rates at artificially low levels; as was disclosed recently, it also provided secret loans of $1.2 trillion to banks. The main effect so far has been to help bankers generate bonuses (rather than attract borrowers) by hiding exposures.
Taxpayers end up paying for these exposures, as do retirees and others who rely on returns from their savings. Moreover, low-interest-rate policies transfer inflation risk to all savers – and to future generations. Perhaps the greatest insult to taxpayers, then, is that bankers' compensation last year was back at its pre-crisis level. Of course, before being bailed out by governments, banks had never made any return in their history, assuming that their assets are properly marked to market. Nor should they produce any return in the long run, as their business model remains identical to what it was before, with only cosmetic modifications concerning trading risks.
As individual taxpayers, we are helpless, because we do not control outcomes, owing to the concerted efforts of lobbyists, or, worse, economic policymakers. Our subsidising of bank managers and executives is completely involuntary.
But there's an even bigger elephant. Why does any investment manager buy the stocks of banks that pay out very large portions of their earnings to their employees? The promise of replicating past returns cannot be the reason, given the inadequacy of those returns. In fact, filtering out stocks in accordance with payouts would have lowered the draw-downs on investment in the financial sector by over half over the past 20 years.
Why do portfolio and pensionfund managers hope to receive immunity from their investors? Isn't it obvious to investors that they are transferring their clients' funds to the pockets of bankers? Are they missing the only opportunity we have to discipline the banks and force them to compete for responsible risk-taking?
It is hard to understand why the market mechanism does not eliminate such questions. A well-functioning market would produce outcomes that favour banks with the right exposures, the right compensation schemes, the right risksharing, and therefore the right corporate governance.
Why do investment managers and their clients hold bank stocks at all? The answer is the so-called "beta": banks represent a large share of the S&P 500, and managers need to be invested in them.
We don't believe that regulation is a panacea for this state of affairs. The largest, most sophisticated banks have become expert at remaining one step ahead of regulators – constantly creating complex financial products and derivatives that skirt the letter of the rules. In these circumstances, more complicated regulations mean more billable hours for lawyers, more income for regulators switching sides, and more profits for derivatives traders. Investment managers have a moral and professional responsibility to play their role in bringing some discipline into the banking system. Their first step should be to separate banks according to their compensation criteria.
Investors have used ethical grounds in the past – excluding, say, tobacco companies or corporations abetting apartheid in South Africa – and have been successful in generating pressure on the underlying stocks.
Investing in banks constitutes a double breach — ethical and professional.
Investors, and the rest of us, would be much better off if these funds flowed to more productive companies, perhaps with an amount equivalent to what would be transferred to bankers' bonuses redirected to well-managed charities.
(N N Taleb is professor of risk engineering at NYU and the author of The Black Swan. M Spitznagel is a hedge-fund manager) © Project Syndicate, 2011
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE ANNA CLINCHER & POST-PLAY
C L MANOJ
The finales of all grand public shows are along predictable lines. The projected winners crowd the victory podium, the pronounced losers step aside, the cleverer ones steal personal credit, petty rivals indulge in mud-slinging and the aggrieved plot countermoves even as the victory lap gets euphoric. The 13-day mind-game at Ramlila Maidan ended with these rituals, after asynchronised show by the political class in Parliament and a boisterous show at the Maidan. Such electrifying moments, often, confuse one with truths, half-truths and myths. Now the focus is on how the Anna Hazare phenomenon impacts the future-play in politics, governance and policy discourse.
Beyond camera eyes, the episode showed how Anna can play the winner to perfection on stage, and a pragmatic negotiator backstage to clinch a presentable deal when the big moment looked like slipping away. The turning point was on August 24 — the 9th day of the stand-off, when an all-party meeting urged Anna to end his fast and resolved to give 'due consideration' to his Jan Lokpal Bill to make the final draft of the Lokpal Bill 'strong and effective' within a 'broad national consensus'. The fineprint of that resolution meant political class' united resolve against any attempt to undermine Parliament, Constitution and the MPs' turf. This, in turn, meant the rejection of Team Anna's three core demands: that Parliament should pass Jan Lokpal Bill as it was; in the monsoon session itself; and by by-passing the standing committee.
When Pranab Mukherjee told Team Anna what this resolution meant to their core demands, hell broke loose with an edgy Anna giving a jail bharo call. What one did not see was that a group of old Anna associates from Ralegan Siddhi reached the Delhi residence of Vilasrao Deshmukh around the same time. They told the Maratha leader of their worries about prolonging the fast, Anna's health and a patchy line of communication with Anna. They wanted Deshmukh to be the link between Anna and government.
Very next morning, the PM gave Anna an opening with a promise to discuss his demands in Parliament.
Deshmukh — having got a nod from Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee and a green signal from Anna through a timetested Maharashtra backchannel — quietly travelled in a private car, guided by Delhi Police, to the Ramlila Ground's back gate to reach the backroom where Anna was waiting, alone, with his team being busy on stage. An active spiritual guru who, waded in, was told to step out.
In a 25-minute chat with Deshmukh, Anna the pragmatist, dropped all the original and impossible demands and agreed to settle for a Parliament discussion on his latest three demands — bringing entire bureaucracy under Lokpal, a citizens' charter and state Lokayuktas. From then on, Anna held direct talks with the government with letters going to and fro with Marathi translations. This paved the way for the finale. And while many jumped to steal credits, Singh, Mukherjee and Deshmukh, the lead players, were graceful and guarded, leaving Anna to lead the 'celebrations'. Will Anna's behind-the-scene 'pragmatism' prevail in the Standing Committee meets when MPs try to incorporate 'the spirit' of his demands as per the 'sense of the House' or will the activists insist on the Jan Lokpal draft recipe? Only apractical attitude, taking into account administrative and federal issues, can work.
For the government, the only way to regain its ground in today's politics of corruption is to fast-track the doable parts of the anti-corruption package it let Rahul Gandhi unveil. For the Congress the blunder in arresting Anna and its aftermath is a chance to rework its shoddy political management. There's no point in attributing the mess to Sonia Gandhi's absence. The UPA-II's serial political messes — Telengana, CVC, JPC, CWG, 2G, Jantar Mantar — all happened when Gandhi was around. It is time Sonia-Rahul acknowledge that grooming a battery of harmless loyalists could, at best, act as a safety belt within aparty of 24X7 plots, but is never a substitute for having a line of seasoned and rooted politicians to fight real battles.
One also wonders whether the cocky positions of Mayawati, Mulayam Singh and Lalu Yadav are borne out of their confidence that such 'middle class shows' have no bearing on heartland politics or, is it mere grandstanding against an unfamiliar twist? One can't also overlook the visible scepticism the Dalits, Muslims, and rural population showed to the Anna blitzkrieg. The middle class and activists too will be watched. Will the vocal middle class come out as a demanding votebank or will they act only in politician-bashing TV events? The Congress and BJP will now be more sensitive to this segment. Nitin Gadkari may want to march along Anna, but the Opposition is bothered about what made them yield the anti-government, anti-corruption space to activists. The Anna effect on activists' future bargaining with executives or legislatures will be worth watching. The 13-day event has provided us a stage to watch the post-Maidan play.
NEPAL'S NEW PM FACES CRITICAL TASK
With the election of senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai as Nepal's new Prime Minister last week, there is now the smallest hope in some time that the Himalayan nation can begin making the first moves towards stability after years of political turmoil. Dr Bhattarai is thought to be given to reflection, moderation and consensus-building, the very qualities needed to heal the new Nepal established after the end of the monarchy. The political space in Nepal is deeply fractured. The Maoists, who won the most seats in the Constituent Assembly in the April 2008 election, were too full of hubris. Under the leadership of Pushp Kumar Dahal, better known as "Prachanda", they sought to steamroller their way through despite not having a majority. They fought with the President, the Army Chief and two major political parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) — over integrating their 20,000 armed fighters into the regular Nepal Army. This factor became the biggest obstacle to the success of the peace process and the framing of the country's new Constitution in the post-monarchy dispensation. On becoming PM, Dr Bhattarai has sought an extension of three months to conclude the process of finalising the Constitution. The incoming leader will have to strike deals with the NC and CPN (UM-L), although he has come to head the government with the support of the Terai's Madhesi MPs. This calls for statesmanship, and possibly also for overcoming opposition to the idea within the PM's own party. If Dr Bhattarai is able to bring the Constituent Assembly around to agreeing on the key principles that are holding up progress on the peace process, framing a new Constitution shouldn't be difficult. In the absence of a return to order and an end to uncertain politics, the country risks being thrown back to the era when the three-way confrontation — between royalist Nepal and the Maoists, between the King and the other key parties, and between the Maoists and other parties — had taken a big toll and normal life ceased to exist. Such a state of affairs, when forces of disruption can be tempted to use military means to take control, naturally causes acute concern in India. This country has ancient ties with the people of Nepal, and we have an open border. If the people of Nepal can't even give themselves a Constitution in the post-royal dispensation, the possibility remains of such forces taking over that are disruptive of democracy.
KEJRIWAL'S TAXING PLIGHT
Death and taxes are the two certitudes of life and there is no escaping them. Arvind Kejriwal, the RTI activist and anti-corruption crusader, has found out the bitter truth about the latter. Tax authorities have sent him a notice for payment of `9 lakh. Turns out that he did not fulfil certain conditions when he left his job — he was with the Revenue service, ironically — and now they are claiming back salary. Plus interest, of course. And there is the small matter of a computer loan that he had taken which has to be repayed, with interest, naturally. Here he was, fighting for important causes and sending shivers down the spine of the government. He had to worry about meetings, press conferences, interviews and, most of all, Anna Hazare's health. The entire burden of the anti-corruption campaign was on him; the others were busy performing on stage. And then this notice lands, that too from a department that would be on top of the list of any anti-corruption crusade. Is this a case of the government striking back? It's simply not fair, not to say suspicious, as far as its timing is concerned. Kejriwal says he will fight back because he has done nothing wrong. Given what we have seen lately, we would advise the tax authorities to be very afraid.
MIRROR, MIRROR, WHO'S TO BE MASTER OF ALL?
"If Papa say 'no!' And Mama say 'yes!' What a mess, what a mess, what a mess. If less is more And more is less With every aphorism we regress Why every sneeze Must draw a 'bless' Only God can guess." From Jelleybe Verses by Bachchoo Anna Hazare had a dream, like Martin Luther King before him. It began with an idea of suffering. Did Martin free the blacks of the US? Will the Lokpal Bill end Indian corruption? Chou En-lai was once asked for his opinion on the effects of the French Revolution on Europe. "Too early to tell," he said. We may now ask whether King, the militant Black Panthers, the liberal Kennedys and President Lyndon Johnson and their legislation were responsible for the progress of Afro-Americans. The answer has to be "all of these". King's movement divided the US into whites and blacks, with some whites on the black side. Master Hazare's movement has divided the population into those who take bribes and those who give them — perhaps a 50-50 divide? There were constitutionalists in the "nay" camp who maintain that a democracy has means to heal itself and calling Master Hazare a blackmailer. The "yea" camp adopted Malcolm X's slogan "By Any Means Necessary", then settled for the legislative inclusions of Parliament in the Lokpal Bill and went home. "The question is", as Alice might have asked Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, "can you make one law mean so many different things?" "The question", answered Humpty Dumpty "is who is to be Master, that is all!" And that really is the question: Can those who give bribes stop or bring to justice those who take them? The Hazare movement posed the classic dilemma to the Indian legislators. It's like the "Have you stopped beating your wife?" question. If the legislators voted against anti-corruption law they could be seen as corrupt or at least pro-corruption. They had to vote for the broom that would sweep clean. We onlookers can only welcome the legislation even if we doubt its ability to bring about change, or, in some instances, even the wisdom of its sweeping measures. Take an example from real life: I am being driven late one night by a friend through the crowded streets of Mumbai. His mobile phone rings and he answers it while driving. As we approach the traffic lights and slow down, with my friend still holding the phone to his ear and chatting away, a police constable steps out from a hiding place at the crossing and flags the car down. My friend doesn't put his phone away. With his free right hand he gestures "cash" to me. I take my wallet out and he peers in and extracts a `100 note from my wallet. His window is wound down and the constable is hovering outside. Still talking on the phone, my friend hands him the note, salutes him by touching his forehead and says, "Hang on, just moving off" into the phone. "You gave it with pleasure, sir. I didn't ask for it, did I?" the constable asks in Marathi. "Buy your wife a saree," my cynical friend says as he drives off. (No judgments yet) The next day I am in a rickshaw. A police squad car is parked around a corner and two police officers are waiting for vehicles that violate road traffic regulations. My rickshaw driver may or may not have gone through a traffic light as it turned from yellow to red. He is stopped and gets out to show some papers to the cop who is crisply uniformed and crisply rude. The rickshaw man comes back shaking his head. "It's gone up," he says. "What has?" I ask as we drive off with the policeman looking stern in his semi-shaded glasses. "Yellow-jumping used to be `30, he took 40," the rickshaw driver says. And so to judgment. It is commonplace that policemen are paid paltry wages and subsidise their income through bribes. In the case of my mobile-toting friend to whom a hundred rupees is, as we say, haath ka kachra (especially if it's from my wallet), the subsidy the policeman took may not buy his wife a saree, but perhaps his children a meal or two. In the case of the rickshaw driver, he is as badly off or poorer than the policeman who leeched off him. Officially both offenders should have been taken to court and fined. The fine, like the bribe, would make the rickshaw driver more conscious of the law when driving. It would make no difference to the mobile-toting habits of my "friend". The fine would pass to the public coffers and in a very roundabout way could end up, with millions from other routes, in the Swiss bank account of some corrupt land-developer who has swindled the public purse. The other question which must be asked is who will police the anti-corruption police? Is Lokpal creating yet another layer of people with the power to extract bribes for turning a blind eye to the bribery they have investigated? Even more intriguing is the possibility of anti-anti-corruption commissions monitoring the anti-corruption commission and then an anti-anti-anti-corruption commission to spy on them and so on, as in mirrors facing each other, to infinity.
IRENE'S NOT THE REAL GAME, IT'S JUST A COVER STORY
Have you left no sense of decency?" That's the question Joseph Welch famously asked Joseph McCarthy, as the red-baiting demagogue tried to ruin yet another innocent citizen. And these days, it's the question I find myself wanting to ask Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who has done more than anyone else to make policy blackmail — using innocent Americans as hostages — standard operating procedure for the GOP. A few weeks ago, Mr Cantor was the hard man in the confrontation over the debt ceiling; he was willing to endanger America's financial credibility, putting our whole economy at risk, in order to extract budget concessions from US President Barack Obama. Now he's doing it again, this time over disaster relief, making headlines by insisting that any federal aid to the victims of Hurricane Irene be offset by cuts in other spending. In effect, he is threatening to take Irene's victims hostage. Mr Cantor's critics have been quick to accuse him of hypocrisy, and with good reason. After all, he and his Republican colleagues showed no comparable interest in paying for the Bush administration's huge unfunded initiatives. In particular, they did nothing to offset the cost of the Iraq war, which now stands at $800 billion and counting. And it turns out that in 2004, when his home state of Virginia was struck by Tropical Storm Gaston, Mr Cantor voted against a bill that would have required the same pay-as-you-go rule that he now advocates. But, as I see it, hypocrisy is a secondary issue here. The primary issue should be the extraordinary nihilism now on display by Mr Cantor and his colleagues — their willingness to flout all the usual conventions of fair play and, well, decency in order to get what they want. Not long ago, a political party seeking to change US policy would try to achieve that goal by building popular support for its ideas, then implementing those ideas through legislation. That, after all, is how our political system was designed to work. But today's GOP has decided to bypass all that and go for a quicker route. Never mind getting enough votes to pass legislation; it gets what it wants by threatening to hurt America if its demands aren't met. That's what happened with the debt-ceiling fight, and now it's what's happening over disaster aid. In effect, Mr Cantor and his allies are threatening to take hurricane victims hostage, using their suffering as a bargaining chip. Of course, Mr Cantor would have you believe that he's just trying to be fiscally responsible. But that's no more than a cover story. Should disaster aid, as a matter of sound public finance, be offset by immediate cuts in other spending? No. The time-honoured principle, backed by economists right and left, is that temporary bursts of spending — which usually arise when there's a war to fight, but can also arise from other causes, including financial crises and natural disasters — are a good reason to run temporary budget deficits. Rather than imposing sharp cuts in other spending or sharply raising taxes, governments can and should spread the burden over time, borrowing now and repaying gradually via a combination of lower spending and higher taxes. But can the US government borrow to pay for disaster aid? Isn't the government broke? Yes, it can, and, no, it isn't. America has a long-run deficit problem, which should be met with long-run budget measures. But it's having no problem at all borrowing to pay for current expenses. Moreover, it's able to borrow funds at extremely low interest rates. Notably, right now the interest rate on the benchmark 10-year US government bond is only slightly more than half what it was in 2004 when Mr Cantor felt that it wasn't necessary to pay for disaster relief. So the claim that fiscal responsibility requires immediate spending cuts to offset the cost of disaster relief is just wrong, in both theory and practice. As I said, it's just a cover story for the real game being played here. Now, Mr Cantor may end up backing down on this one, if only because several of the hard-hit states have Republican governors, who want and need aid soon, without strings attached. But that won't put an end to the larger issue: What will happen to America now that people like Mr Cantor are calling the shots for one of its two major political parties? And, yes, I mean one of our parties. There are plenty of bad things to be said about the Democrats, who have their fair share of cynics and careerists. There may even be Democrats in Congress who would be as willing as Mr Cantor to advance their goals through sabotage and blackmail (although I can't think of any). But, if they exist, they aren't in important leadership positions. Mr Cantor is. And that should worry anyone who cares about our nation's future. By arrangement with the New York Times
SPEAK, AND BE DAMNED
Amitabh Bachchan, exhilarated by freedom, threatens Ajit: "Teja, mein jail se baahar aa gaya hoon! (Teja, I have come out of jail!)" Ajit replies icily: "Kaho toh phir andar karvaa doon? (Say the word and I'll send you back in.)" I was reminded of that scene from Zanjeer as our parliamentarians demanded a privilege motion against Om Puri and Kiran Bedi. You think you're free, do you? Free to speak your mind and badmouth us? We'll clap you in jail, you loudmouths. We have powers you can't dream of. Sure, Puri and Bedi were pretty silly. But in a mammoth rally people do get carried away. And their acts were pretty clean compared to some disgusting speeches that our politicians make. So, what are these netas actually cribbing about? That their privilege to be respected is being flouted? Do they deserve that privilege at all? So at the peak of Anna Hazare's movement, facing thousands at the Ramlila Maidan, Bedi had lampooned netas by shrouding her head in a scarf and basically declaring that netas were hypocrites. Encouraged by the agitated crowd, Om Puri had said, among other things, that half of our MPs were "anpadh" (illiterate), "ganwar" (rustic) and "nalaayak" (incompetent). "Look at the way they fight with each other!" he said. "They throw chairs and mikes at each other!" And so the literate and refined MPs, who have so competently led us into this quagmire of corruption that the country is struggling to get out of, rose valiantly to object. Off with his head, they said, quickly demanding a privilege motion against Puri. A breach of privilege is an act in violation of the privilege of either House of Parliament or their members. MPs enjoy privileges because the House cannot perform without unimpeded use of the services of its members. MPs are expected to use these privileges in the interest of the nation and the public. A privilege motion is granted precedence over ordinary business because it concerns matters of great importance or urgency. Is the retired star cop Bedi's veil dance or distinguished screen star Puri's filmi speech such an urgent threat to the nation and its Parlia-ment that they can face jail terms? Of course not. Do we not, while venting our anger, have the right to call our netas incompetent? And are Puri's comments completely untrue? Not really. The words "anpadh" and "ganwar" have more than a dictionary meaning. In common parlance "illiterate" refers to uninformed, unaware people. And "ganwar" often means unrefined, crude, unsophisticated. The exuberant acts of our MPs that Puri referred to (as seen on television), such as throwing things at each other, exhibit that unrefined behaviour. The way MPs hit back with a jail threat further showcases their crudeness. What we should have actually objected to was the use of "anpadh" as a term of abuse in general. In a country that has failed to educate almost half of its citizens even 64 years after Independence, the word "illiterate" should be a shame word for our parliamentarians, not for those denied education. Instead, our MPs were at pains trying to explain how many of them were graduates and how many had PhDs. In short, they were saying, see, we are respectable — how dare you call us illiterate? Busy emphasising their privileged position, they distanced themselves from the unfortunates who are indeed illiterate through no fault of their own. You could disrespect the illiterate, they implied, but don't you dare disrespect us. Fact is, we ordinary citizens (and extraordinary ones like Puri) don't have to disrespect Parliament and its members. We have elected representatives who do it with style. More than 150 MPs have criminal cases against them. Of them, 72 face very serious charges. Among them are some MPs who want the privilege motion. Praveen Singh Aron, Jagdambika Pal and Kamal Kishor all face criminal charges. Dr Vinay Kumar Pandey has three criminal cases against him, including attempt to murder (section 307), rioting, voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful restraint, assault or using criminal force to deter a public servant from his duty, intentional insult to provoke breach of peace and criminal intimidation. Harsh Vardhan also faces three criminal cases, including serious charges of rioting, voluntarily causing hurt, intentional insult to provoke breach of peace, criminal intimidation etc. Do these MPs really need to be protected from public speech? In fact, our honourable MPs are so adept at dishonouring Parliament that we should all bring a privilege motion against them. They throw not just chairs and mikes as Puri observed, but also papers, shawls, anything handy. They snatch bills to be tabled and try to tear them up. In short, they exhibit what in ordinary life is called "unparliamentary behaviour". And enjoy privilege to waste our time and money. In 2009, exasperated after endless rowdy behaviour, then Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had followed up his many warnings by referring 32 MPs to the Privileges Committee. For the first time ever, our MPs were being pulled up for violating parliamentary privilege. In a flurry, MPs cut across party lines to pressure the Speaker to withdraw his disciplinary action. "The Privileges Committee is for the protection of MPs, not for paralysing them!" they wailed. The Speaker withdrew the reference. MPs would not be punished for working against the national interest. The nation lost about `20 crore because of disruptions in that session. The question is: is it time to get rid of the privilege motion as it stands today? It is not used in the interest of the people. And do we need another whip to thrash the already suffering people of India? Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
GORKHA BILL RAISES HACKLES
After 25 years of ferment, the outlook in the Hills is as foggy as Darjeeling's damp winter. The West Bengal Chief Secretary has assured a Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha delegation that its issues with the crafting of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) Bill will be addressed. This makes it obvious that there is a mismatch between the agreement concluded in July and the wording of the legislation, and this has not been denied by Mr Samar Ghosh. What must occasion surprise is that he has not readily accounted for the discrepancies, leaving it to the Assembly to take a call on the draft. He has abided by constitutional certitudes; yet there is little doubt that the state ~ or its bureaucracy ~ has had second thoughts on aspects of the agreement with the GJMM. Considering the stance of the morcha leadership, notably Harka Bahadur Chhetri and Roshan Giri, we can only hope that the clock will not be turned back... to the point of reviving the ferment. If the express objective was to accord a fair measure of autonomy to the GTA ~ short of statehood and expanded boundaries ~ it was only logical that the entity would be provided with suitable powers, executive and financial. The GTA will have to make do with only executive powers with little or no control over finances, if the Assembly and the political executive have their way. Clearly, the government has deviated from the terms of engagement. The GJMM was offered no explanation on Wednesday for the unilateral rewording. Hopefully, the underpinning will be enunciated when the Assembly debate gets under way.
The government has deviated too on the number of GTA members required to be present to get a decision approved. It has been raised from the agreed 17 (one-third) to 26 (half). It was perhaps redundant to have added the word "Sabha" to the GTA, an unexplained change in nomenclature that the GJMM has resented but ought to be able to live with. Having said that, Mr Giri is off the mark when he claims that the "ethnic identity of the Gorkhas" has not been mentioned in the Bill. Implicit in the name, Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, is an acknowledgment of the fact that it is the dominant ethnic group in the Hills, having surpassed the Lepchas over time. It shall not be easy for the state to dispel the impression of deviation. Nor for that matter can the government afford to fritter away an achievement of sorts.
CHIEF'S ISSUE DEMANDS CLOSURE
EVERY soldier is entitled to file a statutory complaint. So the Chief of the Army Staff has committed no illegality by questioning the government's rejecting his case for changing his date of birth, thereby requiring him to demit office in 2012. Those who doubt the propriety of General VK Singh doing what none of his predecessors did are living in a time warp. Abandoned over recent years have been many of the principles and standards that once elevated the Defence Services: now only those in their dotage continue to laud the military ethos. So be it, the realities of the times cannot be ignored. But what disturbs is that the statutory complaint and the clarifications sought by some wings of Army HQ from the MoD are tantamount to challenging a decision the government has already taken, and duly conveyed to the Chief. That the decision "stands" is evident from the Prime Minister declining to accept a memorandum from a group of MPs, rightly declaring that this controversy should not be politicised. It remains a matter of intrigue as to what, or who, brought those MPs into the fray ~ substantive issues of military functioning seldom pop up on our netas' radar screens. No less intriguing is the Chief's taking the plunge after waxing eloquent before a non-military audience in Mumbai that inept governance had contributed to the public response to Anna Hazare's campaign. Not to stretch a point too far: is the Chief "getting tough" because UPA-II appears spineless, adrift? Maybe the government invited such discomfort. When it rejected the original plea it ought to have made bold to issue a public statement making its position clear. It must not maintain a debilitating silence when it takes a decision on the statutory complaint. And should the Chief seek a legal remedy the government must not pussy-foot: preserving the honour of the office of the Army Chief is concomitant with those holding the high appointment also functioning with honour.
It requires little imagination to conclude that the impact on morale is entirely negative. The whole chain of command and succession is agonising: who can forget the trauma when Generals Rawlley and Sinha were superseded, how the Navy ran aground over the Bhagwat dispute? Maybe the time has come to reconsider the process of appointing a Chief: seniority should not be the sole criterion, the dates of the tenure settled before a fourth star is awarded. Stars that, tragically, have long lost their lustre. Yet there are issues of even larger concerns. When the government and the Chief are not on the same page the casualty is national security.
FAILURE OF FOREST AUTHORITIES
Human vandalism, verging on animal torture, alone explains the death of two deer ~ the unofficial count is four ~ at the Bethuadahari deer sanctuary in Bengal's Nadia district. The herd, ever so innocent and attractive, was chased by visitors; nay more, it was cordoned off with a human chain to enable the bizarrely enthusiastic picnickers to take photographs with their cellphones. As the deer scampered at the sight of humans, one died immediately out of shock; another succumbed to grievous injury that had necessitated a saline drip. The thoroughly uncivilised behaviour of the holiday crowd reflects poorly on forest security, whether in a deer park, an elephant corridor or the Sunderbans where tigers get killed by poachers. The rangers almost invariably tend to retreat when wild life is faced with a life-and-death situation. The seven elephants would not have been flung to death by a goods train in North Bengal had the forest authorities and the Railways been more vigilant about safety standards. A similar degree of vigilance would have spared the tigers of depredations by poachers.
Security at Bethuadahari, one of the largest deer sanctuaries, is wholly inadequate, almost unprofessional. The police were not informed when the crowd had a free run of the place. Clearly, there are no rules to regulate photography in a protected area, still less on the entry of hordes of visitors on a public holiday. As it turned out, the rangers watched helplessly as the crowd drove the deer to death. It is shocking that the deer park bore witness to organised lawlessness despite a forest establishment within the sanctuary. The standard plea of a dearth of rangers will cut no ice. Bethuadahari showcases the mortal failure of the forest authorities. Even the minimum precautions were not in place. No other state is so callously indifferent towards wild life, a dwindling asset in an era of declining flora and fauna.
HALF-BAKED PROVISIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION
BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
THE independence of the judiciary is an essential pre-requisite for the success of democracy. The judiciary ensures the rule of law, settles all disputes and penalises the offenders. The Supreme Court acts as the interpreter and guarantor of the Constitution.
It is imperative for the judiciary to be independent and neutral. As Lord Bryee once remarked: "If the lamp of justice goes out in darkness, how great the darkness is!" However, the independence of the judiciary cannot be taken for granted; it depends on several factors.
Foremost among these is the method of appointment. Under Article 124(1), judges are appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal. But the article also enjoins that he has to consult the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts as he may deem necessary. In the case of judges other than the Chief Justice, the CJI shall always be consulted. Similarly, Article 217(1) has empowered him to appoint the judges of the High Courts. But, this authority is not discretionary. The President has to consult the CJI, the Governor of the state and the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned. In the appointment of the district judges, the Governor, in the same way, has to consult the High Court.
Though the Constitution has authorised the executive head of the Union or states to choose the judges of different courts, the latter have not been vested with absolute and supreme authority in this crucial matter.
Of course, the Constituent Assembly had considered the various methods of judicial appointment and, finally, adopted the existing procedure. In fact, there are three methods of such appointment: ~ (i) election by the people; (ii) election by the legislature; and (iii) nomination by the executive head.
The founding fathers found glaring defects in the first two methods. Naturally, the system of nomination by the executive head was accepted by the Constitution. However, there is a major loophole in the existing arrangement.
These provisions merely state that in matters of such appointment, the President and the Governors must consult the judges, but the Constitution has not stipulated that the former must always accept the advice of these judges. In other words, the President and the Governor will violate the constitution if they do not consult the judges. And if they act differently, it would be a breach of the Constitution. This lacuna needs to be corrected through a constitutional amendment. If, in the case of every vacancy, a judicial committee prepares a panel and the President or the Governor is required to choose a name from it, then it would be the best method of judicial appointment.
Secondly, promotion is also an important aspect in the context of judicial independence. There should be a set of clearly defined rules; it can't be subject to the whims of the executive. The normal rule of seniority must be maintained in the case of promotion. But there is no such provision in the Constitution. This is why, in 1973 and 1975, the Chief Justice of India was appointed by ignoring the principle of seniority. Such promotion can affect the judicial integrity and destroy the very fabric of the Rule of Law. As CK Daphtari, former Attorney-General, rightly pointed out, if promotion depends on the whims of the executive, there could be a bout of competitive "boot-licking". Every promotion must be based on seniority.
Article 127 provides for temporary appointment of ad hoc judges and Article 128 permits the recruitment of retired judges for reducing the work-load of the apex court. But it may tempt such judges to toe the line of the ruling political party and seek favours after retirement. Judges, who share the political philosophy of the ruling party for personal gains, can never be independent and neutral. It may be desirable to inject justice into politics, but it is dangerous is inject politics into justice.
The provision on the appointment of ad hoc or temporary judges must be deleted by a constitutional amendment. All judges should be appointed for a fixed period, as mentioned in the Constitution.
To reinforce security of service, the retirement age must be carefully determined. At present, judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts retire at the age of 65 and 62 respectively under the terms of Article 124(2) and Article 217(1). However, they may be removed if it is a case of "proved misbehaviour or incapacity". Thus, the grounds for such removal have been expressly determined. Such judges can be removed only when such allegations are supported by two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament.
Normally, an honest judge can rightly expect that he will be in office till the age of superannuation. However, if the ruling party/ group can secure an overwhelming majority in both Houses of Parliament, even an honest and able judge may be the hapless victim of politics. The Constitution has failed to protect such judges from the tyranny of the majority.
The independence of the judiciary also requires that there should be a bar on the appointment of a retired judge to any lucrative government post. Yet the Constitution is silent on this point. The possibility of a post-retirement appointment may affect the integrity and independence of a judge who might be expecting such lollies. Notably, M Hidayatullah, GS Pathak, SS Dhawan and MC Chagla accepted various offices under the government after retirement. This does not augur well for an independent judiciary.
The Constitution has incorporated certain half-baked provisions to ensure the independence of the judiciary. And the political establishment exploited the loopholes to gain mileage. A constitutional amendment to ensure judicial independence is imperative.
Perhaps we can draw a lesson from the American experience. The Supreme Court had quashed certain provisions of the New Deal which was enacted to cope with the Great Depression of 1929. So, the "Court Re-organisation Bill" was placed before Congress which empowered the President to induct six new judges. It was generally believed that the New Deal would be passed. Before long, however, public opinion swung in the opposite direction. It was felt that though the New Deal might be effective, the destruction of judicial independence would mean the total negation of the liberty and rights of the people. Naturally, the Bill had to be withdrawn from Congress. The message to be drawn is that freedom of the judiciary is essential for the success of democracy.
The writer is former Reader, New Alipore College, Kolkata
'IT ISN'T OUR JOB TO LISTEN TO CYNICS'
Mr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a Rajya Sabha member and chairman of the Parliamentary standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice, has a daunting task before him after the historic parliamentary resolution on controversial issues related to the Lokpal Bill. The two Houses of Parliament have referred to him the "sense of the House" and the parliamentary debate that analysed the Anna Hazare-led civil society group's demands on the issue. Not only does the standing committee led by him have to consider the demands sympathetically but Mr Singhvi also has to listen to stakeholders, which include other civil society groups, besides political parties, and then produce an acceptable text at the earliest. A Congress member of the Upper House since 2006, and a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, Mr Singhvi was assigned the Bill only on 8 August, a couple of weeks after he took over as the committee's chair. His responsibility enjoins upon him to use all his legal skills and powers of persuasion. In an interview with DEEPAK RAZDAN, he speaks of the challenges before the standing committee that he chairs.
After the Parliamentary resolution, your standing committee has a tough task ahead. How do you propose to reconcile the divergent views?
It is a challenge for which I have no doubt my distinguished committee will rise to the occasion and finish the task in proximate time. The strength of the committee system is that members usually rise above their differences to arrive at a consensual result. Parliament in the House is Parliament on exhibition, while Parliament in the standing committee is Parliament at work.
For the first time perhaps, a standing committee's work will be under unprecedented scrutiny. Is the glare creating any problems?
No, it does not change anything at all. Our proceedings are confidential and that is the strength of the committee system. No amount of attention can influence the committee's work.
Why do standing committee reports often bear the stamp of the party to which the chairperson belongs?
A standing committee is a mini-Parliament. It is a microcosm of Parliament. As such, it has to reflect a state of parliament. While some committees are headed by chairpersons belonging to the ruling party, there are committees which have their heads from the Opposition too.
When the two Houses of Parliament witness constant disruptions, how are rival points of view heard in these committees?
Disruptions in Parliament is a major issue. All parties are grappling with this. But the ruling party alone cannot solve the problem. In the ultimate analysis, subject to collective will and consensus among the parties, only a law that imposes coercive and penal consequences can control disruptions in Parliament. The standing committees are, however, different. They are a functional, living parliament.
Officials in their testimony to standing committees give oft-repeated explanations; it seems new perceptions are rarely available…
The officials' response is only one input and certainly not conclusive. The standing committee can choose deponents from diverse sources and is not dependent on the view of officials only.
If standing committee recommendations are unanimous, why not make them mandatory?
I am neither in favour of making the recommendations mandatory nor purely recommendatory. A reasonable option, in my view, would be that a recommendation would be binding, unless for reasons to be recorded by the government within a period of two months of submission of the report with such reasons shared with the public. A default provision should be added, citing that if a recorded response is not given, the recommendation would be binding.
How do you propose to ensure that all perceptions pertaining to the Lokpal Bill are given a hearing?
We have issued an advertisement and the transcript of the parliamentary debate is available to all. Not a single response has been excluded. The standing committee is a mini-Parliament. It respects diverse points of view. This is the essence of democratic functioning.
Many have said that scrutiny by a standing committee is a waste of time when all issues pertaining to this Bill are known…
Our job is not to listen to allegations, or deal with cynics; our job is to uphold parliamentary responsibility.
Rahul Gandhi has suggested a Constitutional status for the Lokpal. Your view…
What he has suggested can be viewed as our ultimate objective. Several other eminent personalities, including those among the judiciary, have supported the idea. The Congress Party is committed to having a strong Lokpal.
Your father, eminent jurist Dr L M Singhvi, coined the term Lokpal, and you are assigned the job of defining it meaningfully. Your comment?
On a personal note, I would like to say that this is a remarkable coincidence, perhaps defying the law of probability. Fifty years ago, my father invented the term and argued ceaselessly for a Lokpal during 1962-67 and now, I am entrusted with chairing the standing committee which will seek to give form, content and shape to the institution.
Anecdotally, my father told me that when he had kept repeating the word ombudsman in Parliament in the early 60s, Pandit Nehru had told him: "To which zoo does this animal belong? Dr Singhvi, you must indigenise it." It was thereafter that my father, who was also a Sanskrit scholar, coined the term Lokpal
ROLLBACK IN FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION?
As the whole nation basks in the victory against corruption achieved by Anna Hazare's fast the real fight against corruption on the ground seems to silently reverse its direction. The media seems to be oblivious of the rollback. The CBI told the court that there was not enough evidence as yet against Dayanidhi Maran that he had coerced companies in the issue of allotting spectrum licenses. Why is the poor man on the mat then?
The CBI is now focusing on the former NDA telecom ministers Mr Pramod Mahajan and Mr Arun Shourie, and Mr Jaswant Singh who headed the Group of Ministers on the subject, for violating norms in the 2G scam. The CBI has told the court that there is no evidence against Unitech because a money trail suggesting a quid pro quo could not be established.
The Supreme Court has reserved its order on the government's plea that the Special Investigative Team (SIT) appointed by the court on 4 July, because the government was delaying investigation on black money abroad, should be scrapped. Now the SC will deliver its order on 20 September regarding a probe which the court thought was being delayed too much.
Another curious development is that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has commenced probing violation of foreign exchange laws by Ramdev through his trusts. Curiosity does not arise because of the reported probe. It arises from the fact that Ramdev claims that he has not received any intimation from authorities. Under what law or procedure could the ED inform the Press about the probe when the alleged culprit has not even been informed? Even when the truth is propagated, it can be defamatory if there is malafide intent to besmirch reputation. Does not rushing to inform media before informing the accused betray malafide intent by ED?Going strictly by the letter of the law, Ramdev can sue ED for defamation for publishing the reports when no formal probe has been initiated. It is a different matter that going by the lax observance of laws, especially defamation laws, no such thing may be attempted. By informing the media to create a political atmosphere has not the ED violated law?
If so, who should pull up the government? The President of India is the singular office bearer in the entire nation who is under oath to "preserve and protect the Constitution and law". President Pratibha Patil of course, like all her predecessors, remains a mute spectator whenever government transgresses law. Perhaps like the rest of the nation she is waiting for the Lokpal to emerge and take action!
The writer is a veteran journaist and cartoonist
PLAYING TO THE GALLERY
The first round has undoubtedly gone to the septuagenarian Mr Anna Hazare, the former Army truck driver-turned social activist. During the fortnight spent nominally at Tihar Jail and almost entirely amid mass adulation of the rarest type at the Ramlila grounds in Delhi, his declared objective was to call the corrupt to order. From the patwari (the lowest revenue department cog who touches the lives of peasant and prince alike) to the Prime Minister, everyone, said Mr Hazare, should be accountable to the Lokpal.
High-voltage drama continued uninterrupted for two weeks as Mr Hazare began to fast, to death he said if necessary, with thousands of citizens in attendance, not to mention a few men and women who became his virtual shadows the days he spent fasting. Not a day passed without doctors, who had chosen to convert the fast into a virtual carnival, bringing to our drawing rooms every detail of Mr Hazare's deteriorating health. Dr Naresh Trehan of Gurgaon's Medicity, ensured that the tests were largely conducted in full public view before taking the microphone to tell the waiting multitude how Mr Hazare was doing. Not to be outdone, the electronic media sourced its own medical opinion and paraded it.
While young people waved the tricolour from the podium, two young men from a band constantly kept up a pseudo-religious chant of Gandhian vintage. In attendance were film actors, singers and assorted self-seekers. Some unburdened themselves by denigrating Parliament and the people's representatives. The tone and tenor of such assertations caused many to ask, not unnaturally, if the some of the "cheerleaders" were drunk. I liked a poser by a Mumbai activist and one-time journalist who argued (where else but on a TV show?) that while everyone talked of corruption, none reminded the viewers of the axiomatic saying ~ "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" and that in order to see who wielded power irresponsibly, one needn't leave the Ramlila grounds. It seemed the entire show was being run by two entities ~ over-enthusiastic TV crews and Mr Hazare and his three or four "handlers". Sometimes, it appeared that television had outdone Mr Hazare himself. The rest of the world, it seemed, was dead to the TV channels. It was impossible to find out if Gaddafi had been ousted, whether the Syrian President was still holding out, or, for that matter, if Mr Barack Obama's search for a solution to his country's dwindling fortunes had finally ended.
There is this channel which has the distinction of having a helmsman who presides over all talkathons, making it clear that he thinks he knows the best and who will not allow anyone on his panel to finish a sentence in case the panelist doesn't fall in line with his interpretations. "I am afraid you are wrong, unconvincing ~ you have no respect for the man who is fasting and might even die," he would thunder, setting the panelists aquiver. Day after day, night after night, the man unfailingly brought together an array of guests only to browbeat those who disagreed with him. He even refined, well defined, his obsession for breaking news with the phrase "Breaking Now" screaming from the screens.
The television's all-consuming obsession with Mr Anna Hazare's Lokpal Bill, of course, did not leave them with any time to conduct a detailed investigation into why the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and Lokayuktas were so ineffective. Not a single channel thought it fit to host discussions on the modalities of appointing a Lokpal. Instead, viewers' support for Mr Hazare's fast was polled. Frankly, there was no need for such polls, for the answer was a given. The day before Mr Hazare decided to call off his fast, I was flabbergasted to find Mr Justice Santosh Hegde, a former judge of the Supreme Court and former Karnataka Lokayukta, begging a TV anchor calling from Delhi to fill him in on the latest from the Ramlila grounds. Mr Justice Hegde was evidently disappointed that for someone who had openly supported Mr Hazare right from the beginning, he had been kept out of the loop by "handlers" of the fasting Mr Hazare. The anchor did oblige him by sharing some positive news. But the former judge was infuriated by the tirade against Parliament. "It's the most important Constitutional instrument, how can we bring it to ill repute?" Indira Gandhi had realised at a great cost that brow-beating Parliament or the judiciary would always be counter-productive. Swami Agnivesh, one of the original Team Anna men, rued how some team members were sending wrong signals to the nation by steadfastly continuing an anti-Parliament tirade.
I have nothing against Mr Arvind Kejriwal or Ms Kiran Bedi but they came across as very, very angry individuals merely playing to the gallery. Om Puri, a very fine actor, appeared to have been totally brainwashed by the Parliament-baiters when launched a vituperative attack on the government, Parliament and MPs. The Ardha Sathya star seemed to have mistaken the Ramlila grounds for one of his film sets. That's the most charitable view one can take of his ugly outburst. It sounded as juvenile as Congress MP Mr Manish Tewari's unfounded allegations against Mr Hazare.
But regardless of anything that might have been said to the contrary, the fact remains that the Anna movement has been one of the most impressive expressions of public outrage over corruption. One can only hope that the Parliamentary standing committee does an honest and sincere job to produce an effective Lokpal Bill that creates conditions so that the corrupt are easily identified and punished. The Lokpal Bill has been hanging fire in Parliament for more than four decades now. Mr Anna Hazare has provided the right impetus ~ the country must see to it that the momentum doesn't weaken.
The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor, The Statesman
THE WONDER OF IT
The concept of Opposition in a parliamentary democracy appears self-explanatory and simple. But only those uneducated in the conventions of the parliamentary system will assume that the duty of the Opposition is to oppose whatever the government and the treasury benches are saying or doing. This is to diminish the role and the responsibility of the Opposition. The latter has a critical role in the making of any legislation and in facilitating governance. Even when it opposes, it should do so by criticizing policies and by providing inputs and not by stalling the proceedings of the House. It should have the grace to accept the principle of majority decisions. The Opposition can be against a government but it cannot be against governance.
A very good example of this was witnessed very recently in West Bengal during the visit of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to the state. The leader of the Opposition in the state legislative assembly, Surya Kanta Mishra, led a delegation of members of the assembly belonging to the opposition parties. But the purpose of this visit was not to complain to the prime minister about the party or the government in power. In fact, it was remarkable that Mr Mishra and his colleagues had nothing to tell the prime minister about the present government. They went to see Mr Singh to request him to increase the level of financial support that the Centre provides to West Bengal. Mr Mishra thus broke with the tradition by which an Opposition delegation goes to see the prime minister of the country to articulate a grouse against the existing government. Consciously or unconsciously, Mr Mishra fell back on a much older and much-neglected tradition of democratic governance. He set an example by thinking not of opposing the government but of the development and welfare of the state of West Bengal. Mr Mishra and the Opposition broke from the pettiness and sectarianism that had informed West Bengal politics for a very long time.
On a different issue and level, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha also saw a remarkable exhibition of solidarity in support of democracy and governance. When Anna Hazare attempted to force Parliament to accept his version of the lok pal bill and his other terms and conditions through a hunger strike, members of both Houses spoke in unison about the supremacy and the dignity of Parliament. Not for a moment did the principal opposition parties compromise their opposition to the ruling coalition but they argued that the dignity of Parliament was above any other political and vested interest. It was a rare show of the strength of parliamentary democracy in India. There is hope that this is not a transient moment: the government and the Opposition should debate, but they should also come together to uphold and protect democracy and good governance. Only then will the world's largest democracy become the world's most successful one.
MAP OF SENSIBILITY
WEST BENGAL HAUNTS EVERY DELHI-DHAKA DIALOGUE SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
No assessment of next week's summit meeting in Dhaka is complete without considering the emotional bonding that Kamal Hossain, the only surviving member of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's cabinet, invoked while delivering the Sarat Chandra Bose Memorial lecture. Nor can any analysis afford to ignore the contrary pulls that Sarat Bose's granddaughter, the Oxford historian, Sarmila Bose, highlights in her controversial new book, Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War.
The ambitious agenda that Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina Wajed have set for themselves deserves to fructify for the economic vitality and political stability of the subcontinent as a whole. But if it does, it will be because instead of being bogged down, as bureaucrats tend to be, in specifics like textile quotas and equity for power plants, the two leaders are able to take a long-range view of the underlying causes of disharmony. Otherwise, one physical obstacle that is removed will merely be replaced by another. Understanding demands interpreting the gaps in communication, reading between the lines, deciphering the small print and realizing why today's euphoria may not be for ever.
An anonymous reader's comment on the internet report of Hossain's eulogy on how much Bangladesh and West Bengal have in common reads, "Both Bengals are united by the many millions of illegal Bangladeshis who have infiltrated India, and made a Bangladesh out of major parts of West Bengal." That acerbic remark is of a piece with the abusive letters I sometimes get in response to an article advocating a conciliatory approach. Some internet comments (presumably from the other side of the fence) on the Wajed government's decision to name a Dhaka road after Indira Gandhi are equally crude. Making allowance for the social and intellectual level of those who need to let off steam through vulgarity, it's impossible to say whether the writers are anti-Indian because they are anti-Awami League, or the other way round. When he was president of Bangladesh, Hussain Muhammad Ershad gloated that even "the India lobby" — Sheikh Mujib and his daughter — had failed to persuade India to agree to the tripartite (including Nepal) riparian talks that Rajiv Gandhi had promised him.
No wonder Inder Kumar Gujral advised Wajed during her previous incarnation in office not to sell Bangladeshi gas direct to India but to route it through an American corporation. "Let them take their 10 per cent. Otherwise, we'll both be subject to too much political pressure." Khaleda Zia, the former prime minister, is already accusing Wajed of selling out to India.
Bangladesh's relations with India — not West Bengal — are now on the anvil. But West Bengal is like Banquo's ghost at any Delhi-Dhaka dialogue. Manmohan Singh must be commended, therefore, on taking Mamata Banerjee with him. The other four chief ministers he has also invited may make equally substantive contributions regarding border trade, communications, migration, insurgents and other pertinent issues. But only a chief minister of West Bengal with a historical background, some appreciation of cultural evolution and societal trends, a vision of the eastern region's future and able to pick up nuances of language can also address the heart of the matter. Wajed was so quick to congratulate Banerjee on her victory only because she, too, appreciates the importance of the link.
Muchkund Dubey, one of the most percipient high commissioners India has ever sent to Dhaka, told the Rotary Club there that "to a very great extent, our problems are psychological. This psychology is derived from our common past". Both the complex and the commonalty hark back to times when Sarat Bose and others thought Bengal was indivisible. Dubey also attributed differences "to what one can call small-neighbour-big-neighbour syndrome". He was too politically correct to mention the third factor — religion — which may not be important in itself but acts as a reactive agent that can make all discourse explosive. Sarat Bose's desperate last-ditch efforts to save Bengal's unity may not have failed (despite stiff British and Congress high command objections) had it not been for the strength of what is nowadays labelled identity politics.
This all-important difference between the two brands of Bengalis still fuels memories of what the National Awami Party's Muzaffar Ahmed called Bengal's "two-hookah culture". Twenty-four years of Pakistani rule, with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto referring to East Bengal as "Muslim Bangla", did nothing to erase that memory. Hossain's several references in his Netaji Research Bureau address to the emergence of a middle class also obliquely drew attention to the old hierarchy which might have reinforced another aspect of what Bose calls East Bengal's "victim culture".
While banishing memories that encourage tension, it's necessary, as much in India as in Bangladesh, to examine Hindu and Muslim perceptions of each other. Overuse and misuse have reduced the word, communal, to a synonym for violence. It doesn't any longer convey the subtleties of community feeling or permit understanding of the extent to which religion can shape thinking and influence bilateral relations, even if subconsciously. The distinction between "Muslim Bengalis" and Hindus that emerges in Bose's book is as much a social reality as Kamal Hossain's effusion about cross-border affinity. Given Bangladesh's chequered past and present diversity, the two need not be irreconcilable.
It's a relic of the shared past that Dhaka already has an Indira Road in Tezgaon but, contrary to popular belief, it's not named after Mrs Gandhi. It got its name from an obscure but beautiful girl called Indira whose father, Dwijadas Dutta, a Cornell graduate, headed the agricultural farm, hence Farm Gates, a name that also still survives. Indira suddenly contracted typhoid and died a few weeks before her arranged marriage to a promising young Chittagonian in the Indian Civil Service. Her inconsolable parents named their house Indiralay (or Indiranilay), had ornamental I's woven in its wrought iron grills and railings, and built a white marble temple in the garden with a lifesize statue of their daughter wearing all the gold jewellery that was made for her wedding. When I visited Indiralay for the first time in the late 1960s, its East Pakistani purchaser had changed the name to KM Manzil. The temple was just an empty pavilion, the statue and jewellery long gone. A man edged up to me as I walked round and asked with a diffident half-smile if I belonged to the Indian owners' family. I wouldn't otherwise have gone first to the pavilion that had been a temple, he explained. No one else did. He was the mali and Hindu. The ICS bridegroom that never was became India's first high commissioner to Bangladesh.
Many such tales are woven into the tapestry of the two Bengals which might both be called Bangladesh, the correct term in Bengali. There are several precedents for this apparent duplication. Three Macedonias in Greece co-exist with The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (note the capitals). The People's Republic of Mongolia borders the Chinese autonomous region of the same name. Nearer home, India and Pakistan both have a Punjab. Maps can't ignore human sensibility. Two Bangladeshs would be legally and politically admissible and also accurately reflect sentiment on the ground.
Such quirks are a reminder that Indo-Bangladeshi relations are sui generis. If geopolitics had been the only rationale, the South Asian Golden Quadrilateral to be launched in Dhaka would have embraced Pakistan, too, instead of stopping with Nepal and Bhutan. Ties with Bangladesh cannot be explained only by Westphalian logic. The Berubari stalemate is an illustration of West Bengal's practical role but the Bengali connection is far more fundamental than scraps of disputed territory or trigger-happy border guards. India and Bangladesh may not fulfil the promise of next week's summit even with West Bengal's cooperation but there will be no ties to talk of without it.
''FISCAL REFORM MEASURES HAVE TO GO MUCH FURTHER''
The growth of the GDP at 7.7 per cent — its slowest in the last 18 months — in the first quarter of the current financial year has confirmed the negative momentum that has been built into the economy. Only those who expected worse would be surprised, as all elements and reasons of the decline had been known and documented. A one per cent decline from the levels of the same period last year is a matter of serious concern, and it is worrying that, going forward, things might get even tougher. The expectation of a nine per cent growth in the near future, as hoped for by the government and the Planning Commission, sounds a far cry now. The reasons will be clear from a look at the data of the sectoral performance of the GDP.
A good near 4 per cent growth in agriculture had no impact on the overall figures. The fairly good growth of the power and gas sectors also did not much to provide any relief. The steep decline in the performance of key sectors like manufacturing, construction and mining accounted for the overall decline. These are also sectors with employment potential and therefore their poor show affects general welfare badly. Manufacturing fell from over 10 per cent to 7.2 per cent, mining from 7.3 per cent to 1.8 per cent and construction from 7.6 per cent to 1.2 per cent. It is easy to point a finger at the Reserve Bank of India for its tight monetary policy aimed at inflation control for the slowdown in growth. But the RBI did not have any other option in the face of spiralling prices which directly affect the lives of people. Caught between contradictory forces, the RBI will have a very difficult decision to take later this month.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has called the slide in the economy ''disappointing''. But the situation rose to a good extent because of default on the part of the government. No major economic policy action has come from the government in the last many months. Paralysed and politically weakened, it has desisted from initiating and implementing any reform measure. Fiscal reform measures have to go much further. If a good land acquisition law and an effective mining policy were in place, industry and mining would not have been hit so badly. Each week of inaction might make recovery that much more difficult.
STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE
''NEWBORN DEATHS ARE BY AND LARGE PREVENTABLE.''
A study has found that 41 per cent of children who die do so within the first four weeks of their birth. Over half of the 3.9 million newborn deaths globally occur in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, China and the Democratic Republic of Congo. With over 9,00,000 newborn babies dying here annually, India accounts for the largest number of newborn deaths.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Save the Children and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, had some positive findings too. The number of new born deaths has fallen from 4.6 million in 1990 to 3.3 million in 2009, a heartening 28 per cent drop. However, the fall in newborn mortality rate has not kept pace with the fall in maternal mortality rate or child mortality rate. Most newborn deaths are caused by preterm delivery, asphyxia and severe infections. None of these are untreatable. They can be easily prevented. Thus the majority of the 3.3 newborns could have survived with a little bit of care. Their deaths were by and large preventable.
India can take heart that its newborn mortality rate is falling. Statistics indicate that it fell by 33 per cent between 1990 and 2009. Yet the fact that 900,000 newborns are dying needlessly is reason for concern. The first four weeks are a critical period for a newborn. Taking care of a newborn during this period does not require much investment in medical technology. All the newborn needs at this time are warmth and milk as well as clean and hygienic surroundings to minimise the chances of contracting infections.
An important reason for high deaths of newborns in India is that many especially in rural India deliver their children at home. Distance from hospitals or the costs involved keep many pregnant women from going to a trained health care specialist for their delivery. In the circumstances, deliveries are conducted by untrained midwives. Many babies and mothers thus contract infections, which worsen over the weeks, even resulting in the death of the newborn. Death of newborns can be improved by encouraging hospital deliveries. The government is providing incentives to get pregnant women to come to hospitals as this will draw the babies into immunisation too. However, awareness of the multiple benefits of hospital deliveries is still limited. India needs to do more to prevent its youngest citizens from dying needlessly.
THE ANNA EFFECT
Anna became an instant hero to the young and the old alike because the people saw in him a simple 'desh bhakt' of a bygone era.
In the process of a 12-day fast, if an imitation Gandhi of the 21st century could play Pied Piper to the modern means of the media, including social network and television, galvanise the entire country behind him and bring the powerful political establishment virtually to its knees, imagine what the asli Gandhi could have done if such tools were available to him during the freedom struggle? Perhaps he would have achieved his goal much quicker and with far lesser pain!
But it is important to remember that though M K Gandhi was a consummate tactician at harnessing public sentiment, the fasts that he undertook periodically were a means of 'self-purification' and never used as a weapon to blackmail the British government.
Putting the current euphoria aside, if we think rationally, the method employed by Team Anna Hazare to get the government bend to its demands, leaves a queasy feeling that maybe we are allowing democracy to be hijacked by the mobocracy where unreasonable means are adopted to achieve goals through a shrill campaign and rousing of passions.
Not for a moment neither am I questioning Anna Hazare's sincerity nor the urgency of the cause he espoused — a strong and credible Lokpal institution is certainly long overdue — but we need to step back and ponder whether we need to completely demonise and demolish the pillars of our democracy and the constitutional processes which we have inherited, for short term goals.
Before elaborating on the theme, let us salute Hazare for what he has done: At a time when corruption has reached unimaginable proportions and the ruling class of politicians and bureaucrats have shed a modicum of fear or shame at amassing illegal wealth, Hazare dramatically upped the public consciousness about the betrayal of public trust by the elected representatives.
Anna became an instant hero to the young and the old alike because the people saw in him a simple, uncomplicated 'desh bhakt' of a bygone era, a man without personal motives and the one who had ostensibly sacrificed comforts for an ideal he believed in. His work in his village Ralegaon Siddhi has earned him both bouquets and brickbats, but there was no denying that the strong moral compass he carried pitch-forked him as the Man of the Moment on the national stage.
When Hazare announced his indefinite fast from August 16 demanding acceptance of the Jan Lokpal bill drafted by his team, the UPA government thought that here was a maverick whose so-called agitation would fizzle out in a few days. The first mistake the government did was to arrest him and his accomplices and lodge them in Tihar jail even before they had launched their protest.
At a time when uncomfortable questions over massive corruption in 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games and the Adarsh Housing society scams were hogging the headlines, the guilt-ridden UPA government stumbled from one mistake to another as Hazare launched his satyagraha at the Ramlila grounds.
When Anna began his fast nobody was sure how long he could last and what impact it would have. He had already fasted for three days inside Tihar jail and a weary government offered the grounds for no more than one week. But Anna insisted and got it extended to two weeks.
It was clear from the beginning that he had touched a chord across the country and the frenzied, round-the-clock television coverage only ensured that the crowds continued to swell, making the politicians nervous. The BJP has been as guilty as the Congress in delaying the constitution of Lokpal, but the opposition now quickly latched on to the Anna bandwagon to put the government on the defensive.
As days rolled by and Anna's health became an issue of national concern, even parliament was forced to shed its usual smugness and react positively. On the ninth day of Anna's fast, the prime minister promised a 'strong' Lokpal and urged Anna not to risk his life. Finally, the government had no option but to discuss the Jan Lokpal bill on the floor of parliament along with other versions of the bill and convey to Anna in writing that his demands would be considered, thus enabling him to end his fast.
There was an element of 'blackmail' in Anna's fast and the parliamentarians might have felt that civil society was arm-twisting them to act. But parliament as an institution has degenerated so much – for which all political parties are responsible – and the people's trust in it is so badly eroded, that is it any surprise that Team Anna's debatable methods have won widespread approval?
The government can regain lost ground by at least now presenting a credible Lokpal bill that includes best elements from the Jan Lokpal bill and the others before it. The government should not hesitate calling a special session of parliament for passing the Lokpal bill and quickly putting in place the mechanism needed to deal with corruption at all levels.
Hazare's demands for inclusion of the lower bureaucracy under the ambit of the Lokpal, the establishment of Lokyauktas at the state level and the adoption of citizens' charter for time-bound delivery of government services need to be considered seriously.
There was no justification for leaving out the lower bureaucracy as the common man directly feels the heat of corruption and inefficiency at that level. As for the Lokayuktas, the Centre can devise the statutory framework within which the states will be asked to set up such institutions.
Happily, the 'Anna effect' is already taking roots, with the Delhi government showing the way by deciding to implement a citizens' charter from September 15. The time is ripe for the others to follow suit.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE TRUTH BEHIND STOP-AND-FRISK
Judge Shira Scheindlin of Federal District Court in New York made the right call when she refused to dismiss a lawsuit against the New York City Police Department, which alleged that officers use race as a basis for stopping and frisking citizens, rather than reasonable suspicion. The trial will provide an important opportunity to evaluate this increasingly troubling program, which resulted in 600,000 people being stopped on the streets last year alone.
The stop-and-frisk tactic is as old as policing itself. But it has been a central law enforcement tool in New York since the 1990's, when the police adopted the "broken windows" approach, clamping down on minor crime and emphasizing preventive measures against lawbreaking.
New York has experienced a dramatic reduction in crime. But as Judge Scheindlin pointed out, there is no conclusive proof that widespread use of stop-and-frisk itself drove down crime. Crime fell in many cities, including those that did not adopt the approach.
There is no dispute that minorities are disproportionately singled out. Blacks and Hispanics make up a little more than half of the city's population but about 85 percent of the people stopped. Supporters of the program argue that minority men are disproportionately represented among offenders as well. But analyses dating back more than a decade have shown that it is not so simple.
As Judge Scheindlin notes in her opinion, a report by the legal scholar Jeffrey Fagan found that blacks and Latinos were more likely to be stopped at police discretion, not just in high-crime, high-minority areas, but in districts where crime is minimal and populations are mixed.
Police officials say that officers stop people when they have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. An analysis last year by The Times of street stops in one mainly black Brooklyn neighborhood found that officers listed vague reasons in half the stops, including "furtive movement," a category that can be used to mask harassment.
The Fagan report found that arrests are made in less than 6 percent of all street stops — a lower rate than if the police simply set up random checkpoints. Less than 1 percent of stops turned up weapons. This suggests that hundreds of thousands of people, mostly minorities, have been stopped for no legitimate reason — or worse, because of the color of their skin.
The Police Department says it has a training program that explains proper arrest procedure and warns officers against racial profiling. But Judge Scheindlin was sharply critical of those efforts, noting that numerous officers did not recall ever receiving such training.
In rejecting the city's request for dismissal, Judge Scheindlin rightly pointed out that the suit, brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, raises issues of great public concern. New Yorkers need to know whether the Police Department has failed to properly train and monitor its officers to prevent race-based stops.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TURKEY, ISRAEL AND THE FLOTILLA
A United Nations report on Israel's attack last year on a Gaza-bound aid ship should have been a chance to ease fraught relations between Israel and Turkey. Instead, both sides dug in their heels.
The United Nations has long pummeled Israel, and Israeli leaders initially resisted an independent investigation into the raid that killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American. The report issued Friday seemed evenhanded. It said that Israel's naval blockade of Gaza is legal and that Israeli commandos boarding the vessel had to defend themselves against "organized and violent resistance." But it said that the force used by the Israelis was "excessive and unreasonable." Most of those killed were shot multiple times.
The flotilla, which sailed from a Turkish port with the acquiescence of the Turkish government, was faulted for acting "recklessly" in running the blockade. The report also said that "more could have been done" by Turkey to persuade organizers to avoid a clash with Israeli forces.
Turkey rejected the findings, expelled Israel's ambassador and announced that it was freezing military ties until Israel apologized for the deaths and compensated the victims' families. It has also been demanding that Israel end the blockade and that the United Nations shelve the report.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned that Ankara "will take every precaution it deems necessary" to protect its shipping in the eastern Mediterranean. He didn't explain, but it is irresponsible to even hint that Turkey, a NATO ally, might look for opportunities to confront Israel militarily.
Israel accepted the findings by the United Nations and said that it hoped to mend ties with Turkey, but it reiterated that it would not apologize. Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to apologize to Turkey. American officials are going to have to keep trying with both sides.
We don't blame Israel for wondering if Turkey is keeping this conflict going to burnish its standing in the Arab world. Turkey is risking a lot, including billions in trade with Israel and its reputation as a responsible international player. Israel certainly doesn't need to be any more isolated than it is.
Israel should apologize for the deaths. And Turkey should stop upping the ante.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A BAD CALL ON OZONE
President Obama's decision not to proceed with stronger air-quality standards governing ozone is a setback for public health and the environment and a victory for industry and its Republican friends in Congress.
In a terse, three-paragraph statement Friday morning, the president said he did not want to burden industry with new rules at a time of great economic uncertainty, and he pledged to revisit the issue in two years. But since the proposed rules would not have begun to bite for several years, his decision seemed driven more than anything else by politics and his own re-election campaign.
Ozone is the main component of smog, a leading cause of respiratory and other diseases. The standards governing allowable ozone levels of ozone in communities across the country have not changed since 1997. In 2008, the Bush administration proposed a new standard that was a good deal weaker than the recommendations of the E.P.A.'s science advisers and were promptly challenged in courts by state governments and environmental groups.
This summer, Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, sent a new and stronger standard to the White House — igniting a fierce lobbying campaign by industry groups asserting that the standards would require impossibly costly investments in new pollution controls and throw people out of work. Industry has made these arguments before. They almost always turn out to be exaggerated.
The president sought to assuage Ms. Jackson by reminding her that a host of other environmental rules approved or in the works — including mandating cleaner cars and fewer power plant emissions of mercury and other pollutants — would do much to clean the air. All true. But there is still no excuse for compromising on public health and allowing politics to trump science.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE STORY OF A DEAD SAILOR, HIS WIDOW AND A BUNCH OF BONEHEADED POLITICIANS
BY SERGE SCHMEMANN
Robert Keyserlingk died in December 2009 of mesothelioma, a cancer usually caused by exposure to asbestos. Mr. Keyserlingk, a neighbor and good friend on the Canadian mountain lake where we spend our summers, had been a history professor and a wonderful gardener. Forty years earlier, he was a cadet in the Canadian Navy, in an era when the plumbing and wiring in naval vessels were routinely coated with asbestos.
In the 2 1/2 years he struggled with his disease, he and his wife, Michaela, a textile conservator, became involved in the political campaign against the continued mining of asbestos, specifically chrysotile, or white asbestos, in Canada, and its export to the third world.
This summer, to Mrs. Keyserlingk's surprise and in a rather peculiar way, her continuing campaign was thrust into the limelight. The Conservative Party, which is currently governing Canada and has steadfastly supported asbestos mining, sent her a sharp notice demanding that she cease using the party's logo on the modest Web site for her campaign. It threatened "further action" if she did not comply.
Mrs. Keyserlingk had put the Conservative logo on her site and on ads for it, with a red "Danger" sign and the legend, "Canada is the only Western country that exports deadly asbestos!"
The Conservative salvo at a 72-year-old widow of a man she called a "true-blue" Conservative quickly spread through blogs, newspapers and television. People from across Canada, including physicians and politicians, began sending letters of support — and checks, all of which she returned.
"They couldn't have done anything better," Mrs. Keyserlingk said of the Tories. To the party, her reply was: "I am delighted that someone in the Conservative Party of Canada is finally reacting after years of work by chrysotile asbestos victims."
The logo remains. Conservative officials have ceased replying to queries about asbestos.
All of which made me wonder when, exactly, the Conservatives are going to get the message.
Last June, there were vociferous objections from medical and public-health associations in Canada to the Ottawa government's blocking the chrysotile in the Rotterdam Convention, a United Nations treaty that identifies hazardous substances. If listed, chrysotile exports would be permitted only to countries that explicitly consent. (Chrysotile is banned in the European Union, and little used in the United States — or Canada.)
Ottawa's unyielding position is widely viewed as a political sop to the French-speaking province of Quebec, where all the Canadian asbestos is mined, and where the mining occupies a significant place in provincial history. The government's position, echoed by the government-supported Chrysotile Institute, is that the material "can be used safely under controlled conditions."
Risk from this variety of asbestos is less than from others that have been banned. But the World Health Organization, as well as Canadian medical and public-health associations, have declared chrysotile a carcinogen and have urged that it not be used.
For many Canadians, exporting a substance that Canada itself lists as hazardous stands in embarrassing contrast to the country's self-image as a caring, supportive nation. After the action on chrysotile, Jeffrey Simpson, a columnist for The Globe and Mail, wrote: "We mine asbestos, we ship it, we make money from it, and we'll use every diplomatic trick in the book to defend this odious practice. We are the Ugly Canadians."
This sorry situation was not lost on Jon Stewart. In May, his "Daily Show" did a segment entitled "Ored to Death" on a town named Asbestos in Quebec. The comedian Aasif Mandvi asked the owner-director of the mine whether asbestos meant something different in French, "because in English it means slow, hacking death."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
IN HONOR OF TEACHERS
BY CHARLES M. BLOW
Since it's back-to-school season across the country, I wanted to celebrate a group that is often maligned: teachers. Like so many others, it was a teacher who changed the direction of my life, and to whom I'm forever indebted.
A Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll released this week found that 76 percent of Americans believed that high-achieving high school students should later be recruited to become teachers, and 67 percent of respondents said that they would like to have a child of their own take up teaching in the public schools as a career.
But how do we expect to entice the best and brightest to become teachers when we keep tearing the profession down? We take the people who so desperately want to make a difference that they enter a field where they know that they'll be overworked and underpaid, and we scapegoat them as the cause of a societywide failure.
A March report by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that one of the differences between the United States and countries with high-performing school systems was: "The teaching profession in the U.S. does not have the same high status as it once did, nor does it compare with the status teachers enjoy in the world's best-performing economies."
The report highlights two example of this diminished status:
• "According to a 2005 National Education Association report, nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years teaching; they cite poor working conditions and low pay as the chief reason."
• "High school teachers in the U.S. work longer hours (approximately 50 hours, according to the N.E.A.), and yet the U.S. devotes a far lower proportion than the average O.E.C.D. country does to teacher salaries."
Take Wisconsin, for instance, where a new law stripped teachers of collective bargaining rights and forced them to pay more for benefits. According to documents obtained by The Associated Press, "about twice as many public schoolteachers decided to hang it up in the first half of this year as in each of the past two full years."
I'm not saying that we shouldn't seek to reform our education system. We should, and we must. Nor am I saying that all teachers are great teachers. They aren't. But let's be honest: No profession is full of peak performers. At least this one is infused with nobility.
And we as parents, and as a society at large, must also acknowledge our shortcomings and the enormous hurdles that teachers must often clear to reach a child. Teachers may be the biggest in-school factor, but there are many out-of-school factors that weigh heavily on performance, like growing child poverty, hunger, homelessness, home and neighborhood instability, adult role-modeling and parental pressure and expectations.
The first teacher to clear those hurdles in my life was Mrs. Thomas.
From the first through third grades, I went to school in a neighboring town because it was the school where my mother got her first teaching job. I was not a great student. I was slipping in and out of depression from a tumultuous family life that included the recent divorce of my parents. I began to grow invisible. My teachers didn't seem to see me nor I them. (To this day, I can't remember any of their names.)
My work began to suffer so much that I was temporarily placed in the "slow" class. No one even talked to me about it. They just sent a note. I didn't believe that I was slow, but I began to live down to their expectations.
When I entered the fourth grade, my mother got a teaching job in our hometown and I came back to my hometown school. I was placed in Mrs. Thomas's class.
There I was, a little nothing of a boy, lost and slumped, flickering in and out of being.
She was a pint-sized firecracker of a woman, with short curly hair, big round glasses set wider than her face, and a thin slit of a mouth that she kept well-lined with red lipstick.
On the first day of class, she gave us a math quiz. Maybe it was the nervousness of being the "new kid," but I quickly jotted down the answers and turned in the test — first.
"Whoa! That was quick. Blow, we're going to call you Speedy Gonzales." She said it with a broad approving smile, and the kind of eyes that warmed you on the inside.
She put her arm around me and pulled me close while she graded my paper with the other hand. I got a couple wrong, but most of them right.
I couldn't remember a teacher ever smiling with approval, or putting their hand around me, or praising my performance in any way.
It was the first time that I felt a teacher cared about me, saw me or believed in me. It lit a fire in me. I never got a bad grade again. I figured that Mrs. Thomas would always be able to see me if I always shined. I always wanted to make her as proud of me as she seemed to be that day. And, she always was.
In high school, the district sent a man to test our I.Q.'s. Turns out that not only was I not slow, but mine and another boy's I.Q. were high enough that they created a gifted-and-talented class just for the two of us with our own teacher who came to our school once a week. I went on to graduate as the valedictorian of my class.
And all of that was because of Mrs. Thomas, the firecracker of a teacher who first saw me and smiled with the smile that warmed me on the inside.
So to all of the Mrs. Thomases out there, all the teachers struggling to reach lost children like I was once, I just want to say thank you. You deserve our admiration, not our contempt.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
ON RACE, THE SILENCE IS BIPARTISAN
BY DESMOND S. KING AND ROGERS M. SMITH
THE economic crisis in the United States is also a racial crisis. White Americans are hurting, but nonwhite Americans are hurting even more. Yet leaders in both political parties — for different reasons — continue to act as though race were anachronistic and irrelevant in a country where an African-American is the president.
In July, the unemployment rate was 8.2 percent for whites, but 16.8 percent for blacks and 11.3 percent for Latinos. The Pew Research Center estimates that in 2009, the median household net worth was $5,677 for blacks, $6,325 for Hispanics and $113,149 for whites — down from $12,124, $18,539 and $134,992, respectively, in 2005.
All groups have suffered from high unemployment, the mortgage meltdown and soaring health care costs, but African-Americans and Hispanics started far behind and continue to fall behind. In 2009, 35 percent of black households and 31 percent of Latino households had zero or negative wealth, compared with 15 percent of white households.
Since the end of legal segregation in the 1960s, there have been two approaches to ameliorating racial inequality. Conservatives and most Republican politicians insist that laws be colorblind and that race-conscious measures like affirmative action should be ended. Liberals and most Democratic politicians favor such measures, mindful of the burdens of past and present discrimination.
For most of the nation's history, the two major parties were internally divided over racial issues. But today, racial policy positions align almost perfectly with the party system. The two parties, which openly clashed over race from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s, have for the last decade pretty much agreed not to talk about race — a silence that impedes progress toward racial equality.
Democrats mention race as little as possible, even though minority voters are crucial constituents, because colorblind positions are far more politically popular. Affirmative action has been supported in every Democratic presidential platform since 1972, but since the Reagan era, Democrats speak of it less and less.
President Obama, for example, does not openly renounce affirmative action, but he pragmatically stresses universal social programs like health care. He manages to avoid appearing especially concerned about African-Americans.
This tack leaves modern Republicans with little to criticize, lest they appear to be race-baiting, so they too keep quiet.
Advocates of both colorblind and race-conscious approaches to public policy now claim the mantle of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights agenda and his call for people to be judged by their character, not their skin. Though Republicans claim that free-market policies will lift all boats and Democrats hope that "universal" measures to combat economic inequality will benefit all groups, racial inequality has endured.
As studies of employment and real estate practices begun during the Reagan era have consistently shown, racial discrimination persists. And "race neutral" economic measures backed by Democrats, like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, have proved too limited to aid many poorer blacks and Hispanics.
Political leaders must openly recognize that we cannot progress either by ignoring race or focusing exclusively on it. It is not only legitimate, but also essential, to evaluate policy options partly on the basis of whether they are likely to reduce or increase racial inequalities.
Compromise policies — measures that are not explicitly race-targeted but are chosen partly because they will benefit nonwhites especially — should become the basis for policy debates.
For example, without using explicit racial classifications, we can devise districts and situate homes in ways that are more likely to produce integrated schools and neighborhoods.
We can adopt employment tests that are fair and inclusive and do a better job at predicting job performance than many Civil Service exams now do.
And we can do more to ensure that our criminal laws do not target crimes more typical of urban Hispanics and blacks, like crack cocaine use, more strongly than crimes typical of suburban whites, like powder cocaine use.
Both parties should accept that the question of whether policies help narrow the racial divide must be part of the discussion. After all, it was the Republican-led search for racial progress in the 1860s and the Democratic-led fight for civil rights in the 1960s — buttressed, of course, by African-Americans' own freedom struggle — that allowed the election of a black president in 2008.
Desmond S. King, a professor of American government at Oxford University, and Rogers M. Smith, a professor
of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, are the authors of "Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama's America."
TIMES FREE PRESS
STREET SIGN REPLACEMENT MANDATE WITHDRAWN
One of the most absurd rules handed down by the federal government in recent years was one that set deadlines for state and local governments to replace street signs with new signs that are more visible.
Everybody favors safer streets, of course, but Washington issued the mandate, under the Bush administration in 2003, without thinking of the impact such a rule would have on municipal and state budgets. You see, even though Washington was ordering the signs to be changed, it was requiring local and state governments to pay for the huge project.
In Tennessee, it is estimated the changes would have cost the state $50 million. New York City alone, meanwhile, predicted it would have to spend nearly $28 million to change out its signs to meet the federal standards.
That was not only financially burdensome, but it was unconstitutional. The federal government has the right to set visibility standards for signs on federal roadways, but what business does it have dictating standards for signs on local and state roads?
Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Transportation has now rescinded the deadlines for replacing the existing signs with more visible ones. That decision was praised by members of Congress from Tennessee.
U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, as well as 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of the neighboring 4th District, pointed out that especially in a time of economic crisis, Washington has no business imposing costly mandates.
Instead of setting strict deadlines on replacing street signs, the Transportation Department now says they can be changed to the more visible signs only when they actually need to be replaced.
That's a move in the right direction. But it would be better still -- and certainly more constitutional -- if the federal government concerned itself strictly with signs on federal roads and let local and state governments deal with signs on their respective roadways.
TIMES FREE PRESS
PROFITS BEFORE HEALTH?
On Friday, President Barack Obama instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to drop implementation of new regulations that would have reduced the nation's smog levels. The decision elicited prompt reactions from the groups most interested in the rules. Big business, of course, praised it. Environmentalists understandably condemned it. Ordinary Americans, who have the most to lose because of the president's act, should denounce the president's decision, too.
The rules scrapped by the president would have reduced the amount of low-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, that businesses were allowed to emit. Corporations argued against the new rules, saying that they would be so costly to implement that they would be a drag on job creation and, though they weren't quite so vocal about them, profits. That's an entirely self-serving view that should have no political traction.
Unfortunately, lobbyists for industry have enough clout and enough money to influence legislative decision-making. Their determined and expensive campaign to sway the president clearly carried the day. Though the president tried to put a good spin on his decision, it's difficult to see it for anything other than capitulation to those who put profit ahead of the public good.
Obama said he was ending the effort to tighten the rules because he wanted to reduce what he called "regulatory burdens." That's a phrase straight from the conservative phrase book. Their goal, though they are reluctant to admit it publicly, is to reduce government regulation in order to maximize profits. In this instance, the victory likely will prove immensely profitable for Big Business. The triumph, though, comes at great cost to America and Americans.
Smog is dangerous to human health. There is undeniable evidence that it contributes to respiratory illness, cardiac disease and that it can lead to premature death. Knowledge of those facts is one reason why there is a need to tighten the rules governing smog levels. The lower the level of smog, the lower the incidence of illnesses and deaths related to it. The ultimate goal should be the elimination of airborne, illness-causing pollutants. That might not be possible in the short-run, but incremental reductions of the kind scuttled by the president would have been a step in the right direction.
Tighter regulations, according to public health and environmental groups, could save about 4,300 lives a year, help prevent more than 2,000 heart attacks annually and lead to considerable reductions in health care costs. The new smog regulations, for example, would make breathing easier for the millions of Americans with asthma and other respiratory ailments. Experts say total health care cost savings from the proposed regulations could have reached $37 billion annually.
The president said Friday that his withdrawal of the regulation did not reflect a weakening of his commitment to protect public health and the environment. "I will continue to stand with the hardworking men and women at the EPA as they strive every day to hold polluters accountable and protect our families from harmful pollution." His action, though, suggests otherwise.
The Obama retreat on the new ozone-smog standard suggests that the president and his advisers now believe that political and other concerns outweigh the health and environmental benefits of the EPA regulations that were scheduled to take affect. The decision not to implement the rules, it appears, is a calculated move to mute charges -- mainly from the conservative right, from Congressional Republicans and from the business community -- that excessive regulation is a drag on the nation's economy and on job creation.
Whatever the president says and however he couches the decision, he can't escape the truth. Friday's decision to stop the new regulations is a significant victory for the business lobby and a major defeat for those who put good health and clean air before profits.
TIMES FREE PRESS
DIM OPINIONS OF PRESIDENT, CONGRESS
No president is going to be liked by everybody all the time. But don't you wish President Barack Obama would promote policies that merit admiration by at least a reasonable majority of our people?
Specifically, don't you wish that our current president and Congress -- as well as those of the past several decades -- had handled our nation's finances in such a way that we were assured of soundly balanced budgets and sensible tax rates? Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?
Perhaps, but unfortunately we have "none of the above" -- and that is reflected in recent opinion polls.
A CNN/ORC International poll indicates that about 65 percent -- nearly two-thirds! -- of our people do not approve of Obama's handling of the economy. His overall job approval rating is not much better -- stuck in the low 40 percent range in various polls -- and views of Congress are similarly dismal.
Meanwhile, the Office of Management and Budget says we will run about a $1.3 trillion deficit for fiscal year 2011. The president and many in Congress apparently see no connection, though, between their unwise economic policies and their low ratings from the public.
Don't the numbers suggest that the people of the United States need to elect leaders who will at least begin the difficult work of balancing the budget?
TIMES FREE PRESS
RISING SCHOOL ENROLLMENT, INADEQUATE FACILITIES
With a few weeks of classes under their belt, Hamilton County's public schools have reported that enrollment for fall semester totals 42,248 students -- an increase from last year's 41,930.
That represents the continuation of a trend of rising enrollment over most of the past decade. Except for a dip from the 2006-07 academic year to 2007-08, local enrollment has risen every year since 2004-05. The most recent figure of 42,248, in fact, is the highest enrollment in almost a decade. (Of course, thousands of additional local youngsters are in private or home schools.)
Schools in some areas of the county are at or above capacity. For instance, East Hamilton School, which includes both middle and high school, was built for fewer than 1,700 students but has nearly 2,100.
Rising enrollment has prompted Superintendent Rick Smith to call for more school construction.
"We've got to get busy," he told the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
We don't doubt the need to provide good facilities for the vitally important purpose of educating our young people. But every bit as important as adequate buildings is the motivation of students in those buildings to seize educational opportunity.
The initial excitement of the new school year is wearing off for a lot of students by now as they settle into a routine of classes and activities. But while the newness may fade, we urge them to maintain enthusiastic dedication to their course work.
That will yield enormous benefits for the rest of their lives.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE STORY OF FAILURE IN TURKISH-ISRAELI DIPLOMACY
I was talking on the phone with a high-ranking Turkish official as CNN Türk's breaking-news story started to present the Israeli government's reaction to the Turkish government's ultimatum regarding the Mavi Marmara flotilla affair. According to the news, the Israeli government was sorry that its soldiers killed nine Turks who were among the members of a group carrying aid to Palestinians in Gaza under Israeli blockade in May 2010, but would not apologize. The Israeli government also told Turkey to be more respectful of international maritime law.
"They can go to hell," groaned the Turkish official's voice on the phone. "They will see what respecting international maritime law means when our Navy sails into the international waters of the Mediterranean if they do not apologize by Wednesday [Sept. 7]."
Turkish-Israeli cooperation broke down in 2009 when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli President Shimon Peres had their "one minute" row over Israeli operations against Palestinians that were causing the death of civilians in Gaza. Tensions were then raised with the flotilla incident.
With the efforts of the United States, the United Nations set up a commission nine months ago to look into the affair.
During this period, four secret talks (in six sessions – starting in Brussels, then in Bucharest, Geneva, New York, Rome and New York again) were carried out between top Turkish and Israeli officials to find common ground because Turkey was saying two main things: 1) An open apology and compensation to the victims' families was needed for the normalization of relations, and 2) Israel should stop bullying in the eastern Mediterranean as if it were the dominating power there.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said yesterday – as he was announcing the ultimatum, including the downgrading of diplomatic relations, the freezing of military agreements and the challenging of Israel in international courts and in the international waters of the Mediterranean – that the two countries had come to terms four times in this nine-month period.
At one time in Geneva in December 2010, following the Turkish gesture to send firefighting planes when an awful forest fire broke out in Israel, the diplomats met in Geneva and had the full support of Erdoğan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone. But the agreement never came to life as Netanyahu failed to overcome the resistance of his fringe right-wing coalition partner and foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, in the Cabinet meeting.
In the meantime, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the Israeli Army said in public that they supported an agreement with Ankara at the cost of an apology. They knew that if the report was released and included accusations that civilians had been killed (if the report found that soldiers had fired at the backs of their heads, for instance), however, that that would have international legal consequences for the Israeli soldiers.
But they could not weaken the nationalist resistance within the Israeli Cabinet.
Diplomacy between the two countries collapsed last week when Turks accused Israelis of misleading the media that it was the Turks who wanted another six months for the release of the report. Turkey challenged the U.N. and the U.S. for an immediate release. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton asked for some more time personally from Davutoğlu to convince U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Israelis.
But the lobby who managed to provide a speech in the U.S. Congress – with the help of the American opposition when President Barack Obama was out of the U.S. for Europe – probably managed to leak the report to the New York Times to further embarrass Clinton and cause Davutoğlu to explode.
That is the point where we stand now.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
KOREANS TO RESCUE GREECE FROM EXPENSIVE FERRY TALE
The tale of Icarus' wings of wood, wax and feathers is just a Greek legend. But while the mythical Icarus ultimately failed, plunging back to earth, today's Greeks may actually be on the verge of cracking one of the last great barriers to human flight.
At the moment details of this triumph are limited to a Korean company's marketing plan available on Facebook, brought to my attention by a reader: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.134006326659974.23130.119072668153340. But thanks to an irony worthy of a Greek play – the meltdown of that nation's economy – you might be able to see a new type of "flight" on inter-island Greek ferry traffic as early as next year.
The hurdle is something you may have studied in high school physics, "surface tension," the property at the surface of a liquid that makes it resist an external object. Most of us have watched, for example, the tiny bugs that can actually "walk" atop a still pond of water. This minor law of physics also works in reverse; to pull a resting object from the water also requires one to overcome the "pull" that wants to keep it in place.
Hence the failure of commercial development of efficient hovercraft. All we ever got was the clunky kind that plied the English channel before the Chunnel plus some military versions. Basically, it takes something like four jet engines to get the boat up onto its pillow of air but only one to move it. The extra weight once up and running burns such extremes of fuel that the whole enterprise is doomed to fail in competition with alternatives like airplanes. In short, this is why we on this side of the Aegean are condemned to catamarans to move around the sea of Marmara, so-called "sea buses" which to date are as good as technology gets.
But imagine the revolution in maritime transport if that "sea bus" could travel at 200 kilometers per hour, maybe 10 meters off above the sea, with 150 passengers at a third the fuel consumption of an airplane? From Istanbul's Karaköy to Izmir's Kordon, door-to-door in four hours?
The biggest users of ferry services, as we know are the Greeks: About 17 million passengers a year costing government subsidies approaching a quarter billion euros. Enter "Wingship Technologies Corp.," a Korean company that aims to launch in Greek waters next year. It claims to have overcome this age-old dilemma with an airship of sorts that kind of looks like one of our catamarans with propellers. It hopes to replace ferries altogether.
I'm told an even better technology is the "heliferry," http://users.telenet.be/heliferry.
It's more of a marriage between a catamaran and a helicopter. The trick here is a rotor that breaks the "surface" tension by accumulating kinetic energy in the first few hundred meters of travel which is then used to leverage the ship aloft. But I'll leave the details to the physicists.
The larger point should be that if this technology is good for 10 million Greeks with three seas, it ought to be even better for 75 million Turks with four seas. To say nothing of the rest of the world whose jet airplanes comprise a major chunk of the planet's climate-changing carbon footprint.
Check out the Wingship and the Heliferry.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
KEMALIST TURKEY: GOOD FOR THE JEWS?
I read the Israeli press occasionally and especially when there is some opinion column about Turkey. What is striking in most of those pieces is nostalgia for the military-dominated, fiercely secular "Atatürk Republic," and concern about the "neo-Ottomanism" of today. It sounds as if many Israelis are great fans of Kemalism, and great opponents of Ottomanism, which not just preceded the former, but seems to be superseding it as well.
But shouldn't Jews know better? Isn't their very history a testimony to the virtues of Ottoman pluralism and the troubles of Kemalist monism?
Peace and freedom
The Ottoman story with Jews began in the mid-15th century, when the Sephardim of Spain were exiled from their homeland because of Catholic intolerance. Many of them found safe havens in Muslim lands, and especially the Ottoman Empire, in which, according to Rabbi Yitzhak Sarfati of Edirne, every Jew "lived in peace and freedom."
The Ottoman tolerance for Jews was an outcome of the Islamic doctrine on "protected people" (dhimmis). Jews and Christians, accordingly, were given religious freedom, although still deemed second class when compared to Muslims. But the Ottoman state, in the mid-19th century, improved that status as well, and made its Jews and Christians equal citizens. "All Ottomans are equal before the law," declared the Ottoman Constitution of 1876, "they have the same rights . . . without prejudice to religion." Hence many Jews and Christians appeared in the late Ottoman bureaucracy and parliament – something that would be unthinkable in Republican Turkey.
Thanks to this acceptance they found under the Ottomans, Ottoman Jews always remained loyal to the empire. Prayers were raised in Istanbul synagogues for the victory of the Ottoman armies against Balkan nationalists. "In Fear of Greeks, Jews Plead for Aid," read a telling 1913 New York Times headline. The Greek nationalists, the story reported, were "punishing [the Jews] for being friendly with the Turks."
This Turkish-Jewish friendship was tainted later not because that Turks went too Islamic, but they went too nationalist. This nationalism, which hurt the Ottoman Christians as well, was partly a reaction to the real events that happened during the fall of the empire. But it was also an ideological construct, introduced by none other than the Kemalist single party regime (1925-50), which has marked the character of the Turkish Republic until recently.
Two dark episodes from that dictatorial era are worth remembering. The first one is the Thrace Pogroms of 1934, in which some 15,000 Jews in northwestern Turkey were displaced following the hate propaganda of not just Hitler-admiring demagogues but also the Kemalist party organization that helped them.
The second episode, the infamous Wealth Tax of 1942, was even worse, for it clearly carried out an official plunder of "non-Turkish" citizens. Especially Jews and "Dönmes" (the crypto-Jewish sect that followed the doctrine of the 17th century messiah-hopeful Sabbatai Zevi) were targeted. Many among them who were unable to pay the unbelievably high "special tax" were sent to labor camps, in which some of them died.
That's why Marc David Baer, a historian at the University of California, believes that the Ottoman Empire was more hospitable to Jews than the Turkish Republic. In a recent interview he gave to Turkish daily Radikal, Baer specifically recalls that "the greatest enemies of the Dönmes were secular Republican Turks."
All this history should explain to you why the non-Muslim properties that were usurped in 1936 by the Kemalist regime are now being returned to their rightful owners – by the government of the Ottoman-minded Justice and Development Party. (Hopefully, the Halki Seminary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, too, will be free soon, as it was under Ottoman rule.)
All this history should also remind Israelis that the black-and-white picture their media often presents with regards to Islam and secularism in Turkey is wrong. They just need to check their own past to get some nuance.
PS: I wrote this piece before the announcement of Turkey's strong measures against Israel, but that delayed response to the killings on the Mavi Marmara does not change much. The Turkey of the new century is not anti-Semitic, but it is proud and confident, and killing its citizens has serious consequences.
* For all of Mustafa Akyol's works, including his recent book on Islamic liberalism, visit his blog, TheWhitePath.com
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
KARL MARX IN CORPORATE BOARDROOMS
If Marx was right in his opening remarks of "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" in 1852, then is he in trouble? Remember the opening lines? "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice." he wrote. "He forgot to add: the first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce." Look what is happening now. Not a day has passed without seeing a piece titled "Karl Marx was right." It is a kind of a second coming for the great philosopher and activist. Che Guevera has turned into a disco dance tune lately and what of Marx now? Should we be concerned? I don't think so.
However, it is as if this time it is different. This time his teaching is discussed in corporate boardrooms. George Magnus, a senior economist of the commercial bank UBS quoted him the other day. The quote was in an investment advice text. Karl Marx entering corporate boardrooms to find a solution to the Great Recession of 2008! Is it weird? No, not at all.
Marx is part and parcel of our civilization
First let me say that if capitalism was left to capitalists only, we all would have been doomed long ago. Capitalism did not have any incentive to go beyond Victor Hugo slumps of the Industrial Revolution without criticism from the left. So in this sense the teaching of Karl Marx is part and parcel of our civilization. Nothing weird is going on.
The interesting part is to understand why we have this growing interest lately. I see a few reasons: One is the literature on the relations between growing income inequality, increasing debt and the crisis of 2008. It started with the remarks of Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Then Robert Reich's "Aftershock" was published in 2010. Then in November 2010 came an IMF research paper on "Inequality, Leverage and Crises." In both cases, the growing income inequality led to increased leverage on the part of the relatively dispossessed to maintain their level of consumption. That, the authors argued, led to toxic assets in the financial system. The IMF paper then noted the importance of income redistribution schemes to prevent crises. "The sky is falling," isn't that so? This is the IMF, the high temple of modern day capitalism. This is the first reason.
Capitalism breeds instability
So the culprit is growing income inequality. But the buck does not stop there. Today why the number of not-so-rich is high, many of them are unemployed, but there is no mechanism to help them consume beyond their means. The dream machine has been broken. It was inherently unstable as we all know now. Capitalism breeds instability. That's the second reason.
Thirdly, as noted in The Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle."
This time it is the middle classes, relatively dispossessed and fully connected to the world, that are turning the wheel. With the Great Recession, the relatively dispossessed feel cheated at the center paralyzing their governments in dealing with the crisis. "Unemployment is the problem not the debt." At the same time, they feel left out on the periphery, seeing that it is harder to migrate to the center as it was in the past, they started a rebuilding effort in their homelands. That's how I see the Arab Spring, the Chilean Winter, the London looting and the Berlin car burnings.
Che Guevera has become a dance tune for discos, but I am not afraid of Karl Marx. Let's see what Obama will make out of it in the upcoming American elections.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
OUTCOME OF ELECTIONS WILL REPRESENT EGYPT'S DEMOCRATIC FACE
Who would have thought in January 2011 that Egypt would be still in flux at the end of August? The spring that gave way to summer is bracing itself for the onset of a rough autumn.
Looking back, the frustration at the speed of change has been mounting among the younger generation. Similarly, the feelings of anxiety at the instability are shared by the old and ever-waiting generation as well. Slowly but surely, we will all come to realize the process has barely begun. Through the lens of history, these past months will mark just the beginning of what most hope will be a critical path of change for Egypt. One cannot help but wonder how long it will take but there is no doubt that change has begun and will continue.
The beginning witnessed the superficial changes in the nature of the political power structure. There was a rapid rise and fall of a few new faces and there might be more still to come. As the dust settles, and a new political structure emerges, the collective new face should provide solid direction, but everyone is far from ready for the journey. Those who will steer have to create the vehicle that will accommodate its passengers. With the preponderance of backseat driving and the weight of the car's baggage, navigating a clear, acceptable direction will prove challenging.
Will this process ultimately produce a cosmetic facelift for a sick body or is Egypt seriously engaged in a real difficult birth? Only time will reveal its mystery. Egypt chose the long and winding road to freedom. In contrast to its neighboring Arab revolts, especially in Libya or Syria, Egypt can feel grateful for its choice.
After its initial major surgical intervention, Egypt requires a long process of chemotherapy. The surgery removed the cancer. The devastating effects of the disease that infected its body and soul must be systematically attacked over time. This is going to be a long and painstaking process. We must expect periods of fatigue and weakness, there will be times of confusion and even some lost battles on the way, too. Recurrence is a major setback and must be carefully challenged. As unshaken convictions fuse with perseverance, the young and new Egypt will heal and rise to write another bright chapter in its history. Meanwhile, Egyptians must attend to their ailing old country, clear out its heavy baggage, clean out its many wounds and set it on the road to recovery. It will certainly not be easy. We must realize that what took so many years to corrupt will need as much time to clean out and create anew.
With the expected elections of a new Parliament speculated to be in November, Egypt is looking forward to becoming a major landmark in its change process. This autumn, Egypt will shed its old and tired leaves in preparation for its future of yet another spring. Many are hopeful; the outcome will represent Egypt's democratic face.
But many are fearful the shedding will reinstate a more restrictive and violent state of affairs. Some are lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce on any window of opportunity to seize power. There is great anticipation and fearful speculation in the air. These parliamentary elections will be the first strong indication of where the path of change is heading. The division of power and, consequently, decision-making power will become clear. It will set the tone, if not the future of the country. The one critical and decisive element will be Egyptians themselves.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
CENTRAL ASIA, THE CAUCASUS, AND 21ST-CENTURY SECURITY
Great conflicts and security challenges of the 20th century took place in Europe and Asia. Since 2001, Afghanistan and Iraq have been leading preoccupations for foreign policy and security planners in both the East and the West. But other states in the region where Eurasia abuts South Asia and the Middle East – especially Central Asia and the Caucasus – look vulnerable. No state in this region is really succeeding. They are variously burdened by inadequate and often authoritarian governance, immense economic problems, corruption, environmental, social, security and other challenges. Interstate and interethnic conflicts abound. Connections with the outside world remain limited aside from the energy ties that Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have forged. Relations among regional states are limited as well, and not just because of interstate issues. It is not unfair to say that long-term stability remains a goal, not a state of being for the Caucasus and Central Asia. This region could be a global nightmare, if not flashpoint, in 10, 20 or 30 years' time.
To address this region's failings and ensure that future world leaders do not find themselves obsessed with instabilities and conflicts in these out-of-the-way places – or, worse, find themselves drawn into them – greater engagement, cooperation and collaboration with and among these countries is urgently needed.
The break up of the Soviet bloc 20 years ago was the 20th century's last cataclysm of global scope, and completely new state systems had to be created out of nothing.
Twenty years on, the states of the Caucasus and Central Asia seem to have accomplished a lot – and, at the same time, only a little. New governing institutions were created; seeds of economic success were planted, some countries being more successful at this than others. New militaries were created, and countries gained a measure of control over their borders.
Despite these and other achievements, it would be highly misleading to consider Central Asia and the Caucasus broadly successful. Many countries combine low-quality governance with authoritarianism or worse; poverty, poor climates for doing business, corruption and autarky, especially vis-à-vis neighbors, are the norm. Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, was savaged in 2010 by violence to overthrow a corrupt and tyrannical government.
• Tajikistan's most dysfunctional period took place during the 1990s civil war, but extensive poverty, weak governance, corruption, drug trafficking, terrorist violence and other issues make the country's prognosis highly questionable.
• Turkmenistan survived the cult of personality established by its last Soviet-era leader and first president, Saparmurat Niyazov Turkmenbashi. Its features included sometimes bizarre governance, hermit-like isolationism, and deep dependence on Russia for the export of natural gas, the country's most saleable export. Following Turkmenbashi's death in 2006, backroom deals engineered a transfer of power to the country's current leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Stranger excesses of the Niyazov era have been trimmed back. Perhaps somewhat more than others throughout the region, Turkmenistan looks stable largely in a pre-2011 Tunisian way: It could last a long time, but might not.
So does Uzbekistan. This country never had its neighbor's bizarre attributes, but an outstanding trait seems, in some eyes, to be the absence of genuine political change since the Soviet era. The country's first and only president, Islam Karimov, turns 74 in January 2012. No model for or experience in transition exists.
• Kazakhstan is relatively prosperous for Central Asia. Oil wealth has given Astana's leaders choices others did not have; Kazakhstan has a larger circle of foreign investors than elsewhere in Central Asia, but the economy's commanding heights remain in the hands of the state or those who lead it.
• Like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan has similarly benefitted from energy riches and similarly suffered from authoritarianism. The conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh limits the country's economic potential, distorts its politics, and saps public morale.
• Armenia faces the same problems of poverty, a difficult and corrupt business climate, weak, but authoritarian governance, and the lack of a culture of freedom. Armenia's prospects are compromised by the militarization and isolation that flow from the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh problem.
• Georgia's foreign policy and military failures with the Abkhaz, South Ossetians and Russia constitute its big tar babies. An improved business climate and a strong campaign against corruption hold promise for leading the country in a better direction, but the Russia problem and the state of Georgia's interethnic problems remain deep, almost impossible problems.
A startling lack of cooperation further comprises the region and its states' futures. That they did not want to work together upon achieving independence was to some extent understandable. So is the lack of cooperation between, for example, Azerbaijan and Armenia. But little-developed cooperation between Georgia and Armenia or between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is harder to justify. As these countries head into their third decade of modern independence, strategies that disregard one's neighbors and the region no longer make sense.
Trade and investment ties among the Caucasus/Central Asian countries are minimal – security cooperation is limited as well.
Fashioning a more successful future for Central Asia and the Caucasus involves many things, but two issues stand out.
One is that the countries need to find ways to work together; multiple efforts need to be made to bring regional business leaders together in ways that will lead them to see more opportunity than competition, develop a sense of common purpose on issues of shared interest, and influence government policy in pro-trade ways on a national and collective/regional basis.
A second key issue is the work that outsiders do in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Any effort to create a condominium of outside powers would be as unwise as the old Great Game, but exchanges of views and cooperation among the world's leading powers can help lead the area's states in more positive directions.
*Ross Wilson is the director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council of the United States and former U.S. ambassador to Turkey. The original version of this article was published in the Summer 2011 issue of Turkish Policy Quarterly, or TPQ. This is an abbreviated version of the article. For more information, please visit; www.turkishpolicy.com.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
FOR ANKARA, IT'S TIME FOR DEEDS NOT WORDS ON SYRIA
"Things change dramatically every day in Syria, in Libya, in the whole region. And so I understand impatience, and certainly for every day that the Syrian people suffer at the hands of the (Bashar) al-Assad regime is a day too many. But we are working with our international partners to ratchet up pressure on the regime. We have called for al-Assad to step down. We will continue to take actions to isolate and pressure that regime," said Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, when I pressed him by asking, "Nothing has changed" in Syria since the U.S. and other Western countries called on al-Assad "to step down" weeks ago by reminding him that the Syrian forces continue their deadly crackdowns every day.
Indeed, I was playing devil's advocate with Carney while bringing up several Syria-related issues before him this week. International pressure already made Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's standing much weaker by all accounts. While articulating international pressure, the U.S. administration this week often used Turkish President Abdullah Gül's latest sharp condemnation on al-Assad in which Gül stated, "Assad has reached a point where anything would be too little, too late," and he said he "lost confidence in Syria."
It is important to note that following Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's warning against the repeat of Hama massacre and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's visit to Damascus two weeks ago, Syrian tanks withdrew from the city of Hama and Turkish officials cited this development as a result of his visit. This week, the symbolism of Syrian forces returning to Hama to arrest, torture and kill more people surely has not been lost on Ankara.
Comparing initial Turkish puzzlement toward the Libya uprising, Turkey has not fallen apart from the Western line against the Syrian regime thus far, even though Turkey hasn't yet repeated the West's calls for al-Assad to step down. Turkey's special ties and neighbor status with Syria are well understood by Washington.
One serious impediment for international pressure to turn into tangible support for the Syrian opposition is the disparity of these groups. Activists' accounts and direct messages from various Syrian opposition members this week only confirmed that among and between opposition expats and inside Syria there is some tension present.
As long as the Syrian opposition is unable to display a degree of altruism to unite, it will be far more difficult for outsiders to repeat what they did with Libya's National Transitional Council.
Al-Assad is a stronger dictator in a much more fragile location. Despite these, there are several reasons for Turkey to take the lead in the international campaign against the al-Assad regime at this time, as it left that place for French and British during the Libya uprising.
First, Syria is Turkey's immediate neighbor and a post-Assad regime has to have affinity toward Ankara if Ankara is determined to continue exerting influence in the Middle East in the coming years.
The West called on al-Assad to step down, and they will do everything in their disposal to see he goes. Syria on its way to being a pariah state, appears to be backed only by another international outcast, Iran, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the West. Even Tehran reportedly tried to contact the Syrian opposition this week in Paris.
At this point, Ankara also has used all the rough diplomatic language it can against al-Assad and has met with zero results. Repeating harsher warnings over and again only will create an image of an ineffective Ankara in the region.
While Turkey continues to cultivate its ties with the Syrian opposition factions, and providing them logistics to coordinate, as it has been doing for some time, it now must begin taking action beyond issuing warnings.
Ankara can start discussing how to sanction al-Assad while reassessing its diplomatic presence there, since obviously al-Assad does not heed Ankara's advice.
Turkish officials have said many times in the past that whatever happens in Syria is Turkey's own domestic affairs.
Time to prove it!
I. THE NEWS
The weather has made the headlines around the world in the last month with the depredations of hurricane Irene on the American east coast and numerous reports of extreme meteorology from China, the Philippines and Southeast Asia. We have suffered as well, with the ongoing monsoon season compounding for many millions of us the effects of last year's havoc. There have been flash floods in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa that have completely wiped out some remote communities, and our helicopter pilots have struggled to bring relief to these mountainous areas sometimes flying at the very limits of their operational envelope. Southern Punjab has had severe rains on Wednesday and Thursday, and storms in Rahim Yar Khan have brought down houses and injured 52; 22 of them critically so. But the worst of the damage has again been in Sindh. Flash floods have killed eight, canal banks have been breached and tens of thousands of acres of agricultural land inundated, much of it bearing crops that were close to harvest. Farmers who were just beginning to recover have seen their efforts come to naught.
What is ever clearer as the years pass is that there are dramatic changes in weather patterns the world over, and whether or not one believes the arguments for or against the global warming debate, the reality outside of academic circles is that perhaps billions of people are going to see their lives negatively affected by the weather far into the foreseeable future. Last year's floods in Pakistan were said to be a 'once in a lifetime' event. An event unlikely to happen again for perhaps a century. That has for many been proved wrong, and although this year's floods are not as severe as last, for Sindh and parts of Balochistan, this year is a repeat of last and there is no guarantee that next year will not be the same or worse. For us in a resource-poor and badly administered state the problems are magnified by the consecutive failure to right or repair the damage of the previous year before the current year's monsoon develops. Our responses to natural disaster tend towards the reactive rather than the proactive, and those in need are often the victims of a cruel political environment of preferment and nepotism. Let 2011 be the last year when the weather has caught us poorly prepared. We know what to expect and we have the resources to address weather-related events. What we lack is political will and competent managers. Time for a change in both cases.
I. THE NEWS
VIOLENCE ON EID
As was feared, this year's Eidul Fitr festivities were disrupted by acts of violence in the country. A day normally associated with prayer and celebration became one of grieving for families who lost loved ones to various acts of terrorism. Lives were cut short by bomb explosions and firing incidents in Quetta, Karachi, Lakki Marwat and the Kurram Agency. The security alert that was put in place ahead of Eid failed to prevent unfortunate incidents from occurring in several parts of the country. This latest round of violence serves only to illustrate the extent of the state's failure to perform its most basic duty – that of protecting the lives of citizens.
In Quetta, a bomb planted outside a mosque where a Shia congregation had gathered to offer prayers detonated just as people were leaving the mosque. A total of 11 people were killed and 12 others were injured in what appears to be a continuation of the sectarian violence that the city is all too familiar with; the sporadic killings Karachi has been plagued with resulted in seven more deaths over Eid; in the Kurram Agency where a military operation ended just weeks ago, seven people were killed when a passenger van travelling from Lower to Upper Kurram was ambushed; and in Lakki Marwat in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa a suicide bomber detonated his vest after policemen tried to stop him at a check-post. At least 12 people were killed and several others injured as a result. Additionally, more than 40 houses and shops were damaged. In sum, Eid was celebrated amid fear and apprehension. What is all the more disturbing is that there appears to be no end in sight to this barbaric bloodletting. There is no known course of action in place and any measures that may have been taken have not yielded encouraging results. There are no answers available and no solutions in sight. The murderers who perpetrate these heinous acts may be disparate and motivated by different causes. But they are similar in that they are ruthless and show no signs of stopping.
I. THE NEWS
The gap that exists between mainstream politics and politicians and the youth of the nation is illustrated by a report regarding the prime minister's recent visit to the UK. Several Pakistani youth organisations in the UK have complained to the Pakistan High Commission in London to the effect that they were ignored or sidelined during the PM visit. They claim that the High Commission failed in its duty to give a chance to representative youth organisations to meet with the PM. The High Commission defends itself saying that its functions are all inclusive; people from all walks of life across the political spectrum are invited to these events, and not only PPP supporters or representatives in the UK.
If young people of Pakistani origin living in the UK feel they are being held at arm's length, then how must the youth of Pakistan feel about the manner in which they are being treated by their elected representatives? True, political parties have youth wings, but there is a real sense of disenchantment among the youth. There are 36 million Pakistanis aged 15-25 (Source UNDP-Pakistan). These young people are the human capital of the future. Sadly, there is a miserly investment in education, literacy rates remain low and are actually dropping in some places, and university politics has mostly been hijacked by the extremists. The educated middle class – from which it might be expected that 'new' politicians might emerge – largely eschews politics, not wanting to get its hands dirty. With the political landscape dominated by feudals who run their parties much as they run their estates, there is little incentive for bright young people to seek a career in politics. That PM Gilani did not meet the young Pakistanis of the UK should not surprise us because he is, after all, only doing what comes naturally.
I. THE NEWS
HEC – WHY INDIA FELT THREATENED
On July 23, 2006, an article was published in the leading daily Indian newspaper Hindustan Times, titled "Pak threat to Indian science." It was reported that Prof C N R Rao (chairman of the Indian prime minister's Scientific Advisory Council), had made a detailed presentation to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the rapid strides that Pakistan was making in the higher education sector after the establishment of the Higher Education Commission in October 2002 and my appointment as its first chairman. The article began with the sentence "Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science."
Serious apprehensions were expressed before the Indian prime minister at the rapid progress being made by Pakistan in the higher education and science sectors, first under the ministry of science and technology after my appointment as the federal minister of science and technology of Pakistan in 2000, and later under the Higher Education Commission. It was stressed during the presentation to the Indian prime minister that if India did not take urgent measures to upgrade its own higher education sector, Pakistan would soon take the lead in key areas of higher education, science and technology.
Something remarkable happened in Pakistan during the short period from 2000 to 2008 that rang alarm bells in India. It also drew unmitigated praise from neutral international experts. Three independent and authoritative reports, praising the outstanding performance of the HEC, were published by the World Bank, Usaid and the British Council. Pakistan won several international awards for the revolutionary changes in the higher education sector brought about under the leadership of the writer. The Austrian government conferred its high civil award "Grosse Goldene Ehrenzeischen am Bande" (2007) on the writer for transforming the Higher Education sector in Pakistan. The TWAS (Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, Italy) Award for Institutional Development was conferred on the writer at the academy's 11th general conference in October 2009.
Prof Michael Rode, the chairman of the United Nations Commission on Science, Technology and Development and presently heading a Network of European and Asian Universities (ASIA-UNINET), wrote: "The progress made was breathtaking and has put Pakistan ahead of comparable countries in numerous aspects. The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology has closely monitored the development in Pakistan in the past years, coming to the unanimous conclusion that (the) policy and programme is a 'best-practice' example for developing countries aiming at building their human resources and establishing an innovative, technology-based economy."
Prof Wolfgang Voelter of Tubingen University, who had been conferred two civil awards by the government of Pakistan for his contributions to the development of science in this country, paid glowing tributes in an article published in November 2008: "A miracle happened. The scenario of education, science and technology in Pakistan changed dramatically as never before in the history of Pakistan. The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education recently announced it as 'Pakistan's golden period in higher education.' "
A senior US educational expert, Prof Fred Hayward, independently analysed this sector on behalf of Usaid and wrote: "The Higher Education Commission instituted major upgrades for laboratories and information and communications technology, rehabilitation of facilities, expansion of research support, and development of one of the best digital libraries in the region. Its successes have been remarkable – quality had increased significantly, and several institutions were on their way to becoming world-class institutions. About 95 percent of people sent abroad for training returned, an unusually high result for a developing country in response to improved salaries and working conditions at universities."
The tremendous changes that occurred in Pakistan after the year 2003, compared to the previous 55 years (1947-2002) are illustrated by the following statistics:
1. There were only 59 universities and degree awarding institutes in Pakistan in the year 2001. These grew to 127 such institutions by 2008.
2. University enrolment grew threefold, rising from only 276,000 in 2002 to a remarkable 803,000 by 2010.
3. During the 55-year period between 1947 and 2002, only 1,500 PhD scholarships had been awarded by UGC. During 2003 and 2010, over 8,000 such scholarships were awarded by the HEC through a highly competitive selection process, about 5,000 of these to top universities in the USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
4. The PhD output from our universities between 1947 and 2002 was only 3,321 (an average of only 60 per year). In the subsequent eight-year period, 2003-2010, another 3,651 PhD degrees were granted (an average of 450 per year) after international assessment by eminent experts from technologically advanced countries. Presently it stands at about 700 per year, representing a 1,200 percent increase over the average in the 55-year period.
5. The rapid progress made by Pakistan in the IT and telecom sector from 2000 and 2002 under my charge as federal minister led to the spread of the internet from 29 cities in 2000 to 1,000 cities, towns and villages by 2002, and the spread of fibre from 40 cities to 400 cities in this two-year period. Internet prices were reduced sharply from $87,000 per month for a 2 MB line to only $3,000 per month. The mobile telephony boom began by the drastic lowering of prices, bringing in competition and changing the system, so that the person receiving a call was no longer required to pay any charges. A satellite was placed in space (Paksat 1) at a cost of only $4 million. These changes in the IT infrastructure brought about during the time I was federal minister of science responsible for IT and telecom later proved invaluable for the higher education sector. The Pakistan Educational Research Network was set up in 2004, through which one of the finest digital libraries was established in universities. In 2002, a few university libraries could subscribe to a handful of journals. Today every student in every public sector university has free access to over 20,000 international journals with back volumes and over 60,000 books from 250 international publishers. A silent revolution had occurred.
6. From 1947 to 2002, not a single university could be ranked among the top 600 of the world in international university rankings. By 2008, however, several Pakistani universities achieved this distinction, with NUST (Islamabad) at 273rd in the world, UET (Lahore) at 281 in the world and Karachi University (in natural sciences) at 223 in the world. Others included Quaid-e-Azam University (Islamabad) and Mehran Engineering University (Hyderabad).
Pakistan was poised to make a major breakthrough in transitioning from a low value-added agricultural economy to a knowledge economy. Alas, corrupt politicians with forged degrees plotted to destroy this wonderful institution where all decisions were merit-based, a trait unacceptable to many in power. A government notification was issued on Nov 30, 2010, to fragment the HEC and distribute the pieces. At this point I intervened. It was on my appeal to it that the Supreme Court declared the fragmentation of the HEC to be unconstitutional. The development budget of the HEC has, however, been slashed by 50 percent and most development programmes in universities have come to a grinding halt.
The Indian government need not have worried. We Pakistanis, alas, know how to destroy our own institutions.
The writer is former federal minister for science and technology and former chairman of the Higher Education Commission.
I. THE NEWS
THE KARACHI QUESTION
Criminals are a segment of every society. However, Karachi is unique in the sense that criminals, dacoits and mafias are encouraged, developed and patronised by political parties. And what an irony that the patrons of mafias are expected to protect citizens from them! All three of Karachi's major parties have killers, land grabbers, dacoits and bhatta mafias in their cadres.
The PPP, the MQM and the ANP ruled together and are still in government. We hoped that for the larger interest of the citizens and of the nation all three will expel criminals from their cadres or will allow the administration to deal with them. But we were wrong and no one is ready to surrender his patronised mafias. Each party wishes to have stern action taken against criminals of other parties. The trend is now trickling down to minor parties in the city and they are also organising their own mafias. The net result for a trader, who previously used to pay bhatta to one party, is that now he is compelled to pay bhatta to five different groups. The current situation suggests that even if the MQM and the PPP agreed on any formula for Karachi, it will be of an administrative nature and a mere power-sharing formula. There is very little hope for a real solution.
For the majority the obvious and ultimate solution is the military. There are many voices from different sectors in favour of a military operation. In fact, Karachiites are ready to welcome any force that could protect them from mass killers and their patrons. However, military might has no capacity to find a solution. Rather, with military intervention the issue would get more complex. There is no doubt about the patriotism, professionalism and combat capacity of the army, but the military is not meant this kind of action. Primarily, the military is trained to combat enemies and protect borders. In a military operation a soldier sees only a fellow-soldier as his friend, and all others are, if not foes, then at least strangers. This is not a fault at all. Rather, it is a strength, and a result of the training a soldier receives.
Ten years back when the army was entering the tribal areas it was greeted with flowers and the elders of tribes personally welcomed them. But now, after a decade, there is still no peace, no one can sleep without fear and the army is unable to withdraw from the areas. If tehsiladars and political agents were used with political skill and will, the problem would have been solved years ago. It is basically lack of political and diplomatic process that our army is failed to restore peace in the tribal areas and Balochistan. Rather, it getting worst and the army's credibility is at stake.
In the case of Swat the military operation proved to be successful. But if the political forces and government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa did not introduce much-needed administrative and judicial reforms, it seems all the efforts and sacrifices of the military and people of Swat will go in vain.
The capacity and potentials of a trained military officer is a proven fact, but he never could know the area better than the SHO. He knows who is who in his area. He knows both white-collar and blue-collar people. He also knows the real noble families in the area and the criminals who pretend to belong to the nobility. While the police is the main culprit in many things that are wrong in Pakistani society, they also have the capacity to restore peace.
The Karachi police failed because it is not allowed to take action against criminals. The same applies to the Rangers. The persons listed as wanted in their books are darlings of one political leader or the other. They plan to take action against mafias but their interior minister publicly announces that he is the biggest don. The police prefer to establish their own links with criminals. The police and the Rangers are appropriate tools for the restoration of peace in Karachi. However, this is not possible with the existing administrative setup.
The solution is to establish Governor's Rule in the province with a governor who could not be influenced by any party, especially one of the three. He or she must be supported by the military and the judiciary and president of Pakistan assure that he or she must not be removed from office for a certain period of time. Any such proposal will be resisted by big parties in Karachi. But if the opposition parties, the media and civil society pursue the agenda of a neutral governor with real authority, this could be achieved.
Indeed, the military should avoid direct intervention, but mere expressions of concerns over the Karachi situation is not enough. In the past it has played a positive role from behind the scenes, and this is what it is required to do in the present situation. The leaders of Karachi and Sindh must be warned that if they are not ready for Governor's Rule for a certain period of time, they should prepare for military rule. The present situation in Karachi and the resulting demand from citizens will compel the military to intervene. But it is evident that the military will not be limited to Karachi and it will also came in Lahore and Islamabad. If the military is in the west and north and takes the situation in its hands in the south, then why on earth will it not do so in the centre too.
The writer works for Geo TV.Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
DEVOLVING HEALTH-PART - II
DR SANIA NISHTAR
Pakistan's Ministry of Health was abolished on June 30 and a number of federal health responsibilities were placed under the jurisdiction of seven other government ministries/divisions. The dynamics of this change and the questions emerging as a result thereof have been discussed in a column published on July 23. This comment presents an option for the way forward with regard to entrusting national/federal health responsibilities to appropriate institutions at the federal level. Most of these functions are linked to each other. Information, a key responsibility, has to be consolidated across streams that in turn inform high-level decisions related to national roles, in particular disease security, trade in health, federal fiscalism, external resource mobilisation, each with a deep bearing on provincial and district level service delivery, health financing, human resource management and health governance.
Failure to retain national responsibilities and ensure their institutional linkages can have serious consequences. I have attempted to illustrate these by building five hypothetical scenarios:
Scenario 1, 2013: Pakistan becomes the last remaining reservoir of poliovirus transmission in the world and is jeopardising worldwide efforts to eradicate a disease for the second time from this planet. Buffer stocks of vaccine have been depleted and the weaker provinces have not been able to put procurement systems in place. There is no concordance in national immunisation days across provinces and the number of newly reported cases is burgeoning.
Scenario 2, 2012: There is an outbreak of Avian influenza in Asia and cases have been detected in Pakistan. None of the provinces take responsibility. Health information is fragmented. Emergency preparedness is under Cabinet Division, which is fire fighting on many fronts. The Central Health Establishment, responsible for health-related border security, is placed under the Division for Inter-Provincial coordination, which is inundated with many post-devolution responsibilities. No one owns infectious disease surveillance, all elements of which have been "devolved" with devolution of national programmes. Pakistan is not compliant with International Health Regulations, 2005. If scenario 1 and 2 actually dawn, the country risks becoming a "global health pariah".
Scenario 3, 2012: After devolution of "regulatory responsibilities" a patient from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and service provider from Punjab lock horns in litigation in a malpractice suit. Both provinces have different standards for quality and service regulation and a dilemma arises about the standards courts are to apply.
Scenario 4, 2012: An acute shortage of nurses is precipitated in Punjab as a human resource placement firm in Balochistan starts exporting nurses to the gulf countries. In a country where trade – including cross border supply of services and migration of human resource – is guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 151, cross border movement of human resource cannot be controlled.
Scenario 5, 2012: Pakistan is criticised at a multilateral forum for setting a wrong precedent for other federating systems. Some of the major development partners decide to pull out support since they cannot be responsive to four "windows" instead of one and do not want to operate in an uncertain environment. Pakistan risks losing millions of needed "health dollars" from GAVI and the Global Fund. Word limit precludes me from painting other scenarios.
Appropriately synchronised federal health structures can safeguard against such malfunctions. However, these must never encroach on provincial space in health but should strictly be confined to "national roles". The proposal of the Health Division under a relevant ministry still stands as the best option. However, since this is perceived as being against the spirit of devolution, the next-best option for the proposed national structure is being presented. This is outlined in an illustration accessible at http://www.heartfile.org/pdf/devolutionfinalfigure.pdf
The option comprises many steps.
First, a "health structure," which consolidates national responsibilities to the extent possible, should be delineated. The National Institute of Health's (NIH) mandate could be expanded so that it can assume that role. The idea of an Epidemiology Division, which was mooted previously by some experts is relevant in this regard. This division, as the centrepiece and hub for health information can become an important federal institution. In the originally floated idea, the division had the mandate to deal with Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR), its subset the Disease Early Warning System (DEWS), the Epidemic Investigation Cell (EIC) and the Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP), all critical for ensuring disease security. In the post-devolution situation, its mandate can be broadened so that it also assumes the broader responsibility for health information and engages in collating, consolidating and analysing information and relaying it to the appropriate decision-making level. In this role it would then also be linked to the Federal Bureau of Statistics, which houses the National Health Accounts Cell and conducts the PDS and PSLM surveys, all relevant for health sector planning. In addition institutional linkages would also have to be established with the National Institute of Population Studies, the Pakistan Medical Research Council and the District Health Information System (DHIS) and where relevant, its precursor, the Health Management and Information System.
Devolution of national public health programmes is an opportunity to integrate silo surveillance systems, which can either be combined in the IDSR or the DHIS. For example, the EPI's case-based surveillance, its sentinel surveillance sites for Bacterial Meningitis and Rotavirus, and its Measles case-based surveillance, can be combined in the IDRS for notifiable diseases, or its sub-set, DEWS. Many aspects of routine EPI surveillance such as immunisation coverage, stock position and monthly reporting can be integrated with the DHIS, as can the management information components of all other programmes.
Secondly, a convening entity – for example, a board – for high-level policy relevant to national roles in areas related to disease security, trade in health, federal fiscalism, external resource mobilisation, and inter-provincial coordination should be formed and can be entrusted with advisory, technical support and oversight functions. The convening entity should have an adequately resourced technical secretariat, which can be housed at an appropriate institutional structure. The board can have close linkages with the devolution unit in the Economic Affairs Division to which responsibility for donor linkages has been entrusted, the devolution unit in the Cabinet Division, where the government desires to place emergency preparedness, and the health unit in the Planning Commission.
The enclosed figure also shows how two other institutions will continue to report to a relevant ministry, the Pakistan Medical Research Council (PMRC) and the Health Services Academy. The proposed new Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan has been shown reporting to the Cabinet Division, since all autonomous regulatory agencies have the same reporting relationship. However, technical oversight would be necessary. It has also been proposed that attention be accorded to other human resource regulatory agencies, such as the PMRC, the Nursing Council, etc at the same level.
In proposing this solution I have gone out of the way to accommodate sensitivities about the 18thAmendment – in particular notions relating to going-against-the-spirit-of-devolution. The solution is accommodative in terms of retaining what the government has already created and builds further on that. Creation of the epidemiology division at NIH and the policy board is envisaged to cement the current post-devolution fragmentation of health to the extent possible, given current constraints.
Decision-makers must commit themselves to resurrecting national roles in health. Without attention to these, the spirit enshrined within devolution, provincial empowerment for enhancing their capacity and ownership to deliver services can be seriously undermined.
The writer is the founding president of the NGO thinktank, Heartfile.
I. THE NEWS
BEYOND BACHCHA SAQQA STATES
DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
Each dictator must go down in his own way; they are unable to learn from each other. As he now scurries, Libya's dictator may hold on for a while before ending up in a hole like Saddam Hussain of Iraq, but sooner or later, he will see the end of his days. That end will be just his individual fate. What he would leave behind will be far from over: a country without any institutions, an economy without any foundation, a polity without any grounding in a political culture or tradition of any variety, whether secular or religious. All dictators do that. This is the worst aspect of their autocratic rule.
Viewed from this perspective, today the entire Muslim world is a huge political wasteland with only a few exceptions. Any aspirant Bachcha Saqqa can come forward with enough cunning and cruelty and install himself on the throne. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entire middle belt of the Muslim world is prone to this legacy of the previous century. Yet, cunning and cruel as they are, no Bachcha Saqqa can now ascend to the throne without the active backing of the western powers, most importantly that of the United States, Britain and France. This is not only because of their enormous political leverage institutionalised through the handmaiden called the United Nations, but primarily due to their military hardware. The recent case of Libya is a classic example not only of the unjust UN role, but also of the coming together of European and American interests in the oil-rich Libyan desert; it is also a showcase of the impotence of the non-western states in an era of increasing western imperialism.
Above all, it is their devastating airpower that has emerged as the decisive force in the twenty-first century wars: the so-called Libyan revolution has been airborne on the wings of Royal Air Force. Had it not been for death and destruction raining down from the skies, the rebels would still be rebels. Despite a degree of relief one feels at the departure of Qaddafi, one cannot really rejoice in this airborne revolution.
This is the third time in a decade, that Nato forces – read US, British and French forces – have affected a regime change in the Muslim world. The midwifery role of western politicians in the birth of a "new" Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya is not without adequate wages to be paid to these countries by generations of Afghans, Iraqis and Libyans. One cannot, however, look too far into the future in this post-modern era; things are changing so rapidly that Europe's blood-drenched past is mingling with US-European neo-colonialism of the present era, in an equally blood-drenched scenario, now unfolding in many countries and already etched in so many villages and cities of occupied Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
And all of this is being done with deliberate lies, duplicity, shameless counterfeits: the manner in which UN resolution 1973 was extended beyond any legal limits by Britain, France, and United States to kill hundreds of Libyans is indicative of this new trend. The mission that began as an effort to protect civilians, ended up killing a lot of them. The plain facts are not easy to hide: Britain took the lead in this case and decided to install a regime of its own liking. In the new book of colonisation, the modus operandi section states: take an active role in fermenting civil strife; then become partner in the resultant civil war, use selective air power, special forces, and advisors, and finally implement regime change.
The tide has certainly turned against unpopular authoritarian regimes. But the western intervention is not for the good of the oppressed people, but for its own good. In Libya, their raison d'être was that the cruel colonel was about to carry out a massacre of civilians in Benghazi after he threatened to hunt down rats "house to house". It is unimaginable that he could have overrun an armed and hostile city of 700,000 people. This was the flimsiest of Nato's fig leaf to justify its onslaught and deliver regime change from the air.
This should not be misread: the euphoria on the streets of Libyan cities is real. But it is just that: a short-lived euphoria, a sense of relief, before we start to hear about the real toll on civilians from some 20,000 air sorties, huge supplies of western arms and logistical support provided by Nato. The British government's policy of no boots on the ground is also going to change soon: first in the form of some troops to "stabilise" the new government, then advisors and finally a fully operative colonial structure.
A new era has dawned. Ten years after the fatal eleventh of September, 2001, the Muslim world has finally and perhaps irrecoverably become hostage to a new wave of western colonisation. Not all countries are up for transition at this point: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, the entire Gulf region, Kuwait and Jordan are able to deliver; their old rulers will remain in place, so no voice for the human rights, no concern for their brutality, no need for a new democracy in these countries. At least not yet. But the sword is hanging over them now. Time is ticking and we are entering an era beyond the reign of Bachcha Saqqas, into the comfort of western midwives.
The writer is a freelance columnist.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
DOING THE RIGHT THING
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
Zulfiqar Mirza is not a likable fellow. It is his own utterances that have earned him the perception of not just being a bully but one that is brash, egotistical and bigoted. Yet his press conference this past week was not just persuasive and disarming, but sounded like a wake-up call. It was not just the content of his revelations but the directness with which Mirza approached much that is taboo in the realm of politics and statecraft that was incredible. Even more extraordinary was the identity of this whistleblower. It wasn't Imran Khan echoing the sentiment of Pakistan's urban middle class, criticising the ruling elite for its selfishness, corruption and abuse of authority. In a socio-cultural sense, Mirza is an embodiment of the feudal Sindhi mindset. His position within the PPP is a product of his affinity with Asif Zardari and not Benazir Bhutto. And as a politician, he was repository to the ugly realities of Karachi and power politics, as opposed to being an unblemished outsider.
Mirza did not set out to defend his personal actions or those of his party. But in admitting his own failings in Karachi, he unwittingly distinguished between crimes of commission and omission, and asserted that while PPP might be responsible for the latter it was the MQM that ought to be held to account for the former. By speaking of the unspeakable – Altaf Hussain's alleged criminality and the MQM's brutish ways – Mirza exhibited courage. But he did not address the press conference from a position of moral righteousness, but political pragmatism. While he shunned party office, his cabinet position and his membership of the Sindh Assembly, he reiterated his abiding allegiance to the PPP. Thus, he didn't attempt to project himself as an emblem of scrupulousness, but came across as a conflicted man struggling to strike the right balance between his assumed obligations of solidarity to his family, friends, Asif Zardari, PPP and its jiyala culture on the one hand and his desire to do the right thing on the other.
It was these obvious contradictions that made Mirza's account believable, and inspired hope and hopelessness all at once. Is the reality of Karachi so ugly that even powerful insiders are forced to throw their hands up in helplessness and withdraw from politics? Or is there hope that notwithstanding dilemmas of loyalty, neither power and its compulsions nor threats of physical violence can drown out the piercing voice of one's conscience? What was it that finally tipped Mirza over? Was it Sindhi nationalism and the law enforcement action in Lyari? Did he take Zardari into confidence before going public with his charge sheet? Did he have the president's tacit approval to spill the beans? None of this really matters anymore. Zulfiqar Mirza has formally alleged what many people across Pakistan already suspected. His utterances cannot be erased, ignored or refuted simply by the MQM's denial, counteraccusations or hollow rhetoric or the PPP's reconciliatory expediency.
There are multiple issues highlighted by Mirza's disclosures that need consideration, foremost being the MQM's alleged usurpation of fundamental rights of the people of Sindh and the refusal of state institutions to uphold these constitutionally protected entitlements. Altaf Hussain's fascist ways, the MQM's reign of terror across Karachi and Hyderabad, and its uninhibited resort to violence are matters of the legend. Zulfiqar Mirza has now declared vociferously that the muzzled charges against Altaf Hussain and the MQM have substance. While his previous outbursts might have smacked of prejudice, this time around he has made concrete allegations that are factually verifiable. He has alleged that Altaf Hussain is a killer and a traitor. He has contended that the MQM is responsible for Wali Babar's murder. He has asserted that assassins reared by the MQM were let out on parole in the dozens in 2008 and prisoners continue to be moved from one prison to another to defeat the law.
Mirza has stated that Governor Sindh Ishrat-ul-Ebad "fields" terrorists and patronises the land mafia. He has charged that the MQM indulges in extortion as a matter of policy and launders its exploits out of Pakistan. He has accused Altaf Hussain for offering political and street support to the UK in lieu of the latter's help in dissolving the ISI. And most disturbing, he has sworn that Altaf Hussain shared with him his intention to continue killing the Pathans in Karachi and to assist the US in its design to redraw Pakistan's boundaries and carve a new state out of Sindh. In other words, according to Mirza, Altaf Hussain and the MQM reject Article 5 (loyalty to state and obedience to Constitution and law) and are liable under Article 6 (treason for conspiring to subvert the Constitution), in terms of their obligations to the state.
And if Mirza's allegations have substance, the MQM is responsible for expropriating the following constitutional rights of fellow citizens: Article 9 (right to life and liberty); Article 10 (safeguards against illegal detention); Article 14 (inviolability of dignity of man); Article 15 (freedom of movement); Article 16 (freedom of assembly); Article 17 (freedom of association); Article 18 (freedom of trade, business or profession); Article 19 (freedom of speech); Article 24 (protection against deprivation of property); and Article 25 (entitlement to equal protection of the law). Nonsensical press conferences such as the one recently conducted by Faisal Sabzwari will not cut it anymore for the MQM. The extremely grave charges levelled by Mirza – backed by documentary evidence also presented by him – can only be laid to rest after a rigorous factual inquiry.
Let Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq come out and contradict Mirza's account of the meeting with Altaf Hussain. Let the Karachi corps commander, DG ISI and the army chief deny that Mirza never reported the murderous intent that Altaf Hussain shared with him in London. Let the MQM and the British government state that the letter reportedly written by Altaf Hussain to Tony Blair is a forgery. Let the MQM explain who runs and protects the elaborate network of terror-mongers, extortionists, land grabbers, car snatchers and kidnappers in a city that the MQM has a stranglehold over. Let Altaf Hussain, Ishrat-ul-Ebad and other MQM leaders sue Mirza for defaming their good names and stealing their virtue. Zulfiqar Mirza has let the genie out of the bottle. It cannot be forced back in.
Tyranny remains equally brutal whether practiced in the name of religion or a secular ideology. The denial of rights and liberties to ordinary citizens is as culpable in Karachi as it is in Swat. At stake in both instances is the rule of law and the writ and legitimacy of the state. Probably more daunting is the challenge posed to rule of law by a genuine political force embroiled in criminality and violence, as opposed to a religious militia, for the former tends to erode the credibility of constitutional democracy from within. After Mirza's disclosures the institutions of the state – the federal and provincial governments, the parliament, and the judiciary – obligated to protect and defend the constitution and rule of law in Pakistan no longer have the luxury to look the other way. The ruling regime cannot use the mantra of reconciliation to evade its legal obligation to quell criminality and violence in Karachi. And the media must no longer indulge in self-censorship out of the fear of the MQM goons.
Be it in dealing with the MQM, the Sindhi nationalists or Rehman Malik, Zulfiqar Mirza's actions have only strengthened Asif Zardari's hand so far. But if the president elects indolence or opts to sleep with the MQM to aggrandise his political power, he will become an abettor of the crimes Mirza has accused the MQM of perpetrating. And Asif Zardari would do so at his own peril.
I. THE NEWS
MEMO FROM USA
A battle between salt & pepper and ripe orange rages at the Capitol Hill in Washington DC! The man with the orange tan wields his gavel as no speaker has done before. John Boehner, leader of the House of Representatives who swept floors in his father's bar as a kid, made history by turning down the world's most powerful man, the President of the United States. Barack Obama, son of a black Muslim from Kenya with a middle name like 'Hussein', was bluntly told by Boehner 'No, you can't!' Obama wanted to address the Congress on September 7.
A prisoner of his own multi-racial DNA, Obama is mocked by many white Americans as a 'foreigner' with a funny name; others accuse him of being a Muslim. But his arch 'enemy' today is his own hair. He's having too many bad hair days! His bête noire Boehner's orange tan appears winning the race for supremacy. The tangy acid oozing out of the man whose 'weird' tan was once the butt of jokes by the snobbish press corps in Washington is swiftly eating into Obama's populism.
The latest spat between the two men has left many Americans wondering if both the men are for real or zombies. With hurricane Irene leaving millions without power and many hundreds homeless and a hefty dent of tens of billions to the US Treasury, Mr Salt & Pepper and Mr Orange are busy in point scoring. Exploiting the impasse is the Tea Party (another funny name?). The woman leading the charge of this raucous group of Republican lawmakers is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, mother of five. Her appeal, apart from advocating a wife's "submission" to the "will of her husband" is her gloriously swinging mane of red hair. It catches the sunlight as she stands on the podium and dazzles all with her immaculate wardrobe, comely contours and a free flowing auburn sheath exuding self-confidence and glamour of a film star.
Hairstylists across America are heard saying that Bachmann's hair matches her personality of a Tea Party rebel. "Anyone that really expresses themselves and speaks their mind, people want to be like them and look like them," is the considered opinion of fashionistas. Question: Will her hair win her the White House in 2012 polls? Probably not, but until Sarah Palin, another star with sterling hairdos announces her candidacy for president, Bachmann hogs the starlight.
Meanwhile, the man with the orange tan calls the shots, determined to thwart every move the beleaguered president makes. With just over a year left for Obama to wrest a second term in the White House, many sceptics think he needs a drastic makeover. Especially his hair...he looks like a scrawny preacher from a local parsonage with his suits hanging loose on his bony frame. The tired etchings crossing his furrow reach deep down to his drooping lip line. He needs Botox!
The president compares poorly to his male challengers like slick Mitt Romney, foxy Rick Perry and smooth Jon Huntsman. The three Republican stalwarts fighting to elbow each other as the final presidential candidate sport a head of hair which is the envy of all American men past their prime. When the three go out on the campaign trail, you never see a single strand out of place. Their thickets, carefully combed back, polished and Brylcreemed (gel's ancestor) make for a far sexier image than 'poor old' Barack Obama. On top of it he's black unlike the other three.
Zardari hates black and flashy ties. Former PPP Senator Enver Baig claims he got dumped for daring to flaunt AZ's orders never to appear before him dressed in black or wearing a "colourful tie".
Does colour dictate our choice and drive our likes and dislikes of humans? Sadly yes.
The writer is a freelance journalist. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
MEMO FROM USA
A battle between salt & pepper and ripe orange rages at the Capitol Hill in Washington DC! The man with the orange tan wields his gavel as no speaker has done before. John Boehner, leader of the House of Representatives who swept floors in his father's bar as a kid, made history by turning down the world's most powerful man, the President of the United States. Barack Obama, son of a black Muslim from Kenya with a middle name like 'Hussein', was bluntly told by Boehner 'No, you can't!' Obama wanted to address the Congress on September 7.
A prisoner of his own multi-racial DNA, Obama is mocked by many white Americans as a 'foreigner' with a funny name; others accuse him of being a Muslim. But his arch 'enemy' today is his own hair. He's having too many bad hair days! His bête noire Boehner's orange tan appears winning the race for supremacy. The tangy acid oozing out of the man whose 'weird' tan was once the butt of jokes by the snobbish press corps in Washington is swiftly eating into Obama's populism.
The latest spat between the two men has left many Americans wondering if both the men are for real or zombies. With hurricane Irene leaving millions without power and many hundreds homeless and a hefty dent of tens of billions to the US Treasury, Mr Salt & Pepper and Mr Orange are busy in point scoring. Exploiting the impasse is the Tea Party (another funny name?). The woman leading the charge of this raucous group of Republican lawmakers is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, mother of five. Her appeal, apart from advocating a wife's "submission" to the "will of her husband" is her gloriously swinging mane of red hair. It catches the sunlight as she stands on the podium and dazzles all with her immaculate wardrobe, comely contours and a free flowing auburn sheath exuding self-confidence and glamour of a film star.
Hairstylists across America are heard saying that Bachmann's hair matches her personality of a Tea Party rebel. "Anyone that really expresses themselves and speaks their mind, people want to be like them and look like them," is the considered opinion of fashionistas. Question: Will her hair win her the White House in 2012 polls? Probably not, but until Sarah Palin, another star with sterling hairdos announces her candidacy for president, Bachmann hogs the starlight.
Meanwhile, the man with the orange tan calls the shots, determined to thwart every move the beleaguered president makes. With just over a year left for Obama to wrest a second term in the White House, many sceptics think he needs a drastic makeover. Especially his hair...he looks like a scrawny preacher from a local parsonage with his suits hanging loose on his bony frame. The tired etchings crossing his furrow reach deep down to his drooping lip line. He needs Botox!
The president compares poorly to his male challengers like slick Mitt Romney, foxy Rick Perry and smooth Jon Huntsman. The three Republican stalwarts fighting to elbow each other as the final presidential candidate sport a head of hair which is the envy of all American men past their prime. When the three go out on the campaign trail, you never see a single strand out of place. Their thickets, carefully combed back, polished and Brylcreemed (gel's ancestor) make for a far sexier image than 'poor old' Barack Obama. On top of it he's black unlike the other three.
Zardari hates black and flashy ties. Former PPP Senator Enver Baig claims he got dumped for daring to flaunt AZ's orders never to appear before him dressed in black or wearing a "colourful tie".
Does colour dictate our choice and drive our likes and dislikes of humans? Sadly yes.
The writer is a freelance journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
CJ'S WAKE UP CALL TO SINDH GOVT
THE Chief Justice of Pakistan has made very pertinent observations that it is time for the Sindh Government to wake up and act immediately to curb violence in Karachi. During hearing of the suo motu notice on Tuesday about worsening law and order situation in Karachi, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry slammed the Sindh Government over the rise in violence and its failure to stem the rot.
The Chief Justice is genuinely worried over the alarming situation in Karachi and it is appropriate that the hearing is also taking place at the Karachi Registry. As stated by the CJP, it is now clear that the Provincial Government lacks the will and determination to deal with the situation with an iron hand. Each time the violence escalates, Interior Minister is rushed to the mega city to hold talks with stakeholders and direct the law enforcement agencies about operations. We think the Chief Minister who has a lacklustre personality and does not inspire confidence; either has no power or is unable to take decisions. It is the responsibility of the Provincial Chief Executive to provide security to the citizens yet he appears to be satisfied just by attending meetings and doing nothing practical. It was perhaps due to weak administrative capabilities of the Chief Minister, that Shaheed Benazir Bhutto did not consider him to head the Provincial Government during her two tenures though he was Provincial head and an old party guard. The city and in turn the country are suffering colossal losses of all sorts as half-hearted steps are delivering no results. Even now the operations in selected areas are just a face saving exercise. The police has been unable to identify victims of target killings and those playing with the lives of innocent people. Cases against unknown persons are registered at the police stations just to complete formalities. None of the accused were presented in Anti-terrorism courts and that shows the incompetence of the Police force. Though already too late, there is still time that the Provincial Government acts against all sorts of gangs and criminals involved in target killings setting aside their political influence otherwise a time could come when it would be sent packing on charges of inefficiency, incompetence and even backing the law violators. At the same time, we would submit to the CJP that he should continue hearing the case in Karachi on daily basis and give his views for a way out for a lasting solution of the problem.
HANDING OVER POWER HOUSES TO PRIVATE SECTOR
THE business community has endorsed the government's plan to hand over power houses to the private sector for a specified time in a bid to transform them into profit making entities. Over the last three and a half years, despite tall claims the Government has not been able to add the required amount of electricity in the system to meet the shortfall and overcome the much maligned load shedding.
For almost forty years, it was the prerogative of WAPDA to install hydel and thermal powerhouses to meet the increasing industrial and domestic demand. But with increased demand and administrative changes, the tempo was lost and the power generation could not keep pace with the demand. Whether those decisions were right or wrong are things of the past and the immediate need is how to add additional electricity and overcome the line losses. In fact the government admits that the installed generation capacity of around 19000MW is there but other hurdles including the circular debt are the causes that are impinging exploitation of full potential. Nearly one third of the electricity now being generated comes from hydel sector which is very cheap and costs less than half the tariff being charged from the consumers. Even then the issue of circular debt raises its ugly head every now and then and just before Eidul Fitr, IPPs had threatened to shut their plants if PEPCO did not make payment of their dues. After every two months power tariffs are being raised and if the issue of circular debt cannot be settled then, one comes to the conclusion that there is something terribly wrong within the system. It is known to every one that theft of huge amount of electricity is going on unchecked in connivance with those who are responsible to check it while large number of public sector departments are in default of the dues. In such a situation the suggestion is very positive to hand over the power companies to the private sector to help check the line losses but we may caution that the private operators must be made to invest a part of their income in maintenance and upgradation of the system and if this was not done, the whole system would collapse.
COST OF US ADVENTURISM
THE United States has spent more than a trillion dollars in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a report says that $30 billion were wasted on contracts and grants in the two countries. A report by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies even estimates the total cost at $3.7 trillion.
It is a huge cost and that is why there is a hue and cry in the country and people have started questioning how and why there is a necessity for US adventurism and for that taxpayers are being burdened. Because of these misadventures, which are legacies of senior and junior Bush, the American economy is witnessing downslide, unemployment is on the rise and as a result the popularity of Obama, the first black President is dwindling and there are doubts whether he would be able to win the second term. As the US would be remembering the 9/11 gory incident this month, it is time for the leadership to have a review of its policy of aggressions in Iraq and Afghanistan and see what it achieved comparing with failures and losses. The country, which is world's largest economy is now depending on Chinese loans and forced to massive cuts in budget. We believe that the US economy can no more sustain huge costs for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The draw down of 33,000 troops would not be significant because still there would remain 70,000 American troops in Afghanistan and according to estimates each soldier costs more than two million dollar a year and therefore it is time that the US policy of adventurism in different parts of the world to show its muscles should come to an end.
ASSAILANTS OF TWO-NATION THEORY
NEWS & VIEWS
A debate is raging in the media since Mian Nawaz Sharif during his address at the SAFMA seminar on 13th August 2011 said that India and Pakistan had a common heritage of culture; even their language and eating habits are similar, which is travesty of the truth. According to private TV channel Waqat News, Nawaz Sharif has also reportedly said that Indian and Pakistanis worship the same god. Whereas Pakistan should have good relations with all the countries of the world especially neighbouring countries, there is no need to find or contrive the commonalities that do not exist. It is true that both countries would benefit from good relations, as instead of spending on defence they would divert their resources for the welfare of their downtrodden masses. But the question is how India and Pakistan have good relations unless all outstanding disputes between th em are resolved?
A long time family friend of Sharifs, Mr. Majid Nizami, Chairman Nazaria Pakistan Trust and Editor-in-Chief took exception to Mian Nawaz Sharif's remarks; and during his address on Pakistan Day stated: "Pakistan was achieved on the basis of Two-Nations Theory; how the culture of two nations could be the same. We worship one God and Indians believe in idols and their gods have five heads". One does not understand how Mian Nawaz Sharif, who is head of Pakistan Muslim League that had launched Pakistan movement under the guidance of Quaid-e-Azam and carved out a state on the basis of Two-Nation theory, could negate the very basis for the creation of Pakistan. Meanwhile, detractors of Pakistan have supported Mian Nawaz Sharif's statement and used this opportunity occasion to lash out on the Two-Nation theory. Pseudo-intellectuals, some writers and media men often distort history and logic but the fact remains that basis for the creation of Pakistan was the Two-Nation theory which was accepted by the British, Indian National Congress and the world at large.
It has to be mentioned that the concept of Two-Nation theory was relevant in the undivided India, after this concept was translated into action and implemented when Pakistan emerged on the world map on 14th August 1947, the debate should have ended. It appears that there is a systematic propaganda campaign by the enemies and so-called friends of Pakistan through palmed off media men, intellectuals and some politicians. The motivation behind this sinister scheme is to demolish founding fathers, the concept behind creation of Pakistan and also denigrate military and the ISI so that they could push Pakistan to play second fiddle to India by accepting its hegemony. It is unfortunate that some Pakistani intellectuals, politicians, and some misguided religious scholars and media men denigrate Quaid-e-Azam by giving a spin to his statements with a view to proving their respective points.
Quaid-e-Azam during his broadcast talk to the people of the United States of America had categorically stated: "The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principle of Islam…In any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission". The Quaid was a great visionary, and he could visualize that scholars of different sects would go berserk if their version of Islam was not implemented. He therefore had focused on ameliorating the lot of the common people, so that they could lead their lives according to their faith. Quaid-e-Azam, in his 11th August 1947 speech had of course dwelt on almost every aspect and facet of the state.
Among other things, he had warned about the curse of corruption, nepotism and other social malaises that could eat into the vitals of society. He had assured the minorities that they would enjoy equal rights in Pakistan. Unfortunately, radicalism emerged after Afghan jihad, and there have been cases of suicide attacks on military check posts and institutions, mosques and shrines. More than five thousand military personnel and 35000 innocent people have been killed during the last ten years. A very few incidents of attacks on members of minority community have been noted, but that happens in India - the largest democracy of the world - and also in other established and entrenched democracies. It is true that inept leadership and its flawed decisions have brought Pakistan to the present pass; however people are determined to change the status quo and bring about a change in the system to end graft, corruption, social inequities and secure a respectable in the comity of nations.
However, detractors of Pakistan always find some ammo for their onslaught on Pakistan. A freelance journalist Marvi Sirmed has recently written an article in a local English daily under the caption "BAAGHI: a head-on collisions with the hawks", after an encounter with the anchorperson of private TV channel. She appreciated Mian Nawaz Sharif's remarks about commonality of culture and wrote: "If we still describe ourselves as a separate 'nation' from our own Hindu, Christian, Sikh and other religious communities and justify building borders based on this 'separation', just imagine what exactly we are saying. What we are saying is, every community other than Muslims is justified and entitled to demand a separate country even today". In another article carried by the same English daily, captioned "Moving beyond Jinnah's Pakistan", author Fahd Ali referred to 14th August 1947 speech of the Quaid before the Constituent Assembly, and tried to disgrace the Quaid. He wrote: "In some ways perhaps Jinnah's statement reflects the enormity of the burden that he felt by creating a nation-state that he accepted only half-heartedly; ironically making that statement Jinnah was attempting to do away with the communal politics that had brought him (and the rest of the country) to that point". It has to be mentioned that foreigners including Indians who despite showing their aversion to creation of Pakistan have acknowledged that Congress and brute Hindu majority had pushed Muslims against the wall. One could find the following facts in many history books written by Hindu authors: 'Medium of instructions in schools was Hindi, and despite vociferous demand by the Muslims, Urdu medium schools were not established. In schools, it was compulsory to sing Vanday Matram for all students including Muslims. And on festivals, Muslims were not allowed to celebrate with enthuse and religious fervour, which led to Hindu-Muslim riots in which mostly Muslims were killed.
It was true that Quaid-e-Azam had been trying to secure rights of the Muslim of the sub-continent. However, when Gandhi categorically stated that Congress alone represented India, and Nehru was not willing to give sterling guarantees to the Muslims, Quaid-e-Azam made up his mind that at an opportune time he would not accept less than a separate homeland for the Muslims. Jaswant Singh's book titled "Jinnah, India, Independence and Partition" released on August 17, 2009 exposed Indian leaders' mindset during struggle for independence, and like any other historian has put the blame for partition of India in 1947 on Jawaharlal Nehru and other Congress leaders. He wrote in the book: "However, it has to be said, and with great sadness, that despite some early indications to the contrary, the leaders of the Indian National Congress, in the period between the outbreak of war in 1939 and the country's partition in 1947, showed in general, a sad lack of realism, of foresight, of purpose and of will."
—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.
ZARDARI'S TURN TO GET DITCHED!
ASIF HAROON RAJA
The US and its three strategic allies Israel, Britain and India, the champions of terrorism, made terrorism as an excuse to vandalize Muslims and to defame Islam. The clever band backed by Zionists projected terrorism as the most horrifying thing this world had ever seen and the biggest threat to world peace and security. The specter of terrorism was created through stage managed terrorist attacks in New York on 9/11 in which about 3000 people died. The Jewish controlled media spun into action to frighten and convince the world that without undertaking a crusade against Islam inspired terrorism, there will be no peace. The media kept churning horror stories in which Muslims were described as the demons and kept the world scared and glued towards the exploits of US led counter terror forces.
The master planners took cover behind the façade of liberating the Muslims from the clutches of tyrants who till then were their blue eyed boys and had helped USA in promoting its brand of imperialism in the third world. They kept humming about establishment of true democracy in the Middle East and in Afghanistan from behind the foliage of deceit, lies and duplicity to hide their crimes and to continue with their excesses. Eager to steal the resources of Muslim world, the headstrong and heartless rulers of powerful countries egged on by defence, oil and construction corporations remained fixated with the concept that shock and awe alone would subdue all their opponents. They were sure that whatever expenditure incurred on fighting global terrorism would be recovered from the occupied countries. Afghanistan and Iraq were thoroughly destroyed to allow its construction companies to rebuild from the resources of ruined countries. They got so puffed up with apparent successes in Afghanistan and Iraq that no amount of reasoning and logic propounded by saner elements to put an end to madness could bring them back to their senses. The aggressors mocked at those who cautioned them that insurrectional war have a history of humbling big powers and that their fate would be no different. They drew satisfaction from the self perceived thought that this time the top brains and power centers of the world with rich experience of tackling with Muslim insurgencies and freedom struggles were collectively battling the insurgents. In their calculation they had abundant resources and had catered for all possible eventualities and were in a comfortable position to change the history by proving that Afghans are conquerable. They worked on the strategy of isolating, dividing and then crushing their foes in the two theatres of war.
In Afghanistan , Taliban were detached from Pakistan to deprive them of their fallback position, and then pitched against Northern Alliance backed by US-NATO air power. Subsequently the schemers embarked upon a plan to create rift between Taliban and al-Qaeda and make them fight against each other, and also made efforts to divide Taliban to confront moderates with extremists. In Iraq , the planners isolated Iraq within the Arab world and pitched Shias and Kurds against Sunnis. Later, the Sunnis were coaxed and made to fight against al-Qaeda. While CIA and Blackwater helped in fomenting sectarianism, ethnicity, extremism and lawlessness, the media helped them in demonizing the leadership of the targeted countries and in projecting Islam and radical Muslims in poor light. The media also helped in covering the crimes of leading terrorist states by painting wrongful pictures. For over a decade the forces of USA and NATO are spilling blood of the people of the occupied countries and destroying their homes and hearths. They have been employing series of techniques how to emasculate Pakistan from within so that it is either compelled to voluntarily hand over its nukes in return for aid for survival, or else militarily it is not in a position to defend its nuclear arsenal against its covert and overt efforts to disable the program. The top leadership of ruling regime is not in a position to show eyes to Washington since it had been brought to power by USA after buying its loyalties. The US like a ruthless exploiter is fully exploiting this weakness and is not relenting in its demands. The rulers are so infatuated with wealth and power that they have allowed their patron to wreak havoc in Pakistan . It was owing to policy of appeasement and subservience and putting blind faith in US patronage that Pakistan had to suffer the humiliations on 02 and 22 May.
These jolts should have woken up our leaders from their stupor but strangely they are still heavy-eyed and refuse to grasp the enormity of the challenges confronting Pakistan . Well knowing that American officials coming under different disguises are deadly agents and that the US friendship is far deadlier than its enmity, they are still hopeful that they will be able to win back the affections of estranged USA . In one of my articles in 2008, I had written that disturbed security situation in northwest and in Balochistan are auxiliary efforts of our adversaries meant to prepare ground for main assault in Karachi where the main battle will be fought. My prediction has come true and our economic hub is bleeding profusely. Notwithstanding the perverse role of PPP, MQM and ANP, foreign hand is definitely involved to keep the streets of Karachi drenched in human blood. Having sufficiently bruised the limbs of body of Pakistan , fatal blows are now being delivered on the head. Conditions are being prepared for the employment of Army in aid of civil power. Like North Waziristan , Karachi is another trap set up for the Army to step in and get further diluted and possibly defamed. Our self-centred rulers engulfed in their own fears have belatedly ordered Police-Rangers surgical action to stop the wanton bloodshed. This action may bring temporary calm but the disease will remain uncured.
One wonders what is making President Zardari believe that the US will not betray him even after seeing the fate of Musharraf and so many other blue eyed boys of USA . On what basis does he consider himself to be more special and indispensable to Washington ? Rest assured, after Musharraf, it is now Zardari's turn to get ditched since like Musharraf he has also outlived his utility for the US . His sycophants and beneficiaries will remain loyal to him till he is in power. Before the US gets rid of him he should pre-empt by honoring Supreme Court's verdicts on NRO and other cases, take a lead in bringing back his wealth from abroad; stop protecting the corrupt and dishonest, put an end to cronyism and restore system of merit, do away with political expediency under the garb of policy of reconciliation, carryout across the board accountability of the wrongdoers and seek forgiveness of Allah.
If he takes these steps which are certainly not beyond his capability, he will for sure come under the benign protection of God Almighty and he will not need the so-called patronage of untrustworthy US. He would also frustrate the designs of his political foes who surely like him to keep treading the destructive path and get perished. Hatred welled up against him will fade away and people of Pakistan will forgive all his sins as they had done in 2008 and he will be looked at with deference by them. Unlike Musharraf, he will not have to go in exile but will live honorably in his own homeland. Given the fact that Pakistan is going through worst crisis, I implore him to come out of his self-serving materialistic world and take the plunge for the sake of the country and rest assured he will be remembered with approbation.
—The writer is a defence analyst.
THE TRIAL OF HISTORY
I bow, before Allah SWT, for enabling me, to contribute an article on Islam, its facets and personalities, each day, during the Holy month of Ramazan. May Allah SWT be pleased with Mr Zahid Malik and Mr Faisal Malik, who gave me the space of their newspaper and always expressed words of encouragement, to me. During the last 30 days, an effort was made, to invite the readers, to the sublime 'spirit of Islam'. The subjects covered related largely to behavioral aspects and the changes in it, each act of worship, is expected to bring about, in a believer's personality. I always chose, soft and non-controversial subjects like mercy, forgiveness, humility, forbearance and the like thereof, so that we can bring around our persons, to imbibe within our day-to-day lives, the virtues that so naturally attend to these traits.
The Holy Qur'an expounds at several places that the best 'conduct' to follow is that of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). In the specific context of behavior and manners, the Prophet was superior to all, for it was Allah SWT, who guided him, trained him and refined his character. Aid-al-Qarni, in his biography on the Holy Prophet (PBUH) writes, "because of his wonderful qualities, the the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was near and dear to the hearts and souls of people. He was blessed and easy – going, and yet he had about himself an aura of dignity and gravity that suited his lofty character. His face shone with the light of guidance; his mouth smiled with love; his heart was truly alive; and his mind was elevated with illuminated thoughts". Indeed, our Prophet (Pbuh) is the best example to follow. the Holy Prophet (PBUH) exemplified in his character 'the Messenger he was' by demonstrating through every day living that was laced with such virtues and traits as being 'the truthful one', the patient, the generous, the brave, the humble, the fore-bearing, the merciful, the one who excessively indulged in the remembrance of Allah, supplicated, held lefty ambitions and would laugh and cry, for only love and fear of Allah. When we examine our daily routines, it dawns that we have grievously deviated from the teachings of Allah SWT and His beloved the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
Acts of worship, performed with exhibitionism, render these to be merely physical exercises. The 'spirit' attending to worship of Allah, is devoid and missing. Consequently, we observe the duplicity of our behavior, one inside the mosque and the 'real' character that emerges and dominates our reactions, as soon as we get off the least step of the mosque! The Ummah, I 'bemoan, has fallen into 'split disorder' personality syndrome. It is precisely for these reasons, we see across the entire spectrum of Muslim countries, ranging from the shores of Atlantic in the west to the islands of Indonesia, in the east to be in such disgustful disarray of all sorts. Islam to us has become a ritual and not a codified way of living. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) always encouraged his followers to practice gentleness, moderation and consistency – harshness, immoderation and inconsistency, were qualities that he (PBUH) vehemently, shunned. According to one narration, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, "whenever gentleness is found in something, it adorns that thing; whenever it is removed from something, then that thing becomes sullied and tainted".
"It was the Holy Prophet (PBUH) wont to pardon and forgive the mistakes of others. And he was generous more than the gentle rain bearing wind". He subdued people, not with a sword, but with generosity and good manners. He brought happiness to mankind with his preaching's of the word of GOD. Whoever saw him, loved him; who ever knew him, stood in awe of him; and whoever met him, venerated him. His speech captivated people's hearts and his noble manners at once turned and subjugated people's souls". Dear Readers, see how despite being religious in so many ways, we have drifted away from the fundamentals of our beautiful religion. My heart rents asunder and laments, when during my travels to the west and east, north and south, I realize that the non-Islamic countries and societies, have literally implemented in their everyday lives the lofty traits and principles of Islam.
Look around, the more than billion people of our faith inhabiting roughly 55 countries, just see their plight, the misery they live in, see the quality of their leadership, see their legal framework, see how the man-on-street is looted and plundered by the 'leadership' – what a dismal picture of hopelessness they present. By the acts of few, Islam, the message of peace tolerance and mercy is equated with militancy and terrorism – haven't we by our small individual acts not brought shame upon ourselves and the entire Ummah, Bertrand Russell had remarked that when he read about Islam, he wished to convert but changed his mind, when he saw the plight of Muslims! How tragic and pitiable indeed! The slumbering Ummah, please wake up and rise above petty differences and start to exhibit again the nobility of our religion.
We must not, for a single moment, forget that history has begun the trial of Muslims and not of Islam. Let us, through collective good, seek history's judgments in our favor – and it is only through piety hard work, humility and oneness, that we can seek a glorious page in mankind's history – there are 'No options'. I would like to conclude, with the hope that the following remark, dear readers would move you, into action, "no man has given to his child anything better than good manners". God bless Pakistan and the Ummah.
LIBYA: BRIDGEHEAD INTO AFRIC
WAQAR KHAN KAURAVI
With the rebels in Tripoli, the fate of Colonel Muammer Gaddafi and his cohorts seems to have been sealed for good. The storm that rose from the desert of Benghazi has swept along the Mediterranean coastline to the doors of Tripoli, duly supported by the greatest debtors of our times, the United States and company. While recalling the events that we have witnessed in past six months and the behavior of US led NATO alliance, one would rather become confused and perplexed. A few years back Gaddafi had wooed the west by opening Libya to the international community, everything looked hunky dory, Sarkozi, Tony Blair, Berlusconi and even Obama administration embraced the Colonel with accolades of Champion of Africa and the great Berber from the desert. Libyan oil tap was fully opened to keep the prices of oil in check and it appeared that the good old Colonel had developed comfortable relationship with the people across the Mediterranean lake and that Libya was to become a player in the new Africa scheme.
And suddenly, we all discovered that the Colonel was the worst thing that had happened to entire coastline of North Africa,and had to be ousted at the first God given opportunity, and in this new game of establishing a bridgehead in North Africa, even Al Quaida was welcome to become a bedfellow of Obama, Sarkozi ,Cameron and Rasmusen. While one should congratulate the Libyan people for getting rid of Gaddafy's 42 years of rule (despite a per capita of 14000 USD and good social system,42 years monochrome of Gaddafi was too much for the Libyan people and probably they got bored with his idiosyncrasies),one would wonder at the mood of the US led coalition and her ability to keep the world preoccupied in the business of war.
On April 26, 2011 Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya of Global Research described the Libyan War as, "Plans to attack Libya have been longstanding. The imperial war machine of the United States, Britain, France, Italy, and their NATO allies is involved in a new military adventure that parallels the events that led to the wars against Yugoslavia and Iraq. The war machine has been mobilized under the cover of "humanitarian intervention."In fact what the Pentagon and NATO have done is breach international law by intervening on the side of one of the combating parties in Libya in a civil war that they themselves have encouraged and fuelled. They have not protected civilians, but have launched a war against the Libyan regime in Tripoli and actively assisted the Benghazi-based Transitional Council in fighting the Libyan military".
As we analyse the conduct of military campaign against Libya, one is shocked to find the blatant use of classic Chankia theory, the enemy of my enemy is my friend as well as courting people and groups you have put on the terror watch list. Richard Spencer while reporting from Tripoli in the Telegraph remarked far back as March this year in his article, Libya: the West and al-Qaeda on the same side concluded that, statements of support for Libya's revolution by al-Qaeda and leading Islamists have led to fears that military action by the West might be playing into the hands of its ideological enemies. Was this a deliberate attempt to insult the Islamic World as well as convey a message of impotency of the developing world to do anything against the wishes of the west or, it was a classical play of Chaos theory to create mayhem in the Middle East and North Africa to set a stage for unfolding of a new game in Africa and the Islamic World. It may be difficult to analyze the entire spectrum of Chaos game being played(as public sentiment of the Arab spring is a reality and cannot be labeled as a conspiracy of the west),one thing is certain, such games have been recently played in Iraq and the Afpak region, where Blackwater and CIA played the dirty game of dividing West Asia along sectarian lines, no wonder the TTP in Pakistan had a clear stamp of RAW-MOSSAD-CIA trio on its royal backside, when it unleashed a reign of terror in FATA,KPK and rest of Pakistan. Pakistan was made into a friend and foe simultaneously.
Is Libya the end of US led coalition operations in the region or the start of Chaos in Africa? This is a million dollar question. Libya is an ideal bridgehead into Africa as it sits on a piece of land with geostrategic significance. It allows the oil tap to remain open and the quantity manipulation against any oil related initiatives by Middle Eastern Arabs,Iran or Venezuela.It keeps the entire Middle East and their leadership guessing and perplexed with a hidden message, you may be next. It limits strategic space for the Rise of the Rest(China,India,Russia etc).It allows the intelligence apparatus of CIA,MI5,NATO etc to establish a foothold in Africa and initiate new games in Sudan, Algeria, Egypt, Central Africa and rest of Africa south of equator. Finally ,it gives a shut up call to the common American and European (fed up with the Long War and poor economy), urging him that the white man was busy in important issues abroad and domestic worries were trivial and nonsensical.
Is the Transitional National Council going to listen to US led coalition's suggestion for a post war Libya or go independently on solo flight? I have a hunch that Libya's war will drag on as we witness fishers between the US led coalition and the Transition Government led by rebels grow into a wider chasm. The Telegraph reported on 22nd August about Mahmoud Jibril's address to the Libyan people, speaking on the Libyan opposition's dedicated television network, Ahrar TV, the chairman of the Transitional National Council issued a statement in the early hours of Monday proclaiming the end of the Gaddafi regime and a new beginning for Libya."Today, all Libya's people are allowed to participate in the building of the future to build institutions with the aid of a constitution that does not differentiate between a man and a woman, sects or ethnicities." Jibril said. He added: "Libya is for everyone and will now be for everyone."
Let us hope that people of Libya are able to distinguish between friend and the foe in this entire game of chaos.
—The writer is a NDU scholar.
BUSH AND CHENEY: BAD MEMORIES
Thank you, George W Bush and Dick Cheney, for emerging from your secure, undisclosed locations to remind us how we got into this mess: It didn't happen by accident. The important thing isn't what Bush says in his interview with National Geographic or what scores Cheney tries to settle in his memoir. What matters is that as they return to the public eye, they highlight their record of wrongheaded policy choices that helped bring the nation to a sour, penurious state.
Questions about whether President Obama has been combative enough in dealing with the Republican opposition — or sufficiently ambitious in framing his progressive agenda — seem trivial when viewed in this larger context. Obama is tackling enormous problems that took many years to create. His presidential style is important insofar as it boosts or lessens his effectiveness, but its importance pales beside the generally righteous substance of what he's trying to accomplish. It was the Bush administration, you will recall, that sent the national debt into the stratosphere and choked off federal revenue to the point of asphyxiation. Bush and Cheney decided to fight two wars without even accounting — let alone paying — for them. Rather than raise taxes to cover the cost of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush opted to maintain unreasonable and unnecessary tax cuts.
So far, the wars and the tax cuts have cost the Treasury between $4 trillion and $5 trillion. If Bush had just left income tax rates alone, nobody except Ron Paul would be talking about the debt. My aim isn't to attack Bush but to attack his philosophy. When he was campaigning for the White House in 2000, the government was anticipating a projected surplus of roughly $6 trillion over the following decade. Bush said repeatedly that he thought this was too much and wanted to bring the surplus down — hence, in 2001, the first of his two big tax cuts.
Bush was hewing to what had already become Republican dogma and by now has become something akin to scripture: Taxes must always be cut because government must always be starved. The party ascribes this golden rule to Ronald Reagan — conveniently forgetting that Reagan, in his eight years as president, raised taxes 11 times. Reagan may have believed in small government, but he did believe in government itself. Today's Republicans have perverted Reagan's philosophy into a kind of anti-government nihilism — an irresponsible, almost childish insistence that the basic laws of arithmetic can be suspended at their will.
The Bush administration also pushed forward Reagan's policy of deregulation — ignoring, for example, critics who said the ballooning market in mortgage-backed securities needed more oversight. When the 2008 financial crisis hit, Bush did regain his faith in government long enough to throw together the $800 billion TARP bailout for the banks. But he failed to use the leverage of an aid package to exact reforms that would ensure that the financial system served the economy, rather than the other way around. Faced with similar circumstances, would today's Republican leadership react at all? Or is it the party's view that the proper role of government would be to stand aside and watch the world's financial system crash and burn? This is a serious question. Just a few weeks ago, the Republican majority in the House threatened to force the United States government to default on its debt obligations — a previously unthinkable act of brinkmanship. Everything is thinkable now. The Bush administration took Reagan's tax-cutting, government-starving philosophy much too far. Today's Republican Party takes it well beyond, into a rigid absolutism that would be comical if it were not so consequential. We face devastating unemployment. Many conservative economists have joined the chorus calling for more short-term spending by the federal government as a way to boost growth. But the radical Republicans don't pay attention to conservative economists anymore. The Republicans' idea of a cure for cancer would be to cut spending and cut taxes.
Perhaps they're just cynically trying to keep the economy in the doldrums through next year to hurt Obama's chances of re-election. I worry that their fanaticism is sincere — that one of our major parties has gone completely off the rails. If so, things will get worse before they get better. Having Bush and Cheney reappear is a reminder to step back and look at what Obama is up against. You might want to cut him a little slack.
—Courtesy: The Washington Post
PHILISTINES FOR PALESTINE
A FEW weeks ago it was a chocolate shop in Melbourne, targeted by pro-Palestinian activists because it is part of an Israeli chain. On Thursday night it was the Royal Albert Hall in London, where about 30 demonstrators disrupted a Proms concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. So noisy were they that the BBC had to interrupt its coverage twice, although the orchestra, under the baton of one of the world's leading conductors, Zubin Mehta, kept on and managed to play all four pieces on the program, including Max Bruch's violin concerto No 1 in G Minor.
It may be that music calms the savage beast, but some of the most sublime music in the civilised world could not tame the brutish, selfish arrogance of an ill-mannered, unrepresentative minority. Their action represents a dark moment in public culture and civility and does nothing to further their cause. We have said before that, given the history of Nazi Germany, there is something deeply offensive about targeting Jewish businesses. That is equally the case for these latest attacks on an Israeli orchestra that adds to the extraordinary contribution Jewish musicians and composers have made to classical music. The terrible events of May 1933, when more than 25,000 books were burnt on huge public bonfires in Berlin, were directed at Jewish intellectuals and the culture they had helped build in Germany. That night, and the cultural "cleansing" that followed, remains a deeply distressing reminder of the collapse of the basic values that must underpin a civilised society. To see culture, which should be above partisan politics, attacked as it was in London is alarming. That it should happen at the Proms, perhaps the world's best-known classical music festival, dating back to 1895 and with broad appeal, is doubly upsetting. The Proms represent the tolerance and inclusion that are the best hope for world peace.
If we were a British newspaper, we would be urging readers to patronise the Albert Hall at every opportunity. Instead, we suggest you frequent the Max Brenner chocolate shop chain and take a stand against the appalling campaign being waged against Israel. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is misguided and counterproductive. The protesters have a right to express their views on Israel, but they lose respect and influence when they engage in such crude and uncivilised action.
BORDER POLICY WOES SHOW LABOR'S DEEPER PROBLEMS
THE Gillard government's self-inflicted crisis over border protection provides a window on a dysfunctional administration. When Julia Gillard seized the prime ministership from Kevin Rudd she argued that a "good government was losing its way".
Ms Gillard promised to focus on securing our borders, revising the mining tax and delivering a climate change policy. Given criticism that Mr Rudd had concentrated too much power in his own hands and left even his cabinet out of the decision-making processes, Ms Gillard also pledged to deliver a more effective and consultative government. This was welcomed from outside and from within caucus ranks. On current evidence, in at least one important respect she has failed to deliver.
The complex issue of border protection covers a range of important portfolio areas, including immigration, foreign affairs, customs and attorney-general. Especially when attempting to implement a so-called regional solution, or at least involving regional countries in processing arrangements for boat arrivals, the involvement of the foreign affairs portfolio is crucial. It is no accident that the architect of the Howard government's controversial but successful Pacific Solution was the foreign minister Alexander Downer. In that government, ownership of border protection policy development, implementation and advocacy was shared, in a very public manner, by the prime minister, foreign minister, immigration ministers and attorneys-general. This sort of co-operation was wholly unremarkable because it is exactly the sort of collegiate approach and collective responsibility upon which the cabinet system of government is based. While cabinet deliberations are confidential, we know that strong cabinets have debated freely and contested ideas, leading to effective government, under the Hawke, Keating and Howard prime ministerships.
That context is important given Ms Gillard's missteps on border protection; proposing the doomed East Timor "solution" and then prematurely announcing the Malaysian arrangement. Because they involved other nations, the consideration of these plans was overwhelmingly a foreign policy issue. But there is no sign of prominent engagement by the Foreign Minister, Mr Rudd. In fact, apart from discussions at the Bali Process on people-smuggling and some other unavoidable bilateral meetings, Mr Rudd has kept his distance from deliberation, implementation and debate of the border protection issue.
We cannot know what happened in cabinet or whether the Foreign Minister might have prevented policy mistakes, but all indications are that Ms Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen have dealt with the border protection issue without close consultation with Mr Rudd. Although, it must be said, they seem to have had the benefit of advice from his department, which proved crucial in the High Court judgment. Ms Gillard and Mr Bowen now own the policy shambles.
We can all understand how a working relationship might be difficult between the Prime Minister and Mr Rudd. But, for whatever the reasons, this is not the collaborative approach to government that the Australian people expect.
LESSONS FROM A LEAKY INTERNET
THE release of the names of confidential sources in 250,000 WikiLeaks cables is a potential disaster for those whose lives are at risk. But it is also a problem for free speech, undermining efforts to make transparent the workings of governments and other organisations around the world.
There are competing stories about who is responsible for the breach of security that has left unredacted US diplomatic cables swirling in cyberspace. WikiLeaks says it's the fault of Britain's The Guardian because one of its journalists published a password in a book; the newspaper says a Twitter user found the database by following hints published in media outlets and on WikiLeaks' Twitter feed. Whatever the truth, surely the issue here is the extreme difficulty that an electronic clearing-house such as WikiLeaks faces in trying to protect those inadvertently caught up in the exercise.
Julian Assange's organisation has made efforts to redact the cables and publish them in a way that protects those who, for example, have provided information to US officials in countries that are hostile to Washington. But all that is as nothing when the original cables are out there, trailing in their wake potential damage to reputations, livelihoods and, indeed, life and limb.
This is not an argument against whistleblowing. We do not condone hacking, but we are in favour of information that should be in the public arena being put out there by brave and committed individuals who choose to reveal secrets because they consider them to be in the public interest. The problem lies in the failure of WikiLeaks to adequately manage leaked documents in order to minimise risk and maximise results.
The internet is a glorious tool for communication and access, but cyber privacy is a non sequitur. There are clearly dangers in dumping hundreds of thousands of documents on a website. Indeed, WikiLeaks has acknowledged those problems by choosing in recent times to work through professional print outlets, such as the Guardian and The New York Times, to sanitise the data before release.
We would go further and suggest whistleblowers are better off dealing directly with experienced journalists at reputable newspapers rather than a "drop box" that so often operates in a twilight zone of digital anarchy.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
ADRIFT WITHOUT A COMPASS
THE surprising thing about the government's response to the High Court decision ending the Malaysian plan is that it has no Plan B. The challenge to the legality of its plans was always likely - indeed, the government predicted it. So it has seen the torpedo in the water, heard the detonation amidships, been split in two, but has yet to think about whether a liferaft would be a good idea. And this on an issue which the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said was central to her claim to be a better leader for Labor when she challenged Kevin Rudd.
In fact the issue should not be life-threatening for the government. Australia's asylum seeker problem is one of perception rather than fact. Yes, it is an emotive issue, but that is because both parties have made it so. Labor is more guilty here than the Coalition, which is only following the instincts of some in its natural constituency. Labor had the choice long ago of playing down the issue and managing the small numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat decently and within the law - as most of its natural constituents would prefer. Instead it played the Coalition's game of xenophobia and has now lost comprehensively.
In everything except perceptions of government competence, the striking down of the Malaysia plan is no disaster. Australia will now have to find a way to handle asylum seekers which conforms to the law and our international obligations. The High Court's decision may even call into question the Coalition's suggested policy. Whatever its effects, for a government to be obliged to act lawfully is no defeat.
But politics - particularly now, particularly with this government and opposition - is mostly about perceptions, and the High Court decision is perceived as a genuine political disaster. The government's image, its reputation for competence, were already damaged; they are now probably beyond repair. As we have argued before, that is largely unfair. On many issues the government is still making dogged progress in worthwhile directions. No matter. Since it has
nailed its colours to the particularly unsound mast of asylum seeker policy, it will most likely sink with it.
Labor MPs and senators will be asking nervous questions about the Prime Minister's capacity to continue in the job. Gillard in many areas has performed well, we believe. Her takeover from Kevin Rudd might have been managed better; it cost her some support at the election and more since. But her superior political skill was in evidence after that election in which she put together a coalition of support where the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, could not. It was an excellent opportunity to push ahead with necessary reforms, particularly the carbon tax and the minerals resource rent tax, but it has been slowly squandered.
In several portfolios, on several occasions - of which this High Court defeat is the latest - the government has announced new initiatives only to have them unravel. It has compromised away the value of others. The regular collapse of ill-thought-out, badly planned projects is reminiscent of the NSW Labor government in its final years in office.
Indeed, it is tempting to conclude that the NSW disease - specifically the disease that has long infected the Right faction of NSW Labor - is now weakening the party in Canberra. It is an overwhelming preference for style over substance, for managing perceptions rather than issues, for being clever rather than intelligent.
Just as Labor in Macquarie Street tried to buy the support of voters with hastily cobbled together transport projects, only to have them vanish when it was realised the money was not available, the same thinking, migrated to Canberra, imagined it would be clever to steal the Coalition's thunder on asylum seekers and cobble together deals with regional states to ensure they never landed in Australia. The clever approach to the problem, from this NSW Right standpoint, is to handle the politics first and the substance second. The main point of such a policy was to best the Coalition, not to handle asylum seekers. No wonder it has failed.
The intelligent approach would have been to do as Malcolm Fraser did with Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s and accept that Australia has a duty to treat asylum seekers humanely and according to the law - and not curry favour by seeking to demonise and victimise them. Doing so would not imply passive acceptance of illegal entry. Nor would it preclude regional action against people smugglers or other counter-measures to stem the flow of asylum seekers. But it would have allowed Labor in the future to claim what it cannot now claim: that it always tried to act with humanity and decency. When the history of this sorry episode is written, Labor will be seen as blinded - but by politics, certainly not by any light on the hill.
3, 2, 1, ZERO ... AND THAT'S YOUR LOT
THE international space station is at risk. Now that NASA has given up on the space shuttle, the project has to rely on Russian cargo rockets to maintain supplies. The latest of these, and carrying three tonnes of (we like to imagine) lukewarm borscht, crashed in Siberia last week, turning (we rather hope) vast swathes of frozen tundra an interesting pink.
The craft was named Progress. And there, readers, is the problem. Calling a rocket Progress is just asking for trouble. NASA's craft were also given buff, macho names such as Enterprise and Discovery, and ended their days on the scrap heap or worse. All this visionary exhortation in names only tempts fate. Space agencies should tone down the heroics and settle for something more realistic.
We look forward to the next countdown for Mediocrity as it blasts off to humanity's new frontier, or to the billows of gas spurting from beneath Unfancied as it rises towards the heavens.
Middle of the Road, Underwhelm and Low Blood Sugar would quickly follow. You mark our words: they'll do far better than anyone expects.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
IT'S TIME FOR REAL LEADERSHIP ON ASYLUM SEEKERS
THE judicial and political events of the past few days - dominated by Wednesday's High Court decision to oppose an arrangement that would have seen asylum seekers sent to Malaysia - have thrown up serious questions about the federal government's abilities to govern and, in turn, about Prime Minister Julia Gillard's leadership credentials. Some perspective needs to be restored.
Any reasonable assessment of the Gillard government would acknowledge its reformist zeal. It has shown a steely determination, despite governing with the slimmest of minorities, to follow through with its pledges. In this newspaper's view, it would be a miscalculation to hastily assume that the High Court ruling is evidence that Australia needs a new government or a new leader, even though Labor's self-inflicted wounds are likely to cause a great deal of political blood-letting.
Under Ms Gillard's leadership, Labor has, for the most part, shown conviction and tenacity in tackling complex nation-building issues: the national broadband network, disability insurance, aged-care reform, education and (to its own cost) the carbon tax. Not all of these matters have been resolved, and some arguments, such as the Prime Minister's inability to fully explain her shift on carbon pricing, have been unconvincing. But, to its credit, the government has put powerful arguments about what is best for the nation.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Photo: Paul Harris
Such achievements make the government's handling of asylum seekers all the more unfathomable. Its defeat in the High Court is just the latest humiliation in a saga that has provided a back-to-back series of ramshackle, experimental attempts to find a politically palatable method of dealing with irregular boat arrivals. Ms Gillard must take responsibility for this mess. The government's naive strategy started with a hasty announcement about talks with East Timor and has ended with a poorly prosecuted, legally unacceptable deal with Malaysia. Australians are entitled to ask some basic questions. Where is this government's visionary, sustainable and humanitarian solution on asylum seekers that gets beyond political fear and political narrow-mindedness? Why can't this government show the same conviction on asylum seekers that it has shown on other issues?
Labor's lacklustre performance has been exacerbated by Ms Gillard's attack on the High Court and its Chief Justice, Robert French. She described the court's judgment as ''a missed opportunity to enhance our region's response to the evil of people smuggling''. She accused Chief Justice French of making different decisions on comparable legal questions when he was on the Federal Court. These criticisms showed an appalling lack of judgment. The Judicial Conference of Australia responded appropriately yesterday by saying that ''any criticism should go to the legal merit of the court's judgment and it should not misrepresent the court's task in upholding the rule of the law''. Conference vice-president Justice Philip McMurdo said Ms Gillard's criticism of Chief Justice French was extraordinary and unfair.
In this context, the crisis facing the Gillard government is one of its own making. Ms Gillard's leadership has been compromised. However, this crisis is not, in The Saturday Age's view, necessarily terminal for the government. It is a stark, painful reminder that sound government, sound public leadership, requires exceptional skill and an ethical compass. For Labor, such leadership on asylum seekers has been sorely missing.
To recover and regain authority, the Prime Minister must begin a different conversation with Australians about asylum seekers; it has an opportunity to move away from solutions that require offshoring to a solution that would create a well-run regional processing facility. Ms Gillard must lead these discussions.
The Gillard government has, in a short time, taken bold steps to redefine Australia. It is doing this at a time of great change, in the national economy and globally. It has international standing for its economic management. The lesson from this week is about what happens when short-term political gamesmanship replaces sound policy-making. The government's future may hang in its ability to reflect deeply on its mistakes and convince voters that it can, and will, do better.
NO CASE, NO NEED
Condemnation for WikiLeaks decision to publish US government cables in unredacted form
We are learning in numerous ways how hard it is, in a digital age, to keep control of information. Voice messages, emails, corporate documents, medical records, DNA, government secrets – all are vulnerable to hacking, snooping and simple spillage. From the moment a hacker (or, possibly, a whistleblower) passed a vast store of US government and military records to WikiLeaks it was always on the cards that this data would eventually spill out indiscriminately into the open. This week most of it has – accelerated by WikiLeaks itself, which chose to publish the state department cables in unredacted form.
This paper, and the four other news organisations involved in publishing heavily edited selections from the war logs and cables last year, are united in condemning this act. From the start of our collaboration, it was clear to the newspapers – and apparently accepted, if reluctantly, by WikiLeaks's founder, Julian Assange – that it was necessary to redact the material in order to minimise the potential risk to vulnerable people who might be placed in harm's way by publication. That joint exercise, which ended last December, has never been shown to have placed an individual's life at risk.
But, with the well-documented rifts in the original WikiLeaks team last year, the data was not secured. One copy was obtained by Heather Brooke, the freedom of information campaigner. It now appears that last December another WikiLeaks employee was responsible for a further leak when he placed the unredacted cables on a peer-to-peer site with an old password – motivated, it seems, by the arrest of Assange on allegations concerning his private life. It is not clear that even Assange – distracted by his legal actions over the Swedish sex allegations – knew of this act. This, to be clear, was not the original file accessed by the Guardian last year, which was, as agreed with WikiLeaks, removed from a secure file server after we had obtained a copy and never compromised.
A handful of people knew of the existence of this republished file and, realising its potential for harm, they did not publish any clues as to how it might be accessed. WikiLeaks, by contrast, tried to blame others for the leak, hinted at how it could be accessed, and then finally decided to publish it all to the world in an unredacted form.
Some WikiLeaks devotees and extreme freedom of information advocates will applaud this act. We don't. We join the New York Times, Der Speigel, Le Monde and El País in condemning it. Many of our newspapers' reporters and editors worked hard to publish material based on the cables in a responsible, comprehensible and contextualised form. We continue to believe in the validity and benefits of this collaboration in transparency. But we don't count ourselves in that tiny fringe of people who would regard themselves as information absolutists – people who believe it is right in all circumstances to make all information free to all. The public interest in all acts of disclosure has to be weighed against the potential harm that can result.
It had never been entirely clear whether Assange thought he had a consistent position on this issue. At various times he has scorned those who urged redaction; at others he has portrayed himself as an advocate of responsible redaction. He shows little or no understanding of the legal constraints facing less free souls than himself, often voicing contempt for publishers constrained by the laws of particular jurisdictions. At its best Wikileaks seemed to offer the hope of frustrating the most repressive and restrictive. But the organisation has dwindled to being the vehicle of one flawed individual – occasionally brilliant, but increasingly volatile and erratic. There was no compelling need, even with the recent disclosures of the internal leak, for WikiLeaks to publish all the material in the form in which it did. Julian Assange took a clear decision this week: he must take the responsibility for that.
EDINBURGH TRAM PROJECT: A RIGHT ROYAL MILE
How did a city famed for its citizens' prudence and excellent buses come close to disaster over its tram network plan?
It's a story familiar to everyone who uses public transport. You wait for ages, the fare keeps going up and then the journey is cut short before you even arrive. Except that in Edinburgh the story is worse: an ambitious plan to build a city-wide tram network that has come perilously close to disaster. This summer, trams should have begun rattling between Leith and the airport. Instead the system has been delayed, and delayed again. Directors of the trams agency have been kicked out almost as fast as drunks at closing time. Scots have been left with a probable £1bn bill – twice the original estimate – together with business-wrecking disruption and tracks along Princes Street that require nearly a year's remedial work.
How did Edinburgh – a city famed for the prudence of its citizens and an excellent municipal provider of local buses – end up in this mess? The answer lies partly in the squabbling of local politicians, partly in an ill-thought-out rush to acquire a trophy for a capital city, and very largely in the incompetent drafting of the contract between the trams agency, which was to manage the system, and the conglomerate building the tracks.
The fault lies in Scotland – but the lessons for infrastructure investment apply to all of Britain. In glossy computer mock-ups Edinburgh's trams looked a good idea. The city has too much traffic and a limited local rail service. The plan was to link the airport in the west to the waterfront in the east of the city, in need of regeneration. Flush with cash, the Scottish government promised £500m; transport economists worked their wonders and declared that the trams would both boost growth and run at a profit. But construction, when it began in 2008, proved much slower and more expensive than predicted. Engineers inflicted mayhem on the city centre, angering businesses.
As costs overran, the planned system was pruned, then cut short in the city centre near Waverley station. Last month councillors voted to stop the line even earlier, at Haymarket, which would have made it almost useless. Yesterday, a change of heart extended it back to the centre. But Edinburgh will have to pick up the soaring costs of its truncated line and may have to sell Lothian Buses to raise cash. One moral is that officials and politicians find it easier to be seduced by transport schemes than build them to budget (Cambridgeshire's guided busway system has suffered similar woes). The other is that trams are more glamorous, but often less use, than buses. Manchester's trams work, albeit at great cost to build – but in Edinburgh, where the last tram ran in 1956, citizens must wish the council had never plotted their return.
DEFENCE CUTS: IMPERIAL ECHOES
Even with cuts of 8% in the next four years Britain will still be dining at the top table of weaponry
Sergeant Barry Weston, who was killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday, had served in the Royal Marines for 20 years. His much-admired record tellingly illustrates the changing preoccupations of Britain's defence establishment. He served from Northern Ireland to Helmand, via Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Iraq – in at the birth of liberal intervention, and its nemesis. Sgt Weston was named as the 380th casualty in Afghanistan two days ago. Yesterday the process began of telling thousands of his colleagues, along with as many more RAF and Royal Navy personnel and many more civilian staff, that they are surplus to requirements. Their fate is also a telling illustration, but this time of the consequences of hasty change in the absence of an overall strategic plan.
Ever since chancellor Winston Churchill slashed spending on the navy in the 1920s, Britain's retreat from global influence has been less a question of careful deliberation than the product of economic crisis. It is a political truth that Britain fights wars to the extent of its financial capacity. Attempts to realign strategic thinking are doomed to perish in a whiff of imperial nostalgia and lethal accusations of the betrayal of national ambition.
Last year's strategic defence and security review, conducted under the self-imposed time constraints of the government's spending review, was entirely in keeping with the tradition. From the first words of its introduction, it reflected the unresolved tension between global ambition and fiscal constraint. Worse, there was the commitment to maintain Labour's decision to upgrade Trident, a move which even official estimates say will cost £20bn, and one which simply compounded the sense of a policy that lacked any coherent underpinning.
It is true that the Labour predecessors of the defence secretary, Liam Fox, found it no easier to make tough decisions than he has, while the service chiefs have done themselves no favours by taking to the barricades in ill-tempered defence of their territory. With some justice, Dr Fox attacks his inheritance of unfunded commitments and inadequate financial controls. This year, for the fourth year in a row, the MoD's accounts were "qualified"; in July MPs established that an astounding £6bn of equipment had simply gone astray.
But along with the record of military retrenchment driven by necessity is a tendency for events to catch up with fudged thinking at painful speed. In 1982 it was the Falklands. This time the Arab spring found no aircraft carrier available to support RAF operations in Libya, and precious little spare capacity to support David Cameron's ambitions. Last month, in an astonishingly blunt report that damned several decisions on equipment, the Tory-dominated Commons defence committee charged the government with giving up on its efforts to bring commitments and resources into line.
Yet even with the squeeze on spending (8% has to be lost between now and 2015, followed by a further five years of rises of inflation plus 1%), Britain will still be dining at the top table of global weaponry. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the defence budget will still take 2.6% of GDP, well over Nato's 2% objective. That will leave Britain a comfortable third in the league of defence spending, behind only the US and China.
On Wednesday Wootton Bassett marked the handover from RAF Lyneham to RAF Brize Norton; Sgt Weston's body will be the first flown to the new repatriation base. The people of Wootton Bassett say they will travel the 30 miles to continue to bear witness to the human cost of British intervention. But the financial cost needs scrutiny too. The assumptions behind these budgets are crying out for interrogation. This is not merely about bean-counting, but questioning the influence of a military-industrial complex which has very particular reasons for keeping imperial dreams alive.
THE JAPAN TIMES
NET SURVEILLANCE DANGERS
On March 11, the day when the massive earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region's Pacific coastal areas, the Kan Cabinet endorsed a bill to revise the Criminal Law to smooth investigation into computer crimes.
On April 1, while the nation was shaken by the aftermath of the March 11 disasters and by the accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the government submitted the bill to the Diet. The bill was for setting up new crime categories — creation and distribution of computer viruses — and for punishing violators.
Because the revision was feared to infringe on the secrecy of communication as guaranteed by the Constitution's Article 21, Section 2, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and some computer and Internet experts have dubbed the bill a "computer surveillance bill."
But the Upper House enacted the bill into law on June 17. Only the Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party opposed the bill. The revision of the Criminal Law went into force on July 14.
Even ruling party Diet members were aware of the danger inherent in the bill. The Upper House Judicial Affairs Committee voted for a supplementary resolution calling on law-enforcement authorities to properly apply the revised Criminal Law. Internet-related firms should raise their voice each time investigators apply the law without restraint.
Under the revised Criminal Law, those who create or distribute computer viruses will be given up to three years' imprisonment or be fined up to ¥500,000. Those who acquire or keep computer viruses will be given up to two years' imprisonment or be fined up to ¥300,000. Those who email obscene images to an unspecified large number of people will also be punished.
In addition, the Criminal Procedure Law was revised to enable investigators to copy or confiscate data in a server connected online with a computer seized by them.
Under this revision, which will go into effect early next year, investigators can "request" that Internet providers keep the "history" of emails such as the email addresses of senders and receivers for a maximum 60 days. No warrant issued by a court is required in making such requests.
With the revisions, the government hopes to sign an international treaty on international cooperation in cyber crimes investigation by the end of this year.
Until now, there had been no law that directly punishes those who create or distribute computer viruses. For example, law-enforcement authorities applied the crime of damaging an article to a 28-year-old man arrested on suspicion of uploading a computer virus called ika-tako (squid-octopus) virus through peer-to-peer file sharing software from May to July 2010. This virus replaces text or photographs in a data file with images of squids, octopuses or sea urchins.
The Tokyo District Court on July 20 sentenced the man to 30 months' imprisonment, saying that damaging the function of a hard disk with the virus constitutes the crime of damaging an article. Certainly the law revisions will make computer crimes investigation much easier.
Their impact has already appeared. It was learned on July 21 that the Metropolitan Police Department arrested a 38-year-old man from Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, on suspicion of keeping a computer virus in his personal computer around 9:40 a.m. on July 17. A personal computer freezes if infected with the virus through peer-to-peer file sharing software.
The revisions have many problems. The revised Criminal Law empowers investigators to arrest the creator of a virus even before it causes damage. This provision would tempt investigators to carry out 24-hour surveillance over the Internet to detect viruses.
The possibility cannot be ruled out that when a person is trying to make a computer program, a computer virus is inadvertently created. The Justice Ministry says that this does not constitute a crime. But it will be burdensome for the person to convince investigators that the virus has been created inadvertently.
Investigators who have seized a computer are allowed to confiscate data contained in a server and other computers connected online with the computer. Because they cannot know in advance which computers contain relevant data, they may be tempted to try to confiscate data in many computers. There may be no limit to the number of computers whose data the investigators try to confiscate.
In this process, they could come across data not related to the crime they are investigating.
A provision in the revised Criminal Procedure Law that allows investigators to "request" Internet providers without a court-issued warrant to keep the "history" of emails for up to 60 days is problematic too. It must first be remembered that the email addresses of senders and receivers are part of their privacy. The possibility also cannot be ruled out that investigators will make "requests" in an abusive manner.
People and lawmakers should closely watch the moves of investigators so that the law revisions themselves do not become tools for increasing their grip further on people's means of communication.
THE JAPAN TIMES
DOCTORS AMONG VICTIMS IN ARAB UPRISINGS
BY CESAR CHELALA
NEW YORK — Doctors and medical personnel have become additional victims of the uprising taking place in several Arab countries. Attacks on doctors violate the principle of medical neutrality that ensures that doctors and medical personnel should be free to treat those in need — regardless of politics, race or religion. Rule 26 of the List of Customary Rules of International Humanitarian Law states that "Punishing a person for performing medical duties compatible with medical ethics or compelling a person engaged in medical activities to perform acts contrary to medical ethics is prohibited."
Violation of this rule has been particularly evident in Bahrain, were doctors, nurses and other medical personnel have been viciously tortured and set on trial in military court. Among the allegations against them is that doctors and nurses stole blood so that protesters could fake serious injury, and also of being part of a militant Shiite clique that had taken control of Manama's biggest hospital and used it as a base for overthrowing the royal government. The Sunni rule a majority-Shiite populated country.
Unlike his serious protests against government abuses in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the U.S. government has been extremely cautious in criticizing the government in Bahrain. This reluctance can be explained by the fact that Bahrain is host to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
As stated by Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa, "North American and European Governments, so vocal recently in espousing the cause of human rights in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, also need to speak loudly about what is going on in Bahrain." Unlike those governments, human rights organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have been extremely vocal in their concern about abuses against doctors and other medical personnel. The Bahraini authorities stated that they were just taking necessary measures to prevent destabilization in the country provoked by foreign forces.
Many convictions of medical personnel are for political reasons such as having participated in unauthorized demonstrations and "incitement of hatred against the regime." Human Rights Watch has urged the Bahraini government to stop special military court proceedings against those arrested during the country's antigovernment protests.
In Syria, there is an underground network of medics, who call themselves the "Damascus Doctors" who want not only to save lives but to expose the crimes of the Syrian regime. The group is made up of some 60 medical professionals who provide on-the-ground care and help the wounded. The Syrian secret police has ordered doctors and other medical personnel not to treat wounded protesters threatening retribution. It is a sad paradox that doctors are afraid of reprisals by a government ruled by Bashar al-Assad, a medical doctor himself.
In Libya, doctors are also in the frontline, in many cases working in extremely hard conditions and under constant threat of government forces. Some of the doctors in the frontline have been trained overseas and have returned to their country to help during the civil war. Last March, government troops attacked the main hospital in Misrata that had at the time 400 patients and medical personnel inside.
In Yemen, medical workers set up a field hospital in a local mosque, providing care as security forces and the regime supporters opened fire on thousands of mostly unarmed civilian protesters.
Across North Africa and the Middle East, medical personnel have been courageously treating the wounded at great personal risk. Legal protections do not seem to work in authoritarian regimes under threat. The international community should continue to exert pressure to ensure that they are safe and able to fulfill what doctors and other medical personnel believe is their professional duty and responsibility.
Dr. Cesar Chelala, M.D., is an international public health consultant and award-winning writer on human rights issues.
THE JAPAN TIMES
SAFE CHOICE, BUT WRONG CHOICE?
BY BRAD GLOSSERMAN
HONOLULU — Former Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda is the new prime minister of Japan. Noda is something of an anomaly: one of those self-deprecating politicians — he likens himself to a "loach," a scavenger that is kin to the catfish — who commands respect for having a steady hand and even temperament. Some observers liken him to former Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo, a genial but bland politician who is perhaps best known for being said to have "all the pizzazz of cold pizza."
A steady hand is a good thing — and a marked departure from his predecessors as prime minister — but it's not enough. Remember Yasuo Fukuda? Japan needs vision and energy; a self-styled "man of mediocrity" isn't likely to provide it.
Noda's victory in Monday's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) presidential election was a surprise: he came in third in most polls of the five candidates and claimed just 9 percent of voters in a national poll taken before Monday's vote. Still, he is a five-term Diet member, a graduate of the first class of the Matsushita Seikei Juku (a training school for politicians), and a black belt in judo — testimony to his commitment and competitiveness (and surely the source of some metaphor about political style). Significantly, he is the first DPJ president who was not one of the party's founding members. His election represents the rise of a new group of DPJ players, even if, at 54, he is a little long in the tooth to be called "next generation."
His policy profile will comfort conservatives. He is a supporter of the U.S.-Japan alliance and hawkish on China, criticizing its defense buildup and its "high handed foreign posture." His views on history veer uncomfortably to the right: he has said that the wartime leaders convicted after World War II weren't criminals and that visits to Yasukuni Shrine should not be controversial. Difficulties in relations with China and South Korea look inevitable. On economic policy, he is a fiscal conservative, endorsing higher taxes to get the country's books in order. He insists that the triple catastrophe of March 11 shouldn't be an "excuse" to postpone efforts to rein in the country's debt burden.
If I'm pessimistic about Noda's chances, it isn't his fault. Rather, for all the flaws of Prime Minister Kan Naoto — and he was flawed — his tenure was undone by larger forces that will dog his successor. The next prime minister must contend with a deeply divided party, a dysfunctional political system, and a public confounded by its choices. The tragic events of March 11 were triggered by the unprecedented (yet predictable) confluence of natural disasters and human failings; Japan's new prime minister faces an equally formidable "perfect storm" of politics.
Kan's tenure was crippled by the same problems that undermined the first DPJ government (even without the idiosyncrasies of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio). While it is improving, the DPJ government continues to have a rocky relationship with the bureaucrats who have experience in running the country. In retrospect, the historical political transition in 2009 was more difficult than anticipated: The DPJ knew less about the substance of issues and how to govern than most observers anticipated. Yet its readiness to attack bureaucrats alienated a key constituency and effectively prevented the new government from functioning.
The nature of the DPJ has contributed to the prime ministers' difficulties. The party is deeply divided between factions loyal and opposed to master strategist, manipulator, and former party President Ichiro Ozawa. Despite his recent troubles, Ozawa remains a powerful force in the DPJ, able to cause trouble and block programs even if he can't get his own agenda passed. The threat of him and his supporters leaving the party is ever-present.
But divisions in the DPJ transcend the simple divide between pro-and anti-Ozawa groups. The DPJ has, like the LDP, members who span the political spectrum. Neither party has an ideological center, while both have been opportunistic when it comes to platforms, moving to capture voters that lack a champion, regardless of policy consistency. This may make sense on a tactical level, but it confuses voters and contributes to growing cynicism and apathy among the electorate. It isn't clear what either party stands for or believes in.
The DPJ's troubles are compounded by the "take no prisoners" mentality of the opposition. After the 2009 vote that brought the DPJ to power, a leading member of the LDP confided over lunch that his party "would enjoy being a bit irresponsible" now. The record since then suggests they have an expansive definition of "a bit." Granted the DPJ has made a hash of things, but the LDP has worked to make governing as difficult as possible. Politics is a competition, but the LDP's zero-sum approach seems to have completely ignored any notion of national interest. The party seems focused on the destruction of the DPJ government, rather than compromise to get the nation back on its feet.
The greatest challenge for the next prime minister is articulating a vision that can unite the country and lift it out of the swamp it now inhabits — a predicament that predated March 11, but which has become more pressing since that fateful day. That is difficult if not impossible when a prime minister can't be sure that his own party is behind him and the opposition is going to torpedo those efforts regardless of merit. Energy is devoted to the day-to-day task of political survival rather than resuscitating the country.
Some argue that a grand coalition of the DPJ and LDP is the solution, a notion reportedly backed by Prime Minister Noda. While a temporary truce may make sense, an enduring coalition is perhaps the worst option for Japan. I have heard suggestions that this would be accompanied by a roll back of election laws and a return to the old multiple-seat constituencies. I fear this would trigger a reversion to lowest common denominator policies that would encourage rent-seeking and inhibit reform. It would blunt the intellectual and ideological competition that Japan desperately needs, reinforce entrenched interests, and likely perpetuate the status quo.
If Japan needs to chart a new course, then creativity is indispensable to fostering the vision needed to lift the country out of the doldrums. But in today's political environment, such creativity is instead a liability because it risks alienating important supporters.
All of these difficulties are magnified when the public doesn't trust its leaders or the political system. That is perhaps the greatest tragedy because if nothing else, the events of "3/11" have proven that the Japanese people retain an extraordinary capacity to endure great hardship and maintain the bonds of civility, respect and support for each other. Their quiet dignity and endurance in the face of the triple catastrophe have sobered and impressed the rest of the world.
Twice in their country's modern history the Japanese people have rallied behind their leaders to change course and overcome pressing and seemingly insurmountable problems. All that is lacking today is the vision and the leadership to rally them. No Japanese politician seems capable of providing either. Good luck, Prime Minister Noda. You will need it.
Brad Glosserman (email@example.com) is executive director of Pacific Forum CSIS. This article originally appeared in the PacNet Newsletter.
THE JAKARTA POST
AGAINST THE CURRENT NORM: MOVING TO JAKARTA
MAYANG ARUM ANJAR RIZKY
The return of about 7 million holiday makers to Jakarta will be followed by a surge in the number of new migrants. Post-Idul Fitri 2010, around 60,000 new migrants came to Jakarta, down from 69,554 in 2009, the reduction due to firm action by the city administration.
Alongside Operasi Yustisi Kependudukan (OYK), a program of identity-card checks during the post-Idul Fitri period, the Jakarta government has also appealed to people to reconsider moving to the city. This is particularly aimed at low-skilled people, most of the city ads are designed to warn them that finding jobs in Jakarta is not as easy as it may seem.
Jakarta requires people to have skills and restricts those who are considered low-skilled. But if everyone has the right to move and seek a better living, then why should coming to Jakarta be banned? One possible answer is that the Jakarta government is trying to reduce the myriad of social problems resulting from overpopulation.
The city has a plan to limit its population to only 12 million by 2030. Statistics show that in 2010, the registered population numbered 8.52 million, whilst the latest national census put Jakarta's actual population at 9.59 million. The annual growth of 1.4 percent per year is mostly caused by migration rather than natural growth. Assuming that growth is stable each year, the city's bid to limit the population to only 12 million in 2030 will be unachievable.
This reality has forced the local government to seriously control the population through family planning programs, ID card checks and a policy of transmigration. From 2005 to 2010, Jakarta relocated 2,163 people, or 542 households, to North Sumatera, Bengkulu, South Kalimantan and Southeast Sulawesi.
Quite apart from the current corruption case plaguing the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry regarding alleged bribery in the Manokwari resettlement project in West Papua, transmigration programs have resulted in many problems mainly due to poor conditions in the settlement areas.
The worst example was in the 1970s when migrant settlers, mainly young farmers from Java, were forced to move to Kalimantan, but this island's soil is mainly peat moss which is not suitable for rice farming. The transmigration program only succeeded in moving poverty from one place to another.
The program has also led to some dreadful disputes and ethnic conflicts between migrants and indigenous citizens that often derived from socioeconomic tensions. In the past the policy was seen as "Javanization" or "Islamization", but this perception has lessened with increased decentralization.
Is it still appropriate for Indonesia to continue this program?
Rapid urbanization and the pursuit of better living standards mean that for many people, lacking full information, Jakarta is the only place that can provide them with what they need.
Better infrastructure, for example the development of mass rapid transportation and toll-roads, certainly leads to improvements in economic and social activity but it may result in an urban development trap and could backfire on Jakarta in the long run. As such the development is tantamount to a pull factor for more people to come rather than encouraging people to leave.
Many suggest that leaving Jakarta requires some form of incentive. The principle that people respond to incentives is human nature. Thus creating incentives in other places is much more rational than forcing people to move from Jakarta, unless authoritarian rule is to be restored.
Rather than putting a metaphorical gun to people's heads, focusing on developing an attractive economic climate in sparsely populated, marginal areas of Indonesia would be a better solution to this tangled web of problems.
Focusing on this regional development will not only lead to qualified people moving voluntarily from Jakarta but also to the empowerment of local citizens in these areas. The paradigm of transmigration must be shifted from forcing the poor to move to attracting educated people to migrate voluntarily.
Most graduates of major universities in Indonesia intend to work in Jakarta and aspiring entrepreneurs will wish to do the same since the city still provides the largest market. The choice of where to locate therefore becomes a self fulfilling prophecy about finding the best career prospects.
The government cannot rely solely on the benevolent actions of philanthropy to fill the gap between Jakarta and the rest of the country. It needs to create other economic activity centers away from Jakarta.
If diverse economic centers do come to pass, it will be amusing to imagine our children going against the current norm by making annual visits to their parents in Jakarta every time Idul Fitri comes around.
The writer is a School of Economics student at the University of Indonesia, Depok, West Java.
THE JAKARTA POST
ANTICORRUPTION ACTIVISTS VS CORRUPT ACTORS
FITHRA FAISAL HASTIADI
Recent developments in the case of former Democratic Party treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin have caused deep unease among people. Many believe that this case is not the end of the story as it will lead to many more graft cases.
There is a certain amount of relief since it will lift the lid on other big scandals, but it is also causing concern that people heretofore regarded as beyond suspicion will be exposed as being corrupt.
The latest survey by the Good Governance Monitor in June 2011 for the quarter ending June 30, 2011 revealed staggering results: "More than ever before, more Indonesians from across the country believe corruption is one of the major problems facing this country. The worry affected 91 percent of the population, up by three points from the previous quarter," read The Jakarta Post (Aug. 16, 2011).
Public revulsion about corruption is good since corruption goes against all norms. Corruption impedes development due to its dysfunctional effects on political systems and institutions, as government employees and political officials seek illegitimate personal gain through bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage and embezzlement.
We are actually in the middle of a long and tiring war. Which side will win? Will it be the anticorruption activists or the corrupt actors? Political and economic logic can provide an academic answer.
To use this logic, we will examine the juggernaut framework which was first introduced by Baldwin (2006). Although it is best known in the field of international economics, it also serves well when it comes to politics.
The main similarity would be the involvement of actors who seek to find a politically optimal point (equilibrium point). Those actors are; i) policy makers, ii) the corrupt actors themselves and iii) anticorruption activists.
Let us move on to the scenario where corrupt actors have a dominant lobbying power that influences the whole system. In this scenario, the corrupt actors will try their best to ensure their activities remain secure. To do so, the corrupt actors need to lobby policy makers to relax rules against corruption by giving the policy makers bigger bribes in return. More lax sanctions also lead to an increase in corruption.
Naturally, the anticorruption activists would resist such lenient sanctions. For the corrupt actors, the important factor is the cost of lobbying. Since the first scenario assumes the corrupt actors have an ample amount of resources to handle these costs, the policy makers will then be encouraged to ease sanctions.
The number of corrupt actors is determined by the free entry condition, which is a function of the sanctions. Lesser sanctions will lead to increasing numbers of corrupt actors as they face lower barriers to entry. The sanction itself is determined by the policy makers' actions when it maximizes a "politically realistic objective function". The objective function here is defined as a way to maximize one's preference.
The intersection of politically realistic objective functions with the free entry conditions gives us combinations where the policy makers are choosing the politically optimal rule while letting the corrupt actors enter the game to the point of no return.
Reciprocal talks (taking the form of negotiation between corrupt actors and policy makers) will have a direct impact on a politically maximum sanction. This scenario will shift down the objective function of the policy makers since they have a new set of optimal rules.
The shifting will in turn lead some anticorruption activists to be marginalized since they face increasing number of corrupt actors which also means increasing lobbying power against them. This situation will decrease the cost of lobbying since the political resistance from the import competing sectors is decreasing linearly with the growing number of corrupt actors.
As far as Baldwin's juggernaut effect is concerned, the political economy forces driving the effect are strengthened by the tendency of special interest groups to fight harder to secure gains. For them, joining the corruption game will provide new commercial opportunities. Having said this, more relaxed sanctions may play a particularly important role in generating new, pro-corruption political economic activity. Having further reciprocal talks is cheaper now resulting in sanctions being eased even more. The cycle repeats itself until a new equilibrium is met (the juggernaut effect).
This grim picture is not entirely true since it only serves academically to describe ex ante winners. Yes, we may see that it is only natural for corrupt actors to have a bigger influence than the anticorruption activists when we talk about the system. This is clearly reflected by the Asia Pacific region's indicators of corruption control for Indonesia which have been at rock bottom since 1998.
But we still have high hopes for the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) as an independent body that could function as an arbitrator and transform the politically realistic objective function into a politically unprejudiced objective function. People will cross their fingers as they watch the selection process of KPK officials. Together with credible policy makers, everything is possible.
Taking the words of Franz Magnis-Suseno, "This country needs to make more of an effort than it has made in the fight against corruption," (Kompas, Aug. 16, 2011) let us hope so!
The writer is a PhD candidate at Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies, Waseda University Tokyo, and lecturer at the School of Economics, University of Indonesia, Depok.
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